The Disneyfication of Times Square has meant more than just the replacement of homeless hookers and dazed crackheads with Mickey Mouse and MTV. The Square's infamous grindhouses -- those collapsing ex-movie palaces where derelicts with a dollar could join furtive businessmen and horny queens for communal cinema worship -- are one of the least-heralded casualties of the makeover. Bill Landis documented this phenomenon during its heyday of the '70s and early '80s with his legendary zine Sleazoid Express (recently revived), and with its Sleazoid Express Film Festival, Yerba Buena has excavated eight appropriately sleazy features to honor Landis, the zine, and the scene.
These films were wallpaper-in-motion -- subtly disturbing, vaguely lifelike backgrounds for the suspicious activities and unknowable interior scenarios of their viewers. As such, not much was expected of them besides transgressive T&A and loads of violent action. Still, compared to today's corporate moviemaking, they radiate a human sensibility, however ragged. Highlights include Raphael Nussbaum's Pets (1974; Friday), a sexed-up Homer's Odyssey with a female lead and a sadist who keeps women in cages; Robert A. Endelson's Fight for Your Life (1977; Saturday), a sub-Abel Ferrara nightmare in which a respectable black family is brutalized by a trio of slobbering criminals; and Bob Roberts' Sweet Savior (1971; Saturday), which tries bravely to pass off perennial nice guy Troy Donahue as a Mansonish cult leader. All the films have notable lo-fi pop music scores, and few who hear it will be able to dislodge "Money Is the Root of All Happiness" -- the love theme from Candy Snatchers (1974; Friday) -- from their heads.
The historical significance and aesthetic import of these films may have been lost on audience members too busy lighting fires in the aisle, shooting up, or going down on their neighbors to pay much attention. But perhaps they looked up in wonder at Marilyn Chambers doing the seemingly impossible -- giving two hand jobs while getting laid and blowing a guy -- in the Mitchell Brothers' landmark hard-core Behind the Green Door (1972; Friday). Or, who knows, they may have subliminally noted the semiological connections between themselves and the naked denizens of the all-male porn theater in Jerry Douglas' 1973 raunchfest The Back Row (Saturday). The three-day series opens at 8 p.m. Thursday with Boarding House and Candy Snatchers in the Screening Room of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3-6; call 978-2787.