A movie is made at the Jefferson Hotel, the Byrd Theatre benefits, Style Weekly looks on

If the word “lambs” can mean “people who are generous with their money” and the word “slaughter” can mean “subjected to indescribably bad filmmaking,” then movie palace enthusiasts packed the house on Monday night like so many lambs to the slaughter.

On Monday night, Richmond pillar Style Weekly helped older Richmond pillar, the Byrd Theatre & Foundation, throw a fundraising benefit with the help of an even older Richmond pillar, the Jefferson Hotel. I’m not really clear how it all began, even with the help of the cute little documentary they played to illuminate those of us who were in the dark. From what I gather, lots of people worked hard to restore a terrible straight-to-VHS movie that had been filmed at the Jefferson in the early 1980s.

The name of that movie: Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel. The nature of that movie: Nonsensical Rocky Horror rip-off with a budget that can’t really be called “low” without giving it too much credit. Not so much edited as it was jammed together by a blind gorilla, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel had some moments of nice entertaining camp, but any enjoyment quickly fades to nothingness behind a dark cloud of utter boredom. I wonder if it’s almost a talent in itself to turn a movie featuring an inexplicable caped raccoon into a snorefest. And snorefests never become cult classics, so it’s easy to see why this movie was swept under the rug as quickly as anyone involved with its production could possibly sweep it.

Here’s the plot: a gal forms a band in about 40 seconds, they have a gig, a radio DJ (named “DJ”) gets thrown out of a radio station by a sadistic and maybe sapphic station manager, and a bag lady with a wand hugs him a bunch before giving him a motorcycle and telling him to go to “Rock’n’Roll Hotel.” Meanwhile, band girl meets an old flame and they’re in love and on a beach somewhere within minutes. It’s good to move right along though — it gives everyone time to travel to Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, with the help of a couple of mysterious men met in the misty woods. The proprietor of the hotel looks a little like a mad scientist crossed with Laurence Olivier, the aforementioned raccoon (which is actually just a guy in a raccoon suit) leads them to their room, and they’re all set to beat a band named The Weevils in some sort of contest. Then you amble dazedly into the soft light of the Byrd lobby and wonder what the hell just happened.

Things that are also present that I couldn’t find a way to fit into the plot (and neither could the director):

  • There’s some sort of element of the undead here, but it’s not clear.
  • Somehow you’re stuck at the hotel, but that’s not clear either.
  • Frankenstein’s here, and he has seductive powers?
  • Shoes in the 80’s were the raddest.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t sound like anyone involved really ever thought the film was anything to be proud of. There were definitely not any dudes looking at daily footage and thinking, “Oh my, Nigel, good show today with that raccoon, what what. Full speed ahead and all that, dear fellow.” According to Dale Brumfield’s article in Style, they needed a quick movie that would work well in 3D. While we didn’t get to experience the movie on that level, exactly, it did kind of feel like something was sticking out of the screen and whacking me repeatedly in the face.

That’s OK though. I usually maintain that really terrible movies are more worthy of my time than mediocre ones, and that was the idea behind this whole evening. They raised over $10,000 for a worthy cause and proved to corporate sponsors that this packed house truly has a stake in the Byrd’s future. Yes, Richmonders, it’s times like these when our love for local treasures bonds us all together. We cheerfully endure the discomfort of the Byrd’s seats, we vow to ride the To the Bottom and Back bus as much as possible, and when this horrible movie commits sacrilege by calling the Jefferson a “dump,” we chuckle together even as we cower from bolts of lightning we’re sure are aimed straight for our heads.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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