Flick Freaks

Mark Bluestein and Jason Harris hope to turn St. Louis cinema buffs on to their irreverent talk show

Entering its third season last month, Harris and Bluestein's show has drawn a small, devoted following of viewers who dig the pair's raucous rundown on the good, bad and the ugly of movie-dom. On screen they refer to themselves as Jason the Jerk and Mark the Guru. They have no idea how many people see them from the potential audience of 60,000 subscribers to Charter Cable in the city of St. Louis — the only place the show airs.

It's a simple setup, with a pair of cameras pointed at the two as they record the show at the Moolah Theater on Lindell Boulevard. As always, both of them are wearing T-shirts. For this shoot Bluestein is sporting a black Goodfellas T and Harris, seated to his left, wears one that reads: "To be honest with you, I'm a liar."

In this episode Bluestein is describing the premise of Donnie Brasco— their "fifth favorite" gangster movie of all-time — starring Al Pacino as a mobster and Johnny Depp as an undercover FBI agent.

When he's not talking about films, Jason Harris collects 
urine.
Jennifer Silverberg
When he's not talking about films, Jason Harris collects urine.

Says Bluestein: "His friends keep telling him that [Depp's character, Brasco] is a cop — something isn't right about him. Pacino never believes it. Pacino sees this kid as a son because his own son is really a piece of crap. And the two of them form this bond, and that's basically what this whole movie is about — this bond."

Harrison pounces: "A bond between a snitch. I liked the movie, but the problem is — it's about something really bad. How far would you go to snitch on somebody? Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm for crime. I'm just not into snitching. You know what I'm saying? Donnie Brasco is a snitch. There are no if, ands or buts about it. Good movie, just the whole premise leaves a bad taste in your mouth."

Back and forth the conversation goes, enumerating the strengths and weaknesses of a generation's worth of gangster movies — from Brasco to King of New Yorkto The Untouchables to Carlito's Way to Reservoir Dogsto The Godfather to Casino.And, finally, Scarface.

"The best gangster movie ever made," announces Bluestein. "And I saw it long before the rappers have been rapping about it, long before they made curtains and bed sheets and bought fake posters on eBay."

"It's a regular Shakespeare play," adds Harris. "The best quote in the whole movie: 'First you get the money, then you get the power. Then you get the women.' Now, what's funny about that — women lead to your downfall in gangster movies, if you haven't noticed. That's the lesson for the day, kids. Women lead to your downfall. You just have to use them, and go about your business. No offense to women out there, but y'all bring a gangsta down."

There's nothing particularly novel about Films in Black & White. The template is worn: Two guys face the camera, show a clip from a movie and then ramble on about it. It is, in some ways, a poor man's Ebert & Roeper. And yet this show has a certain spark, a no-holds-barred attitude. Devoid of pretense or effete cinematic observations, the program is entertaining, unpredictable — and, often, just plain silly. Discussing One Hour Photo,starring Robin Williams, Harris turns to Bluestein and cracks: "He's played in some crap recently. I thought it was going to be a nice little brown turd."

"Me and Mark have this weird relationship," explains Harris. "You see us together and we're totally different people. But then when we get together, we're the coolest chums, and it isn't fake. It's real."

The two met at KDHX, where Harris had been working since he was fifteen. Bluestein was fresh out of Broadcast Center, a St. Louis-based trade school, and began interning at the studio. One day Bluestein was admiring Harris' desk, piled high with comics and other pop-culture ephemera, when Harris walked up. The two started chatting and soon the subject turned to movies. And, like Pacino and Depp, they bonded. Harris remembers telling him, "We should do a show together."

At first Bluestein wasn't interested. His experience with film and television was behind the camera. But film was in his genes: His grandfather worked for a company that owned Powell Hall and the Fox Theatre. "We grew up with movies," says Carol Bluestein, Mark's mother.

"The first movie I ever watched was Jaws," recalls Mark Bluestein. "I stayed up all night watching that movie over and over again." His father, also a movie aficionado, composed a list of 100 films his son simply had to see. "It had everything on it," recalls Bluestein. "And I watched them all — all the Hitchcocks. Watched Midnight Cowboy— hated it. Saw On the Waterfront. Hated that. Loved Brando, but I hated the movie."

While at Hazelwood Central High School and during his post-high school years, Bluestein worked at theaters around St. Louis, including the shuttered Village Square, Westport Plaza and the North Twin Drive-In. He enrolled in the Broadcast Center — where he now teaches — and later, after a few years at a small Oklahoma country-music station, returned to St. Louis.

"Mark uses movies the way that some people use drugs and alcohol," says Carol Bluestein. "It gets him through life, I think."

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