Flick Freaks

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

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

The title of this season's premiere of Films in Black & White is fairly straightforward: "Movies That Should Have Sucked, But Didn't." And, in the not-so-humble estimation of Harris and Bluestein, that would include War of the Worlds, Escape from LA, Skeleton Key, One Hour Photo, Sexy Beast and Under the Cherry Moon.

Jennifer Silverberg
Movie junkie Mark Bluestein fell in love with Jaws 
— and the rest is history.
Jennifer Silverberg
Movie junkie Mark Bluestein fell in love with Jaws — and the rest is history.

Harris' favorite is Woody Allen's Match Point. Looking into the camera, he enthuses: "It's about a guy who basically has it all. He gets it all, but he wants just a little bit more. You've met this type of guy. You'll be downtown, and they'll be waiting in line to get a hot dog and they're saying, 'Oh, this line is so slow.' Chill out, man! What, it's only like 45 seconds to wait?'"

Bluestein chimes in: "I love it how you go from Match Point to a guy buying a hot dog."

Harris returns serve: "Because it's about a guy who has everything, and he wants this one girl, Scarlett Johansson. Right there, when you know you can't have a woman, you just get up and leave her alone. I know I do."

The ever self-conscious Bluestein worries about his thinning light brown hair — the reason he often wears a dirty St. Louis Cardinals cap when taping the show. This season, though, he's decided to go hatless.

"You're sure I look OK?" he asks cameraman Don Golaszewski.

"Yeah," Golaszewski replies, "it's much cleaner, and it doesn't mess with the lighting so much."

Bluestein confides: "I never really wanted to do anything in front of the camera. This just kind of worked out. I still don't feel comfortable in front of the camera. Every time I edit the show and watch it, I can't stand it."

Harris has a round face, huge dimples, and wears little rectangular glasses. His long dreadlocks are rolled up into a fancy bun. ("On a scale of one to ten, I'm a six — but my personality maybe lifts me up to an eight," he says later.)

He's more comfortable onscreen than Bluestein, but then, he's been in front of a camera for more than half his life. His first public-access experience occurred when he was thirteen, on a show called YAYS (short for Youth at Your Service). And he's been producing ever since, working on the popular St. Louis hip-hop series Phat Clips, a show featuring alt-rock videos and another focusing on R&B music.

"I like to think I'm the king of public access in St. Louis," says Harris. "It used to be [the late World Wide Magazine host] Pete Parisi, but then he passed and now it's moved on to me."

Unlike his peers in north city, where he grew up, Harris stayed away from the basketball courts and didn't march lockstep to a hip-hop beat. He preferred this quiet of his room, listening to Elton John and reading comics. Harris' neighborhood was better known for its drug trade than its film pedigree. Says his mother, Jane Clay: "The drugs were starting to take over, but he walked through it all being silly and friendly. He was wearing combat clothes before it was fashionable."

"You do not want to be caught at twelve years old listening to Elton John where I'm from," jokes Harris. "That's like waving the gay flag." For a while, in fact, Harris says his grandmother was convinced he was gay.

He adds: "My mom used to say, 'Jason, you a different type of child.'"

Fellow employees at the Blockbuster Video, meanwhile, poke fun at him for listening to Huey Lewis & the News, while friends chuckle about his fondness for indie-pop darling Sufjan Stevens: "You drive down the street playing that stuff and people think you're crazy," says Harris.

Growing up, he felt compelled to conceal some of his quirks, but now he expresses his nerdy qualities with pride. "Becoming a nerd is a lifestyle," he says. "I know being a nerd's kind of hip right now, but it's not something you just decide to do. It has to be your life. You have to know your anime, but you have to know the history, too. You can't straddle the fence. You have to be hardcore about it. You almost have to be born into that."

Mark Bluestein and his wife, Mandy, live in a bungalow in south St. Louis. He edits Films in Black & White in a back room that serves as an office and the storage area for his movie memorabilia. The couple share many common interests but have wildly divergent taste in movies.

"She gets stuff that I'd never consider renting," he complains. Then, as if on cue, the strawberry-blonde returns from an errand with a rented movie.

"What'd you get, babe?" he asks.

"RV," she says, referring to a critically panned slapstick comedy starring Robin Williams. Bluestein hated it. As she moves toward the kitchen, he grumbles, "See, what did I tell you?"

Bluestein stares at his computer screen and continues to edit the episode shot at the Moolah. He pastes in the introduction, a montage of classic film clips and a few choice sound bites — among them, Bluestein saying: "You and I could make a better movie with two fat chicks and a donkey." The intro was recently uploaded to YouTube.com, the video-sharing Web site that has changed the way clips are watched over the Internet. The short clip has been viewed 60 times in the past week — nothing to write home about — but proof that someone out there is watching.

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