Whatever floats your boat

ThePoseidonAdventureishardly your typical cult film. There are no trannies, no zombies, no tranny zombies . . . and yet, this 1972 Irwin Allen disaster epic has spawned a cult to rival Rocky Horror in enthusiasm if not in numbers. James Radford first discovered the film as a boy in North Carolina, and it was love at first sight. As an adult he ventured west and made a beeline for the Queen Mary, where some of the film's most memorable scenes were shot. Today he works in the precious jewelry department of Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, volunteering much of his spare time for QueenMaryfund-raising efforts. It was he who organized the upcoming Poseidon Adventure screening aboard the ship, and in his gentle, drawling voice he explains why fans keep returning to the Poseidon,that upside-down boat at the bottom of the sea.

OC Weekly:How many times have you seenThe Poseidon Adventure?

JamesRadford:Well, when I was a kid, I must have seen it 20 times. God, people will think I sound crazy, to hear I saw a movie 20 times.

Hey, when I was seven I probably sawStar Wars 20 times. I'm not gonna give you a hard time about that.

It is different when you're a kid. And it was on the big screen, you know? Now I see it . . . once a year. But there are parts of it, certain scenes, that I've seen I-don't-know-how-many times.

Now, I understand you're the vice president ofThe Poseidon Adventure fan club . . .

Oh . . . no, I'm not. Well, not anymore. In 1999 I met a guy named Jack Castro, and I helped him put the website together for the fan club. He was very appreciative, and he just sort of said I was the club vice-president, so I was. We would organize luncheons on the Queen Mary, where fans could speak to people involved in the film. We did fun things like that. But I'm not really a club person, so about a year ago I told Jack that I'd still pay my dues and be just a regular member, but I had other projects I wanted to devote my time to. I've actually written a children's book, you can get it aboard the QueenMary.It's called The ABCs of the Queen Mary.

Until a few days ago, I had no idea this movie had such an avid cult following. There's apparently some guy who has decorated his house so it looks like the boat in the movie.

Oh, he's a friend of mine, actually. His name is Paul Wilson, and he's in Arizona. His home isn't really decorated like the ship, but he made his home into a miniature Poseidon for a student film he was making years ago. He painted the walls in perspective and it was incredible, some of the shots looked just like the movie. He played all the characters himself, except for the ballroom scene, of course; he brought in other people for that. In his version the boat capsized when it was hit with a lady's purse, don't ask me why. It was called The Pursesidon Adventure, and it was really hilarious.

But his home isn't still decorated like that? He doesn't have chairs on the ceiling?

No. But he does have a bedroom decorated so it looks like an ocean liner. It's very impressive.

Wow, I'll bet! I understand some fans actually put a stage musical together. Was this a professional production?

Yes, that was a couple of years ago at the Theater of Note on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. It was like a Saturday Night Live version; it was affectionate, but it was comedic. There was a song in it sung by the Shelley Winters character, called "In the Water, I'm a Very Skinny Lady." It ran for a couple of months. They actually put a very good DVD together, but they can't sell it because of the rights issues.

Are these fan screenings around the countryRocky Horror-style events? Do people dress like the characters and all that?

Well, Fox doesn't really have a good print anymore, so the film isn't shown on the big screen very often. There are different groups with different set-ups, but the ones I'm involved with aren't like that. They're more of a respectful tribute, we treat the film with dignity. There was one fund-raiser I was involved with several years ago in San Francisco. It was for a hospital AIDS ward, and the people involved wanted it to be very campy and very . . . well, gay, I guess. The theater was built to hold 1,350 people and there was a line down the block, a lot of people in costumes. It was San Francisco, so they were focusing on the campy elements, they were laughing at Carol Lynley's big shoes and things like that. And, of course, the film does have a campy side. But we're there to celebrate the film, not laugh at it.

As a sci-fi/fantasy buff, I know that there's a real spectrum of fans, from the casually interested to the most sad, pitiful obsession. Have you encountered anyPoseidon Adventure fans who you felt really crossed the line?

[Grimly] Yes, I have. That's the short answer. When you collect things, whether it's baseball cards or Titanicmemorabilia or whatever, there are always certain people who are too hooked into the having of things, the getting of things, and they're not as nice as they could be. But this movie has brought a lot of people together in a wonderful way. When we did our first fund-raiser screening on the QueenMary,I had no idea what kind of response we'd get, so many people had wonderful memories of this movie. It's the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy to step on board that boat and see all those amazing places from the movie, for real. It's nice to know that the S.S.Poseidonis still floating there in Long Beach.

The Poseidon Adventure screens at the Queen Mary, Exhibit Hall, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 435-3511. Sat., 6 p.m. $30; includes a silent auction of Poseidon memorabilia at 4 p.m. and a Q&A session (featuring Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, director Ronald Neame and stuntman Ernie Orsatti) at 8:30 p.m.

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