This week we are devoting this space to an episode of Radio Free Charleston from ten years ago. With this being the last Sunday in April, I thought it was fitting to go back to a show that debuted on April 1, 2012, featuring the work of our much-missed friend, Johnny Rock, and his friends. Below we bring you the original production notes for this depature episode of our show, which holds a unique place in cinematic history.
“Adventure Comics Shirt” is a special episode of Radio Free Charleston, dedicated to presenting once-thought-lost scenes from The Lower West Virginia Contemporary Light Opera Stage Players film production of the James Bond film, “Coalfinger.” All prints of this film were destroyed after MGM, EON Productions and the Ian Fleming estate won a permanent injunction against the tiny, Southern West Virginia theater company Luckily, a few scenes were preserved in filmmaker Johnny Rock’s long-supressed documentary on the making of “Coalfinger.”
In the early ’90’s, the James Bond film franchise was in limbo. MGM, the movie studio that produced and distributed the series since 1962’s “Dr. No,” was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and EON Productions, the British company that controlled the rights to the series, was also facing an unsure future due to the failing health of their owner, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. Several other parties had their eyes on the lucrative franchise and at one point, it was believed that some of the stories featuring Agent 007 had not been properly copyrighted, thus plunging the world’s most famous “agent with a license to kill” into the public domain.
During this time, several movie producers rushed Bond motion pictures into development. Warner Brothers was said to be working with Tim Burton on a film which would star Nicholas Cage. A young Michael Bay was shopping around a script proposal built on the premise that James Bond was an alien. Director James Cameron saw the Bond franchise as a potential vehicle to star Arnold Schwartzenegger. Even “Star Wars” mastermind George Lucas was said to be considering a script by Kevin Smith that would give Bond a computer generated comic relief sidekick, Squirty the Robot.
None of those projects got so far as to even shoot a single frame of film. However, a southern West Virginia community theatre group struck a deal with Kevin McClory to produce a movie that McClory wanted to call “Never Say Never Again, Again,” but after careful negotiations and a lot of bootleg whiskey, McClory agreed to allow the film to be called “Coalfinger.” Much of the credit for this negotiation lies with Dr. Danny Wool, the Dean of the Boone County International Academy of Film, Theatre, and HVAC Repair.
Wool was able to raise money for his production from several area coal barons, including Don Blankenship, who agreed to contribute to the movie as long as the production was not environmentally friendly.
With nearly a five-figure budget, Wool decided to film this motion picture epic in the big city because “it just looks more metropolitan and British.” Filming began in Charleston, West Virginia in March, 1992.
After a two week period of intense filmmaking, “Coalfinger” wrapped production only $150 over budget. The unplanned added expense came when actor Eddie Earl Antler, who played Ricky, one of the Skunk Brothers, had a foam disc lodged in his shoulder in a freak accident. In a controversial decision, Wool decided to use footage of the accident in the production.
A legal battle over this accident was averted when Antler settled out of court for what was then a record 3.5 six packs of Black Label.
Editing on the film took nearly twelve hours and the movie was scheduled to debut at the prestigious Boone County International Film Festival in June, 1992. Dr. Danny Wool made the mistake of trying to have a huge, Hollywood style red carpet premiere and sent invitations to every address he found in a nine week old issue of Variety magazine that he “borrowed” from the Kanawha County Public Library. Unbeknownst to Wool, that meant he sent five invitations and full press kits to the legal firm representing EON Productions.
Within seventy-two hours, an army of lawyers swarmed on Boone County. Boone County has not seen this many litigators before or since for any case involving a living plaintiff.
One hour and forty-five minutes before the scheduled premiere of “Coalfinger,” all prints of the film were seized, following an injunction granted by Magistrate Ferlin McCuttbrack of the City of Madison Small Claims Court. A stunned audience including such luminaries as Jessco White, Hasil Adkins, Mamie White, and then unknown high school student Jennifer Garner, were shocked when instead of the movie, they were treated to Dr. Danny Wool’s one man theatrical production, “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
The stunning loss of their main attraction was so devastating that the Boone County International Film Festival never took place again, ending a two year golden age of fine cinema among the coalfields.
After a brief legal skirmish, during which Dr. Wool attempted to represent himself, all of the prints and the negative for “Coalfinger” were ground into dust and blown into the air, then ignited, creating a giant fireball which, even Dr. Wool admitted, “looked pretty damn cool.” And so, this epic, evolutionary leap of West Virginia filmmaking was lost to the world. Said to be on par with the works of Hitchcock, Eisenstein, Truffaut, and Hal Needham, “Coalfinger” would grow in legend, having been a film completely uncontaminated by human eyeballs. Film historians rank it with “London After Midnight,” “Too Much Johnson,” and “The Miracle of St. Anne” as one of the most tragic lost films in history. Up until now, not a single frame of this movie has been seen by anyone outside of the production or legal team.
However, we recently discovered that our old friend Johnny Rock was in posession of nearly fifteen minutes of “Coalfinger.” Johnny directed and produced a documentary on the making of the film and included several scenes of this epic masterpiece in his chronicle.
After an extensive vetting process, which included a phone call and at least two e-mails to EON Productions, Radio Free Charleston has decided to take a risk and bring you these lost scenes from the movie that many crew members call “the greatest James Bond movie ever produced…in West Virginia.” Special thanks must go out to Johnny Rock, his documentary crew, which included Julia Cassis, Tim Rock, Stephen Beckner, Jason Ashworth, and the late Chris Constantine. And thanks must also go out to Dr. Danny Wool and Eddie Earl Antler, who provided valuable background information for these production notes.
In the aftermath of the Coalfinger legal debacle, Dr. Wool closed down the Boone County International Academy of Film, Theatre, and HVAC Repair and relocated to Fuzzle County, Tennessee, complaining that the rigors and the rat race of the Boone County film and theatre community were too much for him to bear. Eddie Earl Antler recovered from his wounds and today, has a senior position with the Department of Highways, removing graffitti from the back of traffic signs. Remaining members of the “Coalfinger” cast and crew are living in seclusion in a double-wide trailer outside of Danville, still fearing legal ramifications.
That wraps up this special episode of Radio Free Charleston. We are very excited to help uncover this lost and feared forgotten piece of West Virginia filmmaking history. “Adventure Comics Shirt” is named after your host’s t-shirt designed by Jublin and is this year’s April Fools episode of Radio Free Charleston. Thank you for reading this far.
You will believe a man can say “Ooooch!”