Raw Material
The Last Prom

Ralph Coon,
The Last Prom

Selection: "A History of the Drivers' Education Film" (page 77)

Recent review (from Playboy): "Ralph Coon is the Pauline Kael of crash pictures."

Sample: $3 from 120 South San Fernando Blvd., #243, Burbank, CA 91502 (checks: Ralph Coon)

When did you launch your zine? What inspired you to do so?
The driver's education issue of The Last Prom was first published in early 1991. I grew up in rural Virginia reading comic books and watching drive-in horror film, and I knew about zines for as long as I can remember since both subjects have always had plenty of zine coverage. However, most were shitty and produced by shitty fan-boy geeks, and besides the idea of doing a publication about just one thing never caught my interest. It wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 and went into Amok (an off-beat bookstore in Hollywood) and saw early copies of Murder Can Be Fun and here was a simply done, but heavily researched and well written zine about a variety of funny, morbid stuff. It was obviously a labor of love that never limited itself and I totally respected that. Murder Can Be Fun was the first zine that ever taught me something. That was my inspiration for starting The Last Prom—so you have John Marr to blame, I guess.

Why publish a zine?
I publish because if I didn't tell these stories nobody else would.

What can you tell us about the selection you provided for "The Book of Zines"?
In high school I had a movie review column in the school paper. In my column I didn't review Hollywood movies, but instead reviewed the educational films that different teachers were showing throughout the school. There was a great surrealistic animated film based on Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," that one English teacher always showed. "The Monkey's Paw" was another great one with an O'Henry ending.
Science classes and health classes were gold mines for screens of tattered 16mm educational films; the vast majority being campy, hilarious, inept and hopelessly dated. The films that got the most word-of-mouth were from drivers' education. Stories of cheerleaders vomiting and football jocks fainting ripped through the halls like wildfire. It was a good opportunity to watch the power of word-of-mouth publicity, and when I got a chance to see some of these films, I'd scribble down all the production credits I could because I thought one day maybe I could become a drivers' education film director myself and I wanted to talk to some of these people who made these films.

Bang. You're dead.

Some of my favorites came from a company called Highway Safety Films Inc. and one film in particular, "The Last Prom," became, and still is, my favorite film of all time. That's when I first began searching. When I moved to Los Angeles I started lurking around the American Film Institute Library and stumbled upon an obscure book called "The Educational Film Locator." Armed with the information found within this book, I managed to track down Earl J. Deems, the one time auteur of Highway Safety Films. By this time he was a cranky old man, suspicious of anyone's interest in his past work. He hung up on me twice, but persistence won out and he granted me an interview which became the basis of The Last Prom No. 1 (the drivers' ed issue).
After that first issue came out, I tracked down the director of "The Last Prom," Gene McPherson, and began a correspondence. I told him I intended to remake his film for a new generation. He said such a remake would be expensive, have no audience and serve absolutely no need. I wrote again, saying I wanted to be the drivers' education filmmaker for the art house crowd. He never replied.

Is there anyplace that sells these videos?
Something Weird Video offers "Signal 30," "Highways of Agony," "Wheels of Tragedy," and "Mechanized Death" on one tape for $23 postpaid (Item #4205 from P.O. Box 33664, Seattle, WA 98133).

Any general tips for aspiring zinesters?
Self-publish because you love something and want to spread your interests and knowledge to others. The most beautiful art, be it film, writing, music, whatever, is always done for love, not money or fame or because you might get some free records to review. I can't think of anything more fucking boring than another "indie" music review zine filled with "indie" music ads.

What's your favorite part of doing a zine?
I like corresponding with kindred souls. I like getting orders from all around the world and pondering on just how someone in The Netherlands or Australia heard about my zine. It's like a wonderfully demented virus. Someone tells a friend and they tell a friend and...
I've gone to different places around the U.S., major cities and small towns alike, and I've been able to call up people I've met through the mail via The Last Prom who share my sense of wonder. We'll go out and they'll show me stuff the local Chamber of Commerce wouldn't want me to see. I like that.

In my other life, I'm a:
Gaffer. I do lighting for music videos, film, commercials, and anybody else who will pay me.

Whispers From Space

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