Why Jack Schulz created a festival for the maligned actor Nicolas Cage

Feb 14, 2018 at 1:00 am
Why Jack Schulz created a festival for the maligned actor Nicolas Cage

The name Nicolas Cage typically elicits one of two responses. One is laughter followed by some comment about how bad his movies are and questions about his curious hairline. However, if you're anything like lawyer Jack Schulz, you'll talk for an impassioned hour about the man, the myth, the legend, and why Nicolas Cage deserves a celebration unlike any you've ever seen.

"For me it is more admiration," Schulz explains. "I can't name a single other actor that we could do something like this for. We couldn't throw a Tom Hanks fest. We do go over the top to a certain extent because that's what Cage is about."

In its fifth incarnation, Uncaged Fest returns to pay tribute to Nicolas Cage. Yes, the man who defied science with the original face swap, screamed about bees, and stole the Declaration of Independence and kidnapped the president of the United States all within the same franchise. The festival is more than a film screening, though — it's an extension of escape because Cage is more than a meme to Schulz who, not unlike the actor, is both passionate and complex.

"When we started this, it was at a time that felt like you couldn't have fun in Detroit," Schulz says. "Our first Uncaged was February 2015. Kevin Orr had just been removed as Emergency Manager. The city was bankrupt. At the time I was one of the attorneys representing AFSCME, the public union, doing hearings and standing in auditoriums telling people they've been laid off. It was a real downer. I love what I do but I hate the posturing and the heaviness of the heartbreak associated with it. So, I do stuff like this."

What exactly is this, anyway? To put it simply, it's an all-out Cage extravaganza: costumes, performances, awards, themed drinks, a double feature of Cage classics, Leaving Las Vegas LaserDiscs, and a couple hundred people who feel as strongly about the eccentric artist, fiscal disaster, and deep well of emotion as Schulz does. The idea to pay the ultimate tribute was conceived by Schulz and his then-roommate, and was made possible by what Schulz describes as "yes" people.

"I think it's about being entertained. If you don't appreciate Cage, maybe you've lost touch with being entertained," Schulz says. "Not everyone wants to listen to Bob Dylan. Maybe you want to listen to Migos. Nicolas Cage has Bob Dylan movies where the plot and storyline and the acting is phenomenal, but he's also got huge blockbusters that are pretty ludicrous. I mean, Face/Off is pretty far-fetched. The idea that their faces are switched but their bodies are different and he's sleeping with John Travolta's wife and she can't tell the difference?"

Schulz and his respective Cage cohorts, Dean Clancy, Darrin Shelton, and Justin Hein, have schemed to make this year Cage-ier than ever. Uncaged returns to Planet Ant Theatre for its second year after rapidly outgrowing its Cinema Detroit origins. And Schulz points out yet another similarity — Cage is surrounded by "yes" people, too.

"Essentially, he takes risks. Like the idea of the person who rows across the ocean just because it was there. He buys castles, a flotilla of yachts, he buys a dinosaur skull," Schultz explains. "There's an interview where he is asked why he took the movie Drive Angry. He said he took the role because he always wanted to play a character that gets shot in the eye. Who does that?"

This year, Uncaged will screen the unnerving David Lynch-directed love story Wild at Heart and the highly underrated Disney adventure, National Treasure. When asked about the future of Uncaged, Schulz believes the event could become a longstanding tradition. "Everyone who comes comes every year," Schulz says. He recounts when he performed the Goo Goo Dolls song "Iris" (from the tearjerking Cage love story City of Angels) but replaced the lyrics with plot points from Face/Off. And he shared the tale about the Uncaged attendee who rode the real Con Air after being arrested at the border for weapon trafficking. Schulz also gushes over the couple who found love at the first Uncaged. Though the event has not been widely publicized and has been made possible mostly by word of mouth and, well, that time a Russian blogger featured the event on his personal Cage fan page, the festival sells out. But more than success in numbers, there is always a looming hope that maybe, just maybe, Cage himself might show.

In 2017, Cage surprised the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas during their fourth annual Caged Marathon where he participated in a 45-minute-long Q&A with the audience and performed a dramatic cold reading of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.

"Obviously we would love to have him there," Shulz says. "The fact that he came to the Alamo Drafthouse festival gives us hope but we've been doing this longer than they have and are twice as big."

"But we don't know anyone," Schulz says. "None of us are promoters or planners. I'm a lawyer and the other guy designs beer bottles for Frankenmuth Brewery."

"If he did show, I would have to just say — look at what you've done. Just by existing we get together and celebrate you without any anticipation of you coming — we celebrate you," he says. "More than what I would say to him, I'm interested in what he would say to us. What he thinks of this. Whether or not he would be a fan of what we're doing or if we are even worthy. People just really love him."

Uncaged V starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17 at Planet Ant Theatre, 2320 Caniff St., Hamtramck; planetant.com/uncaged; Tickets are limited and $20.