1093.) For Halloween, I offer a film that should have a major cult, if only because it is downright bizarre. It’s The Mafu Cage, a 1978 psychodrama by director Karen Arthur – who also deserves a cult following. The film concerns two sisters who live in a mansion surrounded by African artifacts gathered by their anthropologist father. One is insane (Carol Kane), the other is her caretaker (Lee Grant). The signs of insanity generally have to do with Carol beating her pet monkeys (whom she calls “Mafus”) to death and then bathing in their blood. Lee realizes this is odd behavior, but since the two have an adversarial but lesbian relationship, she lets it go. The film can be viewed as a horror movie in the Henry Farrell mode, a thriller, a feminist allegory (of some kind), or an over-the-top melodrama. Believe me when I tell you it is all of those, with an accent on the last-mentioned. Happy Halloween – may you all get a Mafu!
1094.) I’ve delved into the world of recent cult British comedy a number of times, but have thus far neglected our “neighbor to the North.” Thus this week I discuss and show clips from the cult Canadian sitcom Twitch City (1998-2000). The creation of its star, Don McKellar, and director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo), the show has a splendid premise for a TV show: our hero is an agoraphobic who sits in his apartment watching television all day, sometimes dispensing with philosophical diatribes about the stuff he’s watching (his favorite series being The Rex Reilly Show, a thinly-veiled spoof of Jerry Springer’s program; the character of Reilly was played in the two seasons of Twitch City by different members of the Kids in the Hall). The show’s “plot” concerns the efforts made by our hero and his girlfriend to find a suitable roommate, plus the obstacles faced by the couple as it becomes obvious that, at some point, he will have to leave the house. In addition to the “Kids” playing the daytime talk host, the show’s guest stars include a neat roster of familiar faces from classic Canadian TV and McKellar’s friend from Cronenberg-ville, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
1095.) Vintage: There are no time constraints or deadlines in the Funhouse, so I am very proud to offer a Deceased Ariste tribute to the late, great George Kuchar this week, some time after he left this mortal coil. George’s landmark work (with his brother Mike and without) in the American “underground” mingled gorgeous imagery (crafted on non-existent budgets), a superb use of both Hollywood orchestral soundtracks and contemporary pop-rock, and George’s trademark dark/lurid sense of humor. This episode (the first of two) focuses on George’s solo 16mm work from the Sixties through the mid-Eighties. We witness his depiction of sexiness and flirty couplings (with the requisite amount of deep-seated Catholic guilt for both straight and gay participants), and some of my favorite “musical moments” from his films. (Anger may have provided the perfect “music videos” for pop-rock tunes by playing them in their entirety, but George and Mike drove them deep into the brain pan by playing only a few verses with a perfect visual counterpoint.) The films in this episode range from those shot in George’s Bronx apartment (with his neighbors and mom featured as supporting players) to his time in the city he loving called “Frisco” where he finally could evoke Hollywood melodrama (and sci-fi) with the proper landscape.
1096.) Vintage: Part two of my Deceased Artiste tribute to George Kuchar deals with George as onscreen performer. From his more overwrought acting roles — represented here by the timelessly weird Thundercrack! — to his “Weather Diaries,” George was an extremely memorable presence in the films he (and others) directed. I offer some samples of George at his best, punctuated by moments from his diary videos in which we meet his equally effusive friends. The shows closes off with a music video he directed that supplies an alternative song for the Yuletide season.
1097.) Vintage [Kinda surprised I’d never reshown this great episode from a few years back]: The second and final part of my interview with British humorist and filmmaker Chris Morris incorporates a number of items dear to my heart in the Funhouse: dark humor, British comedy, the magical medium of radio, a tribute to comedy giants (in this case, Morris’s two influences, the mighty Viv Stanshall and Peter Cook), and a discussion of the vagaries of new media, including the fact that entire bodies of work can be found thereupon. Included in the show is a Funhouse first: audio clips featured as prominently as the video, since Morris did some visionary work on radio, and Stanshall and Cook are best represented in this context by their audio recordings. Along the way we also touch on the “fake news” phenomenon — Morris and Armando Iannucci having done the concept to a fine, surreal turn on British TV two years before The Daily Show appeared in the U.S., and an example of how talking with a brilliant individual can sometimes be like a chess match.
1098.) Vintage: Months after it went off the air, I’m still processing the wonderment that was the local late-night cable talk show All Night With Joey Reynolds. In order for me to fully deal with what I witnessed, I must (naturally enough) share it with you, and try to see if it was indeed a hallucination or was truly the most bizarrely structured gabfest in TV history. This week, as the second part of a projected three-part journey through the show’s unique moments, I offer up more of Joey’s oddly self-destructive meditations on pop culture in general and network television in particular. I also spotlight some unusual moments with his guests. Joey frequently boasted that the show was “unscripted,” and it truly was. The program showcased some immensely talented people doing what they did best, but it also contained an enormous amount of tangents, on-air flubs, and startling leaps in (il)logic. I still can’t believe it was ever on television, but it will be once more when I keep you “All Night with Joey Reynolds”….
1099.) In the Funhouse I have no deadlines for obituaries, so I enthusiastically conduct Deceased Artiste tributes whenever I can watch and assemble the material. So this week I salute Eli Wallach, with a focus on the work he did for Murray Schisgal, one of the great underrated humorous playwrights of the Sixties. The bulk of the show is devoted to “The Typists,” a one-act play that Wallach and his partner-in-life Anne Jackson performed for a PBS theater series in 1971 (the play dates from 1960; its NYC debut was in ’63). The play concerns two coworkers who go through a lifetime in a single day of work (don’t we all?), bonding, conspiring, arguing, and considering a romance. I follow this with a shorter discussion of and scenes from The Tiger Makes Out, the 1967 film made from the other one-act (“The Tiger”) that Wallach and Jackson had performed with “The Typists.” The film is another relic of the era that is “a gift that keeps on giving and giving…” Its plot, about a disgruntled postman kidnapping a suburban housewife, is both sexist and feminist (she, of course, being smarter than he). Schisgal’s comedies provided a perfect showcase for Wallach and Jackson, and the plays, while dated in some aspects, are truly timeless in others.
1100.) Many modern filmmakers strive for a “retro” look for their films. One filmmaker in the Eighties did it perfectly, back when it was not the trendy thing to do. This week I salute the work of Canadian filmmaker John Paizs, who crafted a group of short films and a feature that are gorgeous-looking and wonderfully odd. Paizs’ specialty was setting his stories of over-the-top emotions and melodramatic behavior in a suburban neighborhood that resembled the utopian suburbia of the Fifties and early Sixties. His shorts have different moods, evoking Thirties movies about elegant rich people with “secrets,” Forties film noirs, and Fifties melodramas. His debut feature Crime Wave (1985) is a splendid creation that tells the tale of a quiet filmmaker (played by Paizs himself) who wants to make the greatest “color crime movie.” The film’s odd sense of time-dislocation and perverse humor links it to the work of Paizs’ colleague from the Winnipeg Film Group, Guy Maddin (who took on a gender-bending role in a Paizs short – which, of course, I’ll be featuring); among Paizs’ acting ensemble are other WFG stalwarts, including producer Greg Klymkiw and scripter George Toles. Paizs’ films take place in a weird neighborhood where the past is just around the corner….
1101.) The time is rife for yet another U.S. TV premiere of a great British comedy program that has never played on our cable nets or PBS (and probably never will). The show in this case is the one-off special AD/BC: A Rock Opera, a spot-on parody of Seventies rock operas that just happens to be related to Xmas, as its storyline concerns the inn keeper in Bethlehem. It is the brainchild of Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade, castmates from The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and The IT Crowd. Berry stars and provided the music (lyrics and book were cowritten with Ayoade), which perfectly spoofs Jesus Christ Superstar and every other catchy (and critic-endorsed) concept album of the period. Ayoade directed the piece, decimating the corny grooviness of Norman Jewison’s “hip” visuals for the JCS feature film. The cast includes Julian Barratt and his mates in the Boosh, Julia Davis (Hunderby, Jam), and Matt Lucas of Little Britain. You can watch some really scary entertainment on TV this holiday season (how many bad Yuletide cable movies have been made in the last decade – hundreds?) or you can see the cream of Britain’s humorists mocking a concept that has been ripe for satire for decades. It’s your holiday time, use it wisely!
1102.) The holiday season is indeed the time for b&w movies, and more specifically for “the Boys,” Laurel and Hardy. I did a full Xmas L&H episode back in 2003 that I’ve never rerun at Xmas, so I’m happy to soup it up digitally and present it as a farewell-to-the-holidays show. For this episode I chose scenes that I felt best displayed Stan and Ollie’s talent as entertainers, as well as moments that indicate that their humor was more sophisticated than they are given credit for. Thus – while I’ve got no moments from The March of the Wooden Soldiers or Sons of the Desert – I do have some terrific scenes (all from VHS, yes, that’s the way we watched ’em for decades) from a number of their brilliant two-reelers (mostly from the 1932 releases; I didn’t do that consciously, I think a lot of the material I love the most came from that year). You’ll see “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy” as incompetent salesmen, quite competent singer/dancers, husbands out for a wild night, and best friends playing splendidly with gender roles. They were a *lot* hipper than most folks know (especially in the last 30 years, when the Stooges have been the only Golden Age comedy team seen regularly on American TV).
1103.) When Sam Peckinpah is discussed, it is mostly in terms of his violent action films and their “bullet ballets.” His low-key works are generally ignored but are equally profound statements about the emptiness (and obsolescence) of the American male. One such work is his telefilm “Noon Wine,” which aired on the ABC Stage ’67 series (in November of 1966, a week after the Sondheim musical “Evening Primrose” that I reviewed on the show a few years back); I’ll be discussing and showing scenes from the show on this episode. Based on a short novel by Katherine Anne Porter, the film tells the story of a farmer (Jason Robards) who kills a bounty hunter (Theodore Bikel) when he visits his farm looking to arrest a hired hand. Guilt and the capacity to believe one’s own lies are the main themes, but the greatest virtue of the film is its letter-perfect casting – Robards is superb in the lead role, ably supported by Olivia de Havilland as his weary wife, Bikel as the odious, chuckling bounty hunter, and Per Oscarsson as the mysterious hired hand.
1104.) In a year-end Consumer Guide round-up, I salute the work of three filmmakers who are much beloved in the Funhouse. First up, I discuss Robert Altman’s Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. The first of his “filmed play” features, Come Back… is both a terrific ensemble piece and a great statement on American fandom. Next up are the first two features by Funhouse interview subject Leos Carax. The films, Mauvais Sang and Boy Meets Girl, have been restored and highly supplemented for a new DVD/Blu-ray release. Carax’s work bristles with energy and the joy of filmmaking (and film-viewing); at the beginning of his career he also was an incurable romantic (usually dating the films’ female leads) who crafted some timelessly romantic images. I close out with Criterion’s Complete Jacques Tati box. True to its name, the collection includes all six of his features, all of his shorts, and over eight hours of visual extras. I discuss the box in detail and show a few plum moments… including Tati’s only U.S. TV appearance, in prime time on the variety show of a major Funhouse favorite.
1105.) An unusual Consumer Guide round-up this week, as I was in fact involved (with no financial interest, whatsoever) in both items. First up is a discussion of A Life in Dirty Movies, the documentary about cult filmmaker Joe Sarno. The film offers a very good “101” about his softcore career, with comments coming from fans and colleagues like John Waters, Annie Sprinkle, and Jamie Gillis, as well as film historians like yrs truly. Although it covers his most important films very well, the docu is primarily about his loving relationship with his wife Peggy, who served as both the backbone of his film crew and a one-woman support system as he became a senior. The second DVD title I’m reviewing is only available via Internet mail-order from Europe. It’s the first release of a clear copy of Joe’s too-little-seen cult classic Young Playthings. About two-thirds of the film now looks pristine, thanks to Peggy’s discovery of the original negative in a storage space (the other third comes from a very good version of the bootleg of this otherwise-lost film that has circulated since the Nineties). The film is arguably Joe’s best, a strange infusion of art into exploitation, in which two women who are in love with the same man become involved with a mysterious lady who puts on plays based on old legends in her apartment (performers are clad in white face paint, a few pieces of costuming, and nothing else). The Playthings release on Swedish contains the 1997 Funhouse interview with Joe in which he spoke about the film, as well as his very productive time living in Sweden.
1106.) I’ve discussed the work of softcore filmmaker Joe Sarno several times on the Funhouse, but haven’t been able to spotlight the stranger items in his body of work, the times when he went over the top and kept on going. Tonight that’s all I’ll be showing, as I feature clips from, and discussion of, four features that are only available on overseas DVDs. The first two pictures are genre movies that he made in the Eighties – a mercenary-fights-Neo-Nazis film starring Harry Reems (much undressing, no on-screen sex) and a epic-length tale of demonic possession. The featured duo are far stranger, though – two Swedish hardcore features he directed under pseudonyms that are cult items in Sweden but unknown over here. The first, Karlekson (1977), is yet another curious tale of incestuous desire from Joe that goes even further than his softcore incest-driven dramas in the direction of gonzo delirium. The second, Fabodjantan (1978), is a very strange porn comedy (edited down to an “R” rating for its U.S. TV debut) in which a girl who is the “town pagan” uses a Viking horn to make the women of her burg go crazy with lust during the lovely midsummer season. It’s a film that is remarkably sincere – the hallmark of Joe’s incredibly stylish work – and yet really crazy (a “mother” character, wearing what looks to be a green wig, manifests her lust on a Swedish brand of sausage). Joe’s exploration of sexuality went in several directions and I’m happy to be able to share both ends of the spectrum.
1107.) In the Consumer Guide department this time I discuss new DVD releases from a Funhouse favorite and two terrific filmmakers whose work I’ve never covered before on the show. First up is a review of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2012 TV miniseries Penance. Based on a popular Japanese novel, the compulsively watchable, character-driven thriller is about four young women who are pledged by the mother of a murdered classmate to have to endure “penances” in their lives. Next is the Criterion release of two great Sixties Westerns, Monte Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind. Hellman himself crafted the extras in the set, as he interviews cast and crew from the film a half-century later. I close out with an in-depth discussion of, and clips from, the wonderful Criterion box set Les Blank: Always for Pleasure, a collection of 14 Blank documentaries. Blank focused on both cultures in the U.S. that were being “lost” as time moved on, as well as colorfully eccentric characters. Few filmmakers have ever had such an affinity for both music – from the blues to zydeco, polka to Latin jazz – and the ethnic preparation of food. Blank crafted beautiful portraits of America by chronicling the past as it clung on in the present.
1108.) Part one of my interview with journalist-novelist-musician Josh Alan Friedman, shot at the now sadly defunct Cafe Edison. Josh was the perfect dining companion – yes, this is the one and only Funhouse interview in which the guest and I partake of food while talking – for a discussion of the history of Times Square from the Seventies onward, he having written the wonderful collection Tales of Times Square. In this segment from the interview, we talk about Josh’s work for Al Goldstein on Midnight Blue, and then we move straight into a discussion of Times Square and Forty Deuce by talking about Josh’s “deflowering” by a hooker. This occasions a discussion of the hooking trade in the neighborhood – and the whole talk is punctuated by some great film clips of the vicinity, from both mainstream and avant-garde films. This is the kind of fare you will find only on the Funhouse.
1109.) This week it’s part two of my friendly and informal chat with journalist-novelist-musician Josh Alan Friedman, shot at the now sadly defunct Cafe Edison. In this episode, it’s Times Square all the time, as Josh and I talk about: the peep show business; the most extreme kinds of porn found on the Deuce; the older, non-sleazy denizens of Times Square that he interviewed for his wonderful articles; and the presence of the mob in the neighborhood. Punctuating our discussion are some great clips of Times Square in the movies, from the avant-garde to famous film classics populated by memorable characters.
1110.) Vintage: The strangest TV experiences must be shared, and so I offer up the third and final episode of my exploration of the local late-night cable talk show All Night With Joey Reynolds. This installment of my journey through Joey’s mind — and oddly structured chat program — contains clips that I’ve saved for the end, including some of my favorite guests from the show’s three months on the air and some of Joey’s oddest on-air pronouncements. I attempted to convey the very special (and wildly self-indulgent) nature of what Joey was doing on the Funhouse blog, but video clips will best illustrate exactly how unique, unintentionally kitschy, and downright hallucinatory the show was.
1111.) Vintage: Funhouse viewers will be very familiar with the work of Armando Iannucci, the brilliant writer-producer of shows I’ve discussed on the Funhouse: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, and The Thick of It (not forgetting Time Trumpet and Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle). This week’s episode features scenes from the only traditional sketch comedy show he ever starred in, the eponymous Armando Iannucci Shows (2001). Iannucci’s strong suit is acidic satire, thus the surprise to find him playing a Woody-like nebbish character in this themed (but still somewhat random) series. Traditional topics are tackled with the deadpan sarcasm and surreal whimsy that characterizes the best British comedy — find out the secret to being witty at a dinner party, who best threatens household appliances, and why it is sometimes necessary to taunt animals.
1112.) Vintage: I’ve been single-handedly trying to keep the notion of a Marco Ferreri cult alive, and with that in mind, I am very happy to present a new series of episodes featuring pristine copies of his weirdest, wildest films. Tonight’s episode is devoted entirely to a title that has never been available on these shores, I Love You (1986), starring that smirking Highlander, Christopher Lambert. Although it came quite late in his career, this could well be considered one of the most archetypal Ferreri pics, since it is ALL about a bizarre obsession and the havoc it wreaks on the protagonist’s life. In this case our hero becomes obsessed with a little key chain thingamajig that is designed in the shape of a woman’s head – when you whistle at it, it says (in English), “I love you.” This dollop of keychain love becomes the only thing that can sustain our hero’s life, and so his existence is destroyed when he breaks a tooth and can no longer whistle. The film’s allegory for male sexual obsession, fear of impotence, and general insanity, doesn’t require a Freudian degree to be understood. Ferreri devised and sustained these allegories with complete and utter sincerity, and that is what makes his body of work so unique, impressive, and often jaw-droppingly odd.
1113.) Although she might be best-remembered as Clint Eastwood’s significant other (onscreen and in real-life, for over a decade), Sondra Locke proved herself quite eager to choose bizarre roles, and odd subject matter for the films she directed. This week I’ll be paying tribute to the “incredibly strange” items in her filmography. I start off with Cover Me Babe (1970), in which she is the hippie girlfriend to a loathsomely pretentious filmmaker. Next up is the very bizarre “California nightmare” thriller Death Game (1977), in which a horny husband (Seymour Cassel) falls prey to the wiles of two blonde psychos (Locke, Colleen Camp) who knock at his door when his wife and kid are out of town; the film is half Manson-esque horror saga, half male fantasy turned sour. After that comes the very bizarre Suzanne (aka The Second Coming of Suzanne, 1974), another film about a pretentious filmmaker (this time out he’s supposed to be talented) who is making a film about a female Jesus, a role that he feels is perfect for hippie-chick Sondra. The final offering is Locke’s own Ratboy (1986), a bizarre comic fable that stars a host of noted comic actors and offers an allegory about fame and freakishness (although the real “story” here is that the Ratboy is actually a little female Mousketeer in disguise). Sondra has seemingly retired from show business, but she deserves credit taking on some very challenging roles in some very odd films.
1114.) Matt Berry is a master at playing puffed-up egomaniacs who happen to be blessed with Berry’s own “plummy” voice. This week I’ll be discussing and showing scenes from the second season of his sitcom Toast of London (unseen in the U.S.), in which he plays the ultimate ham actor. The show is cowritten by Berry and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted) and features a sterling supporting cast. The situations are purely ridiculous, and the lead character’s acting resume continues to get worse and worse. In case the proceedings are getting too normal at any given time, Berry throws in a musical number that reflects his talent for writing mock rock operas and also legitimately good rock music. A few of the references in Toast’s dialogue are specifically English, but the lead character is yet another universally great British “grotesque” comedy character.
1115.) I’m always happy to adjourn to the Consumer Guide department to discuss new releases on DVD (Blu-ray, download, etc etc). Up first this week is Kiss Me, Stupid, Billy Wilder’s “obscene” (at the time) farce about an aspiring songwriter (Walston) who hopes to convince a superstar (Dean Martin, as a startlingly sleazy version of himself decades before celebs began to do that kind of thing on premium-cable comedies) to record his song by offering him his “wife” (actually a local “good-time girl,” winningly played by Kim Novak). The DVD re-release contains Wilder’s preferred cut of the film – dubbed the “European” cut – which includes no uncertainty as to whether the married couple committed adultery. Next up is Le Pont du Nord, an excellent Jacques Rivette concoction, which blends suspenseful paranoia and fairy tale elements. The film benefits from two charming lead performances (Bulle Ogier and her daughter Pascale) and Rivette’s trademark pacing, in which the film starts out slowly and speeds up as it moves along, to a very definite conclusion. I close out with the Criterion release of Every Man for Himself, Godard’s 1980 “comeback” feature (he called it his “second first film”) that examines the personal politics involved in male-female relationships. The package includes several informative and valuable supplements, including a new visual essay by Funhouse guest Colin MacCabe, new interviews with the stars and crew (including Isabelle Huppert), a rarely-seen British documentary, and Godard’s two appearances on the PBS Dick Cavett Show.
1116.) Each year I enjoy celebrating Easter by introducing a dash of blasphemy into the program. This time out I offer up some lovely kitsch scored at the wonderful Honest Ed’s superstore of weirdness in Toronto. You will see Xtian lenticulars, coloring books, flimsy jewelry, the lot. The “feature” of the evening is the very inspirational-yet-odd The Drum Beats Twice, a New Jersey-shot low-budget drama about a cop who, thanks to a beating, is blind, mute, and has nubs for hands. Through the intercession of a nun (played by Amy Redford, daughter of Robert), the cop is able to play the bongos with his nubs, and then able to rejoin his local rock band – but will he take revenge on the scum that gave him his handicaps? See and find out. As a bonus, I throw in some kwistian kiddie kitsch video at the end. It’s better than worshiping a chocolate bunny.
1117.) I’ve been a devoted follower of Robert Altman’s work for a few decades now, and have been very happy to share some moments from his films on the show. This week I offer scenes from two Altman rarities, both TV productions that haven’t aired on TV in decades. The first is Nightmare in Chicago, an episode from the Kraft Suspense Theater (originally titled “Once Upon a Savage Night,” 1964; seemingly not in the syndicated package of “Suspense Theater” now airing on Antenna TV). The show blends a formulaic police procedural with some rather nasty moments showing the serial killer lead doing away with his female victims and some nice nighttime Xmas cityscapes. The cast includes Altman pal Robert Ridgely, Ted Knight, and Barbara Turner (scripter of Altman’s The Company and mom of Jennifer Jason Leigh). The second show is “Rattlesnake in a Cooler,” half of the 2 by South cable recording of Altman’s staging of two short one-acts by playwright Frank South. The play is a tour de force for its one performer, Leo Burmester, as he incarnates cars and barrooms full of pissed-off gentlemen. It’s a great example of Altman’s art at its sparest.
1118.) To pay tribute to recently Deceased Artiste Stan Freberg, I’m showing a digitized version of a vintage 2001 Funhouse episode, featuring a program that is streaming *nowhere* on the Net at this moment. This ep features Stan Freberg’s 1962 special “The Chun King Hour,” which was shown on the eve of Chinese New Year, and is one of the smartest, craziest TV “spectaculars” ever. Freberg does indeed hawk the full line of Chun King products, but he also offers wry commentary on the “vast wasteland” that was TV in the early Sixties (how little we knew back then about where it was all gonna end up); laugh tracks; old movie clichés; violence on TV; and “Sing Along with Mitch” (spoofed in a very mind-blowingly Mad mag style). Along the way we see and hear from Stan’s repertory company of talented folk, and a guest star (who used to have Stan open for him on the road) shows up as a Chinese food-loving messenger boy. Freberg rarely attempted this kind of long-form weirdness, and the show was never rerun on any subsequent Chinese New Year’s Eve….
1119.) This week I present a vintage episode from early 1996 that I have never rerun – I air it now, of course, as a tribute to the late Al Maysles. The episode contains some words about, and nearly all of, the Maysles Brothers/Charlotte Zwerin documentary “With Love from Truman” (1966). Made when Capote had finished his magnum opus In Cold Blood, the film follows him around as he is interviewed by a woman journalist. He is thus seen in his “character” mode, but we also witness Truman the artist, discussing the creation of the book, reading select passages from it, and dropping the mask entirely when confronted by relics he got from the two executed killers.
1120.) Tonight is a very different type of Funhouse episode, as I salute our neighbors to the north. First up is a discussion of, and clips from, the incredibly good Canadian sitcom The Newsroom (having nothing at all to do with the HBO Sorkin thing). The show offers a Larry Sanders-like view of a TV newsroom run by a sleepy-eyed amoral opportunist (brilliantly incarnated by the show’s creator, Ken Finkleman) and staffed with a bunch of people who are more than willing to stab each other in the back to get ahead. After that comes a very rare “Media Funhouse on the road” segment (I count only two so far, this being the second) in which I present a little tour through Honest Ed’s, Toronto’s marvelous temple of schlock that is at once a local department store, a “junk store” (read: trinkets, tsotchkes, and other strange paraphernalia), and a museum of theatrical history from the Sixties through the Eighties. It’s the ultimate discount store, an ultimate doorway to yesterday, and the ultimate fanboy’s paradise.
1121.) Vintage: I continue my series on the remarkably unique work of Signore Marco Ferreri with an ep centered around two films that have barely been seen in the U.S. (in NYC the first hasn’t played AT ALL since the NYFF in ’84, and the second has played with subs exactly once at MoMA; no DVD, no VHS). The films are linked by the presence of Hanna Schygulla, whom Ferreri used in intriguing and characteristically odd ways. The first film, The Story of Piera (1983), is a rather peculiar family saga with a terrific trio of leads – Marcello Mastroianni and Hanna are the parents, with their daughter growing up to be Isabelle Huppert. The film has an unusual overlay of incest, and the plot takes rather large and curious jumps, but its central appeal lies in watching the starring trio incarnate a sporadically libidinous family (Schygulla won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her mother-going-mental performance). The second film, The Future Is Woman (1984), follows a couple (Hanna and Niels Arestrup) who take a pregnant girl (Ornella Muti) home from a disco and begin to have threesomes with her, as the trio form a sort of odd “family.” This feature benefits from the weirdness that could only emerge when Ferreri started to depict the Euro-disco culture, and from the odd moments of female bonding (Schygulla with Muti – and with two giant papier-mache heads of Garbo and Dietrich). The cinema of Ferreri was quite unlike anything else ever unleashed upon the unsuspecting moviegoer.
1122.) This week I share another show that is too good (and far too goodnaturedly weird) for American television with an episode about the second season of Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. The show is a “tripcom” (Noel’s phrase, following on from his work in The Mighty Boosh) wherein various anthropomorphic creatures interact with Noel and his crew of weird human persons. It’s a live-action cartoon and, in the second season, is grounded in a single location: a coffee shop located on the age of a volcano in “Painted Hawaii.” Adding to the straightforward, amiable weirdness is Richard Ayoade as the voice of some of Noel’s odd creations and a horrible villain known as “Reality Man,” who wants the whole world to be a reality show. (Dealt with in the context of this mega-silly show: Was Warhol responsible for the tedium and fake-peformance of reality TV, or was he just kidding around?)
1123.) Vintage: In the first of my Deceased Artiste tributes to Ken Russell, aka “Unkle Ken” (his own spelling on Facebook), I pick up where we left off in the airing of my in-depth 2008 interview with the visionary who remained an enfant terrible well into his senior years. (Technical troubles in Access HQ Playback put the interview on “hold” for some time.) In this never-previously–aired part of my chat with the great man, we start off discussing the feature that he frequently declared his favorite of all his films, Savage Messiah. We move on to his memorably kinky sexy thrillers, including two that have been excerpted in years past on the Funhouse, the horror/sex/comedy Lair of the White Worm and the brilliantly sleazy Crimes of Passion. The episode closes out with a mention of the balance he struck in his work between the kinky pictures and the softer, calmer fare he based on historical fact or adapted from classic novels.
1124.) In celebration of what would’ve been the 70th birthday of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, tonight I’m presenting a discussion of, and scenes from, one of the single rarest of RWF’s films, an item that cannot be seen in Germany, the U.S., or elsewhere. I talk in the intro about Fassbinder’s filmography and the fact that, in a mere 13 years, he made what seem like several decades-worth of superb films.
1125.) It’s an all-American affair, this week’s Consumer Guide episode. I start off with the quite odd 1969 trippy drama Cult of the Damned. It’s about an overweight heiress (played by folkie Holly Near; her rich-bitch mom is played by Jennifer Jones) who falls for a Jim Morrison-like rock star and his band of free spirits (who include Lou Rawls and Roddy McDowall!). Next up is the underrated Altman film Vincent and Theo (1990), which is one of the more modest (stylistically) Altman features and which contains two dynamite lead performances. I close out with the Criterion release of Errol Morris’s first two films, Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, supplemented by some great extras, including Les Blank’s “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.”
1126.) Roy Andersson is an enigma: a Swedish filmmaker who crafts brilliant deadpan comedies out of a series of sequences (each one of which is a single, often dazzling, long shot); an artist who reinvented himself, coming up with a new style nearly 25 years after his start in the business (and then making only three subsequent features in the next 20 years); and an admitted fan of certain filmmakers (Bunuel in particular – and Laurel and Hardy!) who credits certain painters as being the biggest influences on his filmmaking. I was very proud to interview Mr. Andersson on the NYC debut of his new film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. In the first part of the interview we discuss how Pigeon differs from the preceding films, his fine-art obsessions (as well as the comics he read as a kid), plus his favorite movie comedians. Also: a discussion of his storyboarding process and his opinions on religious superstition.
1127.) The day when I turn “another year older and deeper in debt” always brings a celebratory air to the program, and it’s the one time that I’m fine with breaking my contention that I show stuff “you ain’t seein’ anyplace else” (although the last few b-days have stuck to that credo). This year I decided it’s time to both investigate the assertion that director Donald Cammell was the “lost Sixties visionary” of cinema (note: I’m not asserting this) and re-introduce my love of the idiosyncratic brilliance of Christopher Walken. Thus tonight I’ll be discussing and showing scenes from the “director’s cut” of Wild Side (1995), an absolute mess of a movie that does contain a few elements that make it memorable: Anne Heche’s less fantasy-based “China Blue” career-woman-by-day/fantasy-hooker by night character; her eventual lesbian liaison with the sadly forgotten (in the U.S.) Joan Chen; the ridiculous machinations of Steven Bauer’s undercover cop character; and (in the director’s cut especially) the fact that every word spoken by Walken in the film seems to have just come out of his own head (some of that is his trademark idiosyncratic delivery; the rest is all Cammell just letting him ad-lib entire sequences). You’ll see the origin of Tommy Wiseau’s “look” and one of the Top 5 craziest Walken performances ever, as I salute Wild Side for mine natal anniversary….
1128.) Part two of my interview with the brilliant Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson delves deeper into his career and his superbly stylized visuals. In this segment of our chat we talk about the introduction of scenes set in other eras in his new film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, as well as his use of dream scenarios in his episodic features. We discuss his first film, A Swedish Love Story (1970), and how it winds up veering away from its central characters (a pair of lovestruck teens, played by actual teenage performers). He also talks about the ways in which his direction of literally hundreds of wonderfully deadpan TV commercials helped him forge his trademark visual style. We finish off this portion of the interview with a discussion of his transitional short “World of Glory” (1990), which presented the “new” Andersson style to moviegoers.
1129.) In the third and last part of my interview with Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, we talk about his primary cinematic influence (a certain Don Luis B.), his contemporaries (Kaurismaki, von Trier), and Ingmar Bergman, who was his instructor at film school (and not a nice one at that, according to Andersson). He also talks about his working methods on his features – how each film takes several years to complete. We go on to discuss Benny Andersson (no relation) from ABBA, who wrote the score for Roy’s first “new style” film in 2000, and close out with an informal, amusing exchange about (what else?) death.
1130.) A second super-rarity on the show to celebrate the 70th birthday of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who died at 37, having produced more great work than any three master-directors produce in a lifetime). This time out it’s Bremen Freedom (1972), Fassbinder’s TV presentation of his play about a seemingly passive wife (Margit Carstensen, a superb actress and a great victim in RWF’s scenarios) who must deal with being dominated by her husband, parents, relatives, and friends. As she scurries around her house fetching them drinks, food, the newspaper, etc, she maintains her humanity with a revenge scheme that is revealed after the midpoint of the play. The play features a wonderful line-up of Fassbinder’s ensemble of actors and some wonderful moments of mean, petty, and spiteful behavior. In other words, another disturbing, abrasive, moving work by the late RWF.
1131.) To close out my little series saluting Rainer Werner Fassbinder in the year of what would’ve been his 70th birthday, I present another super-rarity, this time his only TV variety special. Conceived as a tribute to the talents of his star Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), Like a Bird on a Wire (aka “Like a Bird on the Wire,” 1974) is a musical special that finds Mira performing both old and new songs from both Germany and (North) America. Fassbinder places her in various environments to warble her tunes: a living room, a train coach, a gay bar, a fashion show, and some kind of glam gym. The show opens and closes with the song it is named for, by Leonard Cohen, but Mira also performs two songs that are very familiar to American audiences, one from a famous musical and another that is perhaps the most “Fassbinderian” pop song of all time. The copy of the show I’m airing is both crystal-clear and subtitled in English.
1132.) This week I present a discussion of, and scenes from, one of the few “missing” Russ Meyer movies from later in his career. The Seven Minutes (1971) was his second major-studio project, a straightforward drama – as straightforward as Russ could ever be – about censorship, one of the biggest banes of his filmmaking life. When I interviewed Russ he pretty much refused to discuss the film, but I think it’s a fascinating subject for study, since it reveals him indulging in some of the quickest edits ever seen in a major-studio, mainstream Hollywood film. The first half or so of the picture sets up the censorship issue and a rape case (in which the rapist supposedly read a Henry Miller-like novel, which “made” him commit the crime); the second half depicts the trial and is basically a very conventional Hollywood picture. Russ infused the first half, though, with his signature touches: lightning-fast reaction shots (he established a “rhythm” with his edits), mega-melodramatic confrontations (replete with musical punctuation), his usual cast of character people (plus some very interesting cameos – see which famous DJ is counterpointed against the rape scene), and some random ridiculousness (in this case, the appearance of his favorite character, ex-Nazi Martin Bormann, as a servant).
1133.) My interest in dark humor and meanness on sitcoms (happy, goofy families… c’mon!) has led me to a great appreciation for the work of Canadian actor-writer-director Ken Finkleman, whose best known work is the terrific workplace sitcom The Newsroom (having nothing to do with the Aaron Sorkin show). This week’s episode features a discussion of, and scenes from, the second season of the show, in which Finkleman’s amoral, egocentric character George Findlay thrives in the post-9/11 climate of ginned-up fear and entirely bogus news stories. The Newsroom was clearly inspired by The Larry Sanders Show, but it utilized the “mockumentary” technique back when it was new. Finkleman also made sure to focus on some very realistic office backstabbing, as well as deliver a fully rounded “grotesque” character in his Findlay persona.
1134.) I close out a trio of episodes about the Canadian sitcom The Newsroom with a discussion of, and scenes from, the third and final season of the show. The series offers a Larry Sanders-like cutthroat workplace (begun before the British version of The Office) that pivots around the amoral, egocentric boss, news director George Findlay, played by the show’s creator Ken Finkleman. In the last episodes of the show, Finkleman wrote and directed a final batch of very funny (and very mean) episodes, but he closed out the series with an experimental show in which the narrative “bursts apart” into a tale that is both a fable and another tribute by Finkleman to his heroes, the “old masters” of arthouse cinema.
1135.) Vintage: I’ve talked about cult movies and independent film before on the program, and tonight I’m happy to speak with a filmmaker whose work fits in both those categories while also defining a third, the directors who have made NYC a character in their pictures. My interview with NY independent Amos Poe tackles that subject (that will be in episode two), while also doting on the times in which his best-known features were made. In part one we discuss his first short “Night Lunch” (1975), made with Ivan Kral of the Patti Smith Group; the film offers a intriguing glimpse at both the mega-hot rock acts of the early Seventies (Bowie, Queen, Elton John) as well as the homegrown talent (never have Patti, the Ramones, and Blondie looked so freaking young on film). Poe also discusses his first feature, also made with Kral, The Blank Generation. A unique “home movie” chronicle of the punk scene in the mid-Seventies at CBGB and Max’s, the film is a rock movie that does not use direct sound, and thus captures an era with images (as well as rare audio demos and concert recordings). This installment of the interview concludes with Poe talking about his first fiction film, the rough-edged Unmade Beds, a “no wave” classic (more about that term next time) that is also a very genuine love letter to our very own Funhouse fave Uncle Jean, aka Jean-Luc Godard.
1136.) I was very happy to have the opportunity to talk with filmmaker Mike Leigh a few months back, on the occasion of the NYC opening of his film Mr. Turner. This week I present the first of what is planned as a three-episode series crafted from this chat. The interview is audio-only, so I’ve overlaid film footage from his work and (naturally) also spotlight scenes with sound from Mr. Turner as well as the other films we spoke about. In this part of the interview we talk about Leigh’s ongoing collaboration with cinematographer Dick Pope (with whom he’s been working for more than 25 years) and his thoughts about actors “living” in their characters. We also discuss whether his “workshopping”/rehearsal process – wherein he and the cast spend a few months exploring the characters – changes when he makes a period piece based on real events.
1137.) Vintage: The Funhouse must celebrate Labor Day the way it is meant to be celebrated: with an ample dose of the Jer at his most rambunctious (some might say intolerable). This year, our 13th tribute to the le roi kicks off with the annual health update — rather brief this year as the “unkillable” one doesn’t seem to be phased by minor things like heart attacks. I focus once again on the “love story” that is the Martin & Lewis teaming, with a review of Jer’s NY Times bestselling ghost-written memoir about his partner, his brother, his mentor, his cruising-for-babes chum, his everything, Dean Martin. After you are regaled with the book’s single most disturbing sentence (and it ain’t the part where he disses Groucho for no reason — that’s just petty), I offer up at least one more example of Dean not digging Jer on-air. We then turn to the trove of DVDs that was released two years back to offer up special moments from the “bonus features,” which include rare trailers, outtakes, bloopers, featurettes (showing scary fat rehab Jer), and some very nice views of the lovely young Ms. Stella Stevens. I close out with a discovery made as the show was “going to press”: a goateed Jer (tres cosmopolitan, dontcha think) acting in an insanely misguided moviemaking skit on “Jimmy Durante Presents The Lennon Sisters” (1969-70). Each year my Jerry tributes turn dozens of viewers off (the narrow-minded fools); there is no way I could resist not taking up that gauntlet once again. Enjoy!
1138.) Vintage: It’s that special time of year again, when Jerry Lewis’s telethon reintroduces us to the world of show-biz glitz, Borscht Belt humor, and the joy of being berated into giving money. We can’t let a chance go by to celebrate the mixed-bag contribution our man Jer has given to the arena of show-biz, and so this year we proudly present yet another Labor Day celebration of the man who would be a Nobel Prize winner. This time out, I start off with a scene from a recent indie movie that features an old gent, played by the late Alan King, speaking (for no particular reason) about the Jer’s comic contributions. Then it’s on to a thematic segment in which I offer a posthumous rebuttal to Jer’s forthcoming tome Dean and Me (a Love Story) with gathered anecdotes and footage of the great Dino himself, commenting on his decade-long partnership with le roi du crazy (remember, kids, four years in is only 1950, just as The Colgate Comedy Hour is about to start). The final segment is a typical Jerry mixed blessing: footage from the ‘60s series “Hollywood Backstage” episode centered around “Jerry Lewis and his electronic toys.” See Jerry’s home audio-editing set-up, hear his musings on mono vs. stereo sound for record players, and watch him futz around with a “Chamblerin” (an organ that plays tape loops). As you watch, imagine what Spike Jones, Ernie Kovacs, or Frank Zappa would’ve done with an instrument like that – and then marvel at Jerry just smackin’ at the keys. If he doesn’t get one by other methods, I’ll get him that Nobel Prize myself.
1139.) The second part of my interview with Mike Leigh moves us squarely into the hallmarks of his work, offering a little “101” to those unfamiliar with his films. Leigh has formed a wonderfully talented ensemble of performers who have shown up in very different roles over the past few decades; a perfect example is Mr. Turner star Timothy Spall, who has played broadly comic and sadly tragic figures for Leigh. The next topic is whether Leigh consciously decides to “capture the zeitgeist” of England in his films – I offer a montage of scenes in which he clearly has done this. We close out with a discussion of emotion in his work; closer to Cassavetes than Spielberg, Leigh’s sequences have the power to subtly move the viewer without any overt manipulation.
1140.) Vintage: The first of two episodes devoted to the failure British music series Revolver. Created by super-producer Mickie Most in 1978, the show was an attempt to grab the young audience that was then heavily into the sounds of “new wave” and power-pop music. The guest line-up was just incredible and comprises a nice chunk of the music I was listening to around the time the show aired in the UK. Included on tonight’s sampling are Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the Tom Robinson Band, and the always sublime Kate Bush (encountering “Rover,” the guardian on The Prisoner). All that and a host who constantly puts down the audience that liked this music, played by none other than a tuxedo’d and suitably cranky Mr. Peter Cook.
1141.) The third and last part of my interview with Mike Leigh focuses on his humor and the filmmakers that he considers his colleagues and influences. My audio chat with Leigh (augmented by scenes from his best- and lesser-known films) ended on a high note as we spoke about the humor found in his films, which ranges from social satire to blatant farce. We then talked about the filmmakers with whom he feels a kinship; among them are a Swedish humorist Funhouse viewers are quite familiar with and a modern Italian master of the Neo-Realist style. We then moved on to the two Americans whose work was very similar to Leigh’s, Funhouse deities John Cassavetes and Robert Altman. Leigh expresses his admiration for both of them and notes the work of Altman’s that became an influence on his last feature, Mr. Turner.
1142.) Vintage: This week I return for the second and final part of my tribute to the 1978 failed British music series Revolver. Hosted by a suitably nasty Peter Cook (clad in a tuxedo and aided by some chick whose only purpose was to look sexy), the show was a wonderful presentation of some of the best power-pop and “new wave” acts of that period. Its downside was an intrusive visual style that utilized every early video-editing effect, thus supplying “psychedelic” visuals for music that was years past the psych sell-by date. The upside is that the series not only offered us the site of Cook insulting oddly dressed teens doing the robot and other goofy dance moves, it also provided live performances by a number of the best British acts of the late Seventies. Tonight’s crop include Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Rockpile, and X-Ray Spex (featuring the late and great Poly Styrene).
1143.) It’s always a joy to explore the films of softcore artiste Joe Sarno, “the Bergman of 42nd Street,” once again. Despite working with miniscule budgets, Joe put care and emotion into his pictures. So what has never been discussed at any length about his films? His fascination in his scripts with various varieties of incest. Always the most taboo subject, incest appears in his work early on (in the “suburban roulette” pictures) to the point where some sort of incestuous connection appears in most of his later “personal” softcore work, and even the few hardcore features that were on his official filmography (made under fake names), pre-IMDB. I’m happy to offer a selection of clips from different periods in his career that treat this subject in low-key and very high-key (read: near-gonzo) modes – offering different permutations of the family “bond” (except young male/older male). Included are a few clips I’ve shown before and some “new” items that would be labelled “transgressive” if made in the Eighties (or today). Joe ventured further afield than most softcore directors, and his rarely-mentioned obsession with incest is one of the aspects that made his pictures so different in tone. (There’s also the matter of anguish and guilt over sex, which I’ll treat in a future episode.)
1144.) The second and last of my “deep tracks” tributes to softcore auteur Joe Sarno, “the Bergman of 42nd St.,” explores two themes in his work. The first was quite pervasive: angst over sex. Joe maintained in interviews (including one I conducted with him) that he favored “strong women” as protagonists and loved seeing them hold power over men, but in watching a lot of his work in a short span of time (over 10 films are excerpted in this episode alone) I found that his lead female characters were more often than not “punished” for their sexual decisions, a very common trope in adult cinema in the Sixties. The second theme brightens up the show after the sturm und drang of the angst and punishment: sexual role-playing, or the ritualization of the sex act. Joe only made a handful of films that used this premise – most often in the context of a masked “swingers” orgy – but they are among his best, weirdest, and most interesting works. Fake makeup, body paint, eye masks, and odd costuming all make for some very interesting variations on the softcore formula, and also reinforce the artificiality of watching a softcore saga.