1145.) More “conceptual continuity” in the Consumer Guide department this week, revisiting the work of folks who have long been Funhouse favorites. First up is the new release of La Grande Bouffe (1973), which includes several fascinating supplements (Ferreri choosing his favorite comedies is a particular mind-blower). Next is The American Dreamer (1971), a portrait of Dennis Hopper at a pivotal moment in his life – right after he has shot (but not yet edited) The Last Movie, the film that would wreck his career as a filmmaker for over a decade. Watch Dennis lust after every woman he comes in contact with (and the notion of others not encountered) as he philosophizes about life, death, filmmaking… and sex. Last is the Agnes Varda in California box, with the emphasis on her “hippie movie,” Lions Love (1969). A perfect time capsule, the movie offers fascinating glimpses of: NYC chatterbox actors let loose in a mellow L.A. environment; the L.A. nostalgia film culture of the late Sixties; and the way in which Americans grieved the victims of political assassination by watching television for many hours in a row. (Viva’s line “our national pastime is televised death” is a remarkable summation of American news media, then and now.)
1146.) To celebrate Halloween, I discuss in detail, and offer scenes from, Alan Moore’s latest project, a series of shorts directed by photographer Mitch Jenkins that constitute segments of a feature film called “The Show.” The five shorts in the DVD package have not been shown on these shores to date; the package is called Show Pieces and is available only from the U.K. The films follow characters named James and Faith, who die and materialize in a Northampton social club that clearly represents (no spoilers here) the afterlife – or, more specifically, a kinky cabaret version of hell. Faith’s role is reduced as the shorts move on (one of the problems with the narrative) but James encounters both the devil (a sleazy former comedian/nightclub owner named Nicky) and God (an acidly sarcastic, sun-bright giant played by Moore himself). He also goes through an interrogation before he meets his ultimate fate, which introduces him (and us) to an intriguing notion that would’ve led to further short films or a possible TV series. The look and tone of the films is overly derived from the work of David Lynch, but the upside is the clever dialogue and the wonderfully creepy situations and characters crafted by Moore, including James’ two interrogators (a clown and stripper team).
1147.) I start off a three-episode tribute to the immaculate, influential works of Jean-Pierre Melville with a show devoted to the four films he made that could easily be called “misfires” (discussion of his masterpieces will follow). I chose to go backwards in time to discuss these films and so I discuss his last film, Un Flic (1972) first, and then close out with the *extremely* rare film that is the most unlike anything else he ever made. Un Flic is a lopsided cop-and-crooks drama that stars Delon and Deneuve but gives the lions’ share of its running time to a master criminal (played by Richard Crenna!) carrying off a series of complicated heists. L’Ainé des Ferchaux (1963) is Melville’s Tennessee Williams’-esque tale of a broken-down boxer (Belmondo) who becomes the bodyguard for a corrupt banker (Charles Vanel); the two take a road trip across America and the banker’s interest in his young companion becomes obsessive. Two Men in Manhattan (1959) is a mess that contains some gorgeous NYC location shots and some wonderfully evocative scenes, but its plotting and acting are sub-par for the usually impeccable Melville. The last film under discussion is the torrid Quand Tu Liras Cette Lettre (1953), a “woman’s picture” that finds Melville making a movie purely for the money and turning out a rather crazed melodrama in which, among other things, a novice nun (Juliette Greco) forces a man who raped her sister to marry her (and then she, the nun, falls madly, insanely in love with him). It’s the most un-Melvillian thing you’ve ever seen, but that’s why it belongs in this celebration of the otherwise great moments in his four misfires.
1148.) After covering his misfires, I turn to the masterworks of the master of minimalist drama and crime thrillers, Jean-Pierre Melville. This episode moves from the late Forties through the early Sixties, starting with his debut feature, Le Silence de la Mer (1949). A low-key, beautifully stylized tale of the Occupation, the film set the stage for the independent French cinema that Melville (and his rival Bresson, the French New Wave, and others) were about to create in the Fifties and Sixties. From there I move on to Les Enfants Terribles (is it a Cocteau film or a Melville film? Both!) and his trend-setting crime film Bob Le Flambeur (1956). Bob was a favorite of the nouvelle vague because of Melville’s ultra-low-budget approach and location-based film shoots (and the fact that it’s a delightful nod to American cinema that is also indisputably French). I close out with Leon Morin, Priest (1961) and Le Doulos (1963), a pair of films that show off Melville’s mastery of his craft. The first is another tale of the occupation (and theology, and lust), while the second is the first of his exquisitely dark and lonely crime pictures. (Setting the stage for the next Melville episode….)
1149.) This week I close out my three-episode series about the brilliant, exciting, and influential work of Jean-Pierre Melville, with a discussion of (including quotes from Rui Nogueira’s indispensable Melville on Melville), and clips from, his last four masterpieces. We start out with Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966), a densely-plotted and beautifully executed crime saga with tour de force set-pieces. I next turn to the mega-influential Le Samourai (1967), the hit man film to end all hit man films (and a model for countless other movies made in France, the U.S., Germany, Japan, and Hong Kong, among other countries). Next up is Army of Shadows (1969), Melville’s deeply felt tribute to the French Resistance during WWII – depicting the resistants as operating quite like organized crime in their methods and moral codes. I close out with the final classic, Le Cercle Rouge (1970). Here Melville threw in everything he knew about crime films as he crafted a perfect caper movie, with doomed characters (the most memorable played by the always-impeccable Yves Montand), a “dream” heist, and a quietly grim atmosphere.
1150.) I close out my series of episodes saluting the 70th anniversary of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s birth with scenes from the first and last of his telefilms, both of which are suitably stylized adaptations of classic plays (and both of which have never been shown with English subs in the U.S.). The first is the extremely “distanced” (frame-wise and emotion-wise) The Coffee House (1970), from a play by Goldoni. Fassbinder’s staging is experimental, with the actors clad in period garb (of the wrong period) replete with Westerns guns and holsters for duels between the men, and the entire cast being barefoot and seen mostly from a great distance as they perform a tale of gambling and spouses cheating on each other. The last telefilm is Women in New York (1977), which finds Fassbinder offering up his own take on Clare Booth Luce’s bitchfest. The tone is indeed shrill, but the costumes, settings, and bizarre electronic music by Peer Raben are fascinating, and the cast includes several of RWF’s favorite actresses.
1151.) Vintage: Given that the mainstream of American TV today is absolute trash, and not enjoyable trash at that, it would be reassuring if someone were to come along and honestly critique it, not in the form of a print review or blog post, but as a presence on TV itself, telling us how absolutely godawful things have gotten. (And we all know that a reviewer’s job is to generally keep convincing the reader/viewer that “TV/music/movies are better than ever!” Or else he/she ain’t got a job anymore….). Thus, I delight in the work of British standup Stewart Lee, in whose hands sarcasm is a lethal weapon. Somehow Lee, a well-regarded figure on the British comedy scene who is unfortunately unknown over here, wrangled a show from the BBC on which he examines the contemporary social scene and culture’s “last days.” The show is titled Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (first series in 2009), and each episode features Lee doing standup punctuated by short sketches (the latter “watched over” by supervising talents Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris). On this episode I offer segments from two Comedy Vehicle shows, the ones concerning books (and more specifically, the notion of “toilet books”) and another that decimates British TV (and, by extension, TV in general). Lee is a brilliant comic voice, and I’m happy to spotlight his incisive, sometimes brutal, but always funny opinions on the Funhouse.
1152.) Yuletide television can be a drag, but not when I’ve got an ultra-rare French New Wave celebration of the holiday on tap. The film in question is Jean Eustache’s Pere Noel a les yeux bleus (Father Christmas Has Blue Eyes, 1967). Jean-Pierre Leaud stars as a young layabout who really wants to get a new coat (the kind all his friends are wearing). He thus takes on a job as a sidewalk Santa, posing for pics with children and families – and beautiful young women whom he can flirt with anonymously. Eustache (The Mother and the Whore) was a master filmmaker who beautifully captured the boredom and sudden inspirations that characterize young men hanging out. And the best part of the film? You don’t have to listen to any Xmas music!
1153.) Vintage: The dead are never really gone in the Funhouse, so this week I’m presenting a raft of “Russell rarities,” to honor the memory of the incredibly talented (and yes, often “incredibly strange”) Ken Russell. On the bill of fare this week is his early and later TV work, all of which deserves a good, hard look. First up is his portrait of four pop artists creating art and living pop culture, Pop Goes the Easel; the film could’ve been just a standard BBC portrait of four “rising stars” in the field of painting, but instead is a odd foreshadowing of Swinging Sixties London (delivered by “Unkle Ken” in early 1962). Next is his portrait of Bela Bartok, in which he visualized several pieces by the composer in an equally jarring and brilliant way. Finally, I dote on a quartet of Russell’s later telefilms about classical composers, discussing and showing scenes from his “Nineties period” that is ripe for reappraisal, something I’m happy to do in the Funhouse. As a bonus, for those who stick around through all the glorious classical “music videos,” I close out with clips from an opera Ken directed that included Nazis and nuns in its population (you didn’t think I’d miss out on that, did you?).
1154.) Vintage: Bernadette Lafont is not as well known in the U.S. as she should be. She’s had a rich career as an actress on-screen and was “the thinking man’s sex symbol” in French cinema for more than a decade. I conducted an interview with her on the occasion of a festival of her films at the Alliance Francaise, and this week, in the first of two episodes, we discuss how the beginning of her career coincided with the beginning of the French New Wave. Ms. Lafont talks about her starring role in Truffaut’s 1957 short Les Mistons, and what it was like working with a fledgling filmmaker while making her acting debut opposite her real-life husband (the “French James Dean,” Gerard Blain). She then discusses her first feature, Chabrol’s highly personal directorial debut Le Beau Serge. Her connection with Chabrol continued for several more years, and thus we move from the splendid small-town character study Beau Serge to his first thriller, A Double Tour. We close out this first installment of the interview with a discussion of the film that Lafont considers her favorite of all her work, Chabrol’s masterful Les Bonnes Femmes (1960). In the process we learn that films that are enormous fun to watch were not as much fun to make, and that films that are extremely dark in tone sometimes have the happiest sets.
1155.) Vintage, one of my faves: Finishing off (for the moment) my tribute to the late, great “Unkle Ken” Russell, I offer this week the second of my “Russell rarities” episodes. This time I start out with a telefilm that is the only occasion that Russell paid tribute to a composer/conductor whose work he didn’t thoroughly admire, Richard Strauss. The resulting film, Dance of the Seven Veils, is SO strange that he dubbed it a “comic strip” in the credits and hauled out his entire inventory of odd imagery (prepare for the first intersection of nuns and Nazis!), resulting in a furor that found the film being banned from ever being reshown on the BBC with its original musical soundtrack. Next up is the polar opposite: a quite, subtle work that supplies gorgeous “music videos” for a classical piece, in this case Gustav Holst’s The Planets. I close out with an item that hasn’t been seen in the U.S. seen it aired over two decades ago on the then-decent Bravo network, Ken Russell’s ABC of British Music. Here we find a fitting conclusion for my series of shows about Unkle Ken, as he celebrates the biggest names in British music, as well as the neglected and underrated. As a bonus, I feature a scene from Unkle Ken’s wildest project-for-hire, the Uri Geller biopic Mindbender.
1156.) Vintage: The second and final part of my interview with noted French actress Bernadette Lafont moves from her “sex kitten of the New Wave” period through to the fascinating early Seventies, when she starred in some seminal progressive and experimental features. We start out with a discussion of her devilishly seductive role in Chabrol’s eccentric tale of vengeance Les godelureaux (1961). From that fascinating, little-seen work, we turn to the masterful Jacques Rivette TV miniseries Out 1 (1971), which Lafont contends was largely improvised by its incredibly talented cast. And from that masterpiece of paranoia and experimentation we move to Eustache’s Mother and the Whore (1973), which is considered the film that best captured the spirit of Parisian bohemians post-May ’68. We end on a much lighter note, discussing her starring role in Truffaut’s raucous dark comedy Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), with a final glimpse at the range of Lafont’s talent via a trio of short clips from very (very!) different French films.
1157.) Vintage: David Bowie has had a pretty rich career in and out of music, and has made some pretty interesting choices as an actor. This week I present two such curious and ambitious choices, both having a connection to Weimar-era Germany. The first is the never-screened-in-the-U.S. television version of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal (1982), directed by Alan Clarke. Clarke tried to find a cinematic/televisual equivalent to Brecht’s “epic theater” style for the piece, and so uses split screens, on-screen titles, a profusion of wide shots, and, of course, stylized acting. Bowie stars as a sleazy but charismatic poet-musician who seduces women and ultimately kills his best friend, all while delivering Brecht’s original songs with only voice and banjo accompaniment. The second feature of the evening is Just a Gigolo (1979), directed by Blow-Up star David Hemmings. The film features Bowie as a WWI vet who takes on the titular profession when he can’t find another job. Hemmings emphasizes Bowie’s model good looks in various moments in the film, but he also sets up a farcical tone (which later is broken by a dramatic ending — I ain’t saying the movie is flawless) in which Bowie is pursued by various females including the always daunting Ms. Kim Novak. Also making her final screen appearance in the film is the ultimate Weimar era dame, Miss Marlene Dietrich, who does actually sing in the film, for what was the very last time in public.
1158.) This week I pay tribute to a great Manhattan access host-producer who died a few weeks back. Deceased Artiste Rick Shur, better known as “Rick X,” did “The Closet Case Show” from 1984 to 1994. Rick’s show was a mixture of shrewd and funny media content, his own fantasies, and an extremely deadpan and valuable view of politics in the city and America. This week I’m reshowing – for the first time since it originally aired – the Funhouse episode on which Rick guested. I asked him to cohost with me, but Rick didn’t want to be seen on the air (he was a much-lauded schoolteacher), and so I hosted the show (in my early, slow-talking mode) while Rick remained to my right, off-camera, saying wonderfully deadpan things. He asked for me to supply homoerotic sequences from films that he could comment on, and (thanks to my friends at the now defunct New York Video store) I found some gems. One of the items in fact was fine for air back in ’95 but, given the changes in access rules since then, I have had to cover over the “offensive” (completely softcore – read: FAKE) footage with updates and commentary on what Rick and I were discussing – namely the “timeslot roulette” that used to find access producers in Manhattan having their shows moved around endlessly if their programming was (to the mind of one ex-staffer) “problematic.” The loss of Rick’s show in ’94 was a big one for Manhattan access – at least his viewers have strong memories, and I was lucky enough to have him do his “bit” on my program (for Gay Pride Day ’95).
1159.) Returning to the work of Jean Eustache, the post-New Wave French filmmaker who died young (42), but made a small number of incredibly influential films (the most famous being The Mother and the Whore). In this episode I’ll be discussing and showing scenes from one of his boldest experiments, Une Sale Histoire (A Dirty Story, 1977). Eustache was inspired by a short film he made of a friend of his telling a rather sleazy tale (that offers a fascinating window into how men view sex, women’s bodies, and the voyeuristic impulse) to remake the film with actor Michael Lonsdale. However, he chose to release the film as a “matched set” – first you see the “fictional” version with Lonsdale, then you see the original documentary version. It’s a brilliant gambit that is carried off beautifully. The story takes on an even deeper resonance when we the audience realize *we* are voyeurs listening to the “dirty story,” and that Eustache was intending to comment on (some) men’s need to share their deepest secrets. It’s an incredible film and I’m very happy to give scenes from it their American “TV debut” this week.
1160.) This week it’s another U.S. TV premiere of material that hasn’t played in any NYC rep house or museum in the decades I’ve been following this stuff. The films in question are two shorts made by master-director Douglas Sirk with his students at a Munich film school. Sirk was the hero of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who urged him to take on the teaching post – and also “lent” several of his talented actors and crew members to Sirk’s shorts (he himself appeared in the very last Sirk short “Bourbon Street Blues,” which I showed on the show a few years ago). The first short, “Talk to Me Like the Rain” (1976) is an adaptation of a wonderfully bleak 1953 Tennessee Williams one-act that incorporates the hallmarks of Sirk’s visual style and allowed him to “re-enter” the cinema on a modest basis. The second film, “New Year’s Eve – a Dialogue” (1978) is an adaptation of a wistful 1901 Arthur Schnitzler one-act that stars none other than Fassbinder’s main superstar, Hanna Schygulla. Sirk’s shorts have remained unseen in this country theatrically, and while they may not be on the level of his earlier feature work, they are still fascinating “reflections” of what he was capable of imparting to a younger generation of filmmakers.
1161.) A tribute to the ladies, rather depressed ladies, this week on the program. First up is the only film that starred Nico prior to her stint in the Velvet Underground, Strip-tease (1963). It’s an odd feature, because the obvious lure for (male) audiences were the stripping sequences but it does attempt a full plot about a modern dancer who has to “peel” for a living. As an actress, Nico made a very good model, but the film also offers us (in addition to the titular incentive) the music of Serge Gainsbourg and a supporting role played by Big Joe Turner. The second feature of the night is an unusual one, Les Hautes Solitudes (1974) by Philippe Garrel. The film is entirely silent and features only four performers, all seen mostly in close-up. Nico is one of the three who seems grafted on to the picture, since the project is mostly a record of the lovvely, emotionally tortured, wearied visage of Jean Seberg (who was 35 years old when the film was made but seems several years older). It’s one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen, despite it not having a plot or characters and little to no action. But it’s compulsively watchable, if only as a record of a life that ended far too soon.
1162.) I adjourn once more to the consumer guide department to talk about three “alternative” British comedy acts whose work has been released by the Welsh DVD label Go Faster Stripe. First up is Tom Binns as the wonderful “Ian D. Montfort,” a psychic who is as suitably vague as they all are, but who also surprises his audience with valid readings, as well as odd advice and observations. Next is Robin Ince, whose Best of the Worst of Robin Ince DVD is a unique disc that duplicates the experience of Monty Python’s “Matching Tie and Handkerchief” LP, as the order of the comedy bits is entirely arbitrary each time you pop in the disc. Robin offers up his curmudgeonly critiques of contemporary society, as well as his endearingly fanboyish bits in favor of science and the best of pop culture. I close out with the musical comedy duo of Ronnie Golden (a founding member of the Fabulous Poodles) and the legendary comedy writer Barry Cryer. Cryer and Golden’s songs are delightfully daft and occasionally deal with a subject close to all our hearts (but loved by none), namely aging.
1163.) Each year I turn “another year older and deeper in debt” and so I offer up things I dearly love (I obviously love *everything* I’m showing on the program, but some items are longstanding objects of obsession). This year I’m discussing and airing clips from a show that was oddly formative in terms of my youth – as a kid I loved the classic movie comedians (Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Fields, Marx) and had encountered the mind-warping darkness of the National Lampoon Radio Hour, but there was nothing like the latter on TV (primetime appearances by Carlin, Pryor, and Klein not being as raw as their records). In 1975 I saw an episode of the PBS series Soundstage called “60 Minutes to Kill” that completely turned my head around. It starred Martin Mull with special guests Flo and Eddie, and was a very different kind of comedy than I’d encountered before – smart, deadpan, and wonderfully, lethally sarcastic. I memorized an audio recording I had of the show, but could NOT find a video copy of the show for the past 35 years (it aired last on WNET in the late Seventies). In the past few months I obtained not one but two copies of it (one with great audio, one with great picture – now combined), and thus this week you’ll be seeing clips on NYC TV from a program that has not aired since Carter was president. Mull has his “Fabulous Furniture” and a full band onstage with him, as he runs through a number of his strangest and best songs, while Flo and Eddie openly mock the hell out of their fellow rockers. The show is not just a concert recording – there are sketches, a fake talk show, and even spoof commercials. I consider it a kind of landmark in comedy music on Seventies TV, but obviously most folks haven’t seen it. Viewers of the Funhouse will get a glimpse this week.
1164.) Vintage: I am very proud to show works by favorite filmmakers that have thus far gone completely unaired in the U.S. – and, in the case of tonight’s short film, rarely seen in rep theaters. Tonight I present a final (for this year!) tribute to the utterly brilliant Chris Marker by showing sequences from his 1966 short If I Had Four Camels. A photo-film that resembles his masterwork La Jetee, the film is actually a journey through Marker’s still photography (with a narration that borrows from Apollinaire, offering a trip through “the Castle” and “the Garden”). Images from China, Russia, Cuba, Scandinavia, Israel, France, and other locations are blended together to make a thoroughly original meditation on the similarities, and very trite differences, between different races and locales. Marker was like no other filmmaker and video artist – his work deserves a home on “arts cable,” but since there is no such thing any more, I’m glad to devote a mere 28 minutes to his memory.
1165.) Vintage: This week I offer a discussion of, and scenes from, Albert Finney’s Charlie Bubbles. This 1967 film, written by Shelagh Delaney (A Taste of Honey), is Finney’s Antonioni-esque take on celebrity in the UK. Farcical opening scenes and a wonderfully whimsical finale frame a post-“kitchen sink” portrait of a working-class guy from Manchester who just happens to have become a very famous novelist. He is thus treated very differently by everyone around him – including his erstwhile secretary and groupie (Liza Minnelli, in her first adult movie role). The only people who will tell Charlie the truth are some of his old friends and his wife (the incredible Billie Whitelaw). The film pretty much flopped, so Finney never directed again (outside of a British telefilm), but it’s worthy of a second look, thanks to its impeccable acting and incredibly “alienated” tone in scenes shot on location in London and Manchester.
1166.) I happily return to the world of British comedy for an episode saluting the third (perhaps final?) season of the sitcom Toast of London. Actor-musician-writer Matt Berry (he of The IT Crowd, Snuffbox, and the Mighty Boosh – and the ultimate plummy voice) stars as a ham actor who believes he’s brilliant, but no one else does. The show continues in its wonderfully idiosyncratic manner, with musical numbers (mostly performed in the Seventies rock-opera vein) punctuating various “important” moments. Berry is wonderful at depicting egomaniacal behavior, but he is equally adept at playing the stooge for the other performers on the show.
1167.) Vintage: The holiest of holy days in the Xtian faith means its our annual holiday-fest of religious kitsch entertainment. This year, I start out with the latest in hip bumper stickers and strange children’s toys with Christ-is-King messages, and introduce the latest in oddball proselytizing, the world’s first English-language Christian manga! We follow that with some ardent sermonizing by onetime Xtian Bob “you can call him R.J.” Dylan (audio only, but you ain’t heard nothing till you’ve heard Bob actually acknowledging the folks who’ve paid to see him). We continue in a musical vein with a video that has dazzled, amused, and confused yours truly for some time now, the Busby Berkeley-esque, bathroom-and-religion-themed “Mi Poquita Fe” by the sensuous and slightly strange Ms. Susana Zabaleta. From there, we revisit the strange and eerie world of Rapture thrillers, where performers whose star has dimmed journey to Canada to star in outlandishly plotted dramas based on frighteningly popular potboiler novels (with lotsa neat gunplay and explosions – god digs that stuff) featuring anti-Christs straight outta Central Casting. As a close, we revisit the Donut Repair Club (all children are to be accompanied by an adult – hopefully a protective one). Fun and laughs for all, except for those who feel that this kinda fun and laughs will land you right in the “fiery pit” (like “masked and anonymous” Zimmy).
1168.) It happens annually: Playback troubles on all four Manhattan access channels, on cable and on the online stream.
1169.) I’ve paid tribute to Fassbinder many times on the show but haven’t done the same for his hero, the brilliant Douglas Sirk. This week I try to correct that with an episode devoted to Sirk’s “smuggled” messages in three of his early films starring Rock Hudson (the star most identified with Sirk’s cinema). Working in inverse chronological order, I first discuss Captain Lightfoot (1954), a period action film (written by gangster-pic master W.R. Burnett) that emphasizes its Irish heroes’ anti-British viewpoint. From that comment on colonialism, I move back to Taza, Son of Cochise (1953), Sirk’s only Western and one of the most pro-Native American films of the Fifties. In it, Hudson plays Taza, a non-violent Native American who tries to convince the white authorities that his people should be allowed to self-govern; before long, he finds that elements in his own community (stirred up by Geronimo) are as dangerous to the cause as the white soldiers are. I close out with the utterly charming Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1951), the first Sirk film starring Hudson. It’s a slyly Marxist parable, concerning a millionaire who decides to gift the family of his ex-girlfriend with a tidy sum of money – and then stick around and see what happens to them. He finds, of course, that they become greedy, self-centered creeps. The film is an utter delight – a short, brightly colored, B-budget affair set in the Twenties that is a “near-musical” (was Uncle Jean watching?) that includes only three songs casually sung by the characters. (Plus a bit actor who went on to great fame, and made another film with Rock a few years later.)
1170.) I’ve been covering a number of the best “alternative” UK standup comics on the show since 2010, and this week am very pleased to finally be able to present a talk with one of them. The exuberant, delightful, and quite articulate Josie Long was in NYC several weeks back to present one of her themed shows at the Soho Playhouse. In part one of our talk, we discuss her career to date, beginning with her time as a teenage standup. We move on to the period (after graduating Oxford) in which she opened for Stewart Lee and started forging a whimsical brand of humor that is now mixed with social satire, colorful tangents, and charming interactions with the audience. I also ask her about a comic riff that I notice she shares with both Daniel Kitson and John Oliver, and her work on BBC radio, presenting an audio adaptation of one of her best-reviewed stage shows and hosting a documentary series. Also, a discussion of her friend and colleague, comics genius Alan Moore.
1171.) Episode from 2014 re-presented tonight to salute Anne Jackson, who died about two weeks back. I originally crafted the show to acknowledge the death of Eli Wallach, salute his theatrical bond with Jackson (with whom he was married from 1948 to his death), and my love of the work of Murray Schisgal. The episode focuses on the work Jackson and Wallach did with 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.
1172.) Vintage (and the film *still* hasn’t been shown anywhere in the U.S.!): The very first Deceased Artiste episode I did on the Funhouse was a salute to the late, great Federico Fellini (also Vincent Price, who died around the same time). The maestro’s last film, The Voice of the Moon (1990), had at that point only played a few days in select American cities as part of a traveling film series called “Tutto Fellini.” Move forward twenty years and the film still hasn’t been distributed in America (the “Tutto” screenings were it). I am thus very proud to offer a TV premiere of scenes from this “missing” film by one of the greatest European filmmakers. The film is far from his best, but it has some beautiful, and ribald, moments – as one would expect from any late-period Fellini film. Funhouse fave Roberto Benigni stars as a poet who is a literal lunatic, a man driven mad by the moon and his blonde object of obsession, named Aldina. As he travels from place to place he encounters various colorful characters and participates in odd events, a few of which come straight out of fairy tales. He also utters some beautiful lines of dialogue that indicate where Fellini’s mind was at in his final years. The film deserves screenings in the U.S., and I’m very happy to celebrate its finer moments on the Funhouse.
1173.) One of the best things about three of the British comedians I’ve spotlighted on the show – namely Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, and Robin Ince – is that they are constantly curating and/or hosting shows and podcasts that feature other terrific standup comics we most probably will never see on “this side of the pond.” This week I offer clips from Lee’s major effort in that direction, a Comedy Central (UK) show called The Alternative Comedy Experience. Lee doesn’t m.c. the proceedings, but his interviews with the participants punctuate segments from their acts. The comics have different approaches and are major “discoveries” for American fans of British humor. They are most similar in the fact that nearly all deconstruct their acts as they construct them (using tangents, audience work, and other techniques to acknowledge the standup “pose”). The show also showcases several great women standups who approach their comedy from a very different direction than their American counterparts (read: no detailed discussion of sex). The comics hail from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada, so the array of accents on display is fascinating as well.
1174.) This week I close off my exploration of the first season of Stewart Lee’s series that aired on Comedy Central UK, The Alternative Comedy Experience. This time out I pick up where I left off on the preceding show, with U.K. stand-ups offering different types of cutting-edge, often wonderfully weird, comedy. We start off with those whose humor is similar to the British comics I’ve featured on the show in the last few years, but then move on to the world of concept comedians who do odd acts involving easels, hand-painted postcards, and a very strange ant costume. It’s richly strange stuff that’s also very funny and I’m very glad to give these folks their “U.S. TV premieres” on the Funhouse.
1175.) Vintage: Robert Bresson was one of the all-time masters of cinema, but for certain unspecified reasons, two of his 13 films have been “missing” in America for the last few decades. This week I focus on the more obscure of the two, “Four Nights of a Dreamer,” which has never been released on DVD or VHS in the U.S. It’s an incredible movie, in that it’s a *light* feature from a master of somber cinema. The plot, based on Dostoyevsky, follows a schnook painter who saves a young woman from suicide, and then offers to help her reconnect with her great love – while he himself is madly in love with her. The film is uniquely charming and sensual; it may or may not have directly influenced modern masters of alienated romance like Carax and Hartley, but it certainly is a model for the work they now do. It’s another one of the “lost” films that I’m proud to provide with a “U.S. TV debut.”
1176.) An eternity ago, the best in arts programming was available free on TV, without a cable subscription or any kind of Internet hook-up. PBS was the one-stop shop for this kind of smart TV and it presented shows that are still remarkable for their diversity. A perfect case in point was The Great American Dream Machine box set. This week on the show I’ll be reviewing the four-disc box set of the series, as well as showing short scenes from it. The award-winning series, which was only on the air for two seasons (1971-’72), was a mind-bendingly uncategorizable mix of comedy sketches, cartoons, very well-made mini-documentaries, themed montages, “man on the street” interviews, editorial commentaries (both serious and funny), musical numbers, dance pieces and readings from great modern literature. My choice of clips for this Consumer Guide episode veer towards the comedic end of the spectrum (since the mini-docs and moving interview segments need more “room to breathe” than I can allot them in 28 minutes). Thus, I’m happy to spotlight contributions to the series from, among others, Martin Mull, Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna (with Bob Dishy, Salome Jens, and Richard Castellano acting in their short films), Albert Brooks, R.O. Blechman, and some guy named Vonnegut. Of particular interest are the terrific segments by the show’s “MVP,” Marshall Efron, who commented on the American scene via some very funny “consumer guide” segments of his own.
1177.) Vintage: In part two of my interview with NYC independent filmmaker Amos Poe, we pick up where we left off, with a discussion of Poe’s first fiction feature, Unmade Beds (1976), and his eventual meeting (and ill-fated business deal) with the film’s inspiration, Funhouse deity Uncle Jean (aka Jean-Luc Godard). We next discuss one of the most interesting aspects of Poe’s work, the presence of NYC as a “character” in his films, especially in the minimalist The Foreigner (1978). We close off with a discussion of his first film with a professional cast, Subway Riders (1981) — among the performers were John Lurie, the inimitable Susan Tyrrell, “Dreamland” regular Cookie Mueller, and a very young Robbie Coltrane (doing a surprisingly good New Yawk accent).
1178.) Vintage, but reworked: To celebrate Father’s Day this year I wanted to re-air an episode that was originally shown in 1998. At that time I invited my dad (who died this past February) to be my guest-host and discuss one of our favorites, the Great Man himself, W.C. Fields. We talked about Fields’ public persona, some of the myths that surrounded his life (many of them involving his family), the perception of him as a kid-hater and woman-(or, more properly, wife-)hater, his absolutely brilliantly prepared comedy set-pieces, and the many quotes that have been attributed to him over the years – some of which he made and some of which he didn’t. We move from the silent era when he initially forged his “beleaguered dad” persona to his perfect two-reelers produced by Mack Sennett in the talkie era and finally to the greatest of his achievements, the wonderful It’s a Gift. I asked my father to talk about the experience of seeing Fields’ films back in the Thirties in the movie palaces of the Bronx and hearing him make guest appearances on the radio. In rewatching, re-editing, and digitizing the episode I realized that the show (which was shot to salute not only Father’s Day, but my dad’s birthday and mine, which are ten days away from each other in June) should’ve been a two- or three-parter. In any case, I’m very glad I did it, and I hope you will enjoy it as well.
1179.) For my birthday, I decided to completely reshoot and re-edit a b-day show I did two years ago, host segments and all, since I found my pristine VHS copy of the film that was featured, as well as the promotional poster for it. Et voila… a whole new show returning to a subject that I am quite fond of, the work of playwright Herb Gardner. In this episode I discuss and present scenes from his self-directed feature The Goodbye People. The film adapts a play of his that he returned to again and again for over 15 years – each time it flopped, he would let it lay for a bit, then retool it and attempt to remount it on the stage, on the road or on Broadway. The 1984 film adaptation was the “final” version of this quirky comedy about a Jewish senior (Martin Balsam) who dreams of re-opening his old Hawaiian-themed hot dog stand on the Coney Island boardwalk in the depths of winter. He is aided in this dream by a would-be sculptor/workaday schnook (Judd Hirsch), who gradually falls in love with the old man’s daughter (Pamela Reed), who is having an identity crisis of her own. The three leads did a wonderful job in bringing Gardner’s “dream project” to life. They are aided by the terrific Gene Saks, who enters the picture towards the end (as he did in A Thousand Clowns) and steals the show with a wonderful speech about aging.
1180.) I’m proud to adjourn to the Consumer Guide department again this week for reviews of three titles by Funhouse favorite auteurs that have recently been released on DVD. First up is Sam Fuller’s Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, a feverish private-eye saga that shows Sam had lost none of his trademark energy and imaginative editing in the Seventies. Next is Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room, a collection of short lurid stories wrapped up in each other, Russian doll-style, while a torrent of mind-boggling visuals (many featuring Funhouse heroes like Udo Kier and Charlotte Rampling) cascade by. I close out with Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy, a four-disc Criterion set that includes two Wenders masterworks (Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road) and an ambitious misfire (Wrong Move). I discuss how the films were made, their themes (including the “death of the small-town movie theater,” a notion that was beginning to depress movie buffs as early as the Seventies), and their haunting imagery.
1181.) Sometimes a movie comes along that is so bizarre I have to devote an entire episode to it. Such is the case with Seijun Suzuki’s A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness (1977), his return to theatrical filmmaking (he directed a few TV projects in the time when he was out of favor in the movie business). The film is a comment on sexism that becomes a full-fledged meditation on the nightmare of fame. A woman golf pro is groomed by coaches and corporate execs to become what we’d now call a “cross-platform” superstar. At the point where she has gotten her own TV show, a problem appears: One of her neighbors is a crazed fan who wants to have her life, and is willing to torment her to get it. The film is one of Suzuki’s forgotten gems, released on U.S. DVD in a poorly subtitled fashion (I’m showing a version of the film with better titles). The fact that it starts out to be one thing – a Japanese version of the sort of crazed media-commentary that Robert Aldrich made in The Legend of Lylah Clare – and winds up being a distinctly other type of movie (call it a “candy-colored thriller”) makes it an even more interesting artifact of one of the most inventive and eccentric Japanese directors.
1182.) There are no time limits or deadlines to my Deceased Artiste tributes, and so I’m proud to present part one of a two-part salute to the acting career of David Bowie this week. This episode is devoted to the more notable films, and those he actually starred in. I believe that he was a truly talented actor, although he is best known in that regard for two fantasy roles, the superb The Man Who Fell to Earth and the cult Muppet teen-girl fantasy Labyrinth. He did, however, test himself as a performer with his early film work, from his splendid work for Roeg and Oshima to his “Weimar duo” (Just a Gigolo and Baal – here represented by different footage than I’ve shown before). There will be a bit of the “Bowie croon” in this episode, but only in the context of his “sounds like Newley, acts like a mime” early period and later performing a Brecht-Weill composition. Bowie didn’t simply settle for making pop-star vehicle pics or playing the weirdo/alien roles that he said he was offered on a regular basis.
1183.) In the second of my Deceased Artiste episodes devoted to David Bowie, I dive into the “deep tracks” of his acting work, spotlighting his later appearances as a supporting player and one eye-opening cable-horror-anthology starring role. The former are represented by a few of his mainstream “guest star” appearances (the great ones), where he was able to come into a film for a scene or two, give a solid performance, and leave. I also offer clips from international coproductions (and Canadian “tax shelter” movies) in which he smartly took small roles that allowed him to steal the picture – and then leave. The best among these is his odd turn as a villain in an Italian Western starring Harvey Keitel (!). The most interesting acting role he took, however, was as a modernist conceptual artist who is being threatened by a fan in his home-studio (built in a former prison). The horror anthology that featured this turn was a spinoff of one of his better-known films (The Hunger), and the episode shows Bowie facing up to a fear he professed many times as a young superstar, namely being killed by a fan. He turned into the series’ host and in that capacity (and in one terribly tearjerky kids melodrama) he offers reflections on mankind’s fear of death.
1184.) Vintage: Every few years another TV writer-producer is hailed as a “genius” who is scripting “the finest program to ever air on television.” There are a number of these individuals, but one who gets forgotten in the shuffle because he (thankfully) never, ever did series television is the visionary writer Dennis Potter. Potter’s “teleplays” are inarguably among the best things that ever aired (although many weren’t seen in the U.S.), and so tonight I return to his mother lode of TV perfection with the character study Moonlight on the Highway. Written and presented in ’69, the show concerns a super-fan (Ian Holm) whose only way out of his own bleak reality is the music of his hero, Thirties crooner Al Bowlly. Moonlight is best known for containing a “rough draft” sequence for Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective (in which our beleaguered antihero lip-synchs to an old recording), but it also offers up a character who suffers from dilemmas that Potter himself had. It’s a very personal, and a very touching drama, thanks to Potter’s immaculate writing and a superb lead performance by Holm.
1185.) Vintage: The bard of British TV, Dennis Potter, is saluted again this week with clips from two of his transitional works. First up is Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (1965), a pseudo-autobiographical account of Potter’s time running for local political office. Nigel Barton beautifully illustrates Potter’s superb facility with both dialogue and situations, while the later item I’m spotlighting, Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1972), reflects his desire to play with the medium of television (while brutally commenting on its lack of quality) and his fascination with hiding the deeply personal in fiction. In this case it’s a narrative about a bitter TV-commercial actor who’s having a mental breakdown — or is he just too “aware”?
1186.) There are no time-limits or deadlines in the Funhouse’s Deceased Artiste department, so this week I present part one of three projected episodes about the late, great Jacques Rivette, the French New Wave filmmaker who seems to be the least known among American viewers. In this installment of my tribute I discuss his early features, from ’61-’74 (minus Out 1, which requires its own episode). I talk about the tenets of his work and feature chunky scenes illustrating these concepts. His films defy categorization, but they blended aspects of the melodrama, thriller, romance, and musical genres. Unlike his colleagues, he veered away from sequences that openly cited the work of his heroes and instead made films that draw the viewer in, slowly but surely. I am very proud to present these shows, primarily because Rivette’s work is under-represented on U.S. DVD.
1187.) Part two of my tribute to Deceased Artiste Jacques Rivette focuses on just one movie – his epic, nearly 13-hour miniseries Out 1. Shot in 1970 but not shown its completed form until 1990 (and then internationally distributed in the mid-2000s), the film is a daunting creation that, like all of Rivette’s best work, starts out slow but then begins to move faster and faster as the intrigue appears and the four main characters all reach crisis points in their lives. I discuss the film at length and offer a small collection of clips that I believe illustrate the different “tones” found in the picture. It stars Godard/Truffaut stalwart Jean-Pierre Leaud as a low-level con artist who stumbles onto a peculiar conspiracy, fashioned after a group in novels by Balzac; he becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of the group. Godard star Juliet Berto plays a grifter who runs a parallel path, getting involved in a crime that gives her knowledge of “the Thirteen” and could very well kill her. Michael Lonsdale and Bulle Ogier are the other leads, whose knowledge of the group threatens their current work as, respectively, the head of a theater troupe and the owner of a hippie boutique. Thankfully, Out 1 is now available on various “platforms” from DVD to Internet streaming and is ideal for “binging” (given that it is real cinema, and not just series TV branded as such).
1188.) Vintage: Given the ubiquitousness of “cult culture” in the Internet era, it’s more difficult to come across unheralded movies that are “so bad they’re good” (or at least very amusing). But we still have the world of Xtian and right-wing propaganda to explore. Thus, this week I present scenes from the anti-Obama fantasy film O.B.A.M. Nude, a relic of the present that connects strongly with Reefer Madness, Glen or Glenda, and many other “educational” fantasias that make little/no sense. It’s basically a filmed play, in which the devil obtains the soul of a stoner college student whom the devil feels would make a really great “socialist dictator” for the U.S. The concept of subtlety is nowhere in evidence, but the producer/writer – a former NJ lawyer/municipal judge/actor/filmmaker (no shit!) – decided to remove the issue of race from the picture by playing the Obama character himself. Thus our stoner hero is not a thin, well-spoken half-black gent, but is instead a chubby Italian-American one. The film plows through several issues (abortion, affirmative action, war, climate change) with a chainsaw, introducing some great fake “documentary” sequences in which “real people” hold forth on these issues (including a white-trash liberal girl drinkin’ a beer as she talks). That’s setting aside several other visual delights in the film (odd montages, cheesy animation) and the flat acting of the guy playing the devil. O.B.A.M. Nude is a very special bad movie, one that has a message (several dozen of them, in fact) and deserves an audience – an audience that most likely won’t agree with the politics of the “auteur,” but will enjoy the threadbare nature of the concept.
1189.) Back in the “Too Good for BBC-America” department of the show, I now face an interesting situation: giving the U.S. TV “premiere” to a show that was too good for the BBC in England. Limmy’s Show! (2010-2013) was the brainchild of Scottish comedian/Net wizard Brian Limond (aka “Limmy”) and it only aired on BBC-Scotland (the show still got great reviews in England and inspired fans like Charlie Brooker and Richard Herring). The show featured an array of different sorts of humor, from character comedy (replete with taglines and repeated phrasing), to brilliant (often dark) observational rants from Limmy, to truly grim sketches that prove that life is funniest when *not* viewed through rose-colored glasses. Limmy’s Glaswegian burr is indeed thick, but his comedy is universal – from smart, silent sight gags to reflections on aging (unusual for a rather young comedian – Limmy was 36-39 when the show was airing).
1190.) For my annual Labor Day weekend “State of the Jer” show, I offer up a mix of commentary and clips. The commentary concerns what’s occurred in Jerry “news” in the last year, focusing mostly on the fact that’s he’s back in with the MDA (in some way) and the appearance online of The Day The Clown Cried in its abbreviated, subtitled form (from a German documentary). I dissect the latter and a curious and interesting conversation I had online about whether or not we’ll ever see the whole feature. The spotlight, though, is on Telethon clips – my theme this year is “the musical Telethon,” featuring clips from the musical guests who perfectly embodied the spirit of the show. Only two decades ago Vegas and Branson were both still at the top of their tacky form, and thus their best-known acts all appeared on the show. I am happy to keep the tradition alive by digging into the “archive” of weirdness to share some gems with Funhouse viewers.
1191.) Back in the “too good for BBC-America” department, I salute the fourth and final season of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. The show has been canceled by the BBC, and it’s easy to see why in retrospect – this season featured Stew going out on a limb comedically and conceptually, and seemingly almost challenging “Auntie Beeb” to drop his series. I discuss different aspects of Stew’s comedy (including his baiting the home audience) and show clips from the early episodes of the season, focusing on a long, brilliant monologue he did about Islamophobic humor (which I’ve had to excerpt, owing to time constraints and some specific U.K. references that would require too much explanation). Comedy Vehicle was very far from the average standup show – Stew ensures that you can’t feel indifferent about his comedy, you’ll either love it or hate it.
1192.) This week I say an official farewell to Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle for the last time, as I present my second episode about the show’s final season. This time out, we get deeper into the more challenging items that Stew sent BBC viewers’ ways on the program – the final episode is a meditation on childhood that veers sideways into an old family motto about urine, his grandfather’s encounter with Maltese flies, the high suicide rate of standup comics, and Stew’s final attempt on TV to figure out what an audience wants. I review the series verbally before I show select clips (and, believe me, Stew is about as difficult to edit as scenes from Rivette movies – remove several seconds and you’ve lost a valuable bit of info that comes back later on….). Stew’s “interrogator” on the final season was again Funhouse favorite Chris Morris who probes into what the hell Stew is really doing up on a stage.
1193.) My “autumn of British comedy” series of episodes continues with a discussion of, and scenes from, the second season of Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge. To date, there has been no official DVD or cable airing of the series, but it represents one of the best twists on the Partridge character: We stay in his radio studio at “North Norfolk Digital” and watch as he handles “big questions” for call-ins (“which celebrities would you want to have over for a dinner party?”), reaches conversational cul-de-sacs with his guests, unwittingly insults entire groups of people, and is abandoned by his on-air sidekick and new girlfriend (who works at the station). The series takes Partridge back to his utterly clueless, un-p.c. ways (which were set aside in the feature film from a few years back). It also features terrific performances by Tim Key as “sidekick Simon,” Julian Barratt of the Boosh as a Norfolk folk singer, cast members from The Day Today as his listeners calling in, and, of course, Steve Coogan as the brilliantly insincere Partridge.
1194.) Vintage: This week I introduce Funhouse viewers to the charming Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd, Father Ted) creation Black Books, a Britcom set in a small bookstore run by a very cranky and indulgent Irishman. I follow scenes from that show with clips from performance DVDs released by the show’s two stars. The costar, Bill Bailey, is a long-haired, sharp-witted observational comic with a surreal edge and great talent as a multi-instrumentalist; he is also so popular in the U.K. that he’s headlined at Wembley. The show’s star and co-creator, Dylan Moran, is a top-notch standup who treats familiar topics with a fresh eye and acid wit. I believe both of them should be known over here — Bailey’s trippy comedy and musical pastiches are great, and Moran definitely stands beside Stewart Lee in the Pantheon of poetically sarcastic current-day comedians.
1195.) The second and last part of my interview with UK comedian Josie Long moves into some very interesting areas. We talk about the two poles of her work – appearing on popular BBC “panel” comedy shows and doing work with other activists in “pop-up” performances around England. We also discuss her appearances on the Stewart Lee-curated TV series The Alternative Comedy Experience (seen only on the British Comedy Central) and the short films she’s written and co-produced (directed by her friend Douglas King). Perhaps most importantly, Josie talks about the long-standing “question” about women in standup comedy (namely, how do they break through, and why are they still thought of as a specific component of the comedy world rather than just a regular part of it?). I had a great time talking with Josie, who is perhaps the most polite debater you will ever encounter (and also the most fun).
1196.) This week I move deeper into my “autumn of UK comedy” with a second episode devoted to the work of Glaswegian comedian and Internet wiz Brian Limond, aka “Limmy.” His series Limmy’s Show! (2010-13) showcased his comic characters, as well as his wonderfully dark sense of humor. In this episode I discuss his comedy and show scenes from the second season of the program, with the spotlight on new situations and characters, including a brilliant bit he did a few times about a very grim TV psychic.