1301.) In the third and last part of my tribute to the work of the late, great Robert Aldrich, I tackle his Seventies output, which found him making more “guy movies” while still delivering pointed political messages and terrific updates on old genres. Among the genre updates are his take on gangsters (The Grissom Gang with the late Scott Wilson), the Western (Ulzana’s Raid with the amazing Burt Lancaster), the sports picture (The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds), and the film noir (Hustle with Reynolds and Catherine Deneuve, and a wonderfully evil Eddie Albert!). Also included are discussions of, and clips from, his memorable chronicle of hobo living in the Depression (King of the North Pole) and his final masterwork, the political thriller Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Aldrich did some amazing work in the Hollywood’s period of “maverick cinema” – despite being a few decades older than the mavericks, he fit right in, because of his skills at subverting genres, spotlighting memorably tortured characters, and crafting haunting imagery.
1302.) The fourth and last of my episodes saluting the unreleased-in-the-U.S. features of Aki Kaurismaki focuses on one of his most unusual films, Juha (1999). Based on a noted Finnish novel from 1911, the film is Aki’s “silent movie” since it has no dialogue but does have a stirring instrumental score (and some sound effects). The plot concerns a farm girl (Kaurismaki perennial Kati Outinen) who is lured away from her older, crippled (and totally benevolent) husband by a city slicker who introduces her – a life of sin! Yes, it’s a sort of mirror reflection of Murnau’s Sunrise that features great performances and is quite melodramatic (the car the city slicker drives is a “Sierck” – that being the real name of meller-meister Douglas Sirk). It was the “last silent film of the 20th century,” according to critic Peter von Bagh and has some of Kaurismaki’s characteristic deadpan humor but is mostly a silent movie-style tale of a downward spiral.
1303.) Part one of my two-part Deceased Artiste tribute to Barbara Harris. This episode focuses in on her first four films, with the emphasis on the two pictures beautifully written by Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns and Who Is Harry Kellerman and why is he saying those terrible things about me? I discuss Harris’ participation in the Playwrights’ Theater Club and the Compass, which led to the first “class” of Second City (in which Harris appeared alongside Alan Arkin, Severn Darden, and a lot of faces familiar from Sixties TV and movies). The clips include her surprisingly effective turn as a sex kitten in the dark (and sadly not very funny) comedy Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad and her completely opposite appearance as a frustrated NJ housewife in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite. These four films alone show Harris’ range as a performer, and luckily present some snippets of her singing (a talent she used beautifully onstage but – with one big exception – didn’t utilize onscreen). The Harry Kellerman piece was a Oscar-winning supporting performance (in another, better universe).
1304.) Vintage: 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….)
1305.) Vintage: 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.
1306.) Vintage: I close out my series of episodes saluting the theater telefilms of Rainer Werner Fassbinder with scenes from the first and last of these pics, 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.
1307.) Vintage: 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!
1308.) 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.
1309.) Part one of my multi-part Deceased Artiste tribute to filmmaker/cinephile Bernardo Bertolucci focuses on his first three films. He came on the scene at age 21, a published poet and movie fan who had a great sense of storytelling and a brilliant visual sense. The first film, The Grim Reaper (1962), is a kinetic, atmospheric whodunit that recounts the same incident from different viewpoints. That debut feature, made from a storyline by Bertolucci’s friend Pier Paolo Pasolini, found him forging his own style, which flowered in Before the Revolution (1964). A film that blends the political and the sexual, Revolution is Bertolucci’s first masterwork and it indicates the path he was to follow until the mid-Seventies (and return to in his best pictures after that point, the non-“pictoral” character studies). Plus, it has one of the finer movie buff conversation scenes, prefiguring Scorsese and Wenders. His third film, Partner (1968), is his most Godardian work, an overtly political modern adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s “The Double” that stars fellow radical artist Pierre Clementi in both roles. The film was being made in Italy in May ’68 as the riots were occurring in Paris and it borrows from that energy and boasts some very bizarre, unforgettable imagery.
1310.) Part two of my multi-part Deceased Artiste tribute to filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci covers his fourth through sixth films, all three of which are rightly considered in the top rank of his work. The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) was the turning point, a low-key but brain-teasing adaptation of Borges that finds its protagonist exploring the mysteries of his “hero” father’s murder. The following film is one of Bertolucci’s finest, The Conformist (1970), a magisterial drama set in the Thirties about an informant turning in his Marxist acquaintances to the fascists; whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ve seen homages to it (most specifically in the first two “Godfather” films). The last film discussed in this episode is the one that made Bertolucci famous (and gave him the ability to make bigger-budgeted films – which turned into both a blessing and a curse), Last Tango in Paris (1972). The film is the first of Bertolucci’s “hothouse” apartment-set films, boasting a superb lead performance from Brando, gorgeous location footage, and fascinating insights into love, sex, death, and (the part everyone forgets) filmmaking.
1311.) The third part of my ongoing tribute to the work of Deceased Artiste Bernardo Bertolucci focuses on just one film, but what a film! Bertolucci’s passion project, 1900, is an epic tale of landowners and peasants in 20th-century Italy that is ripe with wonderful performances, some gorgeous visuals and music, and several over-the-top moments that you’ll never forget. The film tells the story of the interaction between the scion of a family of landowners (Robert De Niro) and his best friend, the legacy bearer of a family of peasants (Gerard Depardieu, at his all-time thinnest). The film runs from the birth of the two lead characters – their family patriarchs are played by Burt Lancaster and Sterling Hayden! – through their adults lives, with their respective wives (Dominque Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli). Donald Sutherland gives an unforgettably gonzo performance as the local head of the blackshirts, a fascist so mean he kills animals and children with much abandon. The film is one of Bertolucci’s most ambitious (“The Last Emperor” is a controlled work next to this one) and is uneven (particularly in the full five-hour international cut, which is now the one on DVD and in repertory) but has some of the memorable moments he ever directed. And, as he put it, he employed “multinational capitalist means [read: money from three H’wood studios] to produce a naive, edifying vision” about the glory of the Communist party in Italy.
1312.) Taking a break from the high art for a week, I hereby introduce another no-budget, sincerely clueless auteur. Neil Breen is a deadpan actor-director-writer-producer who works in the Las Vegas area and produces drama-crime films-fantasies that have ambiguous characters, overloaded plots (all info supplied in a voiceover and much of it rarely mentioned ever again), really poor acting, and a pace that is at best uneven, at worst slow beyond even the wildest imaginings of the most laidback experimental filmmaker. Breen has acquired an Internet cult that takes his bloated features and cuts them down to “just the funny parts” – what I do on this episode is to tackle his first film Double Down (2005) with both a verbal review and my own “super-cut” that not only supplies some unintentionally humorous scenes (Breen gets a phone call indicating a young girl he knows has died of brain cancer, interrupting with “I’ve got to take this other call…”), but also some moments that indicate the “longueur” of his work. In the case of this film that meant including alternate takes of various scenes, so dialogue and action is repeated. And the plot – well, it’s at base level the story of a super-spy-turned-terrorist who will “take down the Vegas strip,” but don’t expect that to happen anywhere in the picture. His films are NOT Christian, but they have the sincerity of Christian entertainment, which is all I need say….
1313.) The fourth part of my tribute to Deceased Artiste Bernardo Bertolucci focuses on the great films he made after he had a massive box-office success with “Last Tango in Paris.” The most fascinating entry in his post-“Tango” filmography is the drama/character study “Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man” (1981). Ugo Tognazzi stars as a cheese factory owner whose son is kidnapped – and who develops a plan to save his factory once he is told his son has been killed by the kidnappers. “Tragedy” is a return to Bertolucci’s Sixties roots, with a storyline that is both overtly political and engagingly ambiguous, with Ugo’s character reflecting on the changes in society as he engages in a scam and might well be the victim of a double-cross. Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2003) was his final farewell to the Sixties, utilizing the May ‘68 riots as the backdrop to a story of a trio who are cineastes and lovers. The most overlooked later work by BB is his short “Histoire d’eaux” (Story of Water) from the anthology feature “Ten Years Older: the Cello” (2002); I discuss the short and show it in its entirety, as a tribute to the late, great Signor Bertolucci.
1314.) We return to the weird, ultra-low-budget world of cult moviemaker Neil Breen this week with his second, even more befuddling, feature I Am Here… Now (2009). Breen is in that category of amazingly clueless writer/director/producers whose work is singularly his own. In his case, overly complicated plots are conveyed with voiceover narration, a series of not-very-active action scenes, symbolic interludes, and a startling amount of “Neil’s character walks” and “Neil’s character drives” scenes (not forgetting a good deal of stock footage and stock music, and desert vista shots). This particular outing finds Neil as an otherwordly being who created the human race and has come back to Earth to judge us. He interacts with a pair of twin sisters (who waver between helping the human race with sustainable energy or becoming hookers), an assortment of corrupt governmental figures (who identify themselves as such in their dialogue, always a help), and a street gang whose violence can only be overcome by Breen’s character, who can freeze time and help the helpless. One may wonder whether Breen has been affected by the cult status his films have achieved. The answer is a decisive “no” – he’s still as clueless a writer/director/producer/star/caterer/makeup-effect maker in his later pics as he was in the first one.
1315.) I say a final farewell to Bernardo Bertolucci with the fifth and last of my tributes to his work. In this case I discuss, and give the American TV premiere to, scenes from his last film, You and Me (2012). Based on a young adult novel, it is a film that encompasses themes from his earlier pictures and has imagery and plot developments that seem derived from a film that clearly influenced his work, Les Enfants Terribles, written by Cocteau and directed by Melville. A teenage boy decides to avoid going on a school ski trip and instead inhabits a storage area in the basement of the apartment building his family lives in – finally alone with his imagination and his devices, pets (an ant farm), and books, until his junkie step-sister invades his secret hideaway. The film is a well-made character study that avoids the sentimentality found in so many films for teens and ended Bertolucci’s career on a very positive and (thankfully) small-in-scale note. One of its bonuses: a touching scene set to the rare single “Regazzo Solo, Regazza Sola” (Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl), the unusual Italian rewrite of “Space Oddity” (having nothing to do with space travel or Major Tom), sung by Bowie himself.
1316.) Cluelessness is a rare quality to discover in a filmmaker these days, but Neil Breen has it in spades. This week I present his third feature film, Fateful Findings, which shows “growth” (if you can call it that) in his scripting ability, in that he concocts several plots – the fact that he never resolves some of them and has others that never overlap with anything is beside the point (as is pretty much everything in the film). The plot, as it were, involves magical discoveries of “treasure” made by children, a mysterious being who keeps haunting Neil’s character, an alcoholic friend and his sex-wary wife, a Slavic-sounding supermodel wife who’s addicted to drugs, and (Breen’s own character) a novelist who has become the best hacker in the world and plans on telling the truth about our corrupt society. In this case Neil again did everything from production/scripting/directing on down to “music direction” (choosing and adding stock music) and catering (mostly likely buying the cast lunch). And did I mention his cast and their deadpan line readings? Well, now I have.
1317.) A return to the Consumer Guide department to review three new standup comedy titles that have come out on DVD and download from UK indie DVD label Go Faster Stripe. First we move up to date with Richard Herring, whose “Oh Frig I’m 50!” is a show about Rich’s half-century celebration that also has some great tangents (especially about his kids’ toys). Next it’s on to the brilliant Simon Munnery, whose “Renegade Plumber” is the latest portmanteau show of Simon’s jokes, songs, puns, aphorisms, and mind-bendingly weird props. We close out with the great Mark Thomas, who does some of the most pungent, funny, and touching political comedy that can be found; this time out GFS has released a two-fer set of his shows concerning the Arab-Israeli situation, called “Showtime from the Front Line” and “Walking the Wall.”
1318.) 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.
1319.) Vintage: 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.
1320.) The third and last of my tributes to the great, underrated, and largely unknown filmmaker Karen Arthur. The latter part of her career was taken up with making highly melodramatic TV movies – including the “Mia Farrow Story” telefilm I covered on the Funhouse in months past – but her features are worthy of major consideration in the psychotronic/cult-movie world. Her third, Lady Beware (1987), is a very curious creation. A tale of a deranged X-ray technician (Michael Woods) who stalks, harasses, and threatens a window designer (Diane Lane) at a major Pittsburgh department store, it is at once an exploitation movie and a feminist revenge drama. Lane’s character does indeed get a carefully planned and somewhat cerebral revenge on this sleazy creep, but in the meantime, we watch him torment her on the phone in person, at work (his and hers), and in her apartment. It’s a very odd creation, in that its overwrought tone has been known to make movie audiences roar in laughter (Woods’ character is prone to reciting nursery rhymes, taking bubble baths in his prey’s abode, and harassing her on the phone while simultaneously playing with his baby daughter) before they finally cheer for Lane’s vengeance. It has never been released on DVD, and so we must depend on old VHS copies to witness its wonderment. If you saw my episode about Karen Arthur’s stunning The Mafu Cage, you will definitely enjoy my discussion of, and scenes from, Lady Beware.
1321.) Vintage: 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.
1322.) Part four of my interview with the great filmmaker Alan Rudolph continues our discussion of his latest film Ray Meets Helen. He discusses Sondra Locke and her character (Ray was her final film, and she took two trips to promote it). From that we move onto an anecdote about one of Alan’s all-time best films, Trouble in Mind (1986). We close out with the beginning of our discussion with him about his father Oscar Rudolph, who became a very busy TV director but began his show-biz career as a child actor in silent films.
1323.) In tribute to the passing of Agnes Varda, I present a discussion of, and clips from, her 2011 arts-cable miniseries From Here to There. Varda’s fiction films from the Sixties through the Eighties are superb; after that period, she made documentaries that were either sublime (The Gleaners and I) or charming but scattered, as with this five-part video diary. In it we see Agnes move from country to country, receiving honors for her films and interacting with her favorite artists. As could be expected, the interactions that are the most fascinating to me are with other filmmakers. Thus, her time spent with Chris Marker in his studio is the most vivid portrait of the man that exists on video (albeit with him still located outside of camera range); her reflection on the sale of Ingmar Bergman’s possessions is equally moving. But even Agnes’ uneven work is better than most mainstream filmmakers’ best pictures, so tonight we pay tribute to her moving from “here to there.”
1324.) Vintage, digitized and updated to commemorate the death of Seymour Cassel: From spring 1996, my phone interview with Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel. The chat was conducted to promote the first-time-ever debut of Cassavetes’ Shadows and Faces on home video (on VHS). We discussed those films at the outset, but since I had the opportunity to speak to two of the people who were closest to Cassavetes, I made sure to bring up the things I had always wanted to talk about with his intimates: his love of character people, the fantasy elements that appeared John’s last few works, and the different cuts of several of his films (Faces being the one that was cut down the most between its film-festival debut and its commercial run). Also, for bonus trivia points, find out which Fifties comic book Gena wrote for!
1325.) This year, the “inspirational” film offering for Easter is a “found footage” horror pic intended to make young adults fear porn. It’s The Lock In (2014), a tale of a bunch of teens sleeping over at their church – I personally never heard of this phenomenon but have been assured it actually happens and is intended to be “fun” for the kids involved. One of the boys sneaks in a porn mag (yes, this film was made in this decade) and all hell breaks loose. Well, a tiny bit of hell, conjured up in the now-timeworn fashion of Blair Witch and other tedious found footage horror flicks (while the actual word “porn” is barely spoken – it’s a “dirty magazine”!). The film is a typically over-the-topic piece of Christian propaganda, letting us know that pornography is the devil’s tool and is meant to destroy our relationship, our minds, our bodies, and most importantly, our sanity. Plus, other Xtian-drama trailers for your delectation!
1326.) Filmmaker Dusan Makavejev died several months ago, but we don’t have deadlines for career appreciations in the Funhouse. And so this week I present part one of a series of shows dedicated to his work. In this episode you get the cream of the crop (and more from the decade that is the gift that keeps on giving and giving and…) with his first four features. The first two, which are both brilliant, have shown up on the late night TCM foreign movie slot, and are perfect examples of the kind of slyly subversive things that could be made in (some) communist countries in the Sixties; they also outline Makavejev’s most familiar character – a young woman who is sexually and politically liberated, who winds up being “punished” by a man she encounters. Makavejev’s third film, Innocence Unprotected, is a brilliant hybrid creation – the first Yugoslav talking feature (a corny drama featuring a strongman), intercut with documentary footage of the participants as seniors and newsreel footage from the time (plus, well, just some weird stuff Makavejev discovered). This episode ends with his most famous film, WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), an amazing hybrid of documentary (about Wilhelm Reich), fiction, blazing satire, NYC troublemakers (Jackie Curtis walking along the Deuce; Al Goldstein and Jim Buckley running “Screw” mag), and extremely sharp social commentary about sexuality. Plus MNN stalwart Tuli Kupferberg running through the streets of NYC dressed as a soldier, shooting off a toy gun….
1327.) Part two of my three-part tribute to Deceased Artiste Dusan Makavejev focuses on just one film, his “comeback” picture Montenegro (1981). The film is different from his earlier works in that it tells just one story, in a linear fashion. It shares with its predecessors a warped sense of humor and wonderful surprises from other media – in this case, the fact that he frames the plot with Marianne Faithfull’s perfect rendition of Shel Silverstein’s “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.” The storyline centers around a well-to-do American housewife (Susan Anspach) living in Stockholm who is slowly losing her mind until she ventures away from her husband and kids for a little “vacation” in the bosom of a Slavic community in Sweden where the strangest things are commonplace. The film’s focus on sex links it to Makavejev’s work from the Sixties and Seventies, but in this context it was even more subversive, since this film was shown in a broader variety of arthouses and was a critically acclaimed film shot in English.
1328.) The third and last part of my Deceased Artiste tribute to filmmaker Dusan Makavejev focuses on the film that “halted” his career for a while, and the ones that appeared after his 1981 comeback with Montenegro. The 1974 film Sweet Movie is one of the great “outrages” in film history – a work that combines memorable imagery and sharp satire with strange indulgences and scenes that are included to “test” the audience. His two most normal pics, The Coca-Cola Kid (1985) and Manifesto (1988), found him injecting his trademark concerns (sexuality, the juxtaposition of human and animals, strongly committed women characters) into quite linear scripts, with the result being quite entertaining (but still weird) filmmaking. His final feature, Gorilla Bathes at Noon (1993), is a sad shadow of Makavejev’s best work, reflecting back on the Soviet Union at the moment that the former Yugoslavia was torn apart by violence.
1329.) My Deceased Artiste tribute to the only woman in the French New Wave, Agnes Varda. I discuss and show scenes from her fiction films, which are her finest works and greatest legacy. We move from the early period (her 1954 film La Pointe Courte, which qualifies as the first New Wave feature) with two of her absolute masterpieces, Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) and Le Bonheur (1964). From there we jump to her “hippie movie,” the sensory assault (and chat-fest) Lions Love (1969), and the perfect character study Vagabond (1985). I close out on her greatest documentary, The Gleaners and I (2000), her statement on food, work, homelessness, collecting odd items, sifting through society’s garbage, and – relating to all of those – art.
1330.) I’ve featured a lot of incredibly great high art on the show in recent weeks, so it’s now time for some entertaining low trash. That type of thing is exemplified in one name – Neil Breen. This time out it’s the fourth Breen film, Pass Thru, a ridiculous enviro-parable about an “artificial intelligence” (not sure that Neil knows exactly what that phrase means) that comes to Earth to aid the human race by getting rid of all of the bad people. He tackles the immigrant problem (in essence, telling them to go back home – everything’s solved!), deals with governmental corruption, and battles drug smugglers in a movie that contains lots of shots of empty vistas, voiceovers that quote Native American philosophy, acting that is to die for (or you’ll wish you were dead, one of the two), and CGI effects that create backgrounds for Neil’s character to assail the system and bring truth to power. The cocktail party scene has been hailed by many as one of Breen’s finest onscreen moments (I know, I know – low bar, but it’s just so relentless….).
1331.) Back to the “too good for BBC America” department, with a discussion of Stewart Lee’s most recent show, “Content Provider” (the first of two episodes about this). In it Stew discusses the ways in which technology has changed our lives in general, and the entertainment industry in particular. Along the way, he rates his audience’s reactions and lets us know what “the character Stewart Lee” thinks about various things. In this episode, we delve into Stew’s bit about something dear to the heart of the Funhouse, “physical media” – in this case, how low one can buy a standup DVD on the Internet. Punctuating “Content Provider” are interviews/interrogation/therapy with Stew conducted by the best comic writer in the business, Mr. Alan Moore.
1332.) To celebrate mine birthday, I always dig up something that you can potentially see somewhere else (the majority of Funhouse offerings being pretty damned rare items for U.S. television). This time out, as I turn “one year older and deeper in debt,” I salute again the wonder that is “Massacre Mafia Style,” Duke Mitchell’s crime opus. The film was restored beautifully for a Blu-ray/DVD package a few years ago (after having only been available on VHS as “The Executioner”) and even played two or three times on TCM, but then was mysteriously pulled from circulation on disc (as was its successor in weirdness, but more on that in a future show). Thus, this week I’ll be showing scenes from “MMS” and also giving you a glimpse at one supplement, a doc which offers a rather candid (and at times damning) view of Mitchell, who was known as “Mr. Palm Springs” and made his bones primarily as a nightclub entertainer in that city. So, join me for simulated violence, jaunty Italian-American songs, and protracted speeches about the position of the Italian mobster in American society, courtesy of the auteur who had previously met a Brooklyn gorilla.
1333.) Vintage: 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).
1334.) The first of three Deceased Artiste tributes to brilliant filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, this episode features his “perfect” films, the first five fiction features. His debut, Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell) established both Roeg’s influences – ranging from classic British cinema and lit to Antonioni, Resnais, and pop art – and his singular approach to camerawork, editing, and depiction of memory. He may be best known for his use of pop-rock stars in leading roles during this period, but the films remain compellingly watchable because of their scripts (especially The Man Who Fell to Earth), the editing and cinematography (Walkabout), and the time-shuffle that distinguished his best work (Bad Timing).
1335.) The second part of my three-episode Deceased Artiste tribute to the great visionary filmmaker Nicolas Roeg focuses on one of his lesser-known films (currently unavailable in the U.S.). Castaway (1986) is based on the real story of a man who wanted to spend a year on a deserted island and advertised for a “wife” to go with him on the trip. The result was initial joy and then a series of small disasters, beautifully chronicled in the film, which stars the great Oliver Reed as the urban adventurer and then unknown Amanda Donohoe (second film role, first starring part) as his partner in survival. The film features Roeg’s always gorgeous visuals and dreamy editing, and focuses on two themes: the notion that city people would fare pretty poorly on a deserted island and that men and women have (surprise) very different needs when they’re far away from home. I consider the film a lost gem (with clear Godard-influenced visuals in one scene) and one of the better “forgotten” Roeg films (and please, please, no mention of the Tom Hanks film with a similar title).
1336.) The third and last part of my Deceased Artiste tribute to filmmaker Nicolas Roeg covers the last quarter-century of his work. The films run the gamut. from completely “lost” masterworks (Two Deaths) to films that are a lot better than one remembers (the absurdist meditation on fame and time, Insignificance) to items that were made a lot better because they were helmed by Roeg (his final film, Puffball: the Devil’s Eyeball). In the process I discuss the films that don’t work for different reasons (including the ambitious mess that is Eureka) and others that are the perfect melding of director and writer – Track 29, where Roeg became the one visionary director to ever work with genius TV playwright Dennis Potter (although Potter’s screenplay for the film simplifies the main notion behind Potter’s source teleplay). In the process, you will see how Roeg’s brilliant visuals, editing, and his most pressing concerns (including ways to weave realistic sex into an otherwise staid narrative) remained alive and flourishing as he moved from the Eighties into the first decade of the new century.
1337.) I return to the topic of cult actor-singer-moviemaker Duke Mitchell this week again – this time to do the first of two episodes about his mind-bendingly weird film Gone with the Pope (shot in ’75; edited and released in 2010). The film is currently out of print on disc (and fetching high prices on Amazon and eBay), but the most significant thing about it is that it is, hands-down, the best restoration job done on an exploitation film, ever. That is due to the fact that Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski assembled the film (which was completely shot but never assembled by Duke himself); for a method of comparison, Murawski went from assembling Pope to being the main editor on the creation of Orson’s Other Side of the Wind. There are several striking things about Pope – the flat acting, use of stock footage to simulate a trip to Italy, long monologues by even minor characters – but the single most unique is the fact that the films actually has three plot (or “movements” if you want to get highfalutin’ about it). The second one is the most talked about – it involves Duke and his chums kidnapping the Pope and demanding a ransom of 50 cents from every Catholic in the world. That said, it’s not a comedy, although it has some comic touches. Duke Mitchell was very convinced of his own skills as an actor, writer, and director – when one watches Pope, one marvels that there’s not a minute where Duke doesn’t think he’s making a gangster-movie masterpiece.
1338.) The third and last of my episodes saluting the cinematic efforts of one Duke Mitchell covers the startling “third act” (startling in that it makes little sense) of his Gone with the Pope. I discuss the film and show clips from both the feature – assembled by master-editor Bob Murawski, who graduated from assembling a Duke Mitchell unfinished feature to an Orson Welles unfinished feature (Other Side of the Wind) – and the home-video extras. These extras include stories from the cast, crew, and Duke’s close friends, behind-the-scenes footage of Duke directing (listen to him feed words to a non-actor who doesn’t speak English well). The most stunning of these revelations is that Duke attempted to make a hardcore porn reel that would overlap with Pope (he was nothing if not confident in his abilities in all areas, but this didn’t work out, to put it mildly).
1339.) The first in another series of episodes about a filmmaker whose body of work is *so* consistent that it’s a joy to watch their works in succession. Vera Chytilova is the focus of this series, and I start off with a discussion of, and scenes from, the two other films she wrote with costumer-scripter Ester Krumbachová (the one film fans know and love is the 1966 cult classic Daisies, which was shown on the Funhouse in late ’95 and is now readily available on disc). The first film was one that the two cowrote and which came right before Chytilova was effectively (covertly) banned from working for seven years as a filmmaker in Czechoslovakia – Krumbachová was banned for two decades. Fruit of Paradise (1970) is a version of the Garden of Eden story that features glorious animation and step-printing effects, as well as elements from other fictional tales (including “Alice in Wonderland”). The second film is the only reunion of the co-scripters, The Very Late Afternoon of a Faun (1983). Intended as a comedy mocking older men fancying young women, the film is also in the mode of Chytilova’s post-comeback sex comedies (which made an appeal to male viewers with sexy sequences spotlighting the charms of the actresses) and features gorgeous images of foliage, harkening back to the montages found in “Daisies” and “Fruit of Paradise.”
1340.) A digitized episode (to commemorate D.A. Pennebaker’s passing at 94) from long ago (late 2001) finds me reviewing a new French feature of the time, The Town Is Quiet, by filmmaker Robert Guédiguian, and then presenting the opening segment of my interview with seasoned (and legendary) documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, which I featured in three subsequent episodes. The interview was conducted in connection to an official run for the endlessly entertaining Town Bloody Hall. The film documents the famous evening in 1971 that Norman Mailer debated feminists at NYC’s Town Hall. Pennebaker offered his memories of the shoot and the difficulties he had in doing anything with the footage; for her part, Hegedus (his partner in filmmaking and his wife) discusses how she assembled the footage into a film, first shown in public in 1979. It’s a classic moment from a world that no longer exists: when “public intellectuals” appeared on TV with some regularity (I first saw “Hall” on PBS in ’79 in a late-night slot) and really smart people could have pro-wrestling-style feuds in public.
1341.) Vintage/New: Part two of my late 2001 interview with documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker explores three fascinating topics – first, the notion of nonprofessional performers being in on-camera in documentaries; then, the two non-filmmakers who Pennebaker shot films for; and as a closer, a discussion of Pennebaker’s debut short, “Daybreak Express” (1953). In the first discussion, we contrast the filmmakers’ critically acclaimed The War Room (1993) with Startup.com (2001), made by Hegedus with Jehane Noujaim. In the second thread we talk about Norman Mailer’s three Sixties films, which were all shot by Pennebaker and his associates at the time (he even acts in the first one – his only time performing!). We discuss the trio of truly odd, totally improvised creations, from Wild 90 (which finds Mailer playing crook with two friends and others who come by) to Maidstone (in which Mailer plays a politician/male bordello owner who is about to be assassinated – or is he?). With Dylan, Pennebaker followed his own, timeless Don’t Look Back with work on the mess that is Dylan’s Eat the Document. All of the talent behind the camera couldn’t help Norman, or Dylan, to make a good (or even coherent) film….
1342.) Vintage: Part three of my 2001 interview with documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker moves into the area of the “cult of personality” as we talk about Pennebaker’s time as a cameraman for the firm Drew Associates, where he (and his filmmaking partner Richard Leacock, and the Maysles brothers) was chronicling the run for the presidency and the White House occupancy of John Kennedy. We then move on to perhaps Pennebaker’s pivotal time capsule, Monterey Pop (1967), which contains iconic performers giving iconic performances. From there we move onto lower budgeted items that were among Pennebaker’s favorites of his work: the cult Broadway doc Original Cast Album: Company (1970); the PBS program featuring the Alvin Ailey dance troop among others, Dance Black America (1983), and the Samuel Beckett play featuring Billie Whitelaw (written exclusively by Beckett for the Hegedus-Pennebaker documentary), Rockaby (1981).
1343.) The latest installment in my ongoing series of Labor Day tributes to Jerry Lewis is a sort of three-pronged attack. The first segment offers readings, beginning with Patti Lewis’s I Laffed Till I Cried: Thirty-Six Years of Marriage to Jerry Lewis. The book ostensibly is a therapeutic effort – Patti forgiving Jerry for being such a terrible husband and father. What she reveals, among many other things, is that Jerry wrote long notes to his family to tell them how much he loved them (instead of, you know, showing it or telling them); I read from one such proclamation of love and devotion. From that I move on to even more inspirational prose – the “L’Avant Scene” issue devoted to Jerry’s best-remembered film (take a guess). Instead of quoting from the French script I offer up some nuggets from the reviews the film received in France, the opening essay in the magazine (which uses “Buddy Love” as a verb and “Kelp” as a noun). Then, we stay in La Belle France, for scenes from the first of the two movies Jerry made in France that were released in 1984. The first film, The Defective Detective, (aka “To Catch a Cop,” aka “Hold Me Back, or I’ll do a Bad Thing!”) is a matter-of-fact farce that finds Jerry in his two-faces mode: regressing to his mentally handicapped “kid” person and then jumping back to being a serious guy with grease on his hair in a red sweater who takes everything matter-of-factly, including broadly comic silliness. Happy Labor Day!
1344.) The fourth and final part of my 2001 interview with documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker focuses on only three Pennebaker projects, each of them a challenge in its own way. The first is Depeche Mode 101 (1989), which shows a tour by the band but also has a “reality TV” aspect (years before that phrase existed) where we follow a busload of fans attending the band’s concerts in different cities. The second is Sweet Toronto the 1971 assemblage of concert footage shot in 1969. Initially intended as an “oldies” festival of the rock ’n’ roll greats, the concert changed when John Lennon and Yoko Ono signed on the bill to perform in the evening of a very long day of musical acts. The last film discussed is One P.M. (1971), which became as Godard’s “American Movie,” then transformed into a Godard-Leacock-Pennebaker project and finally a Pennebaker film when it came time to edit what had been shot back in 1968. The film moves from stage fiction scenes (with the late, great Rip Torn in various guises around NYC) to live concert moments (the Jefferson Airplane on an NYC roof – a year before the Beatles did their farewell concert on a London rooftop) to political interviews and speeches. All through the interview, Pennebaker discusses the films as specific technical problems that needed to be solved – and what resulted was most definitely a very singular kind of performance documentary, one that was Pennebaker’s own.
1345.) A recent deep-dive into the work of filmmaker Ermanno Olmi led me to one of his finest “late” films, The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1988). This week on the show I’ll be discussing the film (which is available on DVD, one of only five of Olmi’s films to be released on disc in the U.S.). It’s an unusual “fairy tale”-like allegory that explores the nature of luck, faith, and indebtedness. Based on a novel by the Austrian Jewish writer Joseph Roth (who became a Catholic convert in Paris as he also became an alcoholic), it’s a beautifully rendered story of a homeless man (the late, great Rutger Hauer) in Paris who is lent money by a helpful stranger. He is instructed that, when he is solvent, he can leave the amount of the loan at a statue of a St. Therese in a small church. Thus follows a pre-“Groundhog’s Day” motif, wherein the man cannot get to the church at the right time to leave the loan at the statue; as the film goes on, he also encounters a series of benefactors in the first half and malefactors (read: crooks) in the second half. Olmi is a subject of some fascination, due to his having taken the tenets of Italian neorealism to “the next step” – using real locations, non-professional actors (in this film, the supporting cast), and documentary filmmaking techniques in the service of different types of fiction. Holy Drinker is a low-key character study that is also a beautiful silent film at times (with dialogue disappearing for entire atmospheric scenes), which contains one of Hauer’s best performances and a pointed message about the difficulty of ever paying back the people to whom you owe the most.
1346.) Can you discuss Roman Polanski’s films without discussing his life? Since he’s got a new film that is playing the film-festival circuit in Europe, I’ve decided to attempt this by discussing his last decade of work, with the focus on his two “filmed plays,” one of which (Venus in Fur) I believe was the best thing he’d done since The Pianist and Bitter Moon.
1347.) Part five of my interview with the great independent filmmaker Alan Rudolph. In this part of the interview we talk about Oscar Rudolph, Alan’s dad, who worked in film from the Twenties through the Seventies. He started out as a child actor, became an assistant director to Cecil B. DeMille, then was an assistant to a host of Paramount directors (including Billy Wilder), and wound up a very active TV director (from “The Lone Ranger” to “Batman” to “Adam-12” and “The Brady Bunch”), who also made a few low-budget features. One of those was “The Rocket Man” (1954), a wholesome yet still weird comedy-fantasy about a little boy who receives a laser gun from a space traveler. The thing that distinguishes this friendly little outing (besides its purebred B-movie cast — Spring Byington, Charles Coburn, Anne Francis, John Agar, and Beverly Garland) is that it was co-written by none other than Lenny Bruce! (It was only one of two films scripted by Lenny that was actually produced.) Alan discusses his father’s work on the film, Lenny visiting the set, and his (Alan’s) own small part in the film. He also discusses another, bigger-budgeted sci-fi feature, William Cameron Menzies’ “Invaders from Mars” (1953), which Alan says changed his life as child, due to its convincingly paranoid plotline.
1348.) I’m very happy to devote an entire episode to arguably the best film that Pier Paolo Pasolini made (or at the least the finest film he made after leaving behind his early “neorealist” period), the 1968 drama Teorema. The film has been endlessly ripped off by various softcore sex pictures, as its plot involves a mysterious “guest” visiting the house of a well-off Milanese family and then sleeping with every member of the family. What the softcore pics always leave out is the second half of the plotline, in which the guest (played by a “dreamy” Terence Stamp) leaves the family, and each one suffers a personal crisis. The cast is sublime (including Silvana Mangano, Anne Wiazemsky, and PPP close friend and collaborator Laura Betti). The allegorical storyline can be taken in whatever direction one wants – as a tale of the “death of God,” as a political parable, or as a tale of personal loss that drives one mad. The film is currently out of distribution on DVD in the U.S. and deserves to be known by all fans of Sixties cinema.
1349.) Certain cult TV shows slip through the cracks of the U.S. DVD/Blu-ray market – one such title is the mid-Seventies British musical drama “Rock Follies,” which I salute this week for the first of three episodes. Created before punk really hit and a few years before Dennis Potter let it rain “Pennies from Heaven,” the “Follies” was an odd creation – a “modern” rock drama in the mode of the old Busby Berkeley musicals, where young women rise in show business, with all the attendant egos, arguments, and incredibly catchy music. The last-mentioned in this case was supplied by Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay (with lyrics by the show’s scripter, Howard Schuman, who “borrowed” the story of the singing group from a real-life women’s combo). The cast is also wonderful, delivering both the coyness of the “young singer goes out there a nobody… and comes back a star!” performers and the sincerity of working-class ladies trying to move up in “the rock music” while also dealing with demanding partners.
1350.) Part two of a three-part tribute to the cult British series “Rock Follies” finishes off the first season of shows, the last time the series had some form of sensible continuity. The catchiest musical numbers by Roxy Music vet Andy Mackay appeared in the latter half of the first season, and the lead characters reached a turning point where their girl singing group was turned into a “nostalgia act” by a Greek mogul. First, it’s the Thirties, then it’s the Forties, then the group is screwed totally, leaving way for the second series (titled “Rock Follies of ’77”). On this episode I’ll be discussing the series, which has never been available in the U.S. on DVD, Blu-ray, or VHS, and hasn’t been shown on PBS since the late Eighties. The songs and the lead performances make the show worth watching in any decade – it’s a relic but a fascinating one, with great tunes by Mackay.
1351.) Vintage: In my continuing “stuff you ain’t seein’ anyplace else” department, I present Robert Downey Sr.’s missing absurdist comedy Pound. The 1970 film functions as a play – for the show I’ve eliminated a weird subplot about a murderer called “the Honky Killer” – set in a dog pound. The inhabitants are a mix of breeds, played by human actors, who know they’re going to be exterminated fairly soon. The film’s greatest virtue is its ensemble of character actors, with faces you know from various TV shows of the Seventies (bigger names include Antonio Fargas, Don Calfa, and Marshall Efron). It’s dark, it’s wonderfully ridiculous, and it contains a nasty theme song I never tire of, in which a female singer insults the listener in quite colorful ways.
1352.) Part two of an ongoing tribute to Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilova focuses on two of her subversive genre pictures. The first is her comeback film (after Czech authorities prevented her from working for seven years), The Apple Game (1977). The film is an odd, Altman-like ensemble piece that focuses on a playboy doctor (Jiri Menzel) who is constantly on the make. The second feature under discussion is the oddly titled Wolf’s Hole (1987), which is a spoof of horror flicks in which a group of young people go to a remote area and are immediately in danger. Chytilova’s version of this scenario involves no violence (but some weird behavior) and no sex at all. The film in fact begins as an odd spoof and then becomes a parable about the benefits of fraternity and solidarity (punctuated by arresting images of frost and snow).