Twenty-seventh year

1353.) Part three of my ongoing tribute to the work of pioneering Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilova focuses solely on her 1980 chaos comedy Panelstory. The film revolves around the residents of a housing project that is going through massive renovations and being enlarged. Nothing works, everyone (including the inhabitants) get easily lost, and if the residents aren’t screwing each other, they’re being screwed by the management. Yes, it’s a comedy but it’s also a social satire that rates as one of Chytilova’s tighter films.

1354.) Providing an update of sorts on the work of the great British comedian Stewart Lee, I present the second and last episode discussing and showing scenes from his recent standup show “Content Provider.” In this part, Stew ponders being a collector in the age of the Internet, when everything a person wants or needs is available at the click of a mouse, and older diehard collectors and fetishists can muse about how difficult (and fun) it *used* to be to pursue your particular fascination. Stew’s show closes out with a modern twist on Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 painting “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog.” (It can happen.)

1355.) Going on a glorious tangent off the work of Jacques Rivette, this week I present a discussion of and scenes from the debut film by Argentinean filmmaker Eduardo de Gregorio, who co-scripted The Spider’s Stratagem with Bertolucci and Celine and Julie Go Boating for Rivette. The film discussed here, Surreal Estate (1976), is a sort of odd spin-off of Celine and Julie, as it finds stars Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier in an old mansion that seems to be spawning its own narratives. Corin Redgrave stars as a blocked novelist who discovers the house and figures that he can write a novel about its occupants (including a dominant servant, played by Leslie Caron) – but soon finds that the house controls its denizens, rather than the other way around. de Gregorio made four later features, but this one is the most intriguing, as it deals with storytelling and sexuality, and is itself a sort of “hallway” running alongside Celine and Julie.

1356.) The second Pasolini film to be discussed in detail on the show is his 1969 act of subversion Porcile, aka “Pigsty.” It’s a bizarre and thoroughly transparent allegory, which interweaves two unrelated tales of unsavory practices. The first is cannibalism committed by a Spanish soldier (Pierre Clementi), which leads him to a confession that is the pivot of the end of the movie. The other plotline concerns the son (played by New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Leaud) of a German businessman who makes money off of pigs (in case you don’t get the metaphorical level, he sports a Hitler mustache). The businessman is visited by a sympathetic friend, played by Funhouse favorite Marco Ferreri; those two are then joined by a rival businessman (played by the great Ugo Tognazzi), as the errant, rather perverted son rejects his socialist protester girlfriend (played by Leaud’s partner in Godardian frenzy, Anne Wiazemsky).

1357.) The first of two episodes about Italian avant-garde filmmaker Carmelo Bene. A contemporary and colleague of Pasolini, Bene was first and foremost a theater director and playwright, but for a handful of years in that most turbulent of times (’68-’73) he made a handful of movies. They are colorful and crazy, alternately profound and ridiculous, and feature moments of visual beauty and rather goofy shtick. His influences encompassed various theatrical artists and also American underground filmmakers (most notably Anger and Jack Smith) and Funhouse deity, Uncle Jean. In this episode I discuss and shows scenes from three of his features: Our Lady of the Turks (1968), an overlong episodic work that introduced his experimental style; Capricci (1969), an off-the-rails provocation that costars Godard perennial Anne Wiazemsky; and One Hamlet Less (1973), his warped and truly gorgeous-looking adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic.

1358.) All the classic Xmas movies have been shown and reshown countless times, so much so that it’s time to explore the underside of Yuletide moviemaking. That underside is surely represented by the 1989 straight-to-vid horror movie Elves starring TV’s “Grizzly Adams,” Dan Haggerty. The picture starts out in a tongue-in-cheek mode and its plot is surely the stuff of classic trash past – a washed-up police detective turned department store Santa uncovers a hideous Nazi plan to mate women with elves to create the Master Race. There’s a bit more to it than that – including the fact that the girl who is the frontrunner for the task is the product of a union between her grandfather and her mother, and that it’s never explained why there’s only one goddamned elf (looking more like a troll) in the whole movie. Although it starts out on a light note, Elves gets more sincere about its insanity as it moves on and gets unpredictably odder and odder. The final “kicker” you’ve seen before but not quite in this kind of… er, package. (with a bow on the top and an elf on the wrapping)

1359.) Vintage, to commemorate Anna’s passing: It’s been 17 years since I first presented the U.S. TV premiere of scenes from the oh-so-Sixties 1967 French telefilm Anna. The film is the only musical scored by Serge Gainsbourg, and it stars the radiant Anna Karina, “new wave” icon Jean-Claude Brialy, and Serge himself. The visuals are memorably pop-art-ish and the songs are equally indelible. Since the film has a super-simplistic plot and Gainsbourg’s lyrics are usually either poorly or all-too-rigidly translated from French to English, I was happy to present scenes from the film with French subtitles when I originally aired episodes devoted to it. In the time since, two all-too-rigidly translated English-subtitled versions of the film have appeared, so in this revamped episode (part one of two) I feature clips from the “version originale” plus one clip with English subtitles to show how Serge’s lyrical flourishes are completely lost in subtitling (and one clip with no subtitles at all so you can just dig the tune and enjoy Anna!). The film has never had a U.S. distributor, and so I am proud to present clips from it to remind Funhouse viewers how much fun it is.

1360.) Vintage favorite, presented to commemorate the death of Anna Karina: In the 17 years since I offered the U.S. TV premiere of scenes from the Serge Gainsbourg musical Anna, there have been no theatrical showings, no DVD, no airings on the indie cable channels (wait – there aren’t any anymore!). Thus I thought it would be only fitting to re-air my original episodes, albeit with updated information. This week’s episode is the second part of my tribute to Anna, focusing on the film’s odd and oh-so-Sixties dream sequences. (English subs for the songs that truly need ’em and are subtitled accurately — one key screw-up in the translation of the ballad “Ne Dis Rien” makes it far better that its lyrics be viewed as French poetry.) In the second half of the episode I present some key Gainsbourg clips, including his own versions of songs from the Anna soundtrack.

1361.) The second and last part of my tribute to Italian avant-garde filmmaker Carmelo Bene. This show is devoted entirely to his Salome (1972), a visually arresting adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play that also harkens back to its Biblical subject matter. Bene was a noted figure in Italian theater and so his films were rife with theatrical conceits, but he was also clearly a student of both Godard and the American underground, so his films have *bright* primary colors, jarring editing, gorgeously artificial sets, and many naked bodies. This particular feature contains ample amounts of classical drama and outlandish comedy (John the Baptist is an older thin, yelling Italian guy being hit in the head by a holy book). Bene avoided using conventionally known actors in his films but here he has two internationally famous models in the cast – Veruschka (Blow-Up, the recent Casino Royale) and Luna (Skidoo, Satyricon). The film’s best sequences deal with John the Baptist’s friend Jesus attempting to crucify himself and finding out that it’s not as easy as it looks….

1362.) In honor of the death of Buck Henry, I present a very special “strange arthouse artifact” episode. The topic of discussion for this episode, with ample amounts of footage, is the 1972 Yugoslavian short “I Miss Sonia Henie,” which is a series of short vignettes directed by a group of internationally famous filmmakers who were gathered for the Belgrade Film Festival. I will also be showing scenes from a documentary made about the making of the short (!). Among those who contributed bits to the short are Dusan Makavejev, Paul Morrissey, Frederick Wiseman (scripting and directing a fiction film, something he did only twice thereafter), and Buck Henry and Milos Forman who had just made Taking Off and were promoting the film overseas. “Sonia Henie” was an experiment in form (and sexy silliness) in which the participants had to shoot a three-minute vignette in one small apartment, with no camera movement or tricky framing or editing (and, needless to say, with a very small cast). And somewhere in whatever brief sketch that was written had to be the line “I miss Sonia Henie.” (1972 was still technically the Sixties, esp. in international cinema, kiddies….) The result is, of course, a rather wacky mixture of sexual liberation and off-kilter humor, which is “completed” by the Henry/Forman sketch, which finds an inventive way of getting the signature line of dialogue into the proceedings.

1363.) In the realm of “low trash,” there are few truly stunningly clueless auteurs. One of the “greatest” in this regard was Doris Wishman, a woman who spent her time making sexploitation films that weren’t sexy, nor were they coherent. And so, I present on the show a discussion of, and scenes from, her penultimate movie, a truly gonzo piece of unsexy what-have-you called Dildo Heaven (2002). The movie is a video shot in her adopted home state of Florida that finds three women trying to date their bosses. (Doris’s scripts were frozen in the Sixties.) While doing this, we also see a guy who lives in their building, a nerdy young man, peeking into the keyholes of the other residents of their apartment complex – as in her famed Keyholes Are for Peeping, this allowed Doris to intercut scenes from her other movies, or from more competently shot items that she acquired the rights to (or were in public domain, so who cared?). The video is truly one of a kind – so much so that all copies of it that show up on the open market have a “For Screening Purposes Only” disclaimer on them. Certain things in the universe are a constant, and it’s nice to know that Doris Wishman’s unskilled and bizarre approach to moviemaking (shoot the feet, shoot the phones, shoot the wall hangings, get a reaction shot from a pet or a stuffed animal) was one of those constants.

1364.) The third and last of my tributes to the cult British TV series “Rock Follies.” This time out I’m discussing and showing scenes from the second (final) season, called “Rock Follies of ’77.” The show truly jumped the shark in this season, but there are still things to be enjoyed. The plot chronicles the fragmentation of the show’s trio of women singers, but the songs (with catchy melodies by Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay) are memorable, as are the lead performances – although rock belter Julie Covington was fast becoming the show’s star and the other two “Little Ladies” were left in her wake (both in the plot and on the show). Although the first season was very popular on PBS, this season wound up not being played until the late 1980s because of “raunchy” plot elements, which would scarcely raise an eyebrow today. The element that will please current American viewers are the guest stars: Tim Curry steals one episode as a terrific would-be UK Springsteen or Lou Reed (read: a phony ex-gang member/performer who’s “a poet of the streets”), and Tim’s RHPS costar Little Nell and the soon-to-be-famous Bob Hoskins are memorable supporting players.

1365.) Part four of my tribute to cult Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilova focuses on her collaborations with the actor Bolek Polívka, who coscripted as well as starred in certain of Chytilova’s films. The first film discussed is the amazingly titled The Inheritance, or fuckoffguysgoodday (that’s its real title, 1992). It’s a yokel comedy that is a minor work by Chytilova but was a big hit in its afterlife on video and on television. The “feature presentation” of this episode is The Jester and the Queen (1988), which is a fascinating comedy-drama in which the groundskeeper of a castle (being used as a summer hunting lodge) imagines that he and visitor knew each other in another life – she as a queen, he as her court jester. The film is a gorgeously shot character study/fantasy that is simultaneously about class, sexual domination, fantasy, and memory; unlike The Inheritance, it’s most definitely a major work by Chytilova.

1366.) I am very proud to present a Deceased Artiste tribute to a Funhouse favorite and an interview subject as well, the great “comedian’s comedian” Chris Rush. I interviewed Chris in 2010 but wasn’t able to dig up any older footage of him at the time. (He died in January of 2018.) This week’s episode, part 1 of two, rectifies that with wonderful bits from his appearances on television (which didn’t occur at regular intervals) in the 1970s and ’80s. I start off with some of Chris talking in Seventies interviews on local programs, and then we include some standup footage – from an appearance on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” (in September 1979, doing his bits on TV and drugs, because the rest of his catalogue was too salty for network TV) and an uncensored gig in the early Eighties. Chris was a really nice guy and a naturally funny gent whose conversations went by at a fast clip, with footnotes, sidelines, and wonderful observations – much like his best routines (and his final one-man show – for that, catch part 2….).

1367.) The second and last part of my Deceased Artiste for the late, great Chris Rush, who died in early 2018, but lives on in the Funhouse. Chris was a terrific standup who was a “comedian’s comedian,” admired by his fellow comics (two of whom – George Carlin and Tim Allen – produced his one-man show, Bliss). This episode focuses mostly on clips from a rare recording of his Bliss show, done at the Record Collector store in Bordentown, N.J. in 2010. In this performance Chris moved through the Bliss material and some older bits, combining his original comic topics (NYC behavior, TV viewing, drugs) with his later fascination, namely quantum physics and how it related to both spirituality and our everyday behavior. Chris was a great comedian and a really nice guy, so I am very pleased that we can pay tribute to his memory on the show in the only way he’d have wanted – by sharing his comedy.

1368.) The fifth episode in my series of shows saluting the work of cult Czech New Wave filmmaker Vera Chytilova covers just one of her works, perhaps the darkest one of all. Like a few other of her later features, Traps (1998) has two different “tones,” in that it starts out as a discomforting farce and then turns into a nightmarish social satire. The plot moves into gear when our heroine (a veterinarian, a profession that figures in the movement of storyline) is raped by a smug low-level politician, aided by a playboy ad exec. The rape victim is not a passive character, though – she quickly enacts a plan to (veterinarian knowledge kicks in here) drug and castrate the rapists. At this point the film still has the tone of a disturbing farce, with the men attempting to deal with their “dilemma” in various ways. But it soon turns into the film you initially thought it would be – a stark character study that shows how the privileged can conceal their crimes, and the working class deal with the aftermath of the same crimes. The second half of the film serves as a pitch dark depiction of a woman who endures the trauma and shame of the rape, while also discovering that the few people on her side will gladly sell her out. Chytilova didn’t cut corners – she wanted to elicit conventional emotions from her audience, but also to disturb (and amuse); Traps is one of the farthest journeys in that direction.

1369.) Returning to the “you ain’t seein’ this anyplace else” department, this week I discuss and show scenes from Alain Resnais’ MIA film La guerre est finie (aka The War Is Over, 1966). Out of print for on DVD for a while now (and the copy you can buy used looks good but comes from Brandon Films – remember them, HS film nerds?) and rarely shown in repertory, Guerre is a beautifully realized political work that qualifies as a fine drama, a thriller, and a love story; the script by real-life Spanish Communist freedom fighter Jorge Semprun (who later scripted Costa-Gavras’ breakthrough political thrillers) melds perfectly with the time-slip direction of montage-master Resnais. Yves Montand stars as a Spanish Communist who is journeying to and from Spain from France and is encountering resistance both from the party chiefs (who are doctrinaire and favoring slow, incremental actions) and the young lions of the party (who want explosions and terrorist incidents right away). It’s a beautifully constructed film with much care put into the camerawork, editing, and music, as well as the performances – Montand is ably supported by a great collection of actors, including Ingrid Thulin as his steady partner and young Genevieve Bujold as his sometime-lover.

1370.) Returning to the off-kilter world of Doris Wishman, I salute her final film, a “thriller” called Each Time I Kill. As was always the case with Wishman’s work, the film was made on a shoestring and it makes no sense. Although (also true of Doris’ early films) it’s densely plotted for a no-budget feature. Here the heroine is a nerdy, ugly young woman (read: actress in ugly makeup and wig) who discovers a locket with instructions – each time she kills someone, she has to recite an incantation and she will receive their best asset (hair, teeth, bosom, etc). The visuals are classic Doris (feet, things on the wall, mismatched countershots) but the guest-star aspect is new – Fred Schneider (yes, he came from Planet Claire) plays the girl’s father and John Waters does a cameo as an “amused horror movie viewer.” Doris died while the film was being shot, and the credits reveal that Joe Sarno, another Funhouse favorite finished up the shooting (making the results look uncannily like one of Doris’ films, not his). It’s a good note for her to have gone out on, because it’s as absurd and bizarre as her Sixties and Seventies films were.

1371.) I revisit the joy that is Funhouse favorite George Kuchar through the vehicle of his wonderfully talented student Curt McDowell, who asked George to script his first feature film – and out popped Thundercrack! I’ve talked about this amazing 1975 cult/underground/camp/porn/horror/comedy/act of subversion a few times before on the Funhouse but this time out I’m discussing not only the film itself but the supplements that are present on the Synapse Blu-ray of the film (yes, it was all cleaned-up for High Def video!). Thus, I will talking about the production of the film, its strange schizo nature (in which McDowell’s subversive underground tendencies and ambi-sexual plot twists are counterpointed by Kuchar’s love of old movies and his taste for ripe dialogue and lurid plot twists), and its place in cult movie history, as well as showing bits from the George-narrated trailer, outtakes, a rare interview with McDowell and star Marion Eaton (without her oddly drawn-on eyebrows), and a rarely shown McDowell short made shortly before the commencement of the brilliance and craziness that was (and is) Thundercrack!

1372.) The “kitchen sink” cycle of films is supposed to have officially died with Lindsay Anderson’s collaborations with Malcolm McDowell, but the feature I’m discussing this week, Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs (1974), definitely has major connections with the kitchen sink/angry young dramas. Basically a filmed play (“opened up” for cinema), it tells the story of an art student (a young and shaggy John Hurt) who, out of sheer spite, begins a political party with his friends, the ridiculously titled “Dynamic Erection” party. He espouses a political philosophy, but mostly the party is created to get back at a fellow art student who had him kicked out of a pub. The film starts out as a comic satire (with very funny comic dialogue, from the play by David Haliwell, and a great supporting performance by David Warner) and slowly becomes pitch dark, since Malcolm’s political impulses, such as they are, are completely fascist. Little Malcolm was out of distribution for decades, since it was included in the wrangle between its producer – a certain George Harrison (who contributed a song to the soundtrack and produced two others) – and the late, not-so-lamented Allen Klein. Harrison bankrolled the film as he did with later “Handmade” titles, because he had loved Halliwell’s play and wanted to see a movie based on it.