Twenty-eighth year

1405.) We’ll be playing catch-up forever with the period of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when the film world exploded with unique, amorphous creations that mirrored the weird alternate directions society was going in during that time. And a lot of these films were aimed solely at [gasp!] adult viewers. Case in point: Belladonna of Sadness (1973), a cult Japanese animated feature that blends a French folk tale about sorcery in with fine art, psychedelia, rock opera, a heartsick romance, battle scenes, and Satanism. Plus, sex – and not the giddy, tee-hee dirty-joke kind of sex aimed at American teens, but intense, crazed (and Satanic) adult sex – in a cartoon even. The film’s look draws on everything from erotic etchings (and also standard anime) to Klimt, Beardsley, and yes, Yellow Submarine. As is often said about movies from the era “that keeps on giving, and giving, and…” they wouldn’t make this sort of thing today.

1406.) In our ongoing discussion of movies that are underseen, under-appreciated, or just plain unknown, this week I discuss and show excerpts from Peter Lorre’s only film as a writer-director, The Lost One (1951). The film, produced in Germany, makes one wish Lorre had directed more, since he wisely borrowed from (and riffed off of) effects from the work of directors he acted for – from Fritz Lang and Hitchcock to von Sternberg and a host of great noir filmmakers. The plot follows a doctor working with displaced persons after WWII who is forced to remember his activity during the war – which included him killing his fiancee and then trying to kill other women. It’s an overly scripted film with an unnecessary second plot strand, but when it concerns Lorre’s haunted memories, it’s great.

1407.) Vintage: As a “later chapter” to my discussions on the show about May ’68 and its effect on European cinema – namely, in the “what next?” category – this week I present a discussion of, and clips from, Swiss filmmaker Alain Tanner’s “greatest hit,” the delightfully charming and surprisingly humorous Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976). The film openly refers to the impact that May ’68 had on politically active young people, with Tanner and his co-scripter, novelist John Berger, trying to offer answers to the aforementioned question. What’s next for the characters in the film – played by a great ensemble, including Mioux-Mioux and Dominique Labourier (Celine and Julie…) – are various methods of opting out of the system or undermining it. One couple run a farm, another gent becomes a teacher (intent on opening the minds of the younger generation), another woman covertly robs her employer (an overpriced gourmet supermarket), and one former radical (in between proofing jobs – yikes!) warns community farmers when bankers and realtors are plotting to buy their farms and sell them for more. Tanner made a number of great films, but the reason that Jonah has perhaps been viewed as his crowning achievement is that the characters are indeed so likeable and the plot is both politically relevant and engrossing.

1408.) The fifth and final episode in my series of episodes devoted to the work of cult Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilova. In this show, I discuss and show scenes from Pleasant Moments (2006), her last fiction film. It follows straight on from Traps, featured in the last show, as it is a social satire that begins in a more broadly comic vein and then becomes a psychodrama as chaos takes over the life of the protagonist, a psychologist whose patients (and family, and her patients’ families) are driving her nuts. By this point in her career Chytilova was fine with expanding her storylines from the main character outward (thus many subthreads in the film I don’t discuss on the show), but the focus here is on the psychologist who is supposed to help her clients set their lives straight while hers has turned upside down.

1409.) Xmastime has long been the season of TV spectaculars and “special Christmas episodes” of regular series. Here in the Funhouse, the less Xmas the better, so I present for the holiday a little hand-chosen mini-retro of scenes from “The Dean Martin Show.” (Not the Xmas special with Dean and Frank, which we showed years ago; nor are these clips repeated from preceding “best of Dean” shows.) Here I focus specifically on items I enjoy – the musical interludes on the show and the comedy bits that are above and beyond the usual variety-show scripting (which was lame, oh boy, was it lame…). In the case of Dean’s show, that was whenever Jonathan Winters showed up and essayed a number of characters, coming up with bizarre lines and wonderfully funny fake anecdotes (which honestly did surprise Dean and make him laugh) and the odd but welcome inclusion on Dean’s show of sketches from British comedians, most specifically Marty Feldman (assisted in this show in one soccer sketch by two young Pythons).

1410.) For the New Year week, I present a second hand-picked collection of clips from “The Dean Martin Show” with another intro discussing the show’s ups and downs. In this assortment I emphasize his collaborations with musical guests and the good comedy that aired on the show, in the persons of the master ad-libber Jonathan Winters and the master sketch-writer and performer Marty Feldman. And since this kind of thing will never appear again on U.S. TV, a bit of the sexist Dino (without the “women as pets” sketches he used to do). It’s a lovely selection, and (hoping, hoping…) this next year has gotta be better than this one!

1411.) Back to the “too good for BBC-America” department for more of one of the finest monologists working today, the U.K.’s Daniel Kitson. Discussion and clips explore Kitson’s recent work.

1412.) It’s never too late to salute any artist we love in the Funhouse. So, many months after the centennial of his birth, I present a multi-part tribute to the late, great Federico Fellini. In the first part of this series, I discuss and show scenes from his initial b&w work, stretching from his first, co-directed, film, Variety Lights (1950), through the second turning point in his filmography, La Dolce Vita (1960). In this decade’s-worth of films Fellini forged an identity as a filmmaker who used the lessons of Neo-realism (he wrote for and assisted Rossellini) while also creating a dreamy style that was to flourish in his biggest international hit during this period, La Strada (1954), and later became the full-blown mix of elements that was dubbed “Fellini-esque.” He also began transforming the elements of his youth into a personal mythology (with I Vitelloni) and providing career-making roles for various Italian actors, including his wife until his death, Giulietta Masina (La Strada, Nights of Cabiria).

1413.) Returning to the work of Funhouse favorite Aki Kaurismaki, I discuss, and show scenes from his first two features, Crime and Punishment (1983) and Calamari Union (1985). The first film is indeed an adaptation of Dostoevsky, but the film has a closer connection to Bresson’s own variation on the theme, Pickpocket. Kaurismaki’s version is deadpan, but in a more existential sense; Calamari Union is where his trademark deadpan humor entered his films. It’s a mostly indescribable film, shot in stark, beautiful b&w, about a group of men (all named Frank) who journey across Helsinki seeking paradise. What they wind up getting is either being suckered into various situations or killed. So it goes. There is smoking, drinking, and rock ’n’ roll on the way, so not all is ridiculous tragedy.

1414.) Sometimes “lost” films are not so interesting when they are found. That is not the case with the long-out-of-circulation (and now available only in obscure corners of the Net) 1973 telefilm Sticks and Bones. A stirring and grim adaptation of a stirring and grim play, the film adapts David Rabe’s first produced work about the effect of Vietnam on “the average American family.” In this case, the elder son comes back from Vietnam blind and full of tales of both his love for a Vietnamese woman and the violence that he saw. The piece was shot on video with a wide-angle lens to create a paranoid atmosphere and was directed, quite well, by a filmmaker known for his independent comedies, Robert Downey (Sr). The cast includes two “name” performers (at least to us watching in the present day), Cliff DeYoung as the blind veteran and Anne Jackson as his doting mother, and is most important because it was commissioned by, and aired on, CBS TV during the summer of 1973. Many affiliates refused to carry it and watching it now, one is struck by how raw it is and how stunning it is that it was *ever* a project for a mainstream American TV network.

1415.) Returning to the world of Canadian TV auteur Ken Finkleman (best known for “The Newsroom” – the great, dark-humored one that came before the American series of the same title), this week I present a discussion of, and scenes from, the 2006 miniseries “At the Hotel.” It’s an odd creation but one that dazzles in its first few episodes. We follow the various narratives in a hotel that caters to artists of all stripes, from washed-up performers reliving former glories, to younger performers just starting out, to the mystery surrounding a murder that occurred in the early Sixties. The film (as it’s really a sort of elongated telefilm) thus changes tone every few minutes, with Dennis Potter-esque sudden musical numbers being the most delightful element. Finkleman was involved in some middling American movie comedies in the Eighties, but his work on Canadian TV echoes Potter (the acme of TV writing) in terms of quality, and yet also prefigures Larry David in its nasty dialogue and dark occurrences. Hopefully his work will gain some sort of reputation down in the “lower 48,” as it’s the kind of stuff that encourages repeated viewings.

1416.) In the “separating the art from the artist” department, this week I return to the topic of Roman Polanski. I discuss his recent work and note the continued brilliance of his filmmaking, which is currently banned from these shores (as of two movies ago, even DVD/Blu-ray releases aren’t happening).


Feb. 20, 2020

1418.) A Deceased Artiste tribute to the prolific, diverse, and incredibly talented screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, conceived of as a simple tribute to one of his movies (with a verbal paean to his talent, since he was clearly the “auteur” of the film in question), shot just a few weeks ago before he died on Feb. 8 of this year. The film in question will be the subject of not one but two Funhouse eps, as it’s a fascinating and successful experiment in changing tones and blended genres. The Wedding Ring (1970) starts out as the tale of two lonely, nebbish-y characters who meet via a matchmaking service. Once wed, we discover their individual peculiarities, which leads both husband and wife to believe their spouse is trying to kill them. Underneath all this, however, is another plot strand, which is mentioned in the dialogue quite often (and results in a terrific surprise conclusion), but which one doesn’t pay as much attention to, given the “thriller” and absurdist level of the proceedings. Carriere plays the introverted and quite strange husband and the lovely Anna Karina stars as his mysterious wife. The film is such an interesting experiment in tone and genre that it justifies being the subject of two episodes.