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).
1417.) You say, “Ed, can you find me a 1970s b&w feature-length student film (by a now-noted director) that is both creepy and funny, features musical numbers, and muses on the mortality of Laurel and Hardy? Can it star two of the featured acts from Forbidden Zone, plus two Scorsese character actors, and the late, great Ray Sharkey?” (Not a good person, but a great actor.) Well, you’re in luck this week, as I’m discussing, and showing scenes from, Hot Tomorrows (1977), Martin Brest’s wonderfully grim student feature about two Bronx guys on a journey to the end of the night in L.A. Ken Lerner stars as a screenwriter whose old NYC buddy (Sharkey) visits him in L.A. where the two go to a bar and encounter an amiable gent (Victor Argo) saddled with an angry, drunk, philosophical little person (the inimitable Herve Villechaize!). The bar’s entertainment is a cross between a Weimar cabaret act and an American swing band (The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo). The next stop on the Bronx boys’ itinerary is a mortuary (a famous voice summons them there – not sure how he got in there) and their final stop is an old-age home where magical things happen upstairs. The film is the best thing Brest ever made, and is a delightful evocation of optimistic Thirties movies funneled through a cynical Seventies lens.
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.
1419.) The second and last episode devoted to the underseen and cult-worthy The Wedding Ring (1970), intended as a Deceased Artiste tribute to the late, great screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere. Here Carriere had one of his rare starring roles (and scripted, based on his novel) as a mysterious veterinarian who consults a matchmaker to get a wife (preferably, one with a very big apartment to handle his studies of animals and insects). Anna Karina costars as his equally mysterious partner, a woman who suspects she might end up the victim of Carriere or one of his animal charges; he, in turn, believes that she is trying to kill him. And all the while, another subplot is developing, which provides the film’s extremely trippy ending. The Funhouse is glad once again to present the U.S.TV premiere of scenes from an obscure gem from the mind of the very prolific and very talented Carriere.
1420.) Proving that Halloween lasts all year long in the Funhouse, this week the focus is on the first TV horror host, the “glamour ghoul,” the goth icon, Vampira (aka Maila Nurmi). There are three separate docs about her out there, each of which provides a different piece of the puzzle of her life (and there, most assuredly, is room for a fourth that would go into the sadder moments between oblivion and rediscovery). I discuss her career and then provide a “mega-mix” of sorts, in which I combine scenes from all three of the docs. The first is a Finnish production (Nurmi was a Finn by heritage) called Vampira: About Sex, Death & Taxes (1995), which presents Nurmi on camera and on location in various parts of L.A. telling her tales of inspiration, fame, and then almost instant has-been status – the most startling part of her story is that the Vampira TV show (which was always local, seen only in L.A.) got national and international press within a scant few weeks of its debut and was off the air within a year later, because the station was looking to syndicate the character without Nurmi’s approval. (She held ownership of “Vampira” and tried to hang on to it, even when they later revamped the character and turned her into Elvira.) The second of the docs is Vampira: the Movie (2006), which is more specifically about her horror hosting and her impact on future generations of goth kids and horror hosts alike. (She predated the late ’57 emergence of the “Shock Theater” package and the second TV horror host, Roland/Zacherley.) The third doc, Vampira and Me (2012), offers a more personal, sympathetic look at Nurmi’s life, and the discovery of two additional TV appearances she made in character – since a scant few minutes exists of her less than a year-and-a-half reign (she had a second brief run on another channel) on the air in L.A.
1421.) Closing out my series of episodes on the films of Aki Kaurismaki that never received distribution in the U.S., this week I spotlight Hamlet Goes Business (1987), his deadpan take on Shakespeare that is close to the original in terms of character names and action, but is truly an Aki movie in that the characters drink, smoke (a lot!), and listen to rock ’n’ roll on a very conspicuous jukebox. In the process there are lovely melodramatic sequences and some memorably absurdist twists on a very familiar tale.
1422.) I’m always happy to pay tribute to departed heroes and heroines in the Funhouse, and this week, months after his death, I’m extremely happy to salute the career of character actor Allen Garfield. His final years were spent in bad health, but from the late Sixties through the Nineties he worked non-stop in theater, movies, and television. During the much-revered (and rightly so) “maverick” period of American cinema in the early Seventies he worked for (a short list) De Palma, Downey Sr, Ritchie, Coppola, and Altman. As he got older, he changed both physically and moniker-wise – he lost much weight and for a time went back to his birth name of Allen Goorwitz (but then resumed his career as A. Garfield when he found the parts were more limited with an “ethnic” name). In the early Eighties, he gave one of his finest-ever scene-stealing supporting roles – as the Coppola-like renegade producer living in a mobile home traveling through the late-night streets of L.A. in Wim Wenders’ The State of Things (1982). He continued to act until his health prevented him from doing so. Reviewing the work of scene-stealing character actors like Garfield is one special joy of doing the Funhouse.
1423.) Vintage: 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.
1424.) Vintage: Easter has always been a time of blasphemy in the Funhouse, but this year I wanted to do something different and special. And so, a two-part Easter episode (two segments in one show – 28 minutes of Paschal joy!). In the first part I discuss the passing of the sublime writer Jimmy Breslin and read from his very pertinent book from 2004, The Church That Forgot Christ. The book is an extended essay on Jimmy’s deep belief in the Catholic religion, and his extreme anger at the plague of pedophilia that has been part and parcel of the Church for so long (and in so many different cities and countries). Breslin’s writing was powerful and direct, so I’m glad to have him “speaking” (with his usual mixture of beautiful sentiment and streetwise humor) in our Easter celebration about the corruption at the root of the Church. On a lighter note, the second half of the show finds us back in Rapture territory, with the “reboot” of the Left Behind franchise, an incredibly ridiculous thriller from 2014 starring Nicolas Cage (who clearly needs cash, and fast) as an airplane pilot who comes to terms with the missing folks on his airliner. It’s patently awful, but when sliced down to a few minutes, it’s quite enjoyable. And Nic the over-actor isn’t alone – he’s joined by an angry little man who instantly became my favorite character in this wretched little suspenser….
1425.) Vintage: 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.
1426.) We return once more to the Sixties, the “era that keeps on giving and giving and…” with an episode about Brazilian Cinema Novo icon Glauber Rocha and his trend-setting political film Terra em Transe (World in a Trance, 1967). The film is a gorgeous black-and-white drama about a poet who can’t decide which of his two “godfather” benefactors he wants to support – a Right-wing megalomaniac or a supposedly Left “man of the people” who wants to free them from tyranny. Terra is a timeless political parable, since the Rightist politician is openly contemptuous of the common person in his district – a land called here “Eldorado” – and the supposedly “Left” pol (who would in the U.S. be a Democratic “lesser of two evils” centrist-liberal) does nothing to stem the tide of the poor being exploited and killed. Rocha’s visual style is balletic and extraordinary; his storytelling style is heavy derived from both Godard and the “Italian New Wave” directors; and he includes one concession to mass taste – which is that the poet is a conventionally rugged blond dude who is a ladykiller that, throughout his existential journey, is James Bond-like in his bedding down women of the Left, women of the Right, and women he runs into at the trippy orgiastic parties held by a local media mogul. Rocha is one of the very important building blocks of Sixties world cinema and I’m glad to present scenes from his work on the Funhouse.
1427.) Returning for the second part of my tribute to the icon Fellini, this time it’s strictly his work in the Sixties, the decade when “Fellini-esque” became a much-used adjective, as he developed his signature style of mixing dreams and memory with present-day reality, and countless filmmakers decided to copy his style (mostly to lesser effect). He only made four features and three shorts in the Sixties, but each one of them further refined his focus on the imagination and what he called his main theme: “straining to hear … something that’s been nearly forgotten.” From La Dolce Vita to Satyricon, he went beyond the fame he had achieved in the Fifties to become a cinematic institution – while also giving his two favorite performers, Marcello Mastroianni and his wife Guilietta Masina, their best-ever roles.
1428.) Something a little different this week: two short films discussed and then shown in their near-entirety. (The opening credits had to be sacrificed for time purposes.) The first is Funhouse deity Aki Kaurismaki’s short contribution to the anthology feature Centro Historico (2012), a Portuguese film that salutes the country from different angles. Aki’s short concerns the struggling owner of a very small restaurant who is challenged by the large nightspot down the street. The piece is dialogue-less and is of a whole with Kaurismaki’s features but has “disappeared,” since it was part of a project that was barely seen in the U.S. The second short is “The Nail Clippers” (1969) by Jean-Claude Carriere (with Milos Forman listed as co-scripter). This film continues the fascination that the immaculately talented scripter (who worked with an insanely broad assortment of great filmmakers from different countries) had for small “gag” situations with oddly existential overtones. In this case, the recently departed Michael Lonsdale (another Funhouse favorite) finds that he’s lost his nail clippers while in a hotel with his wife. The situation gets stranger from there. I’m very happy to take these “deep dives” into the filmographies of our favorite artists on the Funhouse, as shorter works are often overlooked when talking about a filmmaker’s career.
1429.) Returning to the deep well of French films not shown in the U.S., this week I discuss and show scenes from “Les Espions” (the Spies, 1957) by Henri-Georges Clouzot. A rather unusual film, it is a tale of intrigue that also has an absurdist sense of humor which unfortunately disappears as the proceedings gradually turn into a real spy drama. The plot is one of uncertain identity – a French psychiatrist is recruited by an American spy to house a mysterious figure in his clinic. As soon as that premise is set up, the memorable supporting characters begin showing up – two of whom are played by the great Sam Jaffe (speaking French and reflecting in the dialogue about being suspected of having Communist sympathies; he was indeed blacklisted in the Fifties) and Funhouse deity Peter Ustinov (offering a letter-perfect portrait of a shifty Lithuanian whose French is impeccable, as are his wonderful mannerisms). The film does have a weird shift in tone that doesn’t quite work, but it also has some great sequences and a top-notch cast (including the director’s wife, the fascinating-to-watch Vera Clouzot. playing a mental patient).
1430.) The third part of my four-part tribute to the brilliant and much-ripped-off Federico Fellini showcases his work from the 1970s. In that decade he continued his journeys into memory and fantasy as well as bitter reality, but he added other pigments to his palette with a political allegory (Orchestra Rehearsal), telefilms, a period piece with a lot of sex (Fellini’s Casanova) and a message about male ego, and a response to the flak he had received from feminists (City of Women). Oh, and an unmitigated masterpiece (Amarcord), distributed in the U.S. by none other than Roger Corman! Even when he was “out of fashion” critically (like the other Masters of cinema, Fellini went in and out of fashion several times in his career), his work was top-notch.
1431.) Revamped, updated vintage episode: To commemorate the recent passing of Bertrand Tavernier, I present my 2005 interview with him. This episode was all that aired of a much longer talk, due to immensely irritating tech troubles (quick version: mini-DV tapes lose their audio VERY quickly). The original description: My lively interview with celebrated French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier explores his latest film — which never subsequently got a U.S. distributor – Holy Lola, a tale of a French couple looking to adopt in Cambodia. Tavernier is best known for his well-received period pieces (A Sunday in the Country) and his very straightforwardly scripted cross-cultural pieces (Round Midnight), but in recent years he’s made a series of socially conscious pictures that fit into the great “humanist” tradition of French cinema, as well as demonstrate his versatility as a filmmaker. In this initial part of our chat, we tie Lola in to his last two films: Safe Conduct, a personalized chronicle of filmmaking in France during the German occupation that’s half character study/half thriller, and the vastly underrated It All Starts Today, a low-key drama (reminiscent of Loach and Leigh) about a kindergarten teacher in a small French town trying to “make a difference” in the lives of his students (the film, as Tavernier declared in one of the moments I had to exclude from the show, is “not Dead Poet’s Society!”).
1432.) In the interim between his over-the-top CGI extravaganza Twisted Pair (his fifth film) and whatever will be his sixth venture into clueless – or highly calculated? – moviemaking, the always consistent Neil Breen decided that he needed to share his secrets as an auteur. The result is a five-hour documentary of him sitting and telling you said “secrets” that he decided should be a $150 purchase for his fans. (These secrets don’t come cheap, fellas and gals.) The rather odd things about the doc? He called it a “retrospective” (sort of redefining that word, since this is not a film festival or a box set); he picked a number of topics and then shows us scenes from his films that don’t quite fit those topics; and, best of all, in the segment being discussed and excerpted in this episode, he calls green screen-created spaces “locations” and also makes the claim that wild animals seen in his films via green screen are 100% real. This last odd detail (which he does quite often in the second half of the doc) indicates that Breen is perhaps as clueless as he has seemed to be, or he’s an inveterate liar, or his career as the “most filmmaker who gets more clueless with each film he makes” is a ruse and he is actually a very canny performance artist. It’s hard to choose between those three, but in the process you’ll see a man claiming that a dimestore rubber fright mask is a “special effect” that lent one film “production value.” You won’t hear that in film class, will you?
1433.) Offering the usual Funhouse array of “stuff you ain’t seeing anyplace else,” this week I offer a discussion of, and scenes from, Werner Schroeter’s telefilm The Bomber Pilot (1970). Telling the tale (sorta) of a trio of young women who entertained the Nazis and try to assimilate into the regular German populace after the war, Schroeter uses the stark (but beautifully colored) style of underground filmmakers to offer a procession of vignettes that either show the women doing their acts to audiences (and trying not to brag about their National Socialist fame) or haunting location shots that show them out of synch with the populace (which is clearly the German citizenry – and a few American soldiers – of 1969-70). Schroeter’s work is rarely shown in the U.S. and its visual beauty, as well as its fine-tuned sense of both classic kitsch and operatic drama, makes it well worth seeking out.
1434.) Part one of a tribute to Deceased Artiste George Segal focuses on the first five years that he starred in films, from 1965 to 1970. Segal’s appeal lay in his mixture of everyday hero and a kind of low-key urban neurosis (Woody Allen he was not – nor was he Elliott Gould). In the period I’m covering in this show, he had achieved fame in Ship of Fools and Virginia Woolf (neither of which are excerpted here) and began his starring career. This extends from the prisoner-of-war drama King Rat, which placed him among a top-notch group of British actors, to The Owl and the Pussycat, where he is fully in the Sixties “urban loser” mode. Not forgetting a Funhouse favorite, Sidney Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman (1968), a perfect middle-age angst comedy. Segal’s other life, as a musician and singer of old-time, ragtime music, is covered via a discussion of his recordings and scenes from his most famous talk-show appearance (and it wasn’t for Johnny Carson, with whom he appeared many times).
1435.) The valiant search for the most clueless filmmaker – scratch that: the *most entertaining* clueless filmmaker – can lead down dark alleys to dead ends. However, one viewing of The Astrologer (1976) reminds us that the best kind of auteur-adrift is the kind who writes/directs/produces/edits/scores and of course stars in their own work. Over the years the Funhouse has celebrated Renee Harmon (back in the mid-Nineties), the cult-possessing “incredibly strange” and psychotronic filmmakers, and the modern flowering of cluelessness (Wiseau, the guy who made Birdemic, the guy who made Dangerous Men, and all-around champ, Neil Breen). The Astrologer is one of those works – an amazingly egomaniacal journey taken by real-life astrologer Craig Denney, who made $ off of computer-created charts for his customers and then set out to create his own Citizen Kane. Thus a film that has many, many plot threads and some severely incompetent acting – the former is most likely because Denney initially wanted to make a action TV series about a kick-ass astrologer, with each episode set in a different country. (The latter because the cast is made up of his friends and relatives.) The scripting thus consists of a series of v.o. narration bits that try to stitch the many plots together (with an overall frame device about the “rise and fall” of an egomaniacal astrologer). The piece de resistance is that the film can’t come out on DVD /Blu-ray (and never was released on VHS) because Denney just liberally helped himself to classic rock and one-hit wonder pop tunes for his soundtrack, and didn’t license them. It’s hard to be that crazy, but the clueless auteur can work low-trash miracles. PLUS: Your humble servant pines for the days when Manhattan had cult-movie cinemas doing late-night atrocity screenings.
1436.) Vintage: 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).
1437.) Vintage: 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.
1438.) In the first of a series of shows dedicated to the currently “forgotten” French auteur Bertrand Blier (still with us at 82), I anticipate episodes about his rarest films with a survey of the films of his that are currently in print on DVD and Blu-ray. Blier’s Seventies and Eighties work was both masterfully absurd and imaginatively vulgar – by today’s standards he was not only un-p.c. but un-“woke.” However, if you dig into his work of the Seventies and early Eighties (he changed direction successfully in the Nineties), you find a brilliant satirical mind that played with gender expectations and stereotypes by depicting moronic male characters and numb females. He broke through with the first film I discuss, Going Places (1974), a “shock” to the French film industry that depicted two traveling hoodlums and their odyssey in the provinces of France – moronic they are, but they are also oddly charming, thanks to the performances of the then-unknown Gerard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, and the brilliant and lost-too-soon Patrick Dewaere. Blier reteamed those two male stars (who functioned well as a comedy team) in the Best Foreign Film Oscar winner Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978), a sexy and quite off-kilter study of male-female relations. The last film in the survey is Buffet Froid (1979), one of Blier’s two oddest films, a dark comedy that is indebted to the Theater of the Absurd and wonderfully depicts the lonely world of nighttime suburban France.
1439.) For sheer entertainment value and unpredictability, nothing beats the variety shows of the Sixties and early Seventies, where the “old” met the “new” on a regular basis, and the result was often bizarre but always watchable. This week I start a series of episodes about Ann-Margret’s TV specials that followed that formula – but with some added twists that belonged specifically to A-M (and the men who crafted her image). Her first special from 1968, “The Ann-Margret Show,” has a blissfully schizo construction that showcased both Ann-Margrets – the twentysomething young woman who wanted to be part of “old show-biz,” performing standards and doing vaudeville turns with senior-citizen comedians, and the girl of the rock generation who would go-go dance up a storm and incarnated the perfect “sex kitten” image (stolen for various other stars of the Sixties, including Nancy Sinatra and Raquel Welch, and singers thereafter). The 1968 special makes odd genre-jumps that are even odder than the “old” meeting the “new” – as when A-M sings a then-current pop rock song with Bob Hope and then sails directly into a Swedish lullaby her mother used to sing to her (with filmed visuals that indicate that director David Winters had seen Elvira Madigan). Also included in this ep: A-M on a motorcycle both in an outdoor filmed sequence and onstage. And, yes, portraying a go-go girl in a cage (a bit from her Vegas act of that time).
1440.) Part 2 of my tribute to French master-absurdist Bertrand Blier highlights his lost-in-the-U.S. film Calmos (1976, aka “Femmes Fatales”). A thoroughly bizarre view of a literal “war between the sexes,” the film chronicles the efforts of a gynecologist and a pimp to escape the constant sexual demands of women. They flee to the countryside, wind up in an actual war with the forces of femininity, and end up having to “serve” womankind (and it gets even weirder from there). The film can be viewed simply as a sexist fantasy but, as elsewhere in Blier’s films, the two lead characters here are depicted as morons and chronic complainers, and thus, the film itself is a takedown of both genders with the emphasis being on the ridiculous lengths married men will go to in order to escape the Missus.
July 31, 2021
1441.) Vintage episode newly re-digitized and updated: [Original description] At some point in the future folks are going to look back at the films and videos of Chris Marker, and realize that this “anonymous” essayist was perhaps one of the greatest artists (and greatest minds) of the latter half of the 20th century. This week I’m proud to comment on two of his little-seen works — in fact, pretty much all of his filmography is little-seen outside of the two works that have constantly been in circulation (“La Jetée,” Sans Soleil). Marker’s favorite topics were memory, the image, the media and, of course, cats. He also has made some of the most brilliant political features and shorts; among them is “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon,” his account of the 1967 March on the Pentagon. Marker was in the thick of things with his portable camera, and caught the event from “inside.” Nearly four decades later he made another feature about youth participating in what the French call “demos,” The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004). The latter is a richly textured essay about political dissent in the 21st century, the power of graffiti (or as Mailer called it, “the faith of graffiti”) and, again, cats. Marker’s works grow richer with each reviewing, and are vastly underrated and under-shown.
1442.) The public at large and the press forget about dead celebs a few days after their demise, but in the Funhouse we never stop loving them. Thus, Part 2 of my George Segal Deceased Artiste tribute appears a few months after Segal’s death and celebrates the second part of his “golden period,” covering the years 1970 to 1974. George was getting starring roles throughout that time and working on great projects, often helmed by some of the best of the wonderful early Seventies “maverick” directors. So I move here from Where’s Poppa? (1970), where Carl Reiner delved into “sick humor” (and “black humor,” now referred to as dark humor) for the first and only time in his career, through other entertaining films to reach Segal’s sole starring turns for a pair of Funhouse favorites. The first is Paul Mazursky, in Blume in Love (1973), a tale of a divorced man trying to win back his ex-wife. (Yes, by today’s standards it’s a “stalking” tale, but at base level it’s a tale of romantic obsession, with Mazursky harkening back to his European cinematic heroes.) The last film in this stew of Segal is California Split (1974), one of the all-time great films about gambling addiction, with fragmentation galore, courtesy of Robert Altman at his loosest. Segal kept on playing starring roles in charming movies for the rest of the Seventies and some of the Eighties, but the Altman film was the end of the top-notch, eminently rewatchable pictures that he made for about a decade. (And yes, I’ve included at least one sequence where he sings out of the blue.)
1443.) Part 3 of my ongoing tribute to the great French filmmaker Bertrand Blier focuses solely on his out-of-print-in-the-U.S. feature Beau-pere (1981). As viewed from today’s lens, the film would be perceived as “problematic,” with its plot about a 30-year-old man who is left minding his teen stepdaughter when his wife dies – and winds up having a romantic and sexual relationship with her. Blier, however, was clearly veering away from Nabokov’s path and trying to show how a bad decision gets made by a character – a lounge pianist, played by the late, great Patrick Dewaere – who habitually makes bad decisions. In the process, the film becomes one of Blier’s more serious works, with a bit of his usual Theater of the Absurd influence, but mostly genuine emotion and an interestingly “distanced” visual style (via zooms and images shot through windows and door frames). As the teen girl, Ariel Besse is the “adult” in the situation (who becomes the breadwinner in the relationship, thanks to her babysitting jobs); Dewaere, as always, makes his antihero lead a charming character in spite of his many fuck-ups.
1444.) The second of my episodes devoted to the TV specials of Ann-Margret revolves around her second show, “From Hollywood with Love,” from 1969. After a discussion of where the special fits in her Sixties career (and the note that this aired the night that the Altamont Stones concert took place!), some key segments from the show, including a lengthy “Hollywood Game” bit, in which A-M moves through her paces to become famous in H’wood – in the process showing some great ’69 L.A. locations and offering some great David Winters (choreographer turned TV director) glitz and weirdness. In addition to that lengthy, crazy segment (in which the “kids of Hollywood” are hippie mimes – naturellement…), we venture into a rather chunky sketch in which A-M and Dean Martin are married and host Larry Storch (playing a gay gossip columnist – ??) gives us “both sides” of their homelife (in which first Dean is an egomaniac, and then A-M is the egomaniac). The last-mentioned is scripted by Gail Parent and Kenny Solms (who wrote for everything in the Sixties/Seventies, most prominently “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”).
1445.) The fourth episode of my ongoing tribute to the great French filmmaker Bertrand Blier focuses on his two early Eighties works-for-hire, which are still true to his personal style, even if they were conceived with certain stars in mind. The first is My Best Friend’s Girl (1983), a sex farce intended to showcase the comic actor Coluche, which ends up being an inventory of romantic triangle situations played out in a ski lodge by two men and a woman. (The other stars are then-popular dreamboat Thierry Lhermitte and a glamorous young Isabelle Huppert.) The second film was constructed as a vehicle for Alain Delon, Notre Histoire (1984). Delon plays an alcoholic (still looking great) who has left his wife and develops an obsession for a unhappy-looking dream woman (Nathalie Baye), whom he follows from place to place – ultimately finding that she’s slept with many other men who are just as obsessed about her as he is.
1446.) For the 28th year in a row, the Funhouse salutes Jerry Lewis on Labor Day weekend. At this point, I’ve covered Jerry from most conceivable angles, so what we have this time out might well be the last Jerry Lewis Funhouse outing – unless something comes to light or some film stirs a reappraisal. (Also, yrs truly has reached a saturation level.) So, what does the “last” Jerry salute contain? Firstly, an in-depth discussion of the eBay “shower photos” phenomenon – in which Jerry’s limo driver Frank Branda collected “naughty” pics of H’wood stars (some/most of which were given him by Jerry), which were put up for auction on eBay. The amounts these nude pics of Martin and Lewis at their peak sold for (it was definitely Dean’s peak – Jerry was sheepish and hid his supposed endowment from view), the circumstances under which the pics were taken (and eventually reached the public eye), and yes, the contents of the pics themselves are discussed (and shown). Then it’s time to read from a French study of Jerry’s films – written in 1969, the book wildly praises Jerry, with the label “poet” and the phrase “masterpiece” (about… The Big Mouth?), quotes from major French (and Greek) poets and intellects to reflect on his films, and a hyperbole-filled personal bio that was possibly supplied by Jerry’s press office (or the man himself when he was cresting on Percodan high one evening). After that shower of praise – drenching some of Jer’s best work and some of his unwatchable later films – we pull the cord and parachute to the safety of Vegas/mutual praise/hair grease (aka the MDA Telethon).
1447.) In this installment of my ongoing series of tributes to the work of French satirist supreme Bertrand Blier, I discuss and show scenes from one of his wildest sex farces, Menage (1986). The film, which has been out of circulation for a while in the U.S., follows the ways in which a larger-than-life seducer (Gerard Depardieu) takes over the existences of a tiny schnook (Michel Blanc) and his dissatisfied wife (Miou-Miou). He teaches them the ways of the master-thief and the hooker, transforming the husband in the meantime from a lovesick straight man into a proud woman. The film is Blier at his most extreme, and thus combines a dreamlike odyssey, bizarre situations, and charmingly amoral characters with a deft knack for poetically vulgar dialogue.
1448.) The third of my episodes devoted to the TV specials of Ann-Margret shows off her early Seventies Las Vegas act, as recorded for the 1973 special “Ann-Margret: When You’re Smiling.” By this point, her specials were getting more “normal,” but her act in general still had the schizophrenic “old show biz/new show biz” aspect that has made her career as a whole so fascinating. “Smiling” contains classic ballads and an all-out rockin’ dance number (set to a major pop hit and… Mongo Santamaria?). Plus: an opening love/murder song and an inexplicable specialty number about Lapland – not forgetting guests George Burns and Bob (stare right at the cue cards in all circumstances) Hope. ’73 was during the “recovering from the Sixties” period and a lot of television still had old/new juxtaposition, so why should A-M’s act have been any different?