Thirtieth Year

1509.) Presenting scenes from another “film you ain’t seein’ anyplace else,” this week I highlight sequences from the French romantic comedy Adorable Liar (1962), directed by Michel Deville. The film is charming but slight, but it is worth highlighting because of its cast. Its two stars, Marina Vlady and Macha Meril, plays sisters from the country who are flirting with the men they meet in Paris. (Marina’s character is a liar who is eventually hoisted with her own petard.) The interesting thing with that pairing is that both women later worked for Funhouse favorite Jean-Luc Godard (separately but memorably). Other favorite performers appear in the film in small roles, including the great Michael Lonsdale and Pierre Clementi (whom we will be saluting in future episodes).

1510.) Vintage: 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.

1511.) Interview with Balthazar Clementi, about his father, actor-filmmaker Pierre Clementi. This episodes focuses on Pierre C’s work as a filmmaker, which has been restored and championed by Balthazar, through screenings in various cities and a release of a complete box set (with English subs) in France. We talk about Pierre’s method of shooting and his unique editing (in which there was no negative, only the original copy on which he had overlaid numerous images). Our discussion moves outward from the original crop of films that Pierre shot to his only feature as a director (In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal, 1985) and the fact that his films comprise a chronicle of his personal life, his professional work onstage and in films, and his encountering other creative people (including filmmakers, musicians like Nico, and the Warhol coterie of superstars).

1512.) In the “you ain’t seein’ this anyplace else” department, I move back to the early Seventies once more for another post-Easy Rider film that a major studio made, trying to figure out what “the kids want.” The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970) is a patchwork creation that follows a rich kid from L.A. who attends Columbia University and has various life-changing experiences. The most notable thing about the film (besides great location footage) is that the supporting performers, especially Holly Near as an open-minded coed and Michael Greer as a druggie hipster, are better than the lead, Don Johnson (in his debut film role). The film’s soundtrack is also of note, because some “heavy” pieces of rock are mixed in with original pieces performed by the Mike Curb Congregation, including the film’s one hit song, “Sweet Gingerbread Man.” The song is totally off-key with the tone of the movie, but that makes Stanley Sweetheart an even stranger early Seventies artifact.

1513.) For the Yuletide season it’s low trash for everyone! After I show a few un-p.c. clips from a Steve Allen seasonal special, we reach the “feature” of the evening, a micro-budgeted horror-comedy made with lots of consumer-grade CGI and some barely functional acting. It comes courtesy of Ashley Hays Wright, the no-budget filmmaker I saluted on Easter of this year – her cast consists nearly entirely of her family, with her daughters and husband taking on dozens of roles in her Xtian-pure and quite bizarre video features. Only on the Funhouse, kiddies….

1514.) For the New Year, I provide stuff from some old years. Clips from a trove of Steve Allen bootleg discs I bought off the Net, which were remarkably inconsistent in quality. I show only the best, though, focusing in on two shows: a 1976 PBS special that Steve hosted called “The Good Old Days of Radio,” devoted to the then-still-living stars of the shows that fit under the banner of what is now called “Old-Time Radio. And then the premiere of his Sunday prime time show (of which, a dreadful copy exists on the web). It was a star-studded episode featuring guests Kim Novak, the Will Mastin Trio (featuring you-know-who), and Vincent Price. I can think of no better way to ring in the New Year than with Steverino in the past.

1515.) Vintage: I am always happy to offer the “American TV debut” of scenes from “missing” films from our favorite filmmakers. Tonight’s a suitably deadpan, bizarre comedy from Takeshi Kitano (aka “Beat” Takeshi) called Takeshis’ (2005; don’t ask why the apostrophe is there – only Beat knows!). The film is part of his very strange “episodic” period, in which he made films that “build” narratives through details found in individual scenes that sometimes function as comedy sketches or tongue-in-cheek melodrama. In this film, there are two Takeshis – the famous filmmaker who is known for playing yakuzas, and an aspiring actor who works in a convenience store. We follow the latter as he goes to auditions, meets people who think he’s the famous Takeshi, and does other (doomed) jobs in his spare time. The film works as a great surreal comedy, with a “wormhole” universe in which our beleaguered hero keeps encountering the same people in different contexts, but it also does contain a lot of shooting action as Kitano includes cartoonlike violence in even his funniest films. (Know your audience!)

1516.) A significant discovery in the “You Ain’t Seein’ This Anyplace Else” department, so significant I’ll be doing two episodes about it. The 1979 film TRAFFIC JAM, directed by Luigi Comencini, looks on surface level to be an all-star “high-concept” comedy: a bunch of cars involved in a traffic jam boil over with crazy situations. However, the film is filled with comedy *and* drama, and the casting of great stars isn’t just a stunt, it actually contributes to the dramatic (and comedic) value of the piece. The situations do indeed move from the broadly farcical (an uptight young man trying to quit smoking will be made late for a very important date with his inamorata by the traffic jam) to the dramatic (an unwitting man doesn’t realize his best friend is screwing his wife), but there are also plots that qualify as political (an upper class lawyer who claims to have high-placed Socialist friends complains about the commoners caught in the jam) and tragic (a young hippie girl is targeted for rape by three young men watching her throughout the proceedings). The cast includes leading actors from Italy, France, Spain, and Germany; they include Mastroianni, Depardieu, Sordi, Girardot, Tognazzi, Dewaere, and Miou-Miou, among others. It’s not what it would’ve been, had it been made in the U.S. It’s TRAFFIC JAM.

1517.) Part 2 of a discussion of, and scenes from, the never-released-in-the-U.S. all-star comedy-drama TRAFFIC JAM. In this final part of my showcasing of the film, you’ll see how the drama kicks in and, while the comedic elements are still around, the two screenwriters who collaborated with director Luigi Comencini (one wrote for Fellini and the other scripted the terrific IL SORPASSO, shown on the Funhouse decades ago) brought the main plots to a boil, especially one involving a hippie girl (Angela Molina) and her trucker suitor (Harry Baer). The film is surprisingly good and is about as far away as American “car comedies” as you can get. The cast list speaks for itself: among the stars featured are Mastroianni, Depardieu, Girardot, Tognazzi, Sordi, and Miou-Miou. As noted above, the film has never had a U.S. distribution deal and sadly prob never will.

1518.) Vintage: Following the trail of my favorite filmmakers takes us down some interesting alleys on the show. This week I review and show excerpts from a comedy by Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi) that hasn’t been shown in America at all, Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen (2015). The film is a yakuza farce about old gangsters who are bored with being treated “old farts” (the single most-used phrase in the movie), so they band together as a new criminal gang. The situation is somewhat familiar to American viewers, but Kitano’s take on the scenario is that the old-fart yakuzas face off with the new criminal generation: crooks in suits who do their thieving and conniving in corporate boardrooms. Beat has played a yakuza numerous times over the past few years, so here he cast himself in a supporting role as a cop who has a soft spot for the old gangsters (as one suspects the real Kitano does). I’m happy to share scenes from this film, which has never been seen on these shores.

1519.) Screw-up from Access HQ!

1520.) NEW: Part 2 of my tribute to the work of actor-filmmaker Pierre Clementi includes more of my interview with his son, Balthazar. In this show we finish talking about Pierre’s filmmaking, focusing on his most personal work, “Soleil” (1988), which he narrated and which features footage of his family and recreated scenes of the Italian drug bust that changed his life in the early 1970s. From there we discuss the memoir Pierre wrote about his year and a half in jail for a crime he didn’t commit; the book is now available in English translation for the first time (from the small press called Small Press). As bonuses, we talk about Etienne O’Leary, a sadly forgotten but very talented Canadian “underground” filmmaker whose work influenced (and starred) Pierre, and later on, the cult film I showed on the Funhouse many years ago, LES IDOLES (1968) and how it grew out of pioneering theater-cafe work in Paris that Pierre did with the director Marc’o and his costars and friends, Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Kalfon.

1521.) Reaching back to the “Forgotten Filmmakers of the French New Wave” festival, this week I discuss and show clips from another film that has never been released in the U.S. on disc, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze’s L’eau a la bouche (1960). Doniol-Valcroze co-founded “Cahiers du Cinema” and wrote/directed some very intriguing films (including Le Bel Age, which I showed on the show some months back. Bouche is a film that involves family members returning to an old mansion for the reading of a will. Ordinarily this might signal a thriller of some kind, but here, the focus is on a case of mistaken identity (a boyfriend of some relative is taken for her long-lost brother; the lovers encourage this deception) and the new couplings of the four major characters (and the butler’s insistence that he must sleep with the maid, played by Funhouse guest Bernadette Lafont). The film is a good little drama made much better by an original score (and haunting theme song) by Serge Gainsbourg in his earlier, jazzy mode. Where else can you hear “Sweet Georgia Brown” turn into Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”?

1522.) Vintage: Back in the “Too Good for BBC-America” department, this week I present a discussion of, and clips from, Inside No. 9. The show is a sharply scripted anthology series written by and starring former League of Gentlemen members Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Each episode tells a different tale, with the entries ranging from quiet character studies to all-out horror and suspense. The episode I focus on this week is “A Quiet Night In,” a pretty brilliant modern updating of Laurel and Hardy. Pemberton and Shearsmith play burglars intent on stealing a modern minimalist painting (it’s basically just a white canvas) from a rich man’s house. The rich man is arguing with his significant other, so they aren’t speaking, and thus we have a dialogue-less, BBC-budgeted, comedy outing that does indeed function like a 21st century updating of the old “two-reeler” comedy scenarios. Pemberton and Shearsmith are much lauded in the UK, but over here their creations have mostly been aimed at horror fans — although that element is only a part of their work, with Inside No. 9 proving they are in the top rank of today’s TV scripters.

1523.) I haven’t yet shown anything on the Funhouse from filmmaker Terrence Malick, who did the miraculous trick of taking two decades off from directing and then returned with a group of films that showed a unified vision and did indeed pick up where the “maverick” cinema of the Seventies left off. In this episode, I show scenes from the unseen-in-the-U.S. (aside from a handful of festival screenings) 2016 feature version of VOYAGE OF TIME (which was released by the IMAX people in a differently edited 45-minute version narrated by Brad Pitt). The feature boasts a narration by Cate Blanchett who speaks to an unseen “mother” (you decide – nature, the Earth, God?) as we see the formation of the universe and the evolution of the human race, counterpointed by communal rituals from various cultures. The result of four decades of thought and planning on the part of Malick (along with siphoning off budgets from other features to create certain sequences), TIME is a unique work, in that it shows one of the great American mavericks offering a meditation on, basically, everything. It will not go down as his last film (he has already made one terrific feature since), but TIME is a sort of “ultimate” film that, while showing the influence of other filmmakers (from avant-gardists and “undergrounders” to Kubrick and Godfrey Reggio), is wholly unique and original.

1524.) Four famous “French” directors died in September of 2022. Only one of them was French by birth; the remaining three were born elsewhere. Just Jaeckin was the true Frenchman; I’ve yet to do a Jaeckin episode on the show (although I enjoyed his softcore whimsy). William Klein, born in NYC, has been celebrated several times on the Funhouse. The biggest name, initials JLG, was born in Switzerland and retreated there in his later years; he remains a Funhouse staple. The fourth filmmaker to die in September was Alain Tanner, whom I’ve paid tribute to twice on the program (and have loved very much all of his early work and a few later items). He was born and died in Geneva and was indeed 100% Swiss. He was lumped in with the French because he made films in French and also had encountered the New Wave (and their mentor and hero, Langlois) in the Fifties. Here is a commemorative replay of one of the shows I did about Tanner….
Returning to the topic of films you ain’t seein’ on TV anytime soon, this week I discuss and show scenes from Messidor (1979). The film is Alain Tanner’s portrait of two young women who meet while hitchhiking and then wander across the Swiss countryside, having been classified as criminals. These days, the film strikes one as being the original version of Thelma and Louise, but Messidor is a lot less romantic and glamorous, and deals with the realities of life on the road – where does one sleep? Where do you go to the bathroom? Where do you find money, and more importantly, who can you trust? Tanner uses a “leisurely” style of filmmaking, in which long takes and long shots stand in for flashcuts and dramatic close-ups. The two leads (Clémentine Amouroux and Catherine Rétoré) are terrific, playing women of 18 and 19 who think of of their unplanned trip as a “game” of endurance.

1525.) The third and last part of my interview with Balthazar Clementi, son of actor-filmmaker Pierre Clementi, moves to the latter portion of his life, where Pierre succumbed to alcohol addiction, leading to his early death at 57. We discuss his legacy as an actor and spotlight Balthazar’s favorites of his father’s many performances on film (enabling me to show clips from films I haven’t yet featured on the Funhouse). We also talk about Balthazar’s mother, Margareth, who had an acting career that she eventually gave up in search of spiritual pursuits; she had featured parts in films by Pasolini, Fellini, and Werner Schroeter, among others. Our interview ends with Balthazar outlining his hopes for his father’s films (as a director), for which he is the rights holder and conservator.

1526.) Repeat of above episode, as it was shown improperly by the Access HQ folks.

1527.) Vintage: I start off a Deceased Tribute tribute to the legendary Seijun Suzuki with this episode, the first of two shows devoted to his work. In this episode, I discuss his “explosion” of the studio-assigned genre movies he made with innovative camerawork, editing, and truly bizarre action (the final clip in the show is my vote for “craziest Suzuki moment ever”). The focus is of course on his yakuza pictures, but I found that, in assembling the clips I present, you get a wide range of “moods”: from romantic drama to imaginatively brutal violence to broad, bizarre comedy and color-coded, kinky, widescreen erotica. Suzuki was a “B” director in the late Fifties and Sixties, but his work is far more interesting than many of the “A” filmmakers working at the time.

1528.) To celebrate the Paschal season, it’s time for another “inspirational” movie, which means a film that generally hides its Xtianity behind a mawkish plot until a certain dramatic point is reached, and a film that conveys way too much of its exposition in dialogue. This time out it’s the oddly named C ME DANCE (2009), a tale of a teen aspiring ballerina who is diagnosed with leukemia but then gets a special Gift From Above – she can make believe in JC by just touching them! At this point, the ultimate bad-movie-redeemer comes in (the Devil) and the proceedings become even more headscratching. The film does come equipped with: a girly visit to the mall, ballet sequences (which I cut – we’ve only got 28 minutes!), and yes, visits from the Horned One. It never became a hit at the box office, but C ME DANCE does have the advantage of seeming like it came from another planet, and that’s what I enjoy showing each Easter weekend on the show.

1529.) Following up on my episode about the New Wave film ADIEU PHILIPPINE from some months ago, this week I present a later film by the same director, MAINE OCEAN (1986). The filmmaker, Jacques Rozier (still alive as of this airing, at 96!), had many difficulties in getting films financed (and then finished), so as of his second feature he turned to making comedies. The odd thing about his comedies, though, was their length — always well over two hours long, his films were shot in a documentary style that gave the films the air of being entirely ad-libbed, but they weren’t. Rozier had definite ideas of where his plots had to go and he did script (here with a costar, Lydia Feld) a lot of the “loose” dialogue that seemed as if it was improvised. In recent months, two long comedies were up for Oscars (and one — the lesser of the two — swept the awards), but Rozier’s version of “long comedy” is different because of his reliance on documentary shooting techniques (handheld cameras, interpolated instances of other real-time action, cross-dissolves to indicate the passage of time) and the incredibly deadpan humor found in the films. In his fourth film, MAINE OCEAN (his first film to make money at the box office), he assembled a wonderful ensemble of character people who knew how to incarnate his bizarre characters and allowed them to take his odyssey while constantly making little speeches about their beliefs (with the two female leads being clear-headed and the male characters being a colorful assortment of dolts).

1530.) When Jean-Luc Godard, one of the single-most important filmmakers in the past 60-plus years, died in the Fall of 2022, I knew I would eventually have to start a series of episodes tackling his inarguably brilliant legacy. (For the time being, I re-edited older Godard episodes and showed them at the time.) Thus, this week I begin my Deceased Artiste tribute to Uncle Jean with a show that presents a “101,” dealing with 9 of his first 10 features. I’ve used some of these clips in preceding tributes to Godard (and Anna Karina), but seen together they give one small indication of just how influential and innovative JLG’s work has been over the years. (With new generations of filmmakers discovering his work every few years, thanks to film schools, repertory theaters, home-entertainment formats, and the Internet.) It’s startling to realize that how much he changed film language with the 10 features he made from 1960 to ’65 — and that this was only the beginning of his simply amazing career.

1531.) A change of pace on the show this week, as I move into the world of favorite films of Mr. Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps. Lux and his soulmate Ivy Rorshach were fanatic record collectors but they also collected movies on tape (yes, this was the ’80s), specializing in the sleazy and outré. Sometimes, though, Lux’s taste was a little closer to the mainstream, although still wonderfully psycho — as is the case with a film he recommended in one of the two books written about the Cramps, Love from a Stranger (aka “Night of Terror,” 1937). The film is both a thriller and a “woman’s picture” (in the way that the later Gaslight is a woman’s picture), scripted by Frances Marion (Dinner at Eight) and based on a story by Agatha Christie. The plot is incredibly straightforward: average woman wins the lottery and suddenly encounters a debonair suitor, played to perfection by Basil Rathbone. In quick order, she leaves her apartment, breaks up with her fiancee, and drops her best friend to marry and live in the country with Basil. Basil, however, starts acting a little crazy and our heroine starts hearing stories about a man who marries rich women and kills them for their fortunes…. The film goes from being a full-on melodrama to basically a filmed play, but the two leads are both terrific, with Ann Harding gradually realizing that she’s most likely going to be murdered, and Basil flying off the handle in wondrous ways. He might have been best-known as Sherlock Holmes and Wolf von Frankenstein, but his turn here is quite memorable.

1532.) The second part of my tribute to Uncle Jean (aka Jean-Luc Godard, master filmmaker) covers the second half of the “golden 15,” plus some. I discuss various books about JLG, talk about the audience at one NYC-area rep theater, and then the clips commence. The films excerpted date from 1966 to 1969, showing Godard doing his last classically “New Wave” film (MASCULIN FEMININ) and then moving on to a genre-movie deconstruction (MADE IN USA), an essay about urban renewal *and* the artist’s decisions concerning which narrative to tell (2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER), and then onto his “final” films for the Sixties, in which he confronted radical politics with bright colors and charismatic lead actors (LA CHINOISE) and then finally declared “End of Cinema” with a grim view of Western civilization in the form of a bourgeois couple traveling from the city to the country (WEEKEND). As a bonus I include scenes from films made after Uncle Jean’s declared the “End” (which of course never really happened — he just left conventional plots and characters behind for most of the following decade). I only chose one pop music-driven scene, as that is certainly another direction he went in in the latter half of the Sixties (but we only have 28 minutes on the air).

1533.) Going to the “low trash” end of the spectrum (and the early years of the Funhouse) for some entertainment, this week I present another film that was a fave of Lux Interior of the Cramps (so much so that he wrote a song using the film’s title), CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT. The film is a truly odd concoction, as it is the umpteenth adaptation of the “Most Dangerous Game” scenario (wherein a human being is hunted instead of an animal), and it also was peppered with truly flat and awful softcore sex scenes by its distributor to pep it up. These scenes aren’t really needed, as the film itself is as crazy as they come: the hunter here is a rich woman (the sister of a “Great White Hunter”) who offers a deal (money if they can flee her) to a down-on-his-luck actor, a beatnik junkie, and a former wrestling champ (played by real-life broken-down fighter Jake LaMotta). The film boasts wonderful NYC locations and crisp black and white photography and is otherwise bugfuck crazy – the actress who plays the hunter (wearing an obvious wig) plays her character throughout at a pitch that is well over the top, while the other performers have to mostly just register surprise and terror. (Including the “Raging Bull,” who is most mockingly killed like a bull.) Plus, all that bad mismatched softcore footage.

1534.) In recent years I’ve circled around various figures in French cinema. In this show I’ll combine a few fascinations with a discussion of, and excerpts from, Michel Deville’s Benjamin, or the Diary of an Innocent Boy (1968). Deville, who recently joined the Deceased Artiste ranks (and has been explored on the Funhouse in the past), was a stylish director and a contemporary of the New Wave, who worked in a number of different genres. In Benjamin he reunited three of the stars of Belle du Jour – Catherine Deneuve and Funhouse faves Michel Piccoli and Pierre Clementi – and added in the great star Michele Morgan for a period sex farce. The plot follows a virginal young man (Clementi) as he is mentored by a lady’s man (Piccoli) and discovers the vagaries of courtly love and sex. Scripted by Nina Companeez (who wrote Adorable Liar, recently featured on the show), the film is a light and breezy farce that has some wonderful set pieces, most of which have to do with Benjamin’s naivete around the fairer sex. The film is delightful on several levels, one of which is seeing the cast of Bunuel’s masterwork playing against the “types” they played in Belle.

1535.) Jumping out of chronology in a ongoing series of Deceased Artiste episodes about Jean-Luc Godard, this week I present a discussion of, and scenes from, the 2022 film A Vendredi Robinson (Until Friday, Robinson). Filmmaker Mitra Farahani, who produced Godard’s final feature, crafted a delightful chronicle of the “correspondence” (conducted through email, photos, and video) between Iranian filmmaker and author Ebrahim Golestan and Godard. The film offers a fascinating look at two sharp minds (Golestan at age 92, Godard at 84; the film was shot in 2014-15) comparing notes about aging, society, and art. The film also delves into the personal lives of both gentlemen: while Golestan has a partner and people constantly communicating with him in his home in England, Godard is depicted as exceptionally solitary in Rolle, Switzerland. Robinson offers a good introduction to Golestan and a wistful final look at Old Master JLG in the period before illness finally slowed down his productivity. It’s exhilarating to see him still investigating old favorites (Dashiell Hammett novels, Johnny Guitar) and sad to see him returning again and again to a discussion of impending death (and its corollary for him, “self-death”).

1536.) Vintage, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Seijun Suzuki’s birth!: Part two of my Deceased Artiste tribute to Seijun Suzuki picks up where I left off in the first show – with the film that got him fired from his studio, the vibrant, clever, stylish, and completely crazy yakuza drama Branded to Kill (1967). From that point we jump to his “comeback” in the late Seventies with a Funhouse favorite, A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness, a peculiar meditation on fame and how women are ground up in show business. Then it’s on to his arthouse period with the “Tasho trilogy,” three films set in a period where Western styles were taking over Japan (and Alain Resnais-like fugue states and fluid identities have taken over Suzuki’s characters). We end as his career did, with the outrageous and imaginative Pistol Opera (a variation on Branded to Kill from 2001) and the trippy musical Princess Raccoon (2005). I’m very proud to do this exploration of Suzuki’s career, because the work of his famous filmmaker fans is well known to most arthouse viewers, but his own films are known mostly to cultists.