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.