521.) The first part of our interview with actress-singer Jane Birkin. Ms. Birkin talks about her latest album and stage show, Arabesque, which offers a selection of songs by Serge Gainsbourg reworked by an Algerian arranger. She also offers reflections on her relationship with Mr. Gainsbourg, and speaks about the complexity of his lyrics, translating into English some choice couplets from the many songs he exclusively wrote for her (during and well after their legendary romance). Included are contemporary clips from the Arabesque show, as well as select moments featuring Serge with and without his “female B-side,” Jane B.
522.) Halloween is celebrated with a slew of clips selected by cohost and vampire aficionado Bob Schaffer. We move from the lovelies in fangs (menacing Anita Ekberg, and threatening a libidinous Italian gent) to more esoteric fare, including a NYC-produced, vampire-themed softcore bondage romp, a surreal Czech coming-of-age wonder (Valerie and her Week of Wonders, and a miraculously strange vampire tale from the Philippines (The Blood Drinkers).
523.) Return to Fassbinder-ville as we review more of the DVDs that have hit the market in the short span of one year. From early works (in which RWF combined Brecht and the American gangster movie) to complex later classics (Chinese Roulette), with side-trips to the filmmaker’s strangest film (Whity and one of his finest (The Merchant of Four Seasons), the lowdown is given.
524.) The second and final part of our interview with Jane Birkin. Ms. Birkin shares further reminiscences of the mythically indulgent genius Serge Gainsbourg, and talks about working with Jean-Luc Godard in Keep Your Right Up. Also: Ms. Birkin reflects on the ’60s psychedelic farce Wonderwall and Mr. Gainsbourg’s debut as a filmmaker, Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus.
525.) Reviews this week include the DVD premieres of a trio of very different features, all boasting melodramatic plot elements. First, we go Danish, with a Dogma character study Kira’s Reason, then visit the last work of the legendary Sam Fuller, Street of No Return, and finally return to the work of first-time feature director Marina de Van, whose In My Skin has acquired a distributor since we conducted an interview with her.
526.) Nostalgia reigns as we present clips from two oddball items featuring a veritable host of guest-star cameos. Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title is a Morey Amsterdam production (yes, ol’ Buddy wrote it too). After “The Dick Van Dyke Show” went off the air, Bud and Rose Marie reunited for this stunningly numbing exercise in which “the Human Joke Machine” (Buddy’s nickname in the biz) trades quips with his old showmates Rose and Richard Deacon, and encounters a host of TV comedians, all present on the Desilu Studios (where Don’t Worry was shot). The night’s main feature is The Phynx, a cult movie-that-never-was that can be summed up as “the Monkees meet ‘Mission Impossible.'” Written by the men who gave us the First Family LP, the movie follows a rock band created by the U.S. government taking on a super-secret mission. Their job: retrieve dozens of American “icons” being kidnapped by an Eastern bloc government. The VIP kidnap victims are a who’s who of ’30s and ’40s Hollywood (not always A-list, but when else will be able to see the last joint appearance of “Satch” and “Slip,” aka Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, and Busby Berkeley troupe out his original Golddiggers, all now well in their 60s? “Kemo Sabe” and Tonto show up too). The Phynx also features the usual celeb cameos (Rona Barrett, Colonel Sanders, Ed Sullivan) and inexplicable drop-ins by stars who must’ve been lured by a paycheck (Richard Pryor, James Brown). See it to believe it.
527.) A round-up of music in the “Consumer Guide” department. Included:’60 cult figure Arthur Lee (of the band Love) performing his classic psychedelic-meets-Herb Alpert LP Forever Changes in concert; clips from the George Harrison tribute The Concert for George; and Sun Ra’s demented sci-fi parable Space is the Place (best described as a Rudy Ray Moore-like low-budget effort involving a spaceship run by jazz fusion and a pre-Funkadelic, Egyptian-attired messenger from a Black planet). Also: a tidbit from the Japanese bubble-gum/punk band Judy and Mary.
528.) (repeat) Sammy Davis, part 2
529.) A tune-filled Funhouse episode, as the “Consumer Guide” includes a look at two innovative musicals from director Rouben Mamoulian, Applause (1929) and Love Me Tonight (1932). Then, we jump forward to rock theatrics with masters Alice Cooper (ably assisted by his colorful costumed daughter Calico, who makes a fetching Evil Nurse and Whip Girl) on his Brutally Live DVD and the Grand Wazoo himself, Frank Zappa,in his mind-warping concert movie Baby Snakes.
530.) We pay tribute to the Holiday season the old-fashioned way: with an assemblage of clips from the archetypal comedy team, Laurel and Hardy. There’s no March of the Wooden Soldiers here, but yours truly has gathered together some wonderful clips including moments from their oddest short, Their First Mistake, which finds “the Boys” taking care of a baby and carrying off some lovely pre-Code gags.
531.) The first part of a three-part tribute to the Deceased Artistes of
2003. This week’s entries, after a year-end editorial segment, include some major names — Robert Stack, Richard Crenna, and Charles Bronson. Then we offer our humble salutes to folks the mainstream media considered “peripheral,” people who got an obit in “Variety” and some of the L.A. papers, but barely rated a mention on shows like “Entertainment Tonight.” We do hope Funhouse viewers recognize the names Joanna Lee and Billy Van, but even if they don’t, we’re ready to fill ’em in….
532.) We pay tribute to 2003 Deceased Artiste emeritus Johnny Cash by presenting clips from his 1969-71 variety series. Like so many other variety shows from the time, the Cash series was a rather astounding mixture of the old and the new – the Man in Black played host to everyone from Phil Harris to Derek and the Dominos, had a house band that included Carl Perkins, sang his hits in a streamlined, sped-up fashion that *some* network exec thought was an improvement, dueted regularly with both his guests and wife June Carter, and offered a really enlightening musical reflection of the times. Includes, if we do say so ourselves, a splendid selection of scenes, ending with the most famous moment on the series, Cash’s duet with a strangely sonorous Bob Dylan on “Girl from the North Country.” But don’t worry, folks – we always tout our love of “high art and low trash,” and one of Johnny’s guests just plain doesn’t belong on the show (although her kitsch/camp credentials mean she truly belongs in the Funhouse). Such was the joy of variety in the ’60s.
533.) Our tribute to the Deceased Artistes of 2003 closes out with tributes to playwright Herb Gardner and “the old Ski-nose” himself. Gardner is a Funhouse fave who had a very small body of work — only five plays and one screenplay in his four-decade-long career – but he made a very singular contribution to the language of NYC nonconformists and, love him or hate him, his dialogue stays with you long after the show is over (take that, Neil Simon). There’s nothing we can really add to the mythos of Bob Hope, except to note that he gave us about 15 years of great screen comedy (with many hours of fine radio entertainment), and then went on to star in over 40 years worth of bad TV comedy specials. Let other shows rightly pay tribute to the great movie comic who inspired both Woody Allen and Roy Orbison – we choose to acknowledge all those years of Hope-induced pain. Also: a short tribute to writers and directors who died during the year.
534.) The “Consumer Guide” feature returns to the Funhouse this week as we mix the high and low, French style. The first two features are tame French nudie movies reworked by producer/director/all-around porn entrepreneur Radley Metzger. The first is a simple affair, but the second has been re-edited for DVD release to re-include a little girl cut from the first U.S. edition on the movie, one Catherine Dorleac (who is supposed to be 13 in this flick, but looks way too young to have starred in Polanski’s Repulsion a mere 8 years later-our theory: the film had a delayed release even in La Belle France). The third and fourth features spotlighted on the show are items from director Claude Miller, the coming-of-age drama starring Charlotte Gainsbourg L’Effrontee (growin’ up to the sound of cheesy Italian Euro-disco) and the taut, character-driven thriller Mortelle Randonee. Discover the noir novel that was adapted into the last-mentioned (also made into the more traditional Eye of the Beholder) and spawned your narrator’s favorite quote to depress school yearbook readers: “Time passes. Nothing remains. Except old photographs of young faces.”
535.) The Consumer Guide department has no borders: First off is an exploration of the Murnau box set (no, it ain’t sittin’ on the shelf in Best Buy) for fun with the “other” great German master. Next, it’s a short jaunt back into “Deceased Artiste” territory for a tribute to Sir Alan Bates, an Englishman who knew how to sling a sarcastic remark. And then we’re back to La Belle France for a celebration of a certain somber singer-songwriter (say that three times fast), the blissfully tuneful and delightfully dated Jacques Brel is Alive and Well. (well, it turns out he was dyin’ when the pic was filmed – and he was from Belgium!).
536.) (Repeat) Sammy Davis with guest James Brown kickin’ ass on The Hollywood Palace plus notes on Sammy from yrs truly and some inspirational moments from his appearance as a priest on The Mod Squad.
537.) The Consumer Guide features a tribute to two auteurs whose work has been taken out of the vaults and polished up real nice. First up, we review three DVDs of films by Jacques Demy-two are early, widescreen b&w classix, and the third is a wondrous docu by his widow Agnes Varda detailing a number of the director’s more imaginative, colorful, and downright bizarre works (none of which, we’ll take bets, will be restored, or given a U.S. distributor, anytime soon). The second segment is an overview of the Bertolucci retro going on at the Museum of the Moving Image. He may be an uncertain commodity these days, but at one time this Socialist stylist was the brightest star in the Italian cinema, taking his inspiration (heavily) from Godard, adding gorgeous camera language, and fostering some of the most memorable screen performances in the late ’60s/’70s.
538.) We revisit the disturbing, objectionable, but compellingly watchable Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971). We contrast the newly released “director’s cut” of this deranged docu-drama, from the Italian filmmaking duo that gave us Mondo Cane with the English-language version we’ve come to know and wonder at. The film’s oddly graphic depiction of the ways Africans suffered under slavery here in the U.S. is set to the bouncy, irresistible (and woefully out-of-place) melodies of Riz (“More”) Ortolani. The final sequences–in which an early-’70s black radical snaps and kills as many pasty-faced, consumer-society whites as he can get his hands on–aren’t out of place in the longer version of the film, which includes more black militant material…as well as the same unsettling torture scenes and exploitative sexual sequences (the movie was shot in Haiti). The Italian version of the film is a truly radical piece of cinema-that’s just as unpleasant, offensive, and uniquely deranged as the English version. It’s amazing to think that invaluable, U.S.-shot documentary footage snipped from the film (including MLK’s funeral, Dick Gregory running for President, and a Panther meeting) was hiding in the vaults of Signore Jacopetti (the exploitative half of the duo) and Prosperi (the guy who believed-or so he claims–that they were making “documentaries”).
539.) Part One of my very friendly and informal interview with the stars of
2001: A Space Odyssey, Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. The two gentlemen are very disparate types: Mr. Dullea is a pensive, quiet soul (an alumnus of the NY theater and star of such low-budget gems as David and Lisa), and Mr. Lockwood is an irreverent, West Coast kinda guy (surfer, rancher, who appeared in big-budget films like Splendor in the Grass). We review both men’s careers as we lead up to their onscreen teaming (with HAL, of course) in Kubrick’s masterpiece.
540.) Part two of our interview with the actors who starred in Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, as we talk about the voice of HAL (as heard on-set), the mysteries of the “Stargate,” Gary Lockwood’s stint in the Star Trek pilot (Roddenberry wrote a role especially for him-replete with blazing dimestore contact lenses), Keir Dullea’s starring role as the Marquis de Sade in one colossal ’60s misfire, and his work in the cult cheapjack Canadian series Starlost. The show concludes with a nice round of “Dueling Hustons,” as both men reminisce about the late great macho director.
541.) Further demonstrating our devotion to old-fashioned, auteur-driven film buffdom, we review entries from the ongoing Rendezvous with French Cinema and pay tribute to our favorite Danish film innovator and madman, Lars Von Trier. The French titles are the taut, twisty thriller Sight for Sore Eyes and the surprisingly super-adorable musical farce Not on the Lips by former see-it-three-times-to-understand-it Nouvelle Vague aesthete Alain Resnais. We don’t usually need a reason to pay tribute to the talents of the eccentric Von Trier, but since AMMI has decided to present a comprehensive retro of his work, we’re more than happy to provide a “greatest bits” montage along with the usual background and contextualizin’ by yrs truly.
542.) We remain infatuated with consummate entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., but also have a fondness for Sam the Man’s schlockier ’70s appearances. This time out we present some solid ’50s TV footage proving that the man could dance, sing, and do fine impressions; then we visit a 1973 amazement called NBC Follies, that tried to resurrect vaudeville and the Flo Ziegfeld-style stage spectacle. This is attempted with dancing girls in ridiculous costumes (think Billy Rose meets Bob Mackie), solo musical numbers (Andy Griffith really gets the audience swingin’ with “Day by Day”), and vaudeville-staple skits performed by the cast, including the always-game Sam and his one-time mentor in show-biz, the ever-feisty (and extremely scary) Mickey Rooney — the two ham it up big-time in a would-be yukfest “School Days” skit. A trivia tidbit for those into conceptual continuity, Funhouse-style: this special was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, scripters for The Monkees , and produced by Booker and Foster, the team that gave us the First Family album AND the astoundingly misguided Phynx.
543.) Being as fixated as we are with the work of “Uncle Jean” (aka master filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard), Media Funhouse could hardly let the appearance of a full-length Godard biography from a mainstream U.S. publisher (!) pass unnoticed. I had the opportunity to chat with JLG biographer Colin MacCabe recently, and this week we present part one of the discussion. Mr. McCabe talks about his approach to his subject, his chats with Godard intimates (who knew that the radiant Anna Karina was so unhappy that suicide attempts were made?), and his experiences as an exec producer on three (count ’em, three) Godard essay videos. Given the misguided preconceptions most folks have about Uncle Jean’s work (i.e., that it’s heavy and didactic – more about this in part two of the interview!), we will note that our chat is light and informal, and that the clips on this episode are from films that have remained unreleased in the U.S. (no musical numbers for Quentin Tarantino to latch onto and adore).
544.) Time for the Funhouse’s annual Easter Parade of pop-culture blasphemy. This year we have a number of fun cwazy Kwistian collectibles, plus an item or two to offend people of other faiths. Some new music-videos (it ain’t Carman, but the music is bouncy as hell), a curious look at the proposed Xtian way to view James Bond thrillers — with appropriate Biblical references concerning “world domination” and premarital sex — and a return to the strangely Schumacher-esque straight-to-video series Bibleman starring born-again auteur Willie Aames. The last-mentioned features a very special link to one of our favorite “Total Filmmakers” (take one guess). The piece de resistance is our expose on religious-themed “marital aids.” Rest assured: this is a Passion-free episode, but the emphasis is on the merchandising of the exploits of that wise, gentle soul who is rumored to have said, “I can see your house from here….”
545.) This week we roll out a vintage episode featuring part one of my interview with one of the most lovably silly kiddie hosts in TV history, Soupy Sales. The Soup reveals what it was like growing up as a Jewish kid in the South, talks about our fave cut-rate puppets (the fact that he refers to hepcat lion Pookie as “he” is just one more reason to love the guy), and his immutable laws for the throwing of pies. We also cover the famous Rat Pack piefight, appearances by other show-biz names (sadly not preserved on either video or kinescope), and his pals, White Fang and Black Tooth. He may have had some health troubles in the past few years, but his mind (and sense of timing) is still razor-sharp, as befits a TV comedy legend.
546.) The conclusion of my interview with Jean-Luc Godard biographer Colin MacCabe finds Mr. MacCabe holding forth (with much good humor) on topics that need entire college courses to dissect, including: Uncle Jean’s use of citations from books, music, paintings, and other movies; the much-overlooked aspect of humor in his movies; his current, post-Marxist, 21st-century political outlook; and why his absolutely brilliant and essential video-essays haven’t yet cropped up on video or DVD in the U.S.
547.) Part two of our friendly chat with a man who livened up many an afternoon in NYC (and around the country), Soupy Sales. In the concluding installment of the chat, we talk about Soupy’s decision to leave Metromedia TV and call it quits, his movie vehicle Birds Do It (“used as punishment in several states,” sez Soup), a noted Rat Packer (who missed the pie fight) in same, his return to TV (in blazing-red-sweater color) in the late ’70s, and his days in NYC radio on WNBC-AM. All that and plenty of vintage clips—including a guest appearance by the father of “shock rock”, Alice Cooper, and another (on his variety show pilot) by Ernest Borgnine “as Judy Garland” (the lady herself then wanders out, and that’s what makes-a da clip history, boss).
548.) The first part of a two-part presentation which finds the Funhouse
presenting insanely different rendtions of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. To set up the quiet brilliance of the BBC-TV version from 1966, we first re-present a selection of clips from an all-star bona fide kitsch extravaganza. The slice of “happy pain” in question is the 1985 Irwin Allen-produced two-part TV movie that features a script by young adult novelist Paul Zindel, songs by Steve Allen, and costumes and sets by.well, whomever had done “Land of the Giants” and “Lost in Space” for Irwin. I showed clips from this tacky gem a few years back when Steverino left this mortal coil, but it’s important to note that although his contribution is mighty special (especially the number cooked up for a way-outta-control Carol Channing), the other reason the show needs to be seen is its assortment of then-famous TV talent, seasoned vets who were known to slum (Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca-but not together), and purebred stars who would do anything for a buck.with the spotlight on two of our faves, Ringo Starr as the Mock Turtle and Sammy Davis Jr. as the Caterpillar (smokin’ a hookah, and tap-dancing, naturally). If you caught it last time, it’s worth a second look (all new host segments from yrs truly), if only to contrast this overblown spectacular with next week’s subdued British absurdist masterwork; if you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a surprise.or something.
549.) Part two of our journey to Wonderland takes us back to 1966. Jonathan Miller’s BBC TV adaptation of Carroll’s classic is a truly refined absurdist work, as quiet as it is strange, that plays out Alice’s journey as if it were an adolescent’s descent into madness (punctuated by occasional bouts of that other teen plague, boredom). The film is beautifully shot (imagine Victorian photography crossbred with mid-‘60s Bergman) with no costumes and no musical numbers. The top-notch cast includes Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud (in the role occupied by Ringo Starr last week, for those keeping track), Leo McKern, Malcolm Muggeridge, Peter Cook as a truly bouncy Mad Hatter, and Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts. Those who saw our preceding show will have the distinct pleasure of comparing “Wonderland”s — suffice it to say, much as I revere Steve Allen, the Ravi Shankar score provided for this version seems to be a bit truer to the dreamlike quality of the material.
550.) Two French film personalities are interviewed this week’s show. The first guest is filmmaker Gilles Bourdos, director of Sight for Sore Eyes, a tautly composed adaptation of a Ruth Rendell thriller. Bourdos discusses the value of “long take” in thrillers, the influence of Hitchcock, and the very interesting way the French government funds its independent film industry. Our second guest, actor Lambert Wilson, is a French star who might best be remembered from the two Matrix sequels, but has been working in French features and international co-productions since the early ’80s. This first part of our chat with Wilson focuses on his performance in Alain Resnais’ super-cute musical Not on the Lips. Find out which Golden Age movie comedian is Resnais’ favorite (can ya picture “The Road to…Marienbad”?).
551.) We revisit the very singular work of ’50s B-budget god Hugo Haas in this episode. Regular Funhouse viewers will know how much I deeply revere this, er…consistent filmmaker, a man who was clearly severely warped by “the Blue Angel” at a young age. This episode continues our chronological journey through the big Czech’s oeuvre, and puts us smack-dab in the reign of his second blonde-fatale, Cleo Moore. The more melodramatic moments of Strange Fascination (Hugo as concert pianist ruined by blonde) and One Girl’s Confession (Hugo as Balkan gambler helped by blonde, but ruined by his own desire to rip her off). The featured flick is Bait (1954)—yes, this is the Haas production that is introduced in person by the Devil (played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke–get to see Satan’s projection room!), and features Cleo as a good girl, sci-fi cult hero John Agar as Hugo’s intended stooge, and Hugo himself as a very greed-driven (can anybody say Fred C. Dobbs?) prospector.
552.) This week in the Consumer Guide department we review two recent DVD releases: Sister, My Sister constituted the second pass at the “Murderous Maids” storyline (which we discussed weeks back in relation to Genet’s The Maids) – this time out, the sisters were not only thoroughly British Frenchwomen, they were also lesbian lovers. God is Great… could be seen as yet another Audrey Tatou vehicle (that gamine gets around, doesn’t she?), although it was made before Amelie, and is an awfully cute tribute to Woody Allen’s urban neurotic comedies. Our feature segment contains part of my interview with Lars Von Trier’s hero and collaborator Jorgen Leth. Mr. Leth was in town to promote the uncategorizable but infinitely enjoyable The Five Obstructions, which consists of our Lars challenging him (a poet, filmmaker, Danish consul in Haiti) to remake his classic 1967 short The Perfect Human with certain “obstructions” in place. We at the Funhouse subsequently had an obstruction bedevil us, as our in-person chat with Mr. Leth was eaten alive by a vengeful digital camera (guess it didn’t like the Easter show). But Jorgen L. is nothing if not a patient, charitable sort – see him deal with “diabolical” Lars to understand fully – and so he agreed to do a new interview over the phone. Thus, my second chat with the Danish icon (and film-school instructor to most of the key Dogma directors) discusses Obstructions and Leth’s own activities.
553.) The Media Funhouse Consumer Guide dept. is open for biz again as I review a whole mess of DVDs, going from country to country and time period to time period. First up is a German production directed by melodrama master Douglas Sirk – he never was a subtle filmmaker, but his Nazi-era movies (he fled before it really hit the fan) are truly beyond the pale if La Habeñera is any indication. German actors playing Puerto Ricans, an Aryan-lookin’ Swedish kid pining for snow while living in P.R., and the Swedish wife of a bullfighting “don” pining for her homeland as a fever rages over the island — they just don’t write ’em like this anymore. We move on to a long-missing (at least here in the U.S.) Fritz Lang feature, Liliom, which is a French adaptation of the play that wound up becoming Carousel. No one sings “My Boy Bill,” but you do find Charles Boyer as a bona fide cad feeling up his intended, Fritz’s impression of carny life, and a trip over France with some heavenly minions. We then explore Kieslowski’s gorgeously quiet Short Films (one about Love, one about Killing, if you’re not familiar) and, a personal fave, Dennis Potter’s exquisite tribute to the emotional power of popular music, Pennies from Heaven (the original BBC miniseries).
554.) To the charge that we at the Media Funhouse live in the past, we can only reply, well.sometimes it’s entirely necessary. This week my annual “Host’s Choice” episode finds me waxing rhapsodic-after a brief hiccup of seasonal lamentations-about Sidney Lumet’s 100% authentic NYC comedy Bye Bye Braverman. Lumet has the reputation of being one of the foremost New York film directors, but this stems almost entirely from his crime sagas and brilliant acting showcases like The Pawnbroker. Sure, Garbo Talks ain’t nothin’ to write home about (and leave The Wiz for some other discussion), but Braverman is an unheralded gem that features a beautifully bittersweet script by variety show vet Herb Sargent and a busload of great performances from “New York actors.” The 1968 film follows a quartet of Manhattanites – middle-aged Jewish intellects all getting lost as they journey to Brooklyn for their friend’s funeral ceremony. But you’ve probably already guessed that the movie ain’t about the journey – it’s about middle-age, the healing power of pop culture (yeah, that again), and the pleasures of companionship (especially when it comes to laughing in a place of worship).
555.) A reprise of part two of my very cordial interview with the late auteur and man’s man, Mr. Budd Boetticher. This part of our chat covers Budd’s best-known period as a director: when he was making a series of exquisite low-budget Westerns starring Randolph Scott. The show starts out with an anecdote about Budd’s Hollywood hero, John Ford, which strikes a sentimental note for those who saw part 3 of my interview – Budd speaks about how Ford’s close friends humored him when he was dying, encouraging his dreams of making “one more movie.” Budd’s own plans to produce a final feature about his wild days making the bullfighting docudrama Arruza seemed in many ways to echo his pal “Jack”’s life-sustaining dream. The spirited 84-year-old director also talks about his often drunk friend John Wayne, and the brilliance of his frequent screenwriter/collaborator Burt Kennedy.
556.) This week we re-present part three of my friendly chat with B-budget movie legend (and man did he hate the term “B-movie”!) Budd Boetticher. This episode centers around Budd’s later films and his wild experiences attempting to film a documentary about his bullfighter friend Carlos Arruza (included were Arruza’s sudden death, Budd’s bankruptcy, and a forced stay in a mental asylum). Clips from his final Western, A Time for Dying (1969), are featured — an odd item that Budd did his best with (two godawful lead performances and a scene-stealing, profoundly memorable character turn by ol’ Victor Jory as Judge Roy Bean), but the producers were intent on burying as a tax-shelter pic. We also discuss the plans that were made for Budd’s “final” film — a fictionalized account of his troubles with Arruza to be directed by Robert Towne or Curtis Hanson or Taylor Hackford, or any of Budd’s other admirers who, like he did with John Ford (as noted in part two of our chat), were willing to keep a noble old fighter’s dream alive.
557.) The second and final part of my chat with comedy legend Shelley Berman. In the first part we discussed Mr. Berman’s work with the pioneering Compass troupe (which became the Second City) and his monologues, which inspired many a later “egghead” comedian, especially a young Woody Allen. At the point we left the conversation, we were discussing Mr. Berman’s TV work—this time we start out with a bit on his “Twilight Zone” episode (written especially for him by Rod S.), and then proceed straight into (his “show business term”) the kvetching. Loosened up by a martini, Mr. Berman does shtick about driving, NYC, and even public access (yr host just let ’im roll). Included are scenes from his seminal supporting role in The Best Man and his current stint as Larry David’s sorta doddering dad on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Mr. Berman may appear to be ribbing yrs truly at some length, but he was incredibly nice when the camera went off (the man is a college prof these days when not out on the road and, it is, after all, an act the guy’s doin’). A very fun episode, if we do say so ourselves.
558.) First in a series of tributes to the late, great Marlon Brando. Brando may have slowly degenerated into a cartoon in the past three decades, but he was without question one of the key actors of the 20th century and, more importantly for me, a man who starred in some of the best films of the 1950s and ’70s and some of the most compulsively watchable bad gems of the ’60s and ’90s. Our first attempt to pay tribute to the man whose legend looms large, as well it should, is a presentation of scenes from Meet Marlon Brando, the utterly indispensable cinema-verite classic by the brilliant Maysles Bros that chronicles a press junket for the movie Morituri. Marlon never once praises the film, says his costars were a delight to work with, or recites the plotline, in short, he does none of the things we’ve all come to hate so much, thanks to hours of pointless DVD supplements, years of the E! channel hype-machine, and decades of the commerce-driven nightmare that is “Entertainment Tonight.” An eccentric, stubborn soul way before the million-dollar paychecks and the weight gain, he’s a delight throughout. And if you think that the prospect of seeing raw Brando (with a serious flirt on whenever a female interviewer appears) is worth settin’ your lil recording devices for, well then, here’s the bonus: since the Maysles showed Marlon at his most uncooperative, I‚m also airing him at his most compliant, doing a 1955 guest stint on the TV series “MGM Parade” opposite a puppet called “Little Leo.”
559.) A vintage episode featuring clips from a movie that never plays in rep houses, hasn’t appeared on arts cable (or the once-great entity known as PBS), and has slim-to-no chance of appearing on U.S. DVD anytime soon. The film is Anna (1967), a musical French telefilm that plays like a fusion of Funny Face and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, with a heaping dose of mod ’60s pop-art visuals thrown in for good measure. The stars are New Wave mainstay Jean-Claude Brialy and Godard’s goddess Anna Karina; their costar and the man who scored the piece is Funhouse favorite Serge Gainsbourg. (Popping in to sing her latest single written by Serge is a young, dulcet-voiced Marianne Faithfull.) We present the film in French because: a.) there is no English-subbed version available, and b.) it’s completely comprehensible no matter what the characters may be saying or singing (and if that ain’t good enough, yours truly runs down the plot beforehand). Suffice it to say that the film is a undiscovered gem that features two pure-pop tunes sung by Anna — the waltz-tempo ode to travel, “Sous Le Soleil Exactement,” and the truly bitchin’ “Roller Girl,” — that will haunt your warped little minds for days after ya hear ’em.
560.) Another super-exclusive for the hardcore film buffs in the viewing
audience: clips from the first two installments of Godard’s Histoire du Cinema. This extremely ambitious and imaginative survey of the (hi)stories of the movies is the work ol’ Uncle Jean concentrated his primary energies on for a whole decade (from ’88 to ’98-as noted by our recent guest, JLG biographer Colin MacCabe), and the result is the ultimate montage of movie images. This ain’t at all like those 30-clips-a-minute Chuck Workman deals you see on the Oscars, though-Godard composed these essays out of photos, overlapping soundtracks, imaginative dissolves and overlays, and his own reflections, complimented by stray voices reading works from classical lit (and we don’t think Workman would ever counterpoint movie stills with masterpieces of art, or segue from Leonard Cohen to opera).
561.) The second and final part of my chat with actor Lambert Wilson finds us discussing his work with director Alain Resnais on two utterly charming (god, we don’t wanna say) homage-musicals, Not on the Lips and the Dennis Potter tribute Same Old Song. Wilson compares Resnais‚ methods with those of the Wachowski Bros on the Matrix films (he plays the snotty French villain in the second and third movies), and talks about what it’s like to be a French guy who speaks flawless English doing an accent Française in an American blockbuster, then doing an American accent in French for a much lower-budgeted auteur film. We also discuss his starring role in Andre Techine‚s erotic drama Rendezvous and his supporting turn as a sleazy, wife-stealin’ Italian dude in Greenaway’s Belly of an Architect. From Greenaway to Catwoman (Wilson plays Sharon Stone’s cohort), Lambert (not Lanford) Wilson has been straddling the fence culturally for some time, and creating some very interesting (mostly villainous) characterizations.
562.) Newspapers and magazines may have paid proper tribute to the passing of the legendary Marlon Brando, but we at the Funhouse found the TV coverage severely lacking. And so we proudly present part two of my ongoing tribute to the man whose influence on modern movie acting was as large as, well, you just supply your own cheap weight gag (the similarities between the fates of Marlon and that of Orson are many-oh, except for the million-dollar paychecks and profit-points that Marlon was able to scam). This time out, we’re tackling the period that is generally overlooked, or intentionally skipped over, by movie historians: the time between his first half-dozen movie triumphs and his “return to greatness” in the early 1970s. First off, a little “inspirational reading” of some quotes from the definitive Brando interview, the lengthy chat in “Playboy” with writer Lawrence Grobel (find out what Marl thought about acting, fame, shamed political leaders, Bob Hope, and the inside of a camel’s mouth). Next up is a selection of clips from “forgotten” features, including the brilliant “cold-opening” courtroom sequence from The Fugitive Kind and the very wise (and timeless) close to the otherwise not-so-exceptional The Ugly American. We take a brief detour at Candy (how could we pass that one up?), and close out with a discussion of the film Brando himself praised in interviews, Pontecorvo’s Burn!
563.) A vintage episode featuring tunes by our fave poetic and perverse deceased Frenchman, Serge Gainsbourg. Part two of our presentation of clips from Anna (1967), the unreleased French musical that is screamin’ for a cult, as well as some pub-films featuring Serge in his longer-haired pop guru mode. For those who missed part one, Anna is a color TV musical that combines Funny Face, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and aspects of the pop-art films of photographer William Klein. Tonight’s selections from the pic include a Western fantasy (hey, why not?), a critique of U.S. militarism (always timely), and Anna Karina in a spacesuit, exhibiting an adorable inability to pronounce the English word “three” (“one, two, free, four, five, six.”). The Gainsbourg clips offer the earliest TV appearance by Jane Birkin and Serge, as well as Anna K. and Serge dueting on a song from Anna for a French variety series, and Serge– looking his hangover-worst-providing his own take on the waltz-time wonder “Sous Le Soleil Exactement.”
564.) Rather than waiting until the end of the year to do a “Deceased Artiste” roundup, this week we offer a preliminary recounting of some of the folks who died in the past weeks and months. The eclectic “honorary mention” list includes some pleasant visuals, but the real emphasis in this group is on character actors – who else salutes the passings of Jan Miner and Carrie Snodgress? – and the two “big guns” who died in the same week. Our tribute to the recently-kicked Saint Bonzo includes footage that TCM veered away from – watch the late Prez talk friendly to a chimp, get punched by John Cassavetes, and shot down with a really big gun. Reagan didn’t hold a candle to Ray Charles talent-wise (and Brother Ray never traded no arms for hostages, no he didn’t), and so we present an extension of the footage I showed (and had to summarily clip) a few weeks back, featuring his killer turn on The Johnny Cash Show.
565.) We once again visit the “Consumer Guide” department, where we spotlight some of our fave directors, including Lars Von Trier whose intense, passionate, and demanding lil masterpiece Dogville has been released on DVD, replete with appropriate snicker-filled audio commentary by the Dogma leader himself. We bounce over to Paris for The Dreamers, Bertolucci’s cinephilic menage pic featuring countless references to movies we love – plus all sorts of softcore-seduction-in-an-apartment, a la the grand Last Tango. We stay in France for an appraisal of the super-deluxe DVD release of demonlover which features interesting footage of a business-like (truly intent, you might say) Olivier Assayas filming the s&m/kink scenes in the highly kinetic and thoughtful but uneven film. Our last feature is the Funhouse discovery of the week, the Israeli counterculture music/comic blackout variety series Lool (1970-74). We’ll be showing some clips from the series, a groovy color commercial featuring the cast, and the show’s offshoot film (directed by a man who clearly loved Godard and Makavejev in 1970, but wound up making The Last American Virgin over here many years later). The show also featured an appearance by American comic Art Metrano, one of the two great “inept magician” standups from our childhood.
566.) When it comes time to unearth a vintage Funhouse episode, I pride myself in always choosing the best of our past decade-plus on the air. This week, since Labor Day has just recently stamped out of the room in a huff, we present one of our best Jerry Lewis tribute shows. The opening segment – in which cohost Stephen Kroninger and I discuss Jer’s stalker – may date to the year in which the show was shot, but the rest of the program deals with the everlasting appeal and personal philosophy of the Total Filmmaker. We peruse Jerry memorabilia (including Day the Clown Cried stationery!) and do a capsule tribute to Jer’s lost thespic masterwork, The Jazz Singer. The centerpiece of the show is an inspirational reading from our friend Stephen, who tackles Jerry’s epigrammatic “instruction book,” How to be a Person. You’ll learn that you’d best ought to pray, laugh, and “try harder,” as well as discover how to react when you see a “cripple.” Throw away your dog-eared copies of The Little Prince and The Prophet, cause Jerry knows exactly how to get a handle on the mysteries of existence (plus there’s nice doodles on every page!).
567.) This week a vintage episode of the show features part four of my talk with D.A. Pennebaker and his collaborator-wife Chris Hegedus. This program features an informal survey of his concert films. We discuss his work with Ms. Hegedus on Depeche Mode 101, a concert movie that shows the band at their syntho-pop finest (pre-heroin, so no fun backstage hijinks). The movie also follows an obnoxious group of their fans (contest winners) who travel around seeing the band’s gigs in several states-herein lies the true moment where a master of cinema verite unwittingly prefigured the “reality show,” since this bunch of cosmeticized, teased-hair fanboys and girls are the very prototype of the casts of “The Real World,” “Big Brother,” and every other serialized horror currently airing. We also discuss the 1969 Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival, where Pennebaker and company shot the first generation of rockers, as well as John Lennon and an impromptu Plastic Ono Band, among others. Most indispensable: Pennebaker’s meditations on his collaboration with Richard Leacock and our hero, Jean-Luc Godard, on the very odd One A.M. See the Jefferson Airplane perform on an urban rooftop well before the Beatles, watch Eldridge Cleaver get snotty to Uncle Jean, and, most importantly, see Rip Torn roam through an NYC construction site quoting a Black Panther speech at the top of his lungs.
568.) There’s so much clogging up video store shelves these days that we at the Funhouse are glad to provide pointers as to what you might want to check out on your next jaunt to the “alternative” entertainment parlor (’cause the chain stores don’t stock too much of this stuff). Thus, our “Consumer Guide” this week spotlights a new series of silent-comedy DVDs featuring the talents of Hal Roach stalwarts Charley Chase (a later Laurel and Hardy gagman) and Stan Laurel (the supreme L&H gagger back when he got directing credit-and utilized the acting talents of his future partner!). Next we look at a series of cult pics that have been released for the first time on disc. Thus, we are able to gaze on stunningly campy disco/glam sci-fi musical numbers, a pair of very square hippies harmonizin’ in proto-Spector style, a damn fine guitar band in the middle of a Western, and a lesbian trip to the merry-go-round, as we review The Apple, Zachariah, Good Times, the Cher picaresque (!) Chastity, and Michael Ritchie’s brilliant satire of beauty pageants, Smile.
569.) Novelty records don’t get no respect. They’re thought of as one-shot, trite pieces of resolutely silly pop culture, when some of them have been the most complexly executed (any Spike Jones opus), touching (Allen Sherman mediating on suburbia or weight), nasty (“Short People,” Arthur Godfrey’s evil “Too Fat Polka”), or sincerely aberrant (“Fish Heads,” “They’re Coming to Take Me Away.”) recordings of all time. For the past 35 years or so one gentleman has been making a specialty of these warped discs, and we’re proud to interview him on the show this week. Dr. Demento (born Barry Hansen) is a musicologist-turned-“character” who has trumpeted the joys of the great musical weirdos and innovators of the past and present on his syndicated radio show. We speak more to Demento the musicologist, getting his reflections on the novelty record as a genre, current spoof-music, the evolution of his show from underground hippie vinyl-fest to family-friendly comedy show. Our conversation is punctuated by rare footage of the artists associated with Demento’s show: the one and only Spike (forget about Adam Spiegel, the name-thief), Allen Sherman (doing a particularly maudlin rewrite of one of his Jewish folk-song classics), Tom Lehrer (seen in ultra-rare TV footage Demento presented at B.B. Kings; watch the master of satirical tunes in all his nerdish glory), and Demento’s discoveries, the current leading practitioner of the novelty record Weird Al, and our favorite strange act from the warped 1970s, Barnes and Barnes (aka Billy Mumy and a pal). It’s serious talk about some very funny (and often charmin’) music.
570.) Sometimes the Funhouse guests who aren’t household names supply the most interesting information. This week a vintage episode features part one of my interview with French director Claude Miller, a sublime craftsman who has split his output between Truffaut-like “coming of age” sagas and razor-sharp thrillers adapted from Anglo/American novelists. We discuss his latest at the time of the taping, Betty Fisher and Other Stories (Alias Betty in the U.S.), from a suspense novel by Ruth Rendell, and his take on the Hitchock “model” for thrillers. We also explore his wonderfully intense adaptation of Patricia Highsmith, This Sweet Sickness with Gerard Depardieu; his work with the late, lamented cult actor Patrick Deweare, The Best Way; and his adolescent tales.
571.) There’s nothing as pleasant as a cooperative guest (we’re talking interviews here). In this week’s vintage episode, part two of my interview with filmmaker Claude Miller finds the largely unknown but quite talented cineaste talking about his work as an assistant to three of the greatest “New Wave” directors of all time. Jacques Demy, Jean-Luc Godard, and Francois Truffaut – Miller assisted them all, and while he may have acted only for Godard (we show his appearance in the “pile o’books” sequence of Two or Three Things…), he forged a close friendship with Truffaut. So much so that he directed his final script, The Little Thief (with precocious teen Charlotte Gainsbourg—see her flirt, see her try on new nylons, see her engage in a reform-school girl catfight!). This interview was conducted upon the first U.S. screenings of Aka Betty, so we also continue our discussion of that taut, Ruth Rendell-derived thriller.
572.) So many rarities have come out on DVD…and still there are some cult items that have remained on the shelf. One such fave is the well-loved British miniseries Rock Follies about three “little ladies” trying to make it singing “the rock music.” Our vintage episode offers some choice clips from the series, which drew viewers in with its tight acting, soap-opera-like plotline, a working-class milieu (in the first season, at least) and clever evocations of 1930s show-biz pictures (“the rock music” being the scripter’s idea of a modern equivalent for Ruby Keeler getting a break in “the show business”). The element that made the show such a sensation on PBS back in the late ’70s (when PBS was the thing to watch for fringe folk and culture-vultures) was the musical score, a collection of ultra hook-y pop-rock tunes and ballads by Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay. The show’s stars were rock belter Julie Covington, Charlotte Cornwell (real-life sis of John Le Carre), and obscure ’70s pop-culture reference Rula Lenska; the show’s supporting players included Nell Campbell, a pre Pennies from Heaven Bob Hoskins, and, in one particularly sterling later episode, Tim Curry as a British Springsteen/Lou Reed character named Stevie Streeter. Our copies of the show are typical pre-cable recordings that are compulsively watchable despite a few glitches—but until someone somewhere wises up and puts this series on disc, we’re proud to re-introduce our audience to “the Little Ladies” of song.