625.) The greats have been departing us with much speed, and so, as the year comes to a close, it’s time for us to salute a host of Deceased Artistes who exited in the last few months. We start out with the “honor roll” of folks we’d like to salute but don’t the time, ranging from authors to character actors and musicians. We then move on to a group of actresses who passed away in 2005, taking time to honor the career of aged vet Geraldine Fitzgerald with – what else? – a scene from Funhouse favorite Bye Bye Monkey. Then it’s on to two celebrated actors (distinguished film/theater icon Ossie Davis and the more-versatile-than-he-seemed Eddie Albert) and a screenwriter (Herb Sargent, writer of another fave, Bye Bye Braverman). We close off with a tribute to a genuine original, a rockabilly wildman who is disserviced by the pithy (albeit marketable) “outsider musician” tag. Known to his fans as “the Hunch,” Hasil Adkins wrote tunes about strange sex-like dances, local West Virginia police who kept putting him in the hoosegow, and his most Freudian preoccupation: threatening babes who cheat on him with decapitation. Not a bad choice for a Halloween-week episode….
626.) A vintage episode containing vintage nonsense… 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.
627.) We love the high art, we dig the low trash, but what your humble host most enjoys stitching together are musical clips. So this week it’s a pop picnic, centering around three items that have not found their way onto the little silver disc medium everybody’s collecting, for the minute. Our first title is the Beatles doc Let It Be which isn’t the cheeriest Fab Four movie, but has some excellent music, and lively jams on some oldies. Next up is the lengthy and time-capsule-ish documentary Urgh! A Music War (1981), which presents 30 punk and “new wave” acts live in concert; we focus on our faves (X, The Cramps, Devo), the unnaturally young-looking (the Go-Gos) and the underrated (brilliant spoken word artist John Cooper Clarke). Our last segment is a return, after many years, to the world of the Scopitone, the publicity films made for failed film-jukebox experiment of the early ’60s. The films are mostly of French artists (the ones we’re showing at least) doing odd covers of American material or music to which one can twist the night away. Included are Johnny Hallyday, Francoise Hardy, eternal beat chick Juliette Greco, and some babe who does the only solo version of “Twist and Shout” I’ve ever heard. Two personal favorite early ’80s music vids by the Stranglers and Bow-Wow-Wow close out our visual jamboree.
628.) The theme for our “Consumer Guide” is the very flexible topic of “superwomen.” I take this lovely topic in three different directions, starting with the new release of three classic silent adventures starring the intrepid Leni Riefenstahl. Two of the three are “mountain movies” (the remaining being an iceberg thriller), and all three feature Leni as the token girl who proves to be more resilient than most of the men (crack-up scenes being a must in this hallowed genre). As a bonus, we review the DVD supplement interview with Riefenstahl at 100, which finds the Iron Lady learning how to digitally edit her deep-sea diving footage and hangin’ with her pals… Siegfried and Roy! We then vault into the present century for a review of a collection of spoof features starring Misty Mundae, the current queen of low-budget exploitation (her movies/vids containing a bare minimum of male performers and a maximum of bare Misty and her female costars). Lastly we revisit the work of Joe Sarno, for a review of a box set of three over-the-top movies Joe made in Germany in the mid-’70s. Joe is an incredibly talented filmmaker, but on these occasions the atmosphere of severe sincerity and some very pungent German accents moved the pictures into the rather compelling realm of unintentional camp.
629.) A vintage episode showcases some fine TV moments featuring Sammy Davis Jr., and one of his schlockiest ’70s appearances. Solid ’50s TV clips prove that the man could dance, sing, and do fine impressions. Following that, 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.
630.) Eclectica for the holidays in the “consumer guide” update department, as we return to individuals whose work we deeply enjoy and never mind escaping into. Since this season is awash with an emphasis on the family unit, we turn to a man who’s spent his time toying with the notion of the happy family/household/community, and what lies beneath. Thus, we offer a short glimpse at the brilliant David Lynch’s latest, uniquely weird satire of the average American sitcom family – replete with squalid, “Honyemooners”-like surroundings, impenetrable dialogue, and well… rabbit heads. Next up is a segment on low-budget legend and Funhouse interview subject Budd Boetticher, whose seminal Western Seven Men From Now is finally being released to DVD and will be shown on Turner Classic Movies before Xmas, along with a Boetticher documentary produced by Budd fan (and excellent depressing-movie maker) Clint Eastwood. It’s been a long five years since the restored version of the film was first shown in NYC and LA, but now we finally have a chance to see a first-rank Boetticher film on DVD and cable (shame on John Wayne’s estate for sitting on it for so long). We close out with the real spirit of the holidays, for yours truly, at least: more 1930s comedy. This time it’s Stan and Ollie once more, as we offer a selection of clips to salute an ongoing tribute to the Boys at the Museum of the Moving Image.
631.) The Funhouse celebrates the lives of those who have passed from this mortal coil with deep reverence, but why not salute someone who’s stuck around with us a while? Thus, I return to the topic of the “Dean Martin Roast” to toast the 80th birthday of Jonathan Winters (which occurred November 11th). Before we reach Jon, however, we will once again sample the delights of the roast shows: standups who had solidly defined personas (and could make scripted insults seem fresh), performers playing their best-known TV roles, and icons who just had a little time on their hands. This leads to a full segment from Jonathan, creating as he goes along, saluting Old Blue Eyes as Elwood P. Suggins, bus driver for the Dorsey Orchestra. Unlike most segments on the roasts, Winters’ few appearances weren’t scripted, which is obvious: despite the overplayed laugh track, it’s obvious that Jon got waves of laughter, followed by polite silence, followed by more laughter. He’s the only person besides Don Rickles who truly riffed on the roasts; thus his few appearances were memorable and took away the bad taste left by the ubiquitous Foster Brooks and “Gladys Ormsby.”
632.) Each Yuletide the tube is filled with reworkings of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In 1964 a very timely and unusual spin on the tale aired on ABC without commercial interruption as a promotion for the fine work being done by the United Nations (yes, that was when Democrats were in office). The show was called A Carol for Another Christmas, and it was the brainchild of one of TV’s finest writing talents, Rod Serling. The director was Joseph Mankiewicz — coming off his stinging failure with Cleopatra, but still capable of some excellent noir nightmare imagery (perfect for Serling’s often bleak, and mightily depressed, world view). It’s agitprop of a kind, all right, but very entertaining agitprop, and the fact that it features a top-notch cast breathing life into Rod’s often deeply emotional dialogue makes it a lost gem. The Scrooge role is played by Sterling Hayden – with more than a hint of his preceding role as “General Jack D. Ripper” – and the liberal nephew who challenges his beliefs is Ben Gazzara. Hayden’s former real-life role as a friendly HUAC witness always informed his parts as imposing conservative ideologues, and his turn here as “Daniel Grudge” (okay, so Rod’s characters names weren’t so original) is terrific reclamation work for this latter-day liberal. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are all allegorical figures who teach Grudge about the actual horrors of constant global warfare and what my profs used to call “the permanent war economy.” The program’s highlight is the bleak, Twilight Zone-like view of the future which features British actors vigorously breathing life into Serling’s sermons. Robert Shaw plays a truly menacing Ghost who delivers a topical jibe about the mid-’60s wave of apathy (the show aired just a few months after the real-life nightmare that was the Kitty Genovese murder). And Peter Sellers came off a two-year stretch that saw him doing some of the best work ever (incl. Strangelove and Shot in the Dark) with an energetic incarnation of the “Great Imperial Me,” an Ayn Rand-style individualist dictator. Serling may not have been a subtle artist, but at his best, he drove home his messages in the most imaginative and entertaining manner possible.
633.) The show celebrated its 10th anniversary in this vintage episode. Your humble host recounts some Funhouse history, as well as rambling on about the many joys and problems that have punctuated ten very active years. Included: clips from favorite celebrity interviews (from Gena Rowlands to the Uncle Floyd cast), and some brief snippets of movie scenes that have become motifs on the show over the years.
634.) Take a vintage Funhouse “trip” with the 1966 BBC TV adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Director Jonathan Miller’s take on the Lewis 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, Leo McKern, Malcolm Muggeridge, Peter Cook as a truly bouncy Mad Hatter, and Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts. The Ravi Shankar score is true to the dreamlike quality of the material.
635.) 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.
636.) Several noted comedians and comic actors left us in 2005, and so it’s come time to salute the funnymen this week with a “Deceased Artiste” tribute. The 1960s are well represented with Maxwell Smart, The Riddler, Gilligan, as are the ‘50s (ad exec “Gordon Hathaway” and the very loose-limbed Howard Morris) and the ‘70s (mellow limerick purveyor Nipsey Russell). Find out how Don Adams aced himself out of nightclub gigs for a full two years while Get Smart was a major TV hit, and why Bob Denver was probably closer to his cooler Maynard G. Krebs characterization than the dim-witted Gilligan. These folks may be gone, but they’re not forgotten on the Funhouse.
637.) Back in the early days of the Funhouse, I presented numerous exploitation clips in an effort to share bits from the strangest movies I’d ever seen. A few of these wondrous items figure into this episode, which centers around an interview I conducted just a few weeks ago with exploitation icon Herschell Gordon Lewis. We had some audio trouble with the tape on the chat, but thanks to work by intrepid cameraman Carle, the interview was saved, and thus you can now enjoy my entertaining Q&A with the very dignified “Old Master” of quite undignified no-budget genre pics, with only a slight background buzz. We discuss Mr. Lewis’s early “nudies,” his decision to create (with producer David Friedman) the gore movie, the subsequent hillbilly pictures, juvenile delinquent exposes (Funhouse faves Just for the Hell of It and the immaculate She-Devils on Wheels), and one of the quintessential “swinging suburbanite” sagas, Suburban Roulette (dig those crazy colors). His last “extreme” gore movies, including the very post-mod Wizard of Gore (you just try and figure it out), and The Gore-Gore Girls — with nude dancers, extreme blood effects, and costar Henny Youngman (!) — also come up for discussion, as does his recent-vintage comeback Blood Feast 2 (yes, that’s John Waters playing the pedophile priest). I’d been looking forward to speaking to Mr. Lewis for some time now, and he did not disappoint — at 79, the “wizard of gore” has more energy and bizarre imagination than most of us half his age.
638.) We adjourn this week to the Consumer Guide department, where it’s Euro-auteur time once more. This time out, we discuss the DVD release of William Klein’s imaginative collage set to the strains of Herr Handel, Messiah. The film offers a range of images to accompany the music, from Christian conventions to the mass weddings of Moonies, from the gaudy excesses of Vegas to the war-torn streets of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Northern Ireland. Next up is a review of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s allegorical wonderwork Teorema, which is discussed in light of its view of politics, religion, and its strange influence on the 1990s straight-to-video “erotic thriller.” Yours truly runs through the many interpretations that have been given to the film’s poetically elliptical plotline, but it’s up to you decide what the pic’s really about (you can opt for either the “death of god” view or the erotic thriller bit if you like). The last segment concerns Bresson’s Pickpocket which has been given the usual regal treatment by the Criterion Collection. Since I have already featured the most obvious scenes from Bresson’s most accessible feature on the program, I have decided to explore the DVD’s very interesting and entertaining supplements, including a brief and very informative summation of Bresson’s “tendencies” by Paul Schrader, who has reproduced Pickpocket’s conclusion verbatim in two of his films; a grilling of the austere Master himself by two seemingly snippy French interviewers; and a wonderful segment from a French variety series featuring the sleigh-of-hand artist who taught the cast how to cop a wallet and still look cool (the fact that a variety-show excerpt was included in a Bresson DVD release made this item definite fodder for the Funhouse).
639.) Few films have made as big an impact on as small a budget as the drive-in landmark Blood Feast (1963). This episode features not one but three short interviews about this insanely silly and supremely entertaining cult classic. First we have a segment of our interview with gore-master Herschell Gordon Lewis; the very articulate Lewis recounts his work on the film, and his even more immaculately campy musical soundtrack. Few sleaze directors could namecheck Berlioz and Stokowski in a few short minutes, but then again, few sleaze directors would’ve rocked their own kettledrums…. We then speak to the mad killer of the piece, the actor who played “crazed Egyptian caterer” Fuad Ramses. Mal Arnold is a very down-to-earth gent who took his very strange role seriously, and is now a cult icon, due to the fact that his “crazy eyes” and prematurely powdered gray hair have shown up on everything from album covers to T-shirts. Lastly, we talk to the heroine of the piece, Playboy Playmate Connie Mason. Like Mr. Arnold, Mason worked with Lewis on two films — she also starred in the gory follow-up, 2000 Maniacs! (1964). She also has the unique distinction of having been a nubile babe who was allowed to live in both of her gore outings (in fact, she never even appears in a scene with the red liquid that doubled for blood). Your obedient servant is not a fan of the gore film genre, but Lewis’s movies are so imaginatively absurd and blissfully threadbare that it’s impossible not to enjoy them (plus, the colors are outta this world).
640.) This week’s vintage bit of biz is my interview with French actress/director Nicole Garcia. We conducted the chat upon the NYC film-fest premiere of her film, L’Adversaire, a taut, fact-based tale of a gent who lied to his family about his career – and wound up killin’ ’em all; the darker side of the heavy Funhouse fave, Laurent Cantet’s Time Out, Ms. Garcia’s film has not received a U.S. distributor to date. Ms. Garcia also talks about her work as an actress in the sexy thriller Peril and the sublimely acted mystery by Claude Miller, Betty Fisher. Best of all are her happy memories of shooting the Italian financed, Pinter-on-crack crime saga Corrupt, which costarred the inimitable comedy team of Harvey Keitel and Johnny Lydon.
641.) The Funhouse is always proud to salute the Deceased Artistes who didn’t merit a significant amount of mainstream coverage. This week the emphasis is on humor, with a group of professional funny-folk and one gent who took his gig very seriously yet still provided hours of amusement — in the late-evening hours, an even more sacred task. Our close-out of the 2005 roster begins with a trio of comedy-related performers: Honey Bruce, Pat McCormick, and the greatest TV ventriloquist of all, Paul Winchell. Then we salute the late Dr. Gene Scott, the finest TV preacher ever. For those who never saw him, Dr. Gene (who aired locally on UHF) was a renegade wildman who taught the gospel, but also had frequent temper tantrums, knew how to “cuss” with the best of ’em (never has an Xtian show included so many bleeps), and, most importantly, did nothing on-air for very long stretches of time. Our tribute includes a vintage bit of Scott freaking out on his viewers, and some scenes from the indispensable Herzog docu God’s Angry Man, which shows a slightly younger, but not mellower, Dr. Gene. Our other featured Artiste of the evening is Uncle Floyd Show cast member Mugsy (real name: Chris Calam). He was the musical-parody specialist on the Floyd show (sample characters: Bruce Stringbean, Neil Yuck, Peter Punk, Tom Waste) and also wrote some very “incorrect” comedy sketches for that program and his own later NJ cable series. He was a mainstay of the Floyd program, and supplied us with many laughs (and groans) throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and for that we ain’t gonna forget him.
642.) Only a select few Deceased Aristes have warranted an entire episode-length tribute on the Funhouse. This week’s subject, Richard Pryor, could fill up several shows, and we still wouldn’t wind up overlapping with the mainstream obits. The show opens with a full-bodied introduction by yours truly, recounting Richard’s high and low points and setting up a mega-montage of clips that come from various sources. We start off with the very “straight” Richard, with scary slicked-back hair, and immediately leap into the best records of Pryor as he appeared in the early ’70s: a raw, honest, confrontational comic who was the only natural successor to Lenny Bruce. I had to skimp on clips from the indispensably strange Dynamite Chicken (which we’ve shown on other occasions) but do highlight Wattstax (directed by the same old white guy who brought you Willy Wonka) and Live and Smokin’. The latter is a 1971 film of Richard performing at the Improv and not getting many laughs from the predominantly white audience. As a result, he riffs off into strange areas – including a bit on his own oral sex habits that is eye-opening to say the least. We also revisit Richard the actor, Richard the vehicle comedian (don’t flinch), and Richard the TV provocateur (with the strangest bit from his short-lived NBC prime-time series). Forget the guy from Superman III and The Toy – this is all about the mustached troublemaker who had a “cool run” and, along with his pal Mudbone, brought new meaning to the N-word, the F-word, and a whole lot of other words.
643.) This week, our vintage episode is part one of a particularly lively interview. Actress Carol Lynley has nothing to hide – this we found out when we conducted a lengthy, highly informal and fun interview with her at the Chiller convention. In this episode, we discuss her early career as a virginal blonde in Disney’s way-too-wholesome Light in the Forest and her subsequent turn to freshly-scrubbed “delinquent” status in Blue Denim. Ms. Lynley also tells us what it was like working with Judy Garland (very briefly) on the doomed Harlow biopic in which she starred (released at the same time as the one starring former Funhouse guest Carroll Baker). The episode’s focus is on Teutonic taskmaster Otto Preminger, who gave Carol her transitional roles as (yet another) pregnant teen in The Cardinal and the young mom seeking her missing moppet in Bunny Lake is Missing (in which she is comforted, and then menaced, by another former Funhouse guest, Keir Dullea). We close the show with a discussion of her most famous role, the willowy singer forced (gasp) to turn to Red Buttons for solace in everyone’s favorite camp disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure.
644.) Israeli director Amos Gitai is a fascinating filmmaker whose work contains distinct elements of both Middle Eastern and European cinema. We spoke to him on the occasion of the NYC premiere of his new film Free Zone (starring Natalie Portman) about the themes in his work, his unique visual style, and the ways in which he has tackled Jewish issues on film in an engaging, somewhat allegorical fashion. Most important of all to Gitai’s style is his use of long takes, established in his early documentary work for Israeli television. Gitai’s long takes establish his characters and their surroundings in a concrete, no-nonsense fashion, but they also have a hypnotic, dreamlike quality that makes his films thoroughly unique and removes them entirely from the literary and music-video models that predominate in mainstream filmmaking. Part one of our chat concentrates on his Israeli fiction films, with the focus on the orthodox Jewish drama Kadosh, his personal war chronicle Kippur, the vibrant (and very dreamlike) slice of Israeli history Kedma, and his recent ensemble comedy set in an apartment complex, Alila. For a man who values “ambiguities” above all, Gitai is also a plain speaker and a very unique artist whose attitude towards the movies we very much enjoy – better to “digest” a picture than be forcefed a bunch of ideas and situations.
645.) Part two of my interview with Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai features his further reflections on the relationship between filmmakers and their audience, as well as a discussion of his boldly imaginative Golem trilogy, made in Paris when he was an “exile” from his home country. Lastly, we discuss his working relationship with the legendary Sam Fuller, and his admiration for one of our Funhouse icons, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Of special interest is an account of a large-scale theater production Mr. Gitai staged in Italy that starred Fuller and Hanna Schygulla among many others. Included in the show are clips from his controversial 1982 documentary Field Diary (the film that cemented his “exile” status for a time), his Golem pictures, and a particularly amusing bit where Hanna and Sam discuss a mutual acquaintance who works as a phone-sex operator.
646.) The Consumer Guide department returns with an in-depth look at two highly recommended humor-packed box sets. The first is a collection of the early works of master-absurdist Peter Greenaway, which introduces us to a list-world comprised of fake events, fake facts and fake opinions espoused by fake experts. The fact that these bizarre items are recited by a straightforward, BBC-style announcer — let’s all give Colin Cantlie his due in terms of selling Mr. Greenaway’s strange universe – while gorgeous landscape images, stock footage, and fictional incidents play out on the visual level makes these short films unique and highly radical (perhaps too avant-garde for the Python crowd, and definitely a bit too ridiculous for the followers of such formalist daymares as Michael Snow’s Wavelength). With Michael Nyman’s stirring music swelling behind his unique visions (when Nyman was busy, Eno noodled around), Greenaway served a fine apprenticeship as a maker of shorts, culminating in his majestically strange epic The Falls (1980). The second box is the Comic Legends compendium of Dick Cavett Show episodes featuring great comedians. Cavett had a fascinating array of guests on his late-night ABC show, but he truly felt at home listening to the Old Masters talk about their past glories and reflect on the current state of show biz. The set includes full programs with figures like Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and Funhouse idol, and an ascot-wearing Jerry Lewis. The highlights in our humble opinion come when Dick encounters his buddy Woody Allen (the two ex-gag-writers have an incredible chemistry) and his hero Groucho Marx (wonderfully funny and really pissed off at Tricky Dick).
647.) One of the leading lights of the new German Cinema and a personal favorite of yours truly, Wim Wenders has been one of European cinema’s most devoted lovers of American culture, and a filmmaker whose work has ranged from modern classics (The American Friend, Wings of Desire) to startlingly intelligent misfires (Until the End of the World) and some of the finest “road movies” ever made (Kings of the Road, Paris Texas). I interviewed Wenders on the occasion of the opening of his latest feature Don’t Come Knocking, scripted by and starring Sam Shepard. We covered a lot of ground, literally jumping decades in the course of our conversation. Topics touched upon include the “homecoming” theme in the Western genre, Wenders’ cinematic view of America, the notion of the “indie” feature, his underrated moviemaking pic The State of Things (featuring a sterling performance by Allen Garfield as a Coppola-like producer), his view of visualizing music on film and, natch, his pride in having collaborated once again with Shepard.
648.) This week’s vintage episode features part two of our lively interview with actress Carol Lynley. This time, we move ahead in her career to the 1970s, when she made quite a few appearances on one of our fave cult addictions, “Fantasy Island.” Ms. Lynley regales us with anecdotes about “the lava-lava girls” (you’ll find out), a hair-raising encounter with a pistol-packin’ Tattoo, and another Funhouse fave, Roddy McDowall (who appeared in one of the single-most mind-warping episodes of the series with Carol, as a Sky Masterson-looking incarnation of Old Scratch himself). We also discuss her starring role in the old-fashioned parlor mystery The Cat and the Canary directed by (yet another Funhouse fave) Radley Metzger. Carol’s feelings about her career are quite candid, and we can definitely say we had a blast discussing it with her. Any friend of Mr. Roarke’s is a friend of ours….
649.) Unique juxtapositions are our stock-in-trade in the Funhouse, and this week’s Consumer Guide offers up yet another combination platter of auteurist discussion. The first segment focuses on the recent release of a trilogy of later work by cult genre director Seijun Suzuki. The films are all willfully strange, and contain imagery and surreal bursts of imagination that have influenced our favorites Wong Kar-Wai and “Beat” Takeshi. They’re not an easy journey to make, but they establish Suzuki as a quite singular artist who, like Bunuel, has fans who only dig his earlier subvert-the-genre work and others who prefer him when he shed the action-movie trappings and moved full-tilt into “arthouse” mode. The second feature of the evening is an interview I conducted recently with Steve Buscemi upon the opening of his film Lonesome Jim. We discuss the film’s bleak (and very funny) brand of humor, as well his use of a Panasonic mini-DV camera to shoot the picture (the very same camera that spawns the Funhouse these days). Most interesting are his comments about the work of John Cassavetes and yet another Funhouse fave, the Finnish master of the deadpan comedy of despair, Aki Kaurismaki.
650.) The holiest of holy days in both the Xtian and Jewish faiths fall within the same week this year, so there was no way in hell we were going to miss out on our annual holiday fest of religious kitsch entertainment. This year, I start out with the latest in hip bumper stickers and strange children’s toys with Christ-is-King messages, and introduce the latest in oddball proselytizing, the world’s first English-language Christian manga! We follow that with some ardent sermonizing by onetime Xtian Bob “you can call him R.J.” Dylan (audio only, but you ain’t heard nothing till you’ve heard Bob actually acknowledging the folks who’ve paid to see him). We continue in a musical vein with a video that has dazzled, amused, and confused yours truly for some time now, the Busby Berkeley-esque, bathroom-and-religion-themed “Mi Poquita Fe” by the sensuous and slightly strange Ms. Susana Zabaleta. From there, we revisit the strange and eerie world of rapture thrillers, where performers whose star has dimmed journey to Canada to star in outlandishly plotted dramas based on frighteningly popular potboiler novels (with lotsa neat gunplay and explosions – god digs that stuff) featuring anti-Christs straight outta Central Casting. As a close, we revisit the Donut Repair Club (all children are to be accompanied by an adult – hopefully a protective one). Fun and laughs for all, except for those who feel that this kinda fun and laughs will land you right in the “fiery pit” (like “masked and anonymous” Bob).
651.) Our vintage episode this week presents part one of a two-part interview I conducted with Godard biographer Colin MacCabe. 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).
652.) The recent Rendezvous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater yielded some interesting encounters for the Funhouse, as I chatted with filmmakers whose work will soon be seen in your local arthouse and others whose titles did not get picked up for U.S. distribution. This week’s episode contains two Rendezvous interviews, with directors who coincidentally employed the same lead actress, the toothy and talented Emmanuelle Devos. Filmmaker Sophie Fillières starred Ms. Devos in Gentille, an absurd comedy about a woman whose life turns strange in the week that her boyfriend asks her to marry him. The film costars Michael Lonsdale and former Funhouse guest Lambert Wilson, and has an episodic structure that produces a delightfully skewed view of workaday communication and contemporary relationships. Our second guest, Emmanuel Carrère, achieves a menacing brand of paranoia with his own surreal character study La Moustache. Based on a novel by M. Carrère, the film concerns a man whose friends and loved ones don’t notice when he shaves off his moustache – further, they claim he never had one. This denial leads to a strange odyssey for the lead character who begins to doubt the strength of his marriage (and his sanity). Both filmmakers are quite humble about the true meanings of their character studies, but both provide very interesting takes on the way that relationships can, well… drive ya crazy.
653.) The interview slate for the Funhouse has gotten so overloaded that a week back in the “archive” of forgotten footage is required. So, we take a short break from the chats with French auteurs and pop-culture notables to present clips from newly rediscovered atrocities from the 1970s, the decade that never ceases to yield bizarre culture-clash material. The topic this week is a certain Linda Lovelace, who received only a cursory Deceased Artiste tribute in the Funhouse some time back, but now is the subject of a DVD release that contains two of her three feature films – and, yes, these are the two that nobody’s heard of. The first is the recently exhumed Deep Throat 2, thought to be lost to the ages, but which is now available for our wincing, moaning (no, not that kind) pleasure. The movie was written and directed by Funhouse fave Joe Sarno, but it is unlike any of his other work, and is quite unlike its predecessor, in that it’s a sex farce without any sex. The cast may include the very nice but thespically-challenged Linda, Harry Reems, Jamie Gillis, and other recognizable hardcore figures, but there is only a modicum of nudity, and the lame spy plot leads to the slowest-paced chase and pie fight in history. This highly misleading head-scratcher is handily topped by Ms. Lovelace’s first and only “legit” movie, Linda Lovelace for President, a miraculously bad item that finds an outsized cast of familiar faces moving through a would-be Mad-mag spoof of politics and the “social scene” in the most liberated decade any of us have ever seen. The cast includes a host of our favorite character people, including Art Metrano, the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz, one-time Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader, and Chuck McCann (using the screen names “Fetuchine Alfredo” and “Alfredo Fetuchine” for his dual role; no reason to screw up the kiddie-show career with something like this on his list of credits). The picture has to be seen to be believed – suffice it to say that Ms. Lovelace’s “talent” is mentioned several times (but not shown), and her nominating committee includes an Arab sheik, a black militant, a limp-wristed gay, a butch lesbian, a Chinese communist, and (natch) a Nazi. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore…..
654.) A Robert Altman “revival” of sorts is underway, spurred on by the Oscars’ better-late-than-never recognition of his incredible talent. Being a supreme camp follower of Altman’s work, I present a Consumer Guide episode that picks up where our last Altman tribute show left off. First off, an overview of recent DVD releases of the director’s work, spotlighting the Criterion Collection editions of two features and the current “Robert Altman Collection” box from Fox. Next I explore the ongoing retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image, and finish up with a discussion of the Altman movies that have not yet made it onto DVD. Included are a fresh crop of representative clips showing the range of Altman’s work, including two DVD “extras” and scenes from two of the most-wanted MIA titles, from the long out-of-print video versions.
655.) This week we revisit the second and final part of my interview with Jean-Luc Godard biographer Colin MacCabe. Here Mr. MacCabe holds 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. Included are clips from several of the features and essays in question. As of this re-airing of the program, we rejoice in the fact that M. Godard has continued to produce new feature films and video works, leaving us with more lyrical images to absorb and more “narrative incidents” to decipher – or simply enjoy.
656.) We revisit the very singular work of ’50s B-budget god Hugo Haas in this vintage 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.
657.) Francophilia reigns in the Funhouse once more as I conduct an interview with filmmaker Serge Le Péron, whose imaginative genre-bending film I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed premiered at the recent “Rendezvous with French Cinema” festival in Lincoln Center. The kidnapping and killing of Third World political leader Mehdi Ben Barka was as important an unsolved political conspiracy for the French in the 1960s as the Kennedy assassination was for Americans. Monsieur Le Péron’s film is a fact-based chronicle that toys with the events leading up to and following Ben Barka’s death, viewing them from the perspective of a real figure, a sleazy con artist who set him up to be killed by creating a phony documentary that would require his services as a consultant. Ben Barka had no idea the film was a scam, and neither did two other participants, writer Marguerite Duras and filmmaker Georges Franju. The latter is played in Le Péron’s film by Funhouse favorite Jean-Pierre Leaud, whom he describes as both “crazy” and “poetic.” We will take any excuse to celebrate the indelible work of New Wave icon Leaud, so we reveled in hearing about the gentleman from his friend and colleague.
658.) This week’s vintage episode is a fun one-on-one chat. The premise: 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.
659.) I celebrate my birthday this year with a presentation of select clips and reviews of the recent DVD releases of Naked City episodes. The program is notable for its incredible location shooting in the five boroughs and for its sad, nearly grim, noir-style plotting. Based on the 1948 movie of the same name, the show’s only “normal” moments focused on sensitive, Freudian police detective Paul Burke, his gruff boss Horace McMahon, and always chipper sidekick Harry Bellaver; each episode generally spun into high gear when covering the life of a criminal or disaffected city dweller. In this episode, I discuss the show’s “cold openings” where we join the crooks/misfits in media res and try to figure out exactly where the show will go from there. Also discussed are the fledgling stars who appeared on the program, most of whom were struggling NYC theater actors or film stars who had moved down the work-scale, and the noir directors and scripters who moved on to this series after the noir cycle had wound down in the mid/late ’50s. Last up is a discussion of favorite Funhouse actresses as they appeared on the show as mere lasses: Sandy Dennis, Barbara Harris, and the ever-radiant Tuesday Weld. All three starred in particularly grim episodes that can truly be labeled “TV noir.”
660.) Though this week’s program is dovetailed to the opening of the new Superman movie, that’s not because I’m waiting with bated breath — in fact Supe has long been my least favorite comic-book superhero. However, I am addicted to incredibly bad television, particularly that perpetrated in the blissfully off-kilter period that was known as the 1970s, so I felt I must share the worst incarnation of the Man of Steel ever (and that’s counting the startling no-budget “Turkish Superman”). The usual depictions of Kal-El make him omnipotent, a misfit, and pretty damned boring — in this 1975 TV special It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, based on a failure 1966 musical, he’s a Spiderman-like neurotic who (ah yes) sings. He is joined in this unwarranted warbling by the rest of the characters in this astoundingly misguided effort, but is played by the only unknown in the cast, a certain David Wilson. The rest of the cast includes name performers from the period, most of them from the TV arena: it’s narrated by Laugh-In Golden Throat Gary Owens, the more-than-lovely Lesley Ann Warren is Lois Lane; Kenneth Mars (always terrific) and Loretta Swit are Clark Kent’s mean colleagues; David Wayne is an evil scientist plotting Supe’s destruction; and a motley assortment of gangsters, played Malachi “False-face” Throne, Al Molinaro, and Harvey Lembeck (Harve’s son Michael, aka “Kaptain Kool” plays a hippie who explains “freak power” to the lunkheaded superhero).
661.) To coincide with the NYC theatrical opening of the film Heading South, this week I present my interview with filmmaker Laurent Cantet. South is an alternately sad and sexy character study of a group of middle-aged (and older) white women who journey to Haiti in the early 1970s to partake of the young gentlemen who act as their consorts/gigolos for the duration of their stay. Charlotte Rampling is the uncommonly sexy 55-year-old “Queen Bee” of the establishment (she’s 60 in real life, and looking very fine indeed for a senior citizen); underrated actress Karen Young is a Southerner who believes she’s found true love with one of the young Haitian men. Monsieur Cantet concocts a story of May-December longing that’s worthy of Tennessee Williams and Fassbinder (hear his true inspiration in the interview), that is distinguished by uniformly excellent performances and very fine scripting – one senses that, like Francois Ozon, he is a literarily-minded filmmaker who devotes very much time to the crafting of his characters and their dialogue. We discuss South, but also delve back into his preceding film, Time Out, which is a haunting character study of a man who spends his days deceiving his family into thinking he has a prominent job as an executive when he is actually drifting around the countryside, procuring money through a series of schemes. For those keeping score of this storyline and its discussion on the Funhouse, we have now spoken to three individuals about this very singular plot twist and its use in two French films from 2001-2002: Emmanuelle Carrere, who wrote a semi-fictional account of the real-life gentleman who almost carried off this scam (but brutally killed his wife and kids when he was found out); Nicole Garcia, who made the film L’Adversaire from Carrere’s book; and now Cantet, who took the factual tale, stripped out the murder aspect, and contrived a brilliant meditation on the alienation and fear that accompanies the loss of employment (plus one of the only films to weave the cellphone into its plotline in an absolutely essential way). We are undoubtedly the only program in North America to discuss this very original plotline – and I’m still wondering why it hasn’t been stolen and retrofitted for a bad Hollywood remake starring one of those dimwitted babyfaced actors that Scorsese casts these days.
662.) We never grow tired of saluting our heroes, and so I wound up doing not one but four Marlon Brando “Deceased Artiste” tributes. 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.”
663.) This week we revisit two interviews with French film personalities. The first film has still yet to have seen the light of distribution over here (possibly its length — over two hours — doomed it, although it is a solid psycho-thriller, with a sexy female lead), and the Resnais film Not on the Lips made its initial bow in America on DVD late last year. 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”?).
664.) The music of the ’60s haunts us still – and it ain’t just that classic rock and endlessly recycled and promoted cache of oldies. Tonight’s Consumer Guide is a quite informal survey of the period’s pop, starting out with a tribute to the recent DVD release of The Bugaloos, the Kroft show that featured British performers dressed as bugs giving us bubblegum joy, courtesy of the mighty Charles Fox, while evading villainous Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye). The songs are as catchy as hell, and although I had misplaced my memories of the program from childhood, a viewing in the mid-90s reopened the floodgates, as well as a devotion to gal Bugaloo Caroline Ellis. I follow that with a further discussion of the Scopitone phenomenon, this time focusing on the items being made available on the www.bedazzled.tv that run the gamut from further French items I never knew existed (Jacques Brel in the film-jukebox?) to very obscure American items. Included are what must be the first parody of Gainsbourg (a spoof of “Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus”), an ode to sado-masochism, and a severely whitebread folk tune that includes the refrain “wackadoo, wackadoo, wackadoo.” There’s no way to follow that kind of sincere kitsch but with the master of all things dazzling in the Sixties, Russ Meyer. I review the recent DVD release of Russ’s big-studio bow, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and offer reflection on the missing elements (Ebert strategically avoids an in-depth discussion of the Manson aspect of the pic, even though he’s doing an audio commentary for the freaking thing) and the bonus gems (rare trailers that show Russ at work on a BVD photo session and offer his lightning-fast editing, with a narration that is indisputably his work). Russ has been gone for a few years now, but the hypnotic relentlessness of his montage continues to amaze….
665.) We love to share our latest strange and entertaining finds with Funhouse viewers, and so this show contains clips from three items that have been released on cost-cutter DVDs that would most likely escape the notice of ordinary beings. The first is the Mondo Cane ripoff Mondo Balordo which boasts English narration by Funhouse hero Boris Karloff. The film features the usual parade of atrocities and lightly kinky subjects (a “Mondo” specialty), including a talented little gent (27” high!) whose stage act consisted of lip synching to other artists’ records while dressed in a zoot suit (here, he favors us with his impression of Louis Prima). The second film is the mind-boggling surf musical The Fat Spy which cuts between musical numbers by a Beach Boys clone-band and a comic plot featuring insult comic “Fat Jack” E. Leonard (as twin brothers), Phyllis Diller, Brian Donlevy, and the always estimable Jayne Mansfield. The rock numbers are catchy, but it’s the solos by Fat Jack and Jayne that really stand out in this strange artifact. The third and final atrocity (oops, meant entry) is a glitzy 1985 TV special that has somehow shown up on DVD in a nearly anonymous package—it’s “The All-Star Party for Dutch Reagan,” a tribute to the former President hosted by Frank Sinatra (who sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas” and introduces cohost Monty Hall), that is performed in front of a veritable audience of (very aged or under-contract-to-the-network) stars. Highlights include Dean Martin’s bit of Sammy Cahn-written “special material,” Steve and Eydie doing Woody Guthrie (their Vegas-y patriotic medley includes “This Land is Your Land”), and Ben Vereen and Emmanuel Lewis, well…tap-dancing. The whole thing is a joy to behold until Charlton Heston comes out and delivers a conservative speech from On High, and then you remember why you may have taken a pass on all the fun that preceded when this thing aired back in 1985.
666.) This week’s episode is a vintage paean to a (literally) big man: 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!
667.) This week we return to the site of one of my greatest indulgences in recent years—the night I ran through my favorite Marlon stories (and consumed quite a few more after the episode was wrapped). To update: as of this airingof this vintage episode, I just visited www.marlonbrando.com to see if they ever put another ambiguous, coded message up there. Right now, it just says “Statement being issued soon!” The whole thing has played out like Chris Elliott’s deranged parodies of the big man (“Dr. Tim,” indeed…) But back to our ep-descrip: This episode is the third and just about final part of my “Deceased Artiste” tribute to the late, great Marlon Brando, focusing on his “last blast” early ’70s period and the uncommonly colorful character he grew into in the last quarter-century of his life. Yrs truly holds forth with several choice stories about the Big Man, followed by film clips and at least one great Marlon-controls-the-interview scene. We sum it all up with the most outlandish thing he ever committed to celluloid: his buck-toothed, white-faced, British-accented turn in the utterly unnecessary – but really essential, camp-wise – remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The sight of Marlon playing against el hombre mas pequeno del mundo, our own fave Nelson de la Rosa, couldn’t possibly be left out of any Funhouse tribute to one of the last century’s greatest actors.
668.) The Funhouse must celebrate Labor Day the way it is meant to be celebrated: with an ample dose of the Jer at his most rambunctious (some might say intolerable). This year, our 13th tribute to the le roi kicks off with the annual health update — rather brief this year as the “unkillable” one doesn’t seem to be phased by minor things like heart attacks. I focus once again on the “love story” that is the Martin & Lewis teaming, with a review of Jer’s NY Times bestselling ghost-written memoir about his partner, his brother, his mentor, his cruising-for-babes chum, his everything, Dean Martin. After you are regaled with the book’s single most disturbing sentence (and it ain’t the part where he disses Groucho for no reason—that’s just petty), I offer up at least one more example of Dean not digging Jer on-air. We then turn to the trove of DVDs that was released two years back to offer up special moments from the “bonus features,” which include rare trailers, outtakes, bloopers, featurettes (showing scary rehab Jer), and some very nice views of the lovely young Ms. Stella Stevens. I close out with a discovery made as the show was “going to press”: a goateed Jer (tres cosmopolitan, dontcha think) acting in an insanely misguided moviemaking skit on Jimmy Durante Presents The Lennon Sisters (1969-70). Each year my Jerry tributes turn dozens of viewers off (the narrow-minded fools); there is no way I could resist not taking up that gauntlet once again. Enjoy!
669.) Tonight we complete the vintage Brando-worship cycle with the fourth of my four Deceased Artiste tribute episodes. First up is a serious, more reflective moment from the Maysles Bros. sublime Meet Marlon Brando which I left out of our last presentation of clips from that film. I follow the young, witty, wiseass Marlon with an offer you can’t refuse: clips from two latter-day Brando oddities you ain’t seein’ anyplace else. The first is the broad farce from Canada, Free Money, which finds Marlon hamming it up big-time (and engaging in literal toilet-bowl humor at one point) as a corrupt prison warden whose lovely twin daughters marry Charlie Sheen and Thomas Haden Church. It’s a dimwitted comedy that, strangely enough, Brando is all over, doing two-character scenes with Mira Sorvino, Donald Sutherland, and his old “grocery clerk,” Martin Sheen. The main feature of the evening is The Brave, the only film to date directed by Johnny Depp–as yet unreleased in the U.S. A strange, bleak, and often hypnotic tale of a Mexican/American Indian/generic underclass ex-con (Depp) who sells himself to a strange coven of rich guys who like to see Mexicans/American Indians/generic underclass guys be tortured to death. The soundtrack is by Iggy Pop, the supporting cast includes Clarence Williams III and another guy who went upriver to kill Kurtz, Frederick Forrest, and the direction is an amalgam of many filmmakers Depp has either worked with or admired. Marlon puts in a blissfully strange guest-star appearance as the guy (in a wheelchair, with a harmonica) who pays you when you sell yourself to the strange coven of rich guys. If you think his lines are scripted, you surely didn’t see his second Larry King appearance, where he basically said very similar things about the world being driven solely by violence. He may have sounded crazy each time he elaborated on this theory, but he wasn’t exactly wrong.
670.) Variety is the spice of life, and also the Funhouse… Thus, tonight’s Consumer Guide offers a look back at TV in the ’70s through the vehicle of three variety shows hosted by guy-girl musical acts and now available in TV-on-DVD box-sets. The first is the seminal Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, the program that featured the “hippie” duo in their Vegas-refined guise as a wacky, unpredictable short Italian and his statuesque, glamorous straight-woman wife (think Louis Prima and Keely Smith — but joking about sex). The most interesting thing about S&C’s TV odyssey as a duo? The fact that their variety show came back after they were divorced, truly a one-off in television history. The guests excerpted range from Howard Cosell (singing doo-wop) and young Michael Jackson (serenading his rat-friend Ben) to future variety show hosts Donny and Marie. Next up is The Captain and Tennille Show which surely took a leaf or two from S&C’s book, but this couple really did have affection for each other (and in fact are still married to this day). The show itself benefited from the convergence of “old” and “new” that we love to explore in the world of ’60s and ’70s variety shows — meaning that Hope, Gleason, and Burns could be seen alongside the latest pop stars, nearly all of ABC’s then-hot stars (from the Sweathogs to the Happy Days gang and Charlie’s Angels) and Leonard Nimoy (reciting his I Am Not Spock-era poetry). The last show reviewed is the one that I remember with a surprising and nearly scary amount of crystal-clarity: The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show. The single best host of the NYC end of the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon was a startlingly energetic performer back in the Seventies who modeled some very kitschy fashion on the show (on purpose, to rouse wisecracks from his fellow singers, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson) and got to interact with a sublime roster of Funhouse favorites, from Freddie Prinz (Sr., man, Sr.!) and Jerry Lewis to Alice Cooper.
671.) My first impulse upon being the recipient of rare films is to share them with the Funhouse audience, and so it is Consumer Guide time once again, this episode focusing on items that are available through a mail-order service, www.mondovideobasement.com, run by the oft-mentioned-on-the-Funhouse M. Faust of Buffaloland. The first offering is something that, while not in the category of Bye Bye Monkey, is still a whizbang of a romance, Max, Mon Amour, the story of a staid Englishwoman (Charlotte Rampling) who falls in love with a chimp. The film is intended as a social satire, but it initially succeeds because it is just so matter-of-fact about the woman-monkey coupling (which we never see, by the way). Its pedigree is very fine: it was directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses), written by Jean-Claude Carrière (who scripted films for Buñuel and Polanski, and also wrote the screenplay for The Tin Drum) and costars Anthony Higgins and former Almódovar favorite Victoria Abril. After that, we leave the monkeys behind (for a few minutes) to present a wildly imaginative crime thriller from France that was never distributed in the U.S., Vidocq. Centering around a real-life figure who started as a criminal, founded the modern French police force, and then wound up a private investigator, the film uses CGI for the right reason: to create atmosphere, rev up the visuals, and evoke a different period in a quite unique way. Vidocq (2001) might seem derivative these days, but that’s only because the innovations favored by its director, a guy who likes to be called “Pitof,” have been used so often since this feature appeared in France, and one of Pitof’s former bosses, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, used CGI in similar ways in his recent films. Whatever the case, Depardieu is Vidocq, Vidocq is dead, and he died battling a supervillain named “The Alchemist” who wears a mirror for a mask — a pretty solid premise for a comic book adventure. Last up is the piece de resistance (you may wanna resist it, but I ain’t lettin’ ya), Thundercrack! A cult movie extraordinaire, this 1975 b&w epic is a “old dark house” comedy of the strangest sort, a camp vision created by director Curt McDowell and a Funhouse favorite, scripter-star George Kuchar. A group of people all wind up at the house of a cracked Southern belle one rainy evening; the group proceeds to engage in various couplings, until George comes along, with his love of a female gorilla…. The film is something I’ve wanted to get a good copy of for years to show on the program, but I still couldn’t air at least three of the film’s funnier sequences because they all involve naked folks having sex (or just people in the act of touching ’emselves down below), something that still is a no-go on American TV because, well, you know … kids could be watching or something (or adults with brains the size of figs). The Funhouse is fearless, but American TV — and America in general — ain’t gonna grow up anytime soon, so we’ll still have to trim the original, the courageously awful, and the truly deranged items, like Thundercrack!
672.) We are pro-gamine on the Funhouse, and so this week it’s a vintage episode containing a short interview I had some months back with none other than the button-cutest actress working in movies today, Audrey Tautou. The chat occurred in conjunction with the opening of her film, A Very Long Engagement, directed by her Amélie auteur, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I also spoke with Jeunet, who speaks fluent English, and so responds to questions in a matter-of-fact fashion. Despite his short answers, we have a sterling collection of clips from his past features (including one of several orgasm-related montages he’s created) to illustrate his superb skill at creating sequential gags (think Rube Goldberg with a dark-humor bent, or a fantasy-universe version of Jacques Tati). Ms. Tautou is not as fluent in English, and thus responds in a careful, lengthy fashion. A short selection of clips from her work to date supplements our discussion of her career, and her latest Engagement.
673.) Vintage episode: With the nationwide release of the action movie Ong-Bak, some folks are saying that “Thailand is the next Hong Kong.” Of course, Korea was in line to be the next Hong Kong for quite some time (and sorta was), and Japan has always been – well, a place that produces films that American producers either want to remake (from Rashomon on down to Ju-On) or steal shamelessly from (Kill Bill). In the meantime, Thai cinema has been growing by leaps and bounds, and so this week on the Funhouse I’m proud to present an interview with a talented Thai director done by our friend Art Black, all-’round Asian movie expert and writer for Psychotronic and Asian Cult Cinema. The director in question is Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, whose quietly stylish film Last Life on the Universe focuses in a Wong Kar-Wai-like fashion on the impossibility of relationships succeeding. Art cohosts the show, providing background on Ratanaruang (a name you won’t hear me attempting to pronounce) and discussing his very lengthy interview — chopped down to an MNN-friendly 28 minutes — with this self-confessed “lonely” auteur. In the process we show scenes from not only Last Life and 6ixtynin9, his fast-moving, darkly humorous noir (currently being ruined, er, prepared for a remake by Hollywood types), but also the unreleased-in-the-U.S. Monrak Transistor, a strange, amorphous love story that starts with a gross-out sequence, has numerous attacks, rapes, and shootings, but features at least three great musical numbers. Ratanruang has made a living as a commercial director in between his four feature films, and he’s definitely a filmmaker to watch.
674.) A host of wonderful items have been unleashed on DVD in the past few months, and so it’s time once again for a Media Funhouse “Consumer Guide” episode in which we try to play catch-up with the wonderful items released, in this case, by Kino. First up is a duo of obscure but fascinating German Expressionist pics no one but the heartiest Kracauer and Lotte Eisner-thumber was aware of, Warning Shadows and Asphalt. The first is an odd morality tale, punctuated by some very creepy shadow-puppeteering; the second is a wonderful “symphony of a city” item that finds a wholesome cop on the beat taken in by a vampishly alluring diamond thief (hotcha). The most impressive thing about both films: they are both almost entirely devoid of intertitles once the stories get going — there is something indeed very lovely about a film that exists on a purely visual level. Next we turn to two German directors (well, okay, okay, one was actually born in Czechoslovakia) who were well aware of the importance of shadows, as well as hardboiled dialogue. The Volker Schlondorff documentary Billy Wilder Speaks aired on TCM some months, but the DVD contains another hour of his bilingual chats with the Old Cranky Master (including a rare bit of his last time directing Lemmon and Matthau, some years after Buddy, Buddy). Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen is a very honest portrait of the master no-budget filmmaker, including what must be the most sublime cut in recent docu history, going from Funhouse fave Wim Wenders — who meditates throughout on the advantages (and humiliations) of working on low budgets — to Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall (star of the last Ulmer feature), who offers a wonderfully concise, not-so-positive meditation of his own on the inequities of the Hollywood system. Closing out the program is the DVD update of something I reviewed years back on VHS: Cavalcade of Comedy, Kino’s wonderful compilation of early talkie comedy shorts from Paramount. Featured are both the famous — Benny, Burns and Allen, Berle, Crosby, Cantor — and the completely obscure comics who deserve to be remembered. Among the latter bunch are a series of teams who do bone-crunching, prat-falling comedy that makes the Stooges look like they were holding back, as well as the forgotten Irish-jittery-hangover comic, Tom Howard, whose short “The African Dodger” has gotta have one of the meanest set-ups in movie comedy history. The “Consumer Guide” thus moves from films where there’s no talk to all, to movies about the guys who made the pictures talk, to pics where the performers (when they’re not just smackin’ the hell out of each other) talk at a machine-gun pace. Nothing like a little film history in the late-evening hours….
675.) Vintage episode: To commemorate the fact that one of our favorite Funhouse filmmakers, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, would’ve been 60 at the end of this month (born May 31, 1945; died June 10, 1982), I’ve prepared a special episode that includes two of our regular departments, plus a discussion of Fassbinder the actor. First up are “Consumer Guide” reviews of two recent DVD releases of Fassbinder films: In a Year with 13 Moons is one of his most difficult and personal projects, a dark, unforgettable account of a transsexual’s final days; Martha is one of his finest films for German television, a wonderfully nasty story of a spinster librarian’s marriage to a gleefully sadistic gent. Based on a story by another Funhouse deity, Cornell Woolrich, the film is a little known Fassbinder work that offers great rewards for those with a black-comic sensibility. We next visit the “Deceased Artiste” department to pay tribute to the great Fassbinder star Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), who died two months ago at the age of 94. My final tribute is to the multi-talented, wildly prolific filmmaker himself. What to do when confronted by a man who made 29 theatrical features, 8 TV movies, 2 mini-series (one of which is one of the most perfect films ever made, Berlin Alexanderplatz), 4 shorts, and a TV variety special (!), in addition to writing 20 plays and at least 3 unproduced screenplays, in a period of just 13 years? Why, salute him as an actor of course! (We’ve only got 28 minutes, folks!) A short survey of RWF’s acting career seems in order, to illustrate what kind of roles this very busy gentleman chose for himself – aside from the Hitchcockian cameos in his own pics – when taking a break from his own productions.
676.) For Halloween this year I present another celebration of low-budget moviemaking, focusing on one present-day horror/fantasy director and a vintage softcore god who just recently has come into the spotlight. The latter is Nick Phillips, whose work belongs on the Funhouse — he worked in the same time period as Meyer, Metzger, Sarno, and the rest, but his tawdry no-budget softcore flicks were uncommonly singular in their ability to time-capsule the late Sixties and early Seventies, and also to express one man’s fascination with the female foot covering, from high heels to boots and back again. We discuss Phillips’ work with his current distributor, Mike Raso, head of the Retro-Seduction label. Next we talk with Brett Piper, a very dedicated journeyman fantasy filmmaker who hit his stride a few years back with Screaming Dead, a tongue-in-cheek babe-in-distress/haunted house flick made for Raso’s “Shock-o-Rama” label. Piper’s latest is also named Shock-o-Rama; it’s a fun anthology picture that ranges from silly to sexy to surreal. We discuss the movie and the very demanding art of stop-motion animation with Brett (a died-in-the-wool Harryhausen fan), who was very candid about his past nightmares with local-area film studios and his satisfaction with his current output for the SOR label.