781.) The Funhouse was constructed on the medium of VHS, and so I’m glad to return to it for trash and treasures the relate to the Sixties, which is (again) “the gift that keeps on giving.” We start off with sequences from two short films made in 1969 starring Diana Rigg, in which she plays a sort of Emma Peel spy-girl being placed into a series of predicaments which she escapes using her wits, charm, and a lethal judo flip. The Avengers they ain’t (for one things, there’s absolutely no dialogue, only music), but she’s as gorgeous (and ass-kicking) as she ever was. Next it’s one of the stranger artyfacts, Savages, a Merchant-Ivory film (yes, a Merchant-Ivory film, featured on the Funhouse) that attempts to channel the spirit of the times with a totally oddball tale of a group of primitive tribesmen and women who search for the “narotic leaf,” but find instead the sartorial and leisure-time pleasures of the upper crust in 1930s Long Island. Funhouse favorite Michael O’Donoghue co-scripted this one, and it could only have come from the cinematic bonanza of strangeness that was the Sixties. We close out with Beyond the Doors, Larry Buchanan’s incredibly strange 1984 conspiracy theory pic, in which it is posited that Jimi, Janis, and Jim were all killed by a CIA plot. The pic features some really awful soundalike music (copyright, the bane of all no-budget cineastes) and some really wonderfully rancid dialogue. Turn on, tune in, drop out, be here now. Just don’t miss it.
782.) A souped-up digitzed version of my 2000 interview episode featuring “Baby Doll” herself, Ms. Carroll Baker. We discuss her career from Giant to (natch) Baby Doll, through her fascinating early Sixties indie Something Wild and her work with Funhouse favorite Marco Ferreri on Harem. We close out with her comments on Ironweed, her finest latter-day performance.
783) We adjourn to the Deceased Artiste department this week to salute three gents who’ve left us in recent weeks. The first is Japanese actor Ken Ogata, best known for his work with Imamura and for playing legendary renaissance man Yukio Mishima in Paul Schrader’s splendid Mishima. Next up I salute Guilluame Depardieu who left us at the rather young age of 37 after having had a tumultuous life in and out of the shadow of his famous father Gerard. I interviewed Guillaume when he was in town promoting Leos Carax’s dense and inscrutable Pola X, so I’m glad to pay tribute to him by re-airing segments from the chat and clips indicating his range as a performer. Finally we hit a mega-star, Paul Newman. Instead of showing the usual sublime clips of Newman’s biggest movies, I show scenes from two of his lesser known works: the terrific Bicentennial flop from Funhouse favorite Robert Altman, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, and the never-ever shown 1955 musical TV version of Our Town in which Newman appeared in the male lead role, playing opposite Eva Marie Saint and “Stage Manager” Frank Sinatra.
784.) This week’s episode is a retooled, digitized version of the show that had my favorite press-junket interview ever. Sitting at a junket one gets the predigested bits of soundbites the guest thinks you want to hear (or need to have, for your “outlet”). Every so often you hit a person who is just themselves for 10 minutes you’re in their presence — such was the case with Alan Rudolph, the underrated writer-director who made a string of terrific character-driven movies in the Eighties and Nineties (plus a few commercial projects). In my short time with him, he first of all said he “belonged” on a show like the Funhouse (he was speaking positively, praising the small cadre of “film geeks” who support his non-box-office-challenging works), discussed his signature visual style, the images and performances he was proudest of in his then-current film Afterglow, and talked about his friendship with his cinematic mentor, Robert Altman. I have updated some of the clips used in the program (those electronic press-kits have some bad-lookin’ items), and am glad to pay tribute to this intensely personal filmmaker who has made at least a half-dozen films I absolutely love.
785.) The holidays mean nostalgia (“the good kind,” as Joe Franklin used to say), and so I’m happy to present a vintage episode, souped up for our new-fangled digital era. The show offers a brief clip from an Ernie Kovacs rarity (see the king of video comedy do his best Gabby Hayes… with a straight face!). But the bulk of the show is devoted to a totally charming Thanksgiving-themed variety show from 1957, The Dinah Shore Chevrolet Show. The episode is pitched as a “couples show,” and so Dinah welcome her cowboy-actor hubby George Montgomery, and two other couples, both eminently talented: Louis Prima and Keely Smith, and Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams. The proceedings range from the nightclub acts of Louis and Keely and Ernie and Edie (yes, Ernie did an odd singing/sound-effect act, which plays like minimalist Spike Jones) to group musical numbers about married life and the joys of doing housework (the ladies tackle that one… this was 1957). The past is a foreign country, but it’s a very pleasant and comfy one. Enjoy!
786.) You have to catch the legends while they’re in town, and so I was very pleased to talk recently with filmmaker Ken Russell, who was in NYC directing his first play, the psycho-thriller Mindgame. I got to spend a good amount of time with him and covered a number of topics. In this first part of our conversation, we discuss his reasons for taking on the play, as well as the female audience reaction to its scenes of torture and menace. From madness on stage we turn to madness on screen, and talk about the terrific biopics that Russell made for the BBC back in the Sixties, and then brought — with an even more vivid imagination and bigger budgets — to movie screens in the Seventies. We close this part of our talk with a mention of the late, great Oliver Reed, who starred in six of Russell’s films.
787.) The Consumer Guide department this week allows me to once again pour over the work of a Funhouse favorite, the singularly obsessed Italian cineaste Marco Ferreri. The occasion is the release of the Koch Lorber box The Marco Ferreri Collection, which contains remastered versions of eight of the manic maestro’s works, as well as a rare Italian video documentary, and… the Funhouse interview with him, now enhanced by accurate Italian subtitles! Hopefully the box will earn Ferreri some new American viewers, as it features not only his most notorious features (La Grande Bouffe, Don’t Touch the White Woman, Tales of Ordinary Madness) but two VHS-only releases (El Cochecito and Seeking Asylum starring a young Roberto Benigni), and two impossible-to-find rarities (the no-budget apocalyptic Adam-and-Eve saga The Seed of Man and the fascinatingly touching yet cruel senior-citizen romance The House of Smiles). If all that weren’t enough, also included is a film I’ve featured time and again, the one and only Bye Bye Monkey. I review the box, and then present the TV premiere of parts of the subtitled Ferreri interview (I’m fascinated and baffled by his mention of the oil crisis’s connection to La Grande Bouffe). This is the first official “archiving” of a Funhouse interview, and I’m proud to be a small cog in a wheel that might make some folks aware of the very singular, very strange, and extremely obsessive Marco Ferreri.
788.) The holidays mean nostalgia, and particularly the black-and-white kind. So I’m pleased to present a digitally souped-up re-air of my 2000 Xmas show, which offers a number of rare movie and TV clips, only one of which happens to be in color. We start out with a series of vintage Christmas-themed clips featuring celebs doing their Yuletide thing (from Abbott and Costello to a young Liza Minnelli in a Red Riding Hood musical scored by Jule Styne). Then we turn to the first part of what became a multi-part Deceased Artiste tribute to one of my biggest comedy gods, Steve Allen. Included are some classic clips from his prime-time Fifties variety show and a guest appearance by Sammy, who gives nothing less than 110%. I can think of no better way to celebrate the holidaze than to look back on great entertainers past, and these folks were indeed titans.
789.) Long before YouTube was conceived of (as a home-video-sharing site, heh), cable-access was the place to find rare music clips (shall we say… “bootlegs”?). This week’s vintage episode from 2002 offers a trio of items that still haven’t shown up on legally released DVDs: Kate Bush’s ’79 Xmas special (plus odd TV appearances); the evening in 1971 when John and Yoko joined Frank Zappa’s second “vaudeville” incarnation of the Mothers; and Iggy Pop’s guest appearance on Dinah! with a backing band that includes Hunt and Tony Sales, and David Bowie on keyboards.
790.) The items reviewed in the Consumer Guide dept. of the Funhouse sometimes have something in common, sometimes they don’t. This week I tackle two releases from the company Shout! Factory that have nothing specific in common, except that when taken together we are able to worship, yet again, the heroes Marx and Lennon. The latter is seen in his last TV interview on the boorish but always compulsively watchable Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow Show; this historic broadcast has been put on DVD by Shout! along with two other solo Beatle chats conducted by chucklin’, smokin’ Tom. Next, we move onto two slightly older releases from the company, items I didn’t want to review or use excerpts from until I’d watched them in their entirety (that’s the way the Funhouse swings). And thus, now that all has been consumed, I can continue our informal survey of 1950s TV comedy by spotlighting the two Shout! collections of You Bet Your Life. Included are episodes that haven’t aired since the early ’50s, vintage commercials, post-YBYL Groucho pilots, and wonderful “stag reels” of material cut from the episodes. Also present are some one-of-a-kind guests including spoken-word god Lord Buckley and TV genius (and Groucho’s cigar pal) Ernie Kovacs.
791.) A new year is upon us and it’s time to celebrate, in hopes that something better lies in store. Thus I am finally celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Funhouse with an episode that is not a “clip-show” of past episodes, but instead works like a birthday program in which I indulge in three objects of obsession. The clips are all new to the show and are wonderful (I can say that because I didn’t make ’em). First up is yet another tribute to Serge Gainsbourg, featuring melodious moments from the film that united him for the first time, and quite a long time, with Jane Birkin, Slogan (capsule review: it’s a better soundtrack than a film). Next we turn to the indefatigable Mr. Sammy Davis Jr., with snippets from YouTube offerings of some of his rarer TV appearances. And closing out the program is my mini-mix of lesser-known Monkees tunes as they were presented on the TV series (but rechanneled for stereo by some overly generous bootlegger).
792.) The era of the literary celebrity is long past, and certainly the recent death of the oldest enfant terrible in the biz, Norman Mailer, helped to seal it off for good. Mailer was a titan of American letters, and also mass-media provocation. An eloquent, thoughtful, positively brilliant guy, he could also be a cantankerous, angry, pompous wild man. One word that always was appropriate was “unpredictable,” and so I offer up an episode (part one of two) devoted to the many sides of the Norm. I start off with some reflections on Mailer’s media personality, and an “inspirational reading” from his book of poetry (yes, he wrote poetry). We then move on to clips of Mailer the provocateur in the public arena, protesting the Vietnam war, debating feminists at NYC’s Town Hall, and showing up unexpectedly in arthouse films. The feature pic of the evening, of course, has to be his masterfully bizarro noir comedy/melodrama creation, Tough Guys Don’t Dance. You will find out how Isabella Rossellini could “dig Big Stupe”….
793.) The first of two Funhouse tributes to things found on the shelves of the now-defunct St. Mark’s rental emporium Mondo Kim’s. In this show, I pay tribute to the work of a small but very talented ripple in the French New Wave, Monsieur Luc Moullet. Moullet is a well-respected critic and film teacher who has made a sizeable number of shorts and relatively few features in his four-plus decades of filmmaking (six are available on these shores on DVD). His first feature is a perfect Nouvelle Vague paean to Paris called Brigitte et Brigitte which contains a scene in which you will learn who the three best (and worst) American directors are, according to Moullet’s mock-cinephiles. He moved from the b&w Sixties into the radical Seventies with a very strange Western comedy called A Girl is a Gun starring Funhouse favorite Jean-Pierre Leaud, and a terrific low-key mediation on feminism and the average schlemiel called Anatomy of a Relationship. The last Moullet film to get a DVD release is his 1993 telefilm Up and Down, based on an idea by Alfred Jarry, depicting a bike race that seemingly has an infinite number of contestants, plus no clear beginning or ending.
794.) As a last goodbye to a NYC institution, the “alternative” video-rental store Mondo Kim’s, I present a potpourri of things found on the store’s shelves. First up are brief bits from a punk documentary from Japan (shot here in our very own backyard, 1978-80) and a documentary on the brilliant, funny, and wonderfully strange Mr. George Kuchar. Next we move to a forgotten Hollywood adaptation of a Broadway show, New Faces. The 1954 film is a record (with awful wraparound) of the New Faces of 1952 stageshow, including the breakthrough roles of a bunch of famous performers from theater and TV, among them the recently-gone Eartha Kitt, Carol Lawrence, Robert Clary, and the comedy troika of Ronny Graham, Alice Ghostley, and Paul Lynde (for the record, the last-mentioned displays the vocal inflections he shared with Ms. Ghostley for the next three decades). My final offering is the closed-circuit television recording of the Broadway and off-Broadway hit Oh! Calcutta! the best-known fusion of avant-garde theater, old-fashioned burlesque raunch, and just plain trippy nudity. The show featured contributions from Beckett, Lennon, and Feiffer, among others, and is a wonderful relic of its era, the kind we love to feature on the show.
795.) Fifties television is always a welcome respite from the noisy, brainless fare that constitutes network TV, and so this week I review the DVD release of the second year of the wonderfully laidback sitcom Mr. Peepers. Wally Cox is a Funhouse favorite, and so I’m glad to further explore the adventures of his junior-high science teacher, in a program that truly does classify as a charming “show about nothing.” In this batch of episodes, studly friend Tony Randall is married off, so his “racy” dialogue is neutered, but he continues to have a wonderful rapport with Cox, and Marion Lorne fine tunes her sputter-and-double-takes as the school’s flakiest veteran teacher. I discuss the show’s low-key courtship plotline, as well as Cox’s facility as a comic and the program’s look backward to a “lost” period represented by small town schoolrooms and player pianos. Also, the early appearances by familiar character actors.
796.) Vintage episode: One extremely gratifying thing about doing the Funhouse for so many years is that some of the films I’ve spoken about in hallowed tones eventually show up on the “mail order” circuit. Such is the case with the feature presentation in this week’s second and final part of my Deceased Artiste tribute to literary wildman Norman Mailer, Maidstone (1971). We start out first, though, with brief clips from Norman’s first foray into experimental cinema, Wild 90 (1967), a film that attempts to marry Shirley Clarke’s The Connection, Warhol’s cramped-quarters ad-lib experiments, and Norman’s perception of the everyday New York gangster (which is somewhere to the cartoony left of Damon Runyon’s masterful creations, minus the wit and innovative slanguage). You will see a drunk Norman bark at a dog (and make it rear back slightly), exchange bon mots with his equally furtive actor pals, and generally just play the boiled ham. Then we move onto the Man’s ultimate statement about the traumatic events of 1968, Maidstone. Conceived as part party-game and part experimental film, it is a collection of excesses and moments of sheer crazed genius, punctuated by long stretches of, well… not much of anything. I have sliced away the last-mentioned and provide viewers with a few of the key sequences, including a blissful “seduction scene” featuring Norman, and the immortal moment where Rip Torn attacked him with a hammer for narrative purposes and ended up having part of his ear bitten off. The fight itself is up on YouTube, but the helpful posters have never provided the really long and heated post-fight discussion the men proceeded to have about assaination, filmmaking, and which one of them is the “champ of shit.” You can’t possibly manufacture stuff like this, it is pure Sixties.
797.) My take on the Deceased Artistes I pay tribute to on the show is that we salute them when they pass, but I’m forever interested in their work. This time out, it’s three individuals who took a powder at the very end of last year. First up, I salute Eartha Kitt with her sexy performances from the stilted but invaluable musical New Faces (1954). Then it’s on to an auteur who was known as a specialist in “Southern children” pictures and portraits of moon-eyed horny teenagers, Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Summer of ’42). My favorite film by Mulligan, featured here, is the underrated, low-key neo-noir The Nickel Ride (1975) starring Jason Miller. From Mulligan’s doomed noir hero, we move on to the man whose plays were landmarks in English (and world) theater, the master of modern mis-communication and strategically-placed silence, Harold Pinter. Despite his stylization, Pinter’s confrontations are as raw – although not as verbally violent – as those of his successor, David Mamet. The Deceased Artiste department of the Funhouse is one of the few places these folks could meet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
799.) Part two of my career-spanning interview with director Ken Russell centers in on the period in which he achieved his first international renown, right before his biggest box-office hit, Tommy. Russell’s reputation as an over-the-top filmmaker ignores his three lower-key (but still feverishly intense) adaptations of the work of D.H. Lawrence, a writer he considers quintessentially English. The other focus of this episode is Russell’s absolute masterpiece about religious, political, and sexual hypocrisy, The Devils (1971), which to this day has remained heavily censored in prints available in America, as well as never having had a DVD release of any kind. Mr. Russell closes out with a childhood memory of what Fritz Lang’s pictures meant to him during wartime.
800.) This time out, the theme in the Deceased Artiste department is “low trash,” and the honorees are nearly all female. After a roll-call of the dead folk who deserve recognition (but I have neither the time nor any entertainingly rare footage), it’s on to a celebration of dames like Audrey Campbell — the actress who played white-slave wrangler “Olga” in a series of ineffably sleazy b&w “roughies” in the ’60s– and the terrific June Ormond, who helped her husband Ron create a series of indisputably deranged Nashville-shot drive-in pics around the same time. We saluted Polanski’s scripter Gerard Brach last week, and it is now time to discuss a polar opposite, the wonderfully imaginative, Judy J. Kushner. Ms. Kushner was Doris Wishman’s niece, and is the one responsible for writing the scripts (such as they are) to Wishman’s most extreme pics, including the otherworldly Double Agent 73. She also wrote the dreamy theme songs to Wishman’s early nudist-camp outings (the sample heard here is warbled by Ralph Sandler of Sandler & Young fame). Providing the perfect counterpoint to last week’s small tribute to the inimitable Sven Nykvist, I salute Gary Graver, who straddled the worlds of art and trash rather miraculously in the 1970s. Graver’s career as a cinematographer encompassed several gigs for Orson Welles (including the last completed masterwork F for Fake) and John Cassavetes, which he alternated with his real bread and butter, shooting the films of Al Adamson and David Friedman. Add to this Graver’s later work as a porn director (directing Traci Lords and lensing such items as The Joy Fuck Club), very many jobs for Fred Olen Ray and his host of pseudonyms, and his work helping Oja Kodar to restore and do road-shows of Welles’ uncompleted works. We close out with a death that shook the Funhouse to its very foundations: the unheralded departure of the “Lady Streetfighter” herself, Renee Harmon. The joys of Ms. Harmon’s deliriously weird work has been sung many times on the Funhouse in the past 13 years (I would love to get her the cult appreciation she deserves), and I couldn’t resist making her the focus of this very reverent salute to folks who diligently worked in what could diplomatically be called the “underbelly” of the film industry.
801.) In the years I’ve been doing the show, there have been films that have had their American TV debut on the Funhouse. Some of these films have been excellent… and one was made by Anthony Newley. This vintage episode, retooled for the digital era, stars out with scenes from a 1971 oddity that has never shown up on VHS or DVD. B.S. I Love You, shot in lovely NYC, stars actor Peter Kastner, who was the schlemiel actor of choice between Robert Morse and Dustin Hoffman. After we do a little salute to that forgotten pic and Mr. Kastner (now a Deceased Artiste), we turn to the main atrocity, er… attraction of the night, Anthony Newley’s amazing ego-trip remake of/homage to/ripoff begotten by Fellini’s 8 1/2. The film’s title, Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969) pretty much sums up the plotline, but you’ll never believe the tripped-out weirdness that Tony N. presented us with in this film, which also has never seen the light of VHS or DVD. Newley stars as a daydream/nightmare vision of himself — the ultimate song-and-dance man, a man highly desired by women, and the kind of a guy who would tell his life story (in excruciatingly egomanical) style to his two kids and mother on an empty beach, while a film crew (run by, who else… Anthony Newley!) makes a modernist musical sex-comedy out of it. Newley’s wife Joan Collins (who pretty much made on the argument on a British profile of her that the film was the goodbye kiss for their relationship) performs a musical number with Tony, while Milton Berle (as the Devil) and Georgie Jessel (as Death) contribute the “laughs.”
802.) British comedy can be broken down into two historical classifications, BG and AG, Before the Goons and after ’em. For those who haven’t experienced the brilliant, densely comic Goon Shows, the best way to experience them is to listen to the original radio shows with nothing else going on (the jokes came fast and furious, and sometimes took a few secs to register). As a televisual supplement, may I suggest this week’s episode, where I present the never-seen-in-the-U.S. Last Goon Show of All broadcast from 1972. The show was the televised version of the last reunion of the trio, which was requested by the BBC for its 50th anniversary. As had been the tradition when the show burned up the airwaves – and burned itself into the brains of several hundred young folk from the U.K. who became the comedians and rockers whose work we all committed to memory in the Sixties and Seventies — the show was written by the most active Goon, the late, irreplaceable Spike Milligan. Helping the Milligan perform this bizarrely circuitous outing (in which the Queen doesn’t show up to start their program) were his old cohorts Harry Secombe (as the show’s protagonist, the imperturbable Neddie Seagoon) and a guy who knew his way around a few hundred voices, the inimitable Peter Sellers. The show makes absolutely no sense, and the original raft of Goon Show fans (which included the Beatles, the Pythons, Peter Cook, and too many comics and rockers to count) would have had it no other way.
803.) The Consumer Guide department this week features three recent DVD releases starring two hugely talented actors. The first review is of Blood and Bones, a Japanese memoir of a Korean-Japanese author’s stormy family life. The film focuses on his extremely cruel dad, played by the one and only “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who makes the father character into perhaps the single meanest and most violent dad I’ve seen on film in many a year. Next up is Gerard Depardieu costarring with Catherine Deneuve in Truffaut’s The Last Metro, released by Criterion with loads of wonderful extras. I discuss the film’s “prestige” veneer and its stressing of the ensemble over the individual player, as well as the terrific TV supplements and a short collaboration by Truffaut and Godard (their only film as co-directors). Last I turn to arguably Depardieu’s finest role, the lead in Andrzej Wajda’s Danton. The film is a beautifully acted, skillfully crafted recreation of the struggle between Danton and Robespierre, and features a superb performance by le grande Gerard.
804.) In these tough times, I can only think of one thing that will boost spirits, straighten spines, and win the war for the Allies: another Funhouse Easter program. This year I offer three Paschal feast, the first being a few scenes (short, mercifully) from the Kirk Cameron inspirational box office hit Fireproof about a marriage saved by true love and being born again. From that “chick flick with the crucifix,” I need to return to familiar ground, and so I offer up some samples of the music-video genius that is one Carman. Carman’s music videos are so visually splashy and his songs so goddamned hook-driven that I could only follow up with another visit to the well of weirdness that is the Donut Repair Club. Because life without god’s love is indeed, truly, like a donut….
805.) Silents are most certainly golden in the Funhouse, as I prove in the latest Consumer Guide episode, where the whole show is devoted to releases from the Kino DVD label. First up is Sally of the Sawdust, the Griffith film that gave most moviegoers their first encounter with the comic genius of W.C. Fields, albeit in a melodramatic, “straighter” context. Next we turn to the new Murnau box set, which includes a number of improved restorations of the master’s classics and two titles that have never been out on DVD before. Murnau was certainly the German Griffith, cultivating the language of cinema while also jumpstarting the horror genre and creating imagery that still is every bit as kinetic eight decades later. The last review is of a Seijun Suzuki crime drama, with one of the finest titles ever given to any film, namely Go to Hell, Bastards! Suzuki’s color-coded crooks and bad girls are as hip as they come, and his influence on filmmakers from Woo to Jarmusch is undeniable. And did I mention that I love the film’s title?
806.) Back in the earliest years of the Funhouse, I presented some really jarring bits of exploitation cinema. In amongst those was the premier, and only completed, work of a man who could be classified as the “Italian-American Dolemite,” the inimitable Duke Mitchell. Duke’s Massacre Mafia Style, better known as The Executioner on home video, is a magnum opus of a whole different sort: a mobster movie that was seemingly intended by Duke to “correct” the mistaken image given to the Mafia in The Godfather. Duke’s vision of the mob comes straight out of his background as the Dean Martin “impersonator” half of the Mitchell & Petrillo duo that appropriated Martin & Lewis’s shtick in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Duke is heard singing on the soundtrack of his film, and he added in two goombah ditties that will not leave your head for some years to come. He also offers up two dramatic monologues, one delivered to his old Mama, that are without the question’s thespic high points. In between you have mob rubouts, dancing at a wedding, and the nasty disposal of a black pimp character known simply as “Super Spook.” To supplement this visit of the Lounge Mafia, I also included in the episode two musical snippets, one of Wayne Newton during a particularly scary phase and another of the always-hep Buddy Greco shilling in a TV ad.
807.) Serge Gainsbourg is certainly in the front rank of Funhouse favorites, and in this vintage episode I explored the earlier Gainsbourg: the jazz vocalist, peerless tunesmith, awkward stage performer and, finally, unlikely pop star. The clips hail from 1958-67 and are all in the blessed state of b&w. For those who’ve watched my ongoing chronicle of Serge’s active 30-year musical career, this show features clips not shown on other episodes, and a basic overview of his early work. Call it Gainsbourg 101.
808.) The discovery of a so-bad-it’s-good cult movie is rare indeed these days, so I thought I should dedicate an entire episode to the latest midnight-movie sensation on the West Coast, The Room. The brainchild of independent producer-director-writer-actor Tommy Wiseau, he of the name that sounds as if it was made-up in French class (oiseau=bird), the film is part torrid theatrical-style drama, part soap opera, part sitcom, part “Skinemax” softcore pic, and all odd pacing and repetitive dialogue. I discuss the high points of the pic, its cult following, and the fact that it’s either the product of a very shrewd comic mind, or is indeed just an imminently watchable piece of wonderfully miscalculated drama. I include a big chunk of Wiseau’s explanatory interview from the DVD so that viewers can make up their own minds about whether he’s sincere in his dramatic intentions (I think he is) or just a very wise bird indeed.
809.) Part one of the epochal Funhouse episodes in which I discussed the Ghoulardi phenomenon with Psychotronic zine innovator Michael Weldon. In the first show we talk about Ernie Anderson’s horror host alter-ego, a hip, sarcastic dude in a fake goatee who transfixed young and old alike in Cleveland for three years during the early Sixties. As Michael explains, the power of the program wasn’t just the character’s irreverent attitude or odd sartorial approach — it was also the cheesy Fifties horror pics he presented and the amazingly cool rock music played under his host segments. The two shows with Michael afforded me three fun opportunities: doing the host segments in tandem; editing the ultra-cool vintage local TV clips into the whole; and then encountering over the subsequent weeks (and years) transplanted Clevelanders who now live in NYC but never shed their memories of the man who told them to “Stay sick, turn blue!” when they were innocent youngsters.
810.) The Consumer Guide department merges with my favorite “rare footage” feature, as I feature two “mail order” items you ain’t seein’ anyplace else on TV. First up is a collection of European shorts that includes the work of Lars Von Trier, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Jan Svankmajer, and a certain Uncle Jean, among others. Then we turn from the European auteurs to an American filmmaker quite beloved in “on the continent,” back when he was a gag-meister. Some rare b&w Woody Allen on TV, from a British special which consisted of nothing but Woody doing his stand-up — with an Irish lounge-singer guy as his guest (but I’m not showing the lounge singer).
811.) “Family secrets” is the unofficial theme of this week’s Consumer Guide episode, as I open and close the show with two films that serve as interesting mirror images of each other. The first review is of Amos Gitai’s latest release, One Day You’ll Understand. The film concerns an aged woman who deftly avoids telling her adult son about her Jewish parents’ troubles in WWII. It features impressively smooth camerawork and a terrific cast, headlined by the one and only Jeanne Moreau. The main segment of the evening explores an upcoming retrospective at the Anthology Film Archives of the work of German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim. A talented documentarian who is best known for the act-of-provocation works he made in the Seventies that helped to jumpstart the gay rights movement in Germany, von Praunheim (an awesome nom du cinema) has an impressive filmography that includes time-capsule docus about topics including the AIDS crisis in the Eighties, various wonderful cabaret performers, and aspects of his own private life. In that vein emerged Two Mothers, his 2007 documentary about his mother’s very latter-day revelation to him (made when she was 94!) that he was adopted during WWII. His search to find out details about his birth mother and other newfound relatives makes for an interesting journey into the nature of identity and the parents we perhaps imagine we had — and the ones we actually do.
812.) Some filmmakers just can’t be replaced. Their works are just so unusual that terms have to be created to describe them. In the case of Deceased Artiste Ray Dennis Steckler, who left this mortal coil a few months ago (but we still love him, and have no need for time limits on obit-tributes), the phrase used to describe his movies — and that of several dozen other bizarre exploitation/genre moviemakers — was taken from the name of his best known-work. Thus, we salute this week the “incredibly strange” movies of RDS with commentary by yours truly and a slew of clips including scenes from his famous pictures, Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies, as well as his other gonzo action/horror/comedy/musical features and his more prodigious output, namely soft and hardcore porn. Although we’re using only “hard R” segments, I hope to convey Ray’s strange way with post-dubbing his porn: anytime you hear a male narrator, it’s most likely Ray himself — and if you hear some guy just making odd noises and sounds, affecting a silly voice, or just repeating a phrase over and over, that’s Ray too. The man was one of a freakin’ kind. Plus: two additional Deceased Artistes, whose own beloved brands of “incredibly strange” talent make them perfect complements to Steckler.
813.) There can be no better way to celebrate gay pride month than with an interview with Rosa von Praunheim, the German filmmaker and provocateur who has made no secret of his queer identity from the start of his career — and in fact has fashioned some very memorable movie titles from it. In part one of our chat, done in conjunction with a recent festival of his works at the Anthology Film Archive, we start off with a discussion of his notorious filmic manifesto/polemic/slap-in-the-face It’s Not the Homosexual Who is Perverse, but the Situation in Which He Lives. From there, we move on to his influences, his use of camp humor and visuals, and the very timely subject of gay marriage (he’s not a proponent, and he explains why). We also explore his love for San Francisco and New York City (where he’s shot several terrific documentaries), and his terrific films on the AIDS crisis, which ranged from extremely funny (A Virus Knows No Morals, made back in 1985) to outraged, informed, and aesthetically challenging (Silence=Death).
814.) Part two of my well-loved tribute to Ghoulardi and the horror hosts of Cleveland finds cohost Michael Weldon, of Psychotronic Video and www.psychotronic.com, offering us insights into the weird situation that developed when Ernie Anderson left Cleveland in the mid-Sixties, and his “Ghoulardi” show spawned not one but three successors that all ran simultaneously for decades! Michael and I also explore the way in which non-Clevelanders encountered Anderson’s deep resonant tones in the Seventies and Eighties — doing movie trailers, and as the ever-present voice of ABC (“Saturday, on the Loooove Boat…”). You’ll also get a look at the last time Ernie played the Ghoulardi character (on Joe-Bob’s TMC show) and more vintage Sixties weirdness from the hepcat with the weird beard.
815.) Part two of my interview with German filmmaker and provocateur Rosa von Praunheim picks up where we left off in part one with a discussion of his 1990s campaign of “outing” closeted gay celebrities in Germany. We next discuss the importance of older actresses in his films, in particular the late Lotti Huber. We then turn to a subject of fascination in the Funhouse, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Von Praunheim’s German TV docu Fassbinder’s Women (2000) offers the gossipy side of the Fassbinder mythos, with his actresses and crew members talking about his manipulation of those around him. Rosa candidly holds forth on Fassbinder and other notables in the New German Cinema, and his dealings with Funhouse guest and Fassbinder Foundation head Juliane Lorenz (we on the show like to offer everybody’s perspective — as long as it’s understood we still love all their movies!). We close out with a discussion of Rosa’s absorbing documentary Two Mothers (2007), as well as one of his latest projects and his opinions on file-sharing and the availability on YouTube of one of his documentary features.
816.) While thinking about doing a Funhouse tribute to Michael Jackson I realized I didn’t have the interest, or the rare materials, to make up a full episode (unless I tortured you folks with the “E.T” recitation LP I’ve got where MJ tells the full story of the gangly-limbed interstellar heart-melter — but would be too cruel). So instead, of course, my thoughts turn to Nelson de la Rosa, who executed a deft and unforgettable tribute to Michael with his own zombie “Thriller dance.” I think I featured that dance more than once on the program, but it was most memorably encased within the tribute show I did for Sensacionalisimo, the Venezuelan syndicated package from the earlier variety series Suepr Sabado Sensacional (which also featured a full appearance by LaToya Jackson — but I’m not that cruel either). Sensacionalisimo was a full-out variety show that featured everything from tacky dance acts to female oil wrestling to crazy animal acts, plus “name” Latin performers and the occasional Anglo who needed a career boost — like Pandora Peaks who wound up starring in the last (rather unfortunate) Russ Meyer movie. Included in the parade of oddities are a bewigged hypnotist (who works better with animals than humans), children performers in peril, and, yes, the one and only “el hombre mas pequeno del mundo,” the 26-inch wonder, Senor Nelson de la Rosa!
817.) A thoroughly enjoyable Deceased Artiste tribute to a B-movie hero from the year 2000 gets a re-air this week. The subject in question is Joseph H. Lewis, a noir master who made terrific, visually striking “B” pictures. Lewis’ career began with Westerns and Dead End Kid pics, so we start with his first suspense classic My Name is Julia Ross (1945). The film is a taut thriller that finds an amnesiac being convinced she’s the wife of a crazed mama’s boy (the unforgettable George Macready). The following year Lewis directed So Dark the Night (1946), a mystery featuring a French detective that has a climax so innovative it was coincidentally (or was it coincidental?) used at the end of Agatha Christie’s final Poirot novel. We then move onto Lewis’s perfect “couple on the run” picture Gun Crazy (1949), which is about as good a frenzied noir as you’ll ever see. From there, it’s on to The Big Combo (1955) with the greatest Mob actor of all, Richard Conte, and Lewis’s last feature, the dreamlike Western Terror in a Texas Town (1958) with the always edgy Sterling Hayden. The episode was a visual supplement to an article I wrote about Lewis which can be found here: http://www.mediafunhouse.com/pages/lewis.html. Mr. Lewis’s daughter wrote me to tell me she liked the article (she later saw the episode too), and I can truly say I can ask for no better feedback than that.
818.) Vintage, digitized ep: Jack Hill is one of the most truly *calm* filmmakers I’ve ever met — a surprise, considering that his films range from violent women’s prison pics and Pam Grier vehicles to the sick humor of the timeless cult movie Spider Baby. In our chat, conducted in 1996, Hill talks about his status as a “grunge auteur” beloved by movie buffs around the world. We talk about the amazing Spider Baby and star Lon Chaney Jr.’s sad alcoholic condition at the time the film was shot. Also, Mr. Hill’s involvement with the final quartet of Boris Karloff movies, shot for Mexican producers in L.A. We then turn to his great discovery, “Foxy Brown” herself, Pam Grier, who Hill directed in four features (the four features that essentially made her reputation). Lastly, we discuss Switchblade Sisters, an odd girl-gang movie that’s part “alternate future” fantasy, part comedy, part ass-kicking feminist parable (concocted by a male imagination). At the time the interview was done Mr. Hill was repping the film for its re-release from Quentin Tarantino’s short-lived Rolling Thunder Pictures.
819.) In conjunction with a current retrospective at the Film Forum in Manhattan, this week’s consumer guide episode is a tribute to the work of Nicholas Ray, the American filmmaker who was first touted heavily by the French, but is now universally recognized as having made some of the best movies of the Fifties. I explore Ray’s decade of compelling moviemaking, starting with his terrific b&w features, which include the gently romantic noir They Live By Night (1949); perhaps Bogart’s finest performance, In a Lonely Place (1950); and the excellent Robert Mitchum rodeo picture The Lusty Men (1952). We then move on to the Technicolor and widescreen era, when Ray had his biggest hit (Rebel Without a Cause), fashioned the most baroque Western of all time (Johnny Guitar), and made the most caustic view of the middle-American family (Bigger Than Life). The final segment is comprised of Ray’s further dazzling widescreen work, which includes the brilliant dissection of bravery and cowardice in wartime, Bitter Victory (1957).
820.) It’s back to the Consumer Guide Department this week, to talk about the first-ever legal release in the U.S. on a home-entertainment format of the last three films from Godard’s “golden fifteen” (’59-’68). First up is Une Femme Mariee (A Married Woman), which contains, as ever with Uncle Jean, gorgeous compositions, intricate editing, and poetic reflections on pop culture – in the case of this film, cinema, music, and the brassiere ads of the moment (1964) in which the film came out. Next is Made in U.S.A., a heavily but circuitously plotted “thriller” which served as both his farewell to approximations of genre cinema and to his ex-wife Anna Karina. The film is a widescreen, super-colored web of references to auteurist favorites, French literature, and the ’66 political situation that was filmed back-to-back (or concurrently, depending on which book you read) with the third-reviewed film of the evening, the masterwork Two or Three Things I Know About Her. Both of the films have come out from Criterion, so I am pleased to discuss the rare supplements included in the packages as well as the films themselves. Uncle Jean is * always * welcome in the Funhouse.
821.) As part of my ongoing program to present stuff you ain’t seein’ anyplace else, I offer scenes from three foreign features this week that I can guarantee haven’t played on American cable in recent memory. The first comes from north of the border, the groundbreaking Canadian indie Goin’ Down the Road. Best known to Americans through an incisive and affectionate parody by SCTV (“Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice”), the film is actually a fusion of documentary filmmaking and class-conscious fiction film, of the sort made in England by the likes of Ken Loach and, later, Mike Leigh. We move from Canada to France for Bertrand Blier’s Les Acteurs (Actors), which has been completely unseen in this country. Blier’s absurdist tribute to the notion of the aging character actor features a terrific gallery of familiar French faces, including some superstars who clearly enjoyed the film’s messages (among them, how big a part do you have in the drama of your own life – and how many lines did you get?). Last up is the first Brazilian film to be featured on the Funhouse (my lapse), but if you have to start paying tribute to Brazilian cinema, Antonio Das Mortes by the late, great Glauber Rocha ain’t a bad place to start. The film is a mind-warping revisionist Western, overlaid with characters and events from Brazilian history and mythology. I only have time to present a few minutes of each of these gems, but I’m glad to shine a spotlight on ’em in the Funhouse.
822.) This week we revisit my very friendly and informal chat with low-budget erotic movie master Joe Sarno, whom I spoke to back in 1997. Sarno made literally dozens of stylishly shot, surprisingly well-written low- to no-budget softcore pictures in the Sixties and early Seventies. We start out with a discussion of how Sarno got into the movie business and turned to erotica with grim but absorbing b&w “swinging” erotic melodramas like Sin in the Suburbs (1964). The next big change in his career happened when he took a commission to do a film in Sweden and made Inga (1968), a profitable pic that typified his quiet, emotional brand of sex film. We move on to his best-known cult movie (still unavailable to this day in a decent copy in the U.S.), Young Playthings (1972), a fascinating film about people who ritualize and literally “stage” their sexplay. We close off with a discussion of Sarno’s own faves amongst his works, but not before bringing up the notorious flop Deep Throat Part II (1974), a completely softcore sequel to the most famous hardcore film of all time.
823.) One of the most free-wheeling interviews I’ve done on the show took place in the dressing room of the Bottom Line in 1997, when “the Uncle Floyd Show” had finished for the evening. The show’s star, Floyd Vivino, supplied most of the information about the TV program that had shared that title, and was a cult sensation in the NY tri-state area in the late Seventies and early Eighties (loved by, among others, the Ramones, David Bowie, and John Lennon). Keeping the interview moving, Floyd provided some anecdotes and shtick, while the show’s other cast members — “Artie Delmar,” Michael Townsend Wright, and the late, much-missed “Mugsy” — chimed in with their own reflections on working with Floyd and playing the Bottom Line, a nightclub/cabaret space that has never been replaced in NYC.
824.) The DVDs reviewed this week in the Consumer Guide department relate to topics I’ve been covering on the show since the beginning. First up, it’s silent pictures with Gaumont Treasures 1897-1913, which highlights the films of three Gaumont innovators (including the daddy of “Irma Vep,” Louis Feuillade) who made dozens of knockabout comedies, melodramas, cliffhanging thrillers, and “aesthetic” films in the early years of the last century. We then flash forward to Fifties television with the filmed drama What Makes Sammy Run? written by the late Budd Schulberg (seen on the disc in what is most likely his final interview). From there it’s back to France for Chabrol’s Madame Bovary, packaged on DVD with an exclusive glimpse at the life of the film’s star, Isabelle Huppert. And finally, we stop off in England for Roman Polanski’s disturbing “apartment paranoia” thriller, Repulsion, now available with fascinating extras on DVD.
825.) What time is it, kids? It’s Labor Day, so it must be Jerry Lewis on the Funhouse for the 15th year in a row…. This time out, I provide Jerry-news “updates” (pretty quick, that), and then it’s on to the clips and frivolity. First up, a selection of French critics’ praise and pans for Jerry’s work (already previewed on the Funhouse blog), and a scene from Jer’s attempt to break into “mature” film comedy, the swinging bachelor pic Boeing Boeing (1962). After that we take a side trip to one of the truly great unknown Jerry movies, Frank Tashlin’s low-key b&w vehicle It’s Only Money (1962). Then it’s time for some recent telethon clips, as I review the 2008 show while we get prepped to watch 2009’s shindig — and wait to see some wonderment from Jerry in Vegas and, most especially, Tony Orlando in NYC.
826.) To mark the passing of the man, I re-present this week my 1996 interview with the one and only Sammy Petrillo. We started out, naturally enough, with Sammy’s one shot at the big time, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, where he and his then-partner Duke Mitchell essentially played Martin and Lewis in a B-budget comedy directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine. After Sammy imparts his memories of monster movie legend Lugosi, we talk about Sammy’s later career, which included a comedy LP called My Son the Phone Caller wherein Sammy took a leaf from Steve Allen’s “funny phone calls” and pitched strange questions at local NYC merchants. Sammy did return to the big screen a few times, in softcore and “nudie” pics, the first of which was Shangri-La (1961). That shoot was a breeze compared to the odd creation that was Doris Wishman’s Keyholes are for Peeping (1972), a sex comedy grafted around a collection of “experimental” adult footage. To close out, we discuss Sammy’s unfinished “Fartman” project (yes, he was the first with that comic conceit) “Gas is Best,” and his mission at the end of the 1990s: to pursue legal studies (no fooling!).
827.) This week I speak to French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch, on the occasion of the NYC opening of his film Paris. Klapisch has specialized in the last few years in Altman-esque ensemble pieces, but he has also made a wonderful “small” character piece (When the Cat’s Away), an equally Altman-esque filmed play (Un Air de Famille), and even a sci-fi feature (Peut-etre, unreleased in the U.S.). I speak to M. Klapisch about his screenwriting, his work with noted actors (Juliette Binoche in Paris, Audrey Tautou in L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls), and the excellent work he’s done in conveying the environments his characters live in. His films are closer to Truffaut than Godard, with their chief joys being lyrical moments in which the characters “indulge” (parties, dreams, fantasies, drugs, booze) and we get a sense of the cities they inhabit, from Paris to St. Petersburg.
828.) It’s been about seven months now since it happened, but my interest in film buff topics never diminishes, and so this week’s show is a visual counterpart to my blog entry about the “death” of the arthouse distributor New Yorker Films (located here: http://mediafunhouse.blogspot.com/2009/02/new-yorker-films-unspools-its-last.html). I offer some background and commentary at the outset, but then we plunge headfirst into two lengthier, masterful French films that New Yorker represented, did release on VHS, but buried when DVD became the medium of choice. The first is The Mother and the Whore, Jean Eustache’s 1973 portrait of a verbose young man and his two lovers, as incarnated by two terrific actresses and the wonderfully energetic Jean-Pierre Leaud. Eustache’s epic-lengthed b&w talkfest is a supreme achievement that sums up the malaise of the early Seventies like few other French features. I decided to pair Eustache’s film with one of the best-known works by one of his mentors, the wildly underrated Jacques Rivette. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) was indeed his “greatest hit” on these shores, but it hasn’t been seen much in the last few decades thanks to the fact that it is indeed a longer film that viewers “sink into,” and the fact that it had a high-priced VHS release and never showed up subsequently on disc. New Yorker was indeed a valuable and extremely important link in the chain of film fandom as a theatrical distributor in the Sixties and Seventies, but as a video label it was not exactly a buff’s best friend….
829.) On the occasion of what would have been her 60th birthday in 1998, I paid tribute to Jean Seberg’s very uneven screen career and her very tragic personal life. Included are scenes from rare European co-productions she starred in— a full half-dozen, including the nightmarishly over-the-top Kill, written directed by her husband, novelist Romain Gary. Bad psychedelia, would-be New Wave editing, James Mason as a Gary surrogate, an astoundingly hammy perf by Stephen Boyd, and godawful scripting (plus idiotic gunplay) make this one of poor Jean’s worst pictures, but well, well (!) worth watching (in an abbreviated form).
830.) A bit of a different Funhouse episode this week, as movies, classic TV, and indelible pop music aren’t even mentioned (gasp), but I am happy to be interviewing a comedian’s comedian, a stand-up who has been toiling at his trade for over 35 years now and is currently developing a one-man show that weaves together all the threads of his work to date, from obsessive television-viewing to quantum physics. My guest is Chris Rush, whose name may not be a household word, but who was hailed as a uniquely funny individual by George Carlin and Jay Leno, and has kept at it since the Nixon era, honing his comic radar and perfecting his wonderfully fast, absurdist, and very, very New York view of the universe. The topics I cover with Chris range indeed from the primacy of laughter, the National Lampoon, Lenny Bruce, and the history of the dreaded Catholic Church, to what he calls quantum “oh wow” physics and how reality is really, really non-local.
831.) Vintage ep: Some films dwarf (ouch) others in their sheer insane genius. Such a work is Oliver Stone’s debut feature Seizure (1974), a masterwork of crazed nuttiness. The film features Barnabas Collins himself, Jonathan Frid, as a horror novelist who has a weekend get-together with his rather snobby friends which is broken up by creatures of his imagination — an id, an ego, and a super-ego, if you will. They are, in fact, a black giant, the sultry Ms. Martine Beswicke (beloved by exploitation fans everywhere), and the immortal, one and only Mr. Hervé Villechaize. The film is a hand-held, wide-angle-lens wonder that keeps up the tension by staying unrelentingly weird and so intensely earnest that it does wander into camp territory quite often. It’s a psychodrama, a nightmare, a horror flick, and a reminder that, yes indeed, drugs did make the Seventies a wonderful time for inventive creativity and cinematic strangeness.
832.) To honor the passing of a guy who described himself in the Eighties as “just a fat man, passin’ through…”: At the intersection of stand-up comedy, performance art, and sheer insanity exists the professional wrestling phenomenon known as “mic work.” These days it is nearly a lost art — with the exception of the occasional outburst from an old pro like Ric Flair or a modern master of hardcore lunacy like Mick Foley — but in the golden days of the 1960s-80s, giants ruled the arenas, and ranted like nobody’s business on microphones snatched out of announcers’ hands. Such a man was the great Captain Louis Albano, who is our interview subject this week in the Funhouse. The Captain was a man who did it all in the business of what is now called “sports entertainment”: he wrestled, did interviews, participated in stunts, wore eye-offending duds, broke the rules, and managed eighteen tag teams to the championship belt. We conducted our talk with the big man (now a good degree svelter) at the end of a long day at the Chiller Theatre convention, so yours truly was tired, but woken up immediately by the energy of this 73-year-old former “champeen.” (Rarely would I ever leave a moment in which a security guard comes in a room to see when an interview will be finished, but the Captain’s command of the situation deserves an airing.) We discuss his career inside “the squared circle” and his subsequent show biz career, from his 1960s tenure in a mock-Mafia tag team called “The Sicilians” (not appreciated by the boys with the bent noses) to his “breakthrough” feuding with fan and friend Cyndi Lauper to his acting in Brian De Palma’s Wise Guys and the starring role in the extremely ’80s kids’ program The Super Mario Bros. Super Show (no matter how hard I try I am not gonna ever get the closing song, “Do The Mario,” outta my head). It is a testament to the Cap that, although he is prone to tall tales and just a few exaggerations, one of the fully accurate things he mentions is his having raised millions of dollars with Cyndi for victims of multiple sclerosis. They don’t make ’em like Lou anymore, and I was quite pleased to wind him up and let him go….