833.) Revisiting a favorite vintage Halloween episode, digitized for the current era (and unseen since 1998): A night of rarities, as we salute my favorite holiday in fine style. First, Alice Cooper featured in his sickliest-looking, punk-drunk phase in a rare 1981 French television special. Then we go South of the Border, for a Mexican holiday TV special that mixes up Rocky Horror, Falco, prefab adolescent bands, and face masks that make Ben Cooper appear sophisticated. The final clips salute the intersection of the immortal Boris Karloff and rock ’n’ roll. First, his appearance on Shindig (not the “Monster Mash” that everyone agrees occurred, but no one has footage of, but another pop favorite of the period) and his guest turn on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. More artifacts proving that Boris was the coolest “monster” ever.
834.) In honor of the man’s passing, this week I present part one of my interview with one of the most lovably silly kiddie hosts in TV history, Soupy Sales. The Soup reveals what it was like growing up as a Jewish kid in the South, talks about our fave cut-rate puppets (the fact that he refers to hepcat lion Pookie as “he” is just one more reason to love the guy), and his immutable laws for the throwing of pies. We also cover the famous Rat Pack piefight, appearances by other show-biz names (sadly not preserved on either video or kinescope), and his pals, White Fang and Black Tooth. He may have had some health troubles in the past few years, but his mind (and sense of timing) is still razor-sharp, as befits a TV comedy legend.
835.) Vintage episode: Part two of our friendly chat with a man who livened up many an afternoon in NYC (and around the country), Soupy Sales. In the concluding installment of the chat, we talk about Soupy’s decision to leave Metromedia TV and call it quits, his movie vehicle Birds Do It (“used as punishment in several states,” sez Soup), a noted Rat Packer (who missed the pie fight) in same, his return to TV (in blazing-red-sweater color) in the late ’70s, and his days in NYC radio on WNBC-AM. All that and plenty of vintage clips—including a guest appearance by the father of “shock rock,” Alice Cooper, and another (on his variety show pilot) by Ernest Borgnine “as Judy Garland” (the lady herself then wanders out, and that’s what makes-a da clip history, boss).
836.) There’s no greater curse than receving the Oscar, and so this week I pay tribute to a filmmaker/comedian whose work I still love, but who has been pretty much forgotten here in the U.S. since his Academy Award win more than a decade ago. The gent in question is Roberto Benigni, who I see as the modern era’s only tangible link to the great American (and, natch, Italian) screen comedians of the Golden Era. First up is a short scene from the latest Benigni film, The Tiger and the Snow, which received a cursory theatrical release in the U.S. and which I discovered when it cropped up at odd times on the Sundance Channel. Next we turn to one of the best Benigni films that has remained unreleased in the U.S., his 1985 collaboration with a fellow controversial Italian TV comedian, the late Massimo Troisi. Functioning as a terrific comedy team, the two play dolts who land back in the late 15th century, where they decide to prevent the discovery of America by Columbus. This plot device may be the reason the film has been so underseen on these shores, but the pic is a terrific low key comedy that boasts one of my favorite titles *ever * in movie history (esp. for a comedy), Nothing Left to Do But Cry. We finish out with a film that is legally available here but no one knows it exists: the crazy, vulgar, Marxist comedy Berlinguer I Love You (1977), scripted by and starring Benigni. The film’s plot is unrecountable, but it does feature Roberto as a Mama’s Boy who is looking for political enlightenment, as well as a private place to masturbate to his scarecrow rendition of the leader of the Italian Communist Party (whom Benigni did actually support in real life). Top that, awful Saturday Night Live alumni….
837.) The Kuchar Brothers’ importance in the “underground” film scene of the Sixties cannot be underestimated. That’s why I’m proud to present this week part one of my interview with Mike Kuchar, the more visually inclined of the brothers, and the man who gave us the deranged mini-feature Sins of the Fleshapoids (more on that cult classic in part two!). In this installment of the interview, Mike discusses his latest “pictures,” which are elegantly stylized shorts shot on mini-DV and edited with a digital effects editing box (much as the Funhouse itself is). He reflects on the “underground” label, and also dispenses his philosophy of filmmaking. In addition, he supplies recollections of his youth in the Bronx, his love of Hollywood product (both A- and B-grade), and the use by he and his brother George of their voluminous collection of records to “score” their 8mm, super 8mm, and 16mm films.
838.) The Kuchar-fest continues with the second and final part of my interview with Mike Kuchar. In this episode we focus on his work with his brother George on a series of wonderfully outlandish no-budget 8mm and super-8mm shorts, shot in the apartments (and streets, and on the roofs) of the Bronx. Mike reflects on the Kuchar Brothers’ relationship to their contemporaries (Jacobs, Warhol, Mekas), and the wonderfully kitschy humor they exhibited in their finest works. We move on to discuss Mike’s Sixties masterwork, the no-budget, robots-with-human-emotions 16mm cult classic Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965), which is currently the only Kuchar film available on U.S. DVD (out of literally hundreds that the brothers have made). We close out with Mike’s thoughts on working as a cameraman for other “underground” and low-budget filmmakers, and the Kuchar “legacy.”
839.) Following on the heels of my recent foray into the unknown work of the once-fashionable-but-now-sadly-forgotten-in-the-U.S. Roberto Benigni, this week I offer a look at two as-yet-unreleased films by the multitalented Takeshi Kitano. “Beat” Takeshi, as he is known to fans, was also a very fashionable figure on the arthouse circuit in the Nineties, but his last three films have gone undistributed in America. Kitano cuts an imposing figure as a performer, but is a mercurial filmmaker who is as likely to go for a deadpan joke as he to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings or offer a moment of brilliantly elided violence. His 2007 film Glory to the Filmmaker is his own 8 1/2, an odd meditation on what his next film should be, that includes parodies of several genres on its way to becoming an extremely bizarre sci-fi parable involving an eccentric mother and daughter duo. His last release to date as a filmmaker, Achilles and the Tortoise, is two art-world satires in one: the film begins as a touching study of a boy who loves to draw but doesn’t have much talent, and winds up a series of bizarre deadpan sequences about a painter, played by Kitano, who wants to find fame at any cost.
840.) In the 21st century Christmas specials are dim specters of what they used to be. A collection of Yuletide songs sung by celebs, or a tongue-in-cheek evocation of the variety-show excesses of the past can’t compare with the real thing, so this year I’m reaching back to one of the past masters of “family” Xmas special-dom, Andy Williams. Williams, whose variety show lasted from 1962-69, was second only to Bing Crosby in terms of presenting a family Christmas show that served as both a perfect time capsule of its era (whenever that might’ve been) and also a complete refutation of it (in favor of the Norman Rockwell/Currier & Ives American Xmas that never, ever existed…). I’m presenting clips from Andy’s 1971 Christmas outing, from a “mail-order” copy that is quite possibly the worst visual quality of anything I’ve ever shown on the Funhouse. But content is what matters here, so never mind the loss of color (we watched most of these shows on b&w sets anyway), the occasional video “quiver,” and the spooky, spectral quality of the copy (being a foreign country, the past is always slightly spooky anyway). The special itself revolves Andy and his clan performing the holiday rituals – no wrapping of presents, but there is the unwrapping and the inevitable big family dinner. I excerpted a few of the show’s musical numbers, which oddly, given the family bent of the program, are performed by Andy solo in the empty house, pre-Xmas celebration (Williams’ variety show had a similar Andy-is-to-be-onstage-as-much-as-possible quality). Thus, we have Williams warbling some of the hits of the year to delightfully kitschy effect, plus – yes, I had to include it, even though it is perhaps the most haunting and lyin’-est Xmas song of all – performing his beyond-ubiquitous holiday hit, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” His delicate-voiced, then-wife Claudine Longet duets with him on a then relatively new John Lennon tune; I’ve learned since we shot the show that the two were already legally separated for a year when this special aired – making them the equivalent of the post-divorce Sonny and Cher. To offer some non-seasonal Sixties weirdness, we explore “the gift that keeps on giving” with clips from the episode of the sitcom The Mothers-in-Law that featured a very rockin’ appearance by the Seeds (fronted by 2009 D.A. Sky Saxon). The clash of the “old” and “new” in Sixties culture is in full effect in this show, and that’s what the holiday season on TV used to be all about.
841.) To ring in the New Year, I offer up a vintage episode that celebrated a different sort of New Year many, many years ago. The ep in question features Stan Freberg’s 1962 special “The Chun King Hour,” which was shown on the eve of Chinese New Year, and is one of the smartest, craziest TV “spectaculars” ever. Freberg does indeed hawk the full line of Chun King products, but he also offers wry commentary on the “vast wasteland” that was TV in the early Sixties (how little we knew back then about where it was all gonna end up); laugh tracks; old movie clichés; violence on TV; and “Sing Along with Mitch” (spoofed in a very mind-blowingly Mad mag style). Along the way we see and hear from Stan’s repertory company of talented folk, and a guest star (who used to have Stan open for him on the road) shows up as a Chinese food-loving messenger boy. Freberg rarely attempted this kind of long-form weirdness, and the show was never rerun on any subsequent Chinese New Year’s Eve….
842,) As a follow-up on my episodes saluting the unreleased works of once-in-fashion/now-nearly-forgotten-in the-U.S. arthouse faves Benigni and Kitano, this week I show a vintage episode centered around three movies from Aki Kaurismaki that were never officially released in the U.S. Kaurismaki’s movies come in two varieties and we’ve got ’both this evening: Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana, is one of his deadpan tales of backwoods hicks (Scandinavian hicks, that is) encountering life outside the sticks, while Drifting Clouds is a touching character study of a married couple trying to make ends meet. Along the way, they may turn to Kaurismaki characters’ usual pastimes – smoking, drinking, and listening to grungy rock’n’roll – but this time ingenuity (and, yes, a cute dog) is added into the mix. The final feature I Hired a Contract Killer retells a common theme for noirs – a man hiring a killer to murder himself, and then reconsidering – but adds a neat twist. Namely, a laid-off French office-worker (Funhouse icon Jean-Pierre Leaud) hiring his depressed killer in a run-down working-class section of England. All three movies haven’t played anywhere in the U.S. except at film festivals and in one-shot screenings at rep houses, so we’re proud to show scenes from them for the first time on U.S. television. I love these pictures.
843.) The Sixties and early Seventies variety shows were all about the blending of the absolute best and the positive worst in American culture; they also saw the old colliding with the new, in a gloriously awkward fashion. I’m thus extremely pleased to review on this week’s Consumer Guide episode three relics from the era. The first, The Mama Cass Television Program, is a 1969 special that finds Cass dueting with some of her immaculately talented folk-rock friends, as well as sharing the stage (and yes, singing) with Buddy Hackett and Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (why? Because!). The second recent release is Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour, a 13-week wonder from 1970 that found the deadpan perennial presidential candidate welcoming various guests and participating in a number of fairly off-the-wall sketches. The final relic is by far the most extreme, the 1967-69 Jerry Lewis Show, edited so that only the comedy sketches are showcased. From Mama’s quiet, lovely melodies to Jerry’s knockabout farce is quite a steep drop, but that’s the kind of thing that the variety show was all about.
844.) This week’s vintage episode is the second part of my interview with very busy character actor Antonio Fargas. In this installment, Fargas talks about his memorable turns as gay characters in Car Wash and Next Stop, Greenwich Village, and his work for Louis Malle in Pretty Baby. We close out the chat with a discussion of films like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka that have paid tribute to the blaxploitation era Mr. Fargas was a part of.
845.) Vintage ep from 2008: The 15th anniversary of the Funhouse is celebrated 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).
846.) A vintage Deceased Artiste episode spotlighting three actors from different countries. 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.
847.) 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.
848.) From enlightenment (of a kind) to art on the show this week, as the Consumer Guide department features compilation DVDs released on the Kino label (now Kino Lorber). The first two items are a pair of comp discs wonderfully assembled by the “A/V Geeks Film Library”: How to Be a Man and How to Be a Woman. The first collection emphasizes how educators and establishment-types saw every teenage boy as a potential juvenile delinquent or impregnator of girls; the second spotlights the ways in which girls were seen as future consumers who could be sold to while they were still attending grammar and high school. The films are utterly delightful, and feature the usual weird signifiers of the eras they were made in, as well as some awesome location footage and some suitably cheesy rock and approximations of “things to watch out for” (namely pornographic materials and loose women). The featured set up for review is Kino’s third collection of Avant-Garde and Experimental Cinema. Included are several warped renditions of fairytale material, shorts inspired by silent cinema, filmmakers obviously infatuated with Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks, and yet another great Lettrist feature-length provocation (this time with pretty young lasses).The range in material is rather wide here, but that’s what we’re happiest with in the Funhouse.
849.) A vintage Consumer Guide episode finds me once again pouring 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.
850.) Much attention has been paid in the U.S. to four of the five “Cahiers possse” members of the French New Wave, but Jacques Rivette remains the mystery man of the group to American audiences. Thus, I’m very pleased to start off a series of episodes paying tribute to Rivette’s work with a little “JR 101” show, centered around clips from his 1961 debut feature Paris Belongs to Us. The film contains the elements that became Rivette’s stock-in-trade over the next half-century: plotlines that start off slowly but then escalate tension and narrative incidents; a dreamlike atmosphere that hints that the characters could well be having a dream (or a nightmare); an interest in the creative process (not the result); and, my favorite aspect, plots in which characters discover they are being “directed,” or controlled by a secret conspiracy. Paris… is a cool b&w missive from the turn of the Sixties that oddly prefigures the zeitgeist of the decade — and has a cameo by our other favorite New Wave filmmaking icon. To close out the episode, we leap ahead to 1984 with short scenes from Rivette’s Love on the Ground starring Jane Birkin and Geraldine Chaplin. The films in this and future episodes about Rivette are all commercially unavailable in the U.S.
851.) 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.
852.) Vintage, but mighty wild: 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.
853.) There are several patron saints in the Funhouse, and one of them is most certainly Hugo Haas. The vastly underappreciated Czech filmmaker made a string of unforgettable melodramas and film noirs in the Fifties that I’m proud to have celebrated on the show since we began. The vintage episode this week aired originally in 1998 (and hasn’t been seen since), and it continues along with the career of the big Hugo. We cover two of his more torrid creations, the first of which is the amazing concept feature Hold Back Tomorrow (1955), in which a prison allows a condemned convict (the ever-angry John Agar) the right to have a woman (the always awesome Cleo Moore) in his cell before he dies — and the woman in question is a suicidal stranger who’s hoping the convict will kill her. From that only-from-Hugo scenario, we jump to his most full-blown noir, The Other Woman (1955). In this oddly reflexive picture, Haas gets to reflect on what it’s like to have your film “tested” with a preview audience, as he struggles with the machinations of an angry extra (Cleo Moore) who wants to wreck his life because he didn’t cast her in a speaking role. They don’t make pictures any bleaker than Hugo did, and I am glad to put his pictures back in front of the late-night viewing audience.
854.) Vintage: 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.
855.) The time of the season is here once more: cwazy Cwistian material on the Funhouse to honor the sacred holiday of Easter! This time out, I start out with a lovely blasphemous French comic that explores the private life of our Lord and Savior (it’s hard to get around with a crucifix on your back). Then we take a jaunt over to the Philippines for a comedy that has as one of its plot elements a character getting crucified (sense a trend?). And I close out with the feature of the evening, a film shot in the Indian language of Telugu that depicts the life of Christ in an extremely reverent fashion, albeit with a low budget, oddly polite English subtitles, and only a few musical numbers.
856.) There are certain filmmakers I’m happy to return to time and again in the Funhouse, and this week’s Consumer Guide episode allows me to salute newly available work by four of them. First up, it’s the current Anthology Film Archives festival of the work of the Kuchar brothers, pegged to coincide with the NYC premiere of the documentary It Came From Kuchar. The documentary delves into the brothers’ lives, films, and legacies as master no-budget artists who have influenced filmmakers from “low” to “high” and back again…. Next up, it’s a review of the Criterion release of Bigger Than Life by Nicholas Ray. The package not only represents the first official release of the film, but also includes a rare 1977 TV interview with Ray. Last, it’s the first official release of Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger is Dead, also from Criterion. The release includes not only a pristine restoration of the film, but also various tributes to Ferreri, including some very appropriate words from a younger fan, Bernardo Bertolucci.
857.) Vintage: In part one of my interview with German filmmaker and queer provocateur Rosa von Praunheim, done in conjunction with a 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 significant 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).
858.) Vintage: 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.
859.) A digital “upgrade” of one of my lengthier interviews, this week’s vintage episode is part one of my very informal chat with legendary Western director Budd Boetticher. In this installment, Budd talks about his early years (as a boy of privilege named Oscar, a name he loathed) and his first encounters with bullfighting, a pursuit that haunted his life and work. We also discuss his “B” pictures, his brush with film noir, and his terrific film Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) starring Robert Stack. When I initially did the interview in 2001, Budd’s movies were entirely unavailable on DVD, but now that pristine restorations of his classic Westerns are accessible, I felt I needed to rework the episodes based on the interview.
860.) Neil Innes is a consummately talented songwriter and performer who has donned a number of guises in his career. In part one of my interview with him, we discuss the first of those guises, as one of the moving forces behind the incredible Bonzo Dog Band. Mr. Innes talks about the band’s formation and early years, as well as their interactions with the Beatles (whom I posit were influenced by the anarchic, pop-art, vaudevillian Bonzo shows they witnessed before inviting the band to guest in Magical Mystery Tour). He also reflects on the talent of his partner in all things Bonzo, the miraculously brilliant Vivian Stanshall, and the Bonzo’s two-year stint as the “house band” on the afternoon children’s television series Do Not Adjust Your Set, which starred three of the gents who, upon cancellation of the show, went on to form Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
861.) Part two of my September 2000 interview with Budd Boetticher gets a digital makeover this week, with new pristine copies of the sequences that illustrate what we spoke about in the interview. In this part of our chat, we discuss what Budd is best remembered for: his tight, tough late 1950s Westerns with Randolph Scott. He speaks about his relationships with John Ford, John Wayne (who produced, and was evidently not too thrilled with, two of Budd’s best films), and with the young actors to whom he gave scene-stealing turns as charismatic bad guys (Lee Marvin, Richard Boone, Pernell Roberts, James Coburn). We close out with a discussion of widescreen cinematography and the (non-cinematic) artists he cited as his influences.
862.) Over the years on the show I’ve been proud to review professional releases of arthouse, independent, and classic fare. I’ve also presented clips from films that we wish were out from professional sources, but were obtained through my own collecting or from mail-order companies, “alternative” video stores, and enterprising souls with overseas connections. The latest source for extremely rare material is of course the Internet, and so this week I present clips from three extremely rare films by one of our favorite filmmakers on the Funhouse, Chris Marker. Up first is The Koumiko Mystery, about a young woman roaming the streets of Tokyo in 1964 around the time of the Olympics. Next comes the very entertaining Letter From Siberia, made in 1958. And we finish off with Mr. Marker’s memorably titled tribute to his friend Yves Montand, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Singer.
863.) Top-notch DVD releases are reviewed in the Consumer Guide department on this week’s episode. I start off with a newly released collection of vintage Bing Crosby TV specials that spotlights the variety format at its most sublime and later on, in the period when the “old” met the “new” with jarring (but endlessly watchable) results. We turn from classic TV to brilliant arthouse fare with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata, his very timely study of a family in transition, led by a father who is pretending that he still has the job he lost weeks before. Next up is the Criterion release of Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, released with a wonderful piece of very classic TV. I close out with a review of the new collector’s edition of Vivre Sa Vie which is beautifully restored and comes with several entertaining and informative supplements.
864.) We move from the Bonzos to the Pythons and beyond in part two of my interview with singer-songwriter-humorist Neil Innes. In this installment Neil shares memories of two of his more brilliant, and extremely self-destructive, friends, Python emeritus Graham Chapman and the mind-warping wordsmith Viv Stanshall. I inquire about Neil’s uncanny ability to lampoon not just an artist’s songs but in some cases whole sections of their careers in the space of a single satiric tune. And last we speak about his two TV series, Rutland Weekend Television, co-created with Eric Idle, and The Innes Book of Records, featuring visualizations of many of Neil’s best, post-Bonzo songs.
865.) My interview with singer-tunesmith-humorist Mr. Neil Innes concludes this week with a discussion of his later pursuits, including his creation with Eric Idle of one of the finest musical spoofs of the all time, the Rutles. Neil talks about how he composed and recorded the Rutles’ music, and discusses the ways in which the Rutles underwent a happier breakup than their real-life Fab counterparts. Next we discuss the recent Bonzo Dog Band reunion, and the concert that took place on their “40th anniversary,” which featured several noted British humorists (including Stephen Frye and Adrian Edmondson) in place of the legendary Viv Stanshall. Finally, we discuss the Bonzo reunion album, Pour L’Amour Des Chiens (and you hear part of one of the album’s finest tunes, a cover of a recent rouser not written by a Bonzo — killer geezer rock!) and Neil’s plan for future podcasts on his new website.
866.) Vintage ep: The third and final part of my interview with legendary Western director Budd Boetticher from Sept. 2000 covers the final “movement” in his career, where he worked for more than a decade (actually closer to 15 years) to get his dream picture made, the life story of his friend, matador Carlos Arruza. Budd wound up losing both his standing in Hollywood and vast amounts of money, landing in prison, being put in a sanitarium, and having his dream pic edited and released by another filmmaker. He offers some reflections on that period, and also supplies the answer to a question posed in his great film Bullfighter and the Lady (1951). We close out with a discussion of the film that never got made, his planned screen adaptation of his autobiography When in Disgrace, and his true feelings about bullfighting.
867.) Vintage ep: A Deceased Artiste tribute to three very talented individuals. 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.
868.) Part one of my late 2001 interview with filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa includes an overview of his work to that point, plus his discussion of working within genres (his earliest films were Yakuza crime dramas and low-budget horror flicks). We talk about his low-key serial killer picture Cure, as well as his experiments in crafting atmosphere through sound. My favorite part of the interview is his discussion of one of his influences, the late, great John Cassavetes.
869). In the Consumer Guide this week I revisit some topics of constant fascination. The first review is of the current Kino release of the restored Steamboat Bill, Jr. An alternate version of the Keaton classic has been discovered, and so the two-disc set represents a new look at an old favorite. Next up are three noir titles that have come out from Olive Films, which boast terrific casts of character actors, razor-sharp hardboiled dialogue, and the requisite dark and moody imagery. Last is a review of the DVD release of It Came From Kuchar, the documentary that profiles the Kuchar brothers, offering a look at their lives, their work, and their fans (including several influential indie filmmakers).
870.) Inaugurating a new series of episodes about British standups and TV comedy series that have never been seen in America (and most likely never will be), this week I offer up a look at the work of Chris Morris, the brutally funny satirist who has written and starred in some of the best and most innovative series on British TV. First up is The Day Today, the 1994 fake news program that gave us the blithely ignorant Alan Partridge, as well as establishing Morris’ trademark style, which blends an incredible deadpan delivery with deft wordplay and a gift for surreal whimsy — and dark, dark humor. The second show I spotlight is The Brass Eye, Morris’ series of in-depth news “specials” that concluded with a very controversial parody of frenzied, moralizing documentaries about the hunt for pedophiles (which aired in England years before To Catch a Predator debuted over here).
871). Continuing on with my informal theme of a “summer of unseen British comedy,” this week I present clips of the standup comic Stewart Lee. I’ve become a big fan of Lee’s in the past few months because of his singularly sarcastic take on current pop culture and his wonderfully deadpan delivery. He has been honing his standup skills for the last two decades, and presents chunky pieces of material, which I will present on the show in as much duration as can be managed in 28 minutes. Some of his references are very specific to British culture and entertainment, but surely the context is there, and since we have the same kind of irritation factors over here, a mental “swap” of one nation’s trash for another’s is easily achieved. Lee is currently doing a series on the BBC that is based almost entirely around his wry, brilliant standup (Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle), so I am happy to present a little “crash course” in material that will surely never find its way onto BBC-America.
872.) We disrupt the laughter in this summer’s series of episodes for a little sentiment, as I present the U.S. TV premiere of segments from the anthology film Chacun Son Cinema. Created in 2007 to pay tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, the film contains 3-5 minute segments by a host of world-famous directors, including several all-time Funhouse favorites. For whatever reason, the film has never found a distributor over here, but it really needs to be seen by American cinephiles, and so I am happy to present a group of the short films, which pay tribute to the experience of viewing a movie in a theater, with an audience and a projector at the back of the room. The entries in this episode were made by filmmakers hailing from a number of places, from Japan to France to Scandinavia. The most touching thing about the film is not just the variety of its content, but the filmmakers and performers that are highlighted as inspirational. And, like many anthology films, some of the entries may feel like they were tossed off, but others are beautifully crafted gems that are even better than some of the directors’ features.
873.) Given that the mainstream of American TV today is absolute trash, and not enjoyable trash at that, it would be reassuring if someone were to come along and honestly critique it, not in the form of a print review or blog post, but as a presence on TV itself, telling us how absolutely godawful things have gotten. (And we all know that a reviewer’s job is to generally keep convincing the reader/viewer that “TV/music/movies are better than ever!” Or else he/she ain’t got a job anymore….). Thus, I delight in the work of British standup Stewart Lee, in whose hands sarcasm is a lethal weapon. Somehow Lee, a well-regarded figure on the British comedy scene who is unfortunately unknown over here, wrangled a show from the BBC on which he examines the contemporary social scene and culture’s “last days.” The show is titled Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (first series in 2009; second series planned for 2011), and each episode features Lee doing standup punctuated by short sketches (the latter “watched over” by supervising talents Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris). On this episode I offer segments from two Comedy Vehicle shows, the ones concerning books (and more specifically, the notion of “toilet books”) and another that decimates British TV (and, by extension, TV in general). Lee is a brilliant comic voice, and I’m happy to spotlight his incisive, sometimes brutal, but always funny opinions on the Funhouse.
874.) Our summer of unseen-in-the-U.S. British comedy continues this week with a series that is as innovative as hell and about as darkly humored as you get, but which aired on “Auntie” BBC back in 2000. The show is Jam, its creator was Chris Morris, and it was an outgrowth of one of the strangest radio series ever committed to tape. Blue Jam, its 1997-1999 radio predecessor, was an uncategorizable comedy series that Morris referred to as “ambient stupidity,” which brilliantly blended a number of elements in a thoroughly original style: sketches that were the height of black humor, all delivered in a dreamy, deadpan style; monologues by Morris in which he played a character trapped in a different surreal dilemma each week; jarring interludes that included his trademark prank interviews and indelibly whimsical eviscerations of music radio; and songs that fit the dream-like (or is that nightmare?) mood. For the 2000 TV adaptation of the series, Morris had to evoke the “trance”-like mode of the radio series in a visual fashion, and so he shot the sketches, which feature a small ensemble of actors playing all the roles, in a highly stylized manner that immediately affects the viewer on a sensory level, long before the funny bone has even been touched. In this episode, I offer segments from a show that could only be described as “Terry Southern meets Ken Nordine [or the Firesign Theater, depending on your taste] meets David Lynch in a dark garage, while a very spaced-out and resourceful DJ spins in the background.” As Morris intones at the outset of every episode, “Welcome in… Jam.”
875.) The short films included on this week’s episode may qualify as the most sentimental material I’ve ever shown on the program. But my return to the as-yet-unseen-in-the-U.S. feature Chacun Son Cinema doesn’t present a single moment of Spielberg-like shameless, manipulative tearjerking. The eight entries I’m spotlighting celebrate the joys of moviegoing from a number of angles, including family, community, romance, and perhaps the strongest sensation of all, memory. The filmmakers are “star” names who hail from Europe, Asia, Canada, Brazil, and Iran. Their shorts communicate how deeply moviegoing affects us, especially when it’s done in the old-fashioned way: in a theater with a film projector and an audience just waiting to be transported.
876.) Vintage ep: 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.
877.) Labor Day is upon us again, and so it is time once more to salute Jerry Lewis. First of all, we revisit the younger, cartoonlike Jerry, courtesy of the very talented animator-turned-filmmaker Frank Tashlin. The featured movie this time out is Who’s Minding the Store?, a Jerry vehicle directed by Tashlin in 1963 that has never made the leap to DVD. The film stars a veritable host of TV supporting actors and boasts a number of visually striking set pieces, including one of Jerry’s signature routines. After that we move to Telethon 2009, to spotlight some Jerry segments as well as those featuring the always energetic and enthusiastic Tony Orlando hosting in NYC.
878.) The end-of-summer Consumer Guide department finds me reviewing everything from silent cinema to a contemporary documentary about a front-rank Funhouse favorite. First up is the Criterion release of three silent classics by Josef Von Sternberg (that’s a description, as well as the title of the set), which look as gorgeous now as when they were first shown 83 years ago. Next up is one of the most exquisite Technicolor movies ever made (ever), Powell and Pressburger’s perfect “nuns in lust” movie Black Narcissus, newly restored and re-released. After those looks backwards, we turn to the present with the strange, dark, and sunshine-filled allegorical mindbender Home, featuring the impeccably borderline Isabelle Huppert. I close out with a review of the new documentary about the one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter-hellraiser Harry Nilsson, Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? There is no overall theme to the Consumer Guide time out, except for the fact that each entry revolves around a person with immense talent (or several people) — to start with JVS and end with Nilsson demonstrates the aforementioned perfectly.
879.) The Funhouse “summer of British humor” has now stretched into the fall, but that’s fine with me, as none of the material I’m showing has ever played in the U.S. This week I offer the second and final part of my little tribute to the very original, very strange, and extremely dark TV series from Chris Morris called Jam. Based on a mind-warping radio series called Blue Jam, the TV show offers visualizations of the sketches from that radio show, shot in an jarring manner reminiscent of David Lynch at his nightmare-suburbia best. In this episode I offer the “nastier” sketches from Jam, including scenarios involving kids and odd sexual practices. And that doctor who can’t quite practice medicine in a traditional way. As BBC-America now sees fit to show American Hitchcock movies, James Bond pics, and Star Trek: the Next Generation, it’s nice to be able to turn to cable-access to see all the really important British comedy shows they’ve completely ignored.
880.) A year ago I wasn’t even aware of the incredible brilliance of a number of current-day British standups and humorists, but in the time since I’ve become utterly obsessed with a few of the current top-notch comics from the U.K. Chief among them is Stewart Lee, whose wry, deadpan approach to standup has fast made him one of my favorite social commentators with a microphone — and a brilliant, absolutely eviscerating sense of sarcasm. This week I present more clips from the 2009 TV series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, which more than likely will never see the light of day over here. The topics covered include the current economic downturn, standup comedy, and — ah, yes — religion. The last-mentioned includes Lee’s take on Pope Benedict’s ridiculous footwear and the difficulty of making any jokes at all about Islam. Lee has been honing his craft for two decades now and is at the height of his powers. I’m happy to share a ride in his Comedy Vehicle.
881.) A lot has changed in the last 28 years since Wim Wenders decided to have his filmmaking colleagues talk to his camera on their own, in a Cannes hotel room, about “the future of cinema.” I had been looking to see the resulting short feature, Room 666, for about 25 years and now that I’ve been given a copy, I had to share it with Funhouse viewers. The film is anchored by two absolute Masters, Uncle Jean (Godard) and Michelangelo Antonioni, and a few other very noted filmmakers filed through Wenders’ hotel room in the process of his very unconventional inquiry. Given that the film is unavailable in the U.S. at the current time, I am happy to present clips from it spotlighting very different takes on Wenders’ most interesting, and always timely, question.
882.) Vintage ep: 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.
883.) My quartet of episodes dedicated to the work of humor visionary/sensory-assault expert Chris Morris concludes (for the moment) with this show discussing his last U.K. TV series, Nathan Barley. Although conceived in the early 2000s and aired in 2005, the show is very much of the moment, as it concerns a thoroughly obnoxious high-tech hipster who runs an alternative website. His interactions with a jaded journalist (Julian Barratt, from the comedy team “The Mighty Boosh”) and his documentarian sister inform the series’ nominal narrative, which examines just how much of a shit a trust-fund kid can be (the issue of where Nathan gets his cash from was explored in the series’ source matter, but never addressed in the series itself). At its best, the show wavers between the social realism and abrasive humor of Mike Leigh’s early telefilms and a masterful dissection of the hipster mentality that now exists in every major American city (Williamsburg is only one of many outposts).
884.) To close out (for a short while) my presentation of rare British TV comedy series that have never seen the light of day in the U.S., I move straight to what could be one of the strangest shows ever, Simon Munnery’s indescribable 2001 series Attention, Scum. Munnery is not your standard comic — he works a lot in character, is willing to “lose” his audience to make a point, and coins terrific aphorisms that stick in the brainpan long after the average set-up/punchline has faded from memory. Attention, Scum is one of his most extreme experiments, a vignette-laden journey through the English countryside by a man called “The League Against Tedium,” whose main message is “Behold superiority!” Other elements flowing through the show’s six episodes include raunchy opera interludes, a drunk, street-corner newscaster, and a monkey sidekick/secretary. This is not “normal” TV, and that’s all for the best.