937.) Time for Funhouse viewers to get acquainted with yet another exceptional “alternative” British comedian. The gent in question goes by the name Johnny Vegas (real name: Michael Pennington), and he has perfected a stage persona that has two very different aspects. The first is a sadsack comic who laments his life (think a fat, working-class British variant on Rodney Dangerfield); it is this aspect that was showcased in the DVD Who’s Ready for Ice Cream? directed by Stewart Lee (yeah, him again!), in which Vegas is held hostage during the Edinburgh Fringe by his new “sponsor” and a show-biz “rehabilitation” expert. The second side of the Vegas character is the anarchic vulgarian who appeared on British TV panel shows and hosted the very short-lived variety show 18 Stone of Idiot, in which he got his guests drunk (all except Elvis Costello), did ridiculous physical stunts, and devised some wonderfully weird on-the-streets interaction with the British public. As of this writing, Vegas has mostly shed his vulgarian and self-deprecating sides and works as a serious character actor, but I’m sure that “Johnny” is always waiting to come to play….
938.) Vintage: 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.
939.) Same as last week (due to a Playback screw-up in Access HQ).
940.) The strangest TV experiences must be shared, and so I offer up the third and final episode of my exploration of the local late-night cable talk show All Night With Joey Reynolds. This installment of my journey through Joey’s mind — and oddly structured chat program — contains clips that I’ve saved for the end, including some of my favorite guests from the show’s three months on the air and some of Joey’s oddest on-air pronouncements. I attempted to convey the very special (and wildly self-indulgent) nature of what Joey was doing on the Funhouse blog, but video clips will best illustrate exactly how unique, unintentionally kitschy, and downright hallucinatory the show was.
941.) Funhouse viewers will be very familiar with the work of Armando Iannucci, the brilliant writer-producer of shows I’ve discussed on the Funhouse: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, and The Thick of It (not forgetting Time Trumpet and Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle). This week’s episode features scenes from the only traditional sketch comedy show he ever starred in, the eponymous Armando Iannucci Shows (2001). Iannucci’s strong suit is acidic satire, thus the surprise to find him playing a Woody-like nebbish character in this themed (but still somewhat random) series. Traditional topics are tackled with the deadpan sarcasm and surreal whimsy that characterizes the best British comedy — find out the secret to being witty at a dinner party, who best threatens household appliances, and why it is sometimes necessary to taunt animals.
942.) I revisit the work of three favorite filmmakers in this week’s Consumer Guide episode. First up is Bertrand Blier, whose wonderfully raunchy and dark Going Places has been re-released on disc. I think Blier is wildly underrated, so I’m happy to celebrate a new release of one of his best-known titles, which was a breakthrough for four of its young stars. Next up are the Criterion releases of the first two Chabrol films, seen recently on my “Deceased Artiste” tributes to the “Gallic Hitchcock.” I discuss the excellent transfers (good for the moody Henri Dacae lighting) and the supplements included on these discs. Last, but by no means least, is the recent box set of the three films Aki Kaurismaki made about those fictitious cartoonlike Siberians with pointy hair and even more poiny shoes, the Leningrad Cowboys. No segment on them is complete without hearing the Red Army Chorus performing a classic rock tune (or two).
943.) Every few years another TV writer-producer is hailed as a “genius” who is scripting “the finest program to ever air on television.” There are a number of these individuals, but one who gets forgotten in the shuffle because he (thankfully) never, ever did series television is the visionary writer Dennis Potter. Potter’s “teleplays” are inarguably among the best things that ever aired (although many weren’t seen in the U.S.), and so tonight I return to his mother lode of TV perfection with the character study Moonlight on the Highway. Written and presented in ’69, the show concerns a super-fan (Ian Holm) whose only way out of his own bleak reality is the music of his hero, Thirties crooner Al Bowlly. Moonlight is best known for containing a “rough draft” sequence for Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective (in which our beleaguered antihero lip-synchs to an old recording), but it also offers up a character who suffers from dilemmas that Potter himself had. It’s a very personal, and a very touching drama, thanks to Potter’s immaculate writing and a superb lead performance by Holm.
944.) Combining two favorite Funhouse categories, this week’s episode presents a Consumer Guide focusing on British humor, all titles from the indie Welsh DVD label Go Faster Stripe. The first items up for review are two rare audio releases from Stewart Lee, one of which is both his most whimsical and darkest creation ever. Next we move to underground cartoonist turned character comic Simon Donald, who makes a specialty of playing abrasive characters that have no idea they’re so abrasive (or do they?). Lastly we turn to a wordsmith who happens to be funny and writes very catchy tunes, poet John Hegley. Hegley is indeed a serious talent who devotes himself to whimsical topics, as you will see in the short sampling of clips I offer. Plus, he’s accompanied by master keyboardist Tony Curtis (no, not that one).
945.) The holidays always bring up specters of the past, so I’m happy to return to the subject of Sixties variety shows for the Yuletide season. This week’s ep contains no Xmas content, but it’s an in-depth view of the latest variety series to get the box set treatment, The Dean Martin Show. In the first of two episodes devoted to a discussion of, and short clips from, the series, I focus on (when else?) the Sixties, when Dean was still “working out the kinks” in the rather strange arrangement he made with NBC for his program: namely, that he wouldn’t be present all week while the crew and cast rehearsed, and would join them only for the taped version of the show. Besides the interesting (and sometimes odd) array of guests, the best thing about the program was Dean’s solo singing and duets with his guests; that aspect was, how shall I put it, “tighter” (steady on there, pallie), in the first half of the show’s nine-year run. The show is a window into the time period when it aired (albeit a smoky, whiskey-drenched, very un-p.c. window) and, as such, it makes a very nice Xmas present….
946.) To celebrate the ringing-out of the Old Year and the arrival of a New Annum in which several no-doubt-wonderfully-unforeseeable disasters will take place, I once again beckon yez all to join me in the past. In the second of two episodes devoted to a review of the first The Dean Martin Show box set, I delve into the Seventies half of the equation (minus the inclusion of any of the ballads expertly sung by Dino, which were all left out of the box). As the years went by, the show entrenched itself in politically incorrect humor, but not the National Lampoon or Norman Lear sort — rather the leering Vegas humor that predominated on the Carson show as well. Even during this time when the sketches were getting much sillier and the “special material” musical numbers got harder to wade through, the line-up of standup comics and comedy legends got stronger and stronger. Thus, a run-through of some of the guest-comics who were household names (and unforgettable presences) in the early Seventies is what you’ll encounter this week, along with the usual pungent, jovial commentary and brisk (but highly-labored-over) editing.
947.) The bard of British TV, Dennis Potter, is saluted again this week with clips from two of his transitional works. First up is Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton (1965), a pseudo-autobiographical account of Potter’s time running for local political office. Nigel Barton beautifully illustrates Potter’s superb facility with both dialogue and situations, while the later item I’m spotlighting, Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1972), reflects his desire to play with the medium of television (while brutally commenting on its lack of quality) and his fascination with hiding the deeply personal in fiction. In this case it’s a narrative about a bitter TV-commercial actor who’s having a mental breakdown — or is he just too “aware”?
948.) In the first of my Deceased Artiste tributes to Ken Russell, aka “Unkle Ken” (his own spelling on Facebook), I pick up where we left off in the airing of my in-depth 2008 interview with the visionary who remained an enfant terrible well into his senior years. (Technical troubles in Access HQ Playback put the interview on “hold” for some time.) In this never-previously–aired part of my chat with the great man, we start off discussing the feature that he frequently declared his favorite of all his films, Savage Messiah. We move on to his memorably kinky sexy thrillers, including two that have been excerpted in years past on the Funhouse, the horror/sex/comedy Lair of the White Worm and the brilliantly sleazy Crimes of Passion. The episode closes out with a mention of the balance he struck in his work between the kinky pictures and the softer, calmer fare he based on historical fact or adapted from classic novels.
949.) The fourth and final part of my very friendly and informative 2008 interview with visionary filmmaker and perennial troublemaker “Unkle Ken” Russell returns to the subject of his love for classical music and his sublime visualizations of favorite pieces. We also discuss his later TV work (a few of the better films were seen on Bravo — can anyone remember when that was a great arts network?), including excellent composer-biopics that were never seen in this country. Finally, we touch upon his other recent-vintage endeavors: his side-career writing erotic (self-published) novels and his jaw-dropping stint on the massively popular and extremely trashy Celebrity Big Brother. Mr. Russell was always game for a new experiences, and as he hit his 80s, he branched out into theater, fiction, micro-budgeted digital filmmaking, writing a column for a major British newspaper, and yes, becoming famous in England all over again by snoring and reminding people “it’s only a game” on a reality show.
950.) After having paid tribute to a number of “alternative” UK comedians in the past few months, I turn this week to a standup who has influenced or inspired a number of them with his absolutely fearless stage act. Scotsman Jerry Sadowitz is a venomous social commentator who combines the fast pace of an “insult comic” with self-loathing humor and expert sleigh-of-hand magic. He assaults his audiences with a brilliantly strange flurry of odd notions and un-p.c. comments (the terms “p.c.” and “un-p.c.” have no meaning when watching his act), offering an onstage persona that is truly unique in the world of comedy.
951.) replay of preceding week — another screw-up from our pals in Playback!
952.) In a somewhat delayed celebration of his becoming (at 90) the oldest living member of the French New Wave, I salute Chris Marker this week with scenes from his barely-seen 1989 documentary TV miniseries The Owl’s Legacy. The show’s theme was the influence of the ancient Greeks on the modern world — from philosophy and culture to technology. The series is by far one of the more “normal” Marker creations, probably due to the fact that it was financed by the Onassis Foundation and that Marker had so much content he wanted to fit into a few hours’ time. It still is an absolutely brilliant creation, an egghead’s delight that mixes ideas with clever visuals and comments from many, many impassioned thinkers, authors, and academics from France, Greece, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan. Highlights include a characteristically Marker-ish discussion of how mathematics and logic inspire the eating habits of animals (owls abound in this series, cats are glimpsed occasionally) and an absolutely perfect discussion of the concept of Plato’s Cave and how it relates to moviegoers and moviemakers.
953.) I will avail myself of any and all opportunities to pay tribute to Uncle Jean, aka JLG, aka Jean-Luc Godard. This week’s Consumer Guide covers new DVD releases related to the man, as I start out with a review of the new Eclipse box collecting the documentaries of Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard’s one-time partner in Marxist moviemaking (as the cofounder of the Dziga Vertov Group). Gorin headed off in his own direction with his work, choosing to mix the documentary approach with that of the fiction film. Next up is Film Socialisme, the latest Godard feature, which I’ve been waiting to get around to on the Funhouse (it took a few months for the film to acquire a U.S. distributor and finally play regular runs over here). The film is a challenging, and very rewarding, triptych that is essentially about the “death” of the old Europe. As ever with Uncle Jean, the film looks absolutely gorgeous and is filled with intriguing enigmas — in this case, his provocative use of badly translated (on purpose) English subtitles to further concentrate the viewer on the visuals (and to drive some folks mad). The DVD does allow one to pick a full English subtitle option, although it was in the news not for its content but for its setting — Godard and his fellow camera-people shot the picture abord the Costa Concordia, which recently made the news when it sank (and its captain “fell” in the life raft). I close out with the much-hoped-for U.S. DVD debut of Godard’s epic and powerful Histoire(s) du Cinema. A series of videos that he worked on for a decade, Histoire(s) is one of the best-ever histories of motion picture that contains no dates, no facts about the technology, and very little linear history — it is instead simply a sublime meditation on the art by one of its finest practitioners. It needs to be seen, and I will be doing my best to convince you of that on this week’s show.
954.) I return to the “British comedy you won’t be seeing on BBC-America” department on this week’s episode, with another presentation of the work of standup comic and podcast stalwart Richard Herring. Herring began his career as the comedy-team partner of Stewart Lee, and both performers share certain traits. Among them are the eloquent exploration of taboo (and, in Herring’s case, frequently perverse) topics and the creation of longer routines that, to steal the phrase of the late, great Marco Ferreri, “construct themselves as they deconstruct themselves.” Featured tonight is a discussion of the performance DVDs Herring has released via the comedy-specialist mail-order firm Go Faster Stripe, with clips illustrating his comic approach to discussing age, sex, religion, adolescence, and standup comedy itself. Herring is a daring and very funny comic who takes many chances in his performances — he also is not at all a normal man onstage, and for that we salute him.
955.) It may feel like Labor Day on the Funhouse, but it isn’t, it’s just a Consumer Guide episode devoted to the debuts on DVD of four items starring the one and only Jerry Lewis. I start out with a review of The Jazz Singer, the 1959 TV drama that finds Jerry doing the Jolie thing as a cantor’s son who wants to be a singing comedian. The show’s content is quite corny (fill in your own adjective), but it looks absolutely gorgeous on DVD, as an original color video of the show has been restored and every detail looks ideal (including Jer’s Emmett Kelly makeup, which I’m not excerpting, you can check that out yourself). Next I move on to Boeing Boeing, the Sixties sex(ist) farce that finds Jerry wandering into Dean’s playboy domain with Tony Curtis. After that it’s a visit to Tashlin-ville again with The Geisha Boy, a Technicolor marvel, and the absolutely endearing (that’s right, it’s a Jerry Lewis vehicle I called “endearing”) Rock-a-Bye Baby. See the genesis of Jerry’s directorial style in Tashlin’s more-disciplined, candy-colored visuals, and watch the point where punk could’ve been born 15 year sooner, as Jerry rocks the eff out onstage in the film.
956.) I’ve talked about cult movies and independent film before on the program, and tonight I’m happy to speak with a filmmaker whose work fits in both those categories while also defining a third, the directors who have made NYC a character in their pictures. My interview with NY independent Amos Poe tackles that subject (that will be in episode two), while also doting on the times in which his best-known features were made. In part one we discuss his first short “Night Lunch” (1975), made with Ivan Kral of the Patti Smith Group; the film offers a intriguing glimpse at both the mega-hot rock acts of the early Seventies (Bowie, Queen, Elton John) as well as the homegrown talent (never have Patti, the Ramones, and Blondie looked so freaking young on film). Poe also discusses his first feature, also made with Kral, The Blank Generation. A unique “home movie” chronicle of the punk scene in the mid-Seventies at CBGB and Max’s, the film is a rock movie that does not use direct sound, and thus captures an era with images (as well as rare audio demos and concert recordings). This installment of the interview concludes with Poe talking about his first fiction film, the rough-edged Unmade Beds, a “no wave” classic (more about that term next time) that is also a very genuine love letter to our very own Funhouse fave Uncle Jean, aka Jean-Luc Godard.
957.) The dead are never really gone in the Funhouse, so this week I’m presenting a raft of “Russell rarities,” to honor the memory of the incredibly talented (and yes, often “incredibly strange”) Ken Russell. On the bill of fare this week is his early and later TV work, all of which deserves a good, hard look. First up is his portrait of four pop artists creating art and living pop culture, Pop Goes the Easel; the film could’ve been just a standard BBC portrait of four “rising stars” in the field of painting, but instead is a odd foreshadowing of Swinging Sixties London (delivered by “Unkle Ken” in early 1962). Next is his portrait of Bela Bartok, in which he visualized several pieces by the composer in an equally jarring and brilliant way. Finally, I dote on a quartet of Russell’s later telefilms about classical composers, discussing and showing scenes from his “Nineties period” that is ripe for reappraisal, something I’m happy to do in the Funhouse. As a bonus, for those who stick around through all the glorious classical “music videos,” I close out with clips from an opera Ken directed that included Nazis and nuns in its population (you didn’t think I’d miss out on that, did you?).
958.) In part two of my interview with NYC independent filmmaker Amos Poe, we pick up where we left off, with a discussion of Poe’s first fiction feature, Unmade Beds (1976), and his eventual meeting (and ill-fated business deal) with the film’s inspiration, Funhouse deity Uncle Jean (aka Jean-Luc Godard). We next discuss one of the most interesting aspects of Poe’s work, the presence of NYC as a “character” in his films, especially in the minimalist The Foreigner (1978). We close off with a discussion of his first film with a professional cast, Subway Riders (1981) — among the performers were John Lurie, the inimitable Susan Tyrrell, “Dreamland” regular Cookie Mueller, and a very young Robbie Coltrane (doing a surprisingly good New Yawk accent).
959.) We return to the work of some Funhouse favorites on this week’s Consumer Guide episode. First up is the Kino Lorber release of Fritz Lang’s silent cliffhanger The Spiders. From Der Fritz we turn to one of his biggest fans, Don Luis Bunuel to discuss the Criterion release of one of his latter-day classics, Belle de Jour. I jump from arthouse classics to vintage TV with reviews of, and clips from, the two “Open End” (read: The David Susskind Show) discs that have been released. The first is the harshest, most direct interview with Jerry Lewis I’ve yet seen (from the otherwise super-friendly, snowy-haired Susskind); the second is one of the great TV talk eps of all time, “How to be a Jewish Son,” featuring George Segal, David Steinberg, and an effortless brilliant Mel Brooks.
960.) It’s Easter time again, and thus the Funhouse is abuzz with the sound of blasphemy, our own and others. This time out, it’s more Xtian kiddie kitsch with the Catholic ABC Book and the very precious Stations of the Cross Coloring Book; a new installment of cwazy Kwistian kiddie series Bibleman (it’s gotten worse!); a patriotic anthem from the always suave Xtian entertainer Carman (appropriate for election year); and a conclusion to Mr. Richard Herring’s musings on what might be done with Christ’s wounds. Fun for kids of all ages!
961.) Funhouse obsessions remain strong, and so this week we revisit them while doing a Consumer Guide roundup of new DVD releases. First up is Charlotte Ramping: the Look, an intimate yet somewhat constrained view of the beautiful, talented star. Up next is Blank City, a comprehensive and entertaining view of the “No Wave” film scene in NYC (seen on the show a few weeks back in my interview with Amos Poe); the film features interviews with all the key players, plus the transition from the No Wave films to the somewhat grandiosely-titled “Cinema of Transgression.” Last is my in-depth look at World on a Wire, the recent Criterion release of Fassbinder’s only sci-fi film, a two-part tele-feature that presupposed a number of later cult works and offered RWF the chance to situate an identity crisis/emotional breakdown in a very different context. Included in this episode are short scenes from the films being reviewed, as well as some of the DVD supplements.
962.) Finishing off (for the moment) my tribute to the late, great “Unkle Ken” Russell, I offer this week the second of my “Russell rarities” episodes. This time I start out with a telefilm that is the only occasion that Russell paid tribute to a composer/conductor whose work he didn’t thoroughly admire, Richard Strauss. The resulting film, Dance of the Seven Veils, is SO strange that he dubbed it a “comic strip” in the credits and hauled out his entire inventory of odd imagery (prepare for the first intersection of nuns and Nazis!), resulting in a furor that found the film being banned from ever being reshown on the BBC with its original musical soundtrack. Next up is the polar opposite: a quite, subtle work that supplies gorgeous “music videos” for a classical piece, in this case Gustav Holst’s The Planets. I close out with an item that hasn’t been seen in the U.S. seen it aired over two decades ago on the then-decent Bravo network, Ken Russell’s ABC of British Music. Here we find a fitting conclusion for my series of shows about Unkle Ken, as he celebrates the biggest names in British music, as well as the neglected and underrated. As a bonus, I feature a scene from Unkle Ken’s wildest project-for-hire, the Uri Geller biopic Mindbender.
963.) Vintage episode: 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.
964.) Tonight, in a surprisingly linear Consumer Guide excursion, I will be reviewing four films that come from the “innocent” part of the Sixties. You can check out the sincere efforts toward verisimilitude on Mad Men, or instead you can watch the films of that time and see the fantasy aspect of the bachelor dream-life. I start out with Come Blow Your Horn, the Neil Simon adaptation (by Yorkin and Lear) that finds Sinatra in both a kosher sitcom universe and the bachelor-pad cosmos (with one of the snappiest theme songs in that whole period). Next up is Dino in Who’s Got the Action? With a truly bizarre sitcom set-up, the film moves further and further into the universe of illogic until it becomes truly entertaining and exploits well its sterling supporting cast. Speaking of supporting casts, the last two movies reviewed have excellent ones: already discussed on the Funhouse, but now out for the first time on DVD, It’s Only Money and Who’s Minding the Store? find Jerry Lewis journeying through Tashlin-land once again. The former is a deft and quite unique parody of the private-eye sub-genre and the latter is a full-out live-action cartoon in which inanimate objects go haywire in a large department store (Jerry just gives them a little nudge).
965.) In the Consumer Guide department this week I review three British comedy DVD releases from the Welsh online indie label Go Faster Stripe, which makes a specialty out of presenting esteemed “alternative” standups. The show starts out with a discussion of the audio project Mr. Barlett and Mr. Willis from actor Kevin Eldon and comedian-philosopher Simon Munnery. Next up is Eldon’s solo standup disc, including a host of his oddest and funniest voices, sound effects, and characters. I close out with a standup set by Robin Ince, the rationialist comic who is both a cranky middle-aged man and an unapologetic student of trash pop-culture and the oddest scientific facts. Bonus clips come from GFS’s biggest release to date, Fist of Fun, starring Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, two gents who should be very familiar to regular Funhouse viewers.
966.) Vintage: 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.
967.) In the third and last episode featuring my interview with NYC independent filmmaker Amos Poe, we start out with a discussion of his time directing Glenn O’Brien’s legendary public-access show TV Party (1978-82), which featured a great array of guests and reflected the vibe of the time in “downtown” culture. Next up is a discussion of my favorite Poe movie, Alphabet City (1984), the low budget modern-day noir that made real Manhattan locations look like neon-lit studio sets. We finish off with a discussion of two of Poe’s latter-day experimental projects: his La Commedia di Amos Poe is a personal take on Dante’s classic (narrated by, among others, Roberto Benigni). And proving that the city itself is one of the most memorable characters in all of Poe’s work, Empire 2 picks up where Warhol’s experiments in duration left off. A fast-paced, formal digital video, the project also emphasizes Poe’s mastery of matching local music to local images.
968.) There is no excuse needed to return to the works of brilliant filmmakers on the Funhouse, and there are few who are as profound and insightful (and entertaining) as Chris Marker. In this episode I show scenes from and discuss his 1997 video feature Level Five. Made on the eve of the Internet taking over nearly every area of human interactivity, this essay-fiction follows a computer user (actress Catherine Belkhodja) as she explores the notion of memory in general, and more specifically the Battle of Okinawa, in which the Japanese military ordered the inhabitants of that city to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to American forces — and they did, by the thousands. Belkhodja (as “Laura”) explores the notion of collective amnesia, the horrors of both war and propaganda, “strategic” moves that result in genocide, and the fact that our memories now reside in a machine on our desktop. (Or in our pocket, as the case may be.)
969.) This week’s Consumer Guide episode allows me to provide “updates” on the availability of three titles I presented on the Funhouse several years ago, back in the VHS era. First up is Bergman’s perfect loss-of-innocence tale Summer with Monika, featuring Harriet Andersson at her most alluring. The disc has a host of extras that underscore the brilliance of Bergman’s creation (and Andersson’s singular screen presence). Next is Too Late Blues, the Cassavetes studio project that is by far the best of his works-for-hire, as it echoes the themes and structure of his “personal” works and has an utterly terrific cast. I close out with the new DVD box Pearls of the Czech New Wave, which offers a half-dozen films that vary in mood from severe to playful. All of the films explore issues of personal freedom through allegory — five of the six are highly recommended, none more so than Very Chytilova’s eye-filling, mind-bending Daisies. The Sixties remain the gift that keeps on giving and giving and….
970.) Each year, on the occasion of me turning “another year older and deeper in debt,” I present what I like to watch (and edit, especially since editing stuff for the Funhouse means I will be watching the material over and over and over again…). This time out it’s the first of two episodes devoted to the failure British music series Revolver. Created by super-producer Mickie Most in 1978, the show was an attempt to grab the young audience that was then heavily into the sounds of “new wave” and power-pop music. The guest line-up was just incredible and comprises a nice chunk of the music I was listening to around the time the show aired in the UK. Included on tonight’s sampling are Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the Tom Robinson Band, and the always sublime Kate Bush (encountering “Rover,” the guardian on The Prisoner). All that and a host who constantly puts down the audience that liked this music, played by none other than a tuxedo’d and suitably cranky Mr. Peter Cook.
971.) This week I return for the second and final part of my tribute to the 1978 failed British music series Revolver. Hosted by a suitably nasty Peter Cook (clad in a tuxedo and aided by some chick whose only purpose was to look sexy), the show was a wonderful presentation of some of the best power-pop and “new wave” acts of that period. Its downside was an intrusive visual style that utilized every early video-editing effect, thus supplying “psychedelic” visuals for music that was years past the psych sell-by date. The upside is that the series not only offered us the site of Cook insulting oddly dressed teens doing the robot and other goofy dance moves, it also provided live performances by a number of the best British acts of the late Seventies. Tonight’s crop include Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Rockpile, and X-Ray Spex (featuring the late and great Poly Styrene).
972.) It’s been ten years since I presented the U.S. TV premiere of scenes from the oh-so-Sixties 1967 French telefilm Anna. The film is the only musical scored by Serge Gainsbourg, and it stars the radiant Anna Karina, “new wave” icon Jean-Claude Brialy, and Serge himself. The visuals are memorably pop-art-ish and the songs are equally indelible. Since the film has a super-simplistic plot and Gainsbourg’s lyrics are usually either poorly or all-too-rigidly translated from French to English, I was happy to present scenes from the film with French subtitles when I originally aired episodes devoted to it. In the decade since, two all-too-rigidly translated English-subtitled versions of the film have appeared, so in this revamped episode (part one of two) I feature clips from the “version originale” plus one clip with English subtitles to show how Serge’s lyrical flourishes are completely lost in subtitling (and one clip with no subtitles at all so you can just dig the tune and enjoy Anna!). The film has never had a U.S. distributor, and so I am proud to present clips from it to remind Funhouse viewers how much fun it is.
973.) In the decade since I supplied the U.S. TV premiere of scenes from the Serge Gainsbourg musical Anna, the film has shown up in a few places on the Net and was aired with subtitles once on a satellite TV station. No theatrical release, no DVD, no showings on the indie cable channels (about which, the less said the better). Thus I thought it would be only fitting to re-air my original episodes, albeit with updated information. This week’s episode is the second part of my tribute to Anna, focusing on the film’s odd and oh-so-Sixties dream sequences. (English subs for the songs that truly need ’em and are subtitled accurately — one key screw-up in the translation of the ballad “Ne Dis Rien” makes it far better that its lyrics be viewed as French poetry.) In the second half of the episode I present some key Gainsbourg clips, including his own versions of songs from the Anna soundtrack. In a humidity-laden summer, there is nothing better than brilliant pop-rock music, and few people ever did it better than Serge.
974.) When choosing a vintage Funhouse episode to rerun (which consumes a few hours for digitization and potential upgrading of the material), I tend to veer toward the familiar (read: the last five years) and ignore the archive of material I’ve got sitting on the shelves. This week I decided to reverse that trend, and thus I’m proud to present a souped-up digital version (with better copies of certain clips) of my 1997 interview with Russ Meyer. My goal was to review Meyer’s history, placing the emphasis on the films he rarely spoke about. Thus in addition to comments on some of his hits like The Immoral Mr. Teas and Vixen! I was able to get him to talk about a few of his “forgotten” titles, including Fanny Hill, Cherry, Harry, and Raquel! The Seven Minutes, and Blacksnake. As a bonus, Russ returned to my camera, post-interview, to provide a description of each of the titles he was then distributing on his video label — the lurid promotional one-liners flew thick and fast. Russ approved of my “rapid fire” approach to the chat, but there was little else to do when confronted by the “mammary movie mogul” himself, a man who enjoyed playing with the English language, to the extent of creating his own words (like “buxotic”) to encompass the otherworldly dimensions of his actresses.
975.) One of the finest experiences afforded me by doing the Funhouse for all these years was the chance to meet and talk with (however briefly) the great Sir Peter Ustinov. Tonight’s digitized, slightly revamped vintage ep is the second part of my 1999 interview with Ustinov. In the first part we had explored his humanitarian outlook on world politics and his habit of finding humor in every situation. In the second half of the chat, I was able to zero in on his work with two filmmakers, Stanley Kubrick and Max Ophuls (the latter being a major inspiration to the former). Sir Peter was the only individual besides James Mason to work with both auteurs, and thus he was uniquely qualified to discuss them. Also included in this episode are scenes from two of Ustinov’s most memorable films as a director, a small slice of his work as Hercule Poirot, and images from a rare humorous photo book he conjured up in 1960. Ustinov was many things, but one of his foremost talents was being a raconteur, a job description that is sorely lacking in today’s media and the arts.
976.) Another interview show, this one unseen since early 2006: This week, our vintage episode is part one of a particularly lively interview. Actress Carol Lynley has nothing to hide – this we found out when we conducted a lengthy, highly informal and fun interview with her at the Chiller convention. In this episode, we discuss her early career as a virginal blonde in Disney’s way-too-wholesome Light in the Forest and her subsequent turn to freshly-scrubbed “delinquent” status in Blue Denim. Ms. Lynley also tells us what it was like working with Judy Garland (very briefly) on the doomed Harlow biopic in which she starred (released at the same time as the one starring former Funhouse guest Carroll Baker). The episode’s focus is on Teutonic taskmaster Otto Preminger, who gave Carol her transitional roles as (yet another) pregnant teen in The Cardinal and the young mom seeking her missing moppet in Bunny Lake is Missing (in which she is comforted, and then menaced, by another former Funhouse guest, Keir Dullea). We close the show with a discussion of her most famous role, the willowy singer forced (gasp) to turn to Red Buttons for solace in everyone’s favorite camp disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure.
977.) I started showing the work of Chris Marker on the Funhouse in early 1996 when I presented La Jetée as a full episode of the show. In the years since, I’ve tried to regularly update viewers as to what has been happening with his work and share clips from the films as they became legally available (or suddenly cropped up with English subs on the Net); all told I’ve done five full episodes about him and three other review segments (unless there’s something I’ve forgotten, which is entirely possible). The episode airing tonight is from early 2008, and I present it, digitally upgraded (all the clips from the two films were redubbed from the sources) and mildly updated to commemorate the death of M. Marker this week at 91. There will be more Marker tributes to come in the next few weeks. When the show originally aired, I wrote… At some point in the future folks are going to look back at the films and videos of Chris Marker, and realize that this “anonymous” essayist was perhaps one of the greatest artists (and greatest minds) of the latter half of the 20th century. This week I’m proud to comment on two of his little-seen works — in fact, pretty much all of his filmography is little-seen outside of the two works that have constantly been in circulation (La Jetée, Sans Soleil). Marker’s favorite topics are memory, the image, the media and, of course, cats. He also has made some of the most brilliant political features and shorts; among them is The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, his account of the 1967 March on the Pentagon. Marker was in the thick of things with his portable camera, and caught the event from “inside.” Nearly four decades later he made another feature about youth participating in what the French call “demos,” The Case of the Grinning Cat. The latter is a richly textured essay about political dissent in the 21st century, the power of graffiti (or as Mailer called it, “the faith of graffiti”) and, again, cats. Marker’s works grow richer with each reviewing, and are vastly underrated and under-shown. One wonders at what point his works will “emerge” from their current position in U.S. distribution limbo.
978.) Vintage ep
979.) Vintage ep
980.) Vintage ep
981.) Labor Day episode not aired, due to mess-up by Access HQ!
982.) Labor Day just isn’t Labor Day without Jerry Lewis, so this year I present yet another tribute to “le roi du comédie” to start the fall off right. In the first section of the show I do a “Jerry news update,” and then speak about his first TV series, The Colgate Comedy Hour, which he of course hosted (a scant few times a season) with Dean Martin. You will see clips from the first time the duo hosted the show, on September 17, 1950; they were both still feeling their way around the medium and were assured only when doing their stage act for the TV camera. The main feature of the evening is a completely forgotten Jerry feature, Visit to a Small Planet. Based very loosely (almost not at all) on a Gore Vidal teleplay-turned-Broadway-hit, the film is a pretty bland alien-visits-Earth sitcom (think My Favorite Martian with Jerry in the Ray Walston role). But it has a rather prolonged sequence in which spaceman Jerry and his date visit a beatnik club that just HAD to be presented on the Funhouse. The telethon is now a three-hour pre-taped lackluster musical show, but the Funhouse continues the tradition of Jerry on Labor Day weekend!
983.) 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.
984.) This week I return to the Consumer Guide department to review three items of interest. First up are the new Kino Lorber releases of the work of Buster Keaton — the films have been out before, but these are improved versions, supplemented by some of the most enjoyably unique extras, including an audio tape of Buster entertaining at a private party in 1962 (that froggy-voiced guy loved to sing!). Next I turn to the work of William Castle, namely Project X, a bizarre sci-fi amalgam of several things going on in the Sixties — among them are Star Trek, 2001, La Jetee (unintentional, I believe), and, oddly enough, Bonnie and Clyde. To make the film a pure, undiluted product of the Sixties, Castle added trippy animation by Hanna-Barbera (!) into the mix. I close out with the work of Uncle Jean, our fave Monsieur Godard, whose early features made with his longtime ladylove Anne-Marie Mieville have received newly restored DVD releases. I discuss the most controversial of these films, their 1976 meditation on the Palestinian question, called Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere). The film represents one of Godard’s initial experiments with “Cain and Abel” (or video and film, as they are better known) and presents both sides of the issue, as he and Mieville explore his pro-Palestinian sentiments circa 1970, while also laying bare the threadbare propaganda that had been presented to his camera.
985.) I finish up my end-of-summer Consumer Guide reviews this evening with a triple bill of terrific items that have been released on DVD in the last few weeks. The first is the so-called “Western noir” (I’d opt for “baroque Western”) Pursued. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the film stars Mitchum and has the kind of warped family relationships that were the hallmark of Walsh’s best pictures. After that it’s Bresson’s The Devil, Probably, his bleak and brilliant view of alienated Parisian youth circa 1977. I close out with the long-awaited box set of Norman Mailer’s experimental films. All three of his ambitious and insane features from ’67-’68 are in the box, and this allows me to offer a consumer review of his attempts at avant-garde cinema, while rejoicing in the indulgences to be found therein. Rip Torn rules!
986.) In my ongoing 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.
987.) There are no time constraints or deadlines in the Funhouse, so I am very proud to offer a Deceased Ariste tribute to the late, great George Kuchar this week, more than a year after he left this mortal coil. George’s landmark work (with his brother Mike and without) in the American “underground” mingled gorgeous imagery (crafted on non-existent budgets), a superb use of both Hollywood orchestral soundtracks and contemporary pop-rock, and George’s trademark dark/lurid sense of humor. This episode (the first of two) focuses on George’s solo 16mm work from the Sixties through the mid-Eighties. We witness his depiction of sexiness and flirty couplings (with the requisite amount of deep-seated Catholic guilt for both straight and gay participants), and some of my favorite “musical moments” from his films. (Anger may have provided the perfect “music videos” for pop-rock tunes by playing them in their entirety, but George and Mike drove them deep into the brain pan by playing only a few verses with a perfect visual counterpoint.) The films in this episode range from those shot in George’s Bronx apartment (with his neighbors and mom featured as supporting players) to his time in the city he loving called “Frisco” where he finally could evoke Hollywood melodrama (and sci-fi) with the proper landscape.
988.) At this point the Deceased Artiste department exists primarily on the Media Funhouse blog, but every so often I open the vault doors to pay tribute to another one of my filmic heroes or heroines. In this instance, I acknowledge the death of Chris Marker by showing sequences from three lesser known items. The first is a seminal film for him, the cinema verite/vox pop feature Le Joli Mai. The 1962 film is rarely seen in America – I chart how one airing on Bravo has wound up being the only way Americans have encountered the film with English subs in the last quarter-century. It is comprised of “man on the street” interviews, but also supplies a glimpse at the personal, “essayist” writing style that Marker was to perfect in the next four decades of his work. The second item, the Cinetracts, are an “unsigned” series of shorts made after May 1968 by nine directors who chose to remain anonymous – although the contributions of both Godard and Marker are very recognizable (Marker oversaw the whole series). The shorts are silent – so, no, your set has not lost the sound – but their power lies in the ability to turn photography and the “frozen moment” into cinema. As a final farewell to Marker (not really!), I discuss L’Amerique Insolite, a 1960 film that proposed to show Europeans the “real America.” What it does do is record the mythologies of the Eisenhower era (it was shot in ’59), as well as giving some glimpses at the underside of the American Dream. Marker supplied the narration and wrote lyrics for a New Orleans number performed at one particularly upbeat moment in the film.