1197.) The third and last (for now) discussion of and tribute to Limmy’s Show! features a final burst of the Glaswegian comedian’s trademark dark humor and anti-social behavior. Running bits include a little scientific riddle, the most annoying person to encounter at a picnic in the park, and a psychic who has very bad news for everyone in his studio audience.
1198.) Vintage: To commemorate the passing of Herschell Gordon Lewis (near Halloween!), I re-air an episode from the days in which the Funhouse was a fully VCR-crafted production. Few films have made as big an impact on as small a budget as the drive-in landmark Blood Feast (1963). This vintage episode features not one but three short interviews about this insanely silly and supremely entertaining cult classic. First we have a segment of our interview with gore-master Herschell Gordon Lewis; the very articulate Lewis recounts his work on the film, and his even more immaculately campy musical soundtrack. Few sleaze directors could namecheck Berlioz and Stokowski in a few short minutes, but then again, few sleaze directors would’ve rocked their own kettledrums…. We then speak to the mad killer of the piece, the actor who played “crazed Egyptian caterer” Fuad Ramses. Mal Arnold is a very down-to-earth gent who took his very strange role seriously, and is now a cult icon, due to the fact that his “crazy eyes” and prematurely powdered gray hair have shown up on everything from album covers to T-shirts. Lastly, we talk to the heroine of the piece, Playboy Playmate Connie Mason. Like Mr. Arnold, Mason worked with Lewis on two films — she also starred in the gory follow-up, Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964). She also has the unique distinction of having been a nubile babe who was allowed to live in both of her gore outings (in fact, she never even appears in a scene with the red liquid that doubled for blood). Your obedient servant is not a fan of the gore film genre, but Lewis’s movies are so imaginatively absurd and blissfully threadbare that it’s impossible not to enjoy them (plus, the colors are outta this world).
1199.) Vintage: One of the lengthiest, in-depth interviews I did with a legendary low-budget exploitation moviemaker was my 1996 talk with the wonderfully sincere, friendly, and driven Mr. Ted V. Mikels. Our interview lasted 90 minutes, but I trimmed it down to a mere two episodes. In the first show, being re-presented this week to commemorate his recent passing at 87, we discussed his early career as a stuntman in mainstream Hollywood action movies and his earlier, well-beloved no-budget genre pics. In this part of the chat we talk about two of his craziest and most enjoyable creations — The Astro-Zombies (1968) and The Corpse Grinders (1971) — and one of the best-remembered (and odd and unique) aspects of his filmmaking career, namely “the castle ladies.” In the Seventies Ted took in young women who wanted to learn how to make films and had them live with him. They learned their trade and could be his girlfriends if they wanted to be – Ted took to calling them his “wives,” and though he didn’t want to dote on the subject when you spoke to him, this period (during which he said dozens of women lived at his house in succession) loomed very large in his legend.
1200.) The third in my series of Deceased Artiste tributes to Jacques Rivette covers the most unusual period in his career, the late Seventies through the late Eighties. I begin with a discussion of that era in his work and then offer clips, starting out with two of the most unusual films he ever made, Duelle and Noroit (both 1976). The films were two of an intended four-film series about unusual relationships between women, “Scenes de la vie parallele,” that was abandoned after Rivette had a nervous breakdown. His return to filmmaking is one of his finest character study/thrillers, Le Pont Du Nord (1981), which qualifies as the single best latter-day evocation of the New Wave by a filmmaker of the original group, as it contained minimalist plotting and character-based action, and was shot entirely on location on the streets of Paris. The last two I explore, Love on the Ground (1985) and The Gang of Four (1988), are dramas about theater troupes that mingle reality and fantasy, and politics with culture.
1201.) Vintage: 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.
1202.) A Deceased Artiste tribute had to be done for the great Leonard Cohen, and so this week I explore his work from a few different angles. First up is a reading of one of his brilliant prose-poetry pieces. Then I venture away from Leonard’s sublime poetry, music, and fiction-writing to the oddest thing he was ever associated with (okay, besides “Miami Vice”), a 1985 Canadian musical fantasy called Night Magic. He co-wrote the script (although there really isn’t one) and the lyrics, which were set to music by the director, Canuck singer-songwriter Lewis Furey, whose wife Carole Laure costars (the male lead is anti-Christ actor Nick Mancuso). From that overly campy item I sharply turn back into the classics that Leonard left us with, moving from his guitar-driven singer-songwriter early period to his later incarnation as a dapper, smokey-voiced, humble man about town (with fedora and tailored suit). I learn in this episode toward his sense of humor, as his genius as a poet-songwriter can easily be explored on the Net in the expected places.
1203.) I’m back in the consumer guide/”Too Good for BBC-America” department, with three reviews of items from the invaluable Go Faster Stripe DVD label. First up is the Canadian standup Tony Law, whose act is about… well, his act. It’s weird, whimsical humor from a man dressed like a lumberjack (or a pirate, I’m not sure). Next is GFS mainstay Richard Herring, with his show about the Dearly Departed called We’re All Going to Die. Rich holds forth on the mourning rituals, suicide, the afterlife, 9/11, and whether or not masturbation is possible after death. I close out with the latest from “The League Against Tedium” himself Simon Munnery. His …and nothing but DVD is full-tilt standup with brilliant wordplay, political humor, and Munnery’s characteristically skewed way of viewing the universe. Americans have no opportunity to see these gents live, so GFS continues to do us a great service by chronicling their wonderfully absurd and funny work on disc (and, of course, download, because this is now the 2010s….).
1204.) Part one of my interview with legendary German filmmaker Alexander Kluge. He is called “the father of the New German Cinema” (he actually was more like their “elder brother”) and has been working steadily since the explosion of young German filmmakers in the late Sixties (he’s currently 82). In the first part of our talk, I discuss with him his blending of fiction and fact; his use of episodic narratives in his films and documentary videos; his use of eye-catching intertitles in his later work; his apprenticeship at a young age to Fritz Lang (on The Indian Tomb); and his participation in writing the “Oberhausen Manifesto,” a 1962 document that wound up in the revitalization of the German film industry.
1205.) Vintage: 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….
1206.) Vintage: 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.
1207.) An extremely entertaining Consumer Guide episode this week, as I present more clips from the comedy performance DVDs made by the Welsh mail-order firm Go Faster Stripe. I start off with a discussion of, and clips from, Bec Hill, an Aussie standup whose act is rife with puns (groaners and really, really witty plays on words) as well as no-budget “flip chart” animation. Next up is Robin Ince, whose “final show” was recorded by the folks at GFS (my take – I think he’ll be back). It contains Robin discussing his favorite topics – I choose to focus here on his bibliophilia (or, as his friend calls it, “bibliosexuality”) and his love of movies. I close out with Richard Herring, who chose not to do a “theme show” two years back in order to create Lord of the Dance Settee, which winds up a wonderful parody of a theme show (with music, dancing, and discussions of odd behavior… and sombreros!).
1208.) Vintage: I venture back to the Sixties once more for a “lost” character study that was shot here in NYC, Pigeons (titled in its first release Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker). This 1970 film is a post-Graduate comedy-drama about a young man who is neither conformist nor hippie. He works as a cabbie, is having a romance with a pretty trust-fund hippie chick, and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. In the meantime, he attends not one but TWO parties — a “swinging” bash on the Upper East Side (attended by Elaine Stritch and Melba Moore, among others — for no reason) and also a “square” Xmas party in the suburbs where everyone is sloppy drunk (including TV’s David Doyle). The film is very much of its time and as such is both a curiosity and a wonder to behold.
1209.) Vintage: 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….
1210.) Part two of my interview with legendary German filmmaker Alexander Kluge moves through his initial fiction features, most of which featured female protagonists. First up. we discuss Yesterday Girl (1966), starring his sister, which began his hallmark of having fictional characters interact with real people on the streets of Frankfurt. Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed (’67) is a fascinatingly tangent-filled rumination on art and entertainment and what they do (and don’t do) for society. Occasional Work of a Domestic Slave (’73) is a character study about a beleaguered housewife who does abortions on the side. We close out with a discussion of Germany in Autumn (1978), an anthology feature that included contributions from Kluge, Schlondorff, Reitz, and Fassbinder, among others. Kluge has made hundreds of features films, shorts, and videos, and I was very glad to get him to discuss some of the gems included in his early work.
1211.) Vintage: Howard Hawks’ best-known films are hardly rare, and yet each one of his works gains something when seen as part of the whole of his career. This week I present part one of two “megamix” episodes (inspired by the recent Museum of the Moving Image retrospective “The Complete Howard Hawks”) in which I’ll be discussing Hawks’ body of work and the fact that he absolutely loved to present “variations on a theme” in his pictures. The most striking thing about his career is that he made a seminal film in many genres (screwball comedy, noir/detective, Western, race car drama, prison picture, brassy color musical, Fifties sci-fi paranoia, aviation saga, and gangster movie). I’ll be showing scenes from these and discussing the tenets of his work, including ultra-fast talking (the speed of which I believe I approach in my intro – although Cagney, O’Brien, and company did it to much fuller effect), the repetition of certain gags, and one of his favorite themes, the bonding between two friends (or as he honestly referred to it in interviews “love stories between two men”). He was one of Hollywood’s truest auteurs, because his work was remarkably consistent, and his repetitions and reworkings were artful and even sometimes bizarre (he frequently switched genders in his screwball pics to make the situations funnier).
1212.) Vintage: The second and last part of my tribute to the work of Howard Hawks centers around two of the most enjoyable aspects of his films. The first is the “Hawksian woman” – Hawks enjoyed matching his male leads (Bogart, Wayne, Cagney, Cooper, et al) with independent and sarcastic female counterparts who weren’t hesitant to demonstrate their interest in the men. Whether these characters were male fantasies or feminist archetypes is open to debate, but their impact on his films in terms of driving the storylines is one more area in which Hawks’ films were incredibly modern for their era. The second endlessly entertaining aspect of his work covered in this episode are the sudden musical moments that would appear out of the blue in what were decidedly non-musical-comedy settings. The show offers clips from 15 of Hawks’ films, offering another cross-section of this diverse – yet *incredibly* consistent – artist’s work.
1213.) The third and last part of my interview with legendary German filmmaker Alexander Kluge begins with a discussion of the humor and satire in his films and videos (illustrated by his brilliant 1976 feature Strongman Ferdinand). From there we discuss the inevitable subject of formats on which films can now be seen (the present, moving into the future) as well as Kluge’s deep love of silent cinema (the past, bleeding through to the present). We close off with a discussion of the viewers’ relation to the film they’re watching and the “film inside the viewer’s head,” a topic of some fascination for Kluge. Given that his work isn’t known to most American arthouse fans (even those who know the work of his colleagues in the New German Cinema), I’ve been very happy to present a “101” survey of his work in the three episodes I’ve made out of our interview.
1214.) My admiration for Jean-Luc Godard (aka “Uncle Jean”) knows no bounds, so I’m happy to provide the U.S. “TV premiere” of an interview he gave to none other than Funhouse interview subject Alexander Kluge. The resulting video, called “Blind Love” (2001), is present on the Internet in various places, but not with English subtitles. The talk is a very friendly one (yes, JLG smiles at various points!). Kluge (69 at the time of the interview) has often expressed his admiration for Godard and other New Wavers, and his earlier feature show his debt to their style. When interviewing Godard (71 at the time), his questions range from the obvious to the playful to the conceptual. In the process Godard shares some interesting thoughts about his work and his view of European history, as well as a subject both gents have some familiarity with, namely aging.
1215.) Vintage: 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.
1216.) Vintage: I’m very happy to share entertaining discoveries in the Consumer Guide department, and none are more worthy of discussion than the comedy DVDs being put out by the UK mail-order firm Go Faster Stripe. First up is a standup performance by the comedian-actor Norman Lovett, a kind, soft-spoken older gentleman who has a way with both a seemingly-innocuous-but-altogether-sarcastic comment and dollar-store trash and treasures. Next is the thoughtful and intelligent, yet also wonderfully irreverent, exploration of the Xtian faith and its messiah by the British “podfather,” Richard Herring, titled Christ on a Bike. The featured review of the evening is of a much earlier Herring project, the 1995 BBC series Fist of Fun starring the comedy team of Lee and Herring (Rich and his then-partner, a younger and more stylish – yet still cranky – Mr. Stewart Lee). The show lasted only two seasons and was never shown in the U.S, but is a trove of great sketches and terrific cross-talk routines from Stew and Rich. It also features a talented ensemble of performers who went on to greater fame on other programs, including the versatile Kevin Eldon playing the FoF ardent “king of hobbies,” Simon Quinlank.
1217.) Vintage: Let’s venture once again to the swingin’ Sixties in France, this time for a satire on the packaging of pop stars that is part spectacle, part theatrical “happening,” and all nasty abuse of the music industry. The film is Les Idoles (1968), and the writer-director is Marc’O, a key member of the Lettrist movement of the Fifties (for more info, check out my review of Isidore Isou’s “Venom and Eternity” on YouTube) and noted playwright-director. Here he keeps intact the cast of his original play, each performer incarnating an interesting (and creepy) type of pop star: Pierre Clementi plays a “tough kid from the streets” who has become a rocker; Bulle Ogier (in her first significant movie role) plays a ye-ye girl whose delivery is grating and whose lyrics are quite perverse; and Jean-Pierre Kalfon is a fortune-teller turned rocker who specializes in agonizingly self-deprecating psychedelic tunes (also sung out of key). Marc’O thus is able to spoof different kinds of stardom and different record-company gambits (including the sudden romance of Clementi and Ogier’s characters and the excusal from military service of Clementi). The film is intentionally abrasive and in-your-face (witness guest star Bernadette Lafont’s incarnation of “the Singing Nun”), and it shares the mod/psych look with items we’ve debuted on the Funhouse (especially the films of William Klein and Anna).
1218.) “The Cool Ghoul” is in the spotlight this evening, as we re-enter the vault of Deceased Artistes to salute Mr. John Zacherle. Zach (aka “Zacherley”) was a much-beloved horror-movie host who created his character in Philadelphia (under the name “Roland”) in the mid-Fifties, and then came to NYC to play his chortling, “monstrous” alter-ego for several years in the Sixties. In this episode I show a brief sequence from one of the remaining kinescopes of his ABC show, then some ghoulish fun from the supplements on his “Zacherley Archive” DVD. I close out with segments from the marvelous VHS creation “Horrible Horror,” which featured Zach doing his full act, replete with “My Dear” (his wife, who was in a coffin onscreen) and “Gasport” (his servant, who hung in a bag on-set – don’t ask, one ever did). Zach was well-thought-of as a pioneering horror host, as a great free-form DJ and, most importantly, as an extremely nice guy.
1219.) In my continuing “stuff you ain’t seein’ anyplace else” department, I present Robert Downey Sr.’s missing absurdist comedy Pound. The 1970 film functions as a play – for the show I’ve eliminated a weird subplot about a murderer called “the Honky Killer” – set in a dog pound. The inhabitants are a mix of breeds, played by human actors, who know they’re going to be exterminated fairly soon. The film’s greatest virtue is its ensemble of character actors, with faces you know from various TV shows of the Seventies (bigger names include Antonio Fargas, Don Calfa, and Marshall Efron). It’s dark, it’s wonderfully ridiculous, and it contains a nasty theme song I never tire of, in which a female singer insults the listener in quite colorful ways.
1220.) The “Too Good for BBC-America” department returns, with an episode in which I discuss and show scenes from the third and final season of the series The League of Gentlemen. The show is a sketch comedy series set in a particular North London village in which a number of creepy and often homicidal individuals live. By the third season, however, the three performers in the LoG ensemble (and their colleague, a writer who is not a performer) came up with a sextet of episodes that featured longer, more detailed stories about some of the town’s inhabitants. The season was disliked by many of the group’s diehard fans, but for the most part its stories work perfectly out of context (whereas, even their subsequent feature film depended on a knowledge of the original series). The episodes I discuss and excerpt from this evening have some wonderfully dark and grim moments, showing to great effect the talents of the show’s stars: Mark Gatiss (better known these days as the co-creator of the Cumberbatch Sherlock), and Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith (who have gone on as a duo to create two very fine TV series of their own).
1221.) Easter has always been a time of blasphemy in the Funhouse, but this year I wanted to do something different and special. And so, a two-part Easter episode (two segments in one show – 28 minutes of Paschal joy!). In the first part I discuss the passing of the sublime writer Jimmy Breslin and read from his very pertinent book from 2004, The Church That Forgot Christ. The book is an extended essay on Jimmy’s deep belief in the Catholic religion, and his extreme anger at the plague of pedophilia that has been part and parcel of the Church for so long (and in so many different cities and countries). Breslin’s writing was powerful and direct, so I’m glad to have him “speaking” (with his usual mixture of beautiful sentiment and streetwise humor) in our Easter celebration about the corruption at the root of the Church. On a lighter note, the second half of the show finds us back in Rapture territory, with the “reboot” of the Left Behind franchise, an incredibly ridiculous thriller from 2014 starring Nicolas Cage (who clearly needs cash, and fast) as an airplane pilot who comes to terms with the missing folks on his airliner. It’s patently awful, but when sliced down to a few minutes, it’s quite enjoyable. And Nic the over-actor isn’t alone – he’s joined by an angry little man who instantly became my favorite character in this wretched little suspenser….
1222.) I start off a Deceased Tribute tribute to the legendary Seijun Suzuki with this episode, the first of two shows devoted to his work. In this episode, I discuss his “explosion” of the studio-assigned genre movies he made with innovative camerawork, editing, and truly bizarre action (the final clip in the show is my vote for “craziest Suzuki moment ever”). The focus is of course on his yakuza pictures, but I found that, in assembling the clips I present, you get a wide range of “moods”: from romantic drama to imaginatively brutal violence to broad, bizarre comedy and color-coded, kinky, widescreen erotica. Suzuki was a “B” director in the late Fifties and Sixties, but his work is far more interesting than many of the “A” filmmakers working at the time.
1223.) Part two of my Deceased Artiste tribute to Seijun Suzuki picks up where I left off in the first show – with the film that got him fired from his studio, the vibrant, clever, stylish, and completely crazy yakuza drama Branded to Kill (1967). From that point we jump to his “comeback” in the late Seventies with a Funhouse favorite, A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness, a peculiar meditation on fame and how women are ground up in show business. Then it’s on to his arthouse period with the “Tasho trilogy,” three films set in a period where Western styles were taking over Japan (and Alain Resnais-like fugue states and fluid identities have taken over Suzuki’s characters). We end as his career did, with the outrageous and imaginative Pistol Opera (a variation on Branded to Kill from 2001) and the trippy musical Princess Raccoon (2005). I’m very proud to do this exploration of Suzuki’s career, because the work of his famous filmmaker fans is well known to most arthouse viewers, but his own films are known mostly to cultists.
1224.) Vintage: I return to the Deceased Artiste department this week for the first of three episodes dedicated to the inimitable Sid Caesar. A lot of talk appears on the Net (and in what publications still remain in print) about the “funniest TV moments ever.” The fact that some of the people writing those articles haven’t ever seen the variety shows of the Fifties is similar to writing an essay on screen comedy without having seen Chaplin or Keaton. Funhouse deity Steve Allen in fact called Caesar “TV’s Chaplin,” and he wasn’t wrong. In this series of episodes I will be discussing what made Sid so special, and also the two incredible ensembles he had around him, first of performers (Coca, Reiner, Morris, Fabray) and then of writers (Brooks, Simon [times 2], Allen, Gelbart, Tolkin, Reiner, Kallen, Diamond, etc.). The first episode is devoted to Sid on Your Show of Shows, with the spotlight focused on his incredible dynamic with Imogene Coca and what is clearly one of the best-ever YSOS sketches (and definitely contains several of TV’s funniest moments), “This Is Your Story.”
1225.) Vintage: For part two of my three-part Deceased Artiste tribute to Sid Caesar I present sequences from the many movie parodies that were done by Caesar and company on both Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour. They range from fun spoofs of American genre pictures to affectionate – and, more impressive, knowledgeable – satires on foreign film. Caesar’s expert skill at speaking pidgin versions of various languages was the centerpiece of these sketches, but they also reflected the fact that Sid’s writers were foreign movie buffs who knew the territory and knew how to entertain both the viewers who had seen the original films and those who had no idea they existed. Thus, I present excerpts from sketches based on French, Japanese, German, and Italian films, all done to perfection (while remaining particularly frenzied, in the trademark Caesar fashion). As always, the contributions of his fellow cast members are particularly wonderful, most notably the sublime Imogene Coca and the very cartoonlike Howard Morris.
1226.) Vintage: The third and final part of my tribute to Sid Caesar focuses on his years doing Caesar’s Hour (1954-57). At that point, Sid and his writers knew well what would work on the program, so the sketches are less rough and more refined, but there is still a marvelous amount of timeless comedy. This ranges from sitcom-type sketches with Sid and Nanette Fabray as a married couple to wonderfully imaginative parodies of popular musical genres. Sid returned to prime time in the Sixties for a short while, but the material from the Fifties is his lasting legacy, and two of the sketches excerpted on tonight’s show are among my all-time faves.
1227.) Vintage: I happily return to British comedy this week with a discussion of, and scenes from, the wonderful Matt Berry vehicle Toast of London. Berry has been crafting a blissfully egomaniacal alter-ego over the past few years through his appearances in several series (including The IT Crowd, Snuff Box, and The Mighty Boosh). In this new sitcom he plays a hammy actor who keeps hoping for his big break while doing voiceovers, appearing in odd vanity film productions, acting in embarrassing commercials, and appearing in “the worst play in London.” Cowritten by Arthur Mathews (Father Ted), the show is never anything less than ridiculous (in a great way) and includes musical numbers illustrating our anti-hero’s dreams and aspirations.
1228.) Vintage: This week I present the extremely deadpan, and most definitely (wonderfully) incompetently made, cult movie Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010). The picture is a no-budget ecological horror story (so much more entertaining than the Syfy-slick “Sharknado” deals), inspired by Hitchcock’s The Birds; it spends a full half its length developing a relationship that holds no interest (and business deals that make no sense). The second half presents us with the sight of birds attacking humans – or more properly, CGI birds hovering over the actors. As I edited this episode together, I was overwhelmed by the odd edits (which I couldn’t quite compensate for), lack of sound in many shots, and the wildly flat acting and dialogue. It has acquired a major cult in LA, but has only done a few midnight shows here in NYC; it is quite something (you pick the adjective after seeing it) and deserves our attention. I mean, you can’t watch competently made movies all the time, now can you?
1229.) To acknowledge the passing of the master of “Euro chic” softcore filmmaking, Radley Metzger, I created a new episode out of segments from three older Funhouse shows, all hailing from the late Nineties, when Metzger’s work was being put out for the first time in authorized editions on VHS. My reviews situated the films in his career and discussed Metzger’s place in the great trilogy of softcore masters (along with Russ Meyer and Joe Sarno). For this newly-crafted tribute I chose four of the nine Metzger segments I did, placing them in chronological order and selecting the four best examples of his work. I start with his “arthouse” hit Therese and Isabelle (1968), which became the model for the “schoolgirls have a lesbian affair” films that continue to be made to this day. From there I move on to Camille 2000 (1969), Metzger’s souped-up, very Swinging Sixties version of the classic Dumas tale. The turn of the decade (1970) brought us the best-ever Metzger film, The Lickerish Quartet, which is his erotic variation on the formula created by Resnais and Robbe-Grillet in Last Year at Marienbad. I close out with Score (1974), his film that was both soft- and hardcore (depending on which cut of the film you saw in which theater at the time) and had all four characters changing partners and indulging in both hetero- and homosexual couplings. All beautifully shot, well-edited, (sometimes) well acted, and done with a certain class that was, and will forever be, missing from most porn “product.”
1230.) For my birthday episode this year I turn to another film that is commercially available but is too little shown, Lovers and Other Strangers (1970). Although they are primarily known as comic actors, with the Lovers play Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna entered the ranks of Herb Gardner and Murray Schisgal as playwrights just as funny and touching (in fact, more touching) than Neil Simon. As a movie, Lovers benefits from a sterling cast of character people, who are put in two camps – “the Italians” and “the WASPs.” The characters are also paired off as couples in the flirting/seduction stage, newly married, longtime married, and on-the-edge-of-divorce. Personal favorite plotlines include Bea Arthur and the sublime Richard Castellano (whose “what’s the story?” became an NYC catchphrase) dealing with an impending divorce in the family (the young wife is played by Diane Keaton, in her first movie role) and Funhouse fave Bob Dishy as an usher trying to have sex with a trippy bridesmaid (Marian Hailey).
1231.) Back in the “Too Good for BBC-America” department, this week I present a discussion of, and clips from, Inside No. 9. The show is a sharply scripted anthology series written by and starring former League of Gentlemen members Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Each episode tells a different tale, with the entries ranging from quiet character studies to all-out horror and suspense. The episode I focus on this week is “A Quiet Night In,” a pretty brilliant modern updating of Laurel and Hardy. Pemberton and Shearsmith play burglars intent on stealing a modern minimalist painting (it’s basically just a white canvas) from a rich man’s house. The rich man is arguing with his significant other, so they aren’t speaking, and thus we have a dialogue-less, BBC-budgeted, comedy outing that does indeed function like a 21st century updating of the old “two-reeler” comedy scenarios. Pemberton and Shearsmith are much lauded in the UK, but over here their creations have mostly been aimed at horror fans — although that element is only a part of their work, with Inside No. 9 proving they are in the top rank of today’s TV scripters.
1232.) Taking a one-week break from the parade of non-U.S. and “golden age” entertainment I regularly present on the show, this week I salute a series that hasn’t aired on TV or cable yet (hasn’t even streamed to my knowledge), Louis CK’s “sitcom” Horace and Pete. The show, which is mostly drama but contains strong comedic elements, takes place in a neighborhood bar; it’s closer to The Iceman Cometh, though, than “Cheers.” The regulars at the bar are played by Louis’ real-life standup pals (most prominently Steven Wright), and the family that owns the bar is played by Louis and a handful of top-notch actors, who distinguish themselves in many scenes: Edie Falco, Jessica Lange, Alan Alda, Laurie Metcalf (she does a monologue that is so long and so bravura that I couldn’t excerpt it at all), and Steve Buscemi. The last-mentioned is always terrific, but Louis wrote some absolutely beautiful and moving set-pieces for him here. I discuss the show and show excerpts from it – including moments that are certainly Emmy-caliber (but won no corporate awards, of course).
1233.) Vintage: Many modern filmmakers strive for a “retro” look for their films. One filmmaker in the Eighties did it perfectly, back when it was not the trendy thing to do. This week I salute the work of Canadian filmmaker John Paizs, who crafted a group of short films and a feature that are gorgeous-looking and wonderfully odd. Paizs’ specialty was setting his stories of over-the-top emotions and melodramatic behavior in a suburban neighborhood that resembled the utopian suburbia of the Fifties and early Sixties. His shorts have different moods, evoking Thirties movies about elegant rich people with “secrets,” Forties film noirs, and Fifties melodramas. His debut feature Crime Wave (1985) is a splendid creation that tells the tale of a quiet filmmaker (played by Paizs himself) who wants to make the greatest “color crime movie.” The film’s odd sense of time-dislocation and perverse humor links it to the work of Paizs’ colleague from the Winnipeg Film Group, Guy Maddin (who took on a gender-bending role in a Paizs short – which, of course, I’ll be featuring); among Paizs’ acting ensemble are other WFG stalwarts, including producer Greg Klymkiw and scripter George Toles. Paizs’ films take place in a weird neighborhood where the past is just around the corner….
1234.) Vintage: I’ve been a devoted follower of Robert Altman’s work for a few decades now, and have been very happy to share some moments from his films on the show. This week I offer scenes from two Altman rarities, both TV productions that haven’t aired on TV in decades. The first is Nightmare in Chicago, an episode from the Kraft Suspense Theater (originally titled “Once Upon a Savage Night,” 1964). The show blends a formulaic police procedural with some rather nasty moments showing the serial killer lead doing away with his female victims and some nice nighttime Xmas cityscapes. The cast includes Altman pal Robert Ridgely, Ted Knight, and Barbara Turner (scripter of Altman’s The Company and mom of Jennifer Jason Leigh). The second show is “Rattlesnake in a Cooler,” half of the 2 by South cable recording of Altman’s staging of two short one-acts by playwright Frank South. The play is a tour de force for its one performer, Leo Burmester, as he incarnates cars and barrooms full of pissed-off gentlemen. It’s a great example of Altman’s art at its sparest.
1235.) I salute the talents of Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna again this week with a discussion of, and scenes from, their 1971 comedy Made for Each Other. The film isn’t as all-around terrific as Lovers and Other Strangers, the Taylor/Bologna play-turned-movie (which I featured a few weeks back on the show), but it has some great scenes and a wonderful cast of supporting actors. Taylor stars as a quirky woman trying to make it in show-biz who starts dating a lothario (Bologna) she met at a group encounter session. Their relationship is bumpy, to be certain – in fact, some viewers will be reminded of the 1972 Cassavetes comedy Minnie and Moskowitz, which proceeds along the same lines. Here, the finest scenes involve Taylor’s strange cabaret act and the views we get of the lead characters’ families – Bologna’s parents are played by Paul Sorvino and Olympia Dukakis (while “Barney Miller” fave Ron Carey is one of the neurotics at the encounter session). The film is very much of its time, with both characters being very self-aware and (naturally, given the NYC setting) self-loathing. In the best sequences they wrote for both their plays and films, Taylor and Bologna approached the brilliance of Herb Gardner and Murray Schisgal (setting the best-known but bumpiest of all of these playwrights, the gent known as “Doc” Simon…).
1236.) Vintage: Although she might be best-remembered as Clint Eastwood’s significant other (onscreen and in real-life, for over a decade), Sondra Locke proved herself quite eager to choose bizarre roles, and odd subject matter for the films she directed. This week I’ll be paying tribute to the “incredibly strange” items in her filmography. I start off with Cover Me Babe (1970), in which she is the hippie girlfriend to a loathsomely pretentious filmmaker. Next up is the very bizarre “California nightmare” thriller Death Game (1977), in which a horny husband (Seymour Cassel) falls prey to the wiles of two blonde psychos (Locke, Colleen Camp) who knock at his door when his wife and kid are out of town; the film is half Manson-esque horror saga, half male fantasy turned sour. After that comes the very bizarre Suzanne (aka The Second Coming of Suzanne, 1974), another film about a pretentious filmmaker (this time out he’s supposed to be talented) who is making a film about a female Jesus, a role that he feels is perfect for hippie-chick Sondra. The final offering is Locke’s own Ratboy (1986), a bizarre comic fable that stars a host of noted comic actors and offers an allegory about fame and freakishness (although the real “story” here is that the Ratboy is actually a little female Mousketeer in disguise). Sondra has seemingly retired from show business, but she deserves credit taking on some very challenging roles in some very odd films.
1237.) Vintage: Matt Berry is a master at playing puffed-up egomaniacs who happen to be blessed with Berry’s own “plummy” voice. This week I’ll be discussing and showing scenes from the second season of his sitcom Toast of London (unseen in the U.S.), in which he plays the ultimate ham actor. The show is cowritten by Berry and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted) and features a sterling supporting cast. The situations are purely ridiculous, and the lead character’s acting resume continues to get worse and worse. In case the proceedings are getting too normal at any given time, Berry throws in a musical number that reflects his talent for writing mock rock operas and also legitimately good rock music. A few of the references in Toast’s dialogue are specifically English, but the lead character is yet another universally great British “grotesque” comedy character.
1238.) Vintage: This week I present another super-rarity, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s only TV variety special. Conceived as a tribute to the talents of his star Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), Like a Bird on a Wire (aka “Like a Bird on the Wire,” 1974) is a musical special that finds Mira performing both old and new songs from Germany and (North) America. Fassbinder places her in various environments to warble her tunes: a living room, a train coach, a gay bar, a fashion show, and some kind of glam gym. The show opens and closes with the song it is named for, by Leonard Cohen, but Mira also performs two songs that are very familiar to American audiences, one from a famous musical and another that is perhaps the most “Fassbinderian” pop song of all time. The copy of the show I’m airing is both crystal-clear and subtitled in English.
1239.) Vintage: An unusual Consumer Guide round-up this week, as I was in fact involved (with no financial interest, whatsoever) in both items. First up is a discussion of A Life in Dirty Movies, the documentary about cult filmmaker Joe Sarno. The film offers a very good “101” about his softcore career, with comments coming from fans and colleagues like John Waters, Annie Sprinkle, and Jamie Gillis, as well as film historians like yrs truly. Although it covers his most important films very well, the docu is primarily about his loving relationship with his wife Peggy, who served as both the backbone of his film crew and a one-woman support system as he became a senior. The second DVD title I’m reviewing is only available via Internet mail-order from Europe. It’s the first release of a clear copy of Joe’s too-little-seen cult classic Young Playthings. About two-thirds of the film now looks pristine, thanks to Peggy’s discovery of the original negative in a storage space (the other third comes from a very good version of the bootleg of this otherwise-lost film that has circulated since the Nineties). The film is arguably Joe’s best, a strange infusion of art into exploitation, in which two women who are in love with the same man become involved with a mysterious lady who puts on plays based on old legends in her apartment (performers are clad in white face paint, a few pieces of costuming, and nothing else). The Playthings release on Swedish DVD contains the 1997 Funhouse interview with Joe in which he spoke about the film, as well as his very productive time living in Sweden.
1240.) Vintage: To acknowledge the passing of Jerry Lewis, I resurrected, digitized, and re-edited this vintage document, a 1996 Funhouse episode about the Jer cohosted by artist Stephen Kroninger. We start out with the rare short “The Total Filmmaker” (made, seemingly, to indicate that Jerry was directing a film he didn’t get directorial credit on, Hook, Line and Sinker) and then discuss Jerry’s fan base (for better or worse). We show off some of Stephen’s “Jerry stuff,” his collection of vintage and odd Jerry memorabilia. The final half of the show is devoted to Jerry’s collaborator (and mentor, and – shhhh – the source of Jerry’s directorial style) Frank Tashlin. Clips are shown, books are exhibited, and a good time is had by all.
1241.) My Deceased Artiste tribute for Jerry Lewis was recorded a day before he died. What that means is that we did the annual “what’s new with Jerry?” episode, not knowing he was about to leave this mortal coil a day later. I have left the show intact (with updated opening crawl and closing title, of course) because this is the way that I’ve saluted the talent and abrasiveness of Jerry for 24 years now (there have indeed been 23 preceding all-Jerry eps!). We begin with a review of the new Kino Lorber release of Don’t Give Up the Ship, a Jerry vehicle directed by Norman Taurog, costarring the recently departed Dina Merrill as “Ensign Benson” (just imagine Jerry saying that name and you’ve got one running joke). I move on from that to the annual update as to Jerry’s activities: In this case, I discuss the “SCTV” aspect of the infamous “Hollywood Reporter” interview with Jerry, his statement about Syrian refugees, and the fact that “The Day the Clown Cried” is not going to see the light of day anytime soon. We close out with a cherry-picked selection of Telethon clips: What these are, in fact, are the clips I showed back in the early Nineties on my first two Labor Day Jerry episodes. I can thus vouch for their sheer beauty and Telethon purity (in addition to Jer, you’ll see Sammy, Tony O, and Charlie Callas!).
1242.) Many filmmakers have been influenced by “Uncle Jean” (aka J-L Godard) and a few have downright copied him. One among them is Jerzy Skolimowski, who by 1967 had left Poland and was working in Belgium. His first non-Polish film is the subject of this week’s episode: Le Depart, an extremely Godardian bit of mod cinema that stars two of the leads from the preceding year’s Masculin-Feminin (Jean-Pierre Leaud and Catherine Duport) and has the same cinematographer as that film (Willy Kurant). The plot is truly a throw-away – Leaud is a hairdresser who needs a Porsche to race in an upcoming rally – but the film has some delightful set-pieces and a great light-jazz score. For those who like Sixties cars, the picture also has its “car porn” sequences, including one where Leaud and Duport hide overnight in an auto trade show.
1243.) A trip to the Consumer Guide department, focusing on three works from the Sixties (which, as any good historian knows, really didn’t end until ’74-’75). First up is the Peckinpah masterwork Straw Dogs (1971), which remains controversial due to its high level of violence, a disturbing rape sequence, and Sam’s trademark quick edits. Next is The Pied Piper (1972), Jacques Demy’s grim, occasionally haunting retelling of the fairy tale with a great British cast working in German locations, and non-actor Donovan doing a good job in the title role. I close out with the new release of the first “season” (it was really half a season) of Laugh-In. The collection includes the first appearances of many of the characters and taglines that the show became famous for, as well as an impressive roster of guests for the blackouts and sketches. Also: the network TV debut of Tiny Tim!
1244.) I’m happy to return this week to the work of the greatest TV writer ever, Dennis Potter, for two episodes in which I discuss two overlapping teleplays he wrote in the early Seventies. The first of these is “Angels Are So Few” (1970), one of Potter’s “visitation” plays, in which an average couple or family is visited by a strange person, who could be a supernatural apparition, a delusional wanderer, or just a charming con man. In this instance, the scenario is a series of visits by an “angel” who at first bothers and then appeals to a bored suburban housewife. Scenes from “Angels” were resurrected a few years later for the teleplay “Only Make Believe,” about Potter’s own anguished writing of the play (to be seen on the Funhouse in future weeks). His work is often sad and tragic, but the beauty contained in the plays is better revealed with every repeat viewing.
1245.) The second and last part of my current tribute to Dennis Potter features his teleplay “Only Make Believe” (Play for Today, 1973), which functions as a reflection on the creation of his previous “Angels Are So Few” (1970). The play concerns a TV playwright (Keith Barron, who played Potter’s fictional alter-ego in the Sixties “Nigel Barton” plays) dictating his latest play to a typist (Georgina Hale, from Unkle Ken Russell’s The Devils and Mahler, among other films). The writer is, of course, a Potter surrogate who becomes fixated on the typist as he creates his saga of an “angel” visiting a suburban housewife. “Make Believe” is a good example of Potter supplying a chronicle of his creative life – as well as his hangups and neuroses. It is also another one of his beautiful portraits of unfulfilled longing. (And there is an Al Bowlly song at the end, although his writer character laments the lure of nostalgia earlier in the show.)
1246.) As a “later chapter” to my discussions on the show about May ’68 and its effect on European cinema – namely, in the “what next?” category – this week I present a discussion of, and clips from, Swiss filmmaker Alain Tanner’s “greatest hit,” the delightfully charming and surprisingly humorous Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976). The film openly refers to the impact that May ’68 had on politically active young people, with Tanner and his co-scripter, novelist John Berger, trying to offer answers to the aforementioned question. What’s next for the characters in the film – played by a great ensemble, including Mioux-Mioux and Dominique Labourier (Celine and Julie…) – are various methods of opting out of the system or undermining it. One couple run a farm, another gent becomes a teacher (intent on opening the minds of the younger generation), another woman covertly robs her employer (an overpriced gourmet supermarket), and one former radical (in between proofing jobs – yikes!) warns community farmers when bankers and realtors are plotting to buy their farms and sell them for more. Tanner made a number of great films, but the reason that Jonah has perhaps been viewed as his crowning achievement is that the characters are indeed so likeable and the plot is both politically relevant and engrossing.
1247.) I am always happy to offer the “American TV debut” of scenes from “missing” films from our favorite filmmakers. Tonight’s a suitably deadpan, bizarre comedy from Takeshi Kitano (aka “Beat” Takeshi) called Takeshis’ (2005; don’t ask why the apostrophe is there – only Beat knows!). The film is part of his very strange “episodic” period, in which he made films that “build” narratives through details found in individual scenes that sometimes function as comedy sketches or tongue-in-cheek melodrama. In this film, there are two Takeshis – the famous filmmaker who is known for playing yakuzas, and an aspiring actor who works in a convenience store. We follow the latter as he goes to auditions, meets people who think he’s the famous Takeshi, and does other (doomed) jobs in his spare time. The film works as a great surreal comedy, with a “wormhole” universe in which our beleaguered hero keeps encountering the same people in different contexts, but it also does contain a lot of shooting action as Kitano includes cartoonlike violence in even his funniest films. (Know your audience!)
1248.) Returning to the “Too Good for BBC-America” (and PBS) department this week, I feature clips from the British sketch show Psychobitches (2012-14), co-scripted and directed by Jeremy Dyson, of “The League of Gentlemen.” The show’s concept is that women from history, fictional females, and mythological ladies all visit a therapist (Rebecca Front, The Thick of It), who allows them to air their grievances, review their traumas, and generally do very strange things in the office. The patients – who range from empresses and politicians to movie stars, singers, children’s authors, and female monuments – are played by an array of great comic actresses, including Julia Davis, Sharon Horgan, Catherine Tate, Doon Mackichan, and Dyson’s pals from the “LoG.”