1457.) The latest episode on the career of the great, underseen-in-the-U.S., French filmmaker Bertrand Blier focuses on his 2000 film Actors. The film returns to Blier’s earlier full-throttle absurdist mode, as a group of noted French actors wander through various scenes, wondering why their requests are unanswered, why their careers are stalling, and most importantly, who is directing this film they’re in? The film had no distribution in America, but contains a great assemblage of French stars, with Belmondo, Delon, Piccoli, Depardieu, Brialy, and Lonsdale (among many others) putting in appearances – some of which are quite silly, while others are quite poignant. Staying in an emotional mode, the film ends with a very subtle, sweet tribute to Blier’s father, the beloved character actor Bernard Blier.
1458.) Back to the “you ain’t seein’ this anyplace else” department with Peter Greenaway’s unreleased-in-the-U.S. sensory assault Goltzius and Pelican Company (2012). The film weaves a tale around a real 16th–century Dutch printmaker, Hendrick Goltzius who, in this story, makes a proposition to a head of state in Alsace: if the Margate (played by a very lively and terrific F. Murray Abraham) will fund his ventures in publishing, he will put on a show with his traveling troupe of printmaker/performers of the “six sexual prohibitions” found in the Bible. Things get much stranger from there, with Greenaway indulging in all of his favorite passions: creating fictional stories out of colorful periods in European history; top-loading his films with incredibly, blissfully overloaded imagery; using a “painterly” approach to direction; and showing lots of nudity (and/or sex). Here we get all of those elements, in profusion. The cast of Dutch, Italian, and Slavic have rather thick accents in English, but subtitles solve all that (first time I’ve kept the subs on for a film in English), and the cast members seemed fine with Greenaway’s more “sensual” requirements. The film is glorious, yet was never distributed on these shores.
1459.) Certain cult movies hit on several different levels and correspond to many things I’ve covered in the past 28 years of the Funhouse. The 1990 Greek noir-horror-softcore-drama-comedy Singapore Sling is just such a film. Its bizarre retelling of the plot of the classic noir Laura is the foundation of the picture – on top of that are added some beautiful b&w images, much erotic material, a few gross-out moments, some horror-movie elements, broad comedy, and a clear love for both Preminger’s classic (and the hardboiled detective film in general) and cinematic tales of crazy women in “old dark houses.” The film is in circulation on disc but needed to be discussed on the Funhouse because it ties in with Funhouse faves Thundercrack! and The Mafu Cage (both discussed at length on the show), as well as other Funhouse topics, like the “role-play ritual” sex films of Joe Sarno and the “crazy women work over an unwitting male” thriller Death Game. And just when you think you know where it’s going, the two female leads do bits of the Laurel and Hardy dance from Way Out West as Rachmaninoff plays on the soundtrack. The film is the product of the wonderfully warped sensibility of its director, Nikos Nikolaidis, and richly deserves the cult it has gathered in the last three decad
1460.) The day after Xmas, 2021, marks the centennial of the birth of the great comedian-author-songwriter-pianist (etc) Steve Allen. He is a Funhouse favorite now and forever, so this episode begins a short series of shows intended to celebrate that fact. This particular episode focuses on the earlier part of his TV work, which includes the clips that are out “in circulation.” Thus, I’ll be discussing his career and showing a bit from his 1953-54 local NYC late-night show; some existing clips from his years as the host of the “Tonight Show” (a few of which he showed on his prime time variety show, thus “saving” them from the fate that befell the majority of the “Tonight” episodes he hosted, which were burnt by a tape-librarian to free up some shelf space!); and a few clips from his 1956-59 Sunday night primetime show (including the well-loved “Man on the Street” segment – containing a group of comic performers who all ended up achieving further fame as sitcom actors). Some of the clips are from the Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central – they changed the channel name while airing the Steverino shows) presentation of his primetime shows, recorded by me on VHS – so the sound is low, but this material can’t be seen outside of the Paley Center, so low sound it has to be.
1461.) This show will air on the centennial of Funhouse favorite Steve Allen, so I didn’t want to miss doing the episode, even though it’s airing on Xmas weekend. This particular show in the miniseries I’m currently doing devoted to Steve consists of clips from his primetime Sunday night series, “The Steve Allen Show” (1956-’59). During that run of shows, he perfected some of his best-remembered characters (this Funhouse tribute features “The Question Man” and his radio big-band announcer), brought on a range of top-notch talents as guests (he was competing with Sullivan, after all!), and he added more great names to his own ensemble comic actors on the show (I included Pat Harrington, Jr., and Dayton Allen in this ep). These shows were recorded by me when they appeared on Comedy Central in 1990 on VHS, so the sound and picture are uneven, but this material hasn’t aired in the 31 years since (and hadn’t played on TV for 30-plus years before the CC run), and can only be seen at the Paley Center, so I’m saluting century-old Steverino with a nice range of vintage clips.
1462.) Screw-up by Access HQ — episode 1460 shown again.
1463.) My trio of episodes about the centennial of Steve Allen’s birthday closes out with another collection of clips from Steve’s 1956-’60 primetime variety show. While the show did have the two staples of variety shows – celebrity guests and repeated taglines for certain comic characters – it also had an unexpected air, since Steve himself ad-libbed wonderfully (as did some of his comic ensemble) and the combination of guests was so bizarre that the tone of the show would often change from scene to scene. Thus, one sketch would feature a familiar character played by Steve or a cast member, another might simply be a short concept (as in “the panel show that just consists of introducing the guests”), or two guests might embody different eras of entertainment (with the “old” and the “new” being contrasted during one episode of the show). As with the other episodes in this series, I edited this together from tapes I made back in 1990 of Steve’s presentation of his old show clips on Comedy Central. Thus, the sound and picture leave something to desire, but the clips have landed in limbo (no DVD set of Steve’s TV shows is on the horizon, and none was ever released), and so it’s worth turning up the TV to hear certain bits.
1464.) Vintage and re-edited: For the fourth and final (for now) tribute to Steve Allen on the centennial of his birthday, I have digitized an episode that aired in Spring of 2001 (as part of my multi-episode Deceased Artiste tribute to Steve), edited out some of the contents, and added some never-seen-on-the-Funhouse material. This episode is a celebration of the 1967-and-after color series hosted by Steve. First, a discussion of, and clips from, his landmark late Seventies PBS series “Meeting of Minds,” which found him “interviewing” historical individuals and having them debate each other. After that, I move back to his comedy series by showing bits from his infamous “Prickly Heat Telethon” sketch (which was part of his 1967 summer series of primetime specials), the first-ever lengthy comedy sketch that spoofed TV telethons – and it appeared only one year after Jerry Lewis’ MDA telethon aired nationally. (Steve denied it was parodying Jerry, but its most prominent element is a comedian-host who get angrier and angrier as the telethon goes on….) Then it’s on to Steve’s syndicated 1968-’72 talk show, a charming low-budget affair that still had a great deal of energy and innovation and was sadly the last time Steve had an open-ended program on the air.
1465.) We reach the current century in my ongoing presentation of scenes from the films of the great absurdist comic filmmaker Bertrand Blier, whose work is exceedingly hard to find in the U.S. The unseen-in-the-U.S. film this week is Les Cotelettes (2003), Blier’s screen adaptation of his own play, starring the same two actors who performed it in Paris, Philippe Noiret and Michel Bouquet. The plot is a satire of colonialism, with the characters played by Noiret and Bouquet first arguing politics (both seeming quite pompous in their declarations) and then debating the future of the Arabic housekeeper (Farida Rahouadj, Blier’s wife) they have fallen in love with. They both want what they want, but they soon have a weary, old Death (Catherine Hiegel) to deal with. Cotelettes (which translates as “cutlets” or “lamb chops,” as used in the film) may have an over-obvious premise, but the dialogue, performances, and visuals are strong, and Blier came up with an out-of-the-blue ending that saves the film entirely with its absurdity (of a kind Blier has never before used).
1466.) Returning to the work of another Funhouse favorite, Canadian TV auteur Ken Finkleman, this week I present scenes from his 2011 cable series “Good Dog.” The series began as a sort of riff on Larry David’s work, with Finkleman playing the character from his terrific “Newsroom” series wandering around the streets of Toronto complaining to his layabout friend (and having a relationship with a younger, too-chipper model). The show became excellent in its second season (an entirely different incarnation of the series), but “Good Dog” had some excellent moments of cranky, dark humor, including an episode in which the cute model girlfriend wants to convert to Judaism and Finkleman is hellbent on stopping her.
1467.) Moving toward the last films in the career of Bertrand Blier, this week I talk about the last work of his to have a U.S. distribution deal, How Much Do You Love Me? (2005). The film is one of the better plotted of his later farces and has at least two scene-stealing supporting performances. The basic plot involves a schlemiel with heart trouble (Bernard Campan) who tells a hooker (Monica Bellucci) he has won the lottery and wants her to live with him. What he doesn’t know is that she has a husband — a menacing gangster (Gerard Depardieu) who has elegant taste. How Much showcases the characters in Blier’s stylish visuals (with panes of glass and slow zooms adding a distance to the narrative). In the process two supporting characters are allowed to steal scenes: the schlemiel’s doctor friend (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and a neighbor (Farida Rahouadj, who is Blier’s partner in real life) who lectures the central duo on their lovemaking.
1468.) Returning to the work of Canadian sitcom auteur Ken Finkleman, I offer this week a discussion of, and clips from, Finkleman’s 2012 sequel to his “layabout” show “Good Dog,” titled “Good God.” In this show Finkleman returned to the source of some of his best-remembered comedy, a newsroom – but not just any newsroom, because in this show he made his abrasive, apathetic alter-ego George Findlay the head of a fictitious right-wing Canadian news network (nicknamed “Fox News North” by the characters). The result is a brilliant season of grim comedy that stood as a kind of return to “The Newsroom” (Finkleman’s 1996-2005 CBC hit, syndicated on PBS in the U.S.). Among the many wonderfully dark topics tackled in the batch of episodes discussed here are how to make the proper cable-news apology to an audience (for bad behavior off-camera) and how to manipulate a fake fatwa against one’s one lead commentator.
1469.) My series of shows about the underseen-in-the-U.S. work of the great absurdist filmmaker Bertrand Blier moves to the most recent title to be found with English subtitles (his second to last currently), Le Bruit Des Glacons (2010, aka “The Clink of Ice”). This particular work offers some full-blown absurdist humor tinged with a moving sentimental streak. The plot involves an alcoholic author (Jean Dujardin, THE ARTIST, J’ACCUSE) who is visited in his remote house by a gentleman who declares that he is the author’s cancer. The person who cares the most for the author is his maid, who is also pursued by her own living embodiment of cancer (a bit dowdier, since this cancer is that “of the employee”). Can these two potential lovers have a relationship before their colorful but determined cancers kill them off? Viewers will learn the answer, while also seeing how Blier uses a wonderful collection of music in the film, including pieces by several classical composers, Leonard Cohen, Felix Leclerc, and Nina Simone (singing Brel).
1470.) The second of two episodes about Ken Finkleman’s last (to date) series, the wonderful news/politics/office-life satire “Good God” (2012). In this episode I use scenes from the latter batch of episodes, in which Finkleman’s character George Findlay is desperate to get fired from his post running a right-wing network in Canada (nicknamed “Fox News North”). Finkleman’s devotion to the Old Masters of cinema crops up in this episode in a sequence that references a famous moment from one of Godard’s films. And, as always in Finkleman’s work, the supporting cast get as many laughs as he does – here the familiar faces include Lolita Davidovich, Samantha Bee (playing an airheaded conservative chat-show host, at the same time she was a correspondent on “The Daily Show”), and Annie Murphy (from the sitcom that everyone loves too, too much). As of this airing, Finkleman seems to have retreated from working in television, but hopefully he will return soon, so we can find out what George Findlay is trying to avoid doing next.
1471.) The last (for now) of my episodes about the great satiric French filmmaker Bertand Blier leaves off where he began. Since there is no English-subtitled copy of Blier’s last film (from 2019), I decided to discuss, and show scenes from, the two features he made before he went absurdist in the 1970s. The first is Hitler, Connais Pas! (1963), a carefully edited documentary that is comprised of young people discussing their passions, dislikes, and opinions; Blier edited the interviews so that the film takes on the air of a conversation at points, intercutting comments and looks between the participants (who never met each other). The second is the thriller Si J’etais un espion (1967, aka If I were a spy), which features Blier père (the great character actor, Bernard Blier) as a doctor who gets caught up in a hunt for a presumed Communist spy. This film has its Hitchcockian aspects (as well as the clear influence of Clouzot), and yet it does prefigure Blier’s later absurdist comedies in the weird familiarity of the spy to Bernard B’s doctor character. It also boasts a score by Serge Gainsbourg that at points is more evocative than the scenario.
1472.) Returning to the “Too Good for BBC-America” department, this week I begin a two-episode salute to the unconventional British sitcom “15 Storeys High.” The show was created and co-scripted by, and starred, the wonderfully “dark” standup Sean Lock, who sadly died in late 2021. The premise of the show is simple: an anti-social lifeguard (Lock) who works at a local pool provides “life lessons” for his naive Mancunian roommate (Benedict Wong). Added onto that continuing storyline are odd vignettes from the daily lives of the other inhabitants of the apartment complex that our anti-heroes live in. The result is a delightfully skewed, often grim, view of life on the outskirts of a big city. (In this case, London.) Lock was a solid standup and panel-show regular who found his perfect vehicle in this odd little show, which ran from 2002 to 2004.
1473.) The second of two episodes about the blissfully low-key, anti-social sitcom “15 Storeys High.” The show was created and co-scripted by, and starred, the late Sean Lock, a much-beloved TV presence in the U.K. who crafted the show to fit his standup persona — a perennially cranky gent who has an obstinately peculiar take on the world. The show’s premise — a lifeguard (Lock) at the local pool gives “life lessons” to his naive roommate (Benedict Wong) — is thin but perfect for providing a set-up for complicated confusion. This episode concentrates on the second season of the show (from 2004), which found Lock and his cowriters finding even more embarrassing situations for the characters to fall into.
1474.) Proving that we never grow tired of our favorites in the Funhouse, this week I present the fourth and final part of the tribute to Federico Fellini tribute I started for his centennial. This time out, I focus solely on his last four films (two of which weren’t included in that big ol’ Criterion box). These include his only theatrical political film And the Ship Sails On and what I like to call the three “goodbye films.” In each of these Fellini was bidding farewell to some aspect of his work and life. In Ginger and Fred he had Show Business Past intrude on Show Business Present. Intervista found him saying goodbye to Cinecitta, the studio where he shot some of his masterpieces (and having Marcello [dressed as Mandrake the Magician] and Anita look back at their youthful selves La Dolce Vita). His last film, Voice of the Moon, has Benigni as a poet musing “Where does the fire go when it goes out?” as the past and present are juxtaposed and there is a final plea by Il Maestro for “a bit more silence.” Fellini’s last three films don’t directly focus on death, but they do offer meditations on aging and the past, and thus bounce right up against the wall of mortality (and, a favorite theme in the Funhouse, memory).
1475.) Vintage: This week I move deeper into my “autumn of UK comedy” with a second episode devoted to the work of Glaswegian comedian and Internet wiz Brian Limond, aka “Limmy.” His series Limmy’s Show! (2010-13) showcased his comic characters, as well as his wonderfully dark sense of humor. In this episode I discuss his comedy and show scenes from the second season of the program, with the spotlight on new situations and characters, including a brilliant bit he did a few times about a very grim TV psychic.
1476.) Easter time brings the annual (or nearly annual) discussion of, and excerpts from, Christian melodramas. There are thousands of these suckers accumulating on streaming platforms currently and —– while many are cookie-cutter, Hallmark Channel-type “inspirational” stories — some are truly worthy of interest from those who seek the ultimate so-bad-it’s-good experience. In that area, we have two beauties this week. The first, The Young Believers (2012), is an incredibly innocent morality tale about four teen friends who have avoided drinking, smoking, and anything resembling sexual activity but who are “challenged” as high school graduation approaches. Awkwardly shot and poorly acted, it has some great moments. The second feature, 2025: The World Enslaved by a Virus (2021), is a stunner that was shot in Germany by German filmmakers, albeit in English. The feature imagines a pandemic world where the lockdowns lead to a banning of Christianity (because one of the prime messages in Xtian cinema is that every society cracks down on Xtianity these day – even if they don’t). This results in an underground that finds Xtians spreading their word through old means (spray-paint on walls) and newer ones (live streams and hacking websites). This particular screed is well-shot but it has one lovely element, the German accents possessed by most of the leads, that pushes it into a special area of kitsch cinema (although fans of Neil Breen will recognize the obsessions with hacking and messages of love and brotherhood being spread through technology).
1477.) Easter time means Krazy Kristian movie time on the Funhouse. In this episode, I discuss and show excerpts from not one, not two, but three “micro-budgeted” thrillers made by an intrepid Xtian filmmaker who crafts what amounts to elaborate home videos (usually with a genre-movie plotline) starring her family – her husband, her three young daughters, and herself – in every key role. It’s unique and, as the label goes, “incredibly strange” feature-making in which the most indelibly odd moments in which a family member show up in a rubber mask as an obliquely seen character. You’ll have to see it to believe it.
1478.) Back to the “stuff you ain’t seein’ anyplace else” department with a French New Wave classic that has never been on VHS or DVD or basically any physical medium in the U.S. (and is only rarely shown at rep houses). The film is Adieu Philippine (1962) and it’s the work of filmmaker Jacques Rozier, one of the least-known of the New Wave directors, but the film was touted to the heavens by both Godard and Truffaut. It involves two young women who fall in love with the same young man — the two are impetuous and open-minded and so they “share” him for a time; the young man likes the girls but has his mind on his upcoming military service in Algeria (during the Algerian War). Rozier thus puts a deadly serious event at the core of what is mostly a jovial summer movie, which moves from Paris to Corsica, as the girls follow the boy on his vacation before he is “called up.” Rozier’s editing is inventive and keeps the film breezing along, while the musical soundtrack — consisting of an orchestral soundtrack, pop singles, and a steady flow of cha-cha music — furthers the notion that the film is light-hearted, but the about-to-be-broken hearts of the girls and the confusion of the boy remain at the forefront, even during the lightest, most pleasant scenes.
1479.) Returning to the “stuff you ain’t seein’ anyplace else” dept, this week I present a discussion of, and clips from, Claude Miller’s feature debut The Best Way to Walk (1976). This episode is the first in a series of shows devoted to the work of the great French actor Patrick Dewaere, who committed suicide at the age of 35 in 1982. Best Way was the breakthrough role for Dewaere, who two years before had scored success as part of a comedy team with Depardieu in Blier’s Going Places. Best Way is a more serious film about summer camp counselors in 1960. When Dewaere’s character stumbles onto another counselor’s secret (he likes to dress in women’s clothes), he torments the other counselor in various ways. The result is a twisted relationship between the two that reaches a boiling point in a great costume party sequence at the film’s end. Dewaere delivers a fascinating performance in the film – his character is an asshole bully who is compulsively watchable. Meaning that Best Way started a six-year run of starring parts for Dewaere that lasted until his untimely death.
1480.) A few years back, a friendly viewer noted that he enjoyed the Funhouse but was not as fond of “when you show those commie movies.” (He wasn’t joking.) I can only imagine that this particular episode will not be to his liking as I present a discussion about, and scenes from, Glauber Rocha’s by no means subtle but still stirring allegory The Lion Has Seven Heads (1970) about the fight against colonialism. Shot in Africa, the film finds Funhouse favorite Jean-Pierre Leaud in very high gear, playing a preacher (equipped with a lovely big hammer) who claims he has enslaved a demon – who is in fact a Latin-American radical that has come to Africa to help the local rebels oppose their colonizers. The colonizers are Europeans who hold the locals in contempt and act grotesquely. Rocha’s visuals are influenced by the work of Godard, but his storytelling methods are strictly his own. The musical soundtrack adds to the sensory overload, as Lion works as both a piece of mythology and a rousing allegory.
1481.) Returning to the “stuff you ain’t seein’ anyplace else (in America)” department, in this show I discuss and show scenes from An American Dream (2016), a dark “coming of age” social satire by the great Canadian comedy writer-director-actor Ken Finkleman. Here, Finkleman gives us as a blend of the Dickens coming-of-age model and the “bildungsroman,” set in contemporary, media-glutted America. Our young antihero starts out as a high school athlete, moves on to corporate boardrooms, then evangelical salesmanship, and ends up as the prey in a reality show execution contest. In the meantime, he “sees through” certain tragic incidents he witnesses and is given the unvarnished truth in a brilliant scene that mocks The Matrix. The film played only in the U.S. at certain film festivals, so I’m happy to present Finkleman’s amusing American nightmare to an audience that will never have seen it.
1482.) Returning to French film for a light sex farce, this week I present scenes from Catherine and Co. (1975), a Jane Birkin vehicle that follows a free-spirited British woman in Paris. Birkin’s character is quite “giving” with her sexuality, but she never, ever would consider being a prostitute. When one of her bed partners (Jean-Claude Brialy) explains the principles of small businesses to her, she incorporates herself and makes her regular bedmates “investors” in her corporation. This farce, coscripted by later noted filmmaker Catherine Breillat, is a quite genteel softcore film, in that the only simulated sex is seen between Birkin’s character and her true love, played by Patrick Dewaere; both she and he begin to prize the money they “fall into” and this becomes a turning point for their relationship. The film is a pleasant enough sex comedy but it is transformed by the lead performers (an ensemble that also includes Jean-Pierre Aumont) into a charming trifle that made quite a lot of money in its day.
1483.) Back to the “You Ain’t Seein’ This Anyplace Else” dept for another comedy feature with the late, much missed, Patrick Dewaere. Coup de Tete (Hothead, 1979) is a wonderful comedy about that most basic of emotions, vengeance. Dewaere plays a small-town guy who hates his small town, as he works in the local factory and plays soccer for the company-owned local soccer team. He is an expendable worker/player – or so they think – so when the team’s star player rapes a woman one night, Dewaere is framed by the police and team coaches. That same player has problems playing in a championship game, and so Dewaere is released from prison for one weekend to play soccer (whaddya want, it’s a comedy!). He then wreaks his revenge on the town he’s hated all his life in glorious fashion. The film was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and scripted by comedy specialist Francis Veber (The Tall Blonde Man…, La Cage Aux Folles).
1484.) 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.
1485.) 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).
1486.) As a birthday episode this year, I give a gift to the viewers: the first of two episodes about the incredibly rare, never released in the U.S., anthology Chacun son cinema (2007, aka To each his own cinema). Made to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, the film is a compilation of shorts from over 30 famous filmmakers from around the world (including a handful of souls who are Funhouse favorites I’ve devoted multiple episodes to). I first showed shorts from the film in 2010 (rerun in 2011), but that was when copies of films gleaned from the Net were sorta glitchy, and I now have a perfect (and perfectly subtitled) copy of the film. Thus, I discuss the personalities who are saluted in the shorts (most of them pertaining to either French or American cinema) and run through the names of the artists who directed the shorts. The theme is the moviegoing experience (in theaters – no home viewing), and the resulting shorts are quite emotional, as several of the filmmakers harken back to their childhood or the moment when they saw a film that made them want to be a director. All kinds of different theaters are seen and the entries are, again, quite moving and in some cases very funny.
1487.) Part 2 of two episodes discussing and showing short films from the 2007 anthology feature Chacun son cinema. Created to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, the film features more than 30 reflections on the moviegoing experience (in theaters, no home screens!) from an incredible assortment of noted filmmakers from around the world. The film has never been officially released in the U.S. and so I’m glad to return to it for the first time since I excerpted shorts from it in 2009, as I’ve obtained a much better copy of it, and it *still* hasn’t played over here in the ensuing 13 years. The shorts each run three to four minutes, and most are quite wonderfully moving.
1488.) A first in the 28 years of the Funhouse: I won’t name the film I’m discussing and showing certain scenes from this week. Suffice it to say it was made in the Hollywood mainstream, is an unintentionally funny misfire, and demonstrates how a much-beloved director can go off the rails, thinking he’s capable of tackling a movie genre that he has no idea about. It’s worth tuning in to see.
1489.) To commemorate the 77th anniversary of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s birth and the 40th anniversary of his death, I present two episodes about his life with scenes from recently (finally!) subtitled documentaries. For the first of these shows, I present clips from the (most likely) first and (most definitely) last interview with RWF on film. The first comes from the 1970 documentary End of the Commune? about the “Antiteater” theater group that RWF led — this last being a problem explored in the documentary, as the group was a collective that was not supposed to have leaders. The doc shows RWF directing the ensemble in rehearsals for an upcoming play, being booed when his first film played the Berlin Film Festival, speaking about the themes in that picture, and discussing his thorny relationship with his father. The second documentary excerpted in this episode is The Wizard of Babylon (1982), a film that is a making-of for the film Querelle but is better known for containing the very last interview RWF gave, only 10 hours before his death. The footage of RWF’s last interview is revelatory, as it shows him thinking quite clearly and articulately, and not in the thick of an alcoholic or drug-induced haze — but he looks utterly exhausted and far older than his 37 years. Wizard was missing from worldwide distribution for the last 39 or so years, because (online rumor has it) Fassbinder’s mother had it “removed” from the public eye. Thanks to the amazing Rarefilmm site, though, the film can once again be seen with English subtitles.
1490.) Traveling back to the “you ain’t seein’ this anyplace else” department, this week I discuss and show scenes from Paul Morrissey’s Trash (aka Andy Warhol’s Trash – Andy put up the money but was never on-set). I’ve seen the film multiple times and am always drawn in by it. While Morrissey himself claims it’s a tract showing that people who take drugs and want welfare are human garbage, what is actually in the film is a different story – the characters are endearingly sleazy (thanks to the actors) and their circumstances do not come off as “sponging off society” but as people who made dozens of bad decisions. Joe Dallesandro stars as a junkie who lives with a horny garbage collector and reseller (Holly Woodlawn). Joe is the quiet center in the maelstrom of characters who talk a lot – from Holly to other “Factory girls” (Andrea Feldman, Jane Forth), the film contains over-the-top characters living in extreme circumstances.
1491.) Another visit to that well of films “you ain’t seein’ anyplace else,” as I return to the work of the cranky indie legend (who would probably hate all three of those terms), Paul Morrissey. Women in Revolt was his 1971 offering, following the enormous success (for what would now be called a “micro-budgeted” film) of Trash. Women starts out taking hits on the women’s liberation movement of the time, but then leaves that idea behind and just pursues the fictional daily lives of its three stars. Sadly, Holly Woodlawn doesn’t contribute much (she says in her autobio that she was extremely drunk throughout the shooting) but at least is around to tout the concept of lesbian love as being liberating for women and to dry-hump various cast members. Warhol was present during the shooting of the film (a rarity for the Morrissey features, post-’68), working the camera for some scenes (he reportedly put the film in backwards). Women is dominated by Holly’s two iconic “sisters” in drag – Candy Darling eschews feminism for Hollywood (while doing impressions of stars like Kim Novak and Joan Bennett), taking the film in a completely different direction as she encounters a “casting couch” situation with an agent, while Jackie Curtis (whose background as a playwright made him the best ad-libber in the cast) rips off the money raised by her women’s lib comrades to seduce a male body builder and [gasp] become a mom. Women is clearly a film that Morrissey “lost control” of, but it’s still a great testament to his showcasing of some of the best and funniest chatterboxes in cinema in the late Sixties and early Seventies.
1492.) Closing off my commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s death and the 77th anniversary of his birth, I discuss and show scenes from the Christian Braad Thomsen’s 2015 doc Fassbinder: Love Without Demands. The film centers around a series of interviews the Danish critic did with RWF, including two shot on film at different times in the Seventies – the first when Fassbinder was producing his “flow” of early films, after he had made the changeover from “alienated” dramas to richer, sympathetic material, and the second in 1978 when he was a superstar in the film world, who still couldn’t stop working (in film, television, and theater). Thomsen touches on major themes in Fassbinder’s work and also his personal life, and how the lines blurred between that and his activity on movie sets. All told, it’s a moving and realistic view of RWF that tries to process his personal and professional behavior.
1493.) Starting off a little series of episodes about “Forgotten Filmmakers of the French New Wave” (per a recent retrospective), I discuss and show scenes this week from Henri Colpi’s Une Aussi Longue Absence (A Long Absence, 1962). The film is a heartbreaker of the finest order, as an Italian woman (Alida Valli) who runs a small suburban cafe believes that a homeless man (Georges Wilson) who has appeared in her town is her husband, who disappeared during WWII after being imprisoned and tortured. The film has an “Italian tone” to it thanks to Valli, the presence of opera on the soundtrack (the one thing that the homeless man responds to), and flourishes of emotion that are straight out of Italian cinema. Colpi was better known as an editor (for filmmakers ranging from Alain Resnais to David Hamilton) and, although his direction here is excellent, the one credit that receives the most attention is the co-scripter, Marguerite Duras, who is best known for her own, rather oblique filmmaking. Though punctuated by quiet moments, Absence is anything but oblique and thus lingers in the memory.
1494.) Continuing the series of episodes based on the “Forgotten Filmmakers of the French New Wave” film festival, this time I spotlight Jean-Pierre Mocky, a very prolific director whose many works were barely seen in the U.S. His second film as a writer-director, Un Couple (1960), overlaps with the concerns of the French New Wave, as he shows us a marriage falling apart. The couple in this case is young, and was madly in love and very sexually active. Mocky and his co-scripter Raymond Queneau (who wrote Zazie Dans Le Metro) pick up the relationship as the sex has been leaving and the love is about to go. The latter is due to individuals coming on to both the husband or the wife, and the couple wearying of each other. The oddest, but welcome, aspect of the picture, are some broadly comic moments featuring the characters that surround the husband and wife. These on occasion clash with the very serious central story, but also serve to sketch the couple’s environment.
1495.) Returning to the titles in the “Forgotten Filmmakers of the French New Wave” festival, this week I discuss Le Bel Age (1960), directed by Pierre Kast. It’s a romantic comedy-drama that chronicles the romantic and sexual fortunes of a certain groups of Parisians. The film’s script by Kast and star/scripter Jacques Doniol-Valcroze is divided into three tales, the standout of which is an Alberto Moravia story about three bachelors competing for women they wait on in a small boutique. AGE is a bright and witty confection that boasts both a terrific cast (including Jean-Claude Brialy and writer-musician Boris Vian) and great dialogue.
1496.) This year is the centennial of the birth of Russ Meyer. Russ was an important part of the early years of the Funhouse, since the very first clip shown on the show was one of his indelibly weird montages, and I interviewed him a few years into the show. (It was, like a lot of Russ’s work, short but potent.) To celebrate his 100th birthday, I show scenes from his earlier films that were most recently released on DVD (and were never on VHS). They are nudies but not the usual kind, since Russ innovated the art of having his narrator discuss anything but the girls onscreen – or, if they were mentioned, it was in a purposefully metaphorical fashion. I close out with a bit of the later Meyer, when he was fully in his Eisensteinian mode, swapping images every few seconds and building titanic towers of quick cuts, showing you every image you’d seen in the preceding film, but in a lightning-fast montage, accompanied (always) by intentionally ridiculous narration.
1497.) Vintage (from 2006!): The Funhouse must celebrate Labor Day the way it is meant to be celebrated: with an ample dose of the Jer at his most rambunctious (some might say intolerable). This year, our 13th tribute to the le roi kicks off with the annual health update — rather brief this year as the “unkillable” one doesn’t seem to be phased by minor things like heart attacks. I focus once again on the “love story” that is the Martin & Lewis teaming, with a review of Jer’s NY Times bestselling ghost-written memoir about his partner, his brother, his mentor, his cruising-for-babes chum, his everything, Dean Martin. After you are regaled with the book’s single most disturbing sentence (and it ain’t the part where he disses Groucho for no reason—that’s just petty), I offer up at least one more example of Dean not digging Jer on-air. We then turn to the trove of DVDs that was released two years back to offer up special moments from the “bonus features,” which include rare trailers, outtakes, bloopers, featurettes (showing scary rehab Jer), and some very nice views of the lovely young Ms. Stella Stevens. I close out with a discovery made as the show was “going to press”: a goateed Jer (tres cosmopolitan, dontcha think) acting in an insanely misguided moviemaking skit on Jimmy Durante Presents The Lennon Sisters (1969-70). Each year my Jerry tributes turn dozens of viewers off (the narrow-minded fools); there is no way I could resist not taking up that gauntlet once again. Enjoy!
1498.) Part one of a small series of Deceased Artiste episodes about filmmaker Bob Rafelson. In this first show, I cover the “banner years” of his work, from 1968 to 1976. In this time, he… closed off the Monkees saga with the meta-movie Head; produced Easy Rider and thus changed American film forever; made a box-office hit that was also a low-budget personal film and the genesis of the legend that is Jack Nicholson (Five Easy Pieces); directed a virtually perfect low-key character study (King of Marvin Gardens); and created a misfire comedy that aimed to satirize Southern millionaires and the sport of bodybuilding (Stay Hungry). Rafelson kept making films for the next quarter-century, but he was never again in as easy-going a relationship with his producers as he had been in the Sixties-Seventies – when he and his friends at their studio-within-a-studio, BBS, were the sole producers.
1499.) Vintage: 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.”
1500.) Vintage from 2010, but newly digitized to pay tribute to the passing of Uncle Jean: In celebration of the recent 80th birthday of Funhouse deity “Uncle Jean,” aka Jean-Luc Godard, I am very proud to present the U.S. television premieres of two of his short video essays and scenes from two other brilliant video pieces. The pieces range in date from 1993 to 2002, with the biggest discovery — in terms of Funhouse “conceptual continuity” — being JLG’s “sampling” of a Serge Gainsbourg song in one of his videos (with an appropriately dense visual overlay as it plays). The shorts that will be seen in their entirety are the very short-short “Je Vous Salue Sarajevo,” which analyzes a photo of the conflict over there, and “De l’origine du XXIeme siècle.” The latter is a beautiful creation: a summation of the 20th century in a mere 15 minutes that spotlights the tragedies and horror of the century, counterpointed with gorgeous sequences from classic films (including a Jerry Lewis citation, utilized for its “chromatic” aspect). The end is a terrific metaphor for the century, taken from Ophuls’ Le Plaisir. Godard continues to be arguably the most significant filmmaker alive, and these shorts are evidence of how great his work has been in his “senior” period.
1501.) Vintage, but newly digitized to pay tribute to the passing of Uncle Jean: Jean-Luc Godard is a Funhouse deity, and so this week I return to the well with a presentation of one of his finest shorts in mine ’umble opinion. “La Puissance de la Parole” (The Power of Words, 1988) is a beautiful short film that interpolates two narrative strands, both of which are powerfully emotional and both of which contain dialogue by a great, long-gone American author. One narrative depicts two gods (here seen as an older man and a younger woman out for a drive) having a conversation – from a short Poe text called “The Power of Words.” The other depicts a phone call between a couple that has broken up – with dialogue taken from The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain. Godard blends these two narrative strands with a variety of music and absolutely radiant imagery, for one of his finest but least-known shorts.
1502.) Vintage episode, upgraded with new video clips and interview footage: Fixated as we are with the work of “Uncle Jean” (aka master filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard), Media Funhouse could hardly let the appearance of a full-length Godard biography from a mainstream U.S. publisher (!) pass unnoticed. I had the opportunity to chat with JLG biographer Colin MacCabe recently, and this week we present part one of the discussion. Mr. McCabe talks about his approach to his subject, his chats with Godard intimates (who knew that the radiant Anna Karina was so unhappy that suicide attempts were made?), and his experiences as an exec producer on three (count ’em, three) Godard essay videos. Given the misguided preconceptions most folks have about Uncle Jean’s work (i.e., that it’s heavy and didactic – more about this in part two of the interview!), we will note that our chat is light and informal, and that the clips on this episode are from films that have remained unreleased in the U.S. (no musical numbers for Quentin Tarantino to latch onto).
1503.) Vintage, digitized and re-sized for your viewing pleasure: 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.
1504.) Last week’s episode shown again. Not my screw-up!
1505.) Vintage, for the best holiday: The Halloween season begins in the Funhouse with a two-part tribute to the man dubbed “Mister Monster” by Forry Ackerman – although he wasn’t really a monster/horror actor at all, outside of four or five films (out of the 150 he made, at least 50 as a star). This tribute to the inimitable Lon Chaney Sr., “the Man of a Thousand Faces,” covers the first part of his 1920s output, when he was a character actor becoming a star. The transition was made as a result of a series of long-suffering lead characters he played – Chaney’s pictures were “German humiliation films” several years before The Blue Angel brought that genre into existence. Lon went from playing “ethnic” parts and gangsters (what a mug on that guy!) to playing often-nasty or intimidating but always sympathetic characters. In this episode I discuss and show scenes from seven of his films, including the ones that made and confirmed him as a major box-office draw, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Also, two of his finest gangster pictures, The Penalty (1920) and The Blackbird, and one of his soapiest “ethnic” parts (and another amazing self-made makeup job), as a Chinese washerman in Shadows (1922). As Uncle Forry used to say, “Lon Chaney will never die!”
1506.) Vintage episode, upgraded with new video clips and interview footage: The conclusion of my interview with Jean-Luc Godard biographer Colin MacCabe finds Mr. MacCabe holding forth (with much good humor) on topics that need entire college courses to dissect, including: Uncle Jean’s use of citations from books, music, paintings, and other movies; the much-overlooked aspect of humor in his movies; his current, post-Marxist, 21st-century political outlook; and why his absolutely brilliant and essential video-essays haven’t yet cropped up on video or DVD in the U.S.
1507.) I return to my celebration of the work of Deceased Artiste Bob Rafelson with the second of three episodes devoted to his work. In this week’s installment I cover the years from 1981 to 1990 (the post-”exile from Hollywood” years), when Rafelson made two works for hire (that are both very stylish but have different attitudes toward the standard thriller model) and his own personal favorite film. The two thrillers are The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Black Widow, which both reflect Rafelson’s own stated dislike of film noir but obvious affection for hardboiled fiction (which supplied the storylines for five of the seven films he made after the Seventies “maverick era”). His version of Postman (scripted by David Mamet) adheres closely to James M. Cain’s novel and deals explicitly with guilt and morality (and the machinations that make it possible to go free as a murderer in our society); Black Widow, however, is an eye-catching wonder with two great lead performances that was made from a script that falls apart under any close examination. Mountains of the Moon (1990) was his personal favorite film, an epic-themed film about the 19th-century adventurer/explorer Sir Richard Burton and his comradeship and falling out with big game hunter/explorer John Speke. It did very poorly at the box office because the studio abandoned it, but it remained the film Rafelson spoke about with the most affection, since it reflected his own interest in travel and discovering new cultures.
1508.) The third and last part of my tribute to Deceased Artiste Bob Rafelson. His 1990s films are remarkably inconsistent – after his “dream project” (Mountains of the Moon) materialized, he returned to the director’s chair for a trio of films that don’t quite work. Man Trouble – the reunion of Rafelson, Nicholson, and FIVE EASY PIECES scripter Carol Eastman – has a great cast wasted in a half-baked screwball comedy. Blood and Wine has a great cast and an interesting premise and falls apart. Poodle Springs has a great premise (the last Philip Marlowe mystery, scripted by Tom Stoppard from the unfinished Chandler given life by Robert B. Parker), a miscast star, and a director who said he didn’t like film noir. (Yes, that’s one of Rafelson’s odder film tastes.) Thankfully, Rafelson’s last feature was very good – a modernization of a Dashiell Hammett story, No Good Deed stars Samuel L. Jackson as a police detective who lands in the middle of a motley band of crooks planning a high-tech bank heist. DEED (coscripted by Steve Barancik, the man behind The Last Seduction) is a character-focused gem that juggles its crime plotline with Jackson’s seduction by a black widow character (played by Milla Jovovich). It is definitely one of his best works-for-hire and provided an excellent “last movie” for him to go out on (although it wasn’t seen by many and hasn’t even gotten cult appreciation since Rafelson’s passing).