573.) Jumping from country to country is a favorite pastime in the Funhouse; this week our “Consumer Guide” allows us to bounce around the European Union as we salute three fave auteurs. First up is a segment on a quartet of early Kieslowski films that were recently released on DVD; the films are profoundly touching moral tales that range in tone from mock-documentary to a severely grim study of a soul in crisis. Next up is a review of the DVD release of The Five Obstructions, the unclassifiable “challenge film” that finds our pesky Danish deity Lars Von Trier engaging his former teacher, Danish renaissance man Jorgen Leth, in a cinematic mind-game in which Leth has to remake his splendid 1967 short The Perfect Human in various strange ways. Included in this segment is the second part of my interview with Leth, as the melancholy Dane reflects on making films in the ’60s and his “diabolical” one-time student Von Trier. Closing out the show, we provide some Halloween content by discussing the work of Ken Russell, currently the subject of a retro at the American Museum of the Moving Image. We focus in on Russell’s classic ’70s work, including the uncut version of his positively brilliant and blasphemous anti-clerical masterwork The Devils.
574.) Actress Carol Lynley has nothing to hide – this we found out when we conducted a lengthy, highly informal and fun interview with her at the Chiller convention. In the first of two parts, we discuss her early career as a virginal blonde in Disney’s way-too-wholesome Light in the Forest and her subsequent turn to freshly-scrubbed “delinquent” status in Blue Denim. Ms. Lynley also tells us what it was like working with Judy Garland (very briefly) on the doomed Harlow biopic in which she starred (released at the same time as the one starring former Funhouse guest Carol Baker). The episode’s focus is on Teutonic taskmaster Otto Preminger, who gave Carol her transitional roles as (yet another) pregnant teen in The Cardinal and the young mom seeking her missing moppet in Bunny Lake is Missing (in which she is comforted, and then menaced, by another former Funhouse guest, Keir Dullea). We close the show with a discussion of her most famous role, the willowy singer forced (gasp) to turn to Red Buttons for solace in everyone’s favorite camp disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure.
575.) You hang around Hollywood long enough, you pick up some stories. In part two of our interview with actress Carol Lynley, we move ahead in her career to the 1970s, when she made quite a few appearances on one of our fave cult addictions, “Fantasy Island.” Ms. Lynley regales us with anecdotes about “the lava-lava girls” (you’ll find out), a hair-raising encounter with a pistol-packin’ Tattoo, and another Funhouse fave, Roddy McDowall (who appeared in one of the single-most mind-warping episodes of the series with Carol, as a Sky Masterson-looking incarnation of Old Scratch himself). We also discuss her starring role in the old-fashioned parlor mystery The Cat and the Canary directed by (yet another Funhouse fave) Radley Metzger. Carol’s feelings about her career are quite candid, and we can definitely say we had a blast discussing it with her. Any friend of Mr. Roarke’s is a friend of ours….
576.) Foreign directors come in and out of fashion, but we in the Funhouse never cease lovin’ our favorites. This week’s vintage episode centers around three unreleased-in-the-U.S. movies from Aki Kaurismaki, one of Finland’s two leading directors (the other, by chance and genetic fortune, is his bro Mika). Kaurismaki’s movies come in two varieties and we’ve got ’both this evening: Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana, is one of his deadpan tales of backwoods hicks (Scandinavian hicks, that is) encountering life outside the sticks, while Drifting Clouds is a touching character study of a married couple trying to make ends meet. Along the way, they may turn to Kaurismaki characters’ usual pastimes – smoking, drinking, and listening to grungy rock’n’roll – but this time ingenuity (and, yes, a cute dog) is added into the mix. The final feature I Hired a Contract Killer retells a common theme for noirs – a man hiring a killer to murder himself, and then reconsidering – but adds a neat twist. Namely, a laid-off French office-worker (Funhouse icon Jean-Pierre Leaud) hiring his depressed killer in a run-down working-class section of England. All three movies haven’t played anywhere in the U.S. except at film festivals and in one-shot screenings at rep houses, so we’re proud to show scenes from them for the first time on U.S. television.
577.) Time to give thanks for great talent, and the excellent anecdotes that are inevitably attached to it. This episode is the third and just about final part of my “Deceased Artiste” tribute to the late, great Marlon Brando, focusing on his “last blast” early ’70s period and the uncommonly colorful character he grew into in the last quarter-century of his life. Yrs truly holds forth with several choice stories about the Big Man, followed by film clips and at least one great Marlon-controls-the-interview scene. We sum it all up with the most outlandish thing he ever committed to celluloid: his buck-toothed, white-faced, British-accented turn in the utterly unnecessary – but really essential, camp-wise – remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The sight of Marlon playing against el hombre mas pequeo del mundo, our own fave Nelson de la Rosa, couldn’t possibly be left out of any Funhouse tribute to one of the last century’s greatest actors.
578.) We are pro-gamine on the Funhouse, and so this week I’m proud to present a short interview I had recently with none other than the button-cutest actress working in movies today, Audrey Tautou. The chat occurred in conjunction with the opening of her latest film, A Very Long Engagement, directed by her Amélie auteur, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I also spoke with Jeunet, who speaks fluent English, and so responds to questions in a matter-of-fact fashion. Despite his short answers, we have a sterling collection of clips from his past features (including a Yuletide-specific gem from the dark City of Lost Children and one of several orgasm-related montages he’s created) to illustrate his superb skill at creating sequential gags (think Rube Goldberg with a dark-humor bent, or a fantasy-universe version of Jacques Tati). Ms. Tautou is not as fluent in English, and thus responds in a careful, lengthy fashion. A short selection of clips from her work to date supplements our discussion of her career, and her latest Engagement.
579.) Any excuse will be taken to turn the Funhouse into a musical wonderland, and so this week our “Consumer Guide” focuses exclusively on over-the-top musical entertainment. First off, we have a mini-review of an upcoming rep-house showing of the “forgotten” Jacques Demy-Catherine Deneuve musical. The holidays ain’t holidays without strange fairy tales, and Donkey Skin is exactly that: a princess loving her royal dad way too much, a fairy godmother, a ridiculous disguise, a Cinderella-style search for Ms. Right, and a tuneful, upbeat Michel Legrand score. Next up is a more mainstream musical feature, Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea. Yours truly speaks with two-time Oscar winner Spacey in a junket interview, and we show select clips from the film, which is two movies in one: an old-fashioned, gonzo musical (with the streets of the Bronx, the Copa, the Vegas strip, and an Italian villa all recreated in a German studio complex) and a serious drama about the jarring and profound transformations in Darin’s life. Speaking of said transformations, I felt the only way we could follow our chat with Spacey was to show his inspiration, and thus we roll out clips from The Darin Invasion, a 1971 Canadian TV special that features Bobby straddling show-biz worlds: he’s back in Vegas mode, but still clinging to his folk music side. We feature some clips that amplify Spacey’s presentation of Darin (including a song he leaves out of the movie, Darin’s biggest latter-day hit,“If I Were a Carpenter,” and one he does a few times, “Simple Song of Freedom”), and show that Darin, the man proclaimed as the “second best nightclub entertainer ever,” shared several things in common with the “best ever” (even Kev says so), Sammy Davis, including a love of Broadway and a knack for giving his audience (say it with me now) “110%.”
580.) We love to share our latest strange and entertaining finds with Funhouse viewers, and so this show contains clips from three items that have been released on cost-cutter DVDs that would most likely escape the notice of ordinary beings. The first is the Mondo Cane ripoff Mondo Balordo which boasts English narration by Funhouse hero Boris Karloff. The film features the usual parade of atrocities and lightly kinky subjects (a “Mondo” specialty), including a talented little gent (27” high!) whose stage act consisted of lip synching to other artists’ records while dressed in a zoot suit (here, he favors us with his impression of Louis Prima). The second film is the mind-boggling surf musical The Fat Spy which cuts between musical numbers by a Beach Boys clone-band and a comic plot featuring insult comic “Fat Jack” E. Leonard (as twin brothers), Phyllis Diller, Brian Donlevy, and the always estimable Jayne Mansfield. The rock numbers are catchy, but it’s the solos by Fat Jack and Jayne that really stand out in this strange artifact. The third and final atrocity (oops, meant entry) is a glitzy 1985 TV special that has somehow shown up on DVD in a nearly anonymous package—it’s “The All-Star Party for Dutch Reagan,” a tribute to the former President hosted by Frank Sinatra (who sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas” and introduces cohost Monty Hall), that is performed in front of a veritable audience of (very aged or under-contract-to-the-network) stars. Highlights include Dean Martin’s bit of Sammy Cahn-written “special material,” Steve and Eydie doing Woody Guthrie (their Vegas-y patriotic medley includes “This Land is Your Land”), and Ben Vereen and Emmanuel Lewis, well…tap-dancing. The whole thing is a joy to behold until Charlton Heston comes out and delivers a conservative speech from On High, and then you remember why you may have taken a pass on all the fun that preceded when this thing aired back in ’85.
581.) Whatever else TV may offer up at Xmastime, we at the Funhouse feel that it just ain’t the holiday season without black-and-white comedy. Thus, this year we pay tribute to the ’30s comedian most overlooked these days (we’ll save Wheeler and Woolsey for another time, thank yez), the inimitable Mae West. Mae’s movie career is rather amazing, as she went from being a supporting player who stole an otherwise awful movie (Night After Night, 1932), to an all-out star in two brazenly original comedies that she scripted herself (She Done Him Wrong, the film that saved Paramount from bankruptcy, and I’m No Angel), to playing in a series of middling, Hays Code-dimmed vehicles that substituted heapin’ helpings of dull plot for her usual ribald one-liners and set-pieces. She went back to the stage in the ’40s, and only made two films afterward (we’re taking a pass on Myra Breckinridge, which we covered years back), so she has a smaller body of work (insert hip-shaking, eye-rolling pun here) than most other classic screen comics. Our tribute consists of the usual bio-historical background, clips from her three pre-Code gems, select moments from the “leaner” pics (notice Budd Boetticher’s bud, ex-Cary Grant roomie Randolph Scott, getting an inspection in one clip), and her final moment of Golden Age screen glory – her pairing with W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee. We’ll also supply a glimpse of mega-camp Mae via a very high-energy scene with Keith Moon (Keith’s the energetic one) from her big-screen swan song, the very archly-strange Sextette, in which octogenarian Mae cavorts with some of our fave old-movie fans (Keith, Alice, Ringo) and some of her older compadres (George Raft, Walter Pidgeon), as well as everyone’s sidekick (Dom DeLuise).
582.) This week’s vintage episode focuses on the driest comedian to ever take on Johnny Carson, “mouse in the Rat Pack” Joey Bishop. The episode starts off with an especially bouncy late ’50s TV duet from the Chairman of the Board and Dino (who serenade a bunch of sitting pretties), and then it’s on to the, um…more “accessible” members of the Pack, as Sammy and Peter Lawford hype their new movie Salt and Pepper on the late-night “Joey Bishop Show.” Joey and his way-too-eager-to-please hench, the world’s most unctuous Irishman (aka Regis Philbin) show off their new Nehru jackets, designed to match Sam’s own super-groovy threads (although Sammy’s comes complete with roach-clip), and then it’s on to the entertainment: an Anthony Newley medley from Sam (“The Joker,” no two ways about it, is the killer); a spontaneous B-day party for the Bish; a tap-dancing competition that involves Sam, Joey, Joey’s brother Moishe, and Sammy Davis Sr.; and the requisite mutual-admiration session that made the talk shows of our youth cigarette-smoke-laden gold.
583.) This week’s vintage episode is a blissful potpourri of clips gleaned from the Game Show Network. Included are items from the mid-’50s through the mid-‘60s, plus commentary from yrs. truly. Shows covered are “To Tell the Truth” (clips include appearances by the inspiration for Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, Dr. Seuss, and Alan Freed — plus some oddly attired cheesecake), “Password” (guests include Otto Preminger, Sammy Davis, Peter Lawford, and James Stewart), and the most bizarre creation of the Goodson-Todman mill, “I’ve Got a Secret” (guests with prefab things to conceal include Joan Crawford, Boris Karloff, Jonathan Winters, and Salvador Dali).
584.) Our 2005 tributes to the “Deceased Artistes” of 2004 start off with one of our faves, Sir Peter Ustinov. This episode includes part one of my interview with said grand gent, plus clips from his long and storied career. Sir Peter turned out to be a loquacious and inarguably brilliant old gent who would’ve preferred to discuss world politics, but was always willing to take a side visit to the world of comedy. Also included is a clip from his terrifyingly innovative — and man, have you seen the imitations in the years since (there were three in one year alone back in the late ’80s!) — Vice Versa, a gentle farce starring Roger (“Col. Blimp”) Livesey and a young Anthony Newley (one child who was scarily identical to his later adult self in everything but vocal range). The plot finds childish dad and uncommonly mature kid switching bodies for the duration of a strange “curse” – Freaky Friday was years down the pike. As a reminder of Sir Peter’s knack for accents (as noted, he spoke a minimum of five languages), we also have clips from The Steve Allen Show and his one-man stage show, as preserved for Canadian TV.
585.) We close out our tribute to Deceased Artiste Sir Peter Ustinov with part two of my interview with the gent and several clips illustrating the breadth of his film work. We start out with a discussion of his finest film as a director, Billy Budd, and then swiftly turn to the character he was best known for in the latter part of his career, Belgian (not French, please no) super-sleuth and primpin’ dandy Hercule Poirot. My chat with the great man includes his discussion of the similarities between the legendary Max Ophuls and his confessed number one fan, Stanley Kubrick. In the process we talk about Ophuls’ never-realized project to follow Lola Montez and Ustinov’s wonderful English-language narration for Le Plaisir; this last is a particularly wonderful bit of business that finds Sir Peter impersonating Guy de Maupassant, speaking from beyond the grave. Some further reflections on Spartacus and Stanley K. lead to the finish, at which point I slid in the question that one is tempted to ask all older artists (that nasty little bit about “proudest achievement”). All in all, a Funhouse episode for the time capsule (to borrow Joe Franklin’s fave phrase), one that I’d include in the top ten of the few hundred we’ve done during the past 11 years hangin’ around your TV dial.
586.) This week’s vintage episode is an overview of the work of pretty-boy-with-demented-mind auteur Francois Ozon. The episode culminates with my short chat with Ozon, on the occasion of the release of Eight Women — right after he had finished production on The Swimming Pool, released a year after this show initially aired. Background is provided with a discussion of Ozon’s earlier films, with clips illustrating his mix of sensuality, humor, and downright creepiness. Then it’s on to the interview, which finds him reflecting on Eight Women, a gaudy tribute to the musicals and melodramas of the 1950s that features an ensemble of France’s most famous actresses. Moving away from the “tell me about your current film” press-junket Q&A, I also ask him to talk about a Funhouse hero, Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
587.) We never, ever grow tired of the work of our favorite Deceased Artistes, and so I take great pleasure in saying a final farewell to those who spun off this mortal coil in 2004, with special attention this time out going to those performers, artists, and entertainers who either were born or lived right here in the five boroughs. We start out part one of this two-parter with an editorial rant about what stank about last year (let us count the ways), then those Deceased Artistes who deserve “honorable mention,” and finally our tribute to four very dissimilar D.A.s. First off are two character comedians, Steve Allen regular Dayton Allen (who was born here way back in 1919 and is probably better known for his cartoon voices) and Soupy’s “nut in the door” (and voice of several memorable animal pals) Frank Nastasi. From those two certified crazy persons we turn to one of the most vibrant and disturbing novelists ever, Hubert Selby Jr., whose hardcore New Yawk accent is heard in a French TV documentary (he lived almost 40 years out in L.A. but the shirt he wears in the docu – “Rome, Paris, London, Bay Ridge” – sez it all). Finally we turn our attention to monologist and actor Spalding Gray — my segue is a reading from Selby’s amazing novel The Demon, which concludes with a character leaping off the Staten Island Ferry to a sad and watery death. We pay tribute to Gray’s talent as a one-man show, but also are required to dig out clips from the skeleton in this closet, his porn career. It was revealed back in the 1990s that Gray appeared in a few triple-X porn features in active starring roles, and we happen to have one of the prime examples, The Farmer’s Daughters (1973). The flick is a porn remake of The Defiant Ones (with three inmates instead of two) that finds SG having full-on sex (plus money shots—yikes) with several women in a brusque and generally unpleasant way (he’s also bearded, characteristically scrawny, and doing a very bad Tommy Udo psycho-crook performance). Due to MNN’s timid nature, I will not be showing anything overly graphic, but you’ll get the idea.
588.) I’ve lost track of how many of our Funhouse interview subjects have died (7 at least), but each time it happens, I’m very proud to conjure up their spirits – and their fine, frenzied accomplishments – with a tribute episode. This week’s show contains my original interview with Russ Meyer and most of the original film clips used on first airing; I’ve updated my host segments, and also swapped out some clips, most prominently including a glimpse at his last released picture, the patchwork affair Pandora Peaks. It and another, as yet unreleased, tribute to his one-time girlfriend Melissa Mounds were intended as modern-day updates of his classic Mondo Topless (replete with shots of his trademark tilted-angle shots of radios and oil rigs), but the film clearly also is an attempt to put out some of the unmade magnum Meyer opus “The Breast of Russ Meyer.” I’m quite proud of the interview (a small clip can be seen, btw, on this site by clicking here) since I got the “Mega-Mammary Mogul” to focus on his least-discussed films. He dismissed several of them (including his second Fox film The Seven Minutes), but was willing to talk about his German-funded Fanny Hill (no clips are shown, as I’ve seen it, have it, and it’s not all that interesting….), his slave-plantation saga Blacksnake, and Tom Wolfe’s participation (or lack thereof) in one of my personal faves Cherry, Harry & Raquel! We were also very proud to have Russ consider our camera as his personal soapbox for a few final minutes, as he chose to pitch his “Bosomania” video series. A man obsessed, and certainly one of the most talented exploitation filmmakers (with gorgeous cinematography and stunningly original editing) of all time.
589.) With the nationwide release of the action movie Ong-Bak, some folks are saying that “Thailand is the next Hong Kong.” Of course, Korea was in line to be the next Hong Kong for quite some time (and sorta was), and Japan has always been – well, a place that produces films that American producers either want to remake (from Rashomon on down to Ju-On) or steal shamelessly from (Kill Bill). In the meantime, Thai cinema has been growing by leaps and bounds, and so this week on the Funhouse I’m proud to present an interview with a talented Thai director done by our friend Art Black, all-’round Asian movie expert and writer for “Psychotronic” and “Asian Cult Cinema.” The director in question is Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, whose quietly stylish film Last Life on the Universe was released on DVD this week, which is perfect, considering the film focuses in a Wong Kar-Wai-like fashion on the impossibility of relationships succeeding, and the releasing company in question has slapped the film onto vidstore shelves in time for Valentine’s Day. Art cohosts the show, providing background on Ratanaruang (a name you won’t hear me attempting to pronounce) and discussing his very lengthy interview — chopped down to an MNN-friendly 28 minutes — with this self-confessed “lonely” auteur. In the process we show scenes from not only Last Life and 6ixtynin9, his fast-moving, darkly humorous noir (currently being ruined, er, prepared for a remake by Hollywood types), but also the unreleased-in-the-U.S. Monrak Transistor, a strange, amorphous love story that starts with a gross-out sequence, has numerous attacks, rapes, and shootings, but features at least three
great musical numbers. Ratanruang has made a living as a commercial director in between his four feature films, and he’s definitely a filmmaker to watch.
590.) This week’s Consumer Guide brings us back to three individuals whose work I’ve sung the praises of before on the show. First up is a review of the DVD release of Lenny Bruce Without Tears, the seminal first documentary on Lenny that, unlike most docus, presents its archival footage without many cuts. Its release leads us to a discussion of both the legendary, ground-breaking comic and filmmaker Fred Baker, who has had a very interesting and erratic career as a filmmaker and distributor. We jump genres and a few continents to talk about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Doppelganger, a strange item – unreleased in the U.S. to date — that moves from being an outright horror thriller to a Sierra Madre-like parable about greed. And from Kurosawa we move to one of his idols, our hero Jean-Luc Godard, for a review of the new Criterion release of Tout Va Bien, the most “commercial” of Uncle Jean’s flagrantly Marxist films. Starring Yves Montand and Jane Fonda, the film finds “He” and “She” stumbling into a strike and lockdown in a factory, after which they run through their relationship problems and.anarchy hits the local megamart! We’re proud to be the only review show that delves into the world of DVD extras, so we also explore the “bonus” film Letter to Jane, and interviews with Godard collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin and JLG at his scruffiest discussing what makes a “political film.”
591.) Repeat of episode 590 (technical troubles).
592.) We return to the work of one of the most stylish and creative softcore directors of the 1960s and early ’70s, Joe Sarno. Sarno’s work is currently being restored and reissued on DVD by the folks at EI, and so I preface our Sarno trib with a clip from a new homage to Joe’s work featuring our current fave video vixen, Misty Mundae. Then, I revisit the Swedish period in Sarno’s work, in which this Italian-American boy from NYC journeyed to Bergman’s homeland to make a series of evocative and properly angst-ridden softcore features. His biggest box-office success, Inga, was followed, naturally enough, by a sequel, colorfully titled The Seduction of Inga. The latter movie is distinguished by the presence of more physical pleasure and psychological torment in the life of our young heroine, and a theme song by Benny and Bjorn (those ABBA-dabba millionaires) that burns itself immediately into the memory of all who hear it. After a side trip to one of Sarno’s lesser-known but more extreme softcore items, the exceptionally busy Bibi: Confessions of Sweet Sixteen (aka Girl Meets Girl on home-vid), we conclude with Swedish Wildcats, a movie that contains the sex-as-ritual/sex-as-theater theme I discussed with Joe when I interviewed him a few years back on the show.
593.) With our last tribute (for the time being) to the Big Man, Marlon Brando, we attempt to make up for the wholly pathetic little salute that appeared on the Oscars with scenes from three Brando rarities. The first item is a serious, more reflective moment from the Maysles Bros. sublime Meet Marlon Brando which I left out of our last presentation of clips from that film. I follow the young, witty, wiseass Marlon with an offer you can’t refuse: clips from two latter-day Brando oddities you ain’t seein’ anyplace else. The first is the broad farce from Canada Free Money, which finds Marlon hamming it up big-time (and engaging in literal toilet-bowl humor at one point) as a corrupt prison warden whose lovely twin daughters marry Charlie Sheen and Thomas Haden Church. It’s a dimwitted comedy that, strangely enough, Brando is all over, doing two-character scenes with Mira Sorvino, Donald Sutherland, and his old “grocery clerk,” Martin Sheen. The main feature of the evening is The Brave, the only film to date directed by Johnny Depp–as yet unreleased in the U.S. A strange, bleak, and often hypnotic tale of a Mexican/American Indian/generic underclass ex-con (Depp) who sells himself to a strange coven of rich guys who like to see Mexicans/American Indians/generic underclass guys be tortured to death. The soundtrack is by Iggy Pop, the supporting cast includes Clarence Williams III and another guy who went upriver to kill Kurtz, Frederick Forrest, and the direction is an amalgam of many filmmakers Depp has either worked with or admired. Marlon puts in a blissfully strange guest-star appearance as the guy (in a wheelchair, with a harmonica) who pays you when you sell yourself to the strange coven of rich guys. If you think his lines are scripted, you surely didn’t see his second Larry King appearance, where he basically said very similar things about the world being driven solely by violence. He may have sounded crazy each time he elaborated on this theory, but he wasn’t exactly wrong..
594.) The Paschal season can only mean one thing in the Funhouse: it’s time for a little Easter blasphemy. This time out, it’s a small survey of “rapture thrillers,” containing scenes from three of these extremely fervent, Body Snatchers-like, straight-to-vid items from the blissfully-named “Cloud Ten” production company. The first is the weakest of the three, but stars Judd Nelson, one of our all-time fave “video premiere” actors. Deceived presents Judd as a moderate soul who doesn’t believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, but he learns better when a raft of greedy folks holed up in a government observatory teach him what life could be like if he doesn’t get wise and dig dat Holy Book. Revelation, the second feature of the evening, stars another straight-to-vid stalwart, Jeff Fahey, as — get this — a guy who doesn’t believe in Xtianity, whose wife and daughter have been swept up in the Rapture. He’s left on earth fighting the anti-Christ (cue a discrimination suit from Italian-Americans everywhere), depicted as a nattily attired “Mafioso Messiah” (Nick Mancuso) who taunts you in a cyber void when you don virtual reality goggles. The third and last of our features, Tribulation, is the most extreme and boasts the wackiest cast: Gary Busey is the non-believer this time, a tough-as-nails inner city police detective whose sister is played by Margot Kidder, and whose visionary brother-in-law is incarnated by that Canadian wildman, one-time prop-comic extraordinaire Howie Mandel. We close out the show with a small, but still potent, dose of our old friend Rob Evans and his Donut Repair Club. Kneel, my children..
595.) This week’s vintage episode features my interview with Guy Maddin, the uniquely visionary, tongue-in-cheek filmmaker whose hothouse melodramas combine a silent-cinema sensibility with.well, the heart of a gloriously lurid 19th-century novelist. The interview occurred on the occasion of the NYC theatrical run of his film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, and so we speak about vampires, capturing ballet on film, and working in dreamy b&w. Maddin discusses his influences, including master underground imagist and troublemaker Kenneth Anger and the master of all things indulgent, the monocled god Erich von Stroheim. The chat was taped prior to the release of his Saddest Music in the World and the bizarrely confessional Cowards Bend the Knee, but Guy discusses his proposed project to film famous “lost” films from the earliest years of cinema. We shall be watching with interest..
596.) Our Deceased Artiste episode this week pays tribute to a quintet of talents who dwelt in our fair city. First up is WNEW-AM morning man Gene Klavan, who entertained yrs truly many a dreaded morning on the way to school in the 1970s (Klavan is represented by a truly obscure mid-50s game show, that only the deities at Game Show Network could have possibly unleashed on us). Next we turn to two died-in-the-wool NYC actors, Jerry Orbach and Tony Randall, and then move on downtown to the East Village (or more properly, Forest Hills, Queens) for a salute to the man with the puddin’-bowl haircut and the quickest guitar-hand in punk, Johnny Ramone. We close out with some clips of one of the quintessential NY comedy stand-ups, Rodney Dangerfield (the one-liners are bracketed by his acting, awful-his last straight-to-vid feature, and sublime — the nostalgic gem The Projectionist. Our town is a little poorer without ’em..
597.) The Consumer Guide department goes globe-hopping once more as we present two DVD reviews and an interview with an actor-director whose second feature is playing in area theaters at this very moment. First up, we revisit the work of Kiyoshi Kurosawa with a review of his brilliantly subdued tale of two working stiffs, a murder rap, some Japanese slackers in Che Guevara T-shirts, and a very poisonous but beautiful jellyfish, Bright Future. Next is a discussion of Fritz Lang’s “forgotten” silent epic Woman in the Moon, a romantic adventure that jumps several genres on its way to a very sandy lunar surface. The feature segment for the evening is a chat with Yvan Attal, the star and director of Happily Ever After. Mr. Attal counts Cassavetes and Woody Allen among his influences, and Happily is an episodic account of marital infidelity that also stars Attal’s real-life wife Charlotte Gainsbourg. I talk with him about his film, a certain guest star that appears in two scenes (none other than The Brave director-star Johnny Depp), and – did you think we could resist? — his wife’s very colorful and influential dad Serge Gainsbourg.
598.) Our vintage episode this week offers a quintet of special little-person performers whose names we might easily forget (well, not Nelson) but whose work lives on. Included are two brothers who blissfully hawked real estate on a late-night infomercial for a time (and sported some gorgeous custom-fit threads), a Mexican midget comic actor (seen in action in a beach farce), and our very own special fave, “el hombre mas pequeno del mundo,” Mr. Nelson de la Rosa. The feature presentation is the completely creepy horror flick Al Filo Del Terror, in which a deranged ventriloquist beats his dummies if they give a bad performance, and eventually winds up substituting his little daughter (in nightmare-enducing clown makeup) for one of his wooden stage-partners. Not to be viewed directly before going to sleep…
599.) One of our most interesting interviews – if only because of the strange range of topics discussed – was my chat with actress and filmmaker Marina de Van, featured in this week’s vintage episode. We spoke with Ms. de Van when she was in NYC promoting the first showings of her feature debut as a writer-director, Dans Ma Peau (In My Skin). The film, about a young woman with a compulsion to cut herself, is alternately, gruesome, sexy, and surreal – but, as she notes over and over again, it’s not intended as a study of girls who self-mutilate for reasons of depression or bad self-image (her character is just very…curious). We discuss the subject of cuttin’ oneself up, the split-screen technique, directing oneself while being naked onscreen (or merely bloody in bra and panties), and Ms. de Van’s rejection of the “trashy” roles that came to her after she played the dominatrix daughter in Francois Ozon’s Sitcom and the scary lesbian drifter in his See the Sea. I also introduce, but she sorta bats away, a mention of her fine scripting work for Ozon’s wonderful Under the Sand and Eight Women.
600.) To commemorate the fact that one of our favorite Funhouse filmmakers, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, would’ve been 60 at the end of this month (born May 31, 1945; died June 10, 1982), I’ve prepared a special episode that includes two of our regular departments, plus a discussion of Fassbinder the actor. First up are “Consumer Guide” reviews of two recent DVD releases of Fassbinder films: In a Year with 13 Moons is one of his most difficult and personal projects, a dark, unforgettable account of a transsexual’s final days; Martha is one of his finest films for German television, a wonderfully nasty story of a spinster librarian’s marriage to a gleefully sadistic gent. Based on a story by another Funhouse deity, Cornell Woolrich, the film is a little known Fassbinder work that offers great rewards for those with a black-comic sensibility. We next visit the “Deceased Artiste” department to pay tribute to the great Fassbinder star Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), who died two months ago at the age of 94. My final tribute is to the multi-talented, wildly prolific filmmaker himself. What to do when confronted by a man who made 29 theatrical features, 8 TV movies, 2 mini-series (one of which is one of the most perfect films ever made, Berlin Alexanderplatz), 4 shorts, and a TV variety special (!), in addition to writing 20 plays and at least 3 unproduced screenplays, in a period of just 13 years? Why, salute him as an actor of course! (We’ve only got 28 minutes, folks!) A short survey of RWF’s acting career seems in order, to illustrate what kind of roles this very busy gentleman chose for himself – aside from the Hitchcockian cameos in his own pics – when taking a break from his own productions.
601.) There’s nothing, I repeat nothing, more fun than putting together a Funhouse episode filled with musical numbers. Tonight’s vintage outing is a fine example of that principle: an episode crammed with “K-pop,” Korean music videos illustrating the dramatic lengths to which Korean vid-directors will go to imprint a pop tune on the viewer’s frontal lobe. I gathered the videos from our beloved international channels from 2001-2002, and assembled them into little thematic groups. The wildly melodramatic storylines that illustrate the seemingly mawkish ballads are saluted, as well as the presence of (gasp) firearms and out-and-out violence (a definite no-no in the sanitized-for-your-teen’s-protection world of MTV). A montage of Korean tunes that sample and/or rework American pop hits of yesteryear is also included…and then come the pixies. Korean female vocalists and girl singing groups are a special delight, and so we close with an encounter with the wide-eyed girls of “Papaya” and the awesomely wonderful Park Ji Yoon.
602.) One of the most imitated contemporary cinematographers is featured in an interview on this week’s show. Christopher Doyle — the crafter of exquisite imagery for Funhouse favorite Wong-Kar Wai and a man whose work on low-budget Asian features has spawned countless arthouse knockoffs, mainstream attempts at arthouse chic (yeah, you, Sofia Coppola), commercials, and even music videos — is the gent in question and we’re presenting the more civilized portions of a rambunctious talk he had with our friend, Asian cinema specialist extraordinaire Art Black, a few months back. Art caught Doyle after a full day of promotion for the Thai film Last Life in the Universe — and after quite a few beers (as Doyle himself notes on the acknowledgments of his only, nearly plotless, directorial effort, “Beer is Life!”). The result was a fascinating talk with a very talented artist who wasn’t really into analyzing and dissecting his work…except when it sorta struck his fancy. Art’s talk covers his time with the great Wong Kar-Wai (the two have collaborated from Days of Being Wild to the current masterful pastiche of romance, science fiction, and heartsickness, 2046); his disdain for those who imitate his visual style; his desire to work exclusively with friends on projects he really has a passion for (his quartet of American big-budget projects, including Van Sant’s Psycho clone, are aberrations in his filmography); and his appearances as an actor in his friends’ films.
603.) Our vintage episode this week is a personal favorite: part one of my interview with master-comic Shelley Berman. Berman occupies an important place in the history of stand-up, as his angst-filled phone routines predated and influenced the work of Woody Allen and several other key “observational” and neurotic comedians (and, as he himself notes, Bob Newhart pretty much “borrowed” his entire phone-call approach—if not the neurotic themes). In this part of our chat, he discusses his early work as an actor, including his participation in The Compass, the Chicago improv troupe that eventually transformed into The Second City (Berman’s colleagues at the time of the group’s inception included Nichols and May and Funhouse favorite Barbara Harris). He also talks about his run of popular and award-winning comedy LPs (Inside Shelley Berman, Outside SB, The Edge of SB, New Sides, A Personal Appearance). During our discussion of his classic bits, Mr. Berman “quotes” the routines at various points – a terrific thing not only because the material is still razor-sharp, but because it’s very difficult to find any video of him performing these classic routines on the many variety shows he appeared on in the late ’50s and early ’60s. We close out part one with a mention of his TV work, including his memorable turn on a Twilight Zone (where Serling envisioned an entire world of Shelley Bermans!) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He also provides his feelings on voicemail (anti) and Kafka (very pro).
604.) We never stop loving pop-culture icons in the Funhouse, so we’re fine with doing our Deceased Artiste tributes some time after the subject has departed this mortal coil—and everyone has moved on to the next trendy topic. Thus my tribute to the “King of Late Night,” Johnny Carson, offers a range of clips and a discussion of his randier side, an aspect most of the softsoap tributes veered away from. The reason this side of his humor was left out of the tributes is obvious: the first ten years of his run on The Tonight Show is lost to posterity (and that’s the time he was a racy little devil), and any discussion of his propensity for smokin’, drinkin’, racist, and leerin’ big-boob jokes on the show would’ve clashed with the folksier image he cultivated as his hair turned to silver. In any case, he was the pre-eminent masterful late-night host, and as such deserves to have a full Deceased Artiste episode. We start out with a racy “lightning round” from the more “adult” Goodson-Todman show, Password, then move on to the hard-smoking 1965 youthful Johnny trading quips with the ever-caustic and delightful Henry Morgan. A short sidebar into Johnny’s primetime work, and we’re back to Tonight with clips from the 10th anniversary show from 1972 (watch former Rat Packer “The Bish” do the “Sammy Maudlin” mutual-admiration thing for real, Jack Benny smoke a big-ass stogie, and Funhouse deity Jerry Lewis get insulted by nice-guy Johnny).
605.) A little saunter through the Consumer Guide department this week finds us back touring Europe again, reviewing three current DVD releases. The first is the latest by our favorite poet-provocateur, Uncle Jean’s Notre Musique. The film is an incisive meditation on Godard’s favorite topics: war and peace, fiction and non-fiction, cinema and reality, and that strange moment when the afterlife will be “occupied” (great phrase, that—so much better than “colonized”) by American military personnel. We next look at a drama about the porn industry that contains a scene so “dirty” by Time Warner’s stringent standards that we’d be thrown off the air if we showed it. I’ll content myself instead with a review, some clips, and excerpts from my vintage interview with the filmmaker of The Pornographer, Bertrand Bonnello, who verifies that the film’s star, New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Leaud, is the kind of a guy we’d love to interview and/or hang around. We close out with a look at the DVD release of Fellini’s Intervista, focusing on the fun bonus features included with this charming, elegaic late work by Il Maestro.
606.) When yours truly turns “another year older and deeper in debt,” it’s time to salute an Artiste whose work I’ve admired who hasn’t hit the great divide. This time out – after a short editorial reflection on the “branding” of American pop culture – it’s time to pay tribute to the great Martin Mull, a gent whose wry, deadpan, slightly surreal humor has been largely overlooked in discussions of the finer points of ’70s pop culture. The focus is on his best showcase, the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spinoff Fernwood 2-Night (and its later incarnation America 2-Night). Fernwood is right up there in the pantheon of talkshow satires (with SCTV’s “Sammy Maudlin” skits, The Larry Sanders Show, and yes, the currently-on-BBC-America “Alan Partridge” cycle), and is even more astonishing these days as a gorgeous example of the politically incorrect, and exceptionally funny, humor that flourished in the ’70s. Also included are clips of Mull at his best, onstage with his “Fabulous Furniture,” crooning hooky little numbers that mocked the “tragically hip” sensibility (while saluting: midgets, eggs, fetishes, noses, onanism, Jesus, and the “Cleveland blues”), and burned their way into the brain of your humble host during his childhood and teen years.
607.) Given that the topics that used to be associated with exploitation movies are now front and center in pop culture (from daytime talkshows to “Girls Gone Wild” vids to every corner of the Internet), there’s been very little recent-vintage exploitation that I’ve felt deserved discussion on the Funhouse. This week, however, we do a “consumer guide” salute to EI entertainment, a NJ company that has been producing new softcore titles that are worth a look, as well as making available some of yesterday’s finest sleaze. We start out with a review of a recent farce released by the company, a women’s prison comedy featuring Mary Woronov, Prison a Go Go. We then present some very cute women having lesbian sex — oh, but first, it’s time to watch some Harry Ritz. The Ritz Bros were featured in the Al Adamson kitchen-sink-too exploitation oddity Blazing Stewardesses which offers up old B-movie cowboy actors, Yvonne DeCarlo as a warbling cathouse madame, some shapely stewardesses who keep their clothes on (much to the dismay of every grindhouse patron who ever saw the picture), and the comic wonderment that was the Ritz Brothers (listen to Harry’s “don’t holler!” bit and tell me you don’t hear the influence on Jerry Lewis’s most mind-warpingly repetitious routines). We then move on to “sexy spoofs” produced by Seduction, an EI division, in which the company’s stable of comely lasses perform in Mad magazine-like satires that provide them ample opportunity to grope each other (in an R-rated kind of way, of course). The final segment focuses on more serious sexploitation from Seduction – it was a choice between exploring the lesbian sequences a bit more or returning to Harry Ritz, so I just guessed what some of the late-night viewers would want and…well, we’ll get back to Harry very soon.
608.) Part one of my lively interview with celebrated French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier explores his latest film — lacking a U.S. distributor at the moment – Holy Lola, a tale of a French couple looking to adopt in Cambodia. Tavernier is best known for his well-received period pieces (A Sunday in the Country) and his very straightforwardly scripted cross-cultural pieces (Round Midnight), but in recent years he’s made a series of socially conscious pictures that fit into the great “humanist” tradition of French cinema, as well as demonstrate his versatility as a filmmaker. In this initial part of our chat, we tie Lola in to his last two films: Safe Conduct, a personalized chronicle of filmmaking in France during the German occupation that’s half character study/half thriller, and the vastly underrated It All Starts Today, a low-key drama (reminiscent of Loach and Leigh) about a kindergarten teacher in a small French town trying to “make a difference” in the lives of his students (the film, as Tavernier declared in one of the moments I had to exclude from the show, is “not Dead Poet’s Society!”).
609.) In the “consumer guide” department this week I review the new DVD release of Bresson’s masterful Au Hasard Balthazar. The film, like most of Bresson’s work, is as close to perfect—and as close to indescribable—as you can get. The supplements on the disc include a French TV program from 1966 in which the Master himself is interviewed, as well as a quartet of his fans, including our favorite, Uncle Jean. The featured segment of the evening is my interview with the young actresses who star in the current theatrical release My Summer of Love. Newcomer Natalie Press is a delight, as she offers up the north-country accent she perfected for the film in one anecdote, while the more seasoned Emily Blunt takes on the topic of adolescent obsession.
610.) A hardboiled private eye and a couple headed for a painful breakup – no, it’s not a celebration of Hollywood in the 1940s, it’s our latest “Consumer Guide.” This time out, we review the new DVD box set, “Maiku Hammer, Private Eye,” a trilogy of mid-’90s Japanese detective flicks that take major inspiration from the work of Seijun Suzuki and Robert Aldrich’s “nuclear noir” Kiss Me Deadly. The films star Mystery Train’s Masatoshi Nagase as an uncharacteristically young private dick whose office is located in a movie theater and whose list of clients includes some old babe who recently lost her dog (knight-errant Philip Marlowe would be disgusted). The films are stylish and fun, and include comic elements as well as some genuinely creepy moments. The main feature of the evening is a recent interview I had with Francois Ozon, upon the U.S. opening of his film 5×2. I previously described Ozon as a “pretty boy with a warped imagination,” but 5×2 is his most emotional work to date. This backwards tale of a couple, tracing their relationship from the divorce backwards to the courtship, has its precedents, but Ozon uses the structural “gimmick” to impart his philosophy about relationships – which doesn’t seem to be all too hopeful – and to play with viewers’ expectations about movie love stories. I discussed with Monsieur Ozon his camera style, his use of consciously tacky pop music, his reputation as a “woman’s director,” and this unique but slightly mellower film’s relation to his past work.
611.) I’m always proud to draw attention to filmmakers whose work corresponds exactly with what I’ve been talkin’ about lo these many years, and in that spirit I present this week’s vintage episode, in which I pay tribute to the work of nostalgia maven Harry Hurwitz. He made a few straight-to-video titles and even toiled in the land of softcore, but it’s his “nostalgia trilogy” that makes him truly cult-worthy. In this show we deal with the two nostalgia pics that got the widest distribution: the straight-to-vid grab-bag that is That’s Adequate and The Projectionist. Adequate is a wildly uneven collection of skits involving a sub-Monogram studio that is wonderfully funny at times, and includes appearances by NYC stalwarts like Professor Irwin Corey, Brother Theodore, Tony Randall, Stiller and Meara, Joe Franklin, and James Coco. The Projectionist is Hurwitz’s best-known title, a colorful, silly, and oddly moving tribute to the Golden Age of the genre movie. Beloved kiddie host Chuck McCann plays a very bored projectionist who’s tormented by Nixonian theater owner Rodney Dangerfield and can only esape his dreary surroundings (which are actually a damned good record of what Times Square—and watching movies on late-night local TV—looked like in 1970) by becoming “Captain Flash,” an overweight superhero who really ain’t much of a fighter. The film surprises most because it utilizes several dozen sequences from films now owned by Turner—from Garfield and Bogart to Welles as C.F. Kane—and Hurwitz’s budget was clearly a fraction of what Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Zelig were made for. I prize The Projectionist for its mingling of movie-buff references and a clunky but endearing “social relevance” – but the sight of Chuck and Rodney slugging it out in badly fitting tights and capes keeps it firmly grounded as a comedy.
612.) The Funhouse takes pride in presenting clips from a European anthology film that, three long years after its film-festival run, still hasn’t found a U.S. distributor. Ten Minutes Older: The Cello features 12-minute segments (so much for the ten-minute concept) about the themes of time, memory, and their happy companion, aging, from eight great Euro and British directors. On this episode we present the Bertolucci segment, which has the tightest construction of anything BB has made in the past three decades, and represents one of the Ten Minutes Older concept’s strong suits: returning to the simplicity of silent cinema. We also delve into the closing segment by Uncle Jean, which is a characteristically Godardian journey through image and sound, poetically tossing off ideas that other filmmakers would make entire movies out of. 613.) Since we turn a few hours older each time we fall into the arms of Morpheus, we thought it would be no trouble at all to turn “ten minutes older” once more with some of our fave directors. Our visit to the “consumer guide” department brings us to Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet, the second of two anthology films made in 2002, both of which have gone undistributed in the U.S. The film includes contributions by Spanish director Victor Erice and Chinese auteur Chen Kaige, as well as the five souls we’ll be excerpting tonight. Werner Herzog’s contribution gets the lions’ share of our time, as his documentary short about a primitive tribe in Brazil that was wiped out because of its exposure to Western ways (including the concept of time) is the film’s most perfect entry, and an excellent example of Herzog’s current documentary style. As ever, his narration matches the images in terms of importance: his pronunciation of every syllable in every English word he speaks is a joy to listen to. The other excerpted filmmakers are Spike Lee (on the stolen 2000 election—surely a glitch in time), Aki Kaurismaki (an impulsive elopement), Jim Jarmusch (passing time on a movie set), and a most impressively trippy segment from Wim Wenders (whose Road Movies was one of the prime movers behind this project). Wenders’ episode is a “good Samaritan” allegory that contains imaginatively psychedelic images and sounds; the Samaritan is played (for you cult TV fans) by “Joan of Arcadia” herself, Amber Tamblyn.
614.) When the weather is hot, there’s nothing like a cool breeze of surrealism to set the mind at ease. Tonight’s “consumer guide” round-up starts out with a mini-editorial on the many NYC institutions that have closed their doors this summer–accompanied by a recent find (scored at one of the many departed emporia), a scene from the 1972 musical version of Alice in Wonderland featuring Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore. Then it’s on to a segment honoring the world’s premiere little green guy, Gumby, whose 50th anniversary in “da biz” is being celebrated out at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. Animator Art Clokey had a unique view of the universe that made the earliest Gumby shorts look and feel different from other kids’ entertainment; the later adventures openly reflected Clokey’s growing interest in Zen (name one other kiddie show that had characters who embodied Alan Watts’ concepts of the fluid and the solid), as well as what other, earthier critics might call a “head-trip” view of the material world. Clips from Clokey’s art films are a wonderful segueway to my featured review of the new “Avant-Garde” box set released by Kino. Included are clips from the immortal works of genius troublemakers like Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Hans Richter (see what the Nazis deemed “decadent art”), a young, wise-ass Orson Welles, and the highly influential Slavko Vorkapich (who made countless “we’re in the money” montages for Hollywood pictures, co-directed the very darkly humorous “The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra” — and was Art Clokey’s film teacher!). These films will remove you from this humdrum existence and take you to a place where thoughts go in every possible direction, and the air is fresh and weird.
615.) From the heart of NYC to the wilds of Alaska, our “consumer guide” adventure this week centers around two colorful and unique German gentlemen. The first is Klaus Nomi, whose praises are sung in the new DVD release, The Nomi Song. I focus on the DVD supplements in this review, featuring a portion of a “East Village Slide Show” that didn’t make it into the film but should produce some fond memories for those who remember the prehistoric days when chainstores had no place on the bohemian landscape. The film itself is an entertaining look back at the most singular personality to emerge from the “new wave” music scene; the final sequences prove that even the most open-minded hipsters close their minds for real when confronted by a thought-to-be-contagious virus (Nomi died of AIDS in 1983). The feature presentation on this show is a short chat I had with Werner Herzog, in conjunction with the opening of his new film Grizzly Man. Herzog’s reputation as a visionary filmmaker was secured some thirty years ago, but he has continued to venture to the farthest corners of the globe to create a series of highly personal documentaries in which he chronicles the lives of remote groups (be they deaf, mute, and blind, or just tribesmen who dress very bizarrely) and fearless individuals, many of whom are possessed of a very fine madness indeed (the central figure in Grizzly being the latest in a long line of his compelling madmen). Herzog was in quite a jovial mood when I encountered him, although a single mention of a given sequence in one of his films can turn him into the intensely sincere, uncommonly dedicated individual I expected him to be.
616.) This week’s very entertaining vintage episode, if I do say so m’self, features the second and final part of my chat with comedy legend Shelley Berman. In the first part we discussed Mr. Berman’s work with the pioneering Compass troupe (which became the Second City) and his monologues, which inspired many a later “egghead” comedian, especially a young Woody Allen. At the point we left the conversation, we were discussing Mr. Berman’s TV work—this time we start out with a bit on his “Twilight Zone” episode (written especially for him by Rod S.), and then proceed straight into (his “show business term”) the kvetching. Loosened up by a martini, Mr. Berman does shtick about driving, NYC, and even public access (yr host just let ’im roll). Included are scenes from his seminal supporting role in The Best Man and his current stint as Larry David’s sorta doddering dad on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Mr. Berman may appear to be ribbing yrs truly at some length, but he was incredibly nice when the camera went off (the man is a college prof these days when not out on the road and, it is, after all, an act the guy’s doin’).
617.) It’s that special time of year again, when Jerry Lewis’s telethon reintroduces us to the world of show-biz glitz, Borscht Belt humor, and the joy of being berated into giving money. We can’t let a chance go by to celebrate the mixed-bag contribution our man Jer has given to the arena of show-biz, and so this year we proudly present yet another Labor Day celebration of the man who would be a Nobel Prize winner. This time out, I start off with a scene from a recent indie movie that features an old gent, played by the late Alan King, speaking (for no particular reason) about the Jer’s comic contributions. Then it’s on to a thematic segment in which I offer a posthumous rebuttal to Jer’s forthcoming tome “Dean and Me (a Love Story)” with gathered anecdotes and footage of the great Dino himself, commenting on his decade-long partnership with le roi du crazy (remember, kids, four years in is only 1950, just as The Colgate Comedy Hour is about to start). The final segment is a typical Jerry mixed blessing: footage from the ‘60s series “Hollywood Backstage” episode centered around “Jerry Lewis and his electronic toys.” See Jerry’s home audio-editing set-up, hear his musings on mono vs. stereo sound for record players, and watch him futz around with a “Chamblerin” (an organ that plays tape loops). As you watch, imagine what Spike Jones, Ernie Kovacs, or Frank Zappa would’ve done with an instrument like that – and then marvel at Jerry just smackin’ at the keys. If he doesn’t get one by other methods, I’ll get him that Nobel Prize myself.
618.) The golden age of American International Pictures may be long gone, but thecompany’s spirit and method (hit on a concept/assign cast/develop ad campaign/write script) does live on in the work done by a few independent video companies cranking out “DVD premiere” features. The bulk of today’s low-budget genre pics are close to unwatchable, but one small studio over in the hinterlands of New Jersey has been producing entertaining and enticing (albeit cable-safe) product for the past few years. Thus this week we present part one of an interview I did with the head of EI Independent studios, Michael Raso. This talk differs from our past discussions with exploitation filmmakers in that Raso is still “in the game” and so offers up-to-date reflections on, essentially, how far a film can go and still qualify for heavy rotation on Cinemax and Showtime. Topics covered include the three no-nos of softcore filmmaking, how the actresses are directed on-set (and how, on certain special occasions, they may perform beyond the call of duty), and the methods of marketing pictures that star cult faves whom the average multiplex moviegoer has never heard of. We focus on EI’s biggest cult heroine, the natural-looking gal-next-door called “Misty Mundae” (currently now also making films under her real name, Erin Brown), and the way in which she went from being a featured torture victim in no-budget, ultra-violent fetish thrillers to becoming a fan sensation.
619.) Vintage episode time, as we re-present part one of my interview with Jane Birkin. Ms. Birkin was in NYC for her first stateside concert appearance, a performance of Serge Gainsbourg songs with a Middle Eastern combo called “Arabesque.” Ms. Birkin speaks about the origin of the project and her role as Gainsbourg’s “muse” (during and after their marriage). The most interesting part of the conversation consists of her discussion of the nuances of Gainsbourg’s lyric-writing, including impromptu translations of lines and verses from the alternately silly and deadly serious songs he wrote for her first six solo LPs.
620.) The consumer guide department is open once again, with reviews of three current DVD releases. The first segment is a review of the release on disc of Yvan Attal’s divorce dramedy (remember that phrase, kids?) Happily Ever After. In this segment I offer up a previously unseen bit of my April interview with Monsieur Attal, and two new clips from the picture, which stars Attal and his wife Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Serge and Funhouse fave Jane Birkin). Next up is a discussion of Guy Maddin’s “autobiography in a shattered mirror,” the peep-show wonder called Cowards Bend the Knee. Yours truly reflects on the film’s well-crafted silent-movie imagery, its bizarre humor, and the most Freudian scene in recent memory – the Maddin stand-in character’s discovery, while standing at a urinal, that Dad is better endowed than he. We close out with a review of the Criterion edition of Mike Leigh’s miraculously sarcastic Naked. As usual, we focus on the DVD extras, but I couldn’t let an opportunity go by to savor once more David Thewlis’ wonderfully articulate recitations of the reasons why the world, mankind, and even the Deity, suck so incredibly much.
621.) Vintage episode time, as we revisit the second and final part of my interview with model-actress-singer-cultural phenom Jane Birkin. In this part of the chat we continue our discussion of musical renaissance man Serge Gainsbourg’s lesser-known roles as husband and father. From there we move on to Ms. Birkin’s reflections on working with Jean-Luc Godard on the sometimes impenetrable but truly amusing Keep Up Your Right. She also offers opinions and background on her psychedelic cult pic, Wonderwall, and Gainsbourg’s first directorial effort, the blissfully sleazy Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus (a Gallic version of American redneck exploitation, with a Tennessee Williams-inflected screenplay, star Joe D’Allesandro dubbed in French, and Jane B. as a grown-up tomboy who wants Joe to forget his jailhouse modes of lovemaking).
622.) The Funhouse tackles the fastest-growing genre on DVD shelves today – by reviewing items that represent the upside of the phenomenon. The matter at hand is the flourishing “TV on DVD” biz, the brilliant notion of getting suckers to pay anywhere from 30-60 bucks for a bunch of programs they would’ve formerly had to have made the effort to actually catch on-air, and/or store quite conveniently on a 2-dollar tape. It’s all about those “boxes on the mantle,” and so the Funhouse turns away from the obvious and devotes this week’s “consumer guide” show to reviews of three rarities that have shown up in the absolute deluge of TV/DVD titles. First is one we covered a while back when it was making the mail-order rounds, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, the endearingly cheap 1971 Canadian kiddie series. The show featured comic actor Billy Van in a variety of roles, and our hero Vincent Price showing up a few times per episode to recite “frightfully” amusing verse. Next up is The David Steinberg Show, yet another Canadian item, this one a 1976 comedy-variety series that completely flew by the U.S. The show’s main selling point is the fact that four of its regulars went on to become cast members on the brilliant SCTV, but the funniest elements are definitely Steinberg’s incredibly honed opening monologues and his memorable “Booga Booga” (him doctor) sketches. (Plus a guest roster that includes everyone from Ethel Merman to Rip Taylor.) We close out with the biggest “find” of the last year: two British comedy series that included the future Monty Python crew. Idle, Palin, and Jones (with help from Gilliam—unseen on the discs) are the stars of Do Not Adjust Your Set, a hip 1967 children’s show that had a most uncommon house band: the incomparable Bonzo Dog Band, led by future Python collaborator (and head Rutle) Neil Innes and lunatic god Viv Stanshall. At Last the 1948 Show is another ’67 Brit comedy series that happened to feature the other two Pythons, Cleese and Chapman, as well as the brilliant and much missed Marty Feldman. 1948 is the funnier show hands down, but Set gives us our only prolonged look at the Bonzos’ unique madness, and for that entire shelves of insipid TV/DVD should be pushed aside.
623.) Vintage episode time, with a tribute to roly-poly funnyman Buddy Hackett. We show clips from his appearances on 1960s game shows, read excerpts from his startling (in more ways than one) poetry, and then devote our time to his chef d’oeuvre, the Canadian coming-of-age freak-out called Hey Babe! The film is a strange little item, a story of a young orphan girl (Yasmine Bleeth) who meets an aging alcoholic vaudevillian (Bud) who convinces her she could make it in show biz. Awash in creepily pedophilic moments (wait’ll you see Buddy leer at little Yas on an empty bus), the flick also contains some wonderfully dated bits of glam-punk (think Fabulous Stains) and disco tidbits, as well as pick-up shots of Manhattan (including a vintage view of Times Square) which are alternated with the streets of some Canadian burg. For more info on the film, consult my article on films that deserve cults, located here www.mediafunhouse.com/pages/mediafunhousefavorites2 on this website.
624.) Every time someone talks about TV being so bold in the 21st century, I think back to the much-maligned (and thoroughly confused) 1970s, and remember when network television actually broke boundaries by throwing previously held notions of taste straight out the window. A good example of this idea was The Dean Martin Show, a variety series that exulted in being slick but haphazard, with the charming presence of Dino carrying the day no matter how dismal the sketch, how weary the song, and how perfunctory the guest-star patter. Dean’s show became outdated by the early ’70s and so the producers hit on the notion of doing TV-friendly “roasts” of celebrities, a la the Friars. The results were pre-packaged hours of insult comedy, that ran the gamut from the totally innocuous (I mean how much can you really insult Jimmy Stewart, anyway?) to the ludicrous (“Man of the Hour” honorees included Evel Knievel, Mr. T, Gabe Kaplan, Ralph Nader, Dan Haggerty, and…George Washington?). Tonight, we’ll take a look back at the Dean Martin roasts, for what is surely the first of several visits into the video archive. The focus, since it’s the most striking element in the shows, is on the insanely racist jokes that were slung at African-American “Men of the Hour,” as well as the standard bits (yes, we’ve got Red Buttons, no, there’ll be no Foster Brooks). We present an overview of the roasts through some of the oldest, saddest, and snottiest, jokes you’ve ever heard. We work our way toward an amazing timepiece, the roast of our favorite all-around entertainer, Sammy Davis Jr., but in the process, you’ll see a number of deceased artistes, who kicked off since we originally shot the host segments, including Frank Gorshin (only present when there’s no Rich Little), Eddie Albert, and roast perennial Nipsey Russell. It was very a different time, and a very, very different form of entertainment – but it’s a hell of a lot more endearing than the present-day procession of stand-ups that makes up the current Comedy Central TV roasts.