Monday, February 27, 2012

The fabric of old Hollywood: the Rat Pack, Martin and Lewis, and Roddy McDowall’s home movies

Show-business documentaries are often intended to serve as introductions for the uninitiated. They also drive diehard fans a little crazy, because, if made well, they introduce them to a wealth of footage that they would like to watch at full length, without a narrator or talking heads “situating” the action — or in the case of most horrific current-day talking-heads series, simply describing the very thing we’re seeing.

One pair of documentary filmmakers, a mother and son, have “laid bare” their archives to a fascinating extent on (where else?) YouTube. Carole Langer and Luke Sacher have made a number of independent documentary features, but what concerns us here is the series of show-business profiles they created for A&E’s Biography. In putting these shows together, they utilized a number of rarely seen clips (not the public-domain specialties that appear in just about every straight-to-DVD docu), as well as one-of-a-kind reels of film that came from the stars themselves.

Thus, we can now see “above ground” some extremely rare footage that we never would’ve laid eyes on before, as well as having access online to clips that I have indeed seen before, but only on “mail-order” cassettes and discs (I’m all for using polite terms for that nastiest of phrases, "bootleg").

The uploads that are the singular possessions of Langer and Sacher are her interviews with a host of aged celebrities for the show-biz docus. Their YouTube account features her talks with Juanita Moore, Lizabeth Scott (right), Jackie Cooper, Jane Wyman, and Ann Miller.

For information and anecdotes about acts that played Las Vegas in its heyday, they turned to Shecky Greene. This interview is particularly fascinating, as it finds Ms. Langer telling Mr. Greene nearly as many stories as he tells her (she also never seems to laugh at the many, many jokes and silly voices that Greene includes in his answers). It’s an informal and informative chat, but I was kinda taken aback by her mini-lectures to Shecky:

One of the seminal figures that Langer and Sacher interviewed for their documentaries was Roddy McDowall, who, as I discussed in my interview with Carol Lynley, seemed to know everyone who mattered in Hollywood from the Fifties to the Seventies and was obviously in possession of the secrets they carried around.

More on him below, but I will note that I was extremely impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood movies and players in this interview (and rather surprised by the instance in which Ms. Langer tells him “let me finish” when she’s giving him a mini-lecture). One only wishes he had written a memoir — but the keepers of secrets never do:

The most impressive “get” for the duo interview-wise was clearly Robert Mitchum who, even though he looked seriously ill when Ms. Langer talked to him, still had an incredibly macho deep voice and the same mixture of bravado and apathy that distinguished his best performances:

The Soapbox Productions YT account provides hours and hours of viewing material, including the indie docus that Langer and Sacher made, but most show-biz fans will be drawn in by the plethora of material about Las Vegas, like the promotional short “Las Vegas, Playground USA” from 1964; silent newsreel-style footage of the Ritz Brothers when they played Vegas, also Joe E. Lewis and Noel Coward at the Desert Inn (being visited backstage by various couples, including David Niven and Judy Garland, and Sinatra and Bacall).

In this same vein are Janet Leigh’s silent home movies, which were used for an A&E Biography ep that Sacher and Langer did on Leigh. Of course, Leigh was an uncommonly lovely actress, whose best-known relationship was with husband Tony Curtis. They were a “star couple” without question, and two of their best show-biz friends were a certain Dino Crocetti and Joseph Levitch, aka Martin and Lewis.

Langer and Sacher made a very good portrait of Jerry for Biography, called “The Last American Clown.” It is filled with tantalizingly rare footage they uncovered, and other items that surely came from Lewis’s own deep stash of home movies documenting his every move. The whole show, running 90 minutes, is up on YT:

If you’re curious about what was really special (and insane) about Martin and Lewis’s act, check out this footage of them guesting on the U.S. Olympic team telethon in 1952. They call hosts Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “old timers,” generally run amok, and wind up doing a bit of gay humor (Jerry’s stage character often slid from Yiddishisms to crazed-kid behavior and gay jokes):

The pair are a bit more serious in this interview with Edward R. Murrow for “Person to Person.” They’re sitting in a room that Jerry had constructed as a screening room and an archive for the duo — they’re on friendly terms on camera, but the most interesting note is when Jerry notes that Dean ditched an appearance in Jerry’s home-movie at the very last minute:

The Soapbox YT account has a load of Martin and Lewis rarities, including:
a promotional short for The Stooge in which they wind up pretend-pummeling their producer Hal Wallis;
a greeting to movie viewers in Detroit from the set of one of their pictures; and
newsreel footage of the opening of Jerry’s camera store in L.A.(Dean did show up for that).

The lengthiest M&L rarity that they’ve uploaded is the best record of what the team looked like in a nightclub, the film of them playing the Copacabana in Feb 1954. The act is fast and loose and kinda dopey, but they certainly go at it with a fervor, and had some great moments:

The best M&L rarities show them ad-libbing their lines, and often tripping over them. As in this TV promo for The Colgate Comedy Hour, and this clip where they accept an award from Redbook magazine, along with Leslie Caron and some chick named Marilyn:

The solo Jerry rarities are just as eye-opening:

a promo for his 1960 TV special;
a behind-the-scenes short about The Nutty Professor (oh, Stella, Stella…); and
character-based TV ads Jerry shot for The Big Mouth

Jerry clearly enjoyed having making-of theatrical shorts created to promote his films. Here’s one for his sex farce Three on a Couch:

This 1968 short film about the making of Hook, Line and Sinker, is called “The Total Filmmaker,” and it indicates that even though Jerry wasn’t directing the picture he did everything on it, to the extent of editing the sound during his lunch break. It’s an amazing short and will be appreciated by both those who love and those who hate Jer (since it supplies them both with more fodder):

The rarest thing Langer has put up is a film of Jerry teaching his filmmaking class at USC in 1967. I have no idea what he’s talking about, but it is pretty mindblowing to see him in front of a classroom:


Langer and Sacher’s four-part Biography documentary about the Rat Pack, which aired for four nights, is here:

The raw footage used to create that docu provide some fascinating slices of show-biz history. Here Frank, Dean, and Sammy crash Danny Thomas’s gig at the Sands (silent newsreel footage):

And the night that the Rat Pack consisted of Frank, Danny, and Jerry — this is only one of two times I know that Jerry got to be in a modified version of the Pack:

More than two decades after his death, Sammy Davis is still the biggest ass-kicker in show-biz — here he’s touring Vietnam in a short film created for the Army called “Peace, Togetherness & Sammy”:

As with the M&L Copacabana footage, there have been “mail-order” copies of the only footage that exists of the legendary “Summit at the Sands” gig with the full Rat Pack onstage goofing around at the same time; now the footage is on YT thanks to the Soapbox folks.

The secret of these gigs is that they were loose and not the group’s best — the best moments for Frank, Dean, and Sammy as a team were when they went out as a trio. But they still had a helluva a lot of fun, and the footage is truly historic and a must-see for fans. Here’s an EXTRMELY politically incorrect bit where Frank impersonates an Asian (Frank was far from the funniest guy in the Pack; he trailed Dean, Sammy, and even Joey):

The core trio do their thing. Sammy’s dancing is only at half-strength here, and he’s still pure dynamite:


The most extraordinary thing that Langer and Sacher share with us on their YT channel is a trove of home movies shot by Roddy McDowall from approximately May to September 1965 at his beachfront home in Malibu. Offering further proof that Roddy really was a personal friend of an incredible amount of stars, these silent home movies show the stars interacting at the beach, chatting, drinking, being bored, playing with the their kids — in other words, just hanging around and being normal folk (who look incredibly gorgeous and in several cases happen to be immaculately talented).

Among Roddy’s guests are those he worked with on the just-perfect Lord Love a Duck (Tuesday Weld, Ruth Gordon, George Axelord) and Inside Daisy Clover (Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Christopher Plummer). Each time you think you recognize someone (from Jason Robards to Dennis Hopper to Judy Garland), it is who you think it is.

Among those glimpsed at Roddy’s beach parties are:

a dancing, eyepatch-wearing Sal Mineo, Tuesday, Natalie Wood, Juliet Mills, and Jack Warden ;
Lauren Bacall, James Fox, Merle Oberon, David McCallum;
the sex-kittenish Jane Fonda and prim mum Julie Andrews ;
Fonda and Andrew again, Natalie Wood, Mike Nichols, James Fox, Hope Lange, and Jennifer Jones
Simone Signoret
Ed Wynn, shoehorned amidst views of L.A. streets and Whisky a Go-go

At some times Roddy brought his camera to other people’s houses, including Jack Lemmon and Rock Hudson:

One beach gathering finds old-guard stars Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall hanging out with Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and a dinged-up Newman (had he been racing?):

An August ’65 gathering had Paul Newman and Natalie Wood on the guest list:

Roddy’s camera did wander over to the young and attractive ladies, as here with Tuesday Weld, Hayley and Juliet Mills, Lee Remick, and Suzanne Pleshette. The one and only Ricardo Montalban supplies the beefcake:

Those who watch the Funhouse TV show know I dearly love Tuesday Weld. Here is a sort of “solo study” of her at a time when she was the only guest:

And finally one of the busier star-studded beach bashes. It took place on May 31, 1965, and the guest list included Tuesday, her future Pretty Poison costar Tony Perkins, Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, Suzanne Pleshette, Judy Garland, Dominick Dunne, and Lord Love a Duck auteur George Axelrod:

These snippets from Hollywood’s (and Las Vegas’s) glamorous past are kinda mind-warping. It’s one thing to see images from them embedded in a documentary, it’s quite another to see the entire source element. And for that I thank the Soapbox productions duo.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A "nurse" to the end: Deceased Artiste Zina Bethune

A death was announced this week that was very sad in its particulars, yet quite invigorating as a story of survival and reinvention in show business. The death was that of dancer-actress Zina Bethune who, to most reading this blog, will be best remembered for being the female lead in Scorsese’s first feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967). She was a doe-eyed blonde actress (and that phrase was very appropriate for her) who was quite good in Knocking, but who had become, as far as many of us were concerned, a “whatever happened to…?” figure.

Her death was tragic enough to be reported on gossip blogs (by the likes of the annoying Perez Hilton) without any mention of her accomplishments, and important enough in show business to merit a New York Times obit that curiously didn’t mention her work for Scorsese. The details are this: she stopped her car on Forest Lawn Drive in L.A. to look after an animal that she thought was injured (one obit said it turned out to be a dead possum). She was struck by one car, and then hit by another, which ran over her and dragged her 600 feet. One driver stopped and reported the story; the other driver kept on moving.

To step beyond the sad essentials of this story (the fact that Ms. Bethune’s love of animals cost her her life — I know quite a few ladies who would go to the same lengths, and would sadly end up in the same situation), the obituaries revealed that, as both an actress and a dancer, she had had quite a rich career that saw her reinventing herself and having several personal triumphs.

The first of these triumphs was the fact that she went from having scoliosis as a child to studying at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, and performing in his production of the Nutcracker. After having soloed at the New York City ballet, she went headfirst into an acting career that found her appearing on many dramatic TV series — I recently reviewed the Criterion release of The Fugitive Kind on the Funhouse TV show and was pleased to air a clip of one of the extras, a 1958 “Kraft Television Theater” presentation of short plays by Tennessee Williams (directed by Sidney Lumet, introduced by a higly uncomfortable Tennessee) that included “This Property Is Condemned” starring Bethune.

During this period she appeared as one of FDR’s kids in Sunrise at Campobello, had a regular role on The Guiding Light, and appeared on various dramatic series, including the wonderful Naked City, in which her mom takes credit for a murder she committed by mistake (in a switch on what was believed to be the “real” story of the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato case):

And this find, an episode of Cain’s Hundred (1961-62) called “The Swinger,” written by the show’s star Robert Culp, and guest starring none other than Sammy Davis Jr.:

Her biggest success on television was a starring role in the soap The Nurses (1962-65), which got her on the cover of TV Guide and found her being booked as a guest to sing, dance, and make silly small talk with the host on The Judy Garland Show in 1963. The cutesy opening (where Zina B. affirms that, yes, that is her real name and, no, she was not a real nurse). The intro is here. Judy and Zina do “Getting to Know You” here (with a booze joke from Judy!):

Judy, Zina, and Vic Damone do an “all-purpose holiday medley”:

After The Nurses went off the air, she was a regular on Love of Life from 1965-70. It was at this time that Scorsese cast her as the female lead in his first feature, which was initially called on “Bring Out the Dancing Girls” and “I Call First,” before it became “Who’s That Knocking…” with the addition of a sequence intended to get the picture a more “adult” audience (and provide the first big-screen visualization of the Doors’ “The End”). More on that below, though.

Her acting career continued with small roles on TV in the Seventies and Eighties, but her biggest success onstage in her later career was a role in the Broadway show Grand Hotel from 1989 to 1992:

Bethune kept moving in other directions as well. She became the founding director and choreographer of an L.A. dance company and also ran a dance/performance program for kids with disabilities called Infinite Dreams. She is seen here in a recent interview for a documentary called L.A. Woman (she’s at 1:07):

Since I was a devout Scorsese follower for many years, I will close out on the film that most of us knew Ms. Bethune (married name: Zina Feeley) from. Her scenes in Who’s That Knocking…? were shot in 1965, and it is noted in an interview with Mardik Martin that is online that she was an established TV actress, so they had to do her scenes all at once — the film’s lead, Harvey Keitel, was an unknown at this point, but Zina Bethune was a star and was getting the highest salary in the film.

She first appears in the film in the scene that basically put Scorsese on the map (since Ebert loved the picture when it was titled “I Call First”) as a visual innovator, the meet-cute moment where Harvey Keitel talks her up in the Staten Island Ferry terminal, discussing John Ford movies with her and being the first chatty, charismatic, and slightly dangerous Scorsese protagonist. The scene is most definitely inspired by Godard and the other New Wavers, but the visuals come from Scorsese’s own restlessness and invention:

A bit later on in the pic, Harvey and Zina walk to the insanely catchy “I’ve Had It”:

Her death was tragic, but it is indeed nice to know that she enjoyed not only a second act in her career, but also a third and fourth.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The most masculine voice in town: Deceased Artiste Ben Gazzara

The last of Cassavetes' three “husbands” has now left us. Peter Falk may have been the crowd-pleaser of the trio, and Cassavetes the visionary, but Gazzara was the most intense, without question. His voice exuded machismo without seeming like a pose (John Wayne) or a threat (Eastwood). Put simply, he had the tones of a man who did not fuck around in his conversation. You could believe Ben Gazzara.

It’s interesting to consider that he had the spottiest movie career of the three gentlemen. JC appeared in crappy pictures and TV because he was financing his personal films; Falk made a bunch of meager choices in his later years, but would always “recover” with a better-chosen part (or just another Columbo TV-movie). Gazzara didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into any specific kind of role, and so he moved around from genre to genre. Thus, he was the kind of an actor who never gave a bad performance, but his reputation rests on a small handful of incredibly intense and charismatic roles.

He began as a stage actor, having attended the Actors Studio during the Fifties when that institution produced intense leading men like a well-oiled production line. His voice was the key to his performances — in the 2003 documentary Broadway: the Golden Age, Gena Rowlands reminisces about how Gazzara’s voice could reach the upper balcony clearly, even when he was whispering onstage.

We don’t have many traces of his stage work, except this wonderful clip of the 1955 Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in which Ben originated the role of Brick. The clip is included in the aforementioned Golden Age documentary:

Prior to that play, he appeared in the play End as a Man, based on the bestselling Calder Willingham novel. The novel was eventually transformed into a film called The Strange One (1957), with a completely indelible finale. Here is the trailer:

Gazzara’s next scene-stealing big-screen role was in Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Throughout the Fifties and Sixties he thrived on both the stage (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and TV. Here’s a bit of the latter, Benny fooling around with Whitey Ford and Joe Louis on I’ve Got a Secret:

For a certain generation, Gazzara’s seminal role was on TV as a lawyer who has been told that he has no less than nine and no more than 18 months to live (what an imprecise medic), so he goes on the road searching for new experiences in the completely oddball dramatic series Run for Your Life (1965-68). Each new episode found Gazzara encountering a new group of people and making an impact on their lives (or they made an impact on him). Here is a confrontation with veteran tough-guy character actor Henry Silva:

An “ethnic” scene wherein Gazzara meets opinionated Sicilians Harry Guardino and Sal Mineo:

An encounter with a free-thinker and “pornographic” writer, played by Barbara Hershey:

It has been much discussed by fans and students of Cassavetes how the starring trio in Husbands behaved on-camera as if they had been friends for years. All three actors stated that they barely knew each other, except for having met at public events and parties. Gena Rowlands, though, did guest on Run For Your Life, and thus had some close encounters with Gazzara more than a decade before the two worked together in what I consider the only flawed film of Cassavetes’ personal work, Opening Night (1977). Here is a scene from that RFYL ep:

The stars of Husbands (1970) did seem like they were old friends. Perhaps Cassavetes’ intensive rehearsal period — wherein actors improvised their dialogue and “lived” in their roles — contributed to this, or maybe the three actors were just destined to be pals at some point in their lives. Whatever the case may be, it’s one of Cassavetes’ most emotional and unusual films, in that there are several sequences where the actors are clearly improvising on camera.

Perhaps because the film was funded by a large studio (Columbia), JC felt he could let loosen his rules for a bit, and thus the film has a very informal, and extremely real, aspect to it. An hour-long BBC documentary about the making of the film is available on YT here, and here is the trailer, narrated by the velvet-voiced William B. Williams:

Setting aside Opening Night, we wind up at the picture that has probably contributed the most to Gazzara’s cult status among indie filmgoers, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). The film was a massive failure in its first release (hear Ben talk about that here) and was basically “hidden” by Cassavetes in his lifetime (at least in the U.S.; in the Eighties, I was finally able to see it in Paris, where it was playing at one theater once every weekday).

It has since acquired a great reputation, and its appeal is tied up completely with Gazzara’s charismatic lead performance. His strip-club owner isn’t even on the show-biz map, and yet he’s a man with a moral code and a sense of duty about pleasing his audience.

In that regard, the most interesting anecdote that Gazzara told about the film was that he had to take Cassavetes aside a few days into filming to tell him something was wrong. Cassavetes had no idea what the problem was, and Gazzara mentioned that the girls weren’t undressing on-camera, and that the film was about a strip club. Cassavetes was actually kind of a prude when it came to nudity or sex, but Gazzara, staying true to the code of his character Cosmo Vitelli, knew what the right move was.

The first 15 minutes of the film are here, but here is perhaps the film’s best sequence, with Cosmo talking to his performers in the dressing room:

Another great moment:

Outside of the Cassavetes films and The Strange One, one of the strongest lead roles Gazzara had in a film was Saint Jack (1979), a tough, nasty little character study that was quite a surprise from cineaste/filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. The film has the feel of Chinese Bookie and has the added allure of having been shot in Singapore. It was produced by Roger Corman (as was Bogdanovich’s Targets), and supplies further evidence of Corman’s risk-tasking side. It received great reviews but generally tanked when it came out; now, of course, it’s seen as an absolutely terrific film:

Gazzara worked with Bogdanovich again on the romantic comedy They All Laughed (1981). The film is charming, but it has a sort of sadness hanging over it. The killing of Dorothy Stratten was the first sad incident associated with the film, but then one considers that the NYC it shows is long gone (something mentioned by Bogdanovich in the commentary track he did for the DVD), that happy-go-lucky costar John Ritter died at a younger age of heart trouble, and that Gazzara and costar Audrey Hepburn (who was not unwell during the film, but looks oddly tired throughout) were carrying on an affair that lasted for a short while. The real-life attraction between the two informed their love scenes:

Gazzara was so effortlessly macho that he could take a role that was sort of off-kilter and stabilize it. He does that with the lead role of the poet Charles Serking in the great Marco Ferreri’s Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981). Serking is based on Charles Bukowksi, who wrote the source novel for the film, and there’s no question that, while Mickey Rourke might have been truer to Bukowski’s speaking voice (Snagglepus on booze), Gazzara was the dream version of Charles Bukowski, a macho boozer and brawler who was also acutely sensitive. In short, he had a LOT of fucking style:

But what will the average cable-viewer remember Ben G. for? His villainous turn in the super-schlocky Patrick Swayze vehicle Road House (1989). The movie is fun trash from beginning to end, and Gazzara makes a terrific villain, especially when he is able to tell off Swayze and then “beat him up,” courtesy of a much younger stuntman. Here Benny is, singing my mom’s fave, the whitebread cover of “Sh-Boom” by the Crew Cuts. Ben could be cool, even in the trashiest of trash flicks:

Gazzara suffered health problems in the last decade, including throat cancer that decimated his strong and clear voice. He was still a superb actor, so he thrived in supporting roles in more Road House-like crap and ambitious films like Lars Von Trier’s impressively abstract Dogville (2003). He also continued to work in live theater, playing in off-Broadway shows and receiving wonderful reviews.

He was not above hyping his work in the media, and perhaps one of the odder things I heard him on was the WOR-AM “Joey Reynolds Show” on the hour of the show that Joey dubbed “the Italian hour.” Il Grande Gazzara, who had once partnered with John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, was on that occasion sitting with a character actor (mob specialist) named “Cha-cha” and Joe Piscopo. At first I thought of this as a mighty fall for a guy who dwelt in the top tier of actors, but then I realized that despite whatever health problems he was having, Gazzara remained a working actor, and to plug the gigs he got, he had to do interviews.

The memory of that moment in his career where his opinions on acting were considered (on one radio show, at least) equal to those of Cha-cha and Piscopo makes me yearn for the type of interviews the European press conducted with him. Check him out here being interviewed by a French woman journalist for the show Cinema Cinemas on 42nd Street near Ninth Avenue. He holds forth on his favorite kind of part (“men who don’t always win the war”) and his love of reality in acting.

I’ll close this out with two clips related to Husbands. First, the nightmare vision of what the film might’ve turned out to be, if Cassavetes' strong radar for fine acting had ever slipped — here are Cassavetes, Gazzara, and Marty Ingels (!) cast as three poker-playing buddies in the goofy comedy If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969).

And there is no better way to feel the real-life vibe that the Husbands trio gave off than to watch this amazing Dick Cavett show from 1970 with the three men as his only guests. It’s been noted that these guys were “the Rat Pack of independent film.” That ain’t half wrong:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight: complete arthouse films for free on YouTube (Russell, Altman, Kaurismaki)

I don’t like watching movies on a computer, and will do so only when the film in question is extremely rare and can’t be found in another format. However, I am in the minority these days, because everyone loves to watch feature-length films on laptops or portable devices that can’t possibly do honor to the visuals of the greatest filmmakers (although the same devices are terrific for TV series, which are predominantly radio shows decked out with stylish-looking visuals that rarely, if ever, have a place in the storytelling).

I used to regularly chronicle on this blog favorite YouTube posters who have made available very rare material or entire films. Since in just about every case, these are fan-generated accounts and the notion of c*pyr*ght comes into play, I figure I should point these accounts out, before the files go down. In this entry I’ll discuss two such accounts, which I discovered while doing research into Ken Russell.

The first poster, lilacwine85, has put up a very nice selection of clips and features representing the “high” end of the artistic spectrum. Mikhail Kaufman (aka the “real Man with a Movie Camera” who shot his brother “Dziga Vertov”’s masterpieces) sumptuously visual In Spring (1931) can be found here:

Agnès Varda’s L’Opera Mouffe (1958) is here:

As for Unkle Ken, two of his early short TV documentaries are up in their entirety. His vibrant 1960 portrait of the Taste of Honey playwright Shelagh Delaney (who died in November of last year) for the series Monitor, “Shelagh Delaney’s Salford”:

And his 1960 telefilm about the inhabitants of a London house where he used to live, “A House in Bayswater”:

Poster lilacwine85 has put up some lovely things (check out the shorter clips too), but the person whose uploads surprised the hell out of me is KingRabbit. The surprise came not only from the fact that this person has great taste in movies and uploaded the films as one long file each, but also because his/her uploads have now been up now for months, meaning the Russell postings were uploaded before “Unkle Ken” departed this mortal coil.

Perhaps they have stayed up because the copies of the films posted have French subtitles. This is no problem, though, as the majority of King Rabbit’s uploaded films are in English, so the subtitles are just a function of where the poster lives (I’m going to take a rather obvious leap here and say either it’s France or Quebec).

I am not one to advocate the blatant disregard of copyright — I’ll allow our hero, ”Uncle Jean” to do that for me — but if you’re interested in saving files from YT, you should already be well aware of and

And so, with that helpful hint in mind, I introduce you to “le stash” of King Rabbit, beginning with Frank Zappa’s extremely trippy experiment in mindfucking a cinema audience with odd lyrics, surreal happenings, and state-of-the-art (circa 1971) video fx. Me, I prefer Baby Snakes because it was my lengthy intro to Zappa-dom, but many fans from the earlier days prefer 200 Motels:

I am a devoted disciple of the work of Robert Altman, and thus would say if you haven’t seen his landmark film Nashville (1975), you’ve missed out on one of his most intricate and entertaining creations. Please see it on a movie screen first, but if you need a refresher course, it’s here:

As for the aforementioned “Unkle Ken” (that being his own spelling of “uncle” for his Facebook account), one of his best-remembered classical composer portraits is Song of Summer: Frederick Delius (1968):

One of his more flamboyant and engrossing composer biopics is The Music Lovers (1970). In re-watching his work to assemble recent Funhouse episodes, I was interested that, while he is best known for his composer-bios, he only made three of these for theatrical release. Mahler is probably the most intense, but the most kaleidoscopic is this portrait of Tchaikovsky:

The film that followed Music Lovers is indeed his masterpiece, The Devils (1971). King Rabbit has posted the version that has been released in France on DVD, and will soon be out in the UK on disc. It is missing the recently discovered seminal scene (which runs for over five minutes) called “The Rape of the Christ,” but it is still a potent and pointed statement about religious hypocrisy, and one of his finest stylized works:

Russell’s own personal favorite of all of his films was Savage Messiah (1972), because he felt a great kinship with the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and made his biography of the man a paean to the dedicated work (and attendant creative genius) of an artist:

Currently out of print in the U.S., Russell’s Salome’s Last Dance (1988) is a wonderfully weird rendition (read: dream) on Oscar Wilde’s play. It is sexy, it is strange, and it does have something to say about sexual politics. Catch it here:

King Rabbit has also put up films at a different address. Among his postings is Mizoguchi’s 1929 short “Tokyo March”:

Readers of this blog will know of my undying fondness for Vincent Price. KR has also posted a wonderful TV special he did in 1972, wherein he recites the work of Edgar Allan Poe:

Paul Morrissey made the Warhol films watchable, and one of his first films that was independent of Andy (aside from its title) was Andy Warhol’s Flesh (1968):

I reviewed the new Criterion release The Films of Jean Vigo a few months ago on the Funhouse TV show. Vigo’s classic Zero for Conduct (1933) was the inspiration for Lindsay Anderson’s youth revolution classic If…. (1968):

Given the fact that YouTube is now the home of the music video (so much for “music television”…), it makes perfect sense that Yellow Submarine (1968) should be present. It was a Beatles side-project that the band itself gave little attention to (besides the creation of four songs, and a three-minute live-action sequence), but the animators involved, led by Heinz Edelmann, did some exquisite work:

I feel that if a “literary” film can draw you back to reading, it has achieved its goal. Paul Schrader’s brilliant Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) covers a lot of ground, and caused me upon first viewing to get to the library and start reading Yukio Mishima’s gorgeous (and gorgeously tortured) prose. It is a brilliant film:

I like using Andrew Sarris’s phrase “a subject for further research,” and for me one of those subjects is the amazing Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson. I have Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and have been meaning to watch it for months. I will do so soon, but in the meantime…. (Note: French, not English subs.)

To show the rapid nature of the sharing that goes on these days, as I was checking this piece to upload it, I found that King Rabbit has struck again, putting up several more movies in their entirety, including the critically-favored Thai film Citizen Dog (2006) (with French subs), the Jodie Foster/Martin Sheen thriller The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976), the terrific period piece Cooley High (1975), and the French thriller (note: without English subs) Mortelle Randonée (1983).

The new title that came to my attention instantly, due to my love for the work of Aki Kaurismaki, was La Vie de Bohème (1992). The film is Kaurismaki’s deadpan, non-musical adaptation of the novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème, starring the finest AK actor, the late Matti Pellonpää, and featuring a supporting turn by Jean-Pierre Leaud: