Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! 2: Forry Ackerman on the Funhouse

On All Hallows Eve, I am pleased to present clips from my interview with Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of a seminal pub in my childhood, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Forry is still out there kicking, and I’m sure he’s pleased that the “little monsters” like myself that he inspired to further worship of monster-movies and sci-fi/fantasy flicks are still digging the material all these years later. I talked to Uncle Forry back in 1996, and he reflected back on his friendship with the legends, including Bela:

He also offered up reminiscences of the earliest sci-fi fandom in this country, a buncha strangely dressed young people who loved what they read and saw at the movies. I was inspired to ask Forry this question from a wonderful interview with him I read in The Washington Post which spoke about his wearing a spaceman outfit at his first convention in NYC, and how he felt finally like he really belonged to a community. Forry and his pals at the time (who included a young gent named Bradbury and some other kid named Harryhausen) were pioneer fanboys, and as such, we still owe them a great debt for allowing all this stuff to come out of “the closet.”

Happy Halloween! Monster-mash your ass off, people!

While most people contend that identities are hidden behind costumes, makeup, and masks on Halloween, I contend that people's real personalities emerge when they have the convenient cover of a "character." It's always been my favorite holiday, and while I don't have much planned for the day this year, I am happy to celebrate with the non-commenting readership of this here blog.

Firstly, I recommend you check out my blog post last year saluting Alice Cooper, one of my all-time faves and a Halloween perennial. All but two of the links still work (so much for the vagaries of YouTube), so check it out! It's here

Then, onto the anthem for the holiday, the timeless novelty classic, "Monster Mash." I offer you two versions this year. First, this exceeding sparse rendition by Bobby "Boris" himself, from an unnamed show and seemingly with timecodes blurred out:

And then a repost of the video I put up on YT of Bobby and the immortal Zacherle dueting on the number at the Chiller Theatre con a few years ago. Please feel free to join in at home:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Deceased Artiste, and Funhouse guest, Rudy Ray Moore: RIP Dolemite!

This week saw the passings of two people I interviewed on the Funhouse. Actor Guillaume Depardieu (more on him in the weeks to come) sadly died at the very young age of 37 after a stormy life that was punctuated by a few really interesting performances on screen. Also leaving this mortal coil, at 81, was a legend of blaxploitation, comedian/scripter/producer/taboo-buster Rudy Ray Moore.

I had a great time speaking to Rudy at the Chiller back in '96, and just as good a time putting together the episode that evolved from the talk. I have placed the entire show on YouTube, and realized once again that, while public access has lost its luster for many in the age of YT, there are still things we can do on access that you can't do on the Net's number video portal, namely show the naked bodies of Dolemite's bevvy of sleazy-lookin' babes of all races (the "offending" portions -- when will America ever grow up? Answer: never! -- are covered with a little msg). The battle to talk dirty, or rather, to use Mr. Moore's phrase "use ghetto expressions," on stage was won during Rudy's long lifetime, but America is still a country that cringes at the thought of nudity and giggles at the notion of sex. All I can say about that is what the man woulda toldja: Dolemite was his name, and fucking up muthafuckas was his game. Farewell Rude One!

Part One:

Part Two:

And the Third and last part:

Friday, October 17, 2008

William Klein: Delirious montages

William Klein has only made a handful of films, but he carved out an amazingly fresh and vigorously strange and funny cinematic style, especially in his trio of fiction films. I’ve been showing scenes from Klein’s films on the program since mail-order copies became available from France, and so I was utterly delighted when Eclipse/the Criterion Collection released all three in the box-set The Delirious Fictions of William Klein. I’ve noticed that two of the most visually arresting scenes from two of the films were up on Youtube already, but in abbreviated versions, and so I thought it would be best to see the scenes in their full mondo-montage context.

First the sequence in Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966) in which our heroine (Dorothy McGowan) becomes part of an odd spoof of beauty-product pitches, and then flies away with her Prince Charming (Sami Frey) in a wonderful bit of photo-animation. The latter part of the sequence is striking, as it prefigures Terry Gilliam’s work at the end of the decade but was influenced by the work of Harry Smith (thanks to Stephen Kroninger for the citation).

Then the wonderful skewering of American patriotism from Klein’s Mr. Freedom (1969). John Abbey (where did he go?) does a dynamite job delivering Klein’s mock recitation of American values, followed by a bright and bouncy montage (with the occasional dark, menacing overtone) elaborating the joys of the U.S. of A.

The Mayor Who Wouldn't Leave

From the national to the local: let me just state for the record that our billionaire mayor here in NYC has decided he deserves a third term. He has done nothing to appreciably make the city better in any way, but he plays a good role as daddy-placator, he has made sure he's never avoided a camera, and is, above all, phenomenally wealthy (so everyone is cowed into thinking he must know what's talking about). His voice is a monotone drone that just disappears into itself (I continually think of the speakers who make PowerPoint presentations you fall asleep at when you're briefed about your benefits at a new job). He is a drippy little rich man, but he's got his game goin', and so he decided to take a tip from the Fascist bastard who preceded him. He feels the city owes him more time in charge. What to do? He is going to have the City Council overturn the ruling that Mayors can only serve two terms because — while that ruling was good enough for every Mayor before Guiliani — it isn't proper that a billionaire be asked to vacate his job.

Every time I even consider "Mayor Mike" and his b.s. reign over the city, I think of Charles Foster Kane's "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper." Mike thought it would be fun to run a major American city, and it has been — for him.

Credit where credit is due: The above image of King Michael of Bloomberg came from the Queens Crap blog, which you should all visit, provided you're a Queens-ite, or like the place.

Forget about "the Bradley Effect" — what about "the Mean Old Prick Effect"?

Ah, my friends (you know I really want to associate that phrase with Joe Franklin, NOT John McCain), I don’t often touch on politics, but let me just note my disdain for the Cranky Old Bastard who's the Grand Old Party’s candidate for Pres. He’s man who was “broken” during his time in captivity (he himself used that phrase at the Republican Convention, what a strange item to bring up in a campaign speech), yet never needed any treatment for his PTSD (as his wife noted last week, only those who didn’t “attend the Naval Academy” need that kind of therapy). He clearly evidences that snotty temperament every time he is confronted by any sort of probing question — usually those related to how his positions on different topics have changed from day to day, hour to hour, never mind year to year…. He’s a mean old dude who’s wealthy as shit and really doesn’t, let’s be honest, really doesn't care about ya, not one little bit.

UPDATE: In the one day since I wrote these words, Johnny "Mac" has since been a cutie-pie at both the Al Smith dinner and the Letterman show. He has a way with a dry joke, I'll give him that. But then again, Reagan was a charming old fuck and he was a shitty President. Let's not confuse being funny onstage with the Mean Old Bastard we saw in the three debates and in any of the interviews that were mildly probing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A smattering of Smothers: clips from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

This week on the show I’m reviewing the new Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour box set. You can read a review I wrote of the box here. But I should note that I dearly love the Smothers and dug the box mightily. Here are four clips I wished I could’ve included in their entirety in my mere 28-minutes of program:
The set’s single best segment, an unaired medley by Harry Belafonte that was banned in 1968 by CBS, as it is accompanied by disturbing footage of the preceding summer’s Democratic convention in Chicago. It's a tour-de-force performance by the great Harry:

George Harrison dropping by to cheer on the Bros. (we have the visual for this on the program but I’m doin’ my review over it):

Mama Cass doing one of her finest ditties with Tom along for the ride:

The West Coast cast of Hair with Ragni, Rado, and Jennifer Warnes (then Jennifer Warren) in the cast:

Here are some items that aren’t on the box, but they deserve yer attention:
Ray Charles jams with… Jackie Mason? (this episode is on the box)

The legendary banned Pete Seeger song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”

The legendary appearance by the Who:

An amazing turn by the Jefferson Airplane. Grace made herself up in blackface in order to mock the show, and just wound up seemingly especially exotic and cool-looking (and extremely stoned). “Crown of Creation”:

The second song, “Lather”:

And watching the box ensured that I just can’t get the Smothers’ theme outta my head. Here it is being hummed and sung by a nice assortment of guests from the third season:

And the single most mind-warping item to show up on the Net Smothers-wise (as it never aired on E! when they reran the shows), an appearance by the always awesome (and seldom seen) Mr. Harry Nilsson:

Friday, October 3, 2008

1979 wonderments

Let's take a little weekend journey through YouTube music postings, and I promise I won't try and sound too old and cranky ("these kids today... they couldn't craft a hooky riff if their life depended on it!"). Let's start out with two 1979 one-hit wonder bands. First, a public access clip (from San Leandro, California's "Girl George" show) of Pearl Harbor and the Explosions doing their only "hit" called "Driving." I love this song and have been haunted by the well-produced single, but this spare little performance is amazing for what it exhibits about the time and place, and Pearl's wonderfully goofy dancing:

That clip led me to this sad bit of radio history concerning one of Pearl's former bandmates, the actress/singer-turned-traffic-reporter Jane Dornacker, whose helicopter crashed into the Hudson River while she was on the air with WNBC's Joey Reynolds (who's now the all-night host on WOR in NYC, and an amazing AM-radio institution). Not something you want to listen to for a happy weekend, but it's a tragic bit of radio that comes up when you're searching for one-hit wonders (Dornacker's professional bio is fascinating, though). Back onto the happy stuff: the second 1979 one-hit wonder band, again this one was a "hit" on New Wave stations (in my case back then, WPIX-FM in NYC), the Sinceros doing "Take Me to Your Leader":

And since the poster for that vid notes that the musicians played with Lene Lovich, I must melt back into my youthful self and confess my never-ending love for Ms. Lovich. This was her own big 1979 hit, but I have chosen instead to give you an industrial-strength taste of second-LP Lene, killing me with her melodrama (yes, I loved/still love Kate Bush and Rachel Sweet also):

And since I'm in a New Wave vein on this weekend afternoon, let's remember perhaps the greatest unusual one-hit wonder band, Rockpile. Unusual in that they had two starring lead vocalists, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, and had been touring behind each guy, and accompanied each on his solo albums (the band was Edmunds, Lowe, Terry Williams, and Billy Bremner). This was their 1980 one-hit wonder, but I much prefer this high-energy version of Elvis Costello's "Girl Talk" from a show called "Countdown 1979." (See, there is some thought to this...) You have to love a song that includes the lines "Was it really murder/were you just pretending/lately I have heard/you are the living end..."

Here's Dave proclaimed as lead vocalist on "I Knew the Bride," one of Rockpile's absolute killer tracks, but he's actually engaged in some Everly-like double-vocals with Mr. Lowe. There is a terrific, prob alcohol-fueled version of this fronted by Nick the Knife on "Live Stiffs, Volume 2":

And, flipping back to 1978, one of the best live clips I've seen of long-haired young Nick warbling "So It Goes" (but where it's going, no one knows!) with the same band o'boys. This stuff is in my brain-pan forever, and I'm quiet pleased about it:

And since I'm on a free-form journey here, let's journey a few years hence (hence sometimes is a good direction to take) for this vintage bit of Nick with his bespectacled friend doing their greatest hit, which never dates (hippie sentiments in a "new wave" jacket):

And I'll move backwards to the early Seventies for song Lowe told us he Nicked the "Peace, Love" riff from. A beautiful ditty from a truly troubled but sublime and lovely singer-songwriter who died long before she should've, Judee Sill. Labelled a "religious" songwriter, she was actually in the vein of a lot of early Seventies spiritualists who embraced all kinds of religious imagery but favored an open theology (wherein you're allowed to worship what ya like, even nature, which the pious truly, truly hate). As a nonbeliever, I'm very touched by this song, thanks to Judee's lyrical skill, plaintive singing, and the classic early '70s arrangement (and here's the the only publicly released film of Sill performing it live). I thank Nick for confessing to his riff-copping on the "Old Grey Whistle Test" DVD:

Since there's so little Sill in existence, I might as well link to the other two extant clips, this live bit of video from USC and this UK TV appearance.

And since this whole post started out about one year, let me return to my "high" and "low" formulation by contrasting the beauty of Judee Sill with the eternal song of 1979 (and there is nothing like seeing the "group" trying to perform it in a live context, albeit lip-synching). And perhaps the finest trash legacy the year had for us (and remember this is when disco fever was at its peak, and even punk had gotten sorta silly), the German group Dschinghis Khan at the Eurovision song contest. There's nothing left to be said:

Voices of yesteryear

Two wonderful TV ads from 1974, both presenting a famous narrator speaking about a new record release. First up, it's Ringo shilling for his former bandmate Dr. Winston O'Boogie:

And an even more obscure cult figure, the "Old Philosopher" Eddie Lawrence, touting the joys of the Harry Nilsson LP "Pussycats" produced by the selfsame Jock (of Jock and Yono). I'd heard Harry do an Eddie Lawrence impression (with Flo and Eddie), but never knew the man himself was recruited for marketing:

Bollywood Beatles and Boone

What can I say, I can’t stay away from the “rabbit hole” that is YouTube. I should regularly thank the folks who’ve put up the clips that most grabbed my fancy in any given week, but I either forget or haven’t got enough time, or [insert excuse here]. I will give a salute to a guy who would like to be called Rick Rude’s Mustache for his “ravishing” video clips. He hasn’t put anything up in a year, but I still have to thank anyone who would share with us Pat Boone losing his toup:

And I don’t know as much as I’d like to about Bollywood (I really need a thorough course in this stuff, given my love of melodrama and sudden musical numbers), but I do know of the great, immortal Shammi Kapoor. Thus my thrill at seeing him cover the Fabs:

There are over 700 Shammi clips on YouTube, I will return to this motherlode at a future date....