Friday, January 30, 2009

Olivier Assayas on the allure of the catsuit

There's nothing like an artist willing to discuss his preoccupations openly and honestly. Here is a segment from my 2003 interview with French filmmaker Olivier Assayas on the subject of the catsuit fetish, as displayed in his pics Irma Vep and demonlover.

You need this record (so take it)

Sammy Davis was one of the most ubiquitous performers in show business from the Fifties to the Eighties. He particularly had a strong tie with the medium of television, showing off his skills as a consummate nightclub and cabaret entertainer on TV variety and talk shows (not that that stopped him from appearing on sitcoms, gameshows, and even anthology dramas). In the period of his busiest TV activity, the Seventies, he also recorded an album that included an incredible amount of TV themes. I have never found the alternate version of this LP (purported to be called "Sammy Sings the Great TV Tunes"), but one of our recommended blogspot colleagues has put the better-known variation of the record, called Song and Dance Man, up for public consumption in MP3 form. Grab it immediately, and hear Sam offer his Wham on the themes from "Baretta" (natch), "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Kojak" (yes, someone wrote lyrics to it), "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (with Sam appropriately sniffing and singing her name over and over and over, astounding!), "Hawaii Five-O" (with a menacing lyric about "Devil's Day"!), and "Chico and the Man"). Someday I will find the other variation of this album, which supposedly contains the "Maude" theme. In the meantime, rock out on this gem. Thanks to Stephen for pointing this one out.

CLICK HERE: Sammy Sings a Whole Mess of TV Tunes, Making Us All Much Happier in the Process

Friday, January 23, 2009

DVR/TiVo/VCR Alert: The Swinger on TCM!

This very evening, on Friday the 23rd, TCM has slated in the late-evening "cult movie" slot the amazingly campy 1966 stunner The Swinger. I presented the wonderful "human paint brush" scene on the Funhouse when it first began in 1993, and got an immediate reaction (from the male and female viewers). It's definitely the precursor for the chocolate/beans scene in Tommy, but it's only one of several dazzlers in the picture. You will believe that director George Sidney had a crush on his star when you see the picture — you will also see the influence on that Lindsay Lohan poster for Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen a few years back. Record it and see...

The clip that fetched so much attention. I uploaded it to YT, and it has been "flagged" for adult content:

Interestingly, another poster put up the uncut version of the scene in a very sketchy looking copy (he's disabled the embed function). This version is longer and contains much mock-tribal silliness before Annie disrobes (making the movie seem even crazier). It also slows down her dancing, making it seem even more like Sidney was fetishizing fair young Annie. I have no idea why this was cut from the version I taped, it will interesting to see if it's in the TCM "official" version.

Steve Buscemi talks about two gods: Cassavetes and Kaurismaki

I haven't been doing the press-junket circuit lately, but when I did do it for the show, I delighted in getting the subjects to talk about something besides their latest movie. The best way to do this would be to evoke their influences. Here Steve Buscemi discusses his love of Cassavetes and surprised me by bringing up one of my big-time faves, Aki Kaurismaki.

Speaking of patriotism: Leo Stella sings "All-American Boy"

The common wisdom is that you can find out about anyone on the Internet, particularly those who were in the public spotlight for any amount of time. Well, that ain’t true for those who’ve toiled on public access. A lot of the legends of access here in Manhattan can’t be tracked down via the Net, and their stuff doesn't even show up on the glutted YouTube unless they themselves choose to post their clips. Sometimes, every so often, you get something that turns viral because of its comic appeal — as with the tape of access fix-it host Ken Sander being pranked on a call-in show, or the amazing “Preacher X” from California doing one of his “I’m God, beeyotch” raps.

In that spirit, I offer up another tidbit of the great Leo Stella, a lounge performer who seemed to have had a pretty solid resume in summer stock and other kinds of theater and cabaret when he took on his “Seems Like Old Times” program in the early Nineties on Manhattan cable-access. As the show went on, Leo started opening up to us and showed us his different sides: the show-biz pro would turn into the local neighborhood gesticulating Italian, who would then become a bookish dude reading his favorite poems, who would then give way to the horny Leo who discussed his “cherubs” — the young boys he loved so dearly, and would occasionally provide “candy” for. It was a helluva show, and it is well-remembered by those who saw it back when. In honor of the inauguration of the swelling feeling of patriotism (had to) this week, I offer up an excerpt of Leo crooning his own composition, “All-American Boy.”

Post-inauguration thoughts

The inauguration of President Obama finally took place, and he has begun the task at hand, namely cleaning up (or better yet, just arresting) the ongoing mess the other idiot made in his two wretched terms. The ceremony on Tuesday was an invigorating event, it was U.S. history pure and simple, and the first time most of us made certain we were watching a Presidential inauguration at the exact time it took place.

I wish the joy and enthusiasm that surrounded the event and lit me up for a day or so could actually combat the bad feelings that I started getting ‘bout this place, round about the time that Reagan got elected. I guess that was the point where I realized a truism about the country: we swing one way and then the other. We who sit on either side of the pendulum hope that the swings in our general direction are decisive ones, but they never are.

The Reagan election was a decisive turning point: It was the point at which illusion trumped reality and the B-Movie Actor As Leader was thought to be a good idea by a vast majority of the population (I mean, I love B-movies, but a fella’s gotta draw the line somewhere….). As the country moved more and more to the right, we seemed to really lose our grasp on intelligence – dumbness and tunnelvision became more and more prized attributes. Thus, the “Internet bubble”/instant knowledge, surplus-income Nineties were followed by the absolute nightmare that was the W. Bush years, in which as many liberties as could be taken, were taken. Now with Barack in the Oval Office, many folks feel that the right guy won. I’m one of them. Although the question of why exactly he won becomes a sticking point. He honestly deserved to win the office, and yet it’s also true that the other guys pushed it as far as they could — the country is now teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy, and the American people decided (cue the pendulum) that having a Dumb Guy (who made many folks feel comfortable in their dumbness) wasn’t the greatest decision. Let’s get a smart one, who doesn’t resemble the Democratic Party’s “Kennedy model” (the only thing they’ve pushed in the past few decades, in both the New England and Southern-Fried models).

President Obama is definitely less of a centrist than Clinton was, but he’s also a careful chess player. He has inherited probably the worst mess of any incoming Pres since FDR, and his trademark cool, calm demeanor should hopefully see him through. I support him, and yet even as I hope for the future, I wonder when the next craaaaazy, disastrous swing of the pendulum will happen.

Friday, January 16, 2009

God and Man: Deceased Artistes Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan

“Smiles, everyone, smiles…!”

Two TV legends died this week. Both men had their moments in the spotlight, but more importantly both starred in shows that are landmarks — one because it is the most pristine camp artifact you can find, the other because it is, simply put, a masterpiece.

In interviews, Ricardo Montalban, a proud Mexican, used to decry the images of Hispanics in the movies: bandits, lazy slackers, and Latin lovers. He was undoubtedly right, but he also must have realized that he carved out a career in Hollywood because he fit the third archetype. He was smooth, had a crisp accent, and seemed the very definition of a ladies man in his movie roles — although I do love his villainous turn as a nasty drug dealer in Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960), keeping Shelley Winters on the hard stuff to further complicate the life of her confused kid, James Darren, who doesn’t know whether to be a delinquent or a concert pianist (now there’s a campy plot for you). This week, upon his death, many fanboys referenced Shatner’s “KHAN!” shout in the original Trek (and of course, Ricardo’s return to the role in Nicholas Meyer’s terrific Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, 1982).

For me, the ultimate flourishing of Ricardo was his starring role in what is truly one of the most perfectly campy shows in history, Fantasy Island (1978-84). As Mr. Roarke, Ricardo started out as a sort of malevolent figure who granted his guests their wish but also taught them a nasty lesson in the process. As the series developed however, he became avuncular, friendlier, and even had affairs on the program. At its best, the show made Roarke into god: he dispensed pills that gave guests temporary sight or made them younger, opened windows and caused the rain to fall, and kicked Satan’s ass twice (and Roddy McDowall was the perfect adversary for him, clad in a pinstripe suit with teenytiny horns on his head).

Since Fantasy Island is a corporate property, it isn’t properly represented on YouTube. They do have this bit of much earlier Ricardo wonder, a single he released:

And we are allowed to watch the unforgettable credits for the show:

But mostly, there are just these ridiculously dumb five-minute “webisode” versions of the FI plotines. Fooey. Here’s one that features the great Sammy Davis (who appeared on the show twice, the second one being a weird foreshadowing of his own death by cancer):

The second gentleman who died this week was of course Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan is a curious figure in that he conceived of, co-wrote, and starred in one of the greatest series in the history of the medium, and yet spent the rest of his career being a talented yet distinctly-not-mind-blowing actor. He never scaled the heights of hammery (hammitude?) that Ricardo did, but he could be somewhat corny in some of his later roles, and what is most surprising is that his signature creation, The Prisoner, is so brilliant and yet stands alone in his filmography. He did direct a feature film — a rock version of Othello that I would love to see! — but the only other things he had a hand in directing were episodes of the wonderful Columbo series that were the most somber moments in that otherwise brisk and brilliant series (under his direction, Falk was a decidedly grimmer version of the character).

In any case, The Prisoner is a landmark in TV history, a show that might not seem as radical when seen today (since it has been so thoroughly ripped off by lesser fantasy fare), but was one of the seminal viewing experiences of my childhood. Watching the show as I got older, I understood more of its plot and McGoohan’s allegorical intentions, but it remains a mind-fuck no matter your age, one of the seminal TV series, something that for me (ultimate compliment here) ranks with the work of Ernie Kovacs, The Singing Detective, and Berlin Alexanderplatz as truly perfect television, something that fully demonstrates the kind of intelligence and barrier-breaking that is possible in the medium.

McGoohan had an interesting background: born in my old stamping grounds of Astoria, Queens; raised in Ireland, then England, he was a classically trained actor who did both theater and bad Disney movies early in his career, but broke through with Danger Man/Secret Agent. The latter is a good show, but rather a let-down when viewed after the perfection of The Prisoner (or even the eye-catching fun of The Avengers). An odd sort of progressive Puritan, McGoohan would only agree to star as John Drake, “the secret agent man,” if the scripts avoided the kind of sleazy sexuality and nasty violence that characterized the James Bond films.

McGoohan certainly achieved immortality as “Number Six” and deservedly so. The show presented the ultimate fusion of Kafka and Graham Greene, science fiction and the spy story, theater of the absurd and the Sixties youth revolution. Oh, and it was excellent TV storytelling.

Dig the theme (in the monochromatic version we all saw back then, even if you did have a color TV):

An ad for the show that includes one of the show’s key bits of dialogue (he would not be pushed, filed, stamped…):

One of the key scenes with the brilliant fucking Mr. Leo McKern, playing the best “Number Two”:

One eager poster put up a key part of the final episode. Promise me you will not watch this if you have not seen the series (and why haven’t you already seen it? Do yourself a favor and get it now – rent, purchase, whatever you do to obtain those silver discs):

And now, for the pure joy of the YouTube sharing experience: latter-day interviews with McGoohan, where he is willing to discuss the show (it is such a cult item that one assumes he never stopped being quizzed about it). Gold from someone’s VHS collection:

Another, super-rare lengthy discussion of the show by “Paddy Fitz” (one of his pseudonyms as a creator of The Prisoner). I love peoples’ VHS!:

This clip is definite “spoiler” time as he discusses the series’ finale. It’s the most embarrassing interview clip, though, as he’s asked to discuss the show for a scant few minutes in the context of what looks to be a tacky “nostalgia” special:

To further add fuel to the fire, as an older gent, McGoohan made this cryptic home-movie, apparently intended for use in a Prisoner TV documentary:

And why not end with a song? From the MTV era, “I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape”

Let’s say it all in unison to both God (Ricardo) and Man (Patrick): Be Seeing You!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Farewell, Mondo Kim's

2008 was a very, very bad year for New York City stores and eateries. The number of places that are shuttering for good is growing literally by the week, but one particular closing evoked sentimental feelings in movie buffs throughout the city, namely the "alternative" vid-emporium Mondo Kim's on St. Marks Place. I considered the store a really invaluable resource for research for interviews and "Deceased Artiste" episodes of the show, and would travel from wherever I lived in this wacky metropolis downtown to rent discs and tapes (yes, tapes, kids!) so I could catch up on various artists' work. The odd thing about my connection with the store is that you couldn't help but have a sort of love/hate relationship with it. The eclectic range of the store's stock was incredibly important, and I'm speaking strictly of the rental department (I have a solid collection of films I've purchased on DVD and VHS, but have remained an in-store movie renter, who prefers "brick and mortar" establishments — as they are now sadly called — to doing the Netflix lazyman approach). Yet the clerks at Kim's were uniformly bored, smug, and in a few cases, openly rude. Being a regular Kim's customer did have its underside.

But let's remember the happier part of the equation, shall we? All those wonderfully rare movies, which have now become part of a fairy tale ending that will surely go down in video store lore. In case, you haven't heard, the rental stock of this Greenwich Village store has now been shipped to a Sicilian town that has a very eager, culture-minded mayor. The initial public "offering" for the rental stock made by the store's owner mentioned the continuation of memberships and other notions that seemed to squarely imply the desire for another retailer or library to purchase the collection: the poster with the offering can be found here. But now a *donation* of the entire collection has been made, so the citizens of a Sicilian town will have at their disposal 55,000 DVDs and tapes. The vast majority of the titles are in English or have only English subtitles. Among the collection is a fascinating assortment of avant-garde films, a fairly sizeable porn library, and yes, a good amount of bootlegged recordings (from imports, broadcast and cable airings) of rare films that couldn't be acquired otherwise. I had to leave the magic "b-----g" word out of the column that I wrote as a homage to Kim's for the trade magazine Video Business, as it was uncertain if the store would be "saved" at the last minute, and I wouldn't want to be the one blowing the whistle on such an important resource. We New Yorkers now envy the cities that still have "alternative" video emporia that have on their shelves the out of print, the outre, and "off-market" film titles.

My homage to Mondo Kim's

Deceased Artiste: "That Bad Eartha"

So many immaculately talented folks kicked off right as the last year ended. I hope to do tributes to a few of them on the show, but I wanted to present footage of one of them as soon as I could upload it. This is Earth Kitt doing "Montonous" which she debuted in the Broadway show New Faces of 1952. That show was turned into a film called New Faces in 1954 by Harry Horner. The picture is terribly stilted, but it does feature the first notable roles of Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Ronny Graham, Carol Lawrence, Robert Clary (who is in waaaaay too many skits), and Eartha, who simply blows the show away with four songs.

I offer up her last tune in the pic, and one which set the tone for her image for years and years to come:

The inscrutable Satchmo

Every few years there's a really startling blackface sighting in Asian culture (me, I'm fond of the dementia of those Hong Kong movies that used Chinese guys in afro wigs and facepaint for fight scenes). This very heartfelt but wrongheaded tribute to the legendary Louis Armstrong is pretty amazing.

Thanks to John Walsh of the blissfully nasty You Are Hated!.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Please frequent the Menu Bar

The links have been updated, NEW blogs and sites have been added, the ones that went private or went down have been eliminated. So each click on the right is now a fully functional ticket to wondrous reading, listening, viewing, or downloading. You will be entertained!