Thursday, September 30, 2010

Too fast, they go...

This is not strictly a Deceased Artiste blog, but since I coined that phrase in the mid-90s on the Funhouse TV show I’ve felt a sort of obligation to pay tribute to those who’ve kicked off whose work I’ve loved.

This week has been insanely busy in terms of dead film-folk, so I thought I’d just move through three of the recent departed quickly. Gloria Stuart means nothing to me in terms of Titanic (I got no feelin’ for that kinda stuff, though I have indeed sat through it), but she is important as a starlet in the 1930s, and also as the wife of Arthur Sheekman, a Marx Brothers writer in good standing and the only person who actually did ghost-write some of the magazine pieces credited to Groucho. Ms. Stuart can be seen to lovely advantage (read: pre-Code “scanties”) in this scene from the James Whale 1932 classic The Old Dark House, which can be found in its entirety here:

Next, I salute Arthur Penn, who was a director whom I appreciate most for his participation in the absolutely miraculous “maverick” period in American film that lasted from the late Sixties through the mid-Seventies. He made one historically important pic that I like but don’t utterly love (Bonnie and Clyde), one great hippie pic (Alice’s Restaurant), a fairly good insane Western (The Missouri Breaks), and two great “revisionist” Seventies films (Little Big Man and the terrific, low-key Night Moves).

I feel, though, that his true masterpiece is not Bonnie and Clyde, but Mickey One, his almost indescribable 1965 modernist drama featuring Warren Beatty as a standup comic on the run from crooks. It’s a film that was obviously influenced by what was going on in European cinema at the time (it resembles nothing less than Alphaville, which came out the same year). Here’s the dynamic trailer for the film, but actually the film’s opening is an even clearer look at how radically weird it was for its time (unless, of course, you’d been watching European films….).

As ridiculous as it is to consider Beatty as a stand-up comic (his finest performance will always be McCabe and Mrs. Miller), Mickey One makes everything it presents believable — or is that entirely incredible? (It also seems to heavily prefigure the astoundingly perfect TV series The Prisoner.) Penn had one really good movie after his “maverick” period, the thriller Dead of Winter. I’m not gonna talk about Penn and Teller Get Killed.

And, to finish off this little grouping, and move onward to the Fifties gents with great hair, I offer a tip of the fedora to Joe Mantell, a character actor who died at 94 and is best known for playing Ernest Borgnine’s friend in Marty, and also for playing Jake Gittes’ sidekick and uttering one of the greatest closing lines in movie history:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pvt. Zimmerman checks out: Deceased Artiste Mickey Freeman

I know very little about Mickey Freeman, but had to pay tribute to the gent because I deeply love The Phil Silvers Show (aka You’ll Never Get Rich and, of course, Sgt. Bilko) and enjoyed his regular appearances on the “Jewish hour” on The Joey Reynolds Show, which WOR unceremoniously cancelled a few months back (and I haven’t listened to that bastion of right-wing idiocy since — thanks, Buckley family!).

Freeman was a Borscht Belt comic who was a “human joke machine” in the manner of Morey Amsterdam or the mighty Henny Youngman. He could, in others words, summon a joke for every topic, and did so on the Reynolds show. He had a few acting roles (mostly NYC-based, like the immaculate Naked City TV series), but was best known in the business as a gag-meister who appeared at numerous Friars Club events.

He was a regular on Bilko, but didn’t often have lines as the character described in various places online as “the diminutive Pvt. Fielding Zimmerman.” He did get a featured part in the fan-fave episode called “Doberman’s Sister”:

Freeman doesn’t seem to have guested on too many TV comedy shows as a standup, so his act is sadly lost to history. However, two small clips appear on Youtube. The first finds him opening a segment on the 100th anniversary of the Friars Club:

Here is the best bit of Mickey, seen guesting on Pat Cooper’s Internet comedy show. Pure shtick!:

If you’d like to hear him to best advantage (and catch a damned good NYC radio institution that is sorely, sorely missed), WOR has indeed kept up its page of Reynolds’ shows. The “Jewish hour” lives on, here.

John Cassavetes says "Television sucks!"

… and he never even saw “reality TV”! I was completely blown away in March of 2008 by the discovery of a Dick Cavett Show episode featuring John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, and Peter Falk promoting Husbands (now sadly removed from YT), so I was very happy this week to catch the extremely rare bit of a Cassavetes interview seen below. Presumably intended to air on TV (on a local news or entertainment show?), John is in rare form as he sits with Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara in a restaurant to promote his film Opening Night (1978).

It’s great to see him here, confident that he has made a great film and clamoring to trash mainstream moviemaking and TV. What’s interesting to consider, though, is that he has total faith in Opening Night at this point, and then he proceeded to hide it from public view for years. Of the eight masterful “personal” films he made he owned five outright (all of which have now been made available). Those five were effectively out of circulation in America for several years before Cassavetes’ death, since the only way to get ahold of them was to contact his neighbor (this is documented in one of the many books on JC by Ray Carney) or to borrow/view the library copies owned by MOMA (which Cassavetes had donated).

It’s never been fully explained why the films remained out of distribution and were so hard to obtain in the U.S., but were readily accessible (at least to rep theaters and museums) in Europe. One can only assume that the passionate, perfectionist Cassavetes had some misgivings about the pictures; he had in fact retooled each of them, and variant versions with different running times existed for four of the five titles.

The issue of whether Cassavetes would’ve wanted people to see the variant versions has been answered by Rowlands and other representatives of the family — they say that only the “finished” versions should be seen (but in fact, there were actually two finished versions of Killing of a Chinese Bookie both edited by the man, and thus those are out on Criterion together). Strangely, though, he donated a print of the original version of Shadows to a college library, and, although he edited Faces down to 130 minutes, he made sure to allow a transcript of the full three-and-a-half version to be released as a mass-market paperback when the film was released. (I have the book, and it counterpoints the longer version with the released version by having the script of one on the right hand pages, and the other on the left.)

I actually have my own misgivings about Opening Night, which is the only one of the eight JC “personal films” that I don’t think is a perfect work in its own way (it centers around a play that appears to never have been fully conceptualized by Cassavetes, and thus we're never sure what the characters are fretting over). Its strongest suit (besides the obviously brilliant lead performance by Rowlands and strong supporting work by Joan Blondell, Gazzara, and JC himself) is its “fantasy” plot element, in which Rowlands is haunted by a dead fan. This kind of “magical realism” touch was done to a finer turn by Cassavetes in Love Streams (which I think is messy but wildly underrated).

In any case, this piece of interview footage is raw and brilliant and terrific, as was the man himself.

And here is another snippet from the same chat. I love his assertion that “the world is comprised of people who have opinions and lack emotion.” I wish the whole tape was available somewhere for public consumption.

Thanks to the wonderfully talented indie filmmaker Amos Poe for pointing out this clip.

G'bye, Marty Morgenstern: Deceased Artiste Harold Gould

I love to say farewell to character people who depart "this mortal coil," and Harold Gould was certainly a prime example. An urbane and sophisticated performer, he was burned into the public’s retinas playing dads, lawyers, and friendly (but often austere) authority figures.

His best-remembered role is probably Rhoda’s dad on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, but the guy was on everything, once he quit his drama teacher job in the Sixties and became a full-time performer. His movie credits include a number of memorable Seventies comedies, including The Sting and Silent Movie, and he kept going until the 2000s, appearing as the grandfather in the Jamie Lee Curtis-Lindsay Lohan remake of Freaky Friday. His TV credits included The Twilight Zone, Mr. Ed, The Untouchables, Get Smart, Green Hornet, Wild Wild West, and the always delightful Columbo. (Not forgetting flops like Needles and Pins with Louis Nye and Norman Fell, and The Feather and Father Gang with Stefanie Powers.)

But what did I think of when I heard he had died? His part as an uptight nobleman who challenges Woody to a duel in the just-perfect Love and Death. The entire film is on YouTube (as are a few other key Woody pics), and here is the segment that includes the duel with Gould. The challenge occurs at the 8:00 mark with this Marx Brothers-like exchange:

Gould: Her seconds will call on you.
Woody: Seconds, I never gave her seconds…
Gould: As her fiance, my seconds will call on your seconds.
Woody: Well, my seconds will be out, have them call on my thirds. If my thirds are out, go directly to my fourths.

God, I love Woody. And Gould was a perfect straight-man foil. The duel itself follows in Part 5:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Werner and Errol talk filmmaking... and strange images

There are few things better than listening to Werner Herzog talk, but one of them has to be him chatting with his one-time “protégé” (and the man he ate a shoe for), the great documentarian Errol Morris. Here they are last week, doing a sort of mutual interview onstage at the current Toronto Film Festival. They discuss their love of each other’s movies, unusual reading matter, “madness in the landscape” (take a guess who introduces that subject), and their friendship:

Godard defends an mp3 downloader

“There are no copyrights, only copy-duties.” So said Uncle Jean on the subjects of of intellectual property and copyright law. For those who require further elaboration, I refer you to one of his latter-day masterpieces, the multipart essay/montage film Histoire(s) du cinema, which at one point was up in its entirety with English subs on YouTube, but can still found around the Net, duplicated from the British DVD. One of the episodes in that mind-blowing series contains a legend where the copyright should be that reads “No Copyright [Year] JLG.”

Godard is fully aware of the Internet-download situation and, as I noted here some weeks back, recently tweaked his producers and the public by releasing trailers for his latest, Film Socialisme, that actually were the film itself, sped-up to different lengths. To solidify his belief that there is no such thing as intellectual property, he has now donated a thousand Euros to the defense fund of a Frenchman on trial for downloading 13,788 mp3s. You can read a summary of the story in English here (with good translations in the comments field), or if you read French, here is the original story.

By donating money — and even more importantly, his name — to the defense of James Climent, the downloader in question, Godard is putting his money where his mouth is, and underscoring his belief that copyright is a concept intended to put money in folks’ pockets who never had anything to do with the creation of the works in question (notice his emphasis on the inheritance of money by the families of artists long after they are dead).

In Histoire(s), Godard demonstrated with his usual brilliance that he could borrow images from all eras of cinema and create something entirely new. (The blog entry cites him saying, “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”) As a result the series has never been picked up for distribution in the U.S. because all the arthouse distributors, large and small, are paralyzed by the notion of lawsuit by copyright owners. The terms “alternative culture” and “alternative cinema” mean very little in the U.S. when you get right down to it. Here is the beginning of that brilliant work, with English subs:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does God Really Need an Oscar, numero deux

Two articles appeared this week relating to Uncle Jean getting the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oscars. The first confirmed that Godard had indeed received his wacky little we’re bestowing-on-you-our-highest-honor-that-we-refuse-to-broadcast letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His longtime ladyfriend and collaborator (identified as his “wife” by The New York Times — which apparently doesn’t bother to fact-check or proofread much of anything these days [I'm available at reasonable rates, folks!]) Anne-Marie Mieville knowingly stated that “it’s not the Oscars,” referring, of course, to the fact that the Academy has broken off its Lifetime Achievers and put them with the technical-award winners. She also asked, “Would you go all that way for a bit of metal?”

In the second piece, which appeared in various publications online, it was noted that JLG sent a “cordial, handwritten note” to the president of the Academy saying that, “schedule permitting,” he will come to the not-fit-for-prime-time ceremony on November 13th. I’m hoping he fakes them out, does interviews as if he’s coming (as he did when he was getting the Lifetime Achievement from the European Film Awards a few years back), and then just blows the whole thing off. And please, Academy folk, don’t consider Quentin Tarantino to be the central presenter — I’m sure his love of cute Sixties Godard is legitimate, but there’s a lot more to Uncle Jean’s work than the “Madison scene” in Band à Part….

Telethon 2010: Jerry and his dog show their love for each other on air

The Jerry Lewis telethon is over for another year and, besides raising money for a great charity, it also connects its viewers back to the heyday of TV variety shows, when the best of those programs threw everything *and* the kitchen sink at you, and there was little (if any) way to figure out what kind of act was going to come on next.

So, yeah, I watched a helluva lot of the telethon. And I was doing the closest equivalent to “live blogging” during it that I’m ever going to do, on Facebook (where you can join the annual fun and receive updates on this blog if you “friend” me). I give a hearty handclasp (Fields-speak) to FB friend Steve Stoliar (author of the great Raised Eyebrows), who kept passing on Jerry’s oddest grammatical constructions and coinages, including "We are human beings, the best species God ever created" and "And now, a man with whom I am in awe of."

Steve kept track of those odd, sprawling sentences which, I’ve often noted on the Funhouse TV show, resemble fragments of a strange, shtickier version of Finnegan’s Wake. Jerry had other utterances that were puzzling, in that they seemed to require a situating sentence after them — but there was none forthcoming. At one point, he discussed the ideal people in this country being “great Americans who are good” (as opposed to good Americans who are great — presumably not such a nice thing). He also at one point emphasized that he was doing the telethon, and continues to do it, for the healthy children and not for the ones who already have dystrophy. There clearly should have been a contextualizing sentence there, something in the realm of “I want the healthy children to stay healthy and never have to suffer as these children do…” But even with that add-on, it still seems like a very weird thing to say.

The coup de grace for the entire program, though, was his story about a young boy with MD who was lying in his hospital bed, and told Jerry in a cheery manner, “I’m glad I got MD, ’cause that’s how I got to meet you!” Now, surely, there was a sentence meant to come after that about how Jerry was saddened by this child’s cute but sad declaration, but instead, each time one of these supreme puzzlers was said, Jerry’s winding trail of verbiage would take him far, far away from the statement and send him further and further out on a grammatical limb. Thus, he told us about a kid who cheerfully informed him he was glad he had a debilitating fatal disease, because it meant he got to meet Jerry Lewis.

But then again (returning to the subject at hand), any variety show is only as good as its guests. And this year the telethon brought us some old familiar names: Charo, Norm Crosby (making most of us very, very sad, whether we had enjoyed him previously or not), Barry Manilow (whose face is a grotesque mask of plastic surgery), some young studly opera singer in a Members Only-style jacket who sang opera, numerous dance companies doing cheesy production numbers, Jack Jones (singing, natch, “The Love Boat Theme”), and Jerry himself once again singing a Jolson song.

In NYC, we had a very lively oldies party hosted by Tony Orlando, in which, at various times, Connie Francis (looking very… weathered), the Archies, Tommy James, and the terrific Ronnie Spector all contributed versions of their hits (well, Tommy James sorta did — he came out, but did not wanna sing, even when coaxed by Tony). Thus, the NY portion of the telethon was genuine in its intent and delivery. Tony is such a fan of his guests that his enthusiasm for their music is infectious. Even if all involved were singing a rather unusual-seeming cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (yes, the Archies were singing Zep!), the NYC end of the telethon is truly a wonderment, and winds up being a delight.

And then there was the single most memorable moment of the telethon, this bit where Jerry brought out his “son,” his dog (which he calls a “Jew-huahua”). The dog showed its affection for Jer, and he returned the compliment. No comment is necessary, or possible:

He named the dog after Dean Martin. Jerry has been discussing his affection for Dean in great detail in the last few years, but this particular event adds an aspect to the brotherly hero-worship that we probably didn't need to know about....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beware those who would challenge the memory of Nelson!

I am not a religious person, but I do believe that actor-icon-little man Nelson De Le Rosa was a magical being when he was living among us. The clip of the late Nelson’s terpsichorean talent that I put up on YT has now reached nearly a half-million views, and its click-count rises every day.

Thus, I was a little peeved to find that another little man is horning in on Nelson’s turf: Nepalese teenager Khagendra Thapa Magar (right) has received press recently for being the “world’s smallest teenager,” measuring a mere 1’ 10”. Nelson, by comparison, was a grown (ouch) man who by the time I first saw him was a ripe 25 years old, and he was a full 28” tall, which means you would be able to see him walking around the streets (I assume Magar sorta needs to be carried places).

Sure, Magar is cute and cuddly and oh-so-tiny. But he’s just a friggin’ kid, and Nelson was an adult man who accomplished a lot in his life: he was a good luck charm for the Boston Red Sox; acted with Marlon Brando (for real!); and did my favorite (hands down) Michael Jackson impression ever (what is the point of a seeing yet another fully grown person doing an MJ dance? Nelson recreated the “Thriller” number and he was fucking 2 ft, 4 inches!).

Anyway, there will no doubt be more news surrounding this pretender to the throne as the months go by. But I will continue to cherish my memories of the one and only Nelson. As I researched this post, I found that Nelson’s family and/or manager certainly didn’t respect him as I much as I have, though, since he’s currently being exhibited in a museum. Ah, the indignities of the tiny….

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day is Jerry TV time

I don’t know if younger viewers are drawn in by any part of the Jerry Lewis telethon, but I do know that older viewers flip it on, if only to say, “Wow, she looks like that now?" "He’s gotten old!" "Oh jeez, I forgot about him….” These days, the producers of the program include little nuggets of the show’s past glories — best-loved moments with the likes of Jack Benny, Totie Fields, and Sammy Davis Jr.; the zaniest bits of Jerry freaking out; and some spontaneous moments that do qualify as pop-culture landmarks (as when Sinatra brought out Dean Martin, or John and Yoko came on to ask folks to contribute to MDA — more on this below).

In any case, the show is back on the air this Sunday, and I for one am very glad that we in NYC have Tony Orlando as a host. Tony is a high-energy MC who keeps the show moving right along. He gets the pitches done, and also provides some great musical fun with folk from his favorite era, the “Brill Building” period of the pre-Beatles Sixties. But Tony always points to Jerry as the guiding light behind the whole enterprise, and there’s no disputing that. Thus I offer a little survey of the most unusual telethon-related clips on YouTube.

Jerry does a generic pitch for the show, including a list of made-up guest-star names:

Ad campaigns promoting the MDA’s fund drive. The “let me keep the change” jingle is something I hadn’t heard since these spots aired, but the second it began, I knew all the freakin’ words (ah, the machinations of a TV-besotted mind):

I don’t know where the poster found this clip, but it’s old-time movie star and Mommie Dearest herself Joan Crawford on the telethon in the late Sixties:

Two short clips of Lennon on the telethon, appearing live in the NYC studio. First, a bit of “Imagine”:

And then “Give Peace a Chance”:

The Jackson 5 in their adolescent incarnation, doing “Dancin’ Machine”:

Jeezis kee-rist, what the hell was Manakin? Well, whatever it was, it was on the telethon:

One of Jerry’s favorite clips, perennially played at his live shows. Totie Fields guests:

A late Eighties appearance by Sammy, in which he presents Jerry with solid gold golf clubs. This might have been considered bizarre excess since it occurred on a fund-raising event for a charity. But, hey, Sammy did everything big:

The memorial tribute for Sammy that appeared the year he died:

Everything goes wrong in this bizarrely disorganized bit from the 1984 telethon:

Jerry bashes the guests who send taped pleas for MDA and don’t guest live on the show:

Jerry mocks the Spanish language (he used to do this for most languages, but this is the only clip of that sort I could find online):

Perhaps the weirdest clip in this entire survey. Jerry announces that he will take donations to the MDA from anyone, including drug dealers. In fact, he solicits drug dealers to send in dough:

To close off, a trio of extremely rare, non-telethon-related clips. First, Jerry live in Paris in 1971:

On Mike Douglas yet again, this time joining a trio of young men who hum. Aural mayhem ensues.

And finally, there’s no better way to end than the Saturday morning cartoon Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down?, which seems to have been a clip job on The Family Jewels. I can definitely discern Howard Morris’s voice as the German professor, but am not sure who did the other characters:

Jerry in Deutschland: rarities galore

Every year around this time I celebrate in the Funhouse the advent of the Jerry Lewis telethon, which is an institution that belongs to television’s past — the world of the variety show, the “all-star spectacular” specials, and the personality TV series that would allow a performer like Jackie Gleason (Jerry’s TV variety fave) to do whatever he wanted with his timeslot.

The telethon remains an acquired taste that is either must-monitor TV (a scant few can actually move through the whole thing) or is to be avoided completely. The phenomenon of Jerry getting more and more caustic as time moves on has diminished somewhat, but there are still golden moments to be reveled in (more of that in a later post). Jerry of course still has fans in many European countries, and one of his German fans has decided to share some of his rarities on YT, and so I must share them too. First, a German variety show appearance where Jerry performs a chess skit that reminded me heavily of Ernie Kovacs’ “Eugene” special.

Jerry was never able to have a successful variety series, unlike his ex-partner. One of the most notorious attempts to cram his overwhelming personality into the variety show format was a live Saturday night prime-time series that was retooled after a few episodes into a talk show, and then was cancelled by the network. Here is a full episode of that show, which is full-tilt Jerry that will alienate anyone but his most ardent followers:

Jerry cohosted a week of Mike Douglas’ daytime talk show in 1978. Ziefer has put up four segments from this week. The first one has Jerry telling a story about a nun, and showing a recreation of the Errand Boy “Chairman of the Board” bit:

On the second day, Jerry discusses what he claims was his initial idea for the Martin and Lewis comedy team (a notion called “sex and slapstick” involving Red Buttons and Jack Carter that I’ve never heard him discuss anywhere else). Also, a pretty wonderful paranoid bit about why rumors were then circulating about him skimming off money from the MDA — it only started happening “after Watergate.” Make of this what ya will:

One of the great artifacts of Jerry’s Eighties work is a VHS called Jerry Lewis Live in Las Vegas. He sings, dances, tells one-liners does his baton “trick,” makes the audience sing “Shine on Harvest Moon,” and threatens to piss on a woman at ringside:

In the early Eighties, Jerry made two movies in France that were never, ever shown over here. Ziefer has posted both, the first one dubbed in German. It is called The Defective Detective (yes, an English title on screen) in this version:

The second one thankfully has English subs. It is called Par Ou T’es Rentres, On T’a Pas Vu Sortir? (How Did You Get In? We Didn’t See You Leave), and is très, très wacky:

On the rarities front, Ziefer’s greatest contribution are all the segments from German TV. Here Jerry is interviewed to celebrate his birthday. This is the somber Jer:

The dialogue-less silent comedian Jer is seen here in a skit about a cruise ship:

And finally, Jerry speaking German (sorta) with the help of cue cards. Here he plays a number of characters with the support of the German variety show’s very dapper host:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rare Ernie Kovacs skit in color

I’m putting together Jerry Lewis blog posts, but as I was watching Jerry perform dialogue-less routines on foreign TV shows, I was reminded of the master of silent TV comedy (and pretty much everything else he tried). Here’s an extremely rare slice of Ernie Kovacs doing his “Silent Show” as it aired in color. The show was done twice, the first time in 1957, when it aired following a Jerry TV special and got much better reviews (perhaps the reason Jerry is dismissive of Kovacs to this day). The version called “Eugene” that is available on the one currently-available DVD set is the redo Ernie did a few years later for ABC.

We do have Ernie in color in various films directed by his friend Richard Quine, but here he is doing his pioneering TV comedy “across the orthicon tube,” as Percy Dovetonsils put it….