Thursday, December 22, 2016

Xmas Misery Megamix — to the max!

It’s been a rough year for everyone. There were countless tragedies around the world, most Americans finally understood that our political system is broken (whomever they supported), more jobs and industries just disappeared (never to return), many of us had our personal sadnesses, and a bunch of much-beloved cultural icons kicked off.

And now it’s Christmas. In an ordinary year, the holiday is burdensome enough — with its many obligations and simultaneous message that “time has passed, another year is gone, the clock is ticking, kids!” This year the Yuletide means that the crapfest that was 2016 is finally at an end, but another crapfest is on its way, right after this short break….

So I think it’s only right to once again get control over the emotions that the holiday produces and turn the whole thing on its head. DIVE into the misery and enjoy it! You ain’t getting’ away from it, so why not listen to talented tunesmiths, great vocalists, and rockin’ bands commemorate the emotional overload that is the holiday season?

Thus, I draw your attention my “Xmas Misery Megamix.” I started creating this, with the help of many friends (all thanked in the individual posts), well before Thanksgiving of last year, since Xmas music now starts to crop up after Halloween. I have waited this year until we are only a few days away from the Xmas holiday (and its less oppressive, but still gift-driven, Hanukkah cousin) to revisit this trove of gorgeously depressing music.

The first post I did about this topic was a super-survey of the saddest ditties that mention the holiday or are identified with that time of year. The selection here ranges from pop and classic r&b to novelty records and punk songs. A special section is devoted to incredibly sad Xmas country tunes and one of my fave candidates, submitted by a friend, a well-known and well-loved Xmas carol from the 16th century that was written to commemorate a massacre of children.

The artists included here include the Everly Brothers, Lawrence Welk, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Fear, Wall of Voodoo, and a host of country music legends. 


After I wrote the initial piece I found a few more choice candidates and a few friends nominated their own favorites. Thus this second entry, in which (for no particular reason) the miserable-mas songs are done only by bands with one-word names. READ IT HERE.

In the third and final piece, I showcased the final two sad songs, jumping from James Chance and the Contortions to Willie Tyler & Lester. For some reason unknown to me, this shorter blog post was only a slight bit behind the very lengthy first entry in the series in terms of views. Perhaps all those Lester fans out there? 

READ IT HERE, and please accept my wishes of a hap… er, miserable holiday season!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

‘Shakes the Clown’ at 25

Before the year closes, I wanted to mention two particularly enjoyable moviegoing experiences I had. The first is chronicled in this piece. In the time since this event occurred in Cambridge, there was a celebration of the same film in L.A. with not only the director/star present, but also nearly all the living cast members (including one who is now a big movie star on his own, although his movies are dreadful). Since I live on the East Coast of the U.S., I’m happy that there was a Shakes celebration closer to home….

The majority of cult movies were, on their initial release, complete flops at the box office and trashed by critics. Such was the fate of Shakes the Clown (1991), Bobcat Goldthwait’s uncommonly dark, and at times downright nasty, first film as a director/writer/star. The film’s best review, by Betsy Sherman in The Boston Globe, took the right tongue-in-cheek approach and contained the priceless line dubbing it “the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies.”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the film, which, thanks to cable showings and the blessed medium of VHS (later DVD) now has a diehard cult of fans who appreciate its imaginative nastiness and terrific cast of then-fledgling comedians. Shakes received its due at a 25th anniversary celebration on Sept. 22 at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass. Bobcat was in attendance and the event reminded yrs truly of how grimly funny the film is, and how it definitely led the way to Goldthwait’s subsequent indie features.

Bobcat onstage at the Brattle
Shakes was a very odd move for Bobcat, who was the better “screaming comedian of the Eighties.” (Bobcat’s was a comic persona, whereas Sam Kinison’s rage and jokes about minorities seemed way too real.) Bobcat’s onstage character was a nervous wreck who would shout out Tourette’s-like outbursts of non-sequitur humor. With Shakes he abandoned his strangulated standup voice and chose to play his character as a sarcastic, hopeless drunk in a surreal clowns-only version of show biz (with the much-loathed mime populace living on the fringe).

Bobcat spoke before and after the screening at the Brattle, and was quite open about the film’s box-office failure — it put him, he says, “in comedy jail” for several years afterwards, as his management (and audience) had hoped he’d make a vehicle picture for his onstage persona (he had played essentially the same character in three Police Academy movies).

The film remains rewatchable because of several random elements that stay in the memory, among them some wonderfully mean lines of dialogue and the sheer absurdity of a serious “drunk at the end of his rope” plot thread being situated in a world of colorful yet embittered clowns. The 35mm print shown at the Brattle had added “nostalgia value” since it was slightly scratchy (much better in this reviewer’s opinion than the spotless 4K restorations, which resemble high-def videos more than film).

The most interesting revelation that Bobcat was more than happy to share was that some of the funniest moments in the film were ad-libbed by the cast members. The performers in Shakes range from then-unknowns (Adam Sandler, Kathy Griffin, Tom Kenny) to Eighties comedy stars (Bobcat, Julie Brown, a pseudonymous Robin Williams) to old pros (LaWanda Page, Paul Dooley, Sydney Lassick, and a seemingly game-for-anything Florence Henderson). Bobcat maintained that he had a lot of surprises as he directed the film, since the lines the cast were coming up with were better than the ones in his script.

For example, perhaps my favorite line in the picture appears in this scene with LaWanda Page who, according to Bobcat, made up her own dialogue.

Indeed many fan favorite moments in Shakes were created on-set by the performers. Julie Brown gave her character a speech impediment. The two comics playing plainclothes detectives came up with the random weirdness their characters talk about (they’re my least-fave part of Shakes, but they do have some great lines, including a consideration of what the hell a “Shondell” might be — as in “Tommy James and the…”). Tom Kenny — best known these days known as the voice of Spongebob Squarepants — steals the film outright, though, as Binky, the cocaine-dealing party clown who is the film’s villain. Wearing makeup that Bobcat said was based on John Wayne Gacy’s clown facepaint, Kenny is creepy and funny as a character who seems like a hyper cousin of the Joker who happened to wander into the cranky world of Shakes.

Bobcat did the intro to the film by himself but invited a guest up for the Q&A after the film — his friend Tony V., a Boston standup who appears in Shakes as one of the nasty rodeo clowns (the film is indeed set in a world populated by different sorts of clowns). Tony agreed that Bobcat’s original script was very unlike what finally reached the screen. Which might explain the two strange sequences in which Shakes can suddenly fly (which must’ve been leftovers from the original script).

Bobcat and Tony V. at the Brattle
A question from an audience member about a scene in which Shakes juggles led to one of two great stories about the time that Bobcat and Tony spent on the road together, touring as standups. Tony was teaching Bobcat how to juggle, and an airport security guard detained them because of the juggling pins found in their luggage. The guard wanted to be reassured that the two weren’t terrorists, so he ordered them to juggle for him — which they did, entertaining the other passengers waiting to get through security.

The other story they told about airport security was an even more convoluted (and funnier) tale of a cop ingesting something that had been in Tony’s nether regions (he tasted it to see if it was cocaine). One got the impression that the two have been close friends for quite a while — Tony also has a role in Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad (2009) — and their life on the road was filled with very weird events.

Here are the two pals appearing on the local TV show “Charlestown Live”:

But back to the film: Its cult status has been underscored by the fact that some of its lines of dialogue have shown up in other contexts. REM’s song “Binky the Doormat” (from the 1996 album “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”) was titled after one of Tom Kenny’s lines, and it was noted that an odd “code” phrase used in the film — “The dolphin is in the Jacuzzi.” — was used by certain dealers selling black-market Cuban cigars (!).

The most interesting story about unexpected publicity given to the film concerns the time Bobcat was invited onto The Today Show to promote the picture and was informed that he was going to have to debate a clown — his answer to that, he informed us, was “I know the deal… I’ve seen your show…”

But it was a real clown he had to debate, an angry representative of the clown community who felt that Shakes was adversely affecting the image of clowns around America. This entire event being red meat to a polished standup comic, Bobcat then had to remark that the clown seemed to lack a sense of humor. We were informed by the very proud Goldthwait, that derider of clowns, that Katie Couric enshrined this ridiculous segment as her worst-ever interview in her memoir.

Clearly Bobcat is still very proud of his debut as a filmmaker, but he did note — having watched it again, sitting amongst the cultists — that the film is poorly edited at points and he wished he could re-edit certain sequences, including a car chase in which he had noticed that the car being chased was behind the pursuers.

Although Shakes is indeed the broadest comedy Bobcat has yet made a screenwriter-director, it definitely paved the way for his later indie features, each of which could easily be described as “dark” (or grim, depending on the sequence and the picture). Unlike Paul Feig or (god forbid) Dennis Dugan, Goldthwait is a “comedy filmmaker” who has made a different sort of film each time out of the box and has avoided the “kooky” formulas that rule American movie comedies.

His next two features after Shakes, Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006) and the Robin Williams-starrer World’s Greatest Dad, were comedies that blended dark humor with surprisingly moving messages about honesty. The first film indicates that too much honesty can wreck intimate relationships; the second conveys the message that too many lies, even ones that “mean well,” can wreck your whole life.

Both films are very funny and very smart — this last aspect shouldn’t be a surprise, but in a landscape filled with incredibly bad, cookie-cutter American comedies (most of them vehicle pictures for ex-SNL cast members), it is indeed rare.

The most encouraging thing for those of us who’ve been following Goldthwait from the time he was the “screaming comedian” on late night talk shows, was that he left behind comedy in his last two indie features. The first, Willow Creek (2013), is a found footage thriller (along the lines of The Blair Witch Project) that had satiric aspects in a few scenes — about odd “Bigfoot” merchandising — but is primarily a low-key horror flick. Call Me Lucky (2015) was entirely different, as it’s a documentary portrait of comedian Barry Crimmins, which explores his hard-edged left-wing comedy, his mentoring of younger comedians (including Goldthwait), and the sexual abuse he suffered as a child that has haunted his adult life.

So while Louis C.K. has been getting much attention (and rightly so) for making tragicomedies that are unlike mainstream comedies, Goldthwait has also continued to carve out a very unique niche for himself, without casting himself in the lead (or even supporting) roles of his films. The sharpest and nastiest satire he’s made, God Bless America (2011), is an incredible time capsule that is both very funny in its mean (but entirely accurate) depiction of America’s love of lowest-common-denominator culture and sympathetic in its depiction of two “normal” souls (a middle-aged man, played by Joel Murray, and a teen, played by Tara Lynne Barr) who get fed up with the mediocrity that surrounds us.

If the film consisted of this one scene alone, it would already be a significant work:

As for the fact that he chooses not to act in the films he’s made since Shakes, Goldthwait explained this in the Brattle Q&A when he noted that both Robin Williams and Joel Murray said to him at one point in their respective shoots, “I get it… I’m playing you…”

After the Q&A was finished Bobcat hung around the Brattle to talk with audience members and take pictures. When I asked what his next film would be, he spoke with enthusiasm (and a characteristic note of self-deprecation) about a new series he is making for the TruTV network, to be called Bobcat Goldthwait’s Messed Up Stories. If the series is anything like his films, it will be delightfully unpredictable (the key virtue in the Funhouse philosophy). All he would say is that it will be his very own Twilight Zone and will be (no surprise) “dark.”

And while I rarely would ever bug a celeb to take a picture with him/her, Bobcat was hanging out with the fans afterward. Thus this image of myself and the man, shot by my friend Paul G.

I look forward to seeing what he comes up with — any man who starts his filmmaking career with an antisocial act of provocation like Shakes deserves our attention.

Monday, December 5, 2016

"Not a just image, but just an image...": Deceased Artiste Raoul Coutard

Although his obits emphasized the fact that Raoul Coutard, who died in early November at age 92, pretty much stumbled into being a cinematographer — he thought he was being asked to take on-set stills for the film in question by his old friend Pierre Schoendoerffer — he wound up crafting some of the most beautiful images and kinetic camerawork in the films of the French New Wave and related filmmakers. He is best identified with Funhouse deity Jean-Luc Godard (aka Uncle Jean), who turned 86 last week. The pair collaborated on sixteen absolutely perfect films, all of which feature gorgeous and vibrant imagery.

Coutard was indeed a photo-journalist who had specialized in war photography (he lived for over a decade in Vietnam) before he entered the film world. His greatest claim to fame — and it is indeed a credit to be reckoned with — is that he innovated ways to shoot “on the fly” with JLG on A bout de souffle. His work with Godard is unassailable, as it is a building block of modern cinema.

He worked with other filmmakers as well on what were some of their best and most beautiful-looking films. He ran the gamut from pure verite to stylized fantasy, doing camerawork for both Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s landmark documentary Chronicle of a Summer (1961) and Jacques Demy’s lighter-than-air romance Lola (also ‘61).

Besides Godard, the filmmaker he most frequently collaborated with was Francois Truffaut (Godard’s best friend, and later nemesis). The quartet of films Coutard shot for Truffaut are among his very best. Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and Jules and Jim (1962) were trendsetting tragic romances. The Soft Skin (1964) features some of the most beautiful images in all of Truffaut’s filmography, and The Bride Wore Black (1968) is one of the finest-ever adaptations of noir-master Cornell Woolrich’s work.

Coutard had arguments with Truffaut over the last-mentioned film that ensured they never worked together again. Coutard claimed responsibility, saying he was trying to stop smoking during the shooting and that made him impossible to deal with.

Costa-Gavras has been making sharply political films for the last half-century. Two of his finest, and most successful, films were shot by Coutard, Z (1969) and The Confession (1970). The latter was quite controversial, as it showed the authoritarian excesses of the Soviet Union; it was therefore perceived incorrectly by reviewers as a right-wing film by an iconic left-wing filmmaker. The film is a haunting and memorable tale of unjust imprisonment. 

Z is one of the all-time greatest political thrillers, an unforgettable mixture of plot, message, and characterization — made even better by Coutard’s camerawork and the music of Mikis Theodorakis.

Coutard kept working up until 2001. Unsurprisingly, the filmmaker who used his talents best in his later years was a “younger brother” of the French New Wave, namely Philippe Garrel. His The Birth of Love (1993) stars Sixties icons Jean-Pierre Leaud and Lou Castel, and perfectly captures the look and tone of the French New Wave.

Coutard’s first film as a director, Hoa Binh (1970), received good reviews, won the Best First Film prize at Cannes, and was up for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The film offers a Vietnamese boy’s perspective on the Vietnam War. His third and last film as a director, S.A.S. Malko (1983), was unfortunately a tacky-looking action flick that went straight to video in most countries:

The only proper place to end this tribute is, of course, to discuss his sublime collaboration with Godard. Coutard was selected to shoot A bout de souffle (1960) because of his documentary background, and what he devised for Uncle Jean were several clever, innovative ways to “steal” shots on the streets of Paris.

Aside from secreting the camera in a mail cart and shooting in (and from) moving cars, Coutard was, of course, the cameraman in the wheelchair (above) whom Godard pushed along the street to simulate a tracking shot.

From those gritty beginnings Godard and Coutard moved on to make some of the most perfect and sophisticated films of the decade, including Vivre Sa Vie (1962), Contempt (1963), Alphaville (1965), Two of Three Things I Know About Her… (1967), and Weekend (also ’67). In each case the film was excellent to begin with (as was the case with Masculin-Feminin, the only non-Coutard Godard feature of that era). But Coutard’s visuals, lighting, and work with colors (or stark b&w, as in Alphaville) made the films even more perfect.

My choice for the finest of all would be Pierrot Le Fou (1965), the “lovers on the run” drama-comedy-musical that covers so much territory in its 110 minutes that it seems like a summation and/or primer for those who are curious about Godard’s way of assembling a film, crafting characters, framing his actors, and exploring the themes that he’s still obsessed with today.

Godard’s films with other cinematographers are still marvelous, but there’s something very special about the rapport he had with Coutard. This is proven by the fact that the two best films Godard made in his Eighties “comeback” period were both shot by Coutard. 

Passion (1982) is an exquisitely beautiful film that counterpoints activity in a factory with that in a nearby movie studio. Stars Hanna Schygulla, Michel Piccoli, and Isabelle Huppert all have some great moments, but the most gorgeous sequences are the ones in which we watch the film-within-a-film being shot.

As is usually the case in Godard’s films about artistic creation, the “interior” work is an unlikely prospect in which famous paintings are recreated as live-action tableaux vivants. What results are some stunningly beautiful images.

Godard's last film with Coutard is another masterpiece that serves as a good “portal” to Uncle Jean's work. First Name: Carmen (1983) is Godard's funny and bittersweet take on the Carmen story. In the Eighties Godard crystallized a visual style that found him frequently cutting to landscapes and the sky as punctuation to the actions of his characters. (He had started doing this in the Sixties but it has been used a lot more in his work in the last 35 years).

Coutard's contribution here is incalculable, as these shots are gorgeously composed and lit, adding a sense of inevitability to the doomed love affair that is at the core of the film. There are many moving sequences in the film (and many great comic ones), none more so than this beautiful image of impotence and lost love, set to Tom Waits' “Ruby's Arms.” 

That sequence is only present in a small shard on YT (I'm not sure if that is because of copyright troubles involving the music, or "obscenity" troubles with the glorious nudity of Maruschka Detmers — America can’t deal with the human body…). One of the only clips found is this fragment from early in the film:

M. Coutard's beautiful images will most certainly live on well into the future. Here is his most famous sequence, from Contempt. He is, of course, the man behind the camera:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Breaking news: Deceased Artiste mocked by clowns

Sometimes two events collide in the Funhouse. This year the most interesting collision is the fact that Thanksgiving has arrived once more *and* the gent who represents that holiday for me (and, I believe, many Funhouse viewers) happened to die just two weeks ago at the age of 83.

Yes, Robert Vaughn has left the building. A man who was best known for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but who did have much more serious roles in films, theater, and television. He took his work very seriously, even in the worst of times (which was pretty often, let's be honest).

He did a series of law-office commercials that were so vague and ambiguous that he did the same pitch for numerous firms around the country (one assumes he just went to a studio one day and shot a bunch of ads for law firms in different cities).

He also did ads for "The Helsinki Formula," a somewhat dubious (I'm being kind) form of hair restoration. The years after U.N.C.L.E. were indeed lean ones, so Vaughn could be seen all over the place.

I pitched a serious interview to him (I have never, and would never, make fun of my guests on the show) at the Chiller Theatre convention several years ago and got the strangest reaction — he said he wouldn't be interested and continued to read Scarlet Street magazine, putting it right up in front of his face so that he could completely ignore me and make me go away.

So, all right. He didn't want to do an interview (even though I brought out what I thought would be my ace in the hole, I had read his book about the theatrical blacklist, Only Victims). A friend of mine said he'd probably seen me showing the clip you see below — I knew he hadn't, he hadn't lived in NYC for years, and there was essentially no way to see the Funhouse back then (no online streaming or YouTube or this blog!) if you lived outside of Manhattan.

In any case, when I posted about his death on Facebook, a friend noted that he too had gone over to Vaughn to talk at Chiller Theatre. He says it was clear he just wanted to ask Mr. Vaughn (who was incredibly not busy, both when I spoke to him and my friend attempted it) some innocuous questions. In this case, Vaughn put The Wall Street Journal up in front of his face, to ignore my friend.

Two other FB friends noted that Vaughn had been rude to them. This was countered by two people who said he had been a delight (in both cases those people had spent money to meet him first, to get an autograph at Chiller Theatre, second, a ticket had been bought to a play he was doing, so he was magnanimous enough to talk to the audience afterward in a Q&A set-up).

So Vaughn was not someone who would be friendly to those in the public. He did have a very long career in show business (it was noted that, with his death, all of the original "Magnificent Seven" are now dead). I will single out one crime drama produced by Gerry Anderson, which wasn't very good -- The Protectors -- but had a killer theme song (a catchy song that became a big hit for Tony Christie in the U.K.).

In closing, I must of course once again fulfill a ritual I began years ago on the Funhouse TV show (first airing of this: 1994; I recorded it off the air in '86). In this moment when America is in transition, and we have a rabble-rousing, seat-of-the-pants president-elect that many people voted for and love, and other people loathe with a passion, I can only point you again to the clip that is America to me.

I will continue to feature Mr. Vaughn on this blog. At least once a year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all -- feast!


Monday, November 14, 2016

John Zacherle's memorial service

One of the Zach photos on display
at his memorial.
As a little update on my Deceased Artiste tribute to Zacherle, I wanted to briefly write about the memorial service held for him today at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel (it was noted that Zach was actually a WASP, but the Chapel was very convenient to where he had lived for so long). It was a quiet but informal affair — it is rare indeed to walk into a funeral home and hear “Happy Halloween” and “Dinner With Drac” being played through loudspeakers.

The service was webcast and can be found for the next few days after this blog post appears at this URL on the Plaza website (which was not working properly when I wrote this, but perhaps will be able to be viewed in the coming hours). For those who are seeing this after the Webcast is down, or who simply would rather read about the proceedings, I offer the following review.

The actual memorial was short — in the vicinity of 30 minutes — but it was heartfelt and moving at points. There were five speakers. His close friends talked with much fondness about taking trips with Zach to Bear Mountain in his beat-up yellow VW convertible (which apparently worked so poorly it was a standing joke amongst his pals). The host, Jeff Samuels, spoke about Zach’s “wonderment at small things” and love of nature.

Both Jeff and David Chidekel spoke about the fun they had on those trips — when they’d be in the car listening to Pink Floyd and “doing things we can’t mention here.” (I’m presuming we’re talking pot.) It was noted that the 98-year-old Zach died as he had wanted to, at home amongst his stuff (don’t we all want that?) and that he was taken care of by five caregivers, who became an important part of his life in his final years, when he was suffering memory loss.

His neighbor Gene Dunham spoke affectionately about Zacherle the man, since he noted he hadn’t ever seen the “Cool Ghoul” in his prime. Gene and his husband also traveled with Zach, who frequently would simply show up on a nice day and ask if they’d like to take a drive. When they went on vacation, they wanted to bring him back keepsakes, but instead of tacky souvenirs (knowing his love of nature and oddities) they brought him rocks or stones from different countries.

Zach’s collection of odd artifacts given to him by fans was mentioned more than once — he did keep all that stuff, except one rare American flag from the 1800s that his neighbors sold for him on eBay (it fetched $1,000!). Samuels noted that Zach had an odd kitchen — with a small bed and a TV in it, not for guests but so he could watch TV late at night (his shifts on radio found him returning home quite late) and not wake up his neighbors. Dunham also mentioned that Zach would talk about his past in show business and before — he served in the military during WWII in Italy and South Africa.

His niece Diane Hanson spoke about “Uncle John” and his joyful visits with his relatives, with whom he spent every holiday. The final speaker was Perri Chasen, who spoke quite briefly and beautifully about their relationship and the love she shared with him for 45 years. As a close to the service, she read a poem by George Santayana.

And, quite appropriately, at least one of the speakers closed out by saying farewell to Zach, “whatever you are!”

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The last of his kind: Deceased Artiste Ted V. Mikels

This blog is not intended to strictly be a Deceased Artiste web-shrine for Funhouse favorites, but it seems that so many of my favorites have been departing this mortal coil lately that we’re caught in an obit-spiral. One of my favorites who died a few weeks back was the legendary low-budget genre moviemaker Ted V. Mikels — this week on the Funhouse TV show I’m presenting the second episode I made from my epic 90-minute interview with him, but I did want to take a minute and include a tribute to him here.

I became aware of Ted through the interview with him included in the Incredibly Strange Films book from Re/Search. I then saw his Ten Violent Women (1979) on a double bill on 42nd Street and realized I had to see more of his movies, which were very available at video stores (mostly because Ted hadn’t retained all the rights to some of them and they were reproduced by all of the “cost-cutter” VHS labels that specialized in public domain films).

The episode of Jonathan Ross’s Incredibly Film Show (no affiliation with the book, except that the producers, um… borrowed the name and the entire concept) that profiles Ted is a must-see, as it covered both Ted’s movies and his private life, which was unique to say the least. He was a child magician, a ventriloquist, a movie stuntman, a cameraman for hire, a low-budget moviemaker, and a “guru”/filmmaking teacher to his “castle ladies” (dozens of young women who lived in his house over a period of several years and learned filmmaking by working on his shoots; they also were his “wives” but that’s a story covered in the interview segment below). 

The most interesting thing about Ted’s films is that they were exploitation of a kind, but they rarely got even an “R” rating. He actually aimed for “PG” but producers wanted some of the features to be a little more “adult” (read: feature toplessness at very least). I wrote about Ted when I was freelancing for’s new media section in the early 2000s; I thought it would be a perfect fit to discuss his movies in light of the fact that the big-budget Charlie’ Angels feature was coming out at that time (as many Mikels fans had noticed that his Doll Squad had the formula of Charlie’s Angels a few years before the series appeared).

The entire article can be found on the Funhouse site here, but I will quote my (some may say futile) attempt to describe Ten Violent Women: 

This fanboy’s favorite Mikels’ opus, however, is the redoubtable Ten Violent Women (1979). Ted’s most loosely-plotted picture (loose scripting being a supreme virtue in exploitation cinema), Women concerns a group of female miners (!) whose jewel heists and drug deals land them in prison. Once there, we witness the requisite staples of the women-in-prison genre (making this the most lurid film Mikels ever made) as the girls engage in shower catfights, evade the lustful warden, and endure a bizarre paint-can-on-the-head torture session. They eventually escape to safety—and the waiting arms of Arab oil sheiks (don’t ask). 

As the years went on I wasn’t able to keep up with all the micro-budgeted sequels that Ted put out — including two more Corpse Grinders, three more Astro-Zombies, Ten Violent Women Part Two, and the stunningly titled Paranormal Extremes: Text Messages from the Dead — but I was able to check out all of his older work, including one of the “lost” films (one he didn’t own the rights to).

The film in question is Alex Joseph and His Ten Wives (1977), which, as the title suggests, is a drama about polygamy. I reviewed the film on the Funhouse TV show when I got ahold of it from a mail order rare-video company, and particularly doted on this scene, which crops out of nowhere, with a gentleman singing about how much he loves the U.S.A.:

I will note in closing that Ted did indeed keep going with the sequels to his earlier films to the very end. He was completing Ten Violent Women Part Two right before he died on October 16 at the age of 87.

Ted was truly one of a kind, a guy who was outside the system for all of his life (except when he was a stuntman — during that time he appeared in action scenes in major Hollywood films with A-list stars). He carved out a little niche for himself and thankfully was able to receive much appreciation at the fan-cons.

Some of his pictures were uneven, but he was honest about that; he spoke openly about the problems he had securing budgets, and the techniques he had to develop to work around not having proper funding. I can still heartily recommend four of his films as wonderfully bizarre and entertaining: The Astro-Zombies, The Corpse Grinders, Ten Violent Women, and the * very * incredibly strange Apartheid Slave Women’s Justice (now known only as Female Slaves’ Revenge).

Here is a segment from my interview, in which Ted talked about the “castle lady” years:

And as a bonus clip, the intro to and a scene from the startling Apartheid Slave Women’s Justice:

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why I'm voting for Jill Stein and *not* for “the lesser evil” Hillary

“You just don't know how politics works!” I've read this particular phrase in print, and I had it yelled at me on at least one occasion by a Dem-besotted friend. While I would never claim that I have an intimate knowledge of the workings of American politics, like any adult, sentient being, I can smell the rancidness of our system from a mile away. The phrase “America's political system is broken” is one that is used quite often, and on “different sides of the aisle.” It's most certainly true, and this particular nightmarish presidential election, and the related amount of debate, argument, calumny, hatred, loathing, and downright bugfuck craziness has proved it in a big, big way.

Mort Sahl used to trot out the same joke each time a Presidential election was on. In the last line of the joke he'd merely substitute the names of that year's Democratic and Republic candidates. I've heard him do it a bunch of different ways (going back at least to the early Seventies, but he might've been doing it earlier than that). The way it appears online is this: "There were four million people in the American Colonies and we had Jefferson and Franklin. Now we have over 200 million and the two top guys are Clinton and Dole. What can you draw from this? Darwin was wrong!"

That's a solid joke, and it's actually, like all good pieces of political satire, entirely accurate. I saw Irish standup Dylan Moran a few weeks back and he gave us the European perspective on this election by saying it was perceived as “a competition between a man everybody hates and a woman nobody likes.”

So we get down to the problem that has arisen in the Liberal sphere of America, and a tiny bit of the Left. I distinguish the two because they are really very different. Liberals are, in theory, wonderful folk who have open minds about freedom of speech, freedom of expression, etc. They do draw lines in the sand, though, and they are the folks whom I have read and seen (and heard, from that friend) say that one who finds Liberal politics to be repellently submissive doesn't understand “how politics works!”

Left-wing folks, on the other hand, have more radical beliefs. Liberals are fully “serviced” (understand that verb as you may) by the Democratic party, while Left-wingers know that more often than not the Dems will sell you and your beliefs right down the river. Let Mr. Ochs provide the distinction.

So we come to the “if you're not voting for Hillary [Liberal savior], you're actually voting for Trump!!!” This is, of course, not the case, but fear has to be used as a wedge, when supporting a candidate means you have to, as one journalist put it, live in “a universe of pure ethical abstraction.” HRC is corporate-owned (but that's okay to her supporters), she's a big fan of invasion/occupations/war in all its forms (but that's okay), and she has clearly played loose and fast with the rules of government to, you know, benefit herself and her family financially. (She and Bill are quite the pair – him I'm not going into this piece, because that fucker was never, ever even Liberal, he was a Moderate at best and a complete shill for corporations, in-office and out).

A deep disagreement then, between the Liberals and the Left-wing people, who know that Hillary will in fact support all kinds of wars, let corporations keep running the country, and, as she has in her campaign, will work surreptitiously to get whatever she wants. As Hillary supporter Louis C.K. put it – quite oddly, in a rant intended to say he loves her and is voting for her – she is "two-faced" and "conniving," someone who it's impossible to believe hasn't gone to prison for what she's done (and that's his best argument for his "tough bitch mother" candidate of choice -- there's a big mixed message there from the old self-reliever).

Those who see her as the “only alternative to TRUMP!” (that name has taken on a seemingly magical aspect, even while the same people evoking it hate him and make fun of him) also accuse those of us who cannot bring ourselves to vote for her as being “privileged White snobs” who feel that they can waste their vote with a third party and thus put the gay community, African-Americans, Latinos, and underprivileged citizens of all races in jeopardy by “getting Trump elected!” (Everything said in this tone of voice needs an exclamation point.)

Let me be clear: I've voted a straight Dem ticket every time I've voted, with occasional variant-votes going to the American Family party and a few votes for the Greens. Thus, I've voted for feeble candidates, candidates who I fucking *knew* were not even really Liberal (again, Moderate at best) let alone truly on the Left side of the spectrum, and candidates who made it seem like they were boxers “taking a dive” to let the Repubs win (lookin' at you, Al Gore – you couldn't even try to win your home state?). I can't vote for a candidate who has flaunted her non-Left, corporate, bellicose beliefs. Ya gotta grow up some time, and this election is that time for me.

This has indeed been the single most acrimonious presidential election in recent memory. Trump is a populist candidate, which is an extremely funny thing to say, because he's a corrupt rich guy who says whatever he thinks people want to hear. He's a mogul who let his partners and colleagues take the hit every time a company floundered, he's a pretend tough guy, and yes, just an arrogant sexist, racist asshole.

So by liking Bernie Sanders and now Jill Stein, I am not in favor of Trump winning the election. I don't think voting third party has a chance of putting Trump in office, unless you live in the magic “swing states” (more on those below). If you are in a state that is going for Trump, they're going to do it whether or not a person of conscience votes for Jill Stein (Gary Johnson is beyond the pale, not to be discussed in same sentence as Stein).

If a state is voting for Hillary, they're going to elect her. It's the ridiculous “swing states” that now rule American elections; in those states, people do indeed have to consider the horrible dilemma given to them by both parties: do we vote for the loose-cannon crazy rich guy (the loose cannon factor is what has made him attractive to many Americans) or the former Secretary of State, who has all these questionable activities she's been involved in?

What has been interesting is that, on social media, and pretty much any site that covers politics on the Net, the Hillary supporters haven't sent out a forthright, heartfelt message of support (there are a few of those, but man, do they look forced and scarily robotic). They instead work on the fear factor and try to yell those of us who would vote third-party into obeisance.

The stridency of the argument for Hillary (“what are you, crazy, you're voting Trump into office!!!”) is thus the strong suit of Hillary's campaign. This is a candidate who was the dullest, most robotic speaker at the Democratic convention. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Michelle and Barack Obama, old red-nosed, tremulous Bill her hubby – all are compelling speakers, but “the first woman President” receiving her premature coronation has none of that verbal dexterity or emotion. She's a career politician who couldn't run a populist campaign – mostly because her policies and political leanings are not populist in the slightest.

Another fun comment made by the angry (man, are they angry) Hillary supporters is the “so your guy [Bernie] lost, so you want the country to go down in flames?” approach. What is interesting here is not only that Bernie was beating Hillary in many of the polls, but that he and Elizabeth Warren – now both playing the roles of Hillary supporters – made the arguments against Hillary beautifully. They supplied those of us sentient, intelligent adults with all the ammunition we needed to realize that putting Hillary in the White House was encouraging the rape of the environment, warlike inclinations, and a free run for the corporations.

Now Bernie and Elizabeth argue that she is the *only* choice. That is because Trump is the evil one – an incredibly good boogie man (you know he loves this role – he was indeed a guest star at many WWE events and plays a heel like nobody's business, and Americans LOVE a good heel….). I don't hear actual support of Hillary in the voices of Warren and Sanders, I hear loathing (and fear) of Trump.

To add to the dubiousness of the Bernie situation, here was a guy who said he wouldn't bring up the e-mails. He played it honorably, but he also made a very Faustian bargain when he ran as a Democrat (and then continued to stay a Democrat for this campaign, while he's *still* a fucking Independent as a Senator in Vermont).

The single most amazing part of the Bernie situation is that the DNC, in the person of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was maneuvering to undercut Bernie and coronate Queen Hillary. This is indeed where the stopped clock known as Donald J. Trump was right two times – the “rigged election” business and the fact that Hillary's campaign had the stain of Watergate on it.

HRC's good friend the DNC chairwoman and other advocates in her name were working against a fellow candidate whom supposedly she was going to beat handily anyway – so then why all the conspiring? Was it that she and her operatives, like Nixon (who had no threat posed to him by McGovern, check the record), were paranoid enough to want to “fix” primaries that she was going to win anyway? Or was it that Bernie was indeed beating her in many ways and her victory simply had to assured by the DNC?

If Hillary is indeed that tremendously popular among those on the Liberal/Left, how come any of this jiggering of the primaries had to be carried off? And with the lovely verifiably real e-mails – don't actually read their content, just keep endlessly discussing whether the Russkies supplied them – that show that they were willing to tarnish Bernie in any way they could. So much for his being gallant to HRC; she's already stabbed him in the back, then she has him come out and do speeches on her behalf.

What has been interesting is seeing the Hill-bots speculating on those “sick” individuals who support Trump and those evil souls who object to Hillary and will either not vote (something I don't advocate) or who want to vote for Stein or Johnson. HRC supporters are incapable of seeing that there has been a sense of galling entitlement to her campaign and her nomination. It truly has been an attempt to make the Presidency of the United States a football that goes back and forth between two dynasties – from Bush to Clinton to Bush to Clinton. That's distasteful on so many levels.

Those who have been paying attention, though, have noted that, yes, Trump could be very dangerous – we're also not sure what the hell he will do. He could be blocked by the Congress and Senate, he could realize he has to modify his insane beliefs, because all the Presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have had to follow a rule book to remain in office and get that heavily desired second term (a thing Obama initially said he'd be willing to sacrifice to get a more robust and useful version of Obama-care through – and then he dropped that idea, diluted his healthcare, and went for that second term – Go America! Number One!!!).

But, and this is the ultimate “but” that moved many of us toward Jill Stein (“who can't win – why would you vote for someone who can't win?”). We do, in fact, know how Hillary will behave, because we remember her policies as a NY State Senator (what a mock Bobby Kennedy move that was – never had lived in NY state in her life) and as the Secretary of State. She is a known commodity and she is a warmonger (very much of the cold warrior stripe – she seems to be aching for a war with Russia). Liberal HRC supporters feel that Trump will get the U.S. enmeshed in war, while Hillary already HAS.

On a related note, to quote the Observer website, “She and her family run a foundation that aggressively solicited donations from corporations, wealthy individuals and foreign governments that have interests before the government, and in some cases Clinton, as secretary of state, took actions that can only be seen as quid pro quo for big donors. These facts alone should disqualify her from political life and make her the legitimate target of criminal investigations.”

And, as has been pointed out by many souls who remember George Carlin's warning, she's coming for your social security. Read this article to see what that's about.

So is it better to go for the scheming man who's an unknown commodity or the scheming woman who *is* a known commodity? I say neither – there has to be a way to protest again how truly, undeniably insane American politics has become. There is so much calculation in Hillary's supposed “move toward the Left” caused by Bernie – that will be done as soon as she's elected, and the much-touted use of Bernie as the Senate budget chair? It will either never happen (since the Dems might not win the Senate) or he will get the slot and be so hamstrung and impotent that nothing will be accomplished.

Stein, on the other hand, may have a small popular base (voting for her will help the Greens in their future efforts) but she actually has laudable stances that she believes in, including an opposition toward “an electoral system that tells you to vote against what you're afraid of and not for what you believe.” What has been amusing is that many Bernie supporters have folded in, in a docile fashion, under the Hillary tent because Bernie says so (see this article about that), whereas Stein hold many of the same positions he had (the all-important single-payer health – the single most important issue in the U.S., creating new jobs legitimately, excusing college debt).

It has been the creepiest thing in the world to have former Bernie supporters lecturing people who want to vote third-party and telling them “it's important not to throw your vote away.” There's a rather striking discord between the oft-repeated notion that “every American must vote – it's your civic duty! Vote for whomever you want!” and the Hill-bot warning “Don't throw your vote away!”

In closing, I want to just run through very briefly the four things I think that make our electoral system truly nightmarish (one might say “rigged,” but I don't want readers thinking I actually do support Trump – although that stopped-clock thing is so very valid).

The first is the existence in the Democratic parties of the “super-PACs.” These reinforce coronations like Hillary's. As long as these exist, the Democratic party is indeed corrupt as hell.

The second is the extremely amazing fact that a small handful of the 50 states decide each and every national election. The “swing state” phenomenon – in which people are so noncommittal they decide at the last fucking moment who they're going to vote for – indicates a completely non-Democratic process in action. This country ain't even a Republic if a handful of states choose the President each time out.

The third is the beloved electoral college. The Bush/Gore election proved that someone can win the popular vote, but then lose because of the electoral college and…

The fourth institution that is ridiculous to its very core is the Supreme Court. The archaic and utterly wretched fact that the individuals picked for the Supreme Court remain so for life is possibly the seminal problem in American political life – since so often people vote for Republican or Democrat Presidents because there will be empty seats among the almost evenly split collection of robed senior citizens (even though it's been seen that Republicans have put in Liberal justices and Democratic Presidents have installed Conservatives).

No one should hold their job for life. I love seniors a lot, but no matter how smart they are, they can be cranky and fall asleep a lot – like the beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose opinions I like but she's too damned old to be making such important, country-altering decisions, as are her conservative counterparts. Lenny Bruce noted about Eisenhower who, for that time, was a very old President: “Do you want to take a chance on a man over 55 when Mutual of Omaha won't?” The same applies to the judges who decide our most important legal cases – move 'em on when they've been there too long or are over retirement age!

As long as the four institutions above remain in place, American politics is indeed fucked beyond belief. I find it very important to support someone who is espousing ideas that appeal to our better nature, particularly when I think about the four-headed nightmare I elaborated above.

Now… go vote for whomever ya like!


My choice:

Thanks to Kathy K and Danny Hellman for spotlighting some of the articles linked to above. Democracy Now has offered the best coverage of Jill Stein's campaign. Lionel has offered the most detailed accounts of Hillary's conflicts of interest and policy history. 

UPDATE, post-mortem, 11/12/16: I was, of course, totally wrong about Hillary winning (and being able to steal the election). Those of us who went for third-party candidates have gotten grief from angry Hill-bots about putting Trump in office, while the clear reason that Trump won – besides the fact that he better tapped into the outrage that fuels Americans to vote in America, and that Hillary was a terrible candidate – was the fact that a staggering 43% of eligible voters didn't cast their vote on election day.

It would be nice if the Democratic party takes this as a very dire wake-up call and does turn to Progressive politics again. If that doesn't happen – I have grave doubts it will – then truly Progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders need to run on a third-party ticket, and a clear alternative to conservative platforms will exist. This election was a nightmare for so many people because BOTH candidates were so unlikeable. That clearly inspired a sizable amount of the 43 percent to stay home. 

The one way in which I am very glad I went through my little list of how American politics is broken is of course the singling out of the Electoral College. I understand why it exists technically, but anytime you have a process wherein the popular vote is ignored, that's a problem, a big, *big* problem. But since it benefits the Repubs (as it did in 2000) and they are totally in power now, it is doubtful it will be overturned or even challenged.

The one and only amusing thing about Trump winning thus far (when he's in office it's a *very* different story, I know that) is seeing the look of misery on his face and on the faces of his family. You can see that he loved rabble-rousing, he loved the crowds and the adulation, but he did NOT really want this job (he likes the roll of spoiler, and how can you be the spoiler when you won the game?). He has the uncomfortable look of a little boy who's been ordered to get dressed up and go to a party thrown by his parents. He looks ill at ease, out of his depth, and discomforted by the thought that this is all going to get much worse….