Thursday, November 25, 2021

WWRVD? Thoughts on a second pandemic Thanksgiving

Every year without fail I present the clip at the bottom of this entry. It’s one of those seasonal displays of joy that only gets better with age  like receiving a fruitcake for Xmas and making endless jokes about it. 

As time moves on, though, I wonder: What Would Robert Vaughn Do? Where would he fall in the current culture war? Would he get the Pfizer or Moderna jab, or would he argue instead for natural immunity? Would he comment on the issues of the day, the murder trials and other controversies, or would he remain silent and simply watch them unfold, waiting to speak about them when they are fully resolved? 

It’s hard to say since, sadly Mr. Vaughn passed on. He is no more, has ceased to be, gone to meet his maker, is bereft of life, rests in peace and joined the choir invisible. He is, in short, now an ex-Robert Vaughn, and we can’t pretend to know what he would make of the complications of the 21st century. We can only marvel at his many performances, and even (dare I say it?) the times when he was doing material that was actually meant to be funny.

I’m prepping an interview to run on these pages, and in doing so I wound up rewatching parts of Harry Hurwitz’s That’s Adequate(1989), a piecemeal creation that is wonderfully funny for about 45 minutes and then slides into not-as-funny time-fillers for the remaining 30 minutes. Coincidentally one of the MANY guest stars featured in the film is our own Vaughn playing Hitler. 

Hurwitz was a very funny scripter, and so Vaughn’s dialogue as Der Fuhrer is predictably silly and amusing. (Hitler loves the Z-budget studio Adequate Pictures because he enjoyed their films “Slut of the South” and “Singin’ in the Synagogue.”) Vaughn of course had plenty of campy sequences in the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and he appeared in several big-screen comedies (from S.O.B. to C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud and from BASEketball to Pootie Tang). 

But seeing him as Hitler is oddly satisfying, as he enjoyed hamming it up – ’cause he often had no other level on which to deliver the material. Watch at 19:00: 


But you didn’t come here to see Vaughn as Hitler. You came here to see him mocked by clowns at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 1986.This year it was announced that children under 12 would not be allowed in the parade proper  I think this is a horrible stricture and would've certainly dulled this magic moment, had that rule been in place in '86. 

And please, before watching once, twice, or a dozen times, just ask yourself: What Would Robert Vaughn Do?

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Marcello, Depardieu, and a baby monkey: When ‘The Stanley Siegel Show’ celebrated Ferreri's ‘Bye Bye Monkey’

From the 1950s through the ’70s, foreign films weren’t so “foreign” at all. Average city-dwelling Americans had ready theatrical access to the most notable foreign titles, went to see them on “date nights,” and thus foreign movie stars were interviewed on American TV. Now, seeing foreign movies is considered a “niche” interest, a “boutique” kind of cult pursuit that does have its cadre of followers but is of absolutely no interest (the fascination with Parasite aside) to the “Netflix and chill” American viewer.

Thus, imagine a time when a local talk show in one of the country’s key markets would invite on the cast of a film being made by an Italian director. Yes, the film was being shot in English on the streets of NYC, but it starred a Frenchman (who was, by chance, the biggest up-and-comer in France and had already been in a bunch of top-notch European features) and an Italian superstar, who was known over here in a way then that no European star is now. 

Imagine, too, that the show in question is hosted not by Dick Cavett, who was the premier interviewer of foreign stars and filmmakers, but instead one of the most notorious of all Seventies talk-show hosts — pretty much the living embodiment of Wolfe’s “Me Generation.” And the film that is being shot is an art film that pretty much flopped (this, again, when foreign films did indeed have a ready viewership) and has received only cursory recognition since — despite the efforts of yours truly on this blog and the Funhouse TV show to draw attention to its writer-director, Marco Ferreri. (Why? Because it’s very odd and wonderfully crazy.)

The talk show host in question was Stanley Siegel, a brash interviewer who liked to do attention-grabbing stunts on the air but who also did embody the self-absorbed Seventies ethos (which hasn’t disappeared — basically Wolfe was only wrong in that ALL generations that appeared after the Sixties have been “Me Generations”). For Siegel’s most famous stunt of all was to bring his therapist onto his morning talk show in NYC and do a “session” with her on the air. No full record of this is available on YouTube, but it remains in the memories of all who saw it back then. 

And the film in question? Well, it’s none other than a Funhouse favorite, a bizarre sci-fi dystopian view of NYC that deserves a cult but is too downbeat to get one, Bye Bye Monkey (1978). The film is a study in strangeness, as it seems to anyone who lived through the Seventies to be virtually a documentary on what the lower part of Manhattan looked like in the late Seventies; to its maker, though, it was a fantasy about a world that is “constructing and deconstructing itself” (per the interview I did with Ferreri in the mid-Nineties). 

Herewith, a brief bit of an intro: a snippet of star stars Gerard Depardieu and Mimsy Farmer in the presence of a giant dead ape (supplied to Ferreri by, you guessed it, Dino De Laurentiis). Then, the scene that took on a whole different meaning in 2001 — the nursery rhyme about the baby falling (“cradle and all”) being sung by supporting star Geraldine Fitzgerald with the newly completed World Trade Center looming in the background. Finally, one of the most bizarre moments, Gerard noting his “baby” monkey (the child of the big, dead one) is dead, to his boss at a wax museum depicting scenes of ancient Rome (played by James Coco).


The Italian superstar who is seen briefly in that montage is, of course, Marcello Mastroianni. Who, it seems, is the person Siegel really wanted to have on this talk show, since he devotes the lion’s share of time to him — one assumes the publicist made a deal that, if Siegel promoted the film as it was being shot, he could have Marcello.

Many fascinating things are said. Firstly, that Marcello hadn’t read Ferreri’s script by the point he stepped off the plane from Italy to the U.S. to appear in the film. (He was very good friends with Ferreri; the two lived near each other in France.) He then notes the film is about obsession — which is amazing (and certainly accurate), since when I conducted my interview with Ferreri I started with that notion (that the majority of his protagonists, and certainly all his male protagonists, have a singular obsession of some kind), and he denied it entirely. 

Here are Ferreri’s comments on the film in question:


Siegel clearly was in search of some personal revelations and so he keeps digging with Marcello, and ends up asking him questions of the sort that Marcello would *never* answer for European journalists. One can see in the four-hour-long feature doc Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember (1997) that MM did NOT want to talk about the ladies in his life. 

Here, Siegel launches right into the affair Mastroianni (who remained married to his Italian wife — his only wife — until his death, although he had Deneuve and his daughter by her at his bedside when he died) had with Faye Dunaway. Marcello directly answers Siegel’s question, saying that Catholicism made life “difficult” for Italians. 

Marcello notes he doesn’t “believe [any] more” in marriage — although he’s still married to his wife of 27 years. (He says his wife is “a good friend.”) Siegel continues by bringing up Deneuve. Marcello is quite open that he finds marriage to be “a prison.” Siegel keeps digging, but Marcello is laidback in his attitude and doesn’t want to focus on any specific woman — although, again, the fact that he answered these questions, ones he forbade in later interviews, is what’s both bizarre and fascinating about the episode. 

The funniest bits throughout this are Siegel’s intros to different topics (as in “Frank Sinatra — he’s Italian, like you – once said...”). He also ignores the other three cast members until the second half of his one-hour show. He notes that Marcello is the one man he’d most like to be, besides photographer Robert Capa — since the show was, no matter who the guest was, primarily about Stanley and no one else. 

When he does finally get around to the other cast members, it’s more of Stanley’s truly eccentric mode of in-your-face (but off-kilter) interviewing. He wants to find out about the “real” side of the panel, so he probes their attitudes (and the work itself, their acting, is never discussed; the film they’re making is of virtually no interest to Siegel). The main topic is guilt in different cultures — and the most refreshing answer comes from Gerard Depardieu, who says he doesn’t feel the French have a lot of guilt. 

Depardieu then reveals that, like Mastroianni, the script of a given film isn’t important to him if he wants to work with a director. He will lose it (as he has done on Bye Bye Monkey and on Bertolucci’s 1900). Siegel ignores that revelation entirely and then asks him to recite dialogue from the film, which does confuse the hell out of Depardieu. James Coco has to note that what Siegel has asked is “very difficult for an actor…” 

Siegel, in one of his blunt-to-the-point-of-openly-rude moments, veers off into asking Depardieu and Marcello about France and Italy “losing wars.” Then, because Stanley was Stanley and NOT Dick Cavett, he asks Marcello and Gerard to play on-air with the baby monkey seen in the film. 

My brain exploded watching this.


NOTE: Thanks to Donica O’Bradovich for this senses-shaking discovery.