Friday, November 23, 2012

WHILE WAITING FOR ME TO WINNOW THE 55 PAGES I WROTE ON THE "MARRIAGE COUNSELOR" SKETCH TO A PARAGRAPH OR TWO...



...why not entertain yourself with something I actually managed to finish?  My brand-new podcast, TO BE ANNOUNCED, has just commenced with its very first episode.  This bi-week, I talk with the insanely brilliant humor writer Ellis Weiner, cannibalize some old material to fill space, and wind up with an elaborate in-joke that only podcast over-enthusiasts will get.  Updates, background info, etc. will be available at the TBA blog - and just this once (unless I decide to do it next time), you can listen to the embedded 'cast itself or download the mp3 below.  Hope you like it...




Download this bastard. (85.5 Mb mp3 file; right-click to save)

Monday, September 03, 2012

PYTHON DISSECTED #1a: NOTICE THEY DO NOT SO MUCH FLY AS PLUMMET.


So here we are at last.  Here beginneth my vivisection of the complete run of Monty Python's Flying Circus.  My modus operandi for this series of reviews is simple: I plan on reviewing, analyzing, critiquing and otherwise squeezing all the fun out of the forty-five half-hour episodes of MPFC, with likely pit stops along the way for other items that appeared during its 1969-74 lifespan (in particular, the two episodes of Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus [which is German for something, I think] that aired in 1972).  I intend to adhere to strict broadcast chronology in these reviews; for the most part, the programs were not aired in the order in which they were produced, and while it might be interesting to trace the show's ebb and flow by following them in production order, a lot of care was taken in ordering the episodes for maximum effectiveness, an arrangement with artistic qualities all its own, and it behooves me to give that artistry the respect and reverence it deserves.

Except for this one time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PYTHON DISSECTED - Prologue, Part 3: "The Long and Winding Preamble"

I had come here today to finally complete my litany of reasons Why Monty Python Is/Was the Beatles of Comedy and embark on my reviews of every episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and I fully intend to do so.  However, a number of further areas of analysis have recently come to light, and I would be remiss in ignoring or eliding them.  So, once I've finished the first list, I will follow with my comprehensive rundowns of Why Monty Python Is/Was the Sanford-Townsend Band of Comedy, Which Individual Pythons Correspond to Which of Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief (and Which Member of Mid-Period Fleetwood Mac the One Left Over Most Closely Resembles Internally), The Five People You Meet in Heaven Who Were Successfully Hit On By Graham Chapman, All the Things You Could Be By Now if Terry Jones in Drag Was Your Mother, Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Carol Cleveland's Ti



All right, all right, all right.


Friday, June 15, 2012

PYTHON DISSECTED - Prologue, Part 2: "The Fellowship of the Thingie"



Right.  Where was I?

Oh yes, the middle of the interminable preface to my alleged project wherein I review and overanalyze all 45 episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus (plus the two German shows and whatever other ancillary nonsense I can dredge up), a preface that started as a quick couple of introductory paragraphs but quickly metastasized into a recap of information which anyone who would bother to read such a thing undoubtedly knew already tied loosely together by a pointless point-by-point defense of my notion that Monty Python are/were the Beatles of Comedy, as if that notion was a) stunningly original and unprecedented and b) really in need of defending in the first place, I mean you may as well mount an impassioned, florid speech in defense of a twenty-shilling parking ticket and have your barrister call a dead person and a professional Cardinal Richeleu impersonator to the stand as character witnesses, I mean what's the point of it all, I think they ought to send them back where they came from, I mean you've got to be cruel to be kind so Mrs. Harris said, so she said, she said, she said, the dead crab she said, she said. Well, her sister's gone to Rhodesia what with her womb and all, and her youngest, her youngest as thin as a filing cabinet, and the goldfish, the goldfish they've got whooping cough they keep spitting water all over their Bratbys, well, they do don't they, I mean you can't, can you, I mean they're not even married or anything, they're not even divorced, and he's in the KGB if you ask me, he says he's a tree surgeon but I don't like the sound of his liver, all that squeaking and banging every night till the small hours, his mother's been much better since she had her head off, yes she has, I said, don't you talk to me about bladders, I said...

Ahem.  Let's crack on, shall we?  Okay, Reasons Monty Python Are/Were the Beatles of Comedy, continued...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

PYTHON DISSECTED - Prologue, Part 1: "The Gathering of the Jibes"



Monty Python's Flying Circus debuted, with little fanfare, on BBC-1 on October 5, 1969, nine days after the Beatles released their final studio album, Abbey Road.  I mention this seemingly irrelevant piece of trivia because it's one of those serendipidous bits of timing that no major cultural sea change can exist without.  Much has been made about how the Fab Four's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show - the event that rocketed them to stardom in the U.S. and thus set their subsequent world domination in motion - came scant weeks after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a moment when America (whether it realized it or not) needed a cleansing blast of youthful exuberance.  We'll never know if the Beatles would have been the musical and cultural bellwether they turned out to be had things been different - given the talent and the personalities at hand, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't have made some sort of splash - but it's hard to deny the power of that particular harmonic convergence.  So, too, with Python.  No less an authority than George Harrison would later claim that the spiritual energy that was fatally draining from his band at that moment transferred cleanly onto this other, (mostly) British combo, and history has borne him out: comedy underwent a revolution of form and function in the seventies every bit the equal of rock in the sixties, and it was Monty Python who fired the opening salvo.  (It's true that the fuse Python lit - if I may mix my revolutionary-weaponry metaphors a bit - was much slower-burning; comedy didn't truly become the new rock 'n' roll until the mid-decade premiere of Saturday Night Live, a show that provided the same tonic for a country traumatized by Watergate and Vietnam that the Beatles did post-Kennedy, and which owed its comic voice as much to the National Lampoon and Second City as it did MPFC.  But heavy strands of Python are in its DNA - reruns aired on Canadian television several years before it made it to America, heavily influencing a struggling writer/comedian named Lorne Michaels; several years later, he stood on line for the world premiere of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where he would meet the man who would become SNL's first breakout star [and probably the main reason the show wasn't cancelled after a few weeks], Chevy Chase.  Which means that it's only a matter of time before some crazed conspiracy theorist fanboy blames Python for Dan Harmon's ouster from Community, but let's keep shtum about that.)

More (much, much more) after the jump:

Friday, May 11, 2012

TEN THINGS I HAVE DISCOVERED NOW THAT I’M IN MY FORTIES:



·        When I try to think back to all the crazy, rebellious things I did as a teenager, and once again come up with nothing beyond “I preferred New Coke,” I can comfort myself with the notion that my memory is starting to fail me.

·        My sexual fantasies are increasingly punctuated by pee breaks.

·        I recognized the look on the face of that barista when I grumbled about the Journey song playing over the coffee shop PA as the same one I gave the sixty-year-old guy at the thrift store when he ranted to me for twenty minutes about “Hanoi Jane.”

·        Nobody laughs at my Steve Martin or Mork from Ork impressions anymore.  Nobody laughed then, either, but now I can rationalize.

·        I have become quite adept at the pubic combover.

·        I found myself lecturing my son that “in my day, we were ignorant of and indifferent to things that really mattered.

·        I can’t hear a certain song from my adolescence without quietly weeping bittersweet tears about the passage of time, lost innocence, and the myriad squandered promises of youth.  Unfortunately, that song is “Axel F.”

·        I swear that was Macaulay Culkin I saw on the cover of the AARP Bulletin.

·        When people say I remind them of one of the Baldwin brothers, I no longer take it as a compliment.

·        I can stop hoarding now – I’m pretty sure the cassingle isn’t coming back. 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

WHERE'S THE FALAFEL? WHITHER THE FILIPINO? WHAT'S THAT FLAKING?:



Gotta take a moment here to further the hype on an event going on this week in Astoria, OR and Seattle, WA (y'all missed the shows in Eugene and Portland - sorry).  The WTF Fest  is a massive, multi-cultural, trans-generational art and provocation festival, with music, poetry, performance art, dancing, videos and a million-volt Tesla coil.  It also features the amazing, legendary John Sinclair, who will also be appearing on my WOW & FLUTTER radio program tonight (4/25/12) at 11 PDT on Coast Community Radio.  I was a part of the festivities in Portland on Monday and shall be again in Astoria this Friday, so the following may be construed as some kind of conflict of interest, but, as they say, what the frak?

A piece I wrote on the event for the latest issue of Hipfish Monthly.

...and an interview with the event's co-proprietors, Shane and Amy Bugbee, from last week's WOW & FLUTTER program:


(Pictured here: Ugly Shyla, one of the many fantastic performers in the Fest.)



Monday, March 05, 2012

FILM'S LOST FILMERS:


(originally published in the November, 2011 issue of Cinematic Completist)

Any person with even a modest interest in cinema can, at the slightest provocation, cite the names of a dozen or more celluloid artistes who, without question, have staked indelible claims on the projection booths of the mass imagination – names like Welles (Citizen Kane), Hitchcock (Rear Window), Spielberg (1941), and Raffill (Mannequin 2: On the Move).  All possessed undeniable talent, perhaps even genius, but there is more to their immortality than that.  Lasting success in such a cutthroat medium must also be attributed to their tenacity, indomitability, and occasional willingness to fellate their superiors when necessary (hence the term “studio head”).  But what of the others, that pale and tragic remnant untouched by fickle Kismet’s hand and unable to suppress the gag reflex so stalwartly?  Surely their contribution, however paltry, to the annals of film history deserves some recognition?  Frankly, no, it doesn’t.  They’re total and abject failures and deserve only to be treated as such.  But a freelance assignment is a freelance assignment.

S.W. Poltroon (1872-1926), director
Between Edison and Griffith came the man who may well have been cinema’s very first auteur.   A former photographer and painter of still lifes, Poltroon seized upon the newborn medium with great fervor while taking a somewhat narrow view of its potential.  His known features – Man Standing Still (1903), Rigor Mortis (1904), The Unadorned Wall (1904), and his magnum opus, Two Men Standing Still (1906), were met with decidedly less enthusiasm than expected, though his famed “baby carriage sitting in one place” shot from his 1905 short subject The Idle Pram came to be much imitated, though not by other filmmakers.

Arvid de Marqeux (1885-??), director/choreographer
A one-time pratfall consultant for Hal Roach Studios, de Marqeux spent all his spare hours and most of his savings pursuing his lifelong obsession – to transfer the thrills and entertainment of the stage shows he’d seen on the Moulin Rouge, Broadway, and Fondulac, Wisconsin (where once somebody danced on a mail crate in the middle of town whistling to himself) to the young medium of film.  After years of cajoling, Roach acquiesced to de Marqeux’s wishes, and, with all present and future salaries put up as collateral, de Marqeux wrote, produced, directed and choreographed Millie’s Terrible Illness! (1915), the world’s first musical.  Sadly, the limitations of the production (mainly that it was produced before the advent of sound in film and de Marqeux failed to secure the rights to any recordings of the show’s music) doomed it to failure after a disastrous opening night at the Pant-au-Lune Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, during which the in-house organist was stoned to death.  Following the success (and technological advances) of The Jazz Singer in 1927, de Marqeux developed a remake, which scarcely got past the script  stage in spite of promises of unprecedented budgets by his main investor, Charles Ponzi.  De Marqeux disappeared shortly thereafter.

Cedric Bauer, Jr. (1926-1961), director/animator
Known by aficionados as “The Father-in-Law, or Great Uncle, or Some Distant Blood Relation of Digital Cinema,” Bauer, Jr. was surely instrumental to the introduction of computer-generated imagery into the marriage-aged medium of film.  Disheartened by his experiences working as an animator for Zyzniak Pictures, who mounted a marginally-successful challenge to Disney with their features Beppo, the Finger-Sniffing Ape (1951) and Princess with a Limp (1952), and visibly excited by then-current innovations like 3-D. CinemaScope, and turning the lights out in the theater before the movie starts, Bauer, Jr. awoke one night with what he described in his journals as “a fully-formed vision – movies made without actors or artists, but by the new breed of supercomputer, programmed by men with malleable foreheads.”  After some professional consultation, he modified his approach slightly, and, with the enthusiastic cooperation of IBM and the siphoning of several hundred thousand dollars from the government’s nascent space program, Bauer, Jr. embarked on this unprecedentedly ambitious project.  Though only 26 seconds in length, requiring several warehouses’ worth of punch cards, and consisting solely of what one critic described as “a cloud or a floating blob or something,” Computer Movie (1954) was an immediate sensation, breaking box-office records nationwide and touching off a national craze that was slotted in at the last minute between goldfish-swallowing and McCarthyism.  Sadly, Bauer, Jr. was unable to capitalize on his sudden success, due to legal troubles stemming from his contract with distributor Bob’s Films which stated that all profits be paid to him in Capri pants.  His projected sequel, Computer Movie Part II: A Larger, Redder Blob, exists only in treatment form.

Barry Trilbo (1935-1978), producer
After several failed entrepreneurial enterprises (like the short-lived Lease-a-Pizza chain), Trilbo drifted into film production in the early 1960s with a single, inspired idea to cut down on development costs – attain the rights to television programs, existing properties with high name recognition that few imagined would have much staying power outside of the small screen, and adapt them for the slightly-balding but still distinguished-looking medium of film.  The first project for Trilbo’s production company, the Trilbo Production Company, was to take one of the most beloved programs of the early days of TV and enlarge it accordingly.  Unfortunately, due to poor communication among Trilbo’s acquisition team and a sense of business acumen that might best be described as “meager” (though “tragic,” “farcical,” and “resembling that of a gnat with severe cortical damage” wouldn’t be totally inaccurate), he wound up paying $3.6 million for Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Life is Worth Living.  The program, though indeed beloved, consisted solely of gentle theological insights using only a blackboard to illustrate them.  Undaunted by the rather static nature of the source material and the fact that Sheen refused to participate (to cover up the fact, the "Bishop" would be seen only in long shot with a Mexican wrestler’s mask stuck to his head), Trilbo refused to cut his losses and forged ahead with production.  Alas, in spite of his yeoman efforts to “jazz it up” for the big screen (state-of-the-art [for 1962] pyrotechnics, a climactic hydrofoil chase, colored chalk), Life is Worth Living… or Else!! proved an unqualified disaster and was pulled from distribution three minutes into the second reel.  Trilbo’s finances and reputation, such as they were, never recovered, though he was reportedly in negotiations to produce an epic miniseries based on “this really great antacid commercial I saw” before he was eaten by pigs at age 52.

Bix Caracas (1932-1984), writer/director/actor
Presaging the work of brilliant comic conceptualists like Andy Kaufman, Albert Brooks, and Carrot Top, Caracas, after selling out nightclubs and integrity nationwide with a radical stand-up act focused around him remaining seated, followed the lead of fellow carbon-based humorists Mel Brooks and Woody Allen and wrote, directed and starred in a series of groundbreaking comedies unlike anything previously seen in the nearly-retirement-aged and slightly forgetful medium of film.  Starting with The Great Bank Deposit (1972), starring Caracas as a hapless schlub who forgets to sign the back of his paycheck, and running all the way through his final, mature masterpiece, Helen Barkewicz (1972), the bittersweet story of a doomed romance from first date to end-of-first-date, Caracas’ comedies were unprecedented in that, as New York Times-reading critic Stanley Prolix explained, “they weren’t funny.  I mean, I don’t think they were even intended to be funny, that’s how unfunny they were.”  In the years following, Caracas’ films, which have yet to be released on DVD, videocassette or celluloid, have nonetheless garnered a cult following, based mainly in a hastily-built armed compound in Ogden, Utah.  “Caracas’ brilliant pictures are a testament to the filmic transcendence attainable by those rare comic minds brave and brilliant enough to steer audiences gently but firmly away from laughter, mirth, or levity of any kind.  He remains an inspiration to all of us,” said Caracas scholar Percy “the Anointed” Banlonne, shortly before being felled in a hail of Federal bullets.

Part Two, to be published shortly before my gas service is interrupted, will cover other neglected cinematic pioneers, such as Horace Darjeeling, self-styled “King of the Nudie Costume Drama”;  Velma Goat-Tungsten, for many years one of the most amusing names in docudrama; and Bertram L. Kestler, whose valiant effort to “bring back the filmstrip” ended in tragicomedy.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

FUNNY 'CAUSE IT'S TRUE (EXCEPT FOR THE PART ABOUT IT BEING TRUE. OR FUNNY):




As the philosopher once said, "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day.  Give that same man free audio-editing software and a Soundcloud account and he'll spend hours excerpting some of his lame-ass radio comedy, leaving you alone to eat your fish in peace."   From the December 14, 2011 edition of Wow & Flutter, I give you "Tips For Broadcasters #912: Updated Guidelines."

 Tips for broadcasters #912 by williamham