Friday, February 29, 2008

The worthy opponent: Deceased Artiste William F. Buckley Jr.

America has gotten much, much dumber over the years, especially since the "Reagan revolution" (hock ptooey) hit us in 1980. The interesting thing to consider, though, is that the original standard bearers for conservatism were indeed wildly smart individuals like the now-late William F. Buckley. A mass of ticks and pretension in his public appearance, Buckley was an intellectual of the first order whose beliefs I oppose entirely, but who was worthy of debate, unlike his Neocon successors, for whom the term knuckle-dragger is a compliment (to wit, the President Chimp anecdote about how he attended a Buckley National Review soiree when he was young, and got liquor on the carpet — tee hee hee, shut up!). I have strong memories of a televised debate on PBS in the late '70s about the Panama Canal (a major issue when the Repubs were refreshingly not in power during the Swinging Seventies), wherein Ronald Reagan was soundly trounced by Buckley. Reagan may have been a friendly old evil bastard, but Buckley was his superior in all things conservative.

I eulogized the last literary wildman Norman Mailer a few weeks ago on this blog and should note that Norm was properly respectful of Bill B. — in fact, it's interesting to note that at his most volatile (right after Armies of the Night), he appeared on Firing Line and never once got cross with his host. Buckley was certainly an equal of Mailer's as far as intelligence was concerned. But genius? Buckley was not a genius, and in fact — in case, anyone thinks I'm getting misty-eyed about the old gent. I'd like to remember him with two items (both referenced in a Buckley thread on

First this quote:
“The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”
—William F. Buckley, National Review, August 24, 1957

And then this gorgeous bit of smart-guy TV. Herein, the clip I had heard so much about, but finally saw thanks to YouTube: Buckley getting tongue-tied in a debate with Gore Vidal during the '68 convention, and coming out with a homophobic slur and a challenge to fisticuffs. Vidal, definitely the last genius standing these days, has always had the ability to really PISS PEOPLE OFF. Buckley was indeed an intellectual giant, but man, just hit him with the word "Nazi" and the veneer came down....

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Let us all bow down to Tony Powers

For those who weren't around NYC in the early '80s, I humbly recommend this awesome bit of music video, which has been burrowed into my brain since I saw it in the late 1980s on U68, a UHF music-video channel in the NYC area that had a helluva playlist (Ramones, Kate Bush, Jimmy Somerville).

Powers is a character actor — you might remember him as "Jimmy Two-Times" in a bit at the beginning of Goodfellas — who blew me outta the water with this song and video. It has the sense of humor I like, some catchy damned lyrics, and a great bizarre vocal performance. I thought Powers was simply doing this on the side, but was surprised to see on his website ( that he actually co-wrote two hits for Phil Spector ('Today I Met the Boy I'm Going to Marry," "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts?"), the terrific doo-wop ditty "Remember When," the blissful "Lazy Day" by Spanky and Our Gang (damn, float me back to my childhood!), and one of my ALL-time fave one-hit wonder songs (dig those horns, man), "98.6" by Keith. Tony indeed is a multi-talented person whose face is familiar but whose name sadly isn't. He's got a new CD out (at, and I eagerly await any and all film/video projects he may attempt in the future.

In the meantime, check out "Don't Nobody Move (This is a Heist)." The guest stars are all over the place (the oddest being a thin John Goodman, whose ass ends up in Powers' face), but the finale (Tony just sitting there, making mouth noises on the Square at night)... well, that's what NYC music is all about.

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Every Robert De Niro impersonator...

...should be in drag:

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Two things about the Oscars

It's a dull show, a mighty dull show, but here are two things they might as well consider:

-If you're going to show the awards that the bulk of the populace considers "boring" (sound editing, special fx, shorts, docus) in the main telecast and not the tech-awards ceremony, give the winners the dignity of making a full minute/minute-and-a-half speech. The musical fanfare and disappearing mic business is obnoxious shit. This is the winners' one and only moment in the spotlight, and it's rather doubtful they could be as pointless and rambling as the "stars" who have wasted minute upon minute of my life (Mira Sorvino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hallie Berry, Julia Roberts, shall I go on?). I was glad that Jon Stewart spotlighted how ridiculously obnoxious this rule is by letting the Song award winner return to make her tiny little speech. If we are supposed to watch their award, let's see their speech also.

-First let me say that I am perennially amused at how New York Times critic A.O. Scott tells us constantly how this is the Golden Age of Movies, cinema has never been better. Yes it has, A.O., there were indeed periods when even the B pictures had a crackle to them (and I'm not just talking '30s/'40s, '60s/'70s also fits the bill). This is the era when a good movie is an exception, not at all the rule. (Unless the formulaic mainstream is what you're constantly watching—then a halfway-decent indie would indeed appear to be extraordinary.) That said, let's acknowledge that the Oscar is about MOVIES, no matter the level of quality. So... let's watch some freaking clips, folks. It's been rather evident for a few decades now that these folks can't do a variety show properly, or showcase songs or sketches (like the Tonys or Grammys can...because those are PERFORMANCE awards, straight up). Thus, the only thing that makes sense would be to show longer clips, since that is, indeed, the only thing these symps can actually do. Take a look at the AFI ceremonies that were broadcast in the '70s — yes indeed, they were full of the same self-congratulatory nonsense, but the montages were healthy, chunky affairs that truly did introduce us to the work of the participants. The Oscars will always be a drag of a evening's TV watching (the Alan Carr days are long since gone, and Billy Crystal really did suck, man did he suck). Let's watch some fuckin' movies, can we?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Deceased Artiste Alain Robbe-Grillet: plenty of clues, no solutions

Those familiar with the work of novelist-filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet were not very surprised by the announcement of his death this past week at the age of 85. For, in fact, as those who’ve moved through any of his works know, he most likely didn’t die. He probably never really existed. Or if it was indeed true that Robbe-Grillet drew breath for a number of years, it was merely because someone saw him do it. Or thought they did. The breaking of a wine glass could’ve easily woken them out of their reverie, and they would’ve discovered that ARG had been in their salon with an uncommonly attractive woman (missing one shoe and hiding a pair handcuffs around her wrists). The things he was overheard saying actually happened several months earlier, at a different party, with a different woman listening. Or, far more likely, haven’t happened yet….

On the clip I’ve uploaded to salute Monsieur RG, I can merely comment that any person who singlehandedly created his own literary genre, le nouveau roman, deserves our attention and admiration. Of the many mysteries he created – I regard his tales as puzzles to be assembled, mysteries that are composed strictly of clues — the one that most recently got a mainstream release on these shores was his dream-piece of kink, La Belle Captive(1983), from Koch Lorber (the first and only release of his film work outside of the repeated renditions of Marienbadthat we’ve had over here). I have uploaded my review of the DVD release of the film as it appeared on the Funhouse some months back, including my reading of a single paragraph that was included in the U.S. version of the book, a précis of the book’s rather loose-limbed “plot,” as it were. The fact that any thorough study of ARG would have to plumb both the intricacies of 20th-century fiction and also make mention of the kinky streak possessed by both he and his wife, makes the man worthy of our very strict attention. His films and literature never, ever settled for the “it was all just a dream” cop-out finale, but it is true that after reading or viewing his work, it was hard to look at the world in the same way again. And, having attended a screening of his L’Immortelle at the Alliance Francaise this week, where pissed-off viewers were eagerly leaving the salle de projection, I can say (as we did when talking about Bergman and Antonioni), that his work has true resonance in this rather empty new century.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Tuneful Rivette: Haut Bas Fragile

The brilliant Jacques Rivette's latest film, The Duchess of Langeais, opens next weekend in NYC. The film is a period romance, adapted from a story by Balzac, about a doomed relationship. Rivette is one of the most underrated of French filmmakers — despite having started as part of the inner core of the New Wave, his work is incredibly hard to see in America, with all of his films up through the early '80s unavailable at the current time on DVD. Thus, I offer up a sequence from one of the MIA features, his "musical," Haut bas fragile(1995). The film is a joyfully self-conscious affair that continues in the lineage of Godard's Une Femme Est Une Femme, offering stars who can only mildly carry a tune acting out the most blissful of movie-musical cliches as they sashay around the set. In this scene, Marianne Denicourt (who had "the Audrey Tautou look" when Tautou herself was still a schoolgirl) and Natalie Richard break into a song and dance. For further info on the great Rivette, I refer you to this terrific web resource:
The Order of the Exile: Jacques Rivette

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Uncle Jean makes the scene

I bow to no one in my slavish ardor for the man who gives us God-art, the one and only JLG. A new box set of four of his “late period” works has been released by Lionsgate (“late” only in that they were made after his “comeback” to fiction film in the 1980s). The box has a few small drawbacks: the two best films in the set were put on the same disc; the cover has an anachronistic 1960s pic of Uncle Jean; and the video-essay he made about Passion is not included in the package (that is the perfect supplement for the film; no trailers are included either). What is there to celebrate about the set? Well, it does present gorgeously restored copies of two of his post-comeback masterpieces, films that are as tightly structured and, yes, accessible as the work he did in his “golden period” in the Sixties, Passion (1982) and First Name Carmen (1983). The other two features in the set, Detective (1985) and Helas Pour Moi (the English translation title, Oh, Woe is Me is rather stilted), contain some of the biggest stars in French cinema (Johnny Hallyday, Nathalie Baye, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Julie Delpy in the first; Gerard Depardieu in the second), but they are films that, while entertaining (some scenes in Detective are wonderfully funny), do seem like they were produced in an improvisatory fashion that favored dialogue over character and plot. Passion and Carmen, on the other hand, are underrated gems that deserve multiple viewings. In celebration of the set, I offer a glimpse at Godard playing his cinematic alter-ego, crazy “Uncle Jean,” a role he debuted in Carmen and then reprised in a few of his 1980s and ’90s features. The character was clearly based on what the public perception of JLG was: a slightly batty older man who spoke in epigrams and wasn’t quite conscious of the world around him.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Soupy Sales: the pieman speaks!

Another wonderful moment in the Funhouse, speaking to the Soup in the Friars Club back in 2002. He had had some health problems in the years before the interview, but was very eager to chat about some topics I hadn't heard him talk about that often and, yes, the topic he was always asked about, the throwing of cream pies on his classic Sixties daytime show.

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Still can't believe I met him: the Funhouse interview with Peter Ustinov

I first encountered the multi-talented Peter Ustinov on a show Steve Allen did in the late '70s called Laugh Back, where he showed clips from his 1950s series. I became obsessed with the gent's work, as he embodied something I've always been fascinated with: intelligence tempered with extreme silliness. He was a renaissance man who is now sadly sort of forgotten, although he wrote several hit plays, was a magnificent character actor, directed at least one classic movie (Billy Budd), wrote scads of books, and was an exceptionally funny raconteur (how many raconteurs do we really have these days?).

I was very pleased to meet the gent back in 1999 when he was in NYC promoting the Merchant-Ivory send-up, Stiff Upper Lips. We went off in all kinds of directions in our conversation, which shouldn't've surprised me, but still did.

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The Fashion Plate, Classy Mr. Freddie Blassie

An interview conducted long ago by yrs truly with the legendary manager and champeen Fred Blassie. Here he holds forth on the WWF and its then-competitor the WCW, as well as his one-time wrestler Hulk Hogan. They don't make 'em like Fred anymore.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Sam is a lineman for the county

Media Funhouse viewers are treated to all kinds of rarities that just aren't being shown anyplace else on television. They aren't necessarily available on the Net either. And thus I present the swinging, groovy Mr. Sammy Davis, rockin' out Jimmy Webb's classic "Witchita Lineman" on The Dean Martin Show. Shake that tambourine, man!

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And, for those who are curious what else Sam did on that episode, I present another YT poster's upload of his dynamite medley with his old friend Dino. A whole lotta fun, and the disparity between their outfits is gorgeous:

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Advertisements for Norman (on his way out)

As my final farewell to the big Mailer, I herewith offer some clips from our recent survey on the program of Norman, filmmaker. These clips will warp your mind, change your perception of film, and most likely amuse the hell out of you. Let it never be said that, even if Mailer was missing the mark in one or another (and damn was he a great writer, I'm in the process of reading his last hybrid historical novel The Castle in the Forest as I write this), he certainly was never, ever boring.

Norman as a gangster, with a boxer's mouth guard in his face to sorta make him sound, tough, ya know?

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Norman, seducer extraordinaire!

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The famous Norman-Rip Torn fight that closes out Maidstone (not uploaded by me):

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I thought it was VERY important for all those interested to see the bizarre discussion that follows the physical encounter above. This is actually the more intense of the two exchanges, since both the Pulitzer Prize winner and the great actor are truly sparring on a mental level here, as well as comparing notes on the aesthetics of filmmaking and assassination, and also acting like kids in the schoolyard.

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