National Lampoon’s Vacation [1983)

Hello, dear friends ūüôā

Perhaps you thought I was dead?

I certainly FELT dead…off and on.

And so hopefully this is a true return.

Many months.

Stops and starts.

I was reminded just tonight of the appendectomy I had one year ago.

What a blessing to have received urgent medical care.

But I never would have known at that particular time (upon my first and only self-directed trip to an emergency room) that my appendix needed attention had it not been for my anxiety.

Horrible anxiety.

Debilitating.

I sought medical help for extraordinarily high anxiety.

And the prognosis?

“You need to have your appendix removed.” ūüôā

Not exactly what I was hoping to hear.

But I made it through.

My first and only surgery.

Praise God.

And I powered through.

If you will remember, it was a mere three weeks before my graduation with an MBA.

Three more weeks I had to push.

Fresh out of the hospital.

I had to hunker down each day and research.

Study.

Write.

Churn out papers.

PowerPoint presentations.

Research solar power.

Water purification.

The Maghreb.

Sert√£o.

Sanhedrin.

Sahara.

MENA.

Middle East and North Africa.

Not to be confused with Mena, Arkansas (sniffy woe).

Presentations.

Transhumanism.

Ivan Raszl (well, not yet).

How Hillary ripped off her campaign insignia:

transhumanism

Neither here nor there.

But suffice to say Ray Kurzweil.  Jeremy Rifkin.  Zoltan Istvan.

Bad dudes.

And by this calculus a commodius vicus back to Elon Musk and environs.

Yes, I am back.

Back to that blabbering drivel.

That dithering dithyrambic style you know and love.

And I am fighting.

Not just anxiety, but drug addiction.

Prescription medicine.

It’s what happens when we max out our dosages.

We take as prescribed (more or less).

We take the right amount.

But the “as needed” turns into “needed all the time”.

And so I have been blessed to recently receive psychological help.

For anxiety.

Not my first time (big surprise), but the first time I’ve had a real counselor.

Someone who cares.

Someone who’s qualified.

Someone who gives a shit.

Someone with the chops to help me attack anxiety.

My cousin died.

It scared the shit out of me.

43.

Heart attack.

Three years older than me.

Fuck.

Yeah…

And then I magically was prescribed heart medicine.

On top of cholesterol medicine.

Real fucking fun.

All of this shit freaked me out pretty heavily.

The death of my cousin was a supremely shocking occurrence.

Was I next?

Was I going to wake up and find myself dead???

Well, fear not, dear friends.

Yes.

During the course of my therapy, my shrink deduced that I was indeed addicted to multiple medications.

I didn’t really realize my addiction for what it was.

I knew I was tethered to my medicines, but I had no perspective on the matter.

And so we started slow.

Hey. ¬†How ’bout not taking that third of a sleeping pill to relax…hours before bedtime, fuckface?

Ok.

And hey. ¬†How ’bout you get to bedtime and maybe you only take half a sleeping pill?

Sleep.

Sleep was the first fix.

You gotta have a bedtime.

Be your own army sergeant.

Pick your time.

A “lights out” time.

And stick to it.

Every damn night.

Midnight.

Lights out.

It took awhile.

I wanted to remain with the world.

Wanted to stay up-to-date.

On the off chance that some kind word would make my soul bloom.

And set an alarm, you lazy moron ūüôā

8 a.m.

Ok.

Better than TWO P.M. ūüôā

Set that fucking thing.

And WAKE UP.

You’re tired?

Too fucking bad.

Now what???

You stay awake for the next 16 hours, that’s what!

So when midnight rolls around again, you’re pretty tired.

But you get a second wind.

So you push it.

And you gradually rack up weeks of 6 hours.

6 1/2 hours.

On average.

But the goal is 8.

Not 7.  Not 9.

8.

After WEEKS of this shit, this finally settled into a cradle.

A groove.

The string settled on the nut.

Or the bridge.

Notch.

Sleep.  Nutrition.  Exercise.

The “holy trinity” of psychological health.

I had been an insomniac for decades.

A pro musician.

Starting gigs at 1 a.m. in New Orleans.

Fucking crazy.

But now I have an MBA.

And I need to straighten the fuck up.

Sleep came.

Slowly.

Tired as fuck.

Torturous.

But you gotta FORCE YOURSELF to stay awake.

Every damn day.

Finally, these past few days I am getting 8 hours.

Was it a month of sleep deprivation?

Six weeks?

Probably.

But it was worth it.

A hard-earned victory.

Nutrition.

Fine.

Eat boring.

Eat country vittles.

Be good.

Eat your fruits and vegetables.

Don’t go for the dozen glazed donuts.

Or raspberry jelly donuts.

I know you can eat a whole dozen glazed by yourself.

But don’t fucking do it.

It’s nasty.

Disgusting.

You don’t need to be in that mindset.

And exercise.

First thing in the morning.

Walk.

Hey. ¬†How ’bout you double your exercise amount, dipshit?

Ok.

Walk in the evening too.

Twice a day.

And how ’bout STANDING UP when you feel a panic attack coming on.

Yeah, that’s right: ¬†get out of bed.

Get on your feet.

Don’t ball up into the fetal position.

Don’t hide your head under the covers.

Don’t wait for the panic attack to pass.

No more being a bitch to benzodiazepines.

Time to breathe.

Big breath in.

Throw back those shoulders.

Chest out.

Tighten the butt.

Lower back.

Stand up straight.

Hold it.

For God.  For country.

Like a Marine.

Salute.

At attention.

Pop that breastbone.

Tension.

Pops sternum.

I’m not dead.

I’m a crazy motherfucker, but I’m not dead.

And my crazy?  A lust for life.

A return.

“You can always come back/but you can’t come back all the way”

Yeah.

It is sheer folly to try.

But it is “life or no life”.

I am blowing the harp.

I am singing.

I am playing the country blues.

I become real acquainted with Robert Johnson.

‘Cept I already tried to sell my soul.

Years ago.

And God forgave me.

Because Jesus short-circuits the wrath of God.

So now I am onto an opioid drawdown.

Tapering.

Returning to a dosage I last mastered 7 years ago (and no time since).

So it soothed my brain to go back to this movie.

A sheer masterpiece:

National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Dana Barron makes me happy ūüôā

Reminds me of love.

When we were in high school.

And the rare God miracle of falling in love with a girl from a couple streets over.

That miracle.

Those tie-dyed times.

Long since dusty and moth-eaten.

Let’s start with the aw-kward Family Truckster.

Metallic pea ūüôā

The green latrine.

Not an auspicious start.

vacation1

“You’re gonna see a sign that says, ‘Rib Tips'” ūüôā

This was Trump era.

Think Melania.

Christie Brinkley.

But nothing is better than Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie ūüôā

Quaid owns this role.

Drives it into the ground.

Slam dunks it.

The laconic redneck.

Piss-perfect.

“Vicki, can I help you with that Kool-Aid…please.”

“REAL…tomato ketchup, Eddie???”

And the white shoes which act as time machine and talisman.

Future past.

From another century.

Something that’s crossed over.

Houellebecq.

But I got new respect for law enforcement.

And I got huge respect for American military.

Military City USA.

San Antonio.

Here we are.

And these crazy times of FBI.

Las Vegas.

What do you want to believe?

I have turned off the medium which slapped me daily with the message.

I don’t give a fuck about the FBI.

I don’t give a fuck about the CIA.

A useful bit of wisdom at times.

Nay, I am not even really following politics at the moment.

Fuck it.

Fuck these people.

A bunch of losers.

But, regardless: ¬†I don’t have the extra capacity…the patience.

I gotta get myself healthy.

So fuck it.

FBI, do your job.

CIA, stop being such bastards.

I don’t know.

Is that fair?

Which is to say, I’m a nobody. ¬†A nothing.

But at least I know that.

And I can crawl from beneath my rock and give thanks to God.

I can give thanks that nobody has whacked me.

“50 yards…”

Aunt Edna on the roof ūüôā

In the fucking rain.

Yep.

That is a rich scenario.

“I thought you were going to tell me your were in the CIA.”

“What, me??? ¬†No…not anymore. ¬†A long time ago. ¬†I don’t really like to talk about it.”

Beverly D’Angelo is really good.

Anthony Michael Hall is solid.

But Chevy Chase really ties the room together ūüôā

AND RANDY QUAID.

God…

Harold Ramis directed a rather perfect picture here.

No shame.

This is fine filmmaking indeed.

 

-PD

 

Caddyshack [1980)

I’m so happy to be bringing you an actual film review today.

Even though I’m under the weather.

Yes, the airborne molds here in San Antonio seem to have brought on a nasty head cold.

[And before that it was the mountain cedar pollen.  It seems my city is among the five worst in the U.S. for allergens!]

But nothing does the health quite as much good as a larf ūüôā

And I must say, categorically, that Caddyshack is a masterpiece.

I suspected as much, but I never truly analyzed every bit of dialogue.

Till now.

And let me just start off by saying, the screenwriters responsible for this film deserve immense kudos.

First, Douglas Kenney.

If you go to the¬†Caddyshack¬†page on Wikipedia, you will notice that Mr. Kenney has no hypertext love for his name in the “informatics” box.

[Correction, Kenney’s name under the heading “Writers” is not hypertext-enabled, but his name is linkable elsewhere on the page.]

The story of Mr. Kenney is sad.

The strangest part is, HE DOES indeed have a Wikipedia page!

So why no link to the Caddyshack page?

My guess is that this film (and its stakeholders) probably want to distance themselves from the late- Mr. Kenney.

And that’s the saddest part.

You see, Douglas Kenney died almost exactly a month after Caddyshack was released.

Apparently Mr. Kenney was depressed about the bad reviews Caddyshack had gotten.

It’s a tragic story.

But we’re here to celebrate this wonderful film!

And there are two more writers to credit.

Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014, is also credited with writing our timeless work.

And finally, Brian Doyle-Murray (who is thankfully still with us).

These three writers crafted a great story.

But most importantly, they should be revered for the fantastic banter which they concocted.

In its own way, the script for¬†Caddyshack deserves a prominent place next to Ernest Lehman’s¬†North by Northwest.

But to pull off great lines, you need great actors.

And Caddyshack is chockfull of masterful performances.

But first let’s take a look at the socioeconomic aspects of this story.

The action is completely set at a posh golf course in Nebraska:  Bushwood Country Club.

While some of the allegorical caricatures are a bit crude (indeed, the whole film is gloriously crude), there is a nice message to this film.

Quite simply, it is the “haves” and the “have-nots”.

And the main, anarchist “have-nots” are the caddies.

Those lowly youngsters who schlep golf bags up and down green hills in lieu of golf carts.

It’s funny…

The manager of the Caddy Shack (actually played by writer Brian Doyle-Murray) holds the specter of replacement over the young caddies’ heads.

Shape up, or you’ll be replaced by golf carts.

[Or something to that effect]

I can hear the same strains echoing from my local McDonald’s (though I never go there).

You want fifteen dollars an hour?

Great.

Hello robots.

But these kids put up with a lot of shit.

And, though this film doesn’t get this in-depth, I feel for the youngsters who are out there working crappy jobs.

America is fucked up.

A cashier at a corner store shouldn’t be prevented from getting antibiotics for her infected tooth.

She shouldn’t have to miss work because we can’t figure out this problem.

I’m guessing she can’t afford the doctor’s visit.

Or the visit to a clinic.

But that’s pretty sad.

It’s like panhandling…

No one would dream of such an existence.

So we gotta be less cynical.

Yeah, panhandlers will try any trick in the book.

But in the final estimation, one must really feel sorry for anyone who has no better options than to spend their time begging (or, for that matter, hawking cigarettes for minimum wage at the Kwik-E-Mart).

But I digress…

The late- Ted Knight did a great job of playing the yuppie villain in this film.

You want to go to law school? ¬†And your parents can’t afford it?

Well, the world needs ditch-diggers too.

It’s a bloody-jawdropping line from our three screenwriters!

Ted Knight plays Judge Smails.

Yes, a real piece of work he is!

The “good-old-boys” network.

Even up in Nebraska.

Perhaps a jab at Warren Buffett?

We know, of course, that Mr. Buffett was having a very convenient charity golf tournament the morning of 9/11 at Offutt Air Force Base.

And Offutt is the central node of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

And George W. Bush eventually made his way to Offutt on 9/11 (after stopping over at the second most important nuke site, Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana).

And then there was the jet owned by Mr. Buffett that was conveniently in the air near Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

And Ms. Anne Tatlock who would have normally been in her office at Fiduciary Trust Company in the World Trade Center, but was playing golf with Warren Buffett.

Fiduciary Trust lost 87 employees on the morning of 9/11 when Flight 175 slammed into the WTC.

But Tatlock was in Omaha.

Too crazy to be true?

And who were the other invitees at Buffett’s event?

Let’s return to comedy, shall we? ūüôā

Chevy Chase is fantastic as Ty Webb in our film.

He has no editing mechanism.

Here is a guy so effortlessly-rich that he just says whatever is on his mind.

Remind you of anyone?

And if that pointed-allusion to our PEOTUS isn’t pithy enough, we then have Rodney Dangerfield’s ostentatious character: ¬†a realtor!

Remember, in 1978 (two years before Caddyshack) the villain of Superman (Lex Luthor) was also a realtor.

It’s an interesting meme.

Indeed, the word “meme” was coined just two years before THAT (in Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book¬†The Selfish Gene).

So perhaps it was just the Zeitgeist, but our writers had latched onto something with the realtor trope.

However, as stated, the villain of Caddyshack is the venal Judge Smails.

Rodney Dangerfield (who was magnificent in this film) is very much an anti-villain:  the enemy of our enemy.

Dangerfield’s character Al Czervik may be¬†nouveau riche, but he has many redeeming qualities.

To reel in one of my favorite memes, he puts the disruptive in “disruptive innovation” (thank you Clay Christensen).

I mean, really…you gotta hand it to a guy with Budweiser on tap in his golf bag ūüôā

But perhaps the most important character is Carl (played to genius proportions by Bill Murray).

Carl is the slack-jawed “assistant [head?] greenskeeper” whose internal monologue is just audible enough to guide us through this film.

Every film critic should identify with Carl (except, of course, the “successful” ones).

Here’s a guy who basically lives in the toolshed.

I mean, the scene where Chevy Chase “plays through” is just classic!

Carl eventually does a little housekeeping with a leaf blower (presaging the eccentric roots of Beck Hansen [whose dust-choking start was still a ways off in 1980]).

But Carl really makes this film tick.

He is the Fanfare for the Common Man.

And there are Bronx cheers in place of the timpani!

[Did somebody sit on a duck?]

Sarah Holcomb probably doesn’t get much credit for her role in this film, but she should.

Ms. Holcomb was born on September 11, 1958.

This was her last film (according to Wikipedia).

While her Irish accent is a bit grating (because, I am guessing, it is merely a plot device), she is a joyful presence in this film.

Ah, but Cindy Morgan really steals the show as Lacey Underall.

And she’s not just a pretty face!

Her acting (and chemistry with Chevy Chase) is really remarkable.

Plus, she has the best line of the film:

“BULLFIGHTS ON ACID.”

God, I love that line…

Which takes us back to our writers.

These guys were really something!

But I haven’t even mentioned the¬†auteur¬†of our film.

It was, indeed, one of the three writers:  Harold Ramis.

Sure, there are cheap stunts (actually, $8 mil. worth…in 1980!).

But they almost all work beautifully.

For instance, the¬†Jaws¬†spoof with the Baby Ruth in the swimming pool ūüôā

I mean, God…what a concept!

And even little touches…like Ted Knight hacking through the bathroom door with a golf club instead of an axe (√† la¬†The Shining).

The Shining, incidentally, was released about two months before Caddyshack.

[Jaws hailed from 1975 and Jaws 2 had dropped in 1978.]

It’s hard to say to what extent Bill Murray and Chevy Chase improvised in this film.

The same goes for Rodney Dangerfield.

These were/are comedic geniuses.

So no doubt a good bit of credit for the final product goes to these three gentlemen.

But Harold Ramis pulled it all together.

And so, dear friends, if you haven’t seen this film, then you absolutely must.

It’s not¬†Gone With the Wind, but it’s a very significant milestone in the development of cinema.

-PD

Sixteen Candles [1984)

If you don’t believe John Hughes was a genius, see this film.

Seriously.

Because I didn’t believe.

Though Hughes made one of my favorite 1980s comedies (Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I didn’t really get it.

It being the John Hughes phenomenon.

While the cool kids had it figured out long ago, I was too contrarian to listen.

Now I get it.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is truly a special film, but Sixteen Candles is transcendent art.

Don’t laugh.

What would André Bazin make of this film?  Or Gilles Deleuze?  Or Christian Metz?

Who cares???

Well, I care…

But what’s important is what YOU make of it.

And in this case, what I make of it.

But let’s get one thing straight: ¬†Molly Ringwald invented the archetype which Thora Birch and Kat Dennings would later appropriate in doubtless homage.

Which is to say, Molly Ringwald is otherworldly as an actress in this film.

It’s no wonder Jean-Luc Godard cast her in his wonderful, underrated, masterful version of¬†King Lear (1987).

Quentin Tarantino famously claimed (√† la Bob Dylan’s conflated biography circa-1962) that he was in¬†King Lear, but Molly Ringwald was ACTUALLY in it.

But enough about QT and nix on the digressions.

So no, I am no Henri Langlois to claim that¬†Sixteen Candles should be in MoMA’s permanent collection, but there is good reason to compare this film favorably to Howard Hawks’¬†Only Angels Have Wings¬†of 1939.

But none of this shit really matters.

What matters is the part in Gedde Watanabe’s hair at the dinner table.

And even more so (big time)–> is the indescribable Anthony Michael Hall.

AT&T gets it.  Which means the seemingly wonderful Milana Vayntrub ostensibly gets it.

But I’m not sure the understanding flows both ways.

Because America has changed.

We are much closer to the year 1984 (as opposed to Orwell’s¬†1984) here in late-2016 than to any other period of American experience.

Yeah, Michael Schoeffling could only come from the Reagan era.

But he’s a great guy. ¬†And a fine actor.

And Sixteen Candles teaches us a lot of stuff.

John Hughes, as a film philosopher, is precocious in his grasp of American society in the 1980s.

The outcast wins.

But the conservative wins too.

Really, everybody wins.

That’s what value-creation will do.

But let’s back to A.M. Hall. ¬†This bloke…

What a performance!

And the real chemistry in this film is between Ringwald and Hall.

In the auto body shop.

And so what do we get?

Romance.  Misery.  And tons of fucking jokes.

We must congratulate John Hughes as much for his writing as his direction.

The previous year he had written¬†National Lampoon’s Vacation¬†starring Chevy Chase.

Years later he’d write a stellar reboot for the series in¬†Christmas Vacation (also starring Chase).

You want more movies Hughes wrote but didn’t direct? ¬†How about¬†Home Alone? [check] Or¬†Pretty in Pink (starring Ringwald)? ¬†[check]

But let’s get another thing straight: ¬†this was John Hughes’ fucking DIRECTORIAL DEBUT!!!

But none of this shit matters.

What matters is Molly Ringwald crying in the hallway.

What matters is Molly practicing her potential lines before reentering the dance.

Molly talking on the phone with the Squeeze poster on the wall.

Molly freaking out and taking flight over fight.

And immediate regret.

What films do this?

Perhaps in 1955 we would have looked at Rebel Without a Cause in a similar way.

And rightly so.

Sixteen Candles is its progeny of uncertain admixture.

Looking through the yearbook.

And seeing the one.

The one who burns in your heart.

In America, this is realism (couched in slapstick and screwball).

Molly Ringwald is the loser who wins.

And Anthony Michael Hall is the hopeless dweeb who also wins…by sheer force of will.

There are genuine moments of panic in this film (as soft as they might be) regarding missed communication.  Telephone calls.  House calls.

And it adds just the right touch of anxiety to keep this film catalyzed and moving along.

But what makes all this believable?  The supporting cast.

John and Joan Cusack (especially Joan, whose life make’s Ringwald’s look like a bed of roses). ¬†And John’s future MIT roommate (it would seem) Darren Harris.

But there’s one of the crew which deserves a little extra credit…and that is music supervisor Jimmy Iovine.

The tunes are right.  The attention to detail is solid.

Sound and image merge (as Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller had impressed upon Godard that they should) into sonimage (a word Godard would use for his production company Sonimage).

Even the cassette spitting unspooling tape onto the pizza turntable is perfect.

The cassette?  Fear of Music by Talking Heads.

Yes, Brian Eno.

And yes, “Young Americans” as they leave the driveway on the way to the wedding before the famous “au-to-mo-bile” scene.

David Bowie.

Even The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra doing Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor…briefly. [which lets our minds drift to Chaplin’s¬†The Great Dictator]

Everything is right sonically.

The band instruments on the school bus.

The Dragnet quotes.

The gongs for Long Duk Dong.

“Lenny” by SRV in the car. ¬†Half a car.

It’s so very sweet. ¬†And¬†sotto voce. ¬†And real.

It’s a mix. ¬†It doesn’t intrude. ¬†You gotta unlock the passenger door to your heart to let this film in.

And a little Billy Idol as Anthony Michael Hall negotiates a Rolls Royce and a prom queen.

So rest in peace, John Hughes.  And thank you for this film.

Et je vous salue, Molly!  Merci for the film.

And thank you Anthony Michael Hall for capturing my youth and bottling it up.

Thank you Molly for capturing the one I loved and bottling up all the quirky, quixotic things which I cannot see anymore.

It is the immortality principle of film.

John, Molly, and Anthony…three geniuses of film.

I am profoundly grateful.

-PD

Spies Like Us [1985)

Hulu lost me.

Hello Netflix.

Hulu is like an inept intelligence agency.

They had the goods.

The Criterion Collection.

But as that oeuvre was surreptitiously phased out, Hulu was unable to offer any value whatsoever to the thinking person.

And so perhaps it is ironic that my Netflix relationship (no chilling here) starts with a spy spoof of sorts, but make no mistake (as the woeful Barack Obama is wont to say):  this is a very intelligent film.

It was a childhood favorite of mine.

Perhaps I was a strange child.

[no doubt]

But we all want to be James Bond to a certain extent, right?

Details disappear.

Even Putin had his cinema heroes.

Consider the film¬†–©–ł—ā –ł –ľ–Ķ—á from 1968.

iMDB seems to fill in where Wikipedia fails.

Because these details tell so much.

To know one’s opponent.

But Vladimir Putin is not our opponent.

As long as our election stands.

Perhaps the answer is Stanislav Lyubshin.

Or was it Oleg Yankovsky?

The real answer is comedy.

Even spies need a laugh.

Spies are humans too.

Spy lives matter.

And so we get the provenance of the Pentagon basement meme.

A favorite of mine.

And this film.

Integral to who I am.

I had a cousin who worked in the Pentagon.

I don’t think she worked in the basement ūüôā

But God rest her soul.

She is no longer with us.

And she was the most kind lady perhaps I ever knew.

She served her country.

I believe she did something in the health care field for veterans.

But yes…I identify extensively with Austin Millbarge.

In my own way.

Dan Aykroyd is stellar here as Mr. Millbarge.

And then there’s Emmett Fitz-Hume.

Chevy Chase is at his best in this film as Mr. Fitz-Hume.

Frank Oz is classic in his role as a test monitor.

Yes, Yoda and Miss Piggy were the same person.

How’s that for a mind fuck?

For young know-nothings like myself, this was a likely first exposure to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

And it speaks volumes that the DIA “recently” fielded its own band of covert operatives (in direct competition with the CIA).

There is, it seems, a palpable mistrust between the CIA and the U.S. military.

Different cultures.  Actually, a class difference.

[Not to get all Marx here…]

But it’s real.

I can’t define the parameters other than those intuitive, nebulous sentiments just expressed.

It is (very) interesting to note that Dan Aykroyd’s wife Donna Dixon, who stars in this film, was born in Alexandria, Virginia…

Hmmm…

NoVA.

We get Pamir Mountains.

We get Tajikistan.

But before that, we get Pakistan…and Budweiser…and Old El Paso tortilla chips.

And the intel cutout Ace Tomato Co.

And while we’re on the subject of failed businesses (Hulu), we should note that we definitely shan’t be¬†accepting Indra Nooyi’s invitation (“Why don’t you gentlemen have a Pepsi?”) any time soon.

No…we’d much prefer to look at B.B. King’s Jheri curl blowing in the Nevada breeze…or watch Bob Hope “play through” on the Road to Bali.

But let us get back to that old enigmatic chestnut of our youth:  the road to Dushanbe.

“It’s…’Soul Finger’…by…The Bar-Kays.”

“They must be having trouble getting gigs.”

God damn…best line ever!

“Doctor.¬† Doctor.¬† Doctor.¬† Doctor.¬† Aaaaand Doctor.¬† Did we miss anyone?”

So many lines in this film which hit just the right mark.

Rarely do I write about screenwriters (it’s the auteur theorist in me), but Dan Aykroyd and his cowriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo (!) Mandel deserve major credit for the quality of Spies Like Us.

And yet, the direction of John Landis is fabulous as well!

Landis is no slouch.

I’ve previously written about the timelessness of Trading Places.

And I am sticking with that assessment.

But let’s take a break here…

Is there anything more lovely than seeing Vanessa Angel emerge from that tent?

Well, at least we get the cultural edification of some Lithuanian dancing to a boombox blasting Stax/Volt goodness around a Stolichnaya campfire ūüôā

Back to the essential stand-down aspect of the false flag/stand down.

And for this we will always be indebted to Dr. Steve Pieczenik (and to a far lesser extent Roberta Wohlstetter).

We again refer to the FBI’s 1989 raid of Rocky Flats and the heavily-armed DoE agents guarding that facility.

Perhaps some U.S. Army Rangers are in Michael Chertoff’s not-too-distant future (to name but one grand conspirator).

“Ohh…I’m sorry Paul Wolfowitz!¬† The correct answer is ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’!!!”

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 24 [1976)

Good God…I made it to the end!

Of Season 1…

Why?

Why do we have this completist urge?

I could proffer myself as a communications historian.

A sociologist.

The anthropology of television.

But really the truth is that I needed something to watch…to take my mind off things.

And so it’s been a good ride.¬† Season 1 in the bag.

And it ends on a high note.

Kris Kristofferson.

I had seen him in a dismal picture called Chelsea Walls.

Good God…Ethan Hawke really bungled that offering.

And so for the longest time I thought Kristofferson was merely a hack “character actor”.

I knew his history.

Brownsville boy…Rhodes Scholar.

I’d even heard some of his music.

Always struck me as third-rate outlaw country.

But this episode of Saturday Night Lives changes my opinion of him forever.

The show starts with a song/skit.

Kristofferson sings “Help Me Make It Through the Night”.

As Chevy Chase fumbles with the ribbon in the hair of his lover, Kris just keeps on singing right through.

I’ve rarely heard a more soulful rendition of a song.

Later, Kristofferson sings “I’ve Got a Life of My Own”.

It is a revelation!

Looking for a way to lose these lonesome blues now that Neil Young quit Spotify?

Well, look no further than ol’ Kris.

The band…(not The Band, but close)…¬† Kris’ band here.¬† So good!!!

“I’ve Got a Life of My Own” is a glory cry.¬† I may not have a great life, but I have a life.

I have a beard and long hair.  Or I have a mustache and a buzz cut.

Life ain’t glamorous down on the Rio Grande border.¬† Nor in San Antonio.

Doug Sahm is dead.

But Kris lives on.

What a great injection of American music here.¬† You think you don’t like country music?

Give this chap a try.  And when I say he was a Rhodes Scholar, I am dead serious.

This, of course, gives him an intellect to pair with his easiness at being on stage (from his performing career).

What I mean to say is that Kris Kristofferson is a better host than just about anybody on the first season of Saturday Night Live.

You need him to be a gynecologist opposite Jane Curtin?  No problem.

Need him to be John Belushi’s foil in “Samurai General Practitioner”?¬† Done!

[That skit, by the way, is the comedic highlight of the show.  Belushi was beginning to approach godlike stature with his samurai character.]

Rita Coolidge is generally stiff on her one solo number (“Hula Hoop”), but having Kristofferson’s band makes the song persuasive.¬† And the closing surprise is indescribably cute (thanks to Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman).

Chevy Chase is great as always as Gerald Ford.

And Dan Aykroyd was starting to come along by this point as Jimmy Carter.

Though Garrett Morris only gets a few spots, he’s awesome as Jesse Owens and Andrew Young.

Don Pardo (the announcer of the show) gets a more “visible” role in this episode by way of the Samuel Beckett spoof “Waiting for Pardo”.¬† It is a masterpiece!¬† [And it makes me wonder whether Kristofferson was allowed to do some writing…perhaps this skit?]

Immanuel Kant, watchmaker.  Spinoza luggage.  All of the Price Is Right interjections by Pardo are for products ostensibly produced by famous philosophers.  Pretty witty stuff!

So there you have it…

I highly recommend this episode!

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 23 [1976)

This is a very smart installment, but also a very strange one.

The host is Louise Lasser.

It is hard to know what this was all about 40 years after the fact.

The crux is the show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman…a parody soap opera which ran for a mere two seasons (1976-1977), yet included an astounding 325 episodes in that timespan.

No wonder Louise was so tired.

The airing schedule for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was five nights a week.

Wow…

In addition, Lasser was the wife of Woody Allen from 1966-1970.

Her contribution to Allen films includes¬†Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *(*But Were Afraid to Ask), and voiceover work on What’s Up, Tiger Lily?¬†

So it’s no surprise that this episode of SNL has an artful (if disjointed) feeling to it.

Particularly funny is the Ingmar Bergman spoof (in Swedish) starring Lasser and Chevy Chase.

But yes:  most of this episode involves the psychodrama of Ms. Lasser.

Actually, I quite enjoyed her film (in place of Gary Weis, as it were) shot in a NY diner.

One thing is apparent:  Lasser has immense talent.

The opening monologue hints at the brilliant cruelty of Andy Kaufman.

It is fairly disorienting in general.

For those needing a reason to live (I’m right there with you), we will be revisiting Lasser as Alex’s ex-wife on Taxi (God willing).

Yes, Lasser has a nice skit with a dog (her dog?) named Maggie.  It is a cute piece making fun of those tense talks between couples at the kitchen table (though this one is rather surreal).

Lasser would later feature in Todd Solondz’ Happiness.

Likewise, Lasser would appear in two episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls (3rd season).

So what else is shakin’ in this tense SNL installment?

Well, Garrett Morris is pretty fantastic as Idi “VD” Amin.

John Belushi has a pitiable-yet-funny piece in which he tries to hawk all of his belongings (particularly his clothes…the shirt off his back).

The ladies (Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner) do a strange Phil Spector-esque tribute to the history of television (the apparatus, not the programming).¬† The doo-wop/girl-group song features lines about Cathode Ray (as if he’s a personage), electron guns, etc.

Laraine Newman also reprises her role as Squeaky Fromme (with excellent help from Jane Curtin).

Finally, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is fantastic on their one number.

It is a bit wistful for me as I once had the pleasure to write horn charts for them.¬† I’m not sure that they actually used them, but I did (anyhow) get to perform with the band at a particularly star-studded New Orleans Jazz Fest some years ago.

Really, this performance from 1976 is not to be missed.  The crazy logic of Dixieland counterpoint is an excellent metaphor for the fugue of emotions running through this particular episode of comedy.  And the stretto might just be the Preservation Hall cats themselves.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 22 [1976)

Elliott Gould improved.

I dished it out pretty severely concerning his first go at hosting this show, but he was much better here.

I suppose part of the lesson was to stay out of the way of The Not Ready For Prime Time Players.

But also, there’s just something unique about the format of this show (especially when it is/was done live).

First things first, however.¬† I forgot to mention a very important part of the preceding episode.¬† Gilda Radner’s turn as Baba Wawa (Barbara Walters) in conversation with Lina¬†Wertm√ľller was high humor indeed.¬† So, yes:¬† a reason to back up one to episode 21.

Pushing ahead…

The highlights here are mostly thanks to John Belushi.

His performance as William Shatner in a Star Trek parody is pretty remarkable (though Chevy Chase as Spock really cracks me up).

Second, the employment of The Bees (a long-running gag on SNL) to populate a parody of The Honeymooners television show is also rather stellar.¬† Belushi takes the part of Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason’s old role) and does quite well.

But the singular aspect of this episode is the skit involving U.S. diplomacy in Ghana.  In particular, it stars Laraine Newman as Shirley Temple (aka Shirley Temple Black [aka U.S. Ambassador {to Ghana} Black]).  She was ambassador from 1974-1976.  The skit pokes fun at the idea that a former child star (Temple) could make a substantive difference in such a conflicted country.

Shirley Temple Black would go on to be the U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989-1992.

What is less-clear is the role which the supporting cast plays in the aforementioned skit.

Acheampong?¬† I don’t know.¬† My ears were not quick enough.

But I know one thing…

Like the Lina Wertm√ľller skit from the previous episode, this was an attempt at far-reaching humor.¬† In retrospect, it is very valuable indeed.¬† I wish I could give a more cogent breakdown on the Ghana feature.

But at least I can tell you that musical guest Leon Redbone (himself also returning to the show for a second time in this Season #1) is excellent as one might expect.¬† He is, incidentally, joined on the tuba (as he was the first appearance) by Jonathan Dorn.¬† The combination is quite nice…just a parlor guitar and that New Orleans low end.

Less convincing is the supplementary musical act (in addition to Redbone’s two songs) Harlan Collins and Joyce Everson.¬† To be fair, Mr. Collins gets off to a bit of a shaky start with some of his acrobatic falsetto jumps.¬† Ms. Everson, on the other hand, is both poised with pristine singing and exquisite beauty.¬† My main complaint is the song.¬† It’s just not very good.¬† It only exacerbates the situation when Howard Shore is wanking on soprano sax for a large chunk of the song (and he is).

On the other hand, the extra musical act means less of Elliott Gould.¬† That’s a good thing (even though he had tweaked his game since attempt #1 [Episode 9]).¬† All in all, not a bad showing.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 19 [1976)

The show was really rolling by this point.

The sets are more elaborate.

The budget seems to have increased.

And the humor is worth it.

The cold opening (I’ve avoided that term for the first 18 episodes) is a killer.

Chevy Chase (of course) as Ronald Reagan…prefiguring the stilted-hip of Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall by a decade and change.

What we learn…Chevy can actually play the organ.¬† Some nice B-3 licks.

But the killer is Garrett Morris’ priceless contribution.

Like a silent film actor, Morris takes each condescending, racist jab from Reagan and grows more and more outraged…in such a believable Miles Davis kind of way (if we ignore the alto sax he’s holding).

What a start to a great episode!

Morris is in another high-art bit of humor later…for the fake donation solicitation Fondue Pots For Namibia.¬† Yes, it sounds like the title of a Zappa song (or perhaps Captain Beefheart), yet it is Saturday night variety show humor from 1976 at its best.¬† Bloody genius!

Some of the more elaborate skits are guest host Madeline Kahn as the “bride of Frankenstein” singing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.¬† Howard Shore and band are great in this skit (especially pianist/vocalist Paul Schaffer…of future Letterman fame).

Another amazing skit involves Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon.  Rounding out this bizarre, vast set piece is John Belushi as Henry Kissinger.

Now for the bad.¬† Carly Simon is godawful in her first prerecorded number “Half a Chance”.¬† I mean, really godawful.

What is apparent over the course of the show is that Madeline Kahn was a much better singer than Carly.

At least Simon somewhat redeems herself on the ubiquitous “You’re So Vain”.¬† It’s obvious Carly had talent.¬† She has a great, soulful voice.¬† Not sure what the problem was on “Half a Chance”.¬† Perhaps it was the cheesy, out-of-tune, canned backing vocals.¬† Also, the song is a clunker.

Alternately, I could listen to the line “…clouds in my coffee” from now till eternity.¬† It has that 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle vibe to it which is truly profound…the transcendental moment of spotting a microcosm in the mundane.

As The Mighty Favog said, “Talk to me…”

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 17 [1976)

Why do we review films?  Why do we feel the need to write about that which is expressed as sound and vision?

And why, after experiencing the sublime, do we still get enjoyment out of the mundane?

Why, as in a society with classes or castes, do we persist in dividing art into high and low?

The former we call high art, whereas the latter is pop art (if even that).

We are often unforgiving.

After immersion in Godard (an ongoing activity for me), we somehow still need comedy.

Comedy lets us relax.

If we spend all day thinking, we want to have an occasional laugh.

And so today we are able to re-approach a show like Saturday Night Live by starting from the very beginning.

As an aspiring film critic, I seek to bring the same respect and passion to writing about television as I bring to writing about film.

I will be honest:  I am not a big fan of TV.

Somehow television has often brought out the worst in humanity.

It’s a rather sickening feeling to let the constant stream of disposable culture wash over oneself.

And so I don’t subject myself to such.

The important point to make is that this decision doesn’t make me any better than anyone else.

It’s just simply a choice I make.

Now, how can one possibly come down from such a marbled column to discuss SNL?

Well, fortunately this particular episode breaks the fourth wall in a very unique way.

The host of this night’s show was press secretary to the president of the US (I refuse to capitalize that repugnant position) Ron Nessen.

This was the Ford administration.

Now.¬† If you want to see a UNIQUE name, check out Nessen’s predecessor Jerald terHorst [sic].¬† What a mind-trip!

But back to that fourth wall…

Yes, the other Gerald (the big one…G-man) delivers Chevy’s line here.¬† “Live from New York…”

This was an exceptionally bold move by a White House which had been lambasted mercilessly by SNL since the show’s inception.¬† Particularly, Gerald Ford showed a strange side of himself by consenting to be taped for a couple of one-liners.

Strangest of all, however, is Nessen (as himself) interacting with Chevy Chase (as President Ford) in the Oval Office.¬† It was the obvious skit to do.¬† Aside from the rehashing of the “Dead String Quartet” to start the show, the first real piece was this one.

While some bits in this episode fall flat (“Press Secretaries Throughout History” comes to mind), in all this is a very solid episode.

Perhaps Patti Smith’s presence as musical guest had something to do with the fuck-off tone encountered here and there.

Let’s face it:¬† SNL (though still called merely Saturday Night) had become such a force that the White House was forced to respond.

And their course of action?

If we can’t be ’em, join ’em.¬† It’s the old Bugs Bunny phrase I heard a million times as a kid growing up.

What’s not good about this episode?¬† Billy Crystal (still Bill Crystal at the time).

It’s almost good.¬† It’s almost great (Crystal’s routine).¬† But ultimately, it sucks.

Contrast this with the performance of The Patti Smith Group.

“Gloria” is powerful, but it’s a strange rip-off cover.¬† It’s a rewrite.¬† Almost a d√©tournement worthy of Guy Debord and the Situationists.

“Gloria” works.¬† The guitars are blaring loud.¬† Patti Smith is a true persona here.¬† Magical.¬† Visceral.¬† Pissed-off.

But “My Generation” works less well.¬† And while it is juvenile and lazy, it still has the genuine energy which would inspire groups like Sonic Youth.

The Patti Smith Group is exciting on both tunes because it feels like they could fail at any moment.¬† “Excursion on a Wobbly Rail” as Cecil Taylor put it.

Yeah.¬† That was the name of Lou Reed’s radio show when Lou was a student at Syracuse.

No.  Bill Crystal was no Andy Kaufman.  Bill Crystal was just doing blackface here.  Is it Satchmo?  Miles?  An amalgamation named Pops?

Importantly, it is evident that Crystal has talent.¬† A lot of talent.¬† It’s just that he’s not channeling it very well here.¬† The blackface sans burnt cork doesn’t really become him.¬† It’s lazy.¬† Like Patti Smith Group’s “My Generation”.¬† Crystal isn’t risking much.

Today, Crystal’s routine would probably be called racist.¬† Yeah…¬† It’s a little odd.

But Patti Smith comes out on top.¬† “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”¬† Wow…

On national TV.  Long before Sinéad ripped up a picture of the Pope.

SNL was dangerous.

But it was also a gas.

Super Bass-o-Matic ’76.

Yeah, Dan Aykroyd took a step forward with this particular show.

Who even remembers Tom Snyder?

It’s of a different generation.¬† Not my generation.

We dig back in the past.

And this show (SNL) is not complete without the REAL commercials.

I wanna see the Marlboro Man, ads for Scotch, plugs for cars that Ralph Nader found out impaled people upon impact.¬† The good old days…

The FAKE commercials need the REAL commercials for the whole thing to work.

I’m thinking back to my youth.¬† When Crystal Pepsi was lampooned as Crystal Gravy.

And so it’s a shame that corporate America couldn’t get together and celebrate their grossly dated marketing of the 1970s by being a part of these reruns. Same criticism falls upon NBC.¬† Why don’t you give us a REAL glimpse of what watching this show in ’76 must have been like?

Some brands don’t even exist anymore.¬† Who holds the copyrights to commercials for defunct products?¬† That’s a lot of work just to give people a more realistic stroll down memory lane.

So it is instructive.

What you see on television today (the whole experience…especially the commercials) will be very quickly (QUICKLY) forgotten tomorrow.¬† The mundane pieces will fade first.¬† No one bothered to document them.¬† Too pervasive.

And then the few gems somehow get lost in the digital landfill.

Gary Weis was way ahead of me with his short film set in a dump.  Sanitation workers.  Garbage men.

Don’t mind me.¬† I’m just sifting through the detritus.

 

-PD