Bill Murray is excellent.
Aykroyd is awesome.
It stands up.
Bill Murray is excellent.
Aykroyd is awesome.
It stands up.
This one just barely makes the cut as “’80s comedy”.
Narrowly avoids “Big Bush”.
But certainly “Notre Musique”.
The Blues Brothers is one of my childhood favorites.
And I was craving this film.
I tried to locate it on DVD (to no avail).
And so tonight I broke down and splurged on iTunes’ exorbitant à-la-carte business model.
I was willing to pay the premium.
Because I’m sick.
No way around it.
But let me update you as to my progress.
Weeks ago (a month?) I cut my sleeping medicine in half (the dosage).
It was hard.
I was disoriented.
But largely just slow as fuck.
I felt like I had a crayon lodged in my brain 🙂
Yes, my body and brain had gotten used to a certain dosage over the past 2 years.
Eventually I returned to some normalcy.
I got used to the new dose.
Half-as-much as previous.
It was time.
My graduate studies had long been over.
And my wonderful psychologist (whom I am so lucky to have) challenged me to break my addictions.
Understand, I didn’t conceive of my dependencies upon prescription drugs as “addictions”.
But I think it is helpful that my paradigm has shifted.
Yes, I was addicted to a sleeping medicine.
Because I took it every fucking night.
And eventually it called to me…to take it earlier than bedtime.
A few short weeks ago (two?) I made a psychologist-approved adjustment to the dosage of another of my medicines.
This one is for anxiety.
I reduced my dependence from three pills to two.
This was an achievement.
And a tribulation.
VERY FUCKING DIFFICULT.
Again I had that same confusion.
That same disoriented stupor.
Strangely, this detox was a little different.
The whiplash effect (“rebound anxiety”) hit me a full two weeks later.
There was a delayed effect.
The first days were headaches and stuff.
I thought I had it beat.
Rough, but possible.
So when the delayed effect hit, it really sucked.
But I got through it.
I trudged on.
I got back on the horse.
And now these past few days have brought a return to the sleeping medicine.
But not, you understand, a regression.
Rather, a full stop.
It’s been three days.
And now I am totally off my sleeping meds.
The first night was really rough.
Inability GOING to sleep.
But I stuck it out.
Each night has gotten better.
But the DAYS…
Aches, pains, headaches, stomach…trips to the restroom.
And that same disorientation.
It is a really strange feeling.
But it is an accomplishment.
And so tonight I made it through a movie.
I didn’t have the brain-power to review a film with subtitles.
No art films this time around.
But The Blues Brothers was just what I needed.
This really is a masterpiece of sorts.
John Landis turned in an excellent effort here.
The costars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were magnificent.
And the cameos just keep on coming 🙂
I’ve had the blues.
Not depression, so much, but another kind of blues (lately).
Like climbing up a hill.
When I get to the top (and get used to a new, lower dosage of medicines), my feet are pulled from under me again (as I start on a new challenge).
I am learning (slowly) to deal with my anxiety in natural ways (rather than with drugs).
Suffice it to say that this is VERY FUCKING HARD (for me).
In some respects, I am already back to an engagement with the world which I haven’t had in seven years.
Indeed, I have rolled my medicines back (under psychological supervision) to a level I last “mastered” seven years ago.
That is SOME FUCKING ACCOMPLISHMENT! 🙂
Just a few short months ago (this dog-day summer), I was in the pits of debilitating anxiety.
My cousin died of a heart attack on July 5th.
That sent me into a tailspin.
Not too long afterwards, I myself was on heart medicine.
My dear cousin perished at age 43.
It scared the fucking shit out of me.
So here we are 🙂
I hope to start a new job soon. (Yay!)
I am scared to death.
Scared I can’t handle it.
But I WANT to do it.
I WANT to handle it.
I WANT the challenge.
I had a great job interview the other day.
First time any company had bothered to listen to me in forever.
AND I WAS OFFERED A JOB! 🙂
I am just waiting on my background check to be completed.
As I have no criminal record (and no credit…neither good nor bad), I don’t see how a fair company could preclude my employment.
But life offers no promises.
I speak my mind.
A bit too freely, perhaps.
And I am not anonymous.
Sometimes I wish I were.
But I am flying out in the fucking wind.
I am not a secret.
My pen name is strictly that.
I am not hiding behind it.
It was my stage name.
I earned it.
I toured the world as Pauly Deathwish.
And so it seemed only natural that my film critic persona take the baton from my musician self.
I have been making it again.
Playing open mics.
Trying to get my drug-addled brain to MEMORIZE songs.
Was never my strong suit.
But I’ve gotten (more or less) a couple of tunes under my belt.
And being a middle-aged geezer, I don’t feel too bad showing up with a music stand and some extra lyrics for songs which I haven’t quite set to memory yet.
Music is what’s at issue here.
The Blues Brothers.
A beautiful film.
I have lived this film.
I have fucking lived these roads.
I’ve played just about every possible analogous shithole to Bob’s Country Bunker.
I have been in the disgruntled band 🙂
As close to chicken wire as imaginable…
Which drags me back to topic.
This is a really fucking good film.
And I am cursing like a sailor.
For my conservative, proper readers, I do apologize.
It is a defect in my personality.
I feel it necessary that I curse.
Otherwise, I don’t feel I am getting my point across.
Because what I am expressing is a very pithy matter.
The grunge and grit of life.
Every word is in lieu of weeping.
Experiences so pungent as to suck all fight out of a person.
That is what I have lived.
And it is that to which I bear witness.
I am not thinking real clearly, but I am thinking (and writing) a lot clearer than I was a month ago.
I am on the good drugs now 🙂
I have been fighting through multiple addictions.
Things which I didn’t see as addictions.
And life is coming back into focus.
And THAT IS TERRIFYING…
But also EXHILARATING!!!
But mostly terrifying 🙂
So here we are.
On a mission from God.
Walking with the Lord.
I ask, here, that God grant me mercy.
I’m just as fucked up as anyone.
But I ask for the grace of Jesus.
And I ask for strength to do the right things.
To help people.
To not be afraid.
I am living through the spiritual battle.
May God protect me.
I have seen the light.
And I weep. Jesus wept.
I’ve been through so much shit.
And I feel like maybe I am finally emerging from the “dead mall” of limbo.
Like Jake and Elwood crashing out of the JCPenney in 1980 🙂
I want to exist in that flophouse minute.
Buttered toast on a coat-hanger over a hotplate.
And a 78 rpm Decca blues record spins and the elevated lines churn by endlessly.
I want to live in that moment.
Brings us back to the Danish concept of hygge [coziness].
John Landis nails it in the scene where Jake is drinking Night Train wine and Elwood is making toast.
Very close to what Roberto Benigni would do 17 years later in the Schopenhauer scene of La vita è bella.
Those scenes from films…
Those scenes in which we want to live.
They never get old.
They never cease to comfort.
That somewhere in this fucked-up world is a little closet we can call home.
Barely big enough to open the door.
Just a bed.
But it’s our little space.
Carrie Fisher tries all manner of destruction in this film 🙂
Even a flame thrower!
But Jake and Elwood keep getting up.
Just some rubble.
Just keep dusting off those black suits.
“Maybe CIA”, says Aretha Franklin (like the key to Dylan’s Tarantula).
Keep climbing from ‘neath those bricks.
Gotta make it seem real.
Maybe use real bricks.
Better to be the first man up.
Let’s get this in one take.
Hit on the head too many times with a brick…
Because there are private pressings on vinyl of American acts that went no further than their local Holiday Inn.
It is almost a fabled purgatory.
Very Charlottesville with the car and the cartoonish Nazis.
But I just wanna hear me some more John Lee Hooker.
I got the blues.
Days of Delta slide…feathery as an aeolian harp.
And nights of thin, wild mercury.
Just like in the movies…
Get a record contract backstage.
You could wait your whole life.
Carrie Fisher goes full-automatic.
And most of this film takes place in the hellhole of Chicago (but nearly 40 years ago).
Hey…I’m not much for car chases, but this film does something real special with the device.
That’s where they have that Picasso, right?
And perhaps it will be notable that Spielberg is the Cook County Tax Assessor clerk?
We shall see.
Hulu lost me.
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.
But we all want to be James Bond to a certain extent, right?
Even Putin had his cinema heroes.
Consider the film Щит и меч 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 🙂
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…
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 🙂
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’!!!”
At one point in my life I could honestly say that everything I knew about business I had learned from the movie Trading Places.
This film came on TV all the time when I was a kid.
And it never failed to pull me in.
But back to business…it’s that one scene:
coffee, wheat, pork bellies, gold, and (of course) orange juice.
Ok, so I mixed up the order a little bit.
But that’s the “breakfast” of commodities which sits before Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as he is given a crash course in commodities trading by the Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer).
It always made a big impression on me…pork bellies.
And now as I descend from the halfway point of my MBA studies this film carries a richer meaning for me.
The gorilla comes with a bill of lading.
That’s not the type of stuff you catch as a six-year-old.
And I must admit that this film is all the funnier when the expletives are put back in.
And the nudity.
Yes, it was usually the sanitized version we saw on TV.
But maybe sometimes…on a special channel…the real version.
At any rate, this is truly an American classic.
Not least because it was produced by a true American hero like Aaron Russo.
Why do I call him a hero?
Because he stood up for something worth standing up for.
It’s no wonder.
Watching this film.
The agog camera views of the World Trade Center.
But let’s stick to the teaching tool at hand.
Trading Places was just that: a beautiful teaching tool.
In some ways, therefore, it is aiming at the same thing as Le Gai Savoir.
The particular argument at issue is the famous “nature vs. nurture” debate.
Perhaps my attempt to connect John Landis’ wonderful film to Godard is a bit of a reach, but there is real, American beauty at work here.
Consider, for instance, the opening montage of Philadelphia streets set to W.A. Mozart’s overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro.
Notice, if you will, the African-Americans playing basketball with a plastic milk crate attached to a piece of plywood…on a telephone pole.
There are some loving politics at work here.
What we have is a film about unity. Dan Aykroyd. Eddie Murphy. Black and white.
There was a positivity to many American comedies of the 1980s.
I remember hearing “feel-good” used as a descriptor for movies (particularly summertime offerings) more than I care to remember.
But they were “feel-good”.
Trading Places, however, is more than just a feel-good film.
It is a film with a conscience.
That’s what makes it timeless.
I’d like to imagine that Aaron Russo’s conscience was already ticking…ticking.
It wasn’t until later that he made truly political films.
I don’t want to attempt a more profound framing than this thing deserves [too late].
Suffice it to say that Trading Places is as applicable today as it was in 1983.
We may no longer bandy-about the word “yuppies”, but we still have Wall Street.
Perhaps the trading pits and quote boards look hopelessly antiquated now.
But so much transfers.
Exeter. Harvard. Winthorpe.
And, of course, kindness transfers. Jamie Lee Curtis.
So there you have it.
Trading Places is acerbic criticism on race in America. Racism. Opportunity.
Eddie Murphy will have you laughing your ass off.
This is truly an indispensable bit of 80s comedy…and so much more.
Good God…I made it to the end!
Of Season 1…
Why do we have this completist urge?
I could proffer myself as a communications historian.
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.
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!
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…”
When you set the time machine to 1976, it’s a pleasant buzz to come face to…face with Raquel Welch.
What…rather, who could sum up that time quite like her?
Her feathered hair. Her overly-tanned (golden?) skin. Her bellbottom jeans.
There’s something fizzy about the experience.
A starlet now faded. A human sequin.
I previously wrote about Welch’s 1967 film Fathom.
Aside from base titillation, it’s a pretty lame affair.
But here on Saturday Night Live she gets to show a bit more of her talent.
Not much more. A bit more.
For instance, Raquel sings on this episode.
The monologue-substitute with John Belushi as Joe Cocker is pretty fantastic.
It’s a comedy piece.
Later, Welch actually does share the rarefied air which Marilyn Monroe breathed when she sang “Happy Birthday” for JFK.
I’m speaking of Raquel’s rendition of the Gershwin tune “It Ain’t Necessarily So”. Few microphone techniques can be said to carry such sexual import as Welch’s on this number.
And the subject matter…for God’s sake!
It ain’t Sportin’ Life from Porgy and Bess.
It’s Raquel singing, “The things that you’re liable/to hear in the Bible”…[what a rhyme!]…”It ain’t necessarily so.”
So. You get the picture.
Welch is steamy as a Manhattan manhole cover in winter.
One particularly great sequence involves Welch as Jane Russell on the set of The Outlaw (1943). Dan Aykroyd plays Howard Hughes. It is pretty priceless!
Aykroyd is also great in the sequence about applying the metric system to the English alphabet (the Decabet).
What’s bad about this great blast from the past?
I really don’t want to hate on this lady, but it’s a combination of snoozerville and overly-precious musicianship masquerading as talent.
Snow has that horribly indiscreet application of wide vibrato which always irks the bejesus out of me.
And the songs…for christsake! “Two-Fisted Love”?!? Are you fuckin’ kidding me? How does an MOR artist do a song like “Two-Fisted Love” with a straight face.
And so Phoebe Snow is godawful here. It bears mentioning because (for some [un]mysterious reason) she was back on the show for a second time [here] in season one.
But let’s dish some more. John Sebastian also sucks on this episode. Trying to cash in on his Welcome Back, Kotter theme song.
Likewise, somebody in charge of sound for this episode adds to the lameness of Sebastian’s performance. Or, from another perspective, the only good thing about John Sebastian’s performance here is his microphone feeding back during his aborted intro.
Ok, there. I’ve let them both have it. Snow and Sebastian.
What else is good about this episode?
Let’s end on a high note.
Lorne Michaels’ solicitation of The Beatles (for a whopping $3000) is goddamned brilliant.
Ok. So there you have it. Oh…and Belushi as the high-strung meteorologist during Weekend Update is damned good as well.
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 détournement 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.
I started writing about TV ostensibly as reportage on this medium relative to cinema.
With this particular episode of Saturday Night Live, the two converge in a unique way.
The host is Anthony Perkins.
Cinephiles will probably know him as Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s indispensable Psycho (1960).
Really, this is a remarkable installment of SNL.
Perkins actually delivers a sort of anti-monologue.
In another unnamed scene, he acts as a psychologist who relies on the power of show tunes (specifically “Hello, Dolly!”) to cure a hopeless case (Jane Curtin).
Perkins is magnificent throughout this odd marriage of the disposable and the timeless.
But we must also mention Chevy Chase.
By this time, Chase was becoming the star of the show.
I almost feel bad for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (not to mention all the other talented players), but Chase lived up to the opportunity.
What is apparent in this particular show is that Chevy Chase was/is as talented an actor as Anthony Perkins.
I know that statement reeks of provocateuring, but I believe it to be true in several ways.
Namely, Chase was able to keep a straight face during some hilarious bits. Put another way, it’s hard to be serious while evoking laughter.
We see Perkins have more trouble with it. It’s not easy. And so Chevy Chase has probably been unjustly maligned as a mediocre actor when the opposite is true.
Witness, for instance, the opening sequence of this March 13th airing. It is highly-intelligent humor. I could see Samuel Beckett getting a kick out of it.
And so the writers would get credit. Yes, it is a brilliant concept. The show had been toying with more-and-more self-referential humor. Not to give too much away, but the first skit is the equivalent of writing music ABOUT MUSIC!
I’ve done it. Truly, it takes a damaged soul to end up at such a twisted place.
And so thank God for Saturday Night Live…these outcasts and miscreants who gave the world a laugh starting in 1975.
They were always surprising. That’s the key. Even with the trademark “fall” at the beginning of the show. Something in each episode is astounding. Cutting-edge. Leading-edge. Bleeding-edge.
This show is no different. What a masterstroke to pair Anthony Perkins with Betty Carter.
At first, I was thinking Betty Davis. I mean, come on: this was 1976!
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Betty Carter is magical here (particularly on her first number).
I’ve never been into jazz vocalists. I know the big names. Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan.
They never did anything for me.
I hate to admit that.
I can listen to instrumental jazz all day. It is divine!
Indeed, the only jazz vocalist who mattered to me was Billie Holiday. Particularly her last album Lady in Satin.
But Betty Carter is something different.
It’s real. Bebop VOCALS. Not a bunch of showoff scat singing.
Betty Carter sang like a horn player.
When she locked down on a note she held it…like it was keyed in her blood.
What breath control!
It’s real stuff.
If you want to hear a little bit of New York in the 70s, here’s a bit of jazz to do any place proud.
Carter was from Flint, Michigan, but she sounds right at home broadcasting from the biggest stage in the world.
There’s TV, and then there’s SNL.
Starring Jill Clayburgh!!! Who???
Yeah, kinda like the Jimmy Hoffa Memorial (?) High School.
This is one of those episodes which reminds me that I know a lot more about music than I do about anything else.
Leon Redbone I knew. Had a record of his as a kid. The one with “Sheik of Araby” on it.
But back to Jill Clayburgh.
Twice nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. Ok, see…this brings up my claim to be a film critic.
It’s kinda, “Fake it till you make it.” I know I’m not a realll film critic, but I take pride in what I do. I’m an amateur. It’s a passion. I’m always seeking to learn.
Well, here’s a great opportunity.
The two films for which she got an Oscar nod? An Unmarried Woman (this goes back to the play on words I was discussing in an earlier piece…the French word for woman [femme] being the same as the French word for wife [femme]…hence the wordplay of Godard’s Une Femme est une femme [not to mention Une Femme mariée]) and Starting Over.
Please excuse the momentous interpolation.
That is, An Unmarried Woman and Starting Over. Those career highlights were ahead of Ms. Clayburgh when she hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976.
The auteurs in question were, respectively, Paul Mazursky and Alan J. Pakula (the latter having a surname which is, perhaps, the only conceivable rhyme with Dracula [not counting Blacula]).
Ok, so…apparently this is going to take a lot of parentheses and brackets.
For all of you conspiracy theorists (I usually fall into that category), Clayburgh starred in a 1970 Broadway musical about the Rothschilds (!) called, appropriately, The Rothschilds. The libretto was by Sherman Yellen. No easibly-identified relation to Janet.
The end of 1976 would see her in Silver Streak with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.
One further C.V. note: Clayburgh won (in a tie with Isabelle Huppert) Best Actress at Cannes for An Unmarried Woman.
Ok, so that’s who she is. A charming lady. I had no idea who she was. I’m an idiot 🙂
Sadly, Ms. Clayburgh passed away in 2010 after a 20-year battle with leukemia.
Well, she was pretty great in this episode! And I must say…SNL once again reached a new height in intelligent writing with this installment.
One really senses that the writers were toying with the censors. It was dangerous. It’s impressively counterculture.
One of the funniest skits is Clayburgh as guidance counselor Jill Carson (a fictional personage). She is the overly-optimistic crusader for social justice. It is quite a complex, multi-staged piece. John Belushi plays a delinquent whom Carson (Clayburgh) is attempting to rescue from “squalor”.
The opening sequence of the show, however, really sets the tone for what’s to follow. Chevy Chase shows up in Lorne Michaels’ office insistent that the pratfalls and “newsman” stuff should be retired. Chase’s subsequent weave through the studio audience is really priceless. The comedy is just so damned smart!
Speaking of which, we finally get my hero Andy Kaufman back. [On the hero worship scale he’s nowhere approaching Jean-Luc Godard (for me), but he’s definitely the comedic actor who (along with Peter Sellers) most got into my head.]
Well, Kaufman here does another lip-sync piece with immaculately-memorized dialogue. The song is “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and the special part is Andy in a cowboy hat directing the traffic of four audience participants. It is a sweet piece, and yet it still shows off Andy’s genius as resplendent and unique.
Leon Redbone is really fantastic in his two songs…particularly the first (“Ain’t Misbehavin'”) where he conjures the “me and the radio” loneliness at the heart of a usually-raucous song.
One of the weirdest sequences is a visit by The Idlers (a singing group of the United States Coast Guard Academy). The show’s producer (Michaels) and writers take the opportunity to remind the viewing audience that dolphins are definitely smarter than The Warren Commission. No doubt!
It’s a strange, bold sequence. Chase’s Weekend Update is similarly racy (particularly the bit about the Mattel anatomically-correct male dolls…in white and black…the former $6 and the latter $26.95 or something). Good god…
Most necessary was the political prodding. Michaels begins the show with a photo of Nixon on his desk. By Weekend Update, it is the People’s Republic of China which is pardoning Nixon for Watergate (and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, of course).
But I must admit my ignorance once again. I had no idea Gary Weis’ (sp?) film featured William Wegman (!)… The dog should have given it away. Duh!
Well, anyway…thanks to Wikipedia for a generally informative blurb about this episode (though I have expanded upon that information quite a bit).
The running series Great Moments In Herstory punctuate this episode at various intervals. Particularly risqué is the Sigmund Freud (Dan Aykroyd) and daughter Anna (Laraine Newman) dream interpretation featuring a titillating banana. A later episode highlights Indira Gandhi and father Jawaharlal Nehru. It is a bit of a clunker…
Walter Williams’ famous Mr. Bill debuted on this episode as part of the solicited home movies from viewers. Williams and Mr. Bill would become a significant part of the show in the coming years.
Once again, this episode is not to be missed. It was an essential step for a show on the rise.