The Traditional Back-to-School Crapfest

“Yeah, we’re goin’ to a Crapfest, la la la…”

I’ve been reading through my old stuff lately, and I discovered this actually is something of a tradition. Every year about this time, some of the people in the Show I do each weekend decide they need to have a life or something (Civilians! Bah!). I could mourn the loss of income for that weekend, or I could try to assemble a Crapfest on that Saturday. Thankfully, the response was good, and we gathered for the biggest convocation of self-flagellation since the Black Plague.

The good thing about a Saturday Crapfest is we don’t have that artificial curfew that comes with workaday Monday mornings, and we can get in more movies over a longer period. The bad thing about a Saturday Crapfest is we don’t have that artificial curfew that comes with workaday Monday mornings, and we can get in more movies over a longer period,

Dog_6It was Paul’s birthday, so I proclaimed that it being such, Paul should get to watch a Dogville short. These make Paul happy, but other Crapfest attendees don’t like them, because they have hateful, shriveled souls. Paul chose “The Big Dog House”, so off we went. (Dave even admitted he was interested in this one, as he was likely hoping for a Sid Haig dog to crop up and then possibly a Pam Grier dog so that oh my God I just creeped myself right the hell out)

In this epic, dogs drive cars, work in department stores, light cigarettes, commit cold blooded murder and frame other dogs for the crime, so they get sent to the hot seat in their stead. They break rocks and have prison riots. They even have machine guns to quell those riots. They also make deathbed confessions in the nick of time, so there can be a hairsbreadth rescue! Why do you monsters hate Dogville so?

Happy Birthday, Paul!

imagesThere was still some time needed to prep the dinner fixins, so I dropped Paul’s other birthday present: the 1967 NBC special, Movin’ With Nancy, starring Nancy Sinatra at the exact stage that would elicit throaty growls from her Crapfest audience.

There is no plot here, no comedy sketches, just Nancy in music video after music video, in a time before music videos. Obeying Rat Pack Law, Dean Martin sings a couple of songs and Sammy Davis Jr. comes in for a quickly-shot dance number that ends with an interracial kiss a full year before Star Trek‘s. Daddy eventually shows up and sings, and the Chairman of the Board is still in great voice, baby, lit cigarette in hand. This DVD was released in 2000, which means I’ve been sitting on it for 15 years.

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Whenever I break this out, I always find myself wondering what the hell happened to Lee Hazlewood. He wrote this song and several others on the special, not to mention Nancy’s big hit, Boots. (There was disappointment that Boots wasn’t in the special, but Nancy, in the commentary track,  said she had wanted to focus on her other songs. And break our hearts in 2015, also) Hazlewood decided to retire from the music biz in the 70s, came back in the 90s, and passed away just 8 years ago. Man, I loved his voice.

The 5.1 remix on the music is superb, and we really enjoyed ourselves. We even liked the commercials, which were included. Royal Crown Cola had bought the whole hour, and they were going to use it.

Yes, I am old enough to have seen this when it was first broadcast. Yes, I drank a lot of RC Cola, and that is all Nancy’s fault. Come on, it was the Mad, Mad, Mad Mad Cola.

“And now,” I said ominously, “Fun time’s over.”

I guess it depends on how you define fun, as we started with my entry for the evening, Roar. Which may not have been fun, but it was certainly not dull.

16830076469_b256969628_oRoar is currently making the rounds of the Alamo Drafthouse, who were at the forefront of resurrecting this cinematic freakshow. It is also possible to buy it on DVD from their website. But whichever method you take, you should make sure you see it with an audience. An audience that is not afraid to bellow “Holy shit!” and “What the actual fuck?!?!” at the events unspooling before them.

Do yourself a favor and after you finish reading this, go Google Roar 1981. You are going to find a lot of interesting reading. In the meantime, let’s see if I can boil this down: this is a passion project for Tippi Hedren and her then-husband, Noel Marshall. It comes from the best intentions – they were both animal activists, and had founded a preserve in Southern California (it’s still in operation, but right now I can’t get their website to work). The movie was shot there, though it supposedly takes place in Africa.

“Bad kitty! BAD KITTY!!! You love me TOO MUCH!”

Noel plays an insane man who lives with a bunch of lions, tigers, and other big cats. I think he’s supposed to be a zoologist or game warden, but you honestly lose track of such things while you’re watching a lion gnaw on his obviously bleeding hand while he tells his terrified friend that it’s just demonstrating its love for him. If this is not sufficient proof of his insanity, he regularly breaks up lion fights by throwing his body between them. It’s like somebody decided Grizzly Man didn’t go far enough and went back in time to solve that problem.


Some game officials or something motorboat up to his compound to complain that he’s exceeding the number of big cats for his deed restrictions, or – hell, for all I know they’re a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were still drowning out the soundtrack with our screams of dismay. (A particular favorite was yelling “Cut!” whenever someone disappeared under a ball of fur and claws, because the director sure as hell wasn’t interested in doing it) While Noel is in the house bandaging his bleeding hand, some of the cats get frisky and start gnawing on the Witnesses’ heads, causing more screams from us.

The plot, such as it is, is that Noel’s family (and that really is his family, including Tippi and Melanie Griffith. It’s not like he could have convinced anyone else to be in this demented deathtrap) is coming to join him in this toothy paradise, but they got the arrival time wrong, meaning they hitch a ride to the compound while Dad is coming to get them, two ships passing in the night, as it were. And they come to a house full of animals wondering why these new arrivals are acting like prey, running around, screaming, hiding, that sort of thing.

I think the lion was a fan of The Haunting.

Perhaps the lion was a fan of the original The Haunting.

You see, this is supposed to be a family movie, and this section is supposed to be funny. This is like filming a slapstick comedy on a set made of razor wire and broken glass. The cats are rambunctious because there’s a rogue lion named Togar messing with them, so they’re acting out. In real life, the family knew some of these cats, but not all, and everybody wound up getting stitches at one point or another in its ten-year process. Melanie Griffith had to have facial reconstruction surgery. Jan de Bont, then merely a cameraman, had 120 stitches when a curious lion tore the scalp off the back of his head with one swipe.

Two of the vengeful Witnesses come back to shoot the lions, and supposedly manage to bag a few until Togar has enough of their shit and puts a massive hurt on them. I try not to think about how badly those guys were actually hurt. I’m sure at least some of that blood was fake, at least. Maybe. Hopefully. Anyway, it’s a pretty unnecessary addition to the movie, except that they needed to get some “Hunting is evil!” action in there. Animal activists, remember?

The family manages to survive their night of terror, and it turns out all everybody needed was a good night’s sleep! Even Togar is okay now that he’s had a Snickers and a hunter’s face! Yay, big cats! Yay, we no longer need cringe in terror for these poor fools getting mauled for a questionable idea of entertainment! Yay!

Happy Birthday, Paul!

So after this we were really through being nice, this time we meant it. Dave was being mysterious, as usual, as he put on something called Hell Squad. Judging from the Tweets I was getting back, I am the only person in the world who had never heard of Hell Squad. Well, and all the other people in the room with me. There is no information on this thing, anywhere.

Hell_Squad-960366835-largeThe first thing you have to realize is there is something called an Ultra Neutron Bomb.  Ay-rabs kidnap the son of an ambassador (after a chase scene that sets new levels for unexcitement) in order to force the ambassador to give them the formula for the Ultra Neutron Bomb!!! Should he call the cops? The Army? The CIA? No, his assistant has a better idea.

And hops on the next flight to Las Vegas.

There he meets with Jan (Bainbridge Scott), a showgirl who likes to beat the crap out of mashers. She calls a meeting of her bored showgirl troupe and they all board a bus to the desert, where a guy in a drill sergeant hat tells them, “We have ten days to turn you from Las Vegas showgirls to trained commandos.”

002e5f43_mediumThere is magic in that statement. Magic that will go largely unfulfilled, but welcome to the world of crap movies. After a training montage (while the ambassador’s son molders in the dungeon for ten days – these are remarkably patient terrorists) Hell Squad is ready to go, journeying to Fake-istan under the guise of a traveling troupe of showgirls.

Okay, that’s Act One. In Act Two, Hell Squad will check into their luxury hotel suite, discover a large bathtub, and because “I read there’s a water shortage,” will take group baths. There isn’t a bubble bath shortage, though. It seems only Bainbridge Scott got the extra nudity money. Their mysterious contact always calls with instructions right after Bainbridge gets in the tub. (I suspected Paul of being the contact.)

hqdefaultThe contact sends them on mission after mission in which they easily kill lots of Ay-rabs (why are we spending trillions on bombers when all we need is Las Vegas showgirls with ten day’s training?), and then return for a group bath. Literally: lather, rinse, repeat. Phone call, boobies. They commandeer a tank and drive it fifty feet. Mission accomplished! Bath time!

They finally run out of money for extras so two of the missions are just driving around in the desert. First at night, then during the day. I don’t think they got to take a bath between those two, because we were too busy bitching about the one-note-off-from-the-actual-A-Team-theme-song music that accompanied each. And every. Outing.

All of this doesn’t turn up the Ambassador’s son, and their extraction plane is going to leave with or without them. Luckily, they are captured by a Sheikh (Marvin Miller in his last screen appearance), who, in keeping with the evening’s festivities, gets chewed on by a tiger until he reveals where the son is being held. So it’s time to go take a bath.

CUE THAT A-TEAM MUSIC as the girls drive to a lake and swim thirty feet to the opposite shore where a castle from somebody’s aquarium awaits (thus rendering the bikinis they’re wearing totally justified). They rescue the son, kill some more guys (“Tee hee! Murder is fun!”), and somehow blow up the castle with a trail of gasoline. Lit by an ordinary book of matches that somehow stayed dry in her bathing suit (see below). Then they have to make it home to reveal there’s a mole in the organization.

Who’s the mole? I need to leave you something to find out for yourself. (PROTIP: it ain’t worth the effort) (However, it totally should have been the Boom Mike Operator. That boom mike appears in so many scenes it probably had to get a SAG card.)

Dave presented this in apology for the May Fest’s Galaxy Destroyer, which had neither galaxies or destruction or entertainment. Hell Squad was entertaining, give it that. Dave also provided the one piece of trivia related on the IMDb: Donald F. Glut wrote the script, but held off giving the director the final third until he was paid. So the director, Kenneth Hartford, came up with his own third act, and Glut never got paid anyway. Which explains the lack of dramatic tension and logic and stuff.

Did you know Kenneth Hartford directed three other movies?


Erik spotted a great line in the end credits, “Special thanks to the PLO members who played themselves as terrorists.”  Uh….

Well spotted, dude.

And that, alas, is the last time I will be able to say anything nice about Erik.

Because he brought the next movie.

And without even a “You remember when we said we were through being nice? This time we absolutely mean it, hand to God.”

And we put in Roller Boogie.


“It’s love on wheels” she said. “You’ve got to watch it” she said.

It was a year ago that, in a similar Crapfest, we partook of and enjoyed Skatetown USA. It was bizarre and madcap, and while most of the humor was, um, not that funny, if you didn’t like what was going on at any point, you could be sure it would switch to something else in a minute or so.

Roller Boogie does not do this.

Linda Blair is Terry Barkley, a rich kid we are told is a musical genius and about to go to Julliard. But since she is rich, she does not possess the Life Force, and must seek it among the poors of the local Roller Disco. Luckily, Jim Bray, winner of 275 roller skating trophies, is there to provide such for her.

Oh, but it’s not just a love story, you know. Some gangster types (led by Mark Goddard, who Dave pointed out is still pissed off about not getting to kill Dr. Smith) want to take over the Roller Disco, causing the owner to shut it down the night before the all-important Roller Boogie Competition, rather than endanger the kids. Thanks to roller skater “Phones” (Stoney Jackson), there is an accidental tape recording of the gangsters threatening the owner, and somehow the gangsters find out about it. I’m not really sure how, because I was being amused by Paul’s soul-rattling sighs from the back of the room, frequently punctuated by painful groans.

Roller-Boogie-2The closest analog I can come up with is when we finally decided to watch Can’t Stop the Music, and discovered that, rather than a non-stop parade of fabulousness, what we had was a fairly tepid update of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on a show at the old barn. Roller Boogie is much the same thing, an old story dressed up in garish new clothes, hoping against hope that this new craze would last long enough for the movie to get out the door. It’s entertaining enough, it’s just not particularly interesting. Especially not after the madness of Skatetown USA, and it’s probably a very good thing that we put a year between those two movies, or Paul’s sighs might have been louder.

There are some good things about the movie. Uhhhhh… like the club’s DJ wasn’t Jeff Altman, as we had feared. The ending is sort of refreshingly downbeat, since Terry quits the Roller Life to go to Julliard, enjoy your 276th trophy, Jim Bray. And really, no one can deny that a certain Earth Wind & Fire song was very welcome.

Erik claimed the disc had been lent to him by someone named “Anita”, and that “Anita” was checking on our progress throughout the night via text. I’m not even sure there really was an “Anita”, that this wasn’t some sort of clever subterfuge. You see, Crapfest isn’t a democracy; you can’t even say it’s a benevolent dictatorship. We run it like a gulag, really, and somehow “Anita”, as Rick aptly put it, “acting as an external agent… managed to completely circumvent all council protocols and infiltrate the agenda with a highly weaponized Roller Disco device, leaving in its wake incomprehensible catatonic agony.”

This “Anita”, if she indeed exists, is highly dangerous. We should alert Matt Helm, Derek Flint, and see if that Bond dude is doing anything at the moment.

I could really go for a

I could really go for a “Bike Cop” movie, though.

As it stands, Erik was banned from suggesting movies for a year. This punishment has only been doled out once before, to Rick for the whole Garbage Pail Kids thing. Which happened after he got out of parole for Evilspeak, come to think of it. In any case, we shall mention Roller Boogie no more. If we must mention it, it shall be known instead as “Erik’s Shame“.

Which is complete bullshit because the next thing we put on was Supersoul Brother, a selection from both Rick and myself. I have written about this earlier, so I’ll be brief here: Rudy Ray Moore wannabe Wildman Steve (we are informed it is pronounced Wi-i-i-i-ldman Steve) is a wino who is cleaned up and injected with a formula that will give him super strength, so he can steal a cardboard safe. Trouble is, the formula will kill him in seven days. Hilarity ensues.

supersoul6bigNo, it doesn’t, this is a terrible, terrible movie, made for one one-thousandth, if not one-millionth, the budget of Erik’s Shame, and at least as entertaining, if not more. It is also almost a half-hour shorter. Just enough enough time to realize that no, that wasn’t surround sound, that was Paul’s moans and sighs echoing every one of the put-upon Wi-i-i-i-ldman Steve’s.


At this point, it was midnight. Paul, feeling his birthday was over, took his leave. Happy birthday, Paul, thanks for spending it with us. Your judgement is questionable.

But we were not finished.

“No, children, it isn’t over yet.”

Hell Squad had not been Dave’s first choice for the evening. And now that we were heading into what we knew was going to be the last movie of the fest, he revived that choice. And although I had seen the American dub again around a year ago, I had never seen the original, Danish version of Reptilicus.

This version had no subtitles, causing Dave to run into his computer room while we provided Ingmar Bergmanesque translations of our own. The plucky oil prospectors at the beginning were plenty concerned about the silence of God in an uncaring universe, you bet you.

Dave returned with some fan subtitles and we got down to business. If you didn’t know, Denmark’s only daikaiju movie discovers the frozen tail of a previously unknown dinosaur while drilling for oil. Like an earthworm, the accidentally thawed tail starts growing a whole new dinosaur, which escapes and proceeds to spread puppet terror across the countryside.

Cgav0UyThere’s a bunch of stuff that got cut from this for the American dub, and it’s mainly character-driven romance stuff, but there are two really infamous cuts: the first concerns the Odious Comic Relief janitor, played by Dirch Passer, who was a incredibly successful Danish comedian. AIP, for some reason, felt the need to cut a song he sings with some children about Reptilicus:

The other concerns the monster’s bat wings, which in the American dub are never referenced. Not so in the Danish version. I tweeted, “You’ll believe a puppet can fly.”

You won’t, really. I was just being nice.

So all this was excised, most in the cause of getting to the monster scenes sooner. Counterintuitively, this resulted in the travelogue segment in the American version leading up to “Tivoli Nights” to make up for lost time, and the addition of the monster’s acid spit.

Also missing from the Danish cut, which makes me sad.

Also missing from the Danish cut, which makes me sad.

“Tivoli Nights” does bring up something else. The fan subtitles did a wonderful job of translating the Reptilicus Song, even making it rhyme in English, but had little patience with “Tivoli Nights”, interjecting pleas that someone shoot the translator to stop the pain. Then, when Reptilicus makes his first appearance, his roar is translated as “Rar! I’m a monsta!” which made me so happy.

It still ends the same, though.

At 2am, we wearily went back out into The World, satisfied that there was nothing out there that could possibly hurt us as much as what we had just done to ourselves. Five movies! Five movies and a TV special. Five movies, a TV special, and Dogville.

Can’t wait to do it again.

Comin’ On Like A… MEGA POST!

100June 16, 2015

So if you watch TV at all, you might be aware that, as I write this, Tropical Storm Bill has made landfall somewhere south of me in Texas, an event that the local media has been trumpeting as if it were the vengeful return of Hurricane Ike, attended by flesh-eating zombies, who were themselves on fire. Grocery stores were emptied out, schools were closed, and I couldn’t go to work. Couldn’t even work on this blog, because my Verizon DSL craps out when it rains. Even the infinitesimal amount of precipitation I’ve gotten so far.

Well, this is what word processors are for, yes? Eventually my Internet has to come back. Eventually my teenage son has to stop barging into my office, demanding I reset “the router” “just in case that might help.” I’ve stopped correcting him that the router and the modem are separate creatures. I just grumble and do it.

In the course of all this madness, as I fall farther and farther behind in everything else, I might as well say, hey, I watched some movies.

THE-INNOCENTS-1961For instance, I watched The Innocents for the first time in, ooooh, maybe 50 years? I didn’t like it back then, but, you know, I was just a kid and all that. I bring entirely new sensibilities to the table. Surely now I will experience it as the classic it truly is!

Nope. I’m going to have to admit that most ghost stories simply do not do it for me, no matter how well made they are, and make no mistake – The Innocents is a well-made movie. Deborah Kerr, as a first-time governess who finds herself in a battle for her charges’ souls against the ghosts of two former servants, felt this was her best role. That’s quite possible. As a child I did not care for the downbeat ending. As an adult I appreciate that Kerr and director Jack Clayton leave the possibility open that this ghost business may all be in the governess’ troubled mind.

Or, if you're Amurrican, you saw this movie.

Or, if you’re Amurrican, you saw this movie.

Well, on then to stuff I appreciated more. Last week we lost a bunch of cool people, the biggest splash belonging to Sir Christopher Lee. I’ve said many times I found him to be an actor of limited range, but he had more presence and gravitas than ten normal actors, and when you put him in the right role, damn but he was unstoppable. One of those right roles was the Duc de Richelieu in The Devil Rides Out, Hammer’s movie version of the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name (the credits remind us it is a “classic novel”).

Richelieu, along with his two-fisted pal Rex (Leon Green) are determined to free the son of their deceased comrade, Simon (Patrick Mower) from the insidious control of Mocata (Charles Gray at his villainous best), a Satanist of incredible power. Fortunately for the good guys, de Richelieu is himself knowledgeable in the ways of magic, and is  able to protect his friends – if just barely – from the black magic onslaught that comes. The story meanders a bit, but there’s hypnotism, spirit mediums, giant spiders, the Angel of Death and Satan Himself (a guy with a goat’s head. It’s 1968, after all, and for that, it’s not bad).

There’s a fair amount of action and derring-do – I seem to remember the novel having a lot more, but then, I read it uhhhh forty-something years ago. A lot of movies about Satanism are pretty dull, but this is not one of them. It really needs a quality video release in the U.S., but I say that about most Hammer movies.


70s, you have so much to answer for.

Then I went to Rick’s for our monthly watching of movies. We had our three movies all picked out, and our pattern of late was two acknowledged classics and one lamentable piece of crap, usually sandwiched between the two classics as a palette cleanser. This time we decided to forego the “shit sandwich” model and start with the non-classic: in this case, the recently-revived Supersoul Brother, which goes by an *ahem* much vulgar title in actuality.

This is the star vehicle for Wildman Steve, a minor league Rudy Ray Moore (who was himself in Petey Wheatstraw as a character named Steve), who plays a wino -named Steve – picked by two thugs to be the guinea pig for a super-strength potion they’ve bankrolled to the tune of six thousand dollars (geddit? Geddit?). The plan is for Steve to carry out a safe from a jewelry store, then the hoods will plug him and make off with the diamonds. They figure this will be a mercy because, unknown to Steve, the formula will kill him in six days. Well, the formula also makes him bulletproof, so he makes off with the diamonds and tries to find an antidote.

supersoul6bigNow that is almost the plot to a decent movie. Unfortunately, this is a Wildman Steve movie, which means it’s a Dolemite movie without the budget, wit or charm.

I’m going let that statement sink in on you for a while. As Rick so very succinctly put it, “This movie makes you re-calibrate your opinion of the Dolemite movies.”

I managed one intentional laugh during the movie. There is also one point during which we said, “You know, this was an okay movie until these white women showed up,” so there are degrees of bad. Predictably, although a derelict wino, Steve has no problem getting women into bed. The mad scientist, Doctor Dippy (Peter Conrad) has a girlfriend played by the magically named Wild Savage, who seemingly took acting lessons from Dolores Fuller, but again, without the budget, wit or charm of an Ed Wood movie.

vlcsnap-2015-04-15-19h33m18s228This was directed by Miami filmmaker Rene Martinez, Jr., whose other big claim to fame is The Guy From Harlem, which, dammit, I own, so someday I have to watch it. At one point we spotted a triple-beam scale in Dr. Dippy’s office and Rick said, “That’s how they measured out the payroll every week.”

Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD is mainly clear and deceptively beautiful, but it has enough missing frames and streaking to really bring home the seedy grindhouse experience. I can’t recommend it, but I also cannot wait to force it on my friends.

Well, I see Everything is Terrible has edited it down to two minutes. Be aware this only gives you the smallest inkling of it’s… uh… quality:

So to soothe our bruised sensibilities, we slipped in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

The_Great_Dictator-335887708-largeChaplin’s first all-sound movie still has stretches of silent comedy (or scenes that would play as well silently), but suffers from some tonal problems. It’s the tale of a Jewish barber who spends years in a hospital, suffering amnesia from injuries in a World War I-style war between the countries of Tomania and Bacteria. Thus he misses the rise of dictator Adenoid Hynkel, his Double Cross party, and his anti-Jewish agenda. Both men are played by Chaplin.

Chaplin’s Hitler manque is justly famous – he spent hours watching footage of Hitler and knows exactly how to puncture the dictator, right down to his adjutants, rechristened Herring (Billy Gilbert) and Garbitsch (Henry Daniell). The Hynkel scenes are so exacting, so precise, that the parallel storyline with the barber seem scattered and happenstance – the Barber isn’t even given a name – until the two switch places, more by accident than anything.

Charlie-Chaplin-in-The-Gr-004It was, in fact, a matter of some curiosity to me that nobody notices the two men are identical. In retrospect, that is absolutely the right way to approach it; as one of the Juden, the Barber is considered by the stormtroopers to be subhuman, and therefore no notice is given to him as a person; it isn’t until the Barber escapes from a concentration camp and is found in a stolen uniform that it is assumed he is Hynkel, just as Der Fooey, taking a pre-invasion vacation in an Alpine costume, is mistaken for a common man.

This is all leading up to the Barber giving a speech when everyone assumes he is Hynkel, to celebrate his conquering of another fictional country; the speech is, instead, one advocating peace and brotherhood, and you have no doubt had it posted to your various timelines more than once, captioned as “The Greatest Speech Ever Made” (and here it is with some Hans Zimmer music, for  extra chills):

Please note that this speech is also one of the pieces of evidence given for branding Chaplin a Communist. Why? Because fuck the world, that’s why.

As I said, I don’t feel the two storylines mesh ideally, but who cares when the two resulting movies are this good? Chaplin was very nervous about his first talkie, so much so that the movie pretty much ruined his relationship with Paulette Goddard, radiant as always as the Barber’s girlfriend, Hannah. He needed not have worried so much, even if in later years he had misgivings about taking a relatively lighthearted approach when the true horrors of Nazi Germany began to come to light. But The Great Dictator had such value as a propaganda tool in the early days of World War II, it cannot be discarded as misguided. Hell, it’s even recorded that Hitler himself had a copy smuggled in so he could watch it. Apparently he did so twice.

mononcle-posterSo, excellent movie, even though I could not, in all conscience, give it the full five stars. Unlike the movie which ended our evening, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.

Several years back, when I decided that I wasn’t getting any younger and needed to start experiencing a higher quality of film, this is precisely the sort of movie I suspected I was missing out on. I don’t even know how to begin to talk about it, as the examination of even one of the many wonderful bits of imagery that run throughout the movie leads to the temptation to talk about all of them.

But let’s try. In the introduction to Tati’s Monsieur Hulot character, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, one of the many plot threads concerned a young boy, whose businessman father was too occupied with important phone calls to pay attention to his son (much less enjoy his own vacation), who began to emulate Hulot. In Mon Oncle, Tati makes that connection a familial one.

Mononcle houseGerard (Alain Becourt) is the son of the Arpels; Mr. Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola) is the manager of a successful plastic hose company; Mrs. Arpel (Adrienne Servantie) busies herself with caring for their ultra-modern and extremely ugly house. Hulot (Tati, as always) is Madame Arpel’s brother, living in a strange apartment building requiring an almost Escher-like path to get to his room, at the very top. Hulot lives in a older, rundown suburb that might as well be the rustic village in Jour de Fête; the heartbeat of life there is much slower and more erratic than in the contained and regimented world of the Arpels.

hqdefaultThus, Gerard looks forward to his outings with his uncle – they promise and provide more adventure and actual living than in his nightmare Tex Avery Home of the Future (at one point the Arpels quite literally become prisoners of their own technology). The Arpels, of course, keep trying to cram Hulot into the pegboard of their lives – Arpel gets him a job in the plastics factory (which goes about as well as you’d expect), while his sister attempts to set him up with their next-door neighbor, a bizarre scarecrow given to wearing Andean rugs as a cape.

Mon_Oncle_Hulot_Arpel-Large1Tati isn’t really against the modernity of the Arpel’s house, he’s more against the fact that it’s a house to be shown, not a house to be lived in – there is not a single comfortable chair in the joint, they are all plastic monstrosities that theoretically double as pieces of art. Even then, Tati is never truly vicious in his portrayal of the nouveau riche couple. Even when the father, tired of his son’s admiration for Hulot, packs him off to the provinces – a rather downbeat ending, in my estimation – Tati manages to wring a bit of sweetness from the proceedings, a reconciliation between father and son that shows the father may not have been totally despising his brother-in-law all this time.

Wow, we just hit 2000 words on this, but I managed to be kind of brief about Mon Oncle, so let’s try to get one more movie in here, continuing the comedy vein with Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night.

smiles-of-a-summer-night-movie-poster-1955-1020235556This was the movie that made Bergman’s bones, make no mistake. He was terribly depressed, and his producer telling him if his next picture didn’t make some money, they wouldn’t be letting him make any more probably didn’t help. Then they entered Smiles into Cannes without telling him, it was a major hit, and suddenly they had to let him make his dream project, The Seventh Seal, which cemented the whole “genius” thing for him. Smiles also inspired Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, but that’s not as much fun as imagining he based Sweeney Todd on Bloodthirsty Butchers.

Smiles is one of those mannered comedies about relationships concerning six couples, most of whom are entangled with the wrong people, and the conniving actress who gathers them all at a country estate so that everybody can get with the right person. Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrad is Egermann, a middle-aged lawyer married to a 20 year old girl, who is still a virgin (also, his depressive adult son, the same age as the bride, is in love with her). The conniving actress is Egermann’s former mistress, who may have had his illegitimate son (which is a surprise to Egermann). She is currently the mistress of Count Carl Magnus Malcolm, a martinet who would allow his own wife to have affairs, if that just didn’t make him so jealous.

smileshaAnd just to add a little spice to the proceedings, there’s the child bride’s saucy maid, played by Harriet Andersson (who blew me away so completely in Through a Glass Darkly), who is herself looking for love. Bergman had apparently been having a love affair with Andersson prior to this movie, but it was over by this point – another reason for his profound depression during shooting.

It’s a complex plot, but Bergman keeps a bunch of balls in the air and brings it all to a satisfying conclusion. The main thrust of the story is that men are are a bunch of idiots and women can make them do anything they want, and I’d argue with that if I could. I was confused through the opening half of Smiles, because Egermann’s relation with his second wife – who he finally admits loves him more like a father than a mate – bears more than a slight resemblance to the life of Moliere, the French playwright who lends much inspiration to this script.

charlottefredrik360Moliere was similarly married to a much younger woman, even more unhappily than Egermann. Back when I was an actor, I played Moliere in a repertory project that alternated Mikail Bulgakov’s biographical The Cabal of Hypocrites with The Imaginary Invalid. In preparation, I read Bulgakov’s excellent biography of Moliere, along with the playwright’s works, and the most revelatory experience was reading The School for Wives, which is about… an older man married to a much younger woman. The final scene is basically a duel of romantic pronouncements between Moliere’s character and his wife’s younger lover. Contemporary reviews of the play mention Moliere’s hilarious puncturing of overwrought romantic plays and their actors in that scene, but knowing the man’s life, you are struck by how easily it could be played as bleakest tragedy, without changing a single word.

There’s quite a bit of that vibe in the opening act of Smiles of a Summer Night. By the third act, I was pretty certain it was a comedy, though, largely thanks to Andersson’s maid and her earthy major domo boyfriend, played by another repertory company member , Åke Fridell. And if nothing else, I liked it a whole lot more than the similarly-themed Rules of the Game.

It’s now June 22, and I have written 2725 words. Good God, I have work to do. Here, take this.