Monday, September 13, 2010

"I was classed as a madman, a charlatan..."

My choices in film viewings before I contemplate these writings seems to be having a questionable effect on the direction the article takes.  A few weeks back, an attempted innocent entry on my bohemian bachelor lodgings went all Cockney Charlie Bronson thanks to having watched Michael Caine in Harry Brown just before.  So this week, we've just finished the new David Lynch produced Werner Herzog film, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.  Oh boy.  It's kind of happening again.  Though I'm trying my best not to be as cranky as I was post-Harry Brown, my planned attempt to continue my Virgo-themed series for the month of September has been somewhat fumed by the filmic experience.  This is a fairly recent occurrence.  As this is my 43rd entry, I have watched many other films previous to writing with no outward effect.  Perry Mason episodes seem to be the most innocuous.  But Volume 2 of the 5th season isn't out yet, so we have been forced to pick and choose from the weekly offerings of new dvd releases.  This has caused these latest permutations.

So now instead of waxing nostalgic, commenting on the music and arts, dazzling you with the wit and wisdom of things gone by, I am trying to detox from the 91 minutes spent beforehand.  And I feel a rant coming on.  I will try to keep it soft and fuzzy.  David Lynch and Werner Herzog.  That's a collaboration that's got to be interesting, right?  If there were ever two directors whose names spoke mental health, these are it.  I used to be a really big supporter of Herzog in the '70s.  I mean, Klaus Kinski and the music of Popol Vuh.  Aguirre.  A fan from day one.  Played all the soundtracks on Space Pirate Radio.  Had them all.  German and French vinyl.  His stuff was right up my alley.  Being German helped.  David Lynch however, was not my favourite.  I was not in awe of Eraserhead like everyone else was.  This is probably because I preferred my mental illness from Europe.  Disturbing images by Americans was too close to home.  I mean, I was working for these type of people.  Fellini, Roeg, Russell, Antonioni and Bunuel interested me because they were not like the bosses I worked for.  And even my favourite American directors tended to be the ones who went to London or Europe, like Lester and Kubrick.  So what does this mean?  I prefer my madness European-style.

This attempt at a world view, coming from a US born person, was more often than not, met with confusion or hostility. I mean, it took forever to explain the concept of Space Pirate Radio: foreign, experimental music being heard in the US of A.  "But they're singing in I-talian.  I can't understand what they are saying."  "But this is good," I would reply.  "You can make up your own translation.  They may be singing about crab lice and washtubs, but it sounds like pure poetry."  A well known disc jockey on air once asked me what the band Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) meant in English.  I said it meant "good sex on the radio."  Premiata, meaning prime, Forneria meaning fornication, and Marconi, the inventor of the wireless.  I just made it up.  I didn't know until later that it actually meant the number one bakery in the city of Marconi  I was mattoCapiche?  Playing the leetle joke.  Oh Eddie, kiss me goodnight.

Okay, so I succeeded in getting Space Pirate Radio on the air and I succeeded in producing several of my plays, but trying to do film was something else.  In 1979 I did a 20 minute short film called Crackers At Eight.  It was a shortened version of themes from my 1973 play, Nothing Is Sacred.   A lot of short sketches dealing with a day in television where the afternoon matinee movie, a sci-fi film called Crabs, ends up being the real thing by the evening news.  This was where I wanted (at the time) to take the direction of comedy. It was for myself, a progressive evolution of all the comedy, music and art that had influenced me up to that time: Mad magazine, Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Ernie Kovacs, the Goon Show, the Beatles, and Firesign Theatre.  It was far from perfect.  But it was for me, fresh and fast.  At at the time, very new.  The finished project caught the attention of the vice president of comedy development at 20th Century Fox.  She loved it.  Thought it was perfect for the studio.  She just wanted to fly it past her boss, the president of comedy development.  A meeting is set up, I drive down to the Fox Studios, have my reserved parking permit, armed with my quarter inch tape of the show.  Entering the plush offices of El Presidente de Comedia, being seated in comfy chairs, we watch my humble effort.  VP lady starts to laugh and smile as first jokes become visual.  But then she notes El Jefe is not sharing in on the fun.  She begins to cover her mouth and acts like a new internal discomfort is beginning.  The signs become visible.  The sounds and flurry of images are having no effect on her boss.  Her enthusiasm has disappeared.  End of showing.  El Jefe says to me, "this is not the direction comedy is going in.  We here at 20th Century Fox know that real comedy has to be story based, which is why MASH is our most successful television series.  This sketch style humor will never catch on."  I believe I told him he was quite wrong.  And I was amazed that the president of comedy development was not aware of something called Saturday Night Live or Monty Python's Flying Circus.  A true visionary.  Thank god he saved the world from my comic masterplan.  Perhaps we can also thank him for delivering the solid, story driven comedies that Fox would later be known for.  The list is endless.  Which one is your favourite, kids?  Date Movie, Epic Movie or Meet The Spartans?