Monday, July 22, 2013

This Saturday At Foothill College - The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival

Another late summer has rolled around, so that means it's time for the ceremonial July-August KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival. Huh? The customary what?

The word "Psychotronix" is a variation on Michael Weldon's Psychotronic History Of Cinema, the encyclopedia of all varieties of under-the-radar B-films: monster movies, horror films, science fiction, cheap comedies, rock 'n' roll flicks, etc.

The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival presents a unique and hallucinatory excursion through the irritated bowels of popular culture.

That delirious mix includes trailers from truly wretched movies, well-meaning 50's educational films, schlocky drive-in movies with guys in stupid-looking robot and gorilla suits, vintage TV commercials and theatre ads, cartoon rarities, Japanese monster epics, Scopitones, Soundies and other even more deservedly obscure musical shorts, silent film clips, kidvid, serial chapters, puppet animation, double-entendre packed pre-Code bits and more.

Robert Emmett, host of "The Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show", presides over the festivities with panache, bon mots and a boatload of cheesy door prizes.

The festival is a reaction against all standard rules of film programming. Instead of devoting a screening to one director, one genre or one series, our celluloid concoctions throw a wide variety of films from different places, genres, techniques or time periods together.

As far as content goes, the more obscure, the lower the budget, the more under-the-radar, the better. If we can establish a subject link or a Monty Python-esque visual or verbal link between the segments, great, but this is not absolutely necessary. Or to make a further Monty Python reference, this could be called the "And Now For Something Completely Different" approach to film programming.

The shows are essentially improvised, with archivist-producers Bob Ekman, Scott Moon and Paul F. Etcheverry creating the program on the fly, responding to audience reaction and choosing films accordingly.

We consider the evening a smashing success when the audience starts heckling the entertainment before the projection lamp goes on.

The next KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival will occur on Saturday, July 27, from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM, in room 5015 on the Foothill College campus in the lovely Los Altos Hills, El Monte exit off of Highway 280.

While 7:00 p.m. is showtime, get be there early, as the hall frequently sells out. The $5 admission benefits the fearless KFJC 89.7. Attendees will also need $3 for a parking permit.

Graphic by Judy Zillen

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Opening Tonight: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival opens tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the incomparable Castro Theatre. The festival opener will be Prix de Beauté, the last of the three G.W. Pabst epics starring screen diva Louise Brooks.

Pabst, enduringly popular for his despair-drenched Weimar Republic melodramas (most starring the aforementioned Ms. Brooks), will also be represented by his stark forerunner of Rosselini-style neorealism The Joyless Street, starring Greta Garbo and Asta Nielson.

Highlights include a tribute to animation genius Winsor McCay, the wry Russian comedy The House On Trubnaya Square, the ever-swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. in Allan Dwan's 1916 box office hit The Half-Breed, a Kings Of Silent Comedy program which will include Chaplin, Keaton, an Otto Messmer Felix The Cat cartoon and the 1926 Leo McCarey-Charley Chase masterpiece Mighty Like A Moose, a documentary, Legong Dance Of The Virgins, filmed in Bali (in Technicolor) by Henri de la Falaise, the iconic director Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Chorus, and two hilarious comedy features: Marion Davies & Marie Dressler in The Patsy and Harold Lloyd's 1923 classic Safety Last.

Check out the lineup at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Joy Of Dubbing

The July 3 Lone Ranger posting, besides prompting some time well spent with the great comedy albums of Bill Cosby and Lenny Bruce, also recalled Second City Television's outrageous sendup of The Cisco Kid, featuring Martin Short as Poncho.

Many moons before SCTV, Mystery Science Theatre 3K, Cinematic Titanic, Kung Pow - Enter The Fist! and Rifftrax, wiseguy Woody Allen dubbed a Japanese spy thriller and reinvented it as Phil Moskowitz' quest for the perfect egg salad recipe. It's still the last word in this kind of "dubbing" sendup almost 50 years later (and 35 years before Kung Pow). Allen's zinger-drenched dubbing triumph was released theatrically on November 2, 1966.

And then there was Fractured Flickers, a highly creative use of pre-1920 public domain "found footage" by Jay Ward Productions. There was one memorable episode that dubbed a Tarzan flick starring Elmo Lincoln into a scenario that involved the loin-clothed jungle hero going out for pizza. Hans Conried had hilarious bits as Fractured Flickers' very reluctant host, and, as was customary for Jay Ward Productions, the show featured inspired voice acting throughout by the stock company of Bill Scott, June Foray and Paul Frees.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

That Darn Lone Ranger And More Alternative Westerns

The big budget blockbuster silver screen release "with a bullet" today, just in time for the Fourth Of July weekend will be a 2013 variation on The Lone Ranger, this time co-starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.

It appears that the very first film of The Lone Ranger - the earliest and the crudest - was this cartoon produced by Roy Meredith on such a microscopic budget that it featured subtitles - yes, subtitles, five years after all the animation studios had been cranking out "All Singing, All Talking, All Dancing" adventures starring Mickey Mouse, Bosko, Bimbo, Betty Boop, Krazy Kat, Scrappy, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, etc.

From the 1933 into the 1950's, the not-that-dynamic duo were a huge hit, first on radio in an impressive 23 year run, then in cliffhanger serials, comic books, and a 1949-1957 television show (starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels) which led to two spinoff movies, The Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger & The Lost City Of Gold.

The original Lone Ranger series, which premiered in 1933, however, was designed for radio, an entirely different medium from all the others, one in which the listener's imagination filled in the blanks. Frankly, TV's ascot-wearing Masked Man struck Your Blogmeister as more of a fashion statement than a western hero - but Tonto was cool.

Today's posting will be devoted to various Lone Ranger sendups. Some are riotously funny, others. . . just odd. First off, here's one of the greatest standup comedians and storytellers, Bill Cosby, from his 1965 album I Started Out As A Child.

Next, one of Your Blogmeister's many favorite sketches from Second City Television. With the proviso that the jokes here will be totally lost upon young people who never saw or heard of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as to much older individuals who never liked it and simply do not "get" the skewed, multi-layered pop culture parody that was SCTV's stock-in-trade, the concept is as follows: The Lone Ranger (Rick Moranis) hosts a late-night program very much along the lines of The Tonight Show, with Tonto (Joe Flaherty) in the Ed MacMahon boozed-up sidekick role.

Nobody, with the possible exceptions of Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks, could reduce sacred cows to steak tartare quite like satirist-standup philosopher-social commentator Lenny Bruce. Here's animator Jeff Hale's 1968 cartoon based on one of Lenny's signature take-no-prisoners monologues.

Looney Tunes' 2 cents on the subject, made in 1939 as a response to the popular Republic serial starring the macho masked man, is The Lone Stranger & Porky. In the Bob Clampett tradition, it makes you laugh loudly and repeatedly with gloriously bad jokes - some seriously off-color - and then think "geeeees - I laughed at that". PLEASE forgive Mr. Blogmeister for posting a cartoon that, although produced in beautiful black and white, has been given the dreaded computer color treatment (there is, unfortunately, no transfer from an original B&W 35mm or 16mm print on YouTube, Daily Motion, Vimeo, Hulu, etc.).

Not nearly as successful but even more politically incorrect, 1940 style, is this spoof by Hugh Harman.

Harman was an animation pioneer and very creative director who started out in the 1920's (pre-Mickey Mouse) Disney Studio, along with Rudolf Ising and Friz Freleng. Harman was not known for hilariously funny cartoons, but for attempting to blend lavish Disney-style animation with either unfettered Fleischer/Warner Bros. rowdiness (the "three good little monkeys" and raucous "jazz frogs" series), or more serious subject matter (the 1939 antiwar epic Peace On Earth). Although Harman's attempts at a Disney animation + cartoon insanity blend usually did not succeed, there were blazing, grotesquely imaginative, surreal and most un-Disneylike moments in such delirious MGM cartoons as Swing Wedding and Art Gallery

Hugh's masked man sendup, The Lonesome Stranger, doesn't succeed, especially in the laughs department, but at least tries the breaking of the 4th wall technique, notably used in Frank Tashlin's 1937 suspense cartoon The Case Of The Stuttering Pig and Tex Avery's 1939 lampoon of Warners gangster flicks, Thugs With Dirty Mugs - yes, the very same technique that Avery would soon personally bring to MGM cartoons and carry beyond the nth degree. And, funny, the voices throughout (including a "Rochester" horse) sure sound a lot like Mel Blanc. . . and make Your Blogmeister wish so much that the head bandit could have been played by Jack Benny!

Harman and Orson Welles wanted to collaborate on a live-action/animation film of The Little Prince, and it's too bad it never happened; film history was robbed of the fun spectacle of studio executives on the project jumping out 17th story windows like captains of industry in 1929.

And speaking of spectacles, rest assured that Your Blogmeister, against his better judgment, will see the new lumbering mess of an elephantine epic on the big screen and eat diabetic-unfriendly buttered popcorn throughout.