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Before the punk rock comedy of ‘The Young Ones’ Rik Mayall was investigative reporter ‘Kevin Turvey’
10:24 am



Rik Mayall was fearless. In the early 1980s, when British stand-up comedy was chubby blokes in too tight dinner jackets telling jokes about wives, mother-in-laws and ethnic groups, Rik Mayall would walk on stage, looking like a Bowie-fan circa Heroes and recite poetry about his love for Vanessa Redgrave and the theater. Audiences were aghast and unsure whether Mayall was genuinely an angry socialist poet ranting about theater or some kind of bizarre amateur stand-up comic taking time out from his sociology degree.

Mayall was part of the disparate group of comics who were filed under “A” for “Alternative Comedy.” Ye olde comics didn’t like these cheeky young comics, because they didn’t have punchlines, and couldn’t understand why younger audiences found them funny.

From the Comedy Store in London, these Alternative comics made their early appearances on shows such as the rather excellent Boom Boom Out Go The Lights, which launched Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Keith Allen, Alexei Sayle, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson, and (the sadly forgotten) late-nite-live entertainment series, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, hosted by amongst others, the avuncular Ned Sherrin, the man responsible for That Was The Week That Was and producing musicals like Side-by_Side by Sondheim. Friday Night, Saturday Morning gave air time to Mayall and Edmondson (as Twentieth Century Coyote) and The Outer Limits (Planer and Richardson). These four would later regroup with Keith Allen, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and Robbie Coltrane as The Comic Strip Presents… for Channel 4 in 1982.

Yet, before all that, and even before Rik and co. “kicked in the doors of British comedy” with The Young Ones in 1982, Mayall starred as intrepid investigative Redditch reporter Kevin Turvey on A Kick Up The Eighties—the show which launched Tracy Ullman, Robbie Coltrane, and Mayall, alongside more established actors/performers Miriam Margolyes, Roger Sloman, Ron Bain and Richard Stilgoe. Produced by comedy supremo, Colin Gilbert for BBC Scotland, A Kick Up The Eighties was a mix of Alternative and traditional comedy, which set the tone for other sketch shows such as Naked Video, and (to an extent) even Ben Elton’s Alfresco (with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Siobhan Redmond and Robbie Coltrane).

The stand-out segment of A Kick Up The Eighties was Mayall’s superb “Kevin Turvey Investigates” which presented one of the most brilliant, original and hilarious comic creations of the 1980s. The character’s success led to a one-off “mockumentary” The Man Behind the Green Door in 1982, which starred, Mayall as Turvey, with Coltrane as Mick the lodger, Ade Edmondson as Keith Marshall, and Roger Sloman as the park keeper. The story-line is simple: Kevin investigates what’s going on around in his hometown, Redditch. The answer is “not a lot.”

It’s an astonishingly original piece of television that prefigures the style of shows like The Office, and it still retains its comic brilliance more than 30-years later. Enjoy!

Bonus clip of Rik reading his angry poetry, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The Credibility Gap: The roots of modern political satire
03:23 pm

Pop Culture


Woodschtick and More

The Credibility Gap isn’t referenced all that much anymore, but in its day it was a very important comedy troupe. Its members included both Lenny and Squiggy of future Laverne and Shirley fame (Michael McKean and David L. Lander) and Harry Shearer. With two members of Spinal Tap, its pedigree needs no defending. There had been political humor, of course, including Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, but something about The Credibility Gap was different—it was political satire created for and by the hippie generation, and it was mainstream-ready. It took sardonic scorn at the political powers that be for granted. Its very name, a signifier for the difference between official explanations and the truth, was, as Paul Provenza pointed out, about as succinct a definition of satire as you can get.

The troupe started at Pasadena’s AM radio station KRLA, and none of its early members are today famous. It didn’t take long for young McKean, Lander, and Shearer to show up with resumes and put their ineffable stamp on the proceedings. KRLA had thought of The Credibility Gap as a hipper version of their normal news programming, but the troupe’s edge began to wear on the more conservative news directors there, and the station steadily reduced their spots until finally dropping them in 1970. At the crosstown FM station KPPC, they were given more time and freedom to pursue their demented sketches, but KPPC dropped them in 1971 as well. By that time they had worked up a reputation solid enough that they could take their act on the road.
The Credibility Gap
In 1971 they released their first LP, Woodschtick and More, but their peak was probably 1974’s A Great Gift Idea, in which they poked fun at figures like Johnny Carson and Sly Stone. In “Kingpin” the concept was to imagine a Shaft-style movie about Martin Luther King Jr., as in “He’s got a plan to stick it to the Klan”:

None other than Robert Christgau himself gushed about the album even as he (rightfully) complained about the obvious imperfections of the LP as a medium for political satire (i.e. you can’t see the performers’ faces): “If its humor isn’t unprecedented—and although I am no historian of humor, I think it may be—it is at least radically different from Jose Jimenez, Mort Sahl and the First Family. Its content is different, because it avoids gags, and its form is different, because it is molded to the phonograph record. In other words, it is new comedy—post-FS. … FS refers to Firesign Theater, who if they didn’t invent this kind of humor were the first to get it on record.”

Years later, in Paul Provenza and Dan Dion’s Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians, Michael McKean reminisced about the group:

The Credibility Gap really started in the wake of the RFK assassination in 1968. Everybody was pretty on edge in those days. There was the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Woodstock, and by 1970, when I got there, everybody was pretty politicized, and there was something every day. We’d wake up one day to find out we’d just invaded Cambodia, so we’d do a sketch about that. We were all pretty political, and we did little stuff and big stuff. It was fairly radical for AM radio in the sixties and early seventies. In 1971, we moved to KPPC FM in Pasadena—the other English-language station in Pasadena then—and we got a little bolder. I think we broke the word “asshole” on FM radio. That was ours. A true legacy.

The truth is, The Credibility Gap may have been bracing at the time, but the material has dated, and frankly it doesn’t hold up that well. The humor was “sophisticated” but at times surprisingly obvious—gags like referring to PBS as the “Paid Broadcasting System.” The sensibilty was miles ahead of the material itself—you could import the sensibility lock, stock, and barrel to South Park and scarcely notice the difference.

Shearer, of course, would go on to work on such illustrious projects as Fernwood 2-Night and The Simpsons and his radio program Le Show, while Micheal McKean would have a varied career in the movies and on stage, working frequently with Christopher Guest post-Spinal Tap.

In this video, which dates from 1975, late-night talk show host Tom Snyder himself generously introduces Harry Shearer’s dead-on impersonation of Snyder contending with a mismatched pair, a CIA whistleblower and the investigative reporter for Hustler magazine.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Hong Kong Fooey: Bill Milling’s ‘Vixens of Kung Fu (A Tale of Yin Yang)’
09:38 pm



Poster Art for Vixens of Kung Fu
Who doesn’t love a great combination? Whether it is Dolly Parton with Porter Wagoner or peanut butter and chocolate, a meeting of two good elements can be a beautiful thing. But what happens when you take two separately intriguing ingredients and yet, when they meet, you get a whole lot of head scratching muck? Welcome to The Vixens of Kung Fu (A Tale of Yin Yang).

The Vixens of Kung Fu is a film that I had heard about for years. Mind you, never from anyone who had actually seen it, but it was noted in cult film circles as the 70’s sex film with kung fu. It’s fantastic on paper, with two titanic fringe film subgenres meeting in the middle, complete with a classic adult era cast that includes C.J. Laing, Bobby Astyr, Jamie Gillis and Bree Anthony. Nudity, martial arts and cinematic ridiculousness—it’s the ultimate dreamsicle but like the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

Title Screen for The Vixens of Kung Fu
The film begins with some fortune cookie narration, including lines like “..he would conquer the land, the sea and the dragon.” Well, it’s certainly good to be ambitious! Somewhere in what looks like rural upstate New York, a dark-haired young lovely (Bree Anthony) is hiking when she encounters a group of brain damaged and unfortunately randy hunters (Astyr, Gillis & according to the semi-reliable IMDB, Douglas Wood.) The woman manages to flee but it’s a bad day to be in the woods since the head goon possesses an “anesthesia gun,” which looks exactly like a regular pistol. The key difference is that instead of killing or maiming someone, the bullets are basically roofies. You can put two and two together on what happens next. Inexplicably, the soundtrack goes from Chinese buffet to Hee-Haw to eerie silence and then to some stunningly inappropriate notes of whimsy. The one good thing about that, though, is that between the wonky soundtrack, Astyr’s insane giggling and Anthony’s questionable acting, the scene is more goony than creepy. And guess what? It’s only going to get more goony.

A lithe kung fu Master (Laing) is holding court outdoors with her students, lecturing them on how “Yin and Yang are the principles of Heaven and Earth.” They look mildly confused but appreciative, in a Valium-laced sort of way. Master ends up taking a peaceful walk on the beach and discovers the passed out, nude form of the woman. Taking a cue from the Linda & Abeline school of rape counseling, the Master gives her an oily massage. Learning both about the assault in the woods and the woman’s former career as a prostitute, she promises the woman to teach her kung-fu, so no man ever uses her again. The Master proclaims that “We women can hold up half the sky” before seducing her. As far as seduction lines go, it’s a little weak but it does get the job done.

The Master & her students meet up
After that, The Master and her students take part in some nude deep breathing exercises that results in smoke emitting out of their quims?!? That is maybe the last orifice you want smoke coming out of, but it is definitely a striking visual. The soundtrack, keeping with the pure spirit of randomness, switches to experimental sounding synth music. Finally, around the forty minute mark, we finally get to see some kung fu moves with the Master and one of her students finding a monk clad in yellow, wandering around the woods. They fight him, poorly, capture him and then the rest of the ladies have their way with him. This would be zero of a problem for most people that are into lovely, amorous female martial artists, but this event propels the Monk to seek out higher learning.

The Monk seeks help…in the kitchen.
He travels to a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall, which is kind of fabulous. The place, House of Wong, has the female Master of “Golden Dragon Raising Head,” Ha Tien Sau (Peonies Jong), who is working covertly as a short order cook. He begs her to teach him this mythical form of martial arts and in the end, she agrees and has him meet her, where else? In the woods. They begin their training, which as far as I can tell, mainly involves him breathing hard, flailing his arms and ultimately, spanking it. There must be a legion of dudes out there who are masters of Golden Dragon Raising Head and don’t even know it.

This Monk is the Yang to the former prostitute’s Yin, resulting in the two matching one crappy martial arts form with another until they end up both practicing the ancient art of boots knocking. The film then ends with Yin’s Master approaching Ha Tien, asking her for guidance and then leaping in the air with a high kick. Does Yin get to avenge her rape? Do the two dubious Masters get to have the epic battle of who is worse at their chosen martial art? Spoiler alert, we never find out, leaving the viewer slack jawed and wondering who dosed their kool-aid.

The Vixens of Kung-Fu is so nonsensical that it borders on the transcendent, but is neither self aware nor completely over the top enough, to quite cross over. The story and pacing plays out like someone got incredibly baked, watched some Times Square quality chop-socky flicks and then got suddenly aroused. The best thing about this film is the highly creative editing implemented during the fight scenes. Presumably the fast cuts were used to enhance the puce belt level karate antics, but they are entertaining.

Yang practices.
Thanks to the hard work from the folks at Vinegar Syndrome, Vixens has never looked better. The picture quality is gorgeous, with the early Autumnal woods looking postcard lovely. They have paired this title along with director Bill Milling’s (billed here as Chiang, seriously) superior Oriental Blue. (The latter was made around the same time and features most of the same cast.) When you think of Vixens of Kung Fu, as I know you will, think of fortune cookie dialogue, the most random musical soundtrack ever and creative character decision making.

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
David Frost R.I.P.
12:39 am



Oh dear, David Frost has died. What a lovely man. Dead at 74 of a heart attack.

There will be a lot written about David Frost in the next few days. He was at the center of major political and social events for several decades as both a commentator and brilliant interviewer. His death has triggered many personal memories of cultural touchstones that populate my life. Among them, his encounters with The Beatles. He had an ongoing relationship with John Lennon that was vital and shot through with the kind of energy that animates many friendships defined by respect and curiosity.

Here’s Frost interviewing John and Yoko in 1968 on British TV show Frost On Saturday. Kind of a Jungian mindfuck with Lennon struggling to communicate what sounds like some insights he received while tripping. Frost goes with the flow.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
‘Who do you think you are, God?’: Bible talk with Jim Jarmusch and Neil Young
01:20 pm



God figures prominently in the video below from Jim Jamusch’s 1997 documentary, Year of the Horse.  The film impressionistically chronicles the storied, decades-long partnership between Neil Young and Crazy Horse as they tour the world in 1996. 

I dug up the clip after reading a Rolling Stone interview from last April with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, long-term guitar player for Crazy Horse, brought on board after the tragic death of Danny Whitten, the band’s integral and original guitar player and songwriter.  Sampedro first played with the band in 1973, but wouldn’t see material released with Crazy Horse until Zuma in 1975.  He says in the interview that his gut tells him that their current tour will be their last.

“Our shows are physical,” says Poncho. “It takes a lot of energy to play that much. It just seems at some point something is going to break. I already had an operation on my thumb. Neil’s wrist bugs him, and he has to tape it when he plays. You can’t fool time. You can’t count on this happening again in five years.”

The quote turned out to be prophetic. Sampedro broke his hand in an accident earlier this month forcing Crazy Horse to cancel the last seven dates of the European leg of their tour.  Then, just last week, they announced that they had to bail on an upcoming four-date tour in the U.S. and Canada as well. 

It struck me as possible that Neil Young and Crazy Horse might be close to having done their last show (they have a few dates scheduled in September and through the end of the year according to Young’s website), and it made me think about how glad I was that I got to see them in October. Despite the fact that the youngest member in the band (Poncho) was in his early 60’s, they were still great, classically hunching in a tight circle onstage, once again summoning that indescribable thing, those beautifully heavy, organic landscapes that you either get or you don’t and that Crazy Horse uniquely conjures.

Year of the Horse came to mind as I thought about the Crazy Horse live experience. In this more-than-a-rockumentary, rust belt auteur, Jarmusch (Permanent Vacation, Strangers in Paradise, Night on Earth, Broken Flowers, etc.), inter-mingles sometimes confrontational band interviews and grainy concert footage with ethereal, black-and-white, fluttering, ghostly imagery shot from moving vehicles, from inside empty concert venues, and from deep within dancing audiences rendered in slow motion. Vintage out-takes, culled mainly from tours in 1976 and 1986, mark ten year intervals from the time of the contemporary footage, infusing the film with a sort of timelessness, glimpses rather than a solid narrative and the sense the Crazy Horse has been on some kind of a mission, however insane and disjointed, since day one. It’s a chronicle of a band haunted by a turbulent past, littered with lost members and what Young calls a “trail of destruction.”

The film flows nicely from Jarmusch’s previous film, 1995’s Dead Man, a genre-bending western and Native American death journey featuring a stark, reverb-infused instrumental soundtrack crafted by none other than Young himself.

One of the virtues of Year of the Horse is that for all the leave-it-all-on-the-stage swagger of the live performances, there’s often just as much intensity between the band members when they’re not on stage. Then again, during several moments of levity, the film shows how hilariously dopey the band can be at times. These parts leave you laughing and sometimes marveling. 

In one segment from 1976, Young sets fire to a bunch of cloth flowers inside a Glasgow hotel room, tries to extinguish them with a pile of napkins and “a little orange juice,” and then, when the hotel manager arrives, sheepishly blames the whole incident on how dangerous it is that the establishment keeps flammable flowers on the table right near where the ashtray sits. 

In 1986 footage from Rotterdam, Young, known for literally kicking his players in the ass on stage for screwing up, goes ballistic on bass player Billy Talbot for fucking up during a performance after rehearsing all day. It’s seriously not nice.

Later, intimate black-and-white footage finds the band back in England in 1976 in a small, back-stage, painted brick room, moments after a performance with the crowd yelling for more in the background.  Crazy Horse seems wiped out, but they ultimately settle on “Home Grown” for the encore.

While some of the concert footage meanders a bit a times, there are also some great performances here. There’s a blistering, careening, angry take on “Fuckin’ Up” from 1990’s Ragged Glory, wherein the band chugs along with the ferocity and attitude of a bunch of guys half their age. There’s an ultra-heavy, incendiary version of “Tonight’s the Night” that captures all the stop-on-a-dime dynamics of that tune, with the band deconstructing itself into shaky vocal harmonies then ripping into guitar-bending feedback crescendos while Young works out jerky, side-stabbing solos. The film wraps up with footage of the band literally beating the hell out of “Like a Hurricane,” while Jarmusch infuses footage of the same song performed twenty years earlier, demonstrating the unwavering, stubborn energy that can almost transcendentally exude from this epic, multi-decade vision of analog exploration.

Young really liked the film. In a 1997 interview, he said:

I love that movie ... You can really feel the personal view of a filmmaker and, above all, the movie is about the band. It’s more than a simple story; it’s an impression, a succession of feelings. I had the idea of doing this movie - I like this kind of stuff and I like to have a camera with me, but Jim made it possible.

Sampedro, on the other hand, is a little more lukewarm about it.  When asked to speak on Year of the Horsein the April Rolling Stone interview mentioned above he answered:

Am I a fan of the movie? In a way, yes, and in a way, no. I think if people really think that’s Crazy Horse . . . it’s a pretty soft version of us. You don’t really see what goes on. But then again, some stuff is so personal you don’t want people to see it all. It would be like one of those weird reality shows. There’s a lot more turmoil than what you see there, and intensity as well.

In interviews, Sampedro harangues Jarmusch on two separate occasions in the film for being an “artsy-fartsy” director who could never even begin to ask a few questions and hope to capture the decades-long saga that is Crazy Horse.  In the interest of full disclosure, or maybe just because he’s having fun with it, Jarmusch lets the camera roll and includes footage of the visibly annoyed Sampedro.

Is this the best documentation ever put to film of Neil Young and Crazy Horse? Maybe not, but what does it matter? What it comes down to is that Year of the Horse is just another moment in time for a band on a messy, cantankerous and often incredible journey. It’s just another historical artifact demonstrating that when Crazy Horse is firing on all cylinders, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better rock-and-roll outfit on the entire planet.

Not unlike 1991’s film version of Weld which was released on VHS and never reissued, Year of the Horse seems to be out of print for purchase (there are a few pricey copies listed as “new” left on Amazon) and is often not even mentioned in band bios. It’s a shame. Not only is the film something for fans of Jim Jarmusch to consider, but, if Crazy Horse really is almost done touring, Year of the Horse is a part of the band’s legacy worthy of a look.  There might not be much new live footage to ponder.

There is live album called Year of the Horse, but none of the performances from the film appear on it.

The clip below focuses on Jarmusch and Young pretending to take seriously a bunch of completely over-the-top bible verses.  There’s a goofy and childlike camaraderie between the two who, frankly, seem a little “light-headed.” 

While you’re waiting for the God talk, enjoy a psyched 1970’s super-fan extolling the virtues of “the Neil Young universe” and a spacey, Jesus freak guy enlightening Young on how “San Francisco was the rebirth of the planet.” 


Incidentally, Roger Ebert HATED Year of the Horse, giving it a single star and calling it the worst movie he saw in 1997.  He describes the music in the film as (among other things)  “shapeless, graceless and built from rhythm, not melody.” 

Decide for yourself by watching the film in its entirety in the two clips (with Spanish subtitles) below or better still, it’s streaming on Netflix.

[FILM] Year of the Horse (Jim Jarmusch, Neil Young, See more) from santa sancha on Vimeo.

‘Year of the Horse,’ part II, after the jump…

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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