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The worst ‘Star Wars’ novelty song EVER: ‘Chewie the Rookie Wookie’ (sic) & other galactic junk
04.21.2015
06:37 am

Topics:
Movies
Music

Tags:
Star Wars
bad music

 

 
In the late ‘70s, in the wake of the tremendous blockbuster success of Star Wars, a whole slew of Star Wars-themed records got released, proving intellectual property wasn’t quite as big of a deal back then as it is now, and that you could sell anything with the words “star” and “wars” on it.
 

 
Meco’s Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, a hit album (and the first record I ever bought), is the most well-known of the bunch and actually went to number thirteen on the US pop chart. But there were others: notably, the singing debut of Jon Bon Jovi (credited as “John Bongiovi”, his birth name) on the track “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” from the Christmas In The Stars album. There was also a Star Wars themed album by electronic music pioneer Patrick Gleeson, and an ultra-shitty smooth-jazz record called Empire Jazz which actually featured respected fusion performers Ron Carter and Bob James. The shittiest knock-off/cash-in Star Wars related album is something called Living In These Star Warz by Dan Whitley and the Rebel Force Band. How bad is it? Almost as bad as the prequels? We dare you to make it all the way through in one sitting. Feel free to post your “give up” time in the comments.
 

 
The Rebel Force Band plays a variety of styles on Living in these Star Warz, ranging from R&B to disco-funk to rock—all in a very bland, MOR “sounds like a network TV show soundtrack” sort of way. There’s some possible intended humor to the whole affair, and indeed “Chewie the Rookie Wookie” (sic) got some airplay on Dr. Demento back in the day. The fact that these songs could loosely qualify as “parody” probably saved the creators from Fox’ lawyers.

In an interview on podbay.fm, Dan Whitley, the man behind the Rebel Force Band tells the story of how Living in These Star Warz came to be. Whitley was running a recording studio in 1977, when he was approached by a dentist with a song idea about a newly-released sci-fi picture. Whitley had never seen the movie, but decided to check it out when the dentist offered to pay $1000 for him to produce the song. Sometime shortly thereafter, Whitley was talking to a friend, Michael Purdy, about the track. Purdy was looking to produce an album as a “tax shelter,” according to Whitley, and suggested they do an entire record of Star Wars-themed songs. The idea of producing an album as a “tax shelter,” sounds suspiciously similar to the “tax scam labels” of 1976-78.

There’s a great interview with Aaron Milenski on shit-fi.com that explains the 1976-78 “tax scam label” phenomenon. According to Milenski:

In 1976, some record label executives discovered that it was possible to create an entire label as a subsidiary to the major label, and to write it off as a huge tax loss to help the “real” label remain profitable. The idea was that a large number of albums (for instance, Tiger Lily and Guinness released almost 100 records each in just under two years) would be on the new label, and the entire batch (ie, every copy of all of the records) would be listed as unsold. They would probably list something like 10,000 copies pressed of each record, even though it’s possible that they pressed up only a few hundred or so. The ones they pressed were never even attempted to be sold; they were sent as promos and dumped into warehouses with cutouts.

Apparently whatever loophole they discovered was closed by 1978 or so, as every one of these labels existed only in the years 1976–1978.

Whitley was running a booking service at the time and was auditioning young bands and musicians for gigs. He had come up with a list of potential song titles and threw them out to the young musicians. Some of those musicians came back with songs, and those songs ended up being the Living in These Star Warz album. A voiceover artist was hired to do the Chewbacca and Darth Vader sounds. When asked if any of it was cleared with Lucasfilm, Whitley’s response was “we didn’t even think about it.”

If you really want to hear Living in These Star Warz’,’ you’ll find it after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
‘The Dead Lands’: The first kick-ass Maori martial arts movie
04.20.2015
11:29 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Maori
Toa Fraser

00deadlandsposter.jpg
 
Take a coming-of-age revenge story, add a splash of Maori mythology, a few measures of bloody martial arts and serve over a beautiful landscape and you have the ingredients for Toa Fraser’s kick-ass movie The Dead Lands.

Set in Aotearoa—part of the islands now known as New Zealand—in the time long before the arrival of any white settlers, The Dead Lands is an enjoyable tale of betrayal, murder and bloody revenge.  The film centers around Hongi (James Rolleston) the son of a Maori chieftan who hunts down a band of rival warriors that slaughtered his family tribe.  As Hongi is no fighter, he has to learn from a monstrous mythical Warrior (Lawrence Makoare), who patrols his own tribal home the so-called “Dead Lands”—killing and eating any unwary trespassers. Hongi and the Warrior form an uneasy alliance and together hunt down Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) and his murderous tribesmen.
 
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Hongi is also aided in his quest by the ghost of his dead grandmother, who imparts bon mots of epigrammatic wisdom (“Anyone can give up!”) in what looks like a deserted nightclub. As Hongi is no fighter, he has to be taught how to kill by the demonic Warrior, who also shares his philosophy of life:

Death is not noble. Nor is life. If you ask me, the gods have this life to take pleasure in our suffering.

And later:

There is no nobility—just politics.

Which is all short and sweet, just like his advice on fighting:

First make them angry. They lose focus. Make a joke about their mother. That usually does it for me.

 
003deadlandswarrior.jpg
 
Lawrence Makoare (Lord of the Rings, Die Another Day) makes these lines zing—and manages the difficult task of making the Warrior likeable, funny and terrifying. His character has a terrible secret—“a blackness” that comes upon him “where even the God of War would not venture”—that makes him all the more compelling.

James Rolleston, who achieved considerable acclaim for his performance in Boy, is very good as Hongi, while Te Kohe Tuhaka is highly convincing as the arrogant bad guy Wirepa.

The Dead Lands uses many Maori traditions of ritual and mythology, in particular the Maori martial art of Mau Rakau, which involves much hand-to-hand combat and a respect for your opponent—even if you’re about to sever their arteries. Producer Matthew Metcalfe describes such tribal warfare being part of the Maori honor system.

“It was about honor, family, blood, ancestors. It’s not just about men trying to kill each other; it’s about men trying to kill each other with purpose, with a sense of honor, with a sense of ‘This is what we must do because our ancestors demand it of us.’

“It’s like The Raid or Apocalypto. This is Maori before Europeans came. This is Maori when they had their own empire in New Zealand, when it was tribe against tribe. It was about honor, fighting to the death and how your ancestors thought of you.”

Co-producer Tainui Stephens adds, “We’ve endeavored to show action that is very firmly based in the Maori world, in the world of Maori martial arts and in the world of Maori thinking. Every culture around the world has its own way of dealing with conflict. Many cultures have martial arts traditions and many of these traditions have become celebrated in the action film genre. This is a first chance for the killing arts of the Polynesian peoples to be explored in this kind of entertainment.”

The Dead Lands is directed by Toa Fraser, whose previous films include the excellent Dean Spanley with Peter O’Toole and Sam Neill. Fraser has an interesting and eclectic CV as filmmaker, but admits to watching movies like Commando, The Last Boy Scout, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard when he was growing up. He also once wrote to the producers of James Bond when he was twelve asking to make his own Bond movie. The Dead Lands is a fine calling card for such a talented director that offers the international audience a view of New Zealand that has never been seen before. So, grab the popcorn if you want to watch some blood ‘n’ guts and beefcake martial arts from down under.

‘The Dead Lands is now on limited release and is available on VOD, details here.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sex, Sadism & Swastikas: Psycho ‘70s Nazi sexploitation cinema cycle
04.20.2015
08:10 am

Topics:
Movies
Stupid or Evil?

Tags:
Nazi
Naziploitation
sexploitation


 
In the mid ‘70s a whole slew of World War Two-themed sexploitation films were churned out (most coming from Italy) in the wake of the highly successful Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. Most of the films, typical ‘70s softcore porn pieces with swastika-sporting actors, followed the standard “women in prison” film formula—the locale having been transferred to the Nazi death camps and field brothels. In Italy these films are known as part of the “il sadiconazista” cycle, the bulk of which were influenced as much by Ilsa as they were by three controversial Italian art-house films: Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter, Tinto Brass’ Salon Kitty and Passolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The entire genre can be traced back to 1969 when Bob Cresse and Lee Frost created the depraved “roughie,” Love Camp 7, which set the standard for all others to follow.
 

 
The SS-ploitation film-makers had discovered that it was far easier to get violently sexual situations past the censors if they were presented within the context of being based on the historical facts of Nazi war atrocities. Of course, none of these films had any interest whatsoever in being historically accurate. The producers were making bank by exploiting 1970s movie audiences’ craving for weirder and wilder psycho-sexual delights and justifying it all as supposed statements against war crimes.  Producer Dave Friedman (under the pseudonym Herman Traeger) put this written notice in the first shot of Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS:

“The film you are about to see is based on documented fact. The atrocities shown were conducted as ‘medical experiments’ in special concentration camps throughout Hitler’s Third Reich. Although these crimes against humanity are historically accurate, the characters depicted are composites of notorious Nazi personalities; and the events portrayed, have been condensed into one locality for dramatic purposes. Because of its shocking subject matter, this film is restricted to adult audiences only. We dedicate this film with the hope that these heinous crimes will never happen again.”

These films pushed the boundaries of bad taste to their lowest limit.

It’s difficult to pin down the continued appeal of these films. Any first year psychology student could interpret these films’ appeal in relation to dominance and submission, bondage fetish, rape fantasy, or basic misogyny. The likely fundamental appeal for many viewers is simply the fact that a whole slew of beautiful women get naked frequently. For others, the appeal of a film like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS stems from the audacity of the images and the bad taste campiness of the acting and direction.

One thing is certain, these blatant exercises in cinematic depravity make no apologies and force their contents upon the viewer on their own moral terms. Unquestionably, the majority of these films are in the poorest of possible taste, yet they present material in a manner which pulls no punches—a spectacle which would never fly in today’s age of obsessive outrage. These films blur the lines between good and evil when they present Nazi atrocities in a manner that may not only repulse, but also spark the prurient interest of the viewer. To most, the thought of this is an absolutely unacceptable identification with the films’ antagonists, yet there can be a very fine psychological line between repulsion and titillation—and as such, for some, these films hold a certain power, if not vulgar charm. There are those out there who simply worship outrageous schlock, and some that just want to see a pair of boobs jiggle across the screen, and still others who are truly sick, deranged perverts. For better or worse (probably worse), there’s an audience for this shit.
 
A top ten list of Nazi sexploitation depravity after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
When Siouxsie & The Banshees met the nerd from ‘The Breakfast Club’


 
The trouble with getting famous when you’re young and cherubic is that you’re forced to grow up in public—a public that still wants you to be the nerd from The Breakfast Club, no less, when you’re Brat packer Anthony Michael Hall. Hall attempted to buck typecasting with his role in the 1986 stinker, Out of Bounds, a “gritty” film directed by no other than Richard Tuggle—who wrote the actually gritty Clint Eastwood film Escape from Alcatraz. Trouble is, Anthony Michael Hall isn’t Clint Eastwood or even in the remote vicinity, and his role as an Iowa farm boy searching for the LA drug kingpin that murdered his brother is not his finest moment.

It is so bad. Between stilted dialogue and Anthony Michael Hall’s attempt to pull off a tough-guy act, we’re talking hilarious 80’s cable TV B-movie fare here. The soundtrack however, is from Stewart Copeland of The Police, and it is surprisingly good, if a little schizophrenic! With music from Copeland and Adam Ant, Night Ranger, Belinda Carlisle, The Smiths, The Cult, The Lords of the New Church(!), Sammy Hagar, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, who actually had a cameo in the film—you can see the performance below. Don’t get me wrong—the hamfisted inclusion of some good music for cool cred does not save this bomb, but maybe they’re enough to make it a cult classic?

Probably not, but here’s the good part:
 

 
Via Post-Punk

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Traci Lords’ new Women in Prison-cum-Sharksploitation flick: ‘Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre’

 

 
Former underage porn actress, Traci Lords, stars in the new Jim Wynorski blockbuster, Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre. Wynorski is responsible for the best ‘80s murderous shopping-mall robot movie, Chopping Mall, 1988’s Not of This Earth (also starring Lords), Pirañaconda, and more than 40 other “quality” titles. Judging solely by the trailer, Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre promises to deliver the same standard of excellence we’ve come to expect from the prolific director. The film also stars Dominique Swain (Fall Down Dead, Nazis at the Center of the Earth).

This is the synopsis we have:

When a fracking mishap accidentally rips apart the earth’s crust, the resulting hole opens up a gaping underground waterway to a vast and mysterious ocean somewhere deep below. Instantly, giant prehistoric sharks begin wending their way upward toward a murky bog in the heart of the Arkansas Bayou. Unfortunately for a group of female prisoners on a work detail in the swamp, the deadly sharks attack without warning – pinning a hapless group of intended victims in a small deserted cabin in the heart of the wetlands. Death may be the only means of escape!

These sharks don’t just swim through the bayous—they also burrow through the ground Bugs Bunny style! Landsharks with a craving for female convict blood! The back-end for CGI sharks must be really cheap these days, as the Sharksploitation genre is in its golden age with titles such as Sharknado, Sharktopus, Ghost Shark, Snow Shark, Psycho Shark, Sand Sharks, and Raiders Of The Lost Shark. Sure, we’ve seen sharks in the swamp before in 2011’s Swamp Shark, but Wynorski had the vision to add female prisoners and Traci Lords!
 

 

Just put the words “Traci Lords,” “women in prison,” “fracking mishap,” and “landsharks” together and I’m instantly asking “where do I send my money?” I asked Jim Wynorski himself and he is remaining tight-lipped for the time being, stating only that the film will be “ready for release in mid-May.” It seems the film is still looking for a home. Wynorski wouldn’t comment on a DVD release, but indicated that SyFy would be taking a look at the picture upon completion.

Here’s the trailer for what promises to be the most important film of 2015:
 

 

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
The Terminal Bar: ‘New York’s most notorious watering hole’
04.15.2015
02:00 pm

Topics:
Drugs
Movies
Pop Culture
Queer

Tags:
NYC
Terminal Bar


The notoriously scuzzball Terminal Bar, as seen in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver.’

Though I may yearn for the rents of the 1970s, the “grit” of “old New York” can be heavily over-romanticized. Yes, it was cheaper, and the arts were more vibrant and the population more varied. There was shitloads of violent crimes, parts of the city were really dirty and dilapidated, and other parts just looked like some one had dropped a bomb on them.
 

 
Nonetheless, historical records of the all-too-recent period of NYC brutality are in high demand. Terminal Bar was most certainly an “old New York” institution. The infamously sleazy Port Authority-adjacent saloon opened in 1972, catering first to working class Irish-American toughs, then more for pimps, pushers, prostitutes, down-and-out drunks and drug addicts, finally attracting a primarily gay, black and male clientele before closing in 1982. During its ten-year run, bartender Sheldon “Shelly” Nadelman (the son-in-law of the bar’s owner Murray Goldman) documented his patrons and the area around the bar with a keen eye, and his collection, Terminal Bar: A Photographic Record of New York’s Most Notorious Watering Hole continues to engross those of us with a taste for the louche.
 

 
Calling himself a “half-assed artist,” Nadelman mainly worked in portraiture of his regulars—beautiful black and whites of usually overlooked and often avoided faces. In 2002 his son Stefan made a small documentary, Terminal Bar, that took the 2003 Sundance Jury Prize for short film—you can now watch it in its entirety (and in HD!) below.
 

 
In a combination of interview, narration and slideshow, you get a taste of just how wild—and how alive—one little bar could be. The Renzo Piano-designed New York Times building now stands where the Shelly Nadelman once took his customers’ portraits.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Roar’: Cast and crew risked life and limb in the most dangerous movie ever made, 1981
04.14.2015
05:36 am

Topics:
Animals
Movies

Tags:
Melanie Griffith
Roar
Tippi Hedren

Roar poster
 
Roar (1981) has been called “the most dangerous movie ever made.” How did it earn such a dubious distinction, you ask? Well, the cast and crew of the film worked with more than 130 wild animals—including panthers, tigers, lions, and elephants—that were allowed to roam free while the cameras rolled. The actors often appear to be genuinely terrified as these animals pursue them, knowing they could strike at any moment (and they often did). 70 people were injured during the making of the film.

Roar was the brainchild of Noel Marshall, one of the executive producers of The Exorcist, and his wife, actress Tippi Hedren, most famous for her lead role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Over a period that lasted more than a decade, Marshall and Hedren, along with Noel’s sons John and Jerry and Tippi’s daughter Melanie Griffith, lived with these animals, while simultaneously shooting Roar. The entire family starred in the film, which Noel wrote and directed.
 
Family photo
 
Roar has also been called the most expensive home movie ever made, costing $17 million. It tanked upon release, grossing just $2 million. Marshall, who died in 2010, would never direct another motion picture.
 
Noel and friend
 
Roar defies categorization. On the surface, it’s an action/adventure film, but there are also elements seemingly taken from horror movies, documentaries, and slapstick comedies. At times it feels like you’re watching a bizarro-world live-action Disney film! This movie is totally captivating, comical, suspenseful, and terrifying. In short, Roar is nuts.
 
Roar publicity photo
 
Alamo Drafthouse CEO/founder Tim League is a big fan of the film. In fact, he’s so passionate about Roar that he became an expert on its history and secured the rights to re-release it. A limited theatrical run in select cities begins April 17th, with Blu-ray/DVD/On Demand availability coming this summer.

I emailed Tim League a number of questions about this one-of-a-kind motion picture.

It took eleven years to make Roar—what took so long?:

Tim League: I like to think of Roar as a sort of Boyhood where the family expands beyond the mom, dad and children to include an adopted family of more than 130 lions, tigers, leopards, panthers and jaguars. Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall first had the idea to shoot Roar back in 1971 when they were on safari and saw an abandoned house overrun with lions; they thought the concept of a family living in a house with lions would make an excellent premise for a film. Daktari had been wildly popular a few years prior, and they figured Roar would be a similar hit while upping the stakes. So, they immediately sought out world-renowned big cat experts to find out if such a thing could be done. These experts responded unanimously with words to the effect of, “You must be brainsick. Do NOT do this.” Undeterred, Marshall and Hedren set about the ten-year process of bringing big cats into their Hollywood home in small batches, one after another, to acclimate the animals to the family. The theory was that if they lived together with the lions from the time they were cubs, they would then escape injury when on set with these “familiars.” The other factors that caused delays with the production were two floods that wiped out the entire set, one raging forest fire, and times when the entire crew would quit after a particularly harrowing day. They also lost their financing halfway through the production and stopped to gather personal funds to get the film across the finish line. Most experts consider Roar to be the most disaster-plagued film in the history of Hollywood.
 
Forest fire
 
More with Tim League, plus an exclusive clip from ‘Roar,’ after the jump…

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Hitchcock 101: Alfred Hitchcock on how to make movies

01hitchpsyc1.jpg
 
Alfred Hitchcock thought the invention of “talkies” was unfortunate as movies assumed a theatrical form overnight. Films, he told Francois Truffaut, stopped being cinematic and became “photographs of people talking.”

When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try to tell a story in a cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between.

In writing a screenplay, it is essential to separate clearly the dialogue from the visual elements and, whenever possible, to rely more on the visual than on the dialogue. Whichever way you choose to stage the action, your main concern is to hold the audience’s fullest attention.

Summing it up, one might say that the screen rectangle must be charged with emotion.

Hitchcock developed this theme in an interview with director Bryan Forbes at London’s National Film Theatre in 1969, where he explained how work on a movie “starts” for him:

Well, for me, it all starts with the basic material first. Now, the question of when you have the basic material… you may have a novel, a play, an original idea, a couple of sentences and from that the film begins. I work very closely with the writer and begin to construct the film on paper, from the very beginning. We roughly sketch in the whole shape of the film and then begin from the beginning. You end up with around 100 pages, or perhaps even more, of narrative, which is very bad reading for a litterateur. There are no descriptions of any kind—no ‘he wondered’, because you can’t photograph ‘he wondered.’

No ‘camera pans right’, for example

Not at that stage, no. It’s as though you were looking at the film on the screen and the sound was turned off. And therefore, to me, this is the first stage. The reason for it is this—it is to urge one to, to drive one, to make one work purely in the visual and not rely upon words at all. I am still a purist and I do believe that film is a series of images projected on a screen. This succession of images create ideas, which in turn create emotion, just as much as in literature words put together form sentences.

This is is what Hitchcock called “pure film”

The point is that pure film is montage, which is the assembly of pieces of film, which in their turn must create an emotion in the audience. That is the whole art of the cinema—the montage of the pieces. It is merely a matter of design, subject matter and so forth. You can’t generalise about it. You can only hope to produce ideas, expressed in montage terms that create an emotion in an audience.

Hitchcock was a cinematic purist—which ultimately made him a control freak. Everything was planned and worked out long before the actors rehearsed their lines or the first shot was taken. “Actors,” Hitchcock once said in his famously quoted line, “should be treated like cattle.” They were there to collaborate and serve his vision. That’s why he preferred working with actors like James Stewart or Cary Grant rather than “method” actors like Montgomery Clift or Paul Newman. Indeed, during the making of Torn Curtain, Hitchcock became so fed up with Newman continually asking about his motivation that he eventually told him, “Your motivation is your salary.”

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Insanely adorable amigurumi of Divine and John Waters
04.10.2015
11:43 am

Topics:
Art
Movies
Pop Culture

Tags:
John Waters
Divine


 
Pope of Trash John Waters and Divine (“the filthiest person alive”) couldn’t look anymore adorable as amigurumi by knitting maven Captain Howdee. I just want to squish the hell out of these dolls ‘cause they’re so damned cute.

These were posted on Captain Howdee’s Flicker page back in 2007. I not sure if they’re for sale, but oh my gawd do I wish they were! I’d like to see an Edith Massey amigurumi. Imagine what that would look like! Why not a David Lochary doll, too?


 
via Divine on Facebook

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Ted Flicker: ‘Barney Miller’ creator, improv theater innovator, blacklisted by J. Edgar Hoover


 
This is a guest post from Doug Jones

Twelve years ago I found myself at Cinefile Video in West Los Angeles when I happened to notice a movie poster on the wall for the 1967 film, The President’s Analyst. The duotone pink and green poster depicted James Coburn wearing a `60s mod wig and sunglasses holding two gong mallets in his hand with the tagline, “Is your football helmet crushing the flowers in your hair?” What the hell kind of movie is this? I had recently developed a fascination with James Coburn after discovering the sixties spy-spoof films Our Man Flint, and the sequel, In Like Flint. Perhaps it was due to exposure to late `90s pop culture references like the Beastie Boys album Hello Nasty or the movie Austin Powers (both of which named dropped the character Derek Flint) that Coburn had been embedded into my subconscious at that time.

I went home that night and watched The President’s Analyst. It was absolutely fantastic in the way it ridiculed virtually every important `60s institution—establishment and anti-establishment alike. But unlike most 1960s-era political satires and comedies, it was surprisingly fresh, relevant, and still laugh-out-loud funny in the present age. A man I had never heard of named Theodore J. Flicker was credited as the film’s writer and director. After repeated viewings I began to wonder: who is Theodore J. Flicker? How come nobody’s ever heard of him? How is it possible for someone to make a film this good and then vanish completely from sight? The lack of information available on the internet only fueled my interest, but I eventually learned that Mr. Flicker had been blacklisted from Hollywood. But why, how could that happen? I would end up going to great lengths to answer these questions, including a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to find Flicker, who spent the last twenty years of his life as a sculptor.
 

Ted Flicker in Santa Fe, Sept 2013. Photo by Doug Jones

After failing to open a theater of his own in New York City, Theodore J. Flicker headed to Chicago in 1954 to check out the improvisational Compass Theatre by recommendation of his college friend Severn Darden. According to Flicker, the Compass was in terrible shape when he entered: the players were unprofessional, wore street clothes, had a lack of respect amongst their fellow performers, and were basically “all over the place.” However, Flicker saw potential in the company and in 1957 he launched his own wing of The Compass Players at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis. Mike Nichols and Elaine May arrived in St. Louis, and Flicker auditioned Del Close who had come highly recommended by Darden despite the fact that he had no previous improv experience. Ted hired Del on the spot after seeing him perform a fire-breathing act from the work of Flaminio Scala. They all felt that the “meandering” Chicago style of improv did not sustain the audience’s attention for an entire show. Realizing that new techniques were needed if improvisation were to transform from an acting exercise into an art form, Flicker began developing a new technique which he referred to as “louder, faster, funnier”… the audiences responded. His goal was to re-create the Chicago Compass without any of the people involved and without the experience of Viola Spolin’s teachings, Flicker wanted to invent his own way. Every morning after a show, he would sit down with Elaine May and examine what went wrong the previous night and then determine how it could be corrected. Through these sessions “The Rules” for publicly-performed improv were formulated, including the importance of the Who? Where? and What? of each scene needing to be expressed, avoiding transaction scenes, arguments, and conflict as they usually lead to dead ends, and playing at the top of one’s intelligence. “We came up with a teachable formula for performing improvisation in public in two weeks,” Flicker said. These new rules differed greatly from the rules of Viola Spolin, who wasn’t a performer and explored improv only as an acting exercise. This was a new era of improvisation.

Following the collapse of The Compass Players, Paul Sills launched the successor troupe “The Second City” in 1959. Nichols and May went on to become a smash hit on Broadway. Del Close moved back to Chicago and spent the rest of his life developing, refining, and experimenting with Ted’s rules. Del became an improvisational guru for three decades with a student roster that included Dan Aykroyd, John and James Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Andy Dick, Harold Ramis, Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Tina Fey, and all three founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade (Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Amy Poehler.) Unquestionably some of the biggest and most influential names in the comedy world, and it all circles back to Flicker. “I never could have done it without the sheer force of Ted’s will and discipline,” Close said.

But what was next for Theodore J. Flicker? In the sixties he wed Barbara Joyce Perkins, television actress and star of dozens if not hundreds of commercials, and the two set their sights on Hollywood. Theodore’s first feature film The Troublemaker, which he co-wrote with Buck Henry, described as an “improvised adventure” and was a moderate success, and the next thing he knew the phone started ringing. He was offered to write a feature film to launch the careers of Sonny and Cher; however, when the project fell through Flicker instead penned a screenplay for Elvis Presley, the 1966 “racecar musical comedy” Spinout.
 

 
It was Paramount Pictures that gave Flicker a chance to write and direct a major motion picture studio film in 1967, the first movie Robert Evans greenlit as a studio executive. The President’s Analyst was a fantastic, on-target satire. James Coburn plays Dr. Sidney Schaefer, who is awarded the job of the President’s top secret psychoanalyst. When Dr. Schaefer’s paranoia sinks in and he realizes he “knows too much,” he decides to run away and the film becomes a fast-paced action adventure romp involving spies, assassins, the FBI, CIA, a suburban family station wagon, flower power hippies, and even a British pop group. An unusual sci-fi plot twist reveals the movie’s most surprising villain: The Telephone Company (referred to in the film as “TPC”).
 

 
Problems began when the FBI got ahold of the screenplay. Robert Evans claims he was visited by FBI Special Agents who didn’t appreciate their unflattering and incompetent portrayal in the film. When Evans denied their request to cease production, they began conducting surveillance on the film’s set. Evans refused their demands, but increasing pressure led to extensive overdubs during the film’s post-production phase: the FBI became the FBR, and the CIA became the CEA. Even the Telephone Company got wind of their negative portrayal in the film, and Evans believed that his telephone had begun to be monitored by either the Bureau or the phone company. Evans’ paranoia would ironically mirror that of James Coburn’s character in the film’s storyline.
 

 
The President’s Analyst hit theaters on December 21st, 1967, the same day as Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Both films were instant hits and received critical and box office praise. Roger Ebert called The President’s Analyst one of the “funniest movies of the year.” However, two weeks later Flicker received an unsettling phone call from his agent who told him, “You’ll never work in this town again.” Apparently FBI head J. Edgar Hoover had seen the film and was outraged by 4’7” actor Walter Burke whose character name Lux (like Hoover, a popular brand of vacuum cleaner) as the head of the “FBR” was blatantly poking fun at him. J. Edgar called the White House who called Charles Bluhdorn at Paramount, who called Flicker’s agent to inform him they were pulling the movie from theaters immediately. “What the hell are you trying to do to me?” Bluhdorn said on a phone, “But we have a hit!” “What the hell do I care about your hit, I have 27 companies that do business in Washington?” A millionaire at age 30, Charlie Bluhdorn didn’t just own Paramount; he owned Gulf and Western, Madison Square Garden, and Simon & Schuster publishing. As Flicker delicately put it, “The shit hit the fan.” Overnight he was officially no longer part of Hollywood’s A-list. He and Barbara had to foreclose their home and his agent stopped returning his phone calls.

More on the life and times of Ted Flicker after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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