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Watch ‘The Brainiac,’ the awful Mexican horror movie that inspired Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart
07:48 am


Frank Zappa
Captain Beefheart
The Brainiac

One of the strangest movies ever made, The Brainiac (a/k/a El baron del terror) is also the subject of “Debra Kadabra,” the first song on Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart’s Bongo Fury.

The song’s lyrics conflate a late-night broadcast of the 1962 movie on KCOP with an event from Beefheart and Zappa’s teenage years in 1950s Lancaster, when a cosmetics accident temporarily transformed Beefheart into something like a B-movie monster. One night, while the pair were in high school, Don Van Vliet (Beefheart) doused himself in some of the Avon prodcuts his mother sold; perhaps unsurprisingly, he suffered a severe allergic reaction (“His face looked like an alligator,” Zappa recalled). To convalesce, he went to a family member’s house in East L.A., where no one from high school could mock his disfigurement.

Cover my entire body with Avon co-log-nuh
And drive me to some relative’s house in East L.A.
Turn it to Channel 13
And make me watch the rubber tongue
When it comes out
From the puffed and flabulent Mexican rubber-goods mask


Make me grow Brainiac fingers
But with more hair


At the appropriate moments in the song, a trumpet quotes the score from The Brainiac. Barry Miles’ Zappa biography has a bit of the maestro discussing the movie’s relationship to “Debra Kadabra”:

Oh God, it’s one of the worst movies ever made; not only is the monster cheap, he’s got a rubber mask that you can see over the collar of the guy’s jacket and rubber gloves that don’t quite match up with the sleeves of his sport coat. When the monster appears there’s this trumpet lick that isn’t scary. It’s not even out of tune, it’s just exactly the wrong thing to put there, it doesn’t scare you… That’s what the song is about and when you hear in the background DA-DA-DA-DA-DAHH, that’s making fun of that stupid trumpet line that’s in that movie… When he’s saying “Make me grow Brainiac fingers”, that’s what he’s referring to, because Vliet and I have both seen that movie and it’s so fucking stupid.

You’ll love it! It’s a way of life…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Scenes from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ recreated using Grand Theft Auto V

A pretty impressive homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 masterpiece A Clockwork Orange hosted by Grand Theft Auto Online on YouTube. It took more than a dozen people to recreate some of the most iconic scenes from the movie using Grand Theft Auto V. Now I’ve played GTA a few times myself—this was years ago, btw—and I can’t figure out for the life of me just how they were able to recreate a few of these scenes. Incredible work!

With thanks to Edward Ludvigsen!

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Watch Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ audition
02:59 pm


Dazed and Confused
Matthew McConaughey


“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

The moviegoing public got its first look at actor Matthew McConaughey in his hilarious breakout role as Wooderson, the “too old to be hanging out with high school kids guy” in Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused. At the time the film was shot, McConaughey was still a student at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Communication. He graduated in the spring of 1993 with a Bachelor’s degree in Radio-Television-Film and had planned to attend law school, before realizing that he was probably not cut out to be a lawyer.

In the clip below, posted by Criterion, we can see McConaughey nail his Wooderson audition—probably the most iconic stoner in cinema not played by Cheech Marin or Tommy Chong—reading lines with Wiley Wiggins in 1991.

McConaughey reprised his Wooderson role in “Synthesizers” a 2012 video by Butch Walker and the Black Widows. Clearly not much has changed for the feathered hair stoner in 20 years…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Ornette Coleman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Cage and Sonny Rollins in superb sixties jazz films

The three short films below are all phenomenal documents of a seminal period in American modern jazz avant-garde experimentation captured candidly, directly, and thrillingly through the superb filmmaking talents of British documentary visionary, Dick Fontaine. Currently head of documentary direction at the National Film and Television School in Great Britain, Fontaine boasts a long career in which he’s created nearly 50 films. Starting out as a researcher for Manchester’s Granada Television, Fontaine is credited with making (in conjunction with the Maysles brothers who later directed Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens) the first British film that employed direct cinema techniques with 1964’s Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, a Granada audience hit that captured the Beatles’ first visit to the United States. Music and musicians have been a constant theme in Fontaine’s work, another fine example being 1984’s Beat This! about the golden age of hip-hop in New York City. 

Fontaine, himself a musician, clearly understands the power of the on-the-spot creative process. Each of the short films below are vibrant portraits of the artist in the act of making music and include what are perhaps some of the most intimate behind-the-scenes moments ever filmed for some of these frontrunners of the avant-garde all gathered with hand-held cameras and sound equipment. Think jazz versions of Don’t Look Back.

For the sake of chronology, let’s start with 1966’s David, Moffett and Ornette, which captures alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett as they travel to Paris to record the lush soundtrack to an obscure Belgian film called Who’s Crazy?. The performances in Fontaine’s film, which often take place in front of Who’s Crazy? as it is projected for the trio are nothing short of gorgeous, and interviews and candid footage with the band members reveal their reasoning for taking on what was a majorly controversial way of performing at the time. In particular, the interviews with Coleman that address race, sexuality and poverty are so relevant and alive that any serious student of his music simply has to watch this. The soundtrack to Who’s Crazy? on which Coleman plays alto sax, violin and trumpet, was released in 1966.


Who’s Crazy? (1966)
The next film is called Sound?? from 1967. I’d be doing it great disservice by describing it as anything short of importantly badass. The piece, a collaboration between highly influential multi-instrumentalist musical madman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and avant-garde sound artist John Cage, explores the very nature of sound and music itself as the piece shifts between the two pioneers. Kirk does his thing. He plays onstage with three saxophones at once, and a flute and a whistle. He hands out whistles to the audience at one point and calls for a participatory “blues in the key of W.” He plays with animals at the zoo. The footage of a performance at Ronnie Scott’s in London is incendiary. Cage, for his part, is interspersed throughout the film reading rhetorical questions in a variety of city locations about what it means to make music. If music is just noise, can anyone do it? What’s the point in making it? “Sounds are just vibrations,” Says Cage, “why didn’t I mention that before? Doesn’t that stir the imagination?” The whole thing, if nothing else, certainly stirs the imagination. I really can’t do this justice in a blog post. Just watch it. It’s great.

Sound?? (1967)
The final of the three films, 1968’s Who is Sonny Rollins?, is a more somber affair. It’s a searching portrait of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who, as the film states, recorded his first record in 1948 and had by 1959 become one of the most important and influential jazz performers in the world. He then summarily quit playing publically. Rollins returned to live performances and recording again in 1962, but by 1968 he was on a second performance sabbatical. He was, to hear Rollins tell it, fed up with the debauchery of the club scene which he simply says “kills off a lot of people.” Rollins and compatriot Paul Jeffrey are filmed improvising on the Williamsburg Bridge, a place where Rollins loved to play, incorporating the sounds of trains and other environmental noise. Rollins and Jeffrey explain their philosophy of freeing music from the club in more candid interviews and Rollins is filmed in a variety of outdoor locations while he explains his musical journey. It’s another fine piece of filmmaking. I’ll be damned if it’s not Charles Moffett (who started out as a trumpet player) who makes another appearance in Who is Sonny Rollins? when Rollins visits a music classroom in Harlem. It would make sense as the two did collaborate on a number of occasions.

Who is Sonny Rollins?
David, Moffett and Ornette and Sound?? were released on DVD as simplyDavid Moffett & Ornette despite the fact that both films are included on the disk. 

In 2013, Fontaine released a new film about Sonny Rollins called Sonny Rollins: Beyond the Notes in conjunction with Rollins’ 2010 80th birthday performance at The Beacon Theater in New York.

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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Johnny Cash’s rejected opening theme for ‘Thunderball’
05:47 am


Johnny Cash
James Bond

When the amusing podcast James Bonding, hosted by Matt Gourley and Matt Mira, got around to dealing with the ultra-boring, ultra-rapey (this is according to them, mind you) fourth installment of the James Bond franchise, Thunderball, things livened up considerably when they discussed the story behind the theme song.

Briefly, the theme song in the movie is sung by Tom Jones, who, legend has it, fainted upon completing the titanic final note of the song. That song had replaced a different song, sung by Shirley Bassey and, much later, by Dionne Warwick, which had the pretty unbeatable title of “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Albert Broccoli didn’t like that the song didn’t mention the name of the movie, so he shitcanned it.

But at some point Johnny Cash submitted a version, which would have been much more suitable for a spaghetti western and is, frankly, awesome. I’m prepared based on very little actual knowledge to assert that it’s better than any existing James Bond theme, and that includes the one from you-know-who and “this ever-changing world in which we’re living.” Sure, Cash’s version is a teensy bit stupid, but when you kick into that sweeping Morricone vibe, you can lead me just about anywhere.

A month later, according to Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life, Cash wrote a pretty similar song for the John Wayne movie The Sons of Katie Elder, and in all honesty it’s a little better.

You can find Cash’s “Thunderball” on the 2011 compilation Bootleg, Vol. 2: From Memphis to Hollywood.


Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and cheap old Republic serials: the loopy brilliance of ‘J-Men Forever’!

In 1979, a few years after the diaspora of the surrealistic stream-of-consciousness comedy troupe Firesign Theatre, that outfit’s Philip Proctor and Peter Bergman created J-Men Forever, a pastiche film a la What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, from old crime and superhero shorts. They combined footage from several different serials and dubbed in their own dialogue to create a ridiculous plot about evil forces (“The Lightning Bug,” represented by several serial characters including the Crimson Ghost, whose face famously served as the Misfits’ logo) trying to take over the world with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, while the forces of good (“The Caped Madman,” a Captain Marvel figure whose transformation word is SH’BOOM—Sneaky, Hateful, Bigoted, Obnoxious, Obnoxious, and Mean, and yes, I know “obnoxious” is in there twice) fought back with elevator music. It rambles, it barely coheres, and it’s funny as all hell. Given its eminent stoner-friendliness, you’d think it’d have been a natural midnight movie, but it gained its life and audience when the USA Network’s treasure-filled insmoniac’s pal Night Flight played it in its entirety and harvested clips from it to use as interstitials.


In his 15 Minutes With…Forty Years of Interviews, film historian and radio host G. Michael Dobbs spoke with Proctor about the film.

Proctor recounted that producer Patrick Curtis had established a relationship with Republic Studios when he had produced an homage film to B westerns, another genre that Republic had produced.

“We thought it would be fun to do the serials,” Proctor said.

He and Bergman watched the serials and then wrote the new screenplay. They also supervised the new soundtracks, performing some of the voices themselves and casting other performers such as deejay Machine Gun Kelly.

An influx of funding allowed the pair to shoot new wrap-around footage featuring them as federal agents coordinating the fight against the Lightning Bug.

The reception the film received was so impressive that it inspired two spin-offs, a Cinemax special The Mad House of Dr. Fear and Hot Shorts for RCA Home Video, which used other members of the Firesign Theatre.

After Night Flight ended its run, the film was relegated to cinematic limbo.

“For years I tried to get it out,” said Proctor, “but we couldn’t find a good print. It was more important to have it look right. Then [Night Flight producer] Stuart Shapiro came up with a print.”


Previously on Dangerous Minds
Farewell, dear friend: Peter Bergman 1939-2012
More sugar: Firesign Theatre’s ‘High School Madness’ visualized

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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There’s more to guileless Caucasian everyman Fred Willard than it seems
09:34 am


Fred Willard

(from the portroids project)
When was the first time you saw Fred Willard? Was it Fernwood 2Night? Or perhaps the happy-go-lucky military officer in This Is Spinal Tap? If you’re a little younger it may well have been his delirious turn as a dog show commentator in Christopher Guest’s 2004 satire Best in Show. For me it was Real People, the weird prime-time magazine show with a live audience on NBC around 1980.

Whatever the case, it’s in keeping with Willard’s guileless Middle American everyman schtick that it might almost have seemed as if he were hardly performing at all, as if he had wandered onto the set practically by accident.

Willard during his Second City days. Robert Klein is the taller guy.
Such an impression could hardly be farther from the truth. Let’s say you first saw him in Fernwood 2 Night, right? That would have been 1977. So we, the American audience, were just getting to know him, right? He was just starting out. No, on the contrary: By 1977 Fred Willard was a highly seasoned veteran of sketch comedy, with more than 15 years of hard-won experience under his belt. In 1962 he (along with his longtime partner Vic Grecco, sometimes styled ‘Greco’) appeared on the same bill as Barbra Streisand at the hungry i in San Francisco! Hell, maybe Barbra opened for them!

Fred Willard was a member of the Second City improv troupe for a number of years—his audition with Robert Klein secured a spot for both comedians. He also starred in the first successful production of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders in 1969. Ironically, at Second City his ostentatiously “straight” demeanor and appearance made him “weird,” as he confessed in the pages of Mike Thomas’ oral history Second City Unscripted

I was kind of the weird guy. The original Second City guys all had beards and sat around smoking dope, and I heard stories of when the thaw came in the spring, you’d go out in this garden next door, and there were all these hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia, but I was never into drugs.

If you are in the L.A. area next Saturday, January 17, the formidable Kliph Nesteroff will be hosting an intimate Q&A at the Downtown Independent. The event is at 3 p.m., and costs just $10. Do hurry, though, because tickets are limited. Nesteroff is almost certainly the best-informed person born after the heyday of Julius Erving on the old-school nightclub comedy of the 1940s through the 1970s, and Fred Willard has so many incredible stories to tell, it’ll make your head spin. If you’re not already reading his Tumblr Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery, you’re missing out, because it’s great.

Here’s an episode of Get Smart that was actually conceived as a stealth “pilot” for a sitcom starring Willard and Grecco. However, their agent held out for more money and the production company changed their minds.

After the jump, a remarkable commercial from more than 40 years ago featuring Willard, Peter Boyle, and James Woods…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Paul Thomas Anderson: David Foster Wallace was ‘the first teacher I fell in love with’

Two days ago Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, who is promoting his new Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice was posted, and buried in that interview is an intriguing tale about Anderson’s days as a student in a class taught by revered author David Foster Wallace. It turns out that Wallace spent a year as an adjunct professor at Emerson College, and that happened to be the same year that Anderson was there as a student, and Anderson happened to take one of Wallace’s classes, in which they apparently read Don Delillo’s classic postmodernist novel White Noise.

Here’s the relevant portion of the interview, which takes place around the 38th minute, lightly edited for readability:

Anderson: [Being at Emerson College] just felt like a drag. It didn’t really. … And I would have to say, that probably was just because I didn’t find a teacher that kind of spoke to me. The funny thing was, is when I was at Emerson for that year, David Foster Wallace, a great writer who was not known then, was my teacher. He was an English teacher.  And, it was the first teacher I fell in love with. And I never found anyone else like that at any other schools that I’ve been to, which makes me really reticent to talk shit about schools or anything else, because it’s just like anyplace, like if you could find a good teacher, man, I’m sure school would be great.

Maron: So why didn’t you stay?

Anderson: He left.

Maron: So you were there with him for a year?

Anderson: Yeah.

Maron: And you spent a lot of time with him?

Anderson: You know why I didn’t stay? And in that classic move, I thought, “Oh, I want to get to New York. That’s where I’m supposed to go. I’m supposed to go to NYU,” ‘cause it had this good rep and all that. … And, dummy that I am, I did it, and I got there and I thought, “Well, I don’t want to be here. I wish I was back in Boston, you know, taking English classes.”

Maron: Did you spend a lot of time with David Foster Wallace?

Anderson: No. Just in class.

Maron: Oh really? You weren’t one of those guys that after class was like, “Hey, can I talk to you?”

Anderson: No. Uh, I called him once. He was very generous with his phone number, he said “Call me if you got any questions.” I called him a couple times.

Maron: Yeah? What did you say?

Anderson: I ran a few ideas by him about a paper I was writing. I was writing a paper on Don Delillo’s White Noise.

Maron: “Hail of bullets!”

Anderson: And I came up with a couple of crazy ideas, I don’t remember how the conversation went but I just remember him being real generous at like, you know,  midnight the night before it was due.

Maron: Really? You were freaking out, all jacked up?

Anderson: [Laughing] Yeah, basically!

Maron: “I’m almost done, man!”

Anderson: It was like, I think I’d written a pretty good paper. It was like, cooking a pretty good dish and at the last minute just panicking—“I got to add some more shit on, on top of it.”

Maron: Or you missed the point, like “Aww, that’s what it’s about!”

Anderson: Right. Yeah. There was no cut-and-paste back then, if you typed it out, you were….

Maron: That book was a life-changer for me, man.

Anderson: Was it really?

Maron: Little bit.

Anderson: I’d love to go back and read it again.

Maron: I would too, actually.

As it happens, Wallace paid close attention to at least two of Anderson’s movies, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, without ever betraying any inkling that he had ever had contact with the director, which frankly seems a little odd. Wallace had a prodigious intellect, and even if Anderson were the most anonymous shnook Wallace had ever had as a student—which seems unlikely—if you’re on the phone multiple times with him discussing White Noise, when a movie as big as Boogie Nights comes out just six years later (Anderson’s debut film, Hard Eight, came out just five years later), you’d think it might make a more lasting impression in a mind as capacious as Wallace’s. Be that as it may, Wallace had strong opinions about Boogie Nights and Magnolia, opinions that track my own precisely: he was tremendously impressed by Boogie Nights and didn’t much care for Magnolia.

In Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, the biography of Wallace that came out after Wallace’s 2008 suicide, author D.T. Max reports the following: “When Boogie Nights came out in 1997, Wallace called Costello and told him the movie was exactly the story that he had been trying to write when they lived together in Somerville.” “Costello” here is Mark Costello, a close friend of Wallace’s with whom he co-wrote the bizarre 1990 book Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present. About Anderson’s follow-up to Boogie Nights Wallace was a good deal grumpier; according to Max’s account, Wallace “hated the acclaimed Magnolia, which he found pretentious and hollow, ‘100% gradschoolish in a bad way.’”

It’s tempting to say that Anderson (whatever Wallace thought of Magnolia) is the only director who could ever successfully direct one of Wallace’s works, and so on. Anderson is such a gifted director that he would be the first choice for almost any writer’s works, whether it be Delillo, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, J.D. Salinger. He has just completed the first Pynchon adaptation with a fair degree of success. Of course, there already exists a Wallace adaptation, John Krasinski’s 2009 movie Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It happens that Jason Segel is attempting to portray Wallace himself in The End of the Tour, an adaptation of David Lipsky’s memoir about Wallace titled Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Segel has come under fire for daring to attempt to play Wallace, which makes sense primarily insofar as it’s exceedingly difficult to capture an intelligence like Wallace’s onscreen, and Segel has mostly played dumb guys in his career.

What’s been overlooked in the apparent linkup between Anderson and Wallace is a key shared point of interest, that being the adult entertainment industry. Anderson’s breakthrough success, Boogie Nights, is an affectionate look at the porn industry of the 1970s, which in the movie is eventually usurped by the more cutthroat and impersonal video-based porn industry of the 1980s, mirroring a progression that happened in real life. Anderson grew up in the San Fernando Valley and has often told of his youthful adventures figuring out that certain houses in the neighborhood were being used for porno shoots. (The subject comes up in the WTF interview too.) Wallace also had a keen interest in the porn industry, writing a piece of reportage for Premiere magazine on the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in 1998. The article was hilariously written under the pseudonymous byline “Willem R. deGroot and Matt Rundlet”; the title of the piece was “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment.” It’s the first essay in Consider the Lobster, Wallace’s second collection of non-fiction works, although the title’s been changed to “Big Red Son.”

But the AVN story is just a small part of it. At one point, around the time he and Costello were working on the hip-hop book, Wallace, according to Max, spent a considerable amount of time trying to write a novel set in the pornography industry, one that never got finished:

Another nonconformist industry now caught his eye: the pornography business. Pornography fit well into Wallace’s ongoing areas of inquiry: it linked to advertising—the thing really being sold was the idea that we are all entitled to sexual pleasure, which in turn feeds the secondhand desire that Wallace saw at the root of the American malaise.

You can see this idea playing out in Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest, in the “samizdat” that is so entertaining that its viewers lose interest in everything else and eventually die. In The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Costello (pretty hilariously) reported on Wallace’s research methods for the book as follows:

Wallace set timetables for his work, intricate as the Croton-on-Hudson local. Get up. Talk on phone with porn actress famous for giving screen blow jobs. Hang up. Ask: is the porn queen an actress? Look up actress in the OED. Actress: a female actor. Look up actor: one who acts in a drama. Surely a blow job is an act. OK then: is a blow job drama?

Not surprisingly, per Max, Wallace soon came to think that some “actual on-set knowledge might help.” It’s in this context that Wallace’s interest in Boogie Nights becomes more evident. According to Max, Wallace “came to think that what was needed was a reported piece on how the industry had changed as the so-called golden age of porn gave way to the era of inexpensive and inartistic video,” which is precisely the perspective that Anderson offered in his highly confident and knowing movie about porn.

Here’s The Dirk Diggler Story in full, the half-hour movie Anderson made in 1988 that many years later would become the core of Boogie Nights.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Tangled Up in Dylan’: Insane documentary about Bob Dylan’s most obsessive fan
08:19 am


Bob Dylan
A.J. Weberman


I noticed that the (excellent) Bob Dylan fansite, Expecting Rain, was sending a lot of traffic this morning to a post from 2012 about the fascinatingly strange film Tangled Up in Dylan: The Ballad of AJ Weberman. This unique documentary—which I quite enjoyed—has now been posted in its entirety on YouTube (see below). Here’s a link to a related post from the archives: ‘Dylanologist’ AJ Weberman (supposedly) goes through Bob Dylan’s trash, 1969.

If you appreciate whimsical documentaries about eccentric or marginal types—much of Louis Theroux’s work, the Wild Man Fischer doc dErailRoaDed and Keith Allen’s deliriously insane Little Lady Fauntleroy would fall into this category—or if you are a Bob Dylan completest, then you might be interested in Tangled Up in Dylan: The Ballad of AJ Weberman directed by James Bluemel and Oliver Ralfe.

AJ Weberman is infamous, if he is known at all, among Dylan aficionados for being the obsessed stalker who Bob Dylan physically assaulted in 1971 because he had been harassing his family. Weberman picked through their trash (he calls his stinky style of sleuthing the science of “Garbology”) and staged demonstrations (with the “Dylan Liberation Front,” the students of his “Dylanology” classes) outside of Dylan’s MacDougal Street brownstone, apparently with the aim of convincing Dylan to, uh, join the revolution, man… but having the result of really pissing him off.

Bob Dylan vs. A.J. Weberman is the title of a much-sought after Dylan curio, a bootleg LP made from recordings of Weberman and Dylan talking on the telephone. It’s a fascinating conversation—indeed it’s what got the filmmakers interested in such an odd character in the first place—but it’s baffling why a superstar like Bob Dylan would have given such a freak his phone number in the first place (Weberman taught a class in “Dylanology” and had interviewed Dylan for the underground press before he got weird on him).

Here’s what Weberman told Rolling Stone’s Marc Jacobson, years later, about the time Dylan beat him up:

“I’d agreed not to hassle Dylan anymore, but I was a publicity-hungry motherfucker. . . . I went to MacDougal Street, and Dylan’s wife comes out and starts screaming about me going through the garbage. Dylan said if I ever fucked with his wife, he’d beat the shit out of me. A couple of days later, I’m on Elizabeth Street and someone jumps me, starts punching me.

“I turn around and it’s like—Dylan. I’m thinking, ‘Can you believe this? I’m getting the crap beat out of me by Bob Dylan!’ I said, ‘Hey, man, how you doin’?’ But he keeps knocking my head against the sidewalk. He’s little, but he’s strong. He works out. I wouldn’t fight back, you know, because I knew I was wrong. He gets up, rips off my ‘Free Bob Dylan’ button and walks away. Never says a word.

“The Bowery bums were coming over, asking, ‘How much he get?’ Like I got rolled. . . . I guess you got to hand it to Dylan, coming over himself, not sending some fucking lawyer. That was the last time I ever saw him, except once with one of his kids, maybe Jakob, and he said, ‘A.J. is so ashamed of his Jewishness, he got a nose job,’ which was true—at least in the fact that I got a nose job. . . .”


Weberman has written several books about Dylan (RightWing Bob: What the Liberal Media Doesn’t Want You To Know About Bob Dylan being one of them) and other subjects (such as HOMOTHUG: The Secret Life of Rudy Guiliani) and maintains to this day that Dylan sends him secret messages in song lyrics.

I’ve had my own (one-sided) run-ins with the notoriously prickly Weberman: In April of 1997, only a matter of a few months after Disinformation was launched on the Internet, I posted an innocuous enough item there about Aron Kay AKA “Pie Man,” another aging Yippie holdover like Weberman who was known for his habit of “pieing” people he thought deserved ridiculing like Anita Bryant, William F. Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt and Andy Warhol.

Kay and Weberman are old cronies and I guess what happened is that he told Weberman about this counterculture website that had written about him and Weberman took a look, noticed a collection of links to various JFK assassination sites that I’d prepared, saw that his JFK assassination site wasn’t listed there and promptly started leaving long, hateful, spiteful messages (three in all) on my answering machine. Someone I’d never met was fucking furious at me, over something that I didn’t do. My sin was one of omission—I didn’t know about his website—but it seemed to leave the guy utterly unhinged.

I didn’t hear from him again for ten years until my wife signed me up for Facebook. One day soon afterwards she asked me: “Do you know some dude named AJ Weberman? He’s saying shitty things about you and trolling you on your Facebook wall.”

“Oh that guy. No, I don’t know him, but he’s done this before to me, just ban him, will you?”

That’s the end of my AJ Weberman story, although I suspect he’ll read this post and have something to say in the comments.

Via email, I asked the filmmakers, James Bluemel and Oliver Ralfeabout getting tangled up with Weberman:

I know that both of you are big Dylan fans. How did you stumble across AJ Weberman and decide to make a film about him?

We first came across Weberman in various biographies of Dylan. He was and probably always will be portrayed as a persistent nuisance in the extreme. The way people wrote about him was purely hateful which stuck out. We then heard the bootlegged phone call him made to Dylan which made for fascinating listening and we thought, ‘I wonder what this guy is doing now?’

What do you make of his “Dylanology”?

Weberman has an incredible analytical brain. His conclusions maybe off kilter but the ride is entertaining and sometimes illuminating. While many scholars interpret Dylan’s work within the vernacular of the blues or folk music traditions, it’s interesting to read Dylan from a street slang, streetwise level, which is where Weberman places him. And some of his insights, the way he sees those songs are fascinating. However, I feel Weberman has an agenda which often shapes his interpretations and distorts them. Some of his conclusions I disagree with, some anger me, some amuse me. It’s important to note for those that haven’t seen the film, that it’s not just a mouth piece for Weberman’s insights and wild fantasies about Dylan – there’s plenty of that you can read for yourselves on the web if you want to.

In the infamous recording of his phone conversation with Dylan, I couldn’t for the life of me understand Dylan’s own motivation in bothering to accommodate an asshole like Weberman. Most people, let alone someone as famous as Bob Dylan, would have told Weberman to go fuck himself or let the police deal with him, but Dylan, even after insulting him, continues to speak with him—albeit warily—and even agrees to a future call. Do you think Dylan was thinking “Well this guys a kook, but he’s a fan, so I owe him politeness” and just trying to deal with him on that level or WHAT? (My wife remarked during that part of your film “Why does Bob Dylan stay on the phone with this creep?” as well. It bothered her!)

I think perhaps Dylan was trying to work out how much of a nut Weberman was. This is a good few years before Lennon was shot but I bet part of Dylan’s receptiveness to Weberman was to try to work out if he was dangerous. By the time of the phone call however, Dylan had met Weberman a number of times and probably worked out that he wasn’t a psycho, so I think there was something else going on. I think in some way Dylan enjoyed the banter. Weberman does not kowtow to Dylan, he doesn’t let him get away with anything on that call, he challenges Dylan and when Dylan counter attacks these challenges, Weberman comes back at him with more. Perhaps Dylan found this refreshing to the hordes of people that fell over themselves to agree with him and praise him.

I’ve never had any personal interaction with Weberman, but he’s called my apartment in NYC and left abusive messages for me and some nasty posts on my Facebook wall. However, I must say, he doesn’t seem nearly as crazy in your film as I imagined he’d be in real life. Do you reckon he was on his best behavior because there was a camera on him?

Not really. Weberman has a nasty streak in him which I think you see in our film but it’s not the only aspect of his personality.

Near the start of the film he admits to getting physical with his wife resulting in a retraining order and also of spending some time in jail. How long was he actually incarcerated for dealing pot?

I forget now – I think the sentence was two years.

How does Weberman make a living these days?

It’s a good question. I believe he does a bit of work gathering information for the Jewish Defense League. He also writes books – the Dylan to English dictionary, his book on who really killed JFK and Homo Thug which was about Giuliani. I don’t know how much money he makes from these however.

How did he react to your film? Did he throw a tantrum and call your voice mail repeatedly? Nasty emails?

He never really commented on the film. In fact, he has never really asked us any personal questions about our lives at all. When we meet up with him these days, it’s just straight into whatever is on his mind. So no, he’s never let on what he thought about it. He probably would have preferred it if we used more of his Dylanology rants and kept in some of the more outrageous conclusions he comes up with. There was one point while shooting he said he would prefer it if we stopped filming, then he immediately changed his mind and said fuck it, lets keep it in the style of cinéma vérité. I liked that.

Have you ever heard if Bob Dylan saw your doc? I’d imagine that he’d get a real kick out of it.

I really hope he has seen it. I gave a copy to the producer of No Direction Home who promised he’d pass it on to Dylan. Who knows if that happened? If he has seen it, I hope he liked it.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Silver Screen Fiend’: An exclusive Q&A with Patton Oswalt about his movie mania
10:14 am


Patton Oswalt

Photo: Matt Hoyle
After graduating college in 1992, I was lucky enough to be able to move to Vienna, Austria, where I ended up living for three years. Because of connections through friends and family there, I was essentially paying no rent, and in that time I took a number of odd, off-the-books jobs and generally had fun exploring the city and trying my damndest to learn German. Mostly what I did is read books (in English) and—especially—watch movies. I’ve read that the French call the twenties the age of movie-going, and that was certainly true of me. I was in my twenties, and I was fairly obsessed with movies. At that time in Austria, every Friday would bring one or two American releases; partly as a link to home, I watched a good deal of those movies, many of them awful, in the theater (there was no such thing as DVDs or streaming, remember; libraries were not plentiful; video rental stores were inconveniently located and pricey). So it was that I watched a category of movie I would probably have avoided at any other time of my life, movies like Another Stakeout and Sliver and Striking Distance and Pacific Heights and Unlawful Entry and Hero and Sommersby and Guilty as Sin and Malice and countless others. Most of these movies were terrible, of course, but not all of them were. In addition to the current Hollywood movies I was seeing, I was also getting drunk on American independent movies and foreign movies and hardy studio-system/auteurist fare, trying to achieve a minimal level of mastery on directors like Jarmusch and Hartley and Wong Kar-Wai and Buñuel and Mike Leigh and Rohmer and Kieslowski and Linklater and Abel Ferrara and Hawks and Ford and Sirk and on and on and on. Vienna’s a good town for revival cinemas, and I was using my gift of free time to catch up in a hurry.

I think it took a generational compeer such as Patton Oswalt (just a year older than myself) to write a book that brought me back to those heady days so powerfully. In his new book Silver Screen Fiend, Oswalt covers with fearful accuracy and depth his own late twenties in which, while pursuing a career as a comedy writer and developing his standup persona, he also attempted to fulfill a personal bet of sorts in which he would spend as many evenings in a movie theater as possible. In a long appendix Oswalt lists what movies he watched on certain dates from 1995 to 1999, and in among the classics of the golden age of cinema (The Philadelphia Story) and foreign masterpieces (Band of Outsiders) and schlock standouts (The Man from Planet X), you can see Oswalt taking in whatever new product Hollywood was issuing as well—Space Jam and Turbulence and Double Team and so on. It was this latter point that made me realize how similar Oswalt and I were, we both felt this inexplicable urge to consume just everything relating to movies.

Oswalt’s first book, 2011’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, touched on his cinephilia (it covers his youthful stint working at the Towncenter 3 Movie Theater in Sterling, Virginia) but was mainly about the making of a nerd, if you will, focusing on comic books and standup. Whereas that fine book was a loosely connected collection of essays, Silver Screen Fiend exploits the obsessions of Oswalt’s twenties to give the book a stronger narrative. Oswalt starts the book in 1995, in thrall to his five chosen cinema bibles (Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film et al.) and emerges in 1999, better informed on cinema to be sure, but also having progressed enough as a person to have moved on from this particular “Night Café” (a useful trope developed by Oswalt that anyone can use to track significant challenges in one’s life), free of the need to cater so doggedly to this particular whim. In other words, he had tackled this particular demon and conquered it, he could move forward as an accredited movie maven and achieve success in his chosen fields of comedy and acting.

The book should be a delight to any obsessive movie freaks out there. In an effort to avoid an inflated ego, Oswalt has a slackerish (hey, I’m one too) tendency to be excessively hard on himself, as in his eviscerating depictions of himself as an employee of Mad TV in the mid-1990s. I think I can speak for most of his readers when I say that I hope Oswalt can find a way to let himself off the hook!

Oswalt kindly took time out of his holiday schedule to answer a few questions for Dangerous Minds:
Dangerous Minds: I recently saw some of Clint Eastwood’s early directorial triumphs, including Play Misty for Me and High Plains Drifter. High Plains Drifter in particular is a sorely underrated movie. Any thoughts on those movies or Eastwood as a director?

Patton Oswalt: He’s doing that classic Hollywood studio system thing that Scorsese’s been doing in a sneaky way. In other words, he just keeps making movies. Some are terrific (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Invictus) some not so good (no comment) but he keeps expanding the canvas, and challenging himself, and he’s on a much bigger journey than dwelling over reviews and box office. I’m glad that’s still happening in moviemaking.

I read somewhere that you wanted to program John Huston’s Fat City in a film festival but it wasn’t available. Boy, Susan Tyrrell is really something in that!

I eventually got to screen it. And there was a chance, up ’til the last minute, that Stacey Keach would be available for a q&a, but his schedule wouldn’t permit it. Oh well. It’s still a fantastic movie. That opening scene, where Stacey Keach is pulling himself into consciousness in the hotel room, is all of 70’s cinema distilled.

I feel like the greatest of all Blaxploitation movies is really Cotton Comes to Harlem but it doesn’t get mentioned as much. It’s full of humor and music and mountebanks and schemes and crazy clothes d crazy interior design. It’s got so much energy but later Blaxploitation movies feel a little co-opted by comparison. Do you agree?  What are some of your favorite Blaxploitation moments?

I’m more partial to movies like Superfly (with the genius push-pull of the images being negated by the chiding, mournful soundtrack) and The Mack. Even something like Sweet Sweetback has a too-simple agenda, at times, despite its wild, incredibly alive filmmaking. The Mack and Superfly sting more because when you watch them they simply… are. They respect you enough to make up your mind about what you’re seeing. And I’m a huge Chester Himes fan, and I don’t think Coffin Ed and Gravedigger have ever been well-depicted onscreen, Cotton Comes to Harlem included.

In 1981, I was 11 years old, and my parents took me to see Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey within two weeks of each other—and in between, I secretly watched Ken Russell’s Tommy on TV, which is an incredibly fucked-up movie for a preteen to watch. That was the month I realized that there was this thing called “grown-up movies” waiting for me up ahead. Do you remember the first movie or movies you ever saw that made you realize that movies were an adult pastime that you could look forward to?

When I was 11 my dad took me to see Excalibur. It was my first R-rated movie in a theater. And I remember being excited, of course, for the tits and violence. But I ended up being more intrigued by the new dimensions being opened up to me. It was the first time I realized that a lot of the time, kids are given the basic outline of the story—the sword in the stone, the grail—and adults get all of the in-between, filled-in details. The adultery, the selfish sorcery, the petty politics that humans live under and subject themselves to. It was a terrific thing to realize at such a young age—that growing older afforded you darker dimensions. I couldn’t wait!

The Man from Planet X

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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