Directed by Robert Downey (senior) in 1966, Chafed Elbows was one the first underground films to actually be seen outside of lofts or basements in Greenwich Village. I saw it when I was 15 at the Key Theater in Washington D.C. I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on but I liked it.
Using still photos, some moving images and comically surreal voiceovers, Downey’s subversive slice of New York bohemian humor would later be amplified in his cult classic Putney Swope.
In his 1967 column for the New York Times, film critic, and square, Bosley Crowther did his best to come to terms with Chafed Elbows to humorous effect:
Everybody in this wacky movie about a busy day in the life of a hyperthyroid moron is an unregenerate mess—from the fellow himself, whose mad adventures include a mistaken hysterectomy, which results in the removal from his innards of 189 $10 bills, to his snaggletoothed, scratchy-voiced mother with whom he is having an incestuous affair, to his bald-headed, viper-tongued psychiatrist who rattles off his words like Groucho Marx.
They’re all hideous, obscene, repulsive people on the order of some of the slobs in comic strips, only these are much more irreverent and filthy-mouthed than any comic-strip characters would dare to be. And I would hastily overlook them and drop this film with much of the trash in the underground, if it weren’t that there is in “Chafed Elbows” a promising modicum of lively, acid wit.
Peter Bergman and Firesign Theatre producer and archivist, Taylor Jessen, discuss the newly released box set of Firesign Theatre radio shows (1970-72), Duke of Madness Motors, featuring over 80 hours of MP3 audio on a DVD-ROM and a 108 page full-color book! Order your copy of Duke of Madness Motors today, because there are only 200 copies left and it’s unlikely to ever be reprinted.
Filmed on December 9, 1971 in Hong Kong after the release of his first movie, The Big Boss, Bruce Lee’s interview with Canadian journalist Pierre Berton was long thought to be lost. It was discovered in 1994 and aired as a TV special in Canada as Bruce Lee: The Lost Interview.
Berton is unimpressive as a talking head but Lee is both charming and wise beyond his years.
Primarily a painter these days, Peter Schnitzler was a prolific documentary filmmaker in the 1960s and 70s. He has directed over 100 films on science, the environment and culture. In this short film, Tom, Schnitzler focuses his camera on a young hippie living in the mellower Southern California of the early 70s.
A groovy artifact from the tail end of the Age Of Aquarius infused with good vibes and a heavy dose of nostalgia. This was made for the National Institute Of Mental Health as a training film. An anthropological study of the hippie in its natural habitat?
Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber may just be a kid, and yet in a recent Rolling Stone interview, he demonstrated a level of political sophistication (not to mention common sense) that these brain-dead Tea bagger-types lack when he told journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis that he had no plans to ever become an American citizen:
“You guys are evil,” he says with a laugh. “Canada’s the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don’t need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you’re broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard’s baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby’s premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home.”
Seems like a good system to me.
However, instead of one of JB’s hits, let’s listen to BJ Snowden’s paean to our northern neighbor, “In Canada”:
Some of my most vivid childhood memories revolved around the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and his production partner David F. Friedman. Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red were taboo pleasures for a kid entering his teens. I grew up in the American south and exploitation flicks were standard fare at the sleazepit movie theaters in Norfolk, Virginia near where I lived. I was a connoisseur at an early age of the high brow horror of Hammer films but took particular delight in the blood-soaked thrills of Lewis and Friedman’s joint venture Box Office Spectaculars.
It all started with Blood Feast. In 1963 Feast for me was the kind of jaw-dropping experience that up until then had only been rivaled by the gory centerfolds of the National Enquirer, nudist magazines and Tijuana bibles. These were sights not intended for the eyes of innocent youth. But, by the age of 12, my innocence had long been pummeled into oblivion by my strong left hand. Lewis and Friedman had tapped into something that psychiatrists are still grappling with: the thin line between sex and violence. I was too young to get any tongue but not too young to watch young women having their tongues ripped out. I blame the movies for much of what made me into the sick fuck I am today.
My buddy Leo and I would scour the movie section of the local newspaper every weekend hoping and praying to see the Box Office Spectacular name attached to any new releases. If we scored, we’d take the 20 mile ride by bus into Norfolk and, along with a handful of sailors on weekend leave, watch the latest B.O.S. bloodbath. A matinee was fifty cents back then and a flick like Blood Feast delivered tremendous bang for half a buck. Short on narrative and plot, but long on explicit scenes of over-the-top gore, David F. Friedman knew exactly what his audience came for. Somewhere in Baltimore, John Waters was transfixed by the same blood red thrills as Leo and me. And later a film geek in L.A. by the name of Quentin Tarantino would discover a battered video of Color Me Blood Red, a tale of blood, guts and fine art, on a dusty shelf somewhere and feel a tingling sensation in his scrotum that later translated into a creative act.
In many ways, I credit Friedman for creating the D.I.Y. in-your-face energy that would later manifest in punk rock.
I’m not here to write an obituary or bio of David F. Friedman. There are and will be plenty on the Internet. I just wanted to share a few personal memories of seeing his films. The Deuce has a detailed bio on Friedman here. Also, Friedman wrote a wonderfully entertaining autobiography A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King . It’s out-of-print but Amazon has some reasonably priced used copies you can snag here.
The best way to honor Mr. Friedman is to share one of his Dixiefied gore classics with you. Two Thousand Maniacs! sent me stumbling out of the theater in 1964 with something resembling a religious experience. In its depiction of backwoods psychopaths in a frenzy of bloodlust it not only freaked me out for the obvious reasons, it touched a deeper nerve. I was beginning to wise up to the mob mentality that existed among the various factions in my school and neighborhood, the kind of group psychosis that lead men into wars like Vietnam. I was just a kid but I was already developing a distaste for the kind of cruelty people bestow upon outsiders and things they don’t understand and the glee in which they often display in treating the “other” with harsh injustice.
I may be giving David F. Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis credit for a political/sociological subtext in Two Thousand Maniacs! they never intended. But intentional or not, I think these two film makers were tapping into something in themselves that like all art, dreams and fairytales delve into universal truths. Two Thousand Maniacs! in its own bizarro way is a commentary on and critique of the conformity and narrow mindedness of the 1950s. Were the kings of trash cinema anarchists in disguise? Is Two Thousand Maniacs! a radical anti-war film? Or a situationist act of subversion that eviscerates the white supremacism that still prevailed in the American south in 1964—the year of its release and the year in which George Wallace ran for President?
Originally broadcast in 1986 in the UK, The South Bank Show’s Velvet Underground documentary was directed by Kim Evans with the help of Mary Harron. It contains interviews with Lou, John, Sterling, Moe, Nico, Warhol and lots of early Velvet performance footage, including stuff shot by Jonas Mekas. For hardcore Velvet fans none of this will be new, but isn’t it nice to have it compiled in a visually pleasing package? And for the casual VU fan, this is essential.
John Cale: “The only reason we wore sunglasses on stage was because we couldn’t stand the sight of the audience.”