Readers “of a certain age” will fondly recall the “Schiller’s Reel” segments that aired during the early years of SNL right up until 1990. Both Gary Weis and Albert Brooks had previously directed short films (shot on film) for SNL, but when Tom Schiller, one of the show’s original writers, came into the picture the “film” segment was dubbed “Schiller’s Reel” and later “SchillerVision.”
Some of the most iconic moments of the show’s entire tenure were from “Schiller’s Reel” such as his pitch-perfect Fellini parody, “La Dolce Gilda” (with Gilda Radner as a neurotic European actress in exquisite existential agony), “The Acid Generation Where Are They Now?” “Java Junkie” (with Teri Garr and Peter Ackroyd as the caffeine fiend) and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (an elderly John Belushi who has outlived all of his SNL costars makes a trip to the “Not Ready for Primetime Cemetery” and dances on their graves.) In his SNL segments, the director proved himself to be a master of many cinematic genres, a mimic, if you will, of movie styles throughout the decades. Unfortunately, not a lot of them have been posted online.
Thankfully there is a good quality copy of Tom Schiller’s wonderful short film “Love is a Dream,” made for SNL with Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks and producer/cinematographer Neal Marshad (followed by more SchillerVision goodness):
In 1984, Tom Schiller made his feature film debut with a terrifically ambitious and idiosyncratic little movie titled Nothing Lasts Forever, the tale of a young man (Zach Galligan from Gremlins) who aspires to become “an artist” but whose lofty ambitions are foiled by the Port Authority of New York who run Manhattan like a totalitarian state. He fails the test for a “creativity license” and they assign him to direct traffic at the Holland Tunnel. The film is shot mostly in black and white, with limited but effective use of color and deftly used cut-ins from from vintage movies, giving it a uniquely timeless feel (especially for a film made in the 1980s).
Nothing Lasts Forever is similar in some respects to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, with its depiction of a bureaucracy run amok, but with a hefty dollop of Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 thrown in for good measure: While the Port Authority may run New York City like a police state, it’s really a fraternal order of benevolent Illuminati tramps who are calling all the shots. There’s also a bus trip to the moon and true love. Along the way are vivid cameo appearances from Bill Murray as a suspicious bus conductor, Eddie Fisher playing himself as a broke lounge act, Dan Aykroyd as Zach’s uptight manager, Mort Sahl, Lawrence Tierney, Imogene Coca and Larry “Bud” Melman. Lauren Tom (later of Friends) plays the intergalactic love interest. John Belushi was to have played a small role in the film, but died six weeks before photography began.
Nothing Lasts Forever is as difficult to see as Tom Schiller’s SNL shorts. In fact, the film was never given a proper theatrical release to begin with. It was screened once—once—for a test audience in Seattle who gave it the thumbs down and then shelved. For reasons perhaps having to do with clearing the vintage footage Nothing Lasts Forever has never been released on VHS or on DVD, either, although it’s been screened on the German TCM channel in a dubbed version titled “Alles ist vergänglich” (a version has made the rounds on Demonoid that used that retracked with a visually inferior English language VHS bootleg’s soundtrack). From time to time Tom Schiller, who has gone on to direct over 500 television commercials (I’d love to know which ones) will appear at a screening of the film or Bill Murray will request that it be screened at a retrospective honoring him. Barring one of those rare screenings, you can watch Nothing Lasts Forever, where else, on YouTube: