Bryan Gordon’s metaphor-laden Oscar-winning 1987 comedy short, Ray’s Male Heterosexual Dance Hall, reflects the go-go Reagan 80s back to us, as perfect a time-capsule piece of “the era of style over substance” as Oliver Stone’s Wall Street was…
“A meditation of the manoeuvrings of the corporate world in the 1980′s, the film satirizes the lifestyles of the ostensible successful in a nation obsessed with Gordon Gecko-style business moguls. Full of brilliant lines that highlight the duplicitous nature of the board room and its meaningless double talk, all delivered whilst middle-aged men in suits dance hand in hand. Gordon has gone on to direct episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office but thanks to the wonders of the Internet its possible to view his only film project in full on YouTube. It also features a cameo from Fred Willard if you needed further convincing to go and watch it immediately.”
Stop, you had me at Fred Willard… You’ll see several other now-famous faces, too, in Ray’s Male Heterosexual Dance Hall.
Fernwood 2Night was a talk show satire starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard. Preceding Alan Partridge and Larry Sanders by quite some years, Fernwood 2Night came on the air in 1977 when I was eleven years old and I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. Where I lived, it was on a station called Channel 53, a low rent UHF channel in Pittsburgh that was like a junkyard of cheaply licensed television. Like a real life version of the fictional cheapo cable channel in SCTV, Channel 53 showed an insane low-budget mix of Marx Brothers, WC Fields, Aussie women in prison soaps, Monty Python, Flash Gordon serials, The Avengers, Hammer horror, Sgt. Bilko, My Favorite Martian, Jack Benny, Tom Baker-era Doctor Who shows, freakazoid televangelist, Dr. Gene Scott, Dave Allen at Large, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman five days a week. It was TV heaven for some, telly hell for others. Me, I loved it.
That’s where Fernwood 2Night comes in. Fernwood 2Night was the summer replacement series so that Mary Hartman’s cast and crew could take a much-needed break from pumping out five weekly episodes. It was my favorite TV show and I would throw a FIT if my parents wanted me to go someplace when it was on. Like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, it was on five nights a week, too, and I probably saw ALL of them.
Martin Mull was brilliant as Barth Gimble, the twin brother of Garth Gimble, a caddish wife-beater character Mull portrayed on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman who had come to a gruesome end (he was impaled on a Christmas tree!). It is implied that Barth has legal issues (which may or may not involve an underage girl in Miami) so after his brother’s death, he’s stuck working in the podunk town of Fernwood, where he feels smugly superior to everyone, especially his announcer/side-kick Jerry Hubbard. played by Fred Willard.
In a scene-stealing role that defined his entire career playing the clueless white guy—is there ANYONE more Caucasian that Fred Willard?—Willard portrays what is quite possibly the dumbest, most dense character in all of television history. I’ve always thought that Willard was a comedic genius—the obtuse angles of his observations, so off the cuff and spontaneous, so REAL—and he was never funnier than he is in this role. The core cast was rounded out by their dour band leader, “Happy” Kyne” (Frank De Vol) and his “Mirthmakers.”
The Fernwood 2Night writers overlapped somewhat with the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman crew, but by and large (I think) Harry Shearer seemed to be the head writer, with other material provided by Mull and Willard and future rightwing shill Ben Stein. Alan Thicke—who must’ve been a hip, hip guy before Growing Pains, he even wrote for Richard Pryor—was the producer and the whole enchilada was, of course, executive produced by the great Norman Lear. Guest appearances included Dabney Coleman, Kenneth Mars, Jim Varney and even Tom Waits
In the second season—which was renamed America 2Night—the show “moved” out of small town Fernwood to the fictional town of Alta Coma, California, “the unfinished furniture capital of the world” (mainly so the writers could stop having to come up with contrivances for why a particular celebrity would happen to be in Fernwood, Ohio in the first place). The America 2Night series saw the likes of Gary Coleman, Vincent Price, Robin Williams, Peter Frampton, Steven Allen, Paul Lynde, Milton Berle, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston and many others making guest appearances. America 2Night was shown on the United Broadcasting System, or UBS, “the network that puts U before the BS.”
Other than sporadic showings on TV Land in the early 90s, the 130 episodes of Fernwood 2Night and America 2Night have seldom been seen since they originally aired. It’s a comedy goldmine that’s remained untapped for a long time—as brilliant as the original SNL if you ask me. Back in my Disinformation days I tried to license the show for DVD release but even Norman Lear’s company had no idea who owned it (turns out it was Sony who still haven’t done anything with them). A couple of years ago, I was able to download the entire series of Fernwood 2Night from a rare TV torrent tracker and I was in absolute TV heaven again.
Dr. Emanuel Kazinsky explains the differences between the races:
A spanking demonstration by Marshall Petty:
After the jump, more Fernwood 2Night and America 2Night clips…
The Units were one of the first “rock” bands in America to ditch guitars completely and focus their set-up on drums, vocals and synthesisers. Leaders of San Francisco’s post-punk synth-led music scene (a lot of which is now resurfacing with the current interest in “Minimal Wave”) the comparisons with Devo are clear, but still don’t detract from The Units’ cracking tunes and tangible influence on the new wave generation. Tracks like “High Pressure Days” and “I-Night” are still sought after by record collectors and forward thinking DJs alike, mainly because they still rock.
During live shows, The Units would perform to a video accompaniment of re-edited instructional shorts and found footage called the “Units Training Films”. Some of these films have been recreated and uploaded to Vimeo by founder member Scott Ryser. While still being very much of their time, they are excellent and definitely rank alongside similar efforts by the likes of Church of The Subgenius. Ryser has this to say about them:
The “Unit Training Film #1”, produced by Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber in 1980, was compiled from films that the band projected during their live performances. The films were satirical, instructional films critical of conformity and consumerism, compiled from found footage, home movies, and obsolete instructional shorts. In 1979 and 1980, Rick Prelinger was a frequent contributor and occasional projectionist at the bands live performances in San Francisco. The film was also shown sans band in movie theaters around the San Francisco Bay Area including the Roxie Cinema, Cinematheque, Intersection Theater and the Mill Valley Film Festival .
There was never a set length or definitive “finished version” of the original Unit Training Film. Just the current version. The film varied in length from about 10 to 45 minutes, depending on how long the Units set was on any particular night. Clips were constantly being added and others were deleted and discarded once their condition became too poor to project any longer. The film was constantly breaking, and the projectionists always kept a roll of Scotch Tape nearby for timely repairs.
This 5 minute version, compiled by Scott Ryser, includes some clips of the band playing along with a brief interview by a very young Fred Willard during the period 1980 - 1982.
Who’d have thought Fred Willard was a fan?!
Here is “Unit Training Film 1: Warm Moving Bodies”
After the jump, “Units Training FIlm 2: Cannibals” plus some more classics by The Units…
Teenage Mother is one of a small handful of what could be called “quintessential” or even canonical, if you prefer, exploitation films of the 1960s. Which is not to say it’s all that “good,” either, but it does have a rather full quota of exploitation staples such as sleazy drug dealers, disapproving parents, gang violence, and of course, a lying slut! (Film School Rejects called Teenage Mother a “grindhouse Juno”—I’m not sure how true that is, but it sounds good in theory, doesn’t it?)
It’s also a peculiar cultural marker of pre-“sexual revolution” American history. Beyond the scare tactics and corny drama, the film’s pièce de résistance (and the real reason for this otherwise merely “okay” movie becoming so notorious) was, of course, its full color live birth reel complete with speculum and very close close-ups. You have to marvel at the business genius of director Jerry Gross. His company Cinemation Industries—which would later release Fritz The Cat, The Cheerleaders, The Black Godfather and Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song—pioneered an unusual traveling roadshow presentation with this film that included a sex education lecture at each screening. Why? Because it would make it defensible in court. It wasn’t “obscene” it was educational! In a pre-porn era, this stuff was box office boffo. Gross just wanted to show a woman’s vagina on-screen, but the only way he was going to be able to do it legally back then was in the guise of a “sex education” film with a ham-fisted moral message —as if he gave a damn about anything other than collecting the box office receipts—and… medical footage.
The existence of Teenage Mother is a reminder, not of a more innocent age, in my opinion, but an era just more ignorant of sex in general. The film jumps through several odd hoops at once, but If you know the back story, it makes it an even more interesting cinematic curio… I guess! Incidentally according to IMDB, Gross paid a hospital just $50 for the birth footage.
The hottie in the lead role is actress Arlene Sue Farber—undoubtedly a grandmother by now—who a few years later starred (as “Arlene Tyger”) in Gross’s fake Italian sexploitation flick Female Animal (which god help me, I own the soundtrack for). Teenage Mother also has an unexpected cameo from a baby-faced Fred Willard as the gym teacher.
This article, about a rather peculiar business practice in China, is quite amusing, I think you will agree. Hell, with my look, I would be in high demand there! From The Atlantic:
Not long ago, I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary—which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.
“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”
And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”
I just have one question: What KIND of racism is this? Positive racism? Lucrative racism? Self-loathing Chinese racism? It’s clearly racism of one stripe or another, seemingly positive, at least for white males who look like business men, but still, it’s a bit confusing, isn’t it?
Rent a White Guy: Confessions of a fake businessman from Beijing (The Atlantic)
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
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