In the 1980s, the widespread availability of VCR technology represented a palpable opportunity for some. Porno peddlers, schlock horror directors, and innovating game designers all saw new possibilities in VCR distribution. But they were not the only ones. There was also a wave of direct-to-video holistic health merchants looking to improve the lives of middle-class TV viewers all across the country.
Readers perusing the November 1, 1987, issue of The Daily News—less than two weeks after “Black Monday,” the severe dip in the stock market that would mark the beginning of the end of the economic boom associated with “Reaganomics” and would incidentally also inspire a 2019 Showtime series starring Don Cheadle—were confronted with a full-page feature titled “Calling Dr. Video!” which drew attention to a handful of videocassettes competing for inclusion in your “video-medical library” at home. One of them was a curious videocassette called Video Aspirin, the handiwork of a Woodland Hills-based psychologist named Barbara Cheresnick-Rosenbaum (Ph.D.).
It is possible that the use of the term “aspirin” in the video’s title was a wee bit misleading. I am doubtful that Dr. Cheresnick-Rosenbaum (Ph.D.) herself ever expected her techniques, which used the mnemonic C.A.L.M. (Creating Circulation, Applying Pressure, Life’s Breath, & Muscle Relaxation), to have the instant efficacy with headaches that Bayer’s most famous product does. Rather, it was a way of implanting the idea that yoga-ish meditative practices can have tangible health benefits, a premise that I think few people today would have a big problem with.
I’m not going to say there’s a single thing wrong with the content of the video, which appears to have preceded the eventual popularity of the term “mindfulness,” usage of which hit a dramatic spike right after this video was made. However, something about the video testimonials of that era induced their makers to employ a rather stilted rhetorical style, the primary strategy of which was to enunciate everything in the slowest terms imaginable, and repeat everything a lot. I think they figured VCR owners were just dim. The music, credited to “Aaron” of “Studio West Productions,” constitute an unimpeachable argument in favor of hiring a pro.
America doesn’t need another Wally George. He was host of the Hot Seat - a reality talk show that ran locally on Southern California cable network KDOC between 1983-1992. Best known as the “Father of Combat Television,” a sensational form of tabloid programming that would eventually be emulated by the likes of Jerry Springer and Morton Downey Jr, Wally was a right-wing, god-fearing extremist with a sleazy white combover and a profound admiration of President Ronald Reagan.
Every Saturday night, Wally would invite those with opposing viewpoints—adult entertainers, satanists, punk rockers, human rights advocates—onto his “hot seat” to discuss topics of old-school patriotism, invigorated by a raucous studio audience of suburban teenage degenerates. People like Timothy Leary, rape-rock band The Mentors (led by El Duce), Angelyne, GWAR, Rick Dees, Night Flight’s Stuart Shapiro, and countless other “ludicrous liberal lunatics” have all taken insults from the farcically contrarian Wally George. Revisiting old episodes of the Hot Seat on YouTube, it’s almost painful to find pleasure in its psycho-babble, given the shitty climate of Trump’s America. But for what it’s worth, the show was often brilliant.
‘Wally! Wally! Wally!’
An incident in 1983 saw special guest Blase Bonpane, an alleged pacifist, overturn Wally’s desk during a crossfire argument on the invasion of Grenada. The incident received national attention and as a result, the Hot Seat gained syndication. It was a period of peak acclaim for the small budget talk show, so Wally George did what many low-brow personalities were doing at the time, he put out a novelty record.
Wal-ly! Wal-ly! was a four song “mini-album,” released in 1984 by Rhino Records. Running at just twelve minutes in length, the record is seething with conservative agenda and nuances of sexism, homophobia, racial stereotyping, and other laughable qualities of nationalist scum. The title track, a “Louie Louie” parody named for the show’s anthemic crowd chants, is a reaffirmation of Wally’s commitment to exposing the liberal conspiracy and making right for our beloved country. What type of music do you think Sean Hannity would make, if given the opportunity?
Listen up you liberal loonies, stream Wally George’s 1984 novelty record, after the jump…
“My name, as you may have guessed, is Theodore. I come from a strange stock. The members of my family were mostly epileptics, vegetarians, stutterers, triplets, nail biters. But we’ve always been happy.”—Brother Theodore
I’m not sure this story qualifies as an actual anecdote or just a meandering way of introducing an amazing collection of YouTube clips, but here goes nuthin’...
As a lad growing up in Wheeling, WV in the 1970s, at approximately the age of twelve, I decided that I was no longer going to eat the food I was being served by my parents. In a home where greasy pan-fried hamburgers (or “Steakums”) were the typical main course and Kraft macaroni and cheese substituted for the “vegetable group,” I simply wanted to eat healthier. My parents were not very happy about this this demand—for that is what it was—and it seemed really insulting to them, but what could they do? The severity of my new diet must have really taken them by surprise. I became, pretty much a Fruitatarian, or a raw foodist, years before this was common. What influenced my twelve-year-old mind to do something like this was an obscure book I found in the local library with the distinctly unappetizing title, Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr. Arnold Ehret.
I won’t go into the details of the diet, which extols the value of avoiding “mucus” and “pus” in your food—sounds like an admirable goal, right?—but suffice to say that while Dr. Ehret’s work still has many followers—he’s thought of as the founder of Naturopathy—many diet experts consider him a total quack. But I am not here to debate the merits of his ideas, pro or con, merely to offer some brief context before I send you off to read this short essay, The Definitive Cure of Chronic Constipation.
Okay? You got that? At the very least skim it. The language he uses is quite distinctive isn’t it? The total disgust he expresses about the workings of the digestive system is almost Nietzschean in its peculiar character. This absolutist tone must’ve contributed greatly to my pre-teen interest in the diet.
Now flash-forward to the late 1990s, New York City. I had become friends with the then 91-year-old Theodore Gottlieb, better-known as the infamous dark comedian Brother Theodore, a big influence on monologists Eric Bogosian, Lydia Lunch and Spalding Gray, who had been performing his totally insane one-man show at the tiny 13th Street Theater in Greenwich Village for ages and was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late night talkshow during the 1980s. Theodore, or rather his persona, was once described as “Boris Karloff, surrealist Salvador Dalí, Nijinsky and Red Skelton…simultaneously.” That’s not far off the mark.
At his age, it was not much of an exaggeration to say that Theodore had “been around forever.” He was delivering lines like “The only thing that keeps me alive is the hope of dying young” long before I was born. What was a great gag when he was, say, 50 years old, and then to STILL be delivering a line like that at the age of 93, as he did on my UK television series, Disinformation, well that, shall we say existential tension is what made his nonagenarian performances so incredibly spell-binding.
His show was in the form of a stern lecture. It was nearly impossible to tell if this was an act you were seeing or if he was utterly batshit crazy, a berserk “genius” impervious to laughter as long as an audience bought tickets. The props were a chair, a table, a chalk board and a styrofoam cup. There was a single spotlight. If you were anywhere near the stage in that little theater he could totally scare the shit out of you. Of course, whenever I brought friends, I took them right down the front!
It was an act, I can assure you. Theodore in real life was a mellow old bohemian guy who lived several lives in his 94 years. He’d been in Dachau, for instance. His mother, stepfather and sister were killed, but Theodore’s release was secured by none other than Albert Einstein—his mother’s adulterous lover!—who paid his way to America after the war. He’d also been on Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and most famously on Late Night with David Letterman (Theodore, along with Harvey Pekar, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Captain Beefheart, was one of the most memorable and emblematic oddball Letterman guests of his early era). He was in The Burbs playing Tom Hanks’ great uncle and was the voice of “Gollum” in The Hobbit cartoon. He had a cameo in Orson Welles’ The Stranger. He was even in a porno movie, an X-rated parody of Jaws called Gums (Theo plays the boat captain, in a thankfully non-balling role. The former concentration camp prisoner is also seen, rather inexplicably, wearing a Nazi SS uniform for most of the film). In his nineties he was dating a woman in her mid-forties. He rode a bike around New York City until he was well into his eighties. Theodore was an old Beatnik, that’s the way I saw him. I think that’s largely the way he saw himself.
And talk about a weird way to make a living! He really wasn’t anything like his crazed monk act in real life, though. And let me tell you, when you are in your thirties and have a friend who is in their nineties… you learn things about life. Not all of them good, either. 94 years is a long time to live. Too long, if you ask me. I’m quite sure he felt that way, too.
Theodore apparently had great difficulty memorizing lines, even his own material and so he only really ever did two major monologues—he’d switch off between them when he felt like it—for over 40 years. One was called “Foodism”—we’ll get to this one in a minute—and the other was called “Quadrupidism” where he’d extol the virtues of human beings getting down on all fours (everything went to hell when our ancestors stood up according to his theories).
One day I was visiting Theodore at his apartment and I was looking at his sparse book shelf. On it sat The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Baudelaire’s Les Fleur du Mal, an Edgar Allan Poe anthology, The Portable Nietzsche, some Saint Augustine, and… ta da… The Mucusless Diet Healing System by Dr. Arnold Ehret. I remarked to him that I myself was a pre-teen adherent to Arnold Ehret’s unconventional ideas about diet and he replied that it was the inspiration for his “Foodism” monologue. “I merely exaggerated his writings. Just slightly. That was all it took!”
My jaw hit the ground. He’d managed to craft one of the most brilliant comic monologues of all time based on Ehret’s zany diet-sprach. I was awestruck at how amazing this revelation really was. I mean… how creative!!!
You read that essay about constipation, right? Promise me? Now go watch this extended excerpt from the “Foodism” lecture performed on Late Night with David Letterman in the mid-80s.
After the jump, every single Brother Theodore appearance on ‘Late Night With David Letterman!
Mid-1983 through 1985 are considered Iggy Pop’s “quiet years,” but he was still active and looking for ways to challenge himself. Acting was one such endeavor, with Pop taking classes and auditioning for various roles. This included a 1984 tryout for a part on a new NBC program, Miami Vice. During a 1986 newspaper interview, casting director Bonnie Timmermann talked about Iggy’s audition for the show.
He came in with his big eyes and black hair and sat and stared at me. Despite his reputation as a wild man, he was gentle. I immediately liked him. Iggy came in for a biker role, but we ended up giving him another part.
The Ig was slated to play opposite fellow Michigander Glenn Frey in a February 1st, 1985 episode named after Frey’s song, “Smuggler’s Blues.” But Pop didn’t turn up on set, and his absence was widely reported in the press. “He was supposed to be in the show. We announced it,” said an NBC spokesperson in January 1985. “But when it came time to make the arrangements, we couldn’t find him.” It seemed Iggy had simply flaked.
But that wasn’t the case. When Iggy saw a February 1985 article in the San Francisco Examiner about his “no show,” he was stunned. He never knew he had been given the part.
Miami Vice must have accepted this explanation, as Iggy was cast in another season one episode, entitled “Evan.” Pop’s part was that of a police informant named Thumper, a proprietor of a S&M-themed club. A scene was shot in the club’s setting, and Iggy’s guest role was noted in newspapers, but when the episode aired on May 3rd, 1985, the Ig was nowhere to be seen.
A publicity photo of Iggy Pop and ‘Miami Vice’ star, Don Johnson.
So, what happened with Iggy and the show this time?
This scene was cut by NBC Censors (Broadcast Standards Division) due to its S&M content. Camille Sands, an actress who had the small part of a dominatrix called Velvet, remembered later that the scene contained a customer of the S&M studio being molested on a torture rack while Don Johnson talked to Iggy Pop. The urge of NBC to cut this out led to the first serious argument with the Miami Vice producers, who refused to alter the episode. Subsequently, NBC used its contractual right of final cut, and cut the whole scene. (from the Unofficial ‘Miami Vice’ Episode Guide)
What would have been Iggy Pop’s dramatic television debut remains unseen to this day. All we have are a handful of publicity photos and snapshots taken on set.
I remember watching George W. Bush deliver the State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, on the TV of a tiny barroom in the East Bay. No cocktail was strong enough. This was the speech that denounced the “axis of evil,” a coinage of Bush speechwriter David Frum, who has lately been rehabilitated as a true friend of democracy and stalwart defender of the realm. Perhaps when the professional eulogists are finished carving the likenesses of Poppy and W. into Mount Rushmore, they can squeeze in this august son of Canada, who believes the problem with the Iraq War was the people of Iraq.
With every patriot face now awash in tears for these old-fashioned Republicans, the kind who could, when the occasion demanded it, speak in complete sentences, let us remember “Qaeda, Quality, Question, Quickly, Quickly, Quiet,” the artist Lenka Clayton‘s alphabetized cut of the address, which blasted those sentences to rubble and sifted the bits. Marc Campbell posted this vid on DM many moons ago, but it’s worth revisiting now. On one hand, it is a cognition-destroying mindhammer that smashes illusions about the stimulus-response theory of government. On the other, even alphabetically reordered and condensed to 18 minutes, W.‘s oratory sounds like Pericles next to the barnyard squawks and grunts that will comprise the phonemic index of the 2019 State of the Union address, which I understand will be subtitled “A Case Study in Lycanthropy.”
Detail from the soundtrack LP cover
If you like the movie, you’ll love the soundtrack LP (side one: “A - My,” side two: “Nation - Zero”) and accompanying flip-book.
The sole object of a ghost story, wrote M. R. James, is to inspire “a pleasing terror in the reader”. James was an academic and writer who reinvented the ghost story for a new era. He believed ghosts should be “malevolent or odious” rather than those “amiable and helpful apparitions” that appeared in stories by authors like Charles Dickens in say A Christmas Carol. In an essay on ghost stories, he claimed the most successful tales “make us envisage a definite time and place, and give us plenty of clear-cut and matter-of-fact detail” but:
...when the climax is reached, allow us to be just a little in the dark as to the working of their machinery. We do not want to see the bones of their theory about the supernatural.
Montague Rhodes James was a scholar of medieval history, who served as Provost of King’s College, Cambridge University. Each Christmas Eve, he would invite a small group of friends and colleagues and students to share some sherry around a fire while he read his latest ghost story. He wrote one story a year and most of his tales of the eerie and the supernatural were set in the world of antiquities and academia, where an individual might accidentally stumble across some ancient secret or forgotten artefact that unleashes unnameable horror.
Among the best known of James’ short stories is “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904) in which a rational, you might say somewhat skeptical, and bookish academic called Parkins discovers an ancient whistle among the dunes of a deserted beach while on holiday. The whistle has strange occult markings on one side and an inscription on the other that reads “Quis est iste, qui venit?” which Parkins translates as “Who is this, who is coming?” By removing the whistle from its burial place, Parkins soon finds out what rather than who it is that comes after him.
In 1968, the multi-talented Jonathan Miller brought the tale to television. Miller edged more towards a psychological (if not quite Freudian) drama in his adaptation of James’ tale which made the film’s supernatural elements all the more disturbing. Parkins or rather Parkin as he is called in Miller’s film, was played by Michael Hordern as a slightly stuffy, retiring man, who mutters and mumbles his way through the story—much of his performance was improvised—as if he is subconsciously aware his actions in finding the whistle symbolizes his own repressed desires and fears. Or as horror writer Kim Newman put it:
...a case of severe sexual frustration leading to absolute dementia
It’s a classic tale beautifully told and one of television’s most chilling and effective ghost stories.
A candid shot of Raquel Welch (as Captain Nirvana) and Robin Williams as the lovable alien Mork on the set of ‘Mork & Mindy’ in 1979.
I was still of a tender age when one of the most gorgeous women to ever woman, Raquel Welch showed up looking a bit like a busty, tanned David Bowie in thigh-high silver boots on Mork & Mindy. Are you with me? Good. Because in addition to Raquel’s role as Captain Nirvana—the leader of the very sexy-sounding fictional alien race, the Necrotons, we also get to see Playboy’s Playmate of the Year (1978), Debra Jo Fondren in a bikini in a golden cage. If any of this sounds like a blatant ratings grab, you’d be right. Originally, the episode “Mork vs. the Necrotons,” was going to be presented as a one-hour special but ended up airing as a two-part cliffhanger. If you remember anything about this show, it is likely this very episode or the perplexing thirteenth episode of the season when Mork became the first male Denver Broncos cheerleader. It’s hard to say. I came across a quote from Williams when he was asked about his feelings on the show, a contentious one for the cast:
“There were a lot of little kids who went through puberty watching that episode, and I think we lost a lot of the audience.”
It’s been well documented that Williams, Pam Dawber and the entire crew were challenged by Welch’s diva demands and behavior during filming. At one point the episode’s director, Howard Storm says Raquel suggested her younger, female hench-chicks should wear “dog masks” and she should lead them on to the set “on leashes.” Usually, this would sound like a pretty terrific idea given the fact that A) it came from Raquel Welch, and B) I rest my case. However, Storm mentioned to Welch she didn’t need to do anything but “snap her fingers,” and the girls would “drop to their knees.” Raquel liked this idea very much, and interestingly, the leash idea made its way on to the show anyway, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
I rewatched clips from both episodes while putting this post together, because of course, I did, and I laughed nearly to the point of exhaustion at times thanks to the gift which never stops giving—the comedy genius of Robin Williams. Much of Williams’ comedic outbursts on the show were improvised and timing to accommodate the actor to do so was written into scripts early during the show’s first season. After being so pleasantly reminded how great and profoundly weird the show was, I picked up season one and two on DVD for less than twenty bucks and will be binging on the show as soon as they show up. In anticipation of this blessed event, I’ve posted some great photos including some sweet, candid shots of Williams and Welch on the set, and footage of Williams and Welch from the show. Nanu Nanu!
Another candid shot of Williams and Welch.
Playmate of the Year 1978, Debra Jo Fondren (Kama), Raquel Welch, and Vicki Frederick (Sutra).
You don’t have to be a child to appreciate the genius of Stephen Hillenburg. I think that’s why his passing especially hurts. I still watch Spongebob and Rocko’s Modern Life regularly. And I’m pretty sure both are even better as an adult.
Before he was an animator, Stephen Hillenburg taught marine biology. As a visual aid to his course curriculum, Hillenburg wrote and designed an informative comic book titled The Intertidal Zone. It was about anthropomorphic tide-pool animals and featured a particular sea sponge - one who would go on to warm the hearts of millions. As the story goes, the educational comic eventually developed into the fifth longest-running animated series in American history - Spongebob Squarepants.
Hillenburg always had a passion for the arts. When he was in third grade, in 1970 and during the Vietnam War, his teacher commended him for an illustration that he did featuring “a bunch of army men… kissing and hugging instead of fighting.” It was at that moment that Stephen’s creative talent (and potential) was first recognized. After getting the nautical comic book idea turned down by publishers (it still is unpublished), Hillenburg followed his artistic ambitions and enrolled in animation school at CalArts.
‘The Green Beret’
Stephen Hillenburg created two animated shorts while at CalArts, both in 1992. The first was The Green Beret. It was about a Girl Scout with enormous fists who toppled homes while trying to sell cookies. Rife with political satire (George Washington in the war trenches) and a hint of farce directed at American excess and television culture, the short contained the same tongue-in-cheek humor that made Hillenburg’s later works so satisfying. The Green Beret kind of reminds me of Meet the Fat Heads, the absurd in-universe cartoon program that had several cameos in Rocko’s Modern Life.
The only online evidence of ‘Wormholes’
Hillenburg’s thesis film was a seven-minute animation titled Wormholes. It was based on the theory of relativity and while the short does not exist anywhere on the web, Hillenburg has been quoted as describing it as “a poetic animated film based on relativistic phenomena.” The film was shown at several international film festivals, including the 1992 Ottawa Film Festival, where Hillenburg met Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life. After seeing Wormholes, Murray offered Stephen the directorial role on his new cartoon for Nickelodeon. And the rest was history.
It is without a doubt that Stephen Hillenburg has inspired something special within us all. May he rest in peace.
Watch Hillenburg’s first animated short film ‘The Green Beret,’ after the jump…
It turns out leaving your house still pays sometimes: if I hadn’t stepped into a bookstore last weekend, I would be unaware of Alex Cox’s latest volume, I Am (Not) A Number: Decoding the Prisoner. Kamera Books published it in the UK last December to mark the series’ 50th anniversary, and the book came out in the US this May.
Like his introductions to cult movies on Moviedrome—like his interpretation of his own Repo Man, for that matter, a movie Cox insists is really about nuclear war—the director’s reading of The Prisoner is idiosyncratic and ingenious. Even though I don’t buy them yet, the solutions he proposes to the series’ riddles are brilliant and original; I won’t spoil them here, but it’s safe to say you’re unlikely to have come up with them yourself.
The 17 episodes of The Prisoner were broadcast in a different order in the UK and the US, and their correct sequence has never been settled. The Wikipedia page on the subject compares the production order (“not an intended viewing order,” the alt.tv.prisoner FAQ of blessed memory asserts) with four plausible running orders advanced or defended by fans over the years, based on the original broadcast or on different kinds of internal evidence in the shows: dates mentioned, logical sequence of plot developments, etc.
Cox has no use for any of these. Along with the series’ call sheets and screenplays, his interpretation is based on watching the episodes in the order of their filming—i.e., the production order most cultists reject as totally unsuitable for viewing. While this sequence is as reasonable as any other, it radically shuffles the narrative. For instance, “Once Upon a Time,” which is the second-to-last episode in every other programming of the series because it seems to lead directly to the finale, is sixth in Cox’s.
I’ve just started rewatching the series as Cox recommends. It’s too early to say whether the production order supports his conclusions, but I’m enjoying the shake-up so far. Below, the director discusses his book in a short promotional video.
Season 4 of Better Call Saul, which wrapped up a few weeks ago, is on the shortlist of my favorite seasons of television ever. The Emmy people have not shown Better Call Saul undue respect—it has never won a single Emmy for anything—but in my view the Vince Gilligan/Peter Gould creation is running rings around every other show in a bunch of different ways. It’s got the best acting, the best writing, and the best direction, for starters. Particularly in the writing arena, it’s a little preposterous that any other drama would beat Better Call Saul, at least that’s my opinion.
One of the amusing aspects of Better Call Saul is that it showcases so many different depictions of excellence in its narrative. Jimmy McGill (later to become Saul Goodman) is a world-class con artist, his brother Chuck is a genius-level attorney, Mike Ehrmantraut is an unusually gifted all-purpose security dude, Gustavo Fring is a regional/international drug kingpin of distinction, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Kim is a pretty gifted negotiator of plea deals and the like as a sideline to her regular gig of representing multinational corporations (with Jimmy, she also grifts unwitting saps for fun). The show has a deep abiding interest in professionalism and excellence in all of its forms.
As portrayed by Jonathan Banks, the utterly unflappable Mike Ehrmantraut has become the object of no small fascination. I know several people who’d swap places with him in an instant, given the option. Until he landed the role of Mike in Breaking Bad, Banks was a respected if by no means famous character actor whose notable credits had included the TV series Wiseguy and the movies Freejack and Gremlins.
One of Banks’ early credits was a bizarre self-help videotape from 1985 called You Can Win! Negotiating for Power, Love and Money. The videotape was intended to showcase the penetrating insights of a lady named Dr. Tessa Albert Warschaw. I’m guessing that You Can Win! was tolerably successful in its day—before most everyone had the ability to call up life advice on the Internet—for as recently as 2015 she was appearing at a TEDxPasadenaWomen event discussing the importance of resiliency.
In You Can Win! Banks is given the task of portraying the idealized “type” of “the Dictator,” the unpleasant, exacting prig who has precise expectations in every interaction. The video alternates between explanations from Dr. Warschaw and demonstrations of the insights by a team of NYC actors who are really not bad at all, the whole thing is really fairly good but just horribly dated. Skip through it for the bits involving Banks (who knows, you might have a use for a clip of Banks saying the words “Massage! ... ha ha ha ha ha ha, don’t be perverse”). But mainly it’s best to think of it as a highly bizarre conceptual play.