Monday, January 26, 2015

JERRY LEWIS: THE DAY THE SONGS CRIED

Jerry Lewis - Jerry Lewis Just Sings image
In 1956, fresh from his split from Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis recorded an album of standards (i.e. 'the songbook' as it's now cloyingly referred to). Titled "Jerry Lewis Just Sings", it featured arrangements by the eminently respectable Buddy Bregman conducting a big band of top-tier Hollywood studio musicians. Lewis financed the record himself, after all the other record companies passed on the opportunity. He sold the finished product to Decca who released before the end of the calendar year. The cover of "I'm Sitting on Top Of the World" was a surprise hit, climbing to number 12 on Billboards pop chart. All in all, the experiment appears to have been a successful one for Lewis, though he never repeated it.

As readers of this blog may know, I've had a curious love/hate thing with Lewis since my childhood, when I initially learned to adore him (via 'The Bellboy', 'The Errand Boy', and 'The Telethon Boy'), then learned to despise him when he was incredibly mean to a person I knew who asked for an autograph in a restaurant (my friend was, like, fourteen at the time and Lewis viciously berated him for being rude and interrupting his meal). Over the years, I've collected stories of all kinds about Lewis the ogre and fused them in my head with his on-screen persona, the result being a wonderfully toxic mixture of the funny and monstrous that makes the work much deeper. To me, Lewis is funnier in many ways if you're aware of the dreadful prick lurking behind that demented little boy exterior. And the sentimental Jerry, horribly on view in so many of his most misguided movies, becomes entertaining in a whole other way--he's monstrous in a way that few other entertainers have ever been.

Despite my enduring fascination with the man, I had never heard 'Jerry Lewis Just Sings' though I was aware of its existence. And then the other day, I was driving around listening to the Sinatra station on my Sirius radio when on came a recording the likes of which I'd never heard. An abrasive, stiff, unswinging singer with poor pronunciation and no feel whatsoever for the lyrics he was singing was doing "Come Rain Or Come Shine", the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic. The singer even at times sounded a little like...Jerry Lewis? Really?

I've since listened to the album at least a dozen times--it bears deep listening sessions--and I'm quite confident in saying that it's probably the worst thing Lewis ever did (though of course we don't have "The Day The Clown Cried" to view). But, as with all things Lewis, what's awful about it also makes it kind of great. You'll dig what I mean upon hearing the below.  Ladies and gentleman, I give you Joseph Levitch's version of 'Come Rain or Come Shine'. Get ready, get set...hit it, Joey!



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Friday, January 23, 2015

1900 BERLIN: A COLOR ODYSSEY


Let's keep the color film-of-home-movies-of-cities theme but cross the ocean and change cities. Here's some astounding color footage of Berlin shot in--get this--the early 1900s. Just as with the color film of Manhattan that I posted the other day, the color makes the past come alive and seem awfully recent. People do what they always do--wander around, point at things, sit in audiences, smile, laugh, look bewildered. It was ever thus. Much as I love black and white, it separates us from the reality of the world it depicts. Color makes the past come shockingly alive.

The person who posted this dates the footage from 1900 on the nose, but I wonder. While some of it seems retouched and colorized, it's not at all impossible that it was originally shot in color, as color film was first available in 1904. Indeed, the reason for the footages existence in the first place may well be that it was test footage designed to show off an early color process. You'll see early tiny automobiles (or 'motors' as they were called then), horses, buildings that were probably decimated forty years hence and some very haunting faces of children who, assuming they were alive for another forty years, probably became Nazis. In the last minute or so the time shifts to 1914 and you'll see soldiers, the Kaiser, Russians and all the signs of the freshly started war in Europe, soon to be named 'The Great War' and sadly to later be designated 'World War 1'.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

JUST ANOTHER MIDTOWN MANHATTAN TOUR IN COLOR...IN 1945


Continuing our theme of the week--which turns out to be documentary views of New York City in the 1940s--above I've posted two minutes of color footage of midtown shot in 1945 by one Edward Theiss. Mr. Theiss gave the footage to his family. It was his grandson who very nicely and considerately posted it on YouTube. Thank you, Mr. Theisss Jr.

You'll see dizzying shots from the top of the RCA building, nice big views of Times Square in daylight and dark, and a sign on a theater advertising The Andrew Sisters and Ed Gardner's "Duffy's Tavern". Unless I'm mistaken, this must be a theater that's hosting live radio shows, as "Duffy's Tavern" was just that. (I'm not sure I ever thought about where those shows were done--I assumed they were all broadcast from studios in the building of whichever network did the show--but it makes sense that it might be in a legit theater. What the hell. Let's say it is.) I find it quite thrilling to see New York of the period in color as it's so easy to only think of it in black and white given that's how it's most often represented. But there it is, a real place, in a real time...with a helluva lot more street parking.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MIDTOWN MANHATTAN...IN 1948


On October 13, 1948, Lieutenant Strickland (first name unknown) took his Eyemo camera and stationed himself on the east side of Manhattan, near 42nd street. He then proceeded to photograph various views of the neighborhood's mass transit stations for reasons that are something of a mystery (though I have my theories). The views are, for the most part, static and artless recordings of various public transit hubs and the people who use them. My guess is that Lt. Strickland was one of the many armed-services trained cameramen who, upon their return to civilian life, tried to find a way to put their very specific (but somewhat limited) craft to use. These were the people who shot the amazing footage that turns up on all those WW2 IN COLOR shows on History Channel and it was probably frustrating for them to have captured such historic events, made it back home, and not quite known what to do with themselves or their Eyemos.

Eyemo 35mm Camera

I have a feeling this footage was intended to be general "stock house" stuff, background plates that movie studios would buy by the yard to be used as transitional shots in movies set in New York but filmed in Hollywood. (There was almost no on-location filming done in NYC until the 50s). Perhaps Lt. Strickland worked for a specific company, but somehow I doubt it. This footage feels free-lancy to me, as if he'd heard that there was a sudden demand for views of mass transit intersections and so he high-tailed it to 42nd street and, in one afternoon, shot as much as he thought he could sell to the local stock house.

First he gives us several views of a subway entrance (and exit) at an unidentified corner which, given the locales that follow, was probably the number 6 train at 43rd and Lexington. By parking the camera there and simply letting it roll as people go about their everyday life, Strickland inadvertently gives us a hypnotic view of existence in all its banality on a fall day in the late forties. Most people ignore the camera (though a few look at it with irritation) and go blithely on their way, unaware that they will one day be watched and written about on something called a computer in the then-unimaginable twenty-first century. Some things to notice: there are many more short people than there are now and there is no texting or cell-phoning. Men's ties were short and silly looking. Women are, for the most part, plump and frumpily dressed. All men wear hats. All--or most--of these people are now dead.

After the subway entrance, Strickland moves to 42nd Street, faces east, and gives us a view of the Elevated train that once ran on Third Avenue. (You can see the sign for a store marked "Waldorf", which relates to the semi-nearby Waldorf Hotel--the store was probably a pharmacy. You can also see the Automat, which makes me idiotically happy). As the El was taken down in the mid-fifties, this footage is quite a lovely thing to have. I've stared down this very block many times and tried to imagine an Elevated train bisecting the view and never had much success at it--it just seems so incredibly wrong for the east side of midtown. But looking at it here, it's just an everyday view of what was then a very different Manhattan.

Strickland then walks further east, passes under the El and turns around, giving us a westward facing view of the El and the city behind it. After a bit of this, he climbs to the top of the El steps with his handy little Eyemo and captures the platform--also a wonderful view as we can see the tops of the Chrysler and GE buildings and get some nice long looks at the actual train, which is filled with windows and looks quite pleasant in a rickety sort of way. Finally he gets sick of public transportation, leaves the platform, walks west on 42nd all the way to Fifth Avenue and parks in front of the New York Public library. A few not very well framed views of that distinguished and virtually unchanged building and he heads north, capturing my favorite of all his shots of the day, the then-two way traffic that ran along Fifth. It's hard for most people to believe that Fifth (and Madison) Avenues were once well functioning two-way streets and that they weren't somehow wider than they are now. But as you can see from Lt. Strickland's footage, such was the case.

After this, Strickland headed to the stock house, showed them his stuff and happily made a sale! How else would we have this footage today if he hadn't? He took the money, dropped into a bar on Third Avenue, downed a Boilermaker and headed home--via the El--to wherever he was living, to proceed into whatever future awaited him...



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Monday, January 19, 2015

M. PYTHON--HELLS GRANNIES



Didn't remember this one. Genius...

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Friday, January 16, 2015

SPIKE MILLIGAN'S 'Q6'--COMPLETE EPISODE


Above is a complete Spike Milligan 'Q' episode--there are a few other strays out there on Youtube but, shamefully, the series hasn't made it to DVD and most of the first few seasons were wiped out (apparently a policy at the BBC). For a mini-history of 'Q' click here. Various reasons hve been suggested for the show's title. One possibility is that it was inspired by the project to construct the Cunard liner QE2, launched in September 1967 and dubbed Q4. Another is that Milligan was inspired by the BBC 6-point technical quality scale of the time, where "Q5" was severe degradation to picture of sound and "Q6" was complete loss of sound or vision. All of which sounds like rubbish. I think he called it 'Q' just to mess with everyone and cause crap like this to be written.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

M.PYTHON--'UPPER CLASS TWIT OF THE YEAR'



It's a quick hop from Spike Milligan's "Laugh At A Cretin" to the Pythons brilliant "Upper Class Twit Of The Year" sketch, posted above. Does anyone remember the Python LPs? I had three of them in the mid-seventies--think I discovered Python via 'Cynics Choice' on KFAC, Sunday AM's, which means I experienced them first as an audio-only experience. And yet they were the same routines, albeit limited to the verbally based ones, which were done on the TV show as well, sans the awful laugh-track. I'm not entirely clear as to the why of this, but many English comedy shows were produced both for TV and radio, and I'm quite certain many of them were separate performances of the same routines. Strangely, I knew Benny Hill first via radio broadcasts of his show--the TV show didn't come to US syndication until the late seventies. Thus I missed the real 'meat' of his show--the speeded up sketches depicting nude tennis games, sexy doctors office visits, the strange little man who he abused etc. Similarly, it was a while before I experienced the brilliant physical humor of the Pythons, as demonstrated in the above sketch. And then there were the sit-coms, 'Steptoe And Son', 'Til Death Do Us Part' etc. to which we'll come in due course.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

SPIKE MILLIGAN: LAUGH AT A CRETIN



Above is a short sketch from one of the later 'Q" shows that Spike Milligan created for the BBC. Titled "Laugh At A Cretin" this quite literally had me falling off my chair (like a cretin) with laughter. The comparisons with Python have already been made, but this also strikes me as very SCTV-esque (which I posted about recently) and even a bit SNL-ish (which I've never posted about and am not about to start posting about now...)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Q"--A SPIKE MILLIGAN JOINT

Spike Milligan - last words

"Q" was a surreal TV comedy sketch show from Spike Milligan which ran from 1969 to 1982 on BBC2. There were six series in all, the first five numbered Q5-Q9 and a final series titled "THERES A LOT OF IT ABOUT". Though many found it to be more 'hit and miss' than Milligan's earlier work (especially The Goon Show), it is considered by many to be one of the landmarks in British comedy, with its surreal bent and almost stream-of-consciousness format clearly serving as a major inspiration for Monty Python. Indeed, the Pythons themselves remember that, after seeing Q5, they felt they needed a new hook for their as yet unaired show, as the format they had been intending to use had already been done to perfection by Milligan. Then, apparently, they decided that was a load of rubbish and proceeded to do their own version of 'Q'.

'Q' gave center stage to Milligan's freeform surreal wit. The sketches came thick and fast, running into one another, making outrageous leaps from one subject or location to another and often stopping with no apparent conclusion. Even the costumes were madcap and contradictory-in some episodes each of them still bore its BBC Wardrobe Department tag--and Milligan seemed to have a fondness for large noses and hats.

Below I've posted two very typical (if there can be said to be anything typical about this show) sketches from 'Q. The "Fresh Fruit Song" and "Irish Astronaut." Bon appetite...





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Monday, January 12, 2015

SPIKE MILLIGAN: 'I TOLD YOU I WAS ILL'



At the end of last year, I posted about a wonderful Sunday morning local LA radio show called "Cynics Choice", a show that introduced me (and I'm sure many many others) to the joys of subversive English humor, particularly of the mid-twentieth century. Above I've posted a wonderful documentary about arguably the most influential of all British comedians, Spike Milligan. Though to be honest, calling Milligan a comedian is a bit reductive. He was a writer, humorist, memoirist, and above all an innovator--an "out of the box" (dreadful term) thinker who changed the way all comedians thought about the boundries of their craft. That the humor of Sir Harry Lauder and Milligan crossed each other by only twenty years or so is quite incredible. Each was English and each were considered at the apex of their craft. There, however, the comparisons end with Lauder seemingly belonging to another era, one presided over by Queen Victoria. Milligan created 'The Goon Show', the direct link to Monty Python which, one way or another, it the direct link to all 21st century absurdity, English or non.

The title of the doc, "I Told You I Was Ill", refers to Milligan's extreme bi-polarism, which he was quite ahead of his time in speaking about frankly and often. He was also ahead of his time as an animal rights activist, vegetarian, anti-smoking crusader and more. The title is also what Milligan said he wanted printed on his tombstone. Just to give you a taste of his delightful morbidity, he expressed relief that his fellow Goon Show mate Harry Seacombe died before he did, saying "I was afraid he'd sing at my funeral."

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

DEREK AND CLIVE DO JESUS



Above is a scandalously offensive Derek and Clive take on Jesus, guaranteed to offend even the non-believers. As opposed to the previous two days postings, which were audio only, this shows Cook and Moore in the studio recording the bit. Somehow I find that seeing them do the act, though, lessens its impact. Derek and Clive exist in my mind in a very specific pub, dressed in very specific bad jackets, drinking very specific cheap ales. In actuality, Moore is 'Arthur' and Cook...well, he was Peter Cook. (And to look at the two of them is to be surprised at which one became the movie star.) Cook keeps cracking Moore up, which does nothing to help things as the Derek and Clive of it all is about the dead seriousness with which these two wankers take their conversations. Anyway, dig the routine and try it with and without the video...the difference is quite astonishing.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

DEREK AND CLIVE AND JAYNE MANSFIELDS BUM



Above is the infamous Derek and Clive "worst job I ever 'ad" sketch, featuring Jayne Mansfield and her penchant for having lobsters removed from her ass.  For more Derek and Clive, go to yesterday's post. Strangely, the best line in the sketch is the very last one, having to do with another dead celebrity, Anthony Newley. And his bum isn't even mentioned...

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