Friday Fives – more about the Tap

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Your favorite book?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  You know that already, though.  Let’s mix it up, then, and say ‘Lamb: the gospel of christ according to his best friend Biff’.  I really, really like this new author.  Well… new to me.

Your favorite movie?

Big Fish.  Re-reading over this, before I hit ‘publish’, maybe I should have said ‘Spinal Tap’.  There is a 2 page diatribe down there on how great the film is, how great the actors are, and how incredible it is that they wrote and scored and improvised the film.  But… you know that movie.  You may not know ‘Big Fish’.  It is perfect storytelling.  The cinematography is stunning.  Can you imagine if Tim Burton tried to make something joyful?  Just for once?  Well, with Big Fish, he did.  Don’t worry, it still has his wife.  (Shakes fist in the air).  Don’t just watch the movie, just go buy it.  Get it in blu-ray, too.  You really want the full cinematic experience, if you can.  Don’t have blu ray yet?  Buy it… just for this movie.

Your favorite adaptation of a book to a movie?

 Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.  So good it is freaky!  Depp goes FULL Hunter Thompson in this role.  Not just window dressing, either.  HST was in full cooperation with the film… well… as cooperative as someone like HST could be.  Depp lived with Hunter for months before the filming.  They became fast and close friends.  So much so that when Hunter died, Depp paid for the whole ‘launching his ashes into space from a Gonzo fist cannon that was several stories high’.  Yeah, that isn’t a typo or urban legend.  It happened, and all thanks to Johnny.  They had a kinship all along as they are both from Kentucky.

 Your least favorite adaptation ever of anything to a movie?

Being a book guy, I am always supposed to say ‘the book was better’.  However, I have almost universally enjoyed adaptations of my favorite books into movies.  I like to see the creativity of filmmakers trying to capture such an ephemeral thing.  For example, the last ‘Alice in Wonderland’ movie with Johnny Depp.  Everyone shit on it.  There are good reasons to shit on it – it WAY over featured Johnny Depp, and of course since it was Burton the lead role went to his wife.  He does that EVERY FUCKING MOVIE.  Though my praise for Depp’s acting in ‘Fear & Loathing’ is effusive… he isn’t too good in this movie.  Too hammy, just chewing up scenery being all proud of himself for looking clever.  We can blame Burton for that, though.

But… I loved it (Fear & Loathing, that is).  Here is why – everyone has told that story in various forms of film.  It’s a classic.  The Burton one, though, is a totally different telling.  It takes a story never told… which is what happens if Alice goes back to that world as an adult.  What happens?  Who is there?  Did anything, or anyone, change?  Did it ever really happen?  I think that is cool and creative.  I haven’t seen the second one, but I will.  I waited on purpose.  Since it was reviewed to badly, I knew I could wait and just buy a bluray copy for $10.  I like those (as opposed to just watching it on Amazon) because you get all the featurettes and behind the scenes stuff.

 Your first ever novel/comic book/movie character crush?

  • Editors note: Long diatribe warning

The guys in Spinal Tap.  I mean, it is just some British actors playing dumb, right?  Not remotely!  The actors are all American, and improvised the entire movie, AND wrote AND performed those songs.  It went so well that the fake band accidentally became a real band.   They released albums and recorded new music and even toured.  If you look at all these starlets today, you see Spinal Tap was more real than any of them.  Think Rhianna writes her own songs?  Think she can play and instrument?  Think she actually sings in concert?  Spinal Tap wins on every level.

In fact, those guys went on to do more movies together, and the guys wrote an entirely new music act for ‘a Mighty Wind’, which is actually a great folk album.  Got to see them live, and they played both Spinal Tap songs and a Mighty Wind songs.  That movie (another Chris Guest project) was also entirely improvised.

Why do it?  They are crazy rich.  The bass player is 40% of the voices on the Simpsons.  He probably has 100 million in the bank, and he is schlepping around from city to city playing these silly and perfect songs from 30 years ago.

My favorite thing about these guys when they did press for Spinal Tap (not known as a classic when it was released, but a stupid and pointless low budget art film)… they only did it in character.  You never got to interview Chris Guest or Michael McKean or Harry Shearer.  You could only talk to Derek Smalls, Nigel Tufnel, and David St Hubbins.  Now… we know Chris Guest as a genius filmmaker, and Harry Shearer as most of the Simpsons.  Back then, in 1980?  A bunch of improve yahoos.  Michael McKean was only known for playing Lenny in Laverne & Shirley.

Can you imagine how they got that film financed?  “I need 5 million bucks to make a movie with these unproven and unknown actors.”  Who will compose the score?  Who is your screenwriter?  Who is going to actually record the songs they pretend to sing?  You know, like we did with the Monkeys.

Well… about that.  No script.  No musicians.  No songwriters.  No famous actors.  We are just going to throw it to some improve guys. There is no screenplay, they are just going to make up the dialogue as we film.  They will write the songs themselves, and play all the instruments in the recordings.  It’s about a fake British heavy metal band that is washed up.”

Has that ever been done before then?  Roy Scheider is quite famous for improving the line ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ in Jaws.  Everyone looks to that moment to prove his genius.  One sentence.  BFD.  If it were Chris Guest’s crew, they would have made up all the dialogue, built the boat themselves… and fought a real fucking shark.

 I mean, I know it is a masterpiece now… but at the time I bet they got laughed out of Hollywood.  Now, hopefully, you recognize the great McKean from Better Call Saul.  Jesus, is there anything these guys can’t do?  Listen to ‘listen to the flower people’ and tell me that song is not as good or better than anything of that era.  Also, full disclosure… I finally got my band to learn ‘Big Bottom’.  We played it at our last gig.

*bonus news, the guy behind these films, Chris Guest (Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, For your Approval, a Mighty Wind…) has a new film out soon.  It’s called ‘Mascots’, and will be on Netflix soon.  Like everything Larry David does, you can assume it will be all improvised, and wonderfully stupid.

Friday Fives – that guy from the Brady Bunch movie

 

What movie made you laugh the hardest?

Gosh, not sure. Obviously, I prefer a high degree of absurdity. Funny is good, but I want a big kicker of weird and inappropriate thrown in.  Life is absurd and surreal and wonderful and perfect… so my comedy should be, too.  Can I generalize? Spinal Tap, Princess Bride, and a Fish Called Wanda. LOVE them all. Know them all verbatim. Let’s talk about something bigger and greater in that mix, Spinal Tap. I want you know how insanely and impossibly talented those guys were. The guys in Spinal Tap improved (that is meant to say improved as in ‘improvisation’, not ‘improvement’) the ENTIRE movie. Every single minute. Like ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, they get a broadsheet saying ‘Nigel enters. Is angry about catering’ and then the actors just riff.  the three actors all did ALL the press for the movie in character, and only in character.

PLUS – those three wrote those songs. And performed in them. The ringleader for all of those movies was Chris Guest. Also, these guys wrote ‘a Mighty Wind’. Also improved the entire movie. Listen to this song, it is not at LEAST as good as the stuff it parodies? I am a musicologist… and I can tell you the answer is yes. These guys are amazing. You know Michael McKean for his other many talented rolls. Remember your childhood? He was Lenny, of Lenny & Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley. Now? Now he is a lead in ‘Better Call Saul’. At the end of the day, though, when he sits down with St Peter and God and they ask for his credentials… he drops this bomb; I was in the Brady Bunch.

The talent is sickening. Spinal Tap was so successful they actually released another album, and then toured. I saw them just a couple years ago, on this tour. THEN… these three did a brilliant fake folk album. They also wrote all those songs, and improved the whole movie. So, you know Michael McKean. What about Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls)? Well, you are familiar with Monty Burns and Waylon Smithers, right? What about Ned Flanders, Otto, Smithers, Rev Lovejoy, Kent Brockman. ALL of them are the bass player from Spinal Tap. Watch this; it’s him on Conan. Not just banging out all the characters, but also improving an entire scene with all these characters. Bonus side note: Conan was a writer on the Simpsons.

Shearer has a great podcast called Le Show. Aside from being a great entertainer, he has also done some thoughtful stuff with New Orleans post Katrina. This includes a great documentary critical of the Fed regarding Hurricane Katrina.

Sorry, back to the question.  The hardest I remember laughing recently was this bit on the local comedy radio station.  Wife and I were in tears, and seriously we were disabled.  It was Patton Oswalt doing a bit on John Varvatos clothes.  I can’t find the clip, but I will.

 Who is your favorite cameo in a movie?

You can never go wrong with a Tom Waits acting role. It will always be really weird… and great. Here, watch this. Seriously, whatever you are doing, stop and watch. MUST stay until the end, it’s only like 2 minutes long.

What is your favorite black and white movie?

Easy. Harvey. It is Jimmy Stewart in a great tender movie about his belived 7 foot rabbit best friend. It’s really great. I have a copy and will loan it to you.

 What movie left you asking wtf?

Besides Harvey? Harold and Maude. Just a really great and very strange movie. Super quotable, and a soundtrack done entirely by Cat Stevens.  The story is about a teenage boy given to fake suicides in a wonderfully dramatic way, and he hangs out at funerals… just random stranger funerals.  It’s where he meet an 80 year old Ruth Gordon, who also hangs out at funerals.  They meet via her penchant for stealing cars, and fall in love.  That isn’t even the weird shit, either.  Yet, it is a tender and thoughtful and funny tale.

 What’s the most rewatchable movie?

All of the above. Ultimately, though, it would be Big Fish. I just bought another copy last week. Turns out I didn’t own a copy in BluRay. It isn’t just super duper great storytelling, it may be the most visually beautiful and perfect movie.