Archive for February, 2013

Bindlestiff First of May Award

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

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This just came in over the transom….

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus opens submissions for the First of May Award – $500 development grant for full-length variety arts production

For nearly 20 years, Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc. has been enriching New York City’s variety arts culture by producing and presenting unparalleled circus, sideshow and variety arts performances.
Bindlestiff is pleased to announce the second annual First of May Award, which will grant $500 to a variety artist or group of variety artists to support their development of an original full-length production.  Last year’s recipient was Unmasked, created and directed by Lady Aye and Mistress B.
Submissions are now open to solo artists or troupes wishing to apply for this year’s award.
Submission guidelines:
1. Proposals must include:
  • a 1-page project description
  • links to videos of past work (up to 3)
  • resumé and/or bios of participating artists
2. Proposed productions must be at least 40 minutes in length.
3. Productions may be either solo or troupe-based projects. If submitting as a solo artist, applicant must be a NYC resident.  If submitting as a troupe, at least 50% of troupe members must be NYC residents.
By submitting a proposal, applicants acknowledge that if the award is granted, 1) development of the proposed production must begin prior to June 30, 2013, and 2) at least one public performance of the production must be presented in New York City before December 31, 2013 (a work in progress performance is acceptable).
Deadline: Submissions must be received before midnight on April 1, 2013.
Proposals should be submitted via email to firstofmay@bindlestiff.org.
Submissions will be evaluated based on artistic merit, unique perspective, and variety arts relevance.
The selected grantee will be announced on May 1, 2013.
Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
PO Box 1917
New York, NY 10009
1-877-BINDLES info

Adam Forepaugh

Posted in Circus, Impresarios with tags , , , , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great circus impresario (and Barnum competitor) Adam Forepaugh. (1831-1890).

Forepaugh made his initial fortune selling horses to the U.S. government during the Civil War. He then found himself in the circus business when the Tom King Excelsior Circus found itself unable to pay for the 44 horses they’d purchased. Forepaugh took partial possession of the show. He then bough up several other circuses and changed their names to variants on his own. In 1869, Forepaugh’s became the first circus to put the menagerie under a separate tent so that patrons too proper to come to the circus itself would at least buy tickets to the zoo. That would soon become an industry-wide practice. Throughout the ’70s and 80s’ Forepaugh ran neck and neck with Barnum for supremacy in the big top line, battling him for territory all across the country. Their most famous squabble was over who had the more authentic White Elephant. (Barnum’s was real, but splotchy. Forepaugh’s was faked, but whiter). In ’89, Forepaugh sold his circus performers to James A. Bailey and his train cars to the Ringling Brothers. Thus, in a way, Forepaugh indirectly merged with his rival when it all became one show in 1919. By then, he’s been dead for almost 30 years.

And now, look at this darn poster. Do you believe those old-fashioned cars could do all that? I sure do!

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To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Chaplin’s “The Circus” Tomorrow on TCM

Posted in Circus, Clown, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

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Set your video recording devices! Tomorrow morning at 6am (Eastern)  TCM is showing the Chaplin feature that tends to fall through the cracks, his 1928 The Circus. It is a beautiful film and a funny one, and by no means “worse” than those than came before or after. If anything it is perhaps too intellectually ambitious, even if its most famous set piece concerns Charlie on a tight rope with monkeys crawling all over him.

For more information on the history of silent and slapstick comedy past present and future, see Chain of Fools:  Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube available at Bear Manor Media, and also through Amazon.com and wherever nutty books are sold.  

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The Mysterious Dizzy Daniels

Posted in Clown, Comedy, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

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One of the things I think is distinct about my new book Chain of Fools is that it brings the history of silent comedy all the way up to the present day. And you may be asking yourself, “Now just who the hell is making silent comedy in the present day?”

Well, here’s just one of hundreds. Montreal based comedian Dizzy Daniels is one of the folks I interviewed for my last chapter in Chain of Fools. He’s a little tight-lipped about who he really is, but there are plenty of pictures to look at on his web site here.

And he sent me this clip the other day with the following explanatory text and link:

The Four-Eyed Bandit: WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE!!
 
Outtakes taken from the first version of A SELF-MADE FAILURE shot on Super 8, starring “Dizzy” Daniels. After shooting 80 minutes of footage everything was scrapped, and re-shot in 16MM, with all new actors. Some of these scenes were never re-shot for the feature length version of the film.
https://vimeo.com/60379344

For more information on the history of silent and slapstick comedy past present and future, see Chain of Fools:  Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube available at Bear Manor Media, and also through Amazon.com and wherever nutty books are sold.  

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Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #31: Season 6, SNL

Posted in Comedy, Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Stand Up, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

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Today is Gilbert Gottfried’s birthday. In honor of the day, a little post about…not a forgotten show, but a forgotten season of a well known show, season six of Saturday Night Live, the first season without the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players.

The cast of the notorious Jean Doumanian season (which was swallowed up by history for reasons we’ll get to) included Gilbert, Joe Piscopo, Denny Dillon, my fellow Rhode Islander Charles Rocket (who was positioned as “the new Chevy Chase“), Gail Mathius, and Ann Risley. Also during this season Eddie Murphy, still a teenager, was hired as an adjunct cast member.

Now this cast was a blip. Almost no one alive seems to remember it, and meeting someone who does creates an instant bond. It’s like, “Oh, you also fought at Iwo Jima? We are forever brothers!”  There are a couple of reasons why I’m among them. One is that I was a sophomore in high school. Enough said on that score, right? And this 14 year old thought Gail Mathius was the cat’s pajama’s, hoo boy! But here’s the main thing. My buddy Steve had the first video-cassette recorder any of  us had ever seen. The school had video tape machines, but they were black and white and reel to reel. This was color, and easy to use cassette. I don’t even know what format it was. It wasn’t VHS or Beta or videodisc, it was some prototypical format. His dad had borrowed the thing from his top secret job. Steve only had one tape, and he taped two things….which my buddies and I watched over and over and over for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time. I consequently have these two things burned into my memory for all time. One is the Roger Moore-James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. The other is the premier episode of season 6 of SNL, hosted by Elliot Gould.

And it’s a good thing I have it committed to memory. It’s like spy stuff. That stuff ain’t anywhere and you’ll never SEE that stuff anywhere. It’s like Song of the South, man, it’s like the Star Wars Christmas special — that shit is buried. That whole season was so dreadful they fired the entire cast except Piscopo and Murphy as well as the entire writing staff after 13 episodes. Charlie Rocket had gotten fired even earlier for saying “fuck” on the air. I remember watching that one live as well. My sister was having a party; we all heard him say it. So…very few people have seen this notorious baker’s dozen of SNL episodes.

But check it out: this dude got access somehow and recaps that whole first episode on his blogpost here. It’s where I got the screen shot at the top of this post. All hail, Existential Weightlifting! I remember Gottfried’s contributions to this episode very well, especially that skit with Denny Dillon: “So! Vots it All About, vith Pinky and Leo Vaxman!” We used to do impressions of that.

Also, throwing in his two cents on Gottfried’s contributions to SNL is Howard Stern in the clip below. Stern clearly shows that he cares, and that he admires Gottfried, but I think he’s being a little hard on him. I really think no one could have transcended that second season. There was comedy-power Kryptonite under the stage for those 13 episodes:

To learn more about show biz history (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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H.G. Wells Double Feature at the Film Forum Tonight!

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, PLUGS with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

New Yorkers, the Film Forum is in the midst of its 1933 series. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be pointing out certain noteworthy bills that tickle my fancy. Today they’re showing:

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James Whale’s comedy horror take on the H.G. Wells classic The Invisible Man starts in medias res with scientist Claude Rains already well down the path to lunacy, which happens to run in tandem with the road to invisibility. It is a road down which our hilarious anti-hero will eventually skip like a little girl singing “Here We Go Gathering Nuts in May.” Already transparent from the outset, he shows up at a country inn during a snow storm, run by the hysterical but obnoxious Una O’Connor, whom Whale would use again to similar purpose in The Bride of Frankenstein. But Raines is already going insane and attacks whomever is interfering with him. Soon he is roaming throughout the countryside causing havoc, and forcing his former rival (William Harrigan) to do his bidding. The police form a dragnet, they eventually trap him in a barn, set it on fire, and watch his footprints in the snow for where to shoot, killing him.

And when he dies, it is the first time we see Claude Rains on screen! Ever! His performance is great, very campy, one of the best insane villains ever, with an excellent wheezy laugh calculated to put a chill up your spine. Titanic’s Gloria Stuart is the thankless fiancé/love interest. And Henry Travers (the guy who played Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life is her father and Raines’ employer.

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Definitely the best Hollywood version of Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (though it’s not hard to beat the Burt Lancaster and Marlon Brando ones). But it’s more than that; it’s actually one of the most chilling, nightmarish and disturbing horror movies of the 1930s. Charles Laughton chews the scenery as the cruel and callous Moreau. Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. (His “are we not men?” became part of Devo’s theme song). The monster rebellion, with all those torch lit nighttime black and white scenes at the climax is quite terrifying. After seeing this film, you will be guaranteed to treat your pets with more kindness.

For tix and info go here. 

The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek

Posted in Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Movies, Movies (Contemporary) with tags , , on February 28, 2013 by travsd

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We are in the midst of almost daily Civil War 150th anniversaries these days and savvy producers from Steven Spielberg to Bill O’Reilly are marking the occasion with commemorative projects of one sort or another. It’s inevitable that one of these would be a comedy, and the good news is, 150 years out, it is no longer “too soon”. (Laugh all you want, but 60 years was still too soon, judging by the public’s response to Buster Keaton’s 1927 The General). Anyway, Wendy Jo Cohen’s smart new mockumentary The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek doesn’t poke fun of our country’s greatest tragedy per se (how could you?), but at the much more rewarding target of documentary makers — a genre she knows intimately well from having been producing them for 15 years.

The film aspires to be “Spinal Tap meets Ken and Ric Burns’ The Civil War” and, as someone who chuckled profusely and knowingly throughout, I can attest that it almost gets there. (I might also throw in Woody Allen’s Zelig and F Troop for that matter).  The Christopher Guest element consists not just in the fact that this is a parody, but it also embraces his favorite comic trope of spending 90 minutes in the company of maladroits and misfits. The tale follows the ups and downs of the 13th Rhode Island (even the name of the infantry unit is a joke) and its heroes: a dandyish, homosexual company commander; a Chinese laundryman with the unfortunate name of General Li (which occasions much confusion, this being the Civil War and all); a nerdy black drummer boy who is a genius inventor (shades of Urkel); and a one-legged prostitute. Never heard of them? That’s the joke that fuels this spoof: though these four people won this Civil War battle their deeds have gone unsung because they don’t look like American heroes have traditionally looked, i.e. male, straight and white.

The concept is inspired because it allows Cohen (credited on the web site as “Grace Burns”) to be an equal opportunity satirist, aiming her buckshot at both types of historical talking heads: the war-loving, flag-waving, curmudgeonly old white guy we associate with the History Channel; and the identity-based deconstructionists and revisionists, best represented in the film as a type by a feminist African American woman wearing a head scarf.

Now: this is nothing if not an “in” joke. This is comedy for people who watch history documentaries, people! I’d like to have been in on the pitch sessions:

“And the market for this film is…?”

“Grandparents!”

But I guess you know I am right square dead center in the middle of the target audience for this movie so I enjoyed it mightily. Glancing at her IMDB entry, the bulk of Cohen’s credits over the past 15 years has been as a producer of military documentaries, so it is not surprising that she scores biggest at the technical level. It simply looks like it is supposed to look, and I am a stickler for such things, so trust me when I say it is phenomenal. In this kind of comedy art direction and prop and costume design bear an unusually large chunk of the burden, and I would say that this stuff was 95% of the way there. (The weakest link were the fabricated letters, i.e. facsimiles of 19th century correspondence. As in the Burns’ Civil War film, there are a lot of them, and all in close-up. They were fairly half-assed, but it’s possible that that’s an intentional joke). But Cohen gets so much RIGHT…the rooms in which she shoots her talking heads, the lighting in those rooms, the choice of the narrator, the sound effects. She even elicited big guffaws from me from certain camera movements!

And all that is predictable, given her professional background. She’d BETTER get that stuff right! The big surprise is how funny and how outlandish her writing is. Not just in the details of the story as I described above, which you will observe gets pretty politically incorrect, but in the framing devices with the “historians.” One of them, for example, is clearly a prostitute delivering her expert advice while turning tricks. In another scene, we revisit the site of the former battlefield (which is now a parking lot) and re-envision the battle, juxtaposing the cannon sounds with SUVs driving around looking for a place to park. Practically every shot has something funny going on.

The one aspect that stops the film short of hitting the coveted “Guest-esque” mark is unfortunately, the acting. Nearly everyone in the film is well cast in terms of type, but virtually none of them hit that sweet spot one so badly wants in a comedy of this type. This kind of thing calls for a high wire act that only masters of improvisation can pull off: you must be able to play an off-kilter character, but one who is in dead earnest, never for an instant betraying that they know what they’re doing is supposed to be funny. They can have a funny voice, a funny face, a funny hat, a funny hairpiece and say funny things. But the actors need to be playing strong intentions and they have to be absolutely serious about them. It calls for hard core pros, the kind of people who do this sort of thing all the time so that it comes naturally. I didn’t get that vibe from this film; nearly every actor tips his hand in one way or another. The star of this film is strictly Cohen, but ideally some of these talking heads would have (and should have) walked away with it. (Another cool option that would have been totally sweet would have been to stick a couple of actual historians in the movie).

At any rate, that said, I recommend it highly to the readers of this blog and it opens tomorrow March 1 at the Quad Cinema here in New York and will be playing through the next week. Furthermore, it features the talents of several peeps readers of this blog may know, including Dirty Martini, Bianca Leigh, Raquel Cion, Richard Kent Green, Tim Cusack, Bob Laine and Christopher “Kit” Lucas. At least those are the ones I know!

For show times and info at the Quad Cinema go here. And for the movies excellent web site go to http://www.pussywillowcreek.com/

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