DVD Review: THE T.A.M.I SHOW (1964)

THE T.A.M.I. SHOW (Dir. Steve Binder, 1964)

This time capsule of a concert film finally gets a proper DVD release and that’s a great thing because it’s a joy from start to finish. If you happen to like ’60s rock, pop, and soul that is. The Teenage Awards Music International show featured a mighty roster of the days biggest acts including Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Lesley Gore, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and The Rolling Stones filmed live in glorious black and white at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1964. Era heart throbs Jan and Dean hosted the event and also performed.

It’s major proof that the teens at the time screamed at more than just The Beatles. The fact that they scream throughout the entirety of this concert can be as endearing as often as it’s annoying. They even scream at the third tier bands: Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Barbarians and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. But the music, most of it instantly recognizable if you’ve ever listened to oldies radio, shines through the squealing as well as the cheesy presentation featuring TV variety show style sets and go-go dancers constantly bopping behind most of the acts.

Most amusingly, one of those go-go dancers was a 17 year old Teri Garr (pictured above between the Supremes) who can be seen dancing her ass off almost the whole show. She’s given plenty to shake to when James Brown hits the stage. Backed by the Famous Flames, Brown steals the show out from everybody with a ferocious 5 song set in which an incendiary “Please Please Please” featuring his patented cape routine is the shows undeniable highlight.

The Rolling Stones almost backed out after learning they were going to follow Brown. Maybe they should have; their set is fine but a bit lacking in fire. The band responsible for the classic album “Aftermath” come off a bit like an afterthought here. However by the time they get to “It’s All Over Now” a good deal of their power gets restored. It’s all the same to the shrieking audience though, they scream as loud as ever right to the end.

Bonus Features: This digitally remastered film comes with a smattering of extras including several radio spots and an informative commentary by director Steve Binder assisted by music historian Don Waller. Director John Landis (ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, THREE AMIGOS), who attended the show as a teenager and said that the Rolling Stones were boring following Brown, also puts in a sprightly commentary on the trailer.

More later…


Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies

As film geeks throughout the blogosphere well know, an appearance by a director in their own film is a tradition established by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch (or “Cock” as Teri Garr once claimed she called him to Francois Truffaut) had brief but notable appearances in 37 of his 52 films. Obviously excluding those who act in sizable roles in their own films (Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Orson Welles, etc.) these are my favorites of the film maker folks that followed in Hitch’s footsteps:

1. Martin Scorsese in TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Scorsese has had brief bit cameos in a lot of his movies but it’s this appearance credited as “Passenger watching silhouette” that makes the biggest impression. As a nervous gun totting cuckolded husband, Scorsese tells his cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) to pull over and stay parked with the meter running outside the building where his wife is with another man. He talks about his revenge fantasy involving his 44 Magnum in the only scene in the movie in which we are creeped out by somebody other than the title character.

What puts this at the top of the list is that Scorsese actually shows some acting chops and a persuasive presence. His later performances in other’s movies, particularly Akira Kurosawa’s DREAMS and Robert Redford’s QUIZ SHOW, confirm TAXI DRIVER‘s hinted at prowess. Incidentally Scorsese can also be seen in a daylight street scene shot earlier in the film.

2. John Huston in THE TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE (1948) Another American master who appeared in many movies, his own and others’, Huston stole a short but sweet scene from star Humphrey Bogart in this undeniable classic. Bogart’s down on his luck character Fred C. Dobbs makes the mistake of trying to bum money 3 times from Huston as an “American in Tampico in white suit”. Huston reluctantly complies but warns: “But from now on, you have to make your way through life without my assistance.” Luckily this was nothing but a movie line – Bogart and Huston assisted each other on a couple more classics afterwards (KEY LARGO and THE AFRICAN QUEEN).

3. Roman Polanski in CHINATOWN (1974) Perhaps it’s been all the op ed pieces on Polanski lately (Sometimes that have the same screen capture I have here) that helped to inspire this list but whatever the case this is a colossally classic cameo. In less than a minute of screen time, as a thug that Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes dismisses as a “midget”, Polanski convinces us that he actually slices Nicholson’s nose with a switchblade. It’s a moment that’s impossible to forget:

Still not convinced that it’s a classic cameo? Then check out this 12 inch articulated custom figure!

I mean come on! How many cameos have action figures representin’? Well, come to think of it, there is this guy:

4. George Lucas in STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) This is movie director as extra. For a member of a crowd scene in the last STAR WARS series entry (or the third if you’re into the revisionist re-jiggling thing), Lucas got himself decked out in alien garb and gave himself a name: Baron Papanoida. There’s an oddly lengthy bio at IMDb. And yes, there’s an action figure too.

5. Richard Linklater in SLACKER (1994)

Linklater’s role as “Should Have Stayed at Bus Station” sets into motion the stream of self consciousness exercise that he geared the movie to be:

It’s quite a loose likable persona that Linklater affects – one that kicks off his film career and also appears in animated form in WAKING LIFE (2001) – a sort of sequel (or at least spiritual follow-up) to SLACKER.

6. Hal Ashby in HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)

Film babble blog favorite Ashby also does the “movie director as extra” thing as a hippy freak at a carnival in his counter culture cult classic. Of course, he was just dressed as usual and it’s not really a cameo; more of a brief shot that captures the director as a random passerby watching a mechanical toy train with Harold (Bud Cort) and Maude (Ruth Gordon). Ashby also shows up doing the extra thing again in a newsroom in BEING THERE (1980) – something I noticed just recently after missing it for years on many repeated viewings.

7. Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

So he’s the “Director of TV Crew” who barks orders at the soldiers as they run through his shot – is it an exaggeration of Coppola’s ego or the real thing? You decide:

8. David Lynch in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Lynch has done a number of walk on parts in his films but here he gives himself an actual character: FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole who Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Machlachlan) reports to. Lynch’s Gordon appeared on the TV series a few blink and miss them times and his bit for the prequel/origin story/whatever movie is pretty meager. So what gets him on this list? I guess it’s that a normal office scenario is skewed by the likes of David Bowie and flashes of a white faced pointy nosed circus wack job or whatever dancing around and this time Lynch himself is in the midst of it. Welcome to my nightmare, indeed:

9. Oliver Stone in WALL STREET (1987)

Yet another director that has taken bit or extra roles in multiple movies, Stone does a split screen sound bite appearance as a broker on the phone in one of the film’s many frenetic montages. No word whether he’ll reprise the role for the sequel.

10. Sam Raimi in THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY (1981-1992) As documented by AMC Filmsite, Sam Raimi appeared:

1981: as a Hitchhiking Fisherman and the Voice of the Evil Force
1987: as a Medieval Soldier; and
1993: as a Knight in Sweatshirt and Sneakers, who assured Ash (Bruce Campbell): “You can count on my steel”

Peter Jackson pulled the same stunt by appearing in all 3 LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

Anybody else? I know this list is just a drop in the ocean so bring on your own favorites! You know where to put ’em.

More later…

10 Reasons The 30th Anniversary Of OH, GOD! Should Be Celebrated

Jerry Landers (John Denver) : “If you wanted to see me, why didn’t you just appear over my bed?”
God (George Burns) : “Ah, Hollywood. Next question.”

The film forums were flowing with tributes to the 30th anniversary of STAR WARS last summer but I think another little movie released that same year should get a shout-out. I’m talking about OH, GOD! – the Carl Reiner directed comedy that had God come to Earth in the form of a wise-cracking smug smiling George Burns. He appears to John Denver, of all people, in Denver’s only cinematic acting role and asks him to give his message of hope to the world. Wackiness doesn’t ensue like in lesser broader comedies (BRUCE ALMIGHTY – I’m looking in your direction) – no, a measured witty thoughtful tone carries Denver’s supermarket manager everyman character through the motions of his doubting wife (Teri Garr), his stern unforgiving bosses, and the scolding from the entire religious community that result.

Released on October 7th, 1977 to good box office and much critical acclaim, OH, GOD! is still not really considered a classic these days. It’s not on the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest movies list and it only gets a IMDb user rating of 6.2/10 but its Critics Tomatometer 82% approval rating shows there are a lot of fans out there. So, since I’m one of the film’s biggest fans I thought it would be fun to celebrate the 30 year anniversary and honor OH, GOD! so here are :

10 Reasons the 30th Anniversary of OH, GOD! Should Be Celebrated

1. George Burns (1896-1996) As God – On the DVD commentary (recorded in 2002) Carl Reiner says “somebody came to me and said ‘how about George Burns for God?’ and I said ‘who else?'” Despite this comment reportedly Mel Brooks was asked first to take the role but as Reiner joked Brooks didn’t want to take the demotion. Burns brings a crafty confident component to his portrayal of the grand deity and nails every line. Especially when he takes the stand at the concluding trial scene – “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me me.”

2. John Denver (1943-1997) – As Brooks was originally considered for God, Woody Allen was the first choice to play Jerry Landers – the grocery store manager chosen to spread God’s word. Allen turned the part down because he had his own take on God and that wasn’t it as the story goes. So they went to a top 40 folk singer who had never acted before – good ol’ boy John Denver. Not sure how they arrived there but I’m glad they did because Denver had the chops and plays no false notes here. His exasperating defenses to the skeptical ones around him – “I’m not some kind of nut!” and tense talks/fights with his wife Bobbi (Teri Garr) all show a range though not polished was still perfect for this project.

3. Teri Garr – As the disbelieving worried wife – a role she would perfect in her next film CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Garr holds her own here. She recounts on the commentary – “around the time of this movie I also made CLOSE ENCOUNTERS… and I remember I used to do interviews and I’d say I just did 2 movies – one in which God is revealed as a cabdriver and one in which God is revealed as a chandelier!” Incidentally Barbara Harris was the original choice – glad they went with Garr.

4. Paul Sorvino – Way before he was an established powerhouse actor in such pivotal films as GOODFELLAS and NIXON, Sorvino had done little besides TV series work and bit parts in a few movies but when he took on the part of Reverend Willie Williams people started to take notice. Williams is a popular evangelist described as “God’s personal quarterback” who draws the real God Burn’s scorn. God considers him a phony and instructs Denver to tell him so. The Shrine Auditorium sermon that Denver interrupts to bring him that message is show-stopping largely due to Sorvino’s invigorated scenery chewing.

5. Great If Largely Unused Supporting Cast – From William Daniels (Benjamin’s father in THE GRADUATE, the voice of K.I.T.T. on TV’s Knight Rider) to David Ogden Stiers (Major Winchester on M*A*S*H – the TV series) and Ralph Bellemy as Williams’ lawyer every part is extremely well cast. Unfortunately a lot of performances appear to have been cut – Donald Pleasance (Blofeld in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the President in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK among other mostly villainous roles) is given very little screen time and has only one or 2 lines. A montage during the trial sequence indicates there was a lot more material but until a special edition DVD comes along we’ll just have to make do.

6. Great Story – Adapted from the book by Avery Corman (who also wrote the original novel of Kramer Vs. Kramer) by Larry Gelbert (M*A*S*H, TOOTSIE) the premise is sound and well plotted out even though it follows a formulaic path it’s one well worth taking. Even the courtroom showdown ending which was well worn by ’77 comes across as fresh and necessary.

7. Great One-liners – Of course if you’ve got George Burns you would expect an arsenal of Vaudevillian one-liners and Gelbert’s Oscar nominated screenplay doesn’t leave him unarmed. Some examples – “The last miracle I did was the 1969 Mets. Before that, I think you have to go back to the Red Sea” and this literary gem “you know Voltaire may have had me pegged right? He said I was a comedian playing to an audience who’s afraid to laugh.”

8. Minor Miracles – As the before mentioned rip-off – sorry, uh…homage BRUCE ALMIGHTY and especially its lame sequel EVAN ALMIGHTY (with a budget of approximately $140 million – the most expensive comedy movie ever made) prove with their extensive use of CGI – money doesn’t equal funny. OH, GOD! shows this by giving us a God who bemoans special effects and considers major miracles beneath him and his message. When a still skeptical Denver insists on a sign to fully convince him – God makes it suddenly rain. The thing is – he only makes it rain in Denver’s car. He gets pulled over and tells the cop that he must have gone through a car wash with the windows open. The cop (John Ashton – talk about casting) buys it in a stormtroopers buying Luke by way of Obi Wan’s Force tricks way. The only other miracles that our Lord Burns perform is a vanishing card trick and disappearing himself by way of cheap editing in his final court appeal. Those work fine so why bother with big-time spectacle that never really pays off?

9. The Carl Reiner Cameo – Sure, it’s not in the league of director doing a cameo in their own film as say Hitchcock but Reiner’s appearance alongside Denver on The Dinah Shore show is still good stuff. As further Reiner self referencing goes – on a hotel room television set an episode of the Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show plays. God – this time dressed as a bus boy turns off the TV and remarks “so many repeats.”

10. A Sincere Positive Message – Yes, shut your mouth you cinematic cynics – it’s true, this film has a good solid message that believers and non-believers can embrace – that our world can work and it’s up to us. Best said by God himself: “you can love, cherish and nurture each other or you can kill each other.”

Okay! So put it in your Netflix queue and honor thy OH, GOD! with me – won’t you?

Postnotes :

I’ve got to at least mention the sequels as inessential as they are. It has been a while since I’ve seen them but the 2002 DVD of OH, GOD! has trailers for them and they trigger my memory. The thing that has always bothered me about making a sequel to this film is simply this – Burns tells Denver when he first appears – “I picked a look you could understand. For somebody else I would’ve looked different.” The sequels – OH, GOD! BOOK II (Dir. Gilbert Cates, 1980) and OH, GOD! YOU DEVIL (Dir. Paul Bogart, 1984) ignore this and just settle on God being George Burns. BOOK II pretty much repeats the same story as the first substituting a little girl (Tracy Richards) for Denver for extra cheesy results but at least OH, GOD! YOU DEVIL attempts a new premise – Burns plays the Devil as well and pulls off some amusing moments. Still, neither needs celebratory re-appraising – that’s for sure.

Then there’s the remake tentatively scheduled for 2008. According to my trusty Wikipedia source “there is currently a remake starring Ellen DeGeneres planned, which was confirmed by DeGeneres in a Time magazine interview.” It even has an IMDb page and original producer Jerry Weintraub is involved but it looks like no progress has been made since it has been announced and I hope it stays that way. Hey, I like Ellen but this is a bad idea and I’m not alone in that thinking – this John Denver tribute page has a petition you can sign to stop it. I just signed it – hope you do too.

More later…