Just one week until THE MONTY PYTHON MOVIE BLOGATHON!

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Only one week remains until we launch The Monty Python Movie Blogathon!

The blogathon is open to anyone who wants to write about movies made by the members of Monty Python, either as a group or individually. Thus far, the only “team” movies that have been taken are Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life, so there are still plenty of choices up for grabs.

Click here for the complete rules of the blogathon, and be sure to check back next Saturday to read some great blog entries!

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The worst song of the 1980’s??

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(Photo credit: Xavier Arnau, Getty.)

Did you know that Starship’s “We Built This City” is widely regarded as the single worst song of the 1980’s? I didn’t know the song had claimed such a designation until GQ posted an oral history of the song and those who were involved in the creation of it. (Click here to read the GQ article.)

Now, I’m not any defender of Starship. But I’d hardly call “We Built This City” the worst song of its decade. For one thing, we’re talking about the 1980’s, an era that was rife with musical landmines. So you really have to get down and dirty to call any song the worst of the ’80s. “We Built This City” is at least catchy and listenable, with even a minor attempt at social statement.

For me, a truly bad song, like a truly bad movie, is like a greasy, barbecued pork chop — it’s so full of all the wrong ingredients that you savor it like a guilty pleasure. And out of all the pop-music drek of the 1980’s, there’s only one song that stands out in that manner for me: Benny Mardones’ “Into the Night.”

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For one thing, this song has an amazingly checkered history. Mardones first recorded and released it in 1980. The song peaked at # 11 for two weeks on Billboard‘s “Top 100.” After that, it should have glided into obscurity. But nine years later, an Arizona DJ added the song to his playlist and gave it a second life. (That was the year when I first heard the song, introduced by a local DJ who dubbed its vocalist “Benny Mar-dumb-ass.”)

The lyrics alone are enough to induct this tune into Bad Song Heaven. Mr. Mardones’ first words in the song are, “‘She’s just 16 years old/Leave her alone’, they said.” If you’re not 16 years old yourself, and somebody has to advise you not to mess with a 16-year-old, red flags should be going up everywhere.

But the singer rationalizes that he and the jailbait are simply “separated by fools/Who don’t know what love is yet.” Yes, because how could anyone other than the singer know what true love means, right?

After the chorus (into which we’ll deep-dive momentarily), Mardones goes on to sing, “It’s like having a dream/Where nobody hides a heart.” I don’t know about you, but after witnessing the heart-surgery scene in the offbeat movie musical All That Jazz, I’m quite content for everyone to hide their hearts for all eternity.

Mardones goes on to tell his true love, “I would wait ’til the end/Of time for you/And do it again. It’s true!” Do what again? Violate state laws to try to have his way with this naive woman?

Mardones continues to utter more true-love banalities before delivering a melodramatic middle-eight where he screams in agony over…again, what? His blue nether regions?

Finally, he finishes the song by agonizingly repeating its chorus: “If I could fly/I’d pick you up/And take you into the night/And show you my love.” He keeps repeating the chorus ever more wrenchingly, until you finally get the impression that he’s getting quite the hernia just from picking this girl up.

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Remember Steve Martin at the end of “The Man with Two Brains”?

So there’s my choice for the worst song of the 1980’s. Do you disagree? Do you have an alternate choice? Feel free to comment. Meanwhile, here’s Benny Mardones’ original 1980 video for the song.

Charlie Chaplin in PAY DAY (1922) – A comedy that hits pay dirt

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Pay Day is Chaplin’s truly worthy finale to the genre that first brought him fame, the short subject. Although he obviously had bigger things on his mind at this point than simply “riffing” on a series of gags a la Mack Sennett, Chaplin nevertheless proved he still had it in him to do so.

The movie is mostly a series of vignettes on a day in the life of construction worker Charlie. The movie is basically divided into thirds: his day on the job, confounding his boss (Mack Swain) and his co-workers; drinking his troubles away in the evening; and trying to avoid his sleeping wife once he gets home at 5 a.m.

Edna Purviance makes a token appearance her as the boss’ daughter, but seen in retrospect, Chaplin already saw the writing on the wall as far as Purviance getting too old for this sort of role, as she is used most minimally here. Sadly, the major female presence is Phyllis Allen as Charlie’s harridan wife. Even in his time, Chaplin’s critics complained about how idealized his movie women usually were, but they were certainly preferable to this battle-ax stereotype (whose big, screaming mouth and hair-in-curls hideously fills the movie’s final shot).

As always, the best gags involve transposition. When Charlie and his drunken friends hold an outside serenade, and a woman two floors above dumps water on them, Charlie naturally assumes it’s a downfall and opens up his umbrella. Continually trying and failing to catch nearby streetcars, Charlie happens upon an open lunch wagon and, in his drunken state, hopefully boards it for a ride home.

Pay Day isn’t Chaplin’s greatest comedy by any means, but compared to the two opening shorts he did for First National (Sunnyside and A Day’s Pleasure), it comes as a welcome relief for his finale in the short-subject arena.

Charlie Chaplin in THE BOND (1918) – Buy bonds today!

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The Bond is a half-reel short created by Chaplin at his own expense for the Liberty Loan Committee, to aid in the World War I effort. As you can guess, its purpose was to promote the sale of U.S. savings bonds.

The short’s sketches depict various kinds of bonds:

* friendship (Albert Austin plays an old acquaintance who greets Charlie on the street, ostensibly to have some laughs and discuss old times, but eventually to hit him up for cash);

* love (Edna Purviance, at her most lush, woos Charlie on a park bench, with a little help from a cute cherub playing Cupid from behind a cardboard moon);

* marriage (Edna has now wooed Charlie to the point of matrimony, but he doesn’t look very happy about it — perhaps a portent of Chaplin’s future, real-life marriages); and finally,

* the Liberty Bond (Chaplin’s real-life brother Sydney plays The Kaiser, whom Charlie knocks cold with an oversized mallet labeled “Liberty Bonds,” just in case we haven’t gotten the message by now).

Among The Bond‘s many interests is its stylized look, with its actors and tiny settings glowing against black backgrounds — it’s like the sunny version of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Also a delight is Chaplin’s genuine laughter in the final shot, giving evidence that he enjoyed making this out-of-the-norm bauble.

Obviously the movie’s message has dated, but its considerable charms have not.

Charlie Chaplin in THE MASQUERADER (1914) – Baby, look at you now

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The Masquerader is clearly another attempt to show a comedy behind-the-scenes at the Keystone Studios (identified as such within the movie). Chaplin has brief scenes with his Keystone peers Roscoe Arbuckle (very funny) and Chester Conklin (middling).

This is also one of only three times in which Chaplin impersonated a woman on-screen. The premise is that Chaplin is fired from the studio by a director (Charles Murray) who dislikes him. So the next day, Chaplin returns to the studio in drag (a title identifies him in get-up as “a fairy”!).

There are some lovely comic opportunities here that go explored only about halfway. First off, Chaplin makes his initial appearance as Chaplin; he changes into his Tramp costume a few minutes into the film. So for once, we’re expected to accept Chaplin on the screen as Chaplin, even though he is put through the usual “Charlie-esque” paces.

Second, this movie is the second of Chaplin’s three on-screen female impersonations, and it certainly fits right in the middle. Unlike A Busy Day, where he hammed it up as a broad, and the later Essanay A Woman, where he’s a startlingly convincing female, here he does almost nothing with the gimmick, perhaps because of the one-reel time constriction. Pity that such a fertile idea wasn’t allowed to run its course, while an arse-kicking fest such as The Property Man was allowed two whole reels.

Charlie Chaplin in THE STAR BOARDER (1914) – Always burn the photos

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Chaplin plays the title role, a lodger of whom his landlady (Minta Durfee) is inordinately fond, much to the detriment of her husband (Edgar Kennedy). One night after dinner, their son puts on a “magic lantern” show that includes some photos of Charlie and the landlady in (relatively) compromising positions. The husband goes ballistic, and the landlady gives the brat a well-deserved spanking.

Cute and funny enough, though as always, some of the best moments are Chaplin doing nothing in particular (as when he bounces a tennis ball and gets “attacked” by it). You also find yourself wondering what the landlady sees in this guy that nobody else does.