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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Enoch Pratt Library's 16mm Film Spoofs

On April 1, 2006, I presented a film program at the Enoch Pratt Central Library called "Spoof! An April Fool's Day Celebration of Film Parodies at the Pratt Library."

Back in 2006, we did not yet have a licensing agreement with Movie Licensing USA to screen major Hollywood studio releases as part of our film programming, and instead had to rely on screening only films for which the Pratt had secured Public Performance Rights. All of the titles in our 16mm film collection (over 2,100 titles) - and some videos - came with PPR, so I put together a program highlighting the best of the many film spoofs we owned on (mostly) 16mm and video. Following is that film program, with the addition of one more film spoof that I had not yet discovered: Bob Dahlin's Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension: A Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. Dahlin's film actually won a "Special Jury (Dramatic)" Student Academy Award in 1973, when Dahlin was a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In fact, five of the 12 films that follow were nominated for Academy Awards, with three winning Oscars (Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension, Chicken Thing, and Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life).

Spoof! An April Fool's Day Celebration of Film Parodies at the Pratt Library

See humorous parodies of films like Star Wars (such as Hardware Wars, pictured below), as well as spoofs of Ingmar Bergman, Frank Capra, Hollywood Westerns, Horror Flicks and even pretentious experimental films.

Princess Ann Droid in Hardware Wars

Spoofs of Film as a Medium

From the creator of Astroboy, Osamu Tezuka, comes this spoof of film conventions that literally steps outside the very framework of film. In it, a cowboy seeks to rescue, then woo, a damsel in distress. But he is constantly thwarted by the scratches, breaks, and other imperfections present in the film print itself. (1985, 6 minutes, color, video). Unfortunately, this film is now missing from Pratt's collection. (Tezuka's equally brilliant 1984 animated short Jumping is also missing.) But you can still watch it online at Vimeo.

Tezuka made 13 animated experimental film shorts. You can watch them all at Open Culture (openculture.com) and YouTube.

Spoofs of Film Genres

Invasion of the Teacher Creatures – Horror Film Spoof
See students eat school lunches! See students do math! These and other horrors await viewers brave enough to sit through this clever spoof of horror movie “coming attractions.” (Henry Parke, 4 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
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We Can Prevent Accidents (1980s) – Safety Film Spoof
This humorous spoof of educational safety films by Tim Ballou sets the tone for today’s program – and will make you think twice the next time you toss a Frisbee!  Not much is known about the director other than he directed another film about TV news called If It Bleeds It Leads. (Tim Ballou, 1980s, 7 minutes, 16mm)
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Help! My Snowman’s Burning Down (1964) – Avant-Garde Film Spoof
In this Oscar-nominated satire on avant-garde surrealistic films (1965, Best Short Subject, Live ActionSubjects), a  beatnik (Bob Larkin) sits in a bathtub on a New York pier, typing on toilet paper and later fishing by casting his ring-baited line down the bath drain. When a female hand emerges from the drain, he paints one fingernail and it disappears. When he opens a medicine cabinet, he finds another guy shaving on the other side. Eventually his bathtub sets sail in the harbor, only to encounter a toy sub in the film’s climax. Cast: Bob Larkin, Dian Robertson. (Carson Davidson, 1964, 10 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Watch "Help! My Snowman's Burning Down" (YouTube)

Besides the Academy Award nomination, Davidson's film received 14 international awards, including a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. On May 10-11, 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and NYU Cinema Studies screened a program called "The Real Indies"  a celebration of recently discovered and preserved "Orphan films," which are defined as "rarely seen, previously neglected cinematic works deserving preservation and revival." The poster for the event featured a picture of Help! My Snowman's Burning Down star Bob Larkin sitting in a bathtub.

(Pratt Library also has another film by director Carson Davidson, Third Avenue El, which documents the nostalgic attitude of New Yorkers toward this departed elevated railway.)

The Great Toy Robbery –  Westerns & Christmas Spoof
An animated Christmas story about three bandits who, after robbing a bag of toys from Santa Claus, are captured by Santa Claus, the sheriff, and a cowboy. (National Film Board of Canada, 1963, 8 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Sergeant Swell of the Mounties (1971) – Westerns Spoof
Pasty-faced Sergeant Swell gallops across the countryside on an invisible horse in this parody of Hollywood Western cliches. Sgt. Swell repeatedly saves the heroine from a band of Indians led by the effeminate chief Silly Savage and legendary outlaw Billy the Kid. (Chuck Menville and Len Janson, 1971, 15 minutes, color, 16mm)
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This Sergeant is Swell!

Watch "Sergeant Swell, Part 1" (YouTube)

Watch "Sergeant Swell, Part 2" (YouTube)

Note: For more on the stop-motion films of Menville and Janson, see my Accelerated Decrepitude post "The Dynamic Duo of Pixilation" and Night Flight's "Stop, Look & Listen: The Pixelated Genius of Menville and Janson."

ChickenThing (1986) – Horror Film Spoof
A too-vivid imagination and too much television make a scary mix for one little boy in this suspenseful interpretation of Hollywood's best things-that-go-bump-in-the-night movie hits. Winner of the 1986 Student Academy Award. Director Todd Holland won that award for his thesis film while a student at UCLA. It brought him to the attention of Steven Spielberg, who hired him to write and direct the second season of his Amazing Stories television series. Holland went on to become a veteran television director, working on The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and later co-creating Wonderfalls with Bryan Fuller. Two of his shows were named in TV Guide's "100 Greatest Episodes of Televison": "Everybody Loves Larry" (The Larry Sanders Show) and "The Life of Bryan" (My So-Called Life). (Todd Holland, 1986, 12 minutes, color, 16mm and video)
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Arkelope (1994) – Nature Docs Spoof
A caustically humorous take on televised nature documentaries, Arkelope is an award-winning animation short that challenges us to face up to our careless treatment of the other species on the planet - before we ourselves meet a similar fate. (Roslyn Schwartz, 1994, 5 minutes, color, video)
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Watch "Arkelope" (YouTube)

Spoofs of Specific Films & Directors

HardwareWars (1977) – Star Wars Spoof
This film, which George Lucas calls his “favorite spoof,” is the granddaddy of all Star Wars parodies. Its creators use common items from a hardware store, including flying toasters in pursuit of a flatiron space station and a robot vacuum cleaner who foils the supreme force of evil. May the farce be with you as you witness the exploits of Fluke Starbucker, Augie Ben Doggie, Princess Anne-Droid, Ham Salad, and the evil Darth Nader! (Ernie Fosselius and Michael Wiese, 1977, 13 minutes, color, 16mm)
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Hardware Wars: "May the farce be with you"

Watch "Hardware Wars" (YouTube)

De Duva (The Dove) (1968) – Ingmar Bergman Spoof
Nominated for an Oscar in 1969, this riotous spoof parodies four of Ingmar Bergman's films - Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, The Silence and Smiles of a Summer Night. It also marked the first film role of Madeline Kahn (pictured at left). Speaking in mock Swedish (a mix of English, Yiddish, and adding "ska" to word endings - e.g., "It'll take a momentska"), with English subtitles, a retired physicist with a hernia recalls, while sitting in an outhouse, a garden party he attended as a youth. In a game of badminton rather than chess, Death loses his intended victim because of a hilarious obstacle ... a dirty pigeon that poops on him! Besides the Academy Award nomination, the film won 28 international awards (though not the bogus "Golden Escargot Pan-Europa Festival du Cinema" award that appears in the film's opening credits). 

Director-producer George Coe , who plays "Viktor" in the film, was one of the original cast members on the first three episodes of Saturday Night Live. A veteran character actor, Coe later found fame voicing the character of Woodhouse on FX's animated series Archer. Director-cinematographer-producer Anthony Lover went on to create the original branding for HBO, as shown below:

Lover is best known for his feature films Distance (1975), which was produced by George Coe and starred James Woods, and My Brother, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture at the 2006 American Black Film Festival. Script writer and co-producer Sidney Davis plays the role of Death.  (George Coe and Anthony Lover, 1968, 15 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
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According to the web site Forces of Geek,  upon its 1968 release, De Duva "began showing up in theaters paired with various Ingmar Bergman films. A dark, dreary imitation of Bergman, the short shared many of the same themes and styles of the director, but it wasn't until various audience members began to realize that the 'Swedish' language on screen was actually made-up that what they were, in fact, watching was a parody of a genre that didn't lend itself to much comedy." 

De Duva was later paired (as The Dove) with '70s screenings of the Anthony Lover-George Coe feature film production Distance. (For more on Lover, Coe, and Distance, see distancethemovie.net.) 

Dove Tales: "Distance" and "The Dove" double-bill ad

Although they used to show it a lot in the early days of HBO and on USA Network's late great Night FlightDe Duva is extremely hard to find outside of our 16mm film print. It was once available in VHS format on Classic Foreign Shorts, Vol 1, but currently is out of print. Check Facets Multimedia for updates on its availability.

Watch "De Duva" (YouTube)

Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1995) - Kafka & Capra Spoof
Stumbling over how to complete the first sentence of what was to be his masterpiece, Metamorphosis, Kafka writes: “George Samsa woke up one morning and found he’d been transformed into a giant…” A giant what? A banana perhaps? Starring Richard E. Grant (Withnail and I), this 1995 Academy Award-winning film (Best Live Action Short) is a powerful sustained joke on both the perceived image of Franz Kafka and the powerful sentiment of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. (Jane Balfour, 1995, 25 minutes, b&w, DVD and video)
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Watch "Franz Kafka's IAWL, Part 1" (YouTube)

Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension: A Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock (1973) - Hitchcock Spoof
Northwestern University film student Bob Dahlin won a Student Academy Award in 1973 for this tribute that references over 20 of the great suspense master's films. In a satirical spoof, the titular hero becomes involved with the mystery as he stands on the platform of the Chicago El and is knocked flat by the body of a murder victim that falls from the open door of a commuter train. Murder in the bathtub, handcuffed escape from police, scenes from rear-view windows, airplane and bird sequences are all used with fun and style to build up to the surprise ending when the murderer is revealed. Winner of the 1973 Student Academy Award - Special Jury (Dramatic). Cast: Bryan England (Robert Webster), Mary Ann Childers (Marion Lane), Bob Schoen (Gromek), Bob Dahlin (voice of Norman Nurdlepick), Michael Laskin (voice of Alfred Hitchcock).  (Bob Dahlin, 1973, 32 minutes, 16mm)
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Bryan England and Mary Ann Childers strike a "39 Steps" pose in Norman Nurdlepick's Suspension

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