Monday, June 18, 2007

Into the WTF Zone with Larry Blamire

If writers blog when they aren't writing, what do filmmakers do?
Well, if you're Larry Blamire -- the actor-writer-director responsible for the cult favorite THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (which netted him the coveted Rondo Award as "Monster Kid of the Year"), JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS, and the recently completed TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD -- you recognize the absolute freedom, ease of access, and final cut made available to you by YouTube.
And you go for it.
Blamire (pictured above, reportedly at the precise moment he conceived his next project) is currently having "way too much fun" writing, directing, and occasionally acting in his latest creation, TALES FROM THE PUB, six episodes of which are presently available for free viewing on YouTube.
What exactly is TALES FROM THE PUB? Allow me to answer that question by posing a few others... Have you ever had a blackout that snipped five unaccountable minutes out of your life? Have you ever suddenly noticed that your beer is gone? Have you ever been aware that you are being stalked by invisible stalkers? Have you ever noticed how such things are even more likely to occur if you happen to be in the local pub? Weird, huh?
Glomming onto that weirdness as if it was the very pulse of our lives and times, Blamire manages to tackle these questions and many others in these episodes, which run under three minutes and are hosted by Truphen Newben, our creepily debonair guide into WTF Zone.
Six episodes are currently available. In the order of their release, they are "The Other Glass", "The Premonition" (featuring Jennifer "Animala" Blaire), "The Invisible Unseen", "Past Life", "Puppet for Your Thoughts" (starring TWILIGHT ZONE alumnus H.M. Wynant), and "Message from Beyond." Other LOST SKELETON alumni Brian Howe and Andrew Parks also frequently appear.
According to Blamire, there are currently another 10 episodes of TALES FROM THE PUB already in the can, and scripts for another 20 awaiting production. I, for one, can't wait to see them and hope there are plans afoot to collect them all on DVD someday. Each episode is a tiny gem of absurdist filmmaking that entertains while tweaking our tendency to leap to fantastic explanations for the most commonplace occurrences and brain farts, while also making textural nods to the show's real point of reference: the John Newland-hosted ALCOA PRESENTS, better known by its syndication title, ONE STEP BEYOND.
When I first saw THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, I was immediately charmed beyond all expectation but, because it was a spoof of '50s sci-fi/horror cheapies, it was hard to tell anything from it about Blamire's real abilities as an actor, writer, or director. Even so, I could recognize that his brand of satire was genuinely witty as well as unabashedly silly, and that, as an actor and writer, he was remarkably well in touch with his inner child. These characteristics also run riot through TALES FROM THE PUB. It's not just Ed Wood; there's some Buñuel and Dalí in there, too. (And Larry is a gifted artist, aside from his other accomplishments. Check out his production art for his dream project STEAM WARS if you doubt me.)
Because it's a straightforward comedy rather than a spoof, Blamire's second theatrical feature, JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS, gives a somewhat clearer view of his abilities and potential. It's not necessarily better than LOST SKELETON, but it is more polished, and you can see Blamire capably meeting the challenge of working with more experienced screen actors in a more professional setting. This mob comedy, which features numerous actors from THE SOPRANOS, has won all kinds of awards at independent film festivals, but, for some reason, hasn't had any luck finding proper theatrical distribution. Never mind those pesky details: the film is available from as a letterboxed DVD-R and also as an authorized download. And it's well worth seeing.
John Fiore (the guy who died on the toilet in THE SOPRANOS) produced the film and stars as Johnny Slade, a faded middle-of-the-road singer who finds his career unexpectedly jump-started when he accepts an unrefusable offer from a club owner (Vincent Curatola, THE SOPRANOS' Johnny Sack) to headline. The catch: he has to perform a new song each night, and only once -- the lyrics handed to him by the Boss. These absurd songs (lyrics by Blamire, natch) are actually coded instructions to hitmen posted in the audience, embroiling Slade in mafia crossfire while also garnering him unlikely celebrity among wacko music fans who can't wait to hear what unique thing he might sing next.
JOHNNY SLADE'S GREATEST HITS was a work-for-hire; Blamire didn't generate the idea, he didn't write it solo, nor did he have final cut on the project. Consequently, the film has some weaknesses it might not have had otherwise, but it's nevertheless funny, entertaining, and, like Blamire's other work, it has a lot of heart as well as a surrealistic streak. Vincent Curatola is hilarious -- a terrific deadpan comic -- and so are the songs and a montage of Johnny's past triumphs on vinyl (including "The White Album"). I can't imagine any SOPRANOS fan not wanting to see it; now that the show is history, I recommend it as a one-stop shopping solution for that craving that kicks in on Sunday night.
In future years, I think it's likely that people will look back on the films and shorts Larry Blamire is making now with an affection similar to that which we feel for Roger Corman's early work, which was similarly silly but with undercurrents of sophistication. I already feel it, and can't wait to see TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD, a furrowed forage into the worry lines of paranoid '50s sci-fi which has been described to me as "Douglas Sirk meets Jack Arnold" -- which they probably did, as they were both under contract to Universal-International at the same time. Perhaps they even hoisted a few together once or twice... in a pub.
Hmmm... Now what would Truphen Newben make of that?

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