Friday, April 25, 2008

The Best Cartoon Show Ever

Some VIDEO WATCHDOG readers were baffled when, back in our 35th issue (otherwise devoted to Ken Russell's THE DEVILS), I devoted the inside cover to a photograph of a couple of marionette ragamuffins and their pet goat. I did it, I don't regret it, and I'm convinced that time will only prove me prescient for having done it. You see, those three characters -- Rudy, Jumpin' Jesse B. and GoGo Goat -- were the stars of my favorite TV show at that time: TNT's early morning series THE RUDY AND GOGO WORLD FAMOUS CARTOON SHOW.
I don't know how many R&GG episodes were made and broadcast, but the show ran for a little more than two years. During that time, the show's restlessly inventive creators -- Barry Mills and Jack Pendarvis -- reconceived the show a number of times, doing everything from running the goat for President to giving the program a title in Spanish. But when they presented TNT with a completely and fabulously freaky, off-the-wall redo of the show called TATERHOLE (imagine Howdy Doody and Afrika Bambaataa lost with Annie Oakley in the zigzag room from TWIN PEAKS for 30 minutes, and screaming for 10 of them), that ended that. A second episode, already in the can, was never aired. One of its highlights depicted supporting character Uncle Carbunkle entertaining the show's young audience with a get-down-wittit logline rendering of Fyodor Dostoevsky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND.
It was a cartoon show ahead of its time, and well ahead of its time slot. It was a cartoon show for the David Lynch generation -- hysterical, surreal, funky, irreverent AND reverent. (Jesse B.'s "Black Historama" offered young viewers sketches of important figures from Black History in a respectful rap format.) Entertaining? Certainly. Insane? Whoa, yeah. Commercial suicide? Indubitabubitably... and the heroic thing about this is, the folks behind it HAD to know that. But this was a cartoon show with the power to drag hungover adults out of bed at an ungodly hour -- not to see "Believe It Or Else" for the umpteenth time, but to see what these characters were going to get away with doing on national television today. Sometimes they would have the goat wander through a Fleischer cartoon or a Technicolor scene from an MGM short buried deep in the Turner library; sometimes there would be appearances by members of The Mekons.
This was a cartoon show that was only incidentally watched for the cartoons -- most of which, being from the older, MGM-controlled end of the Warner Bros. library, I already had on laserdisc -- and, if you think about it, it's very rare to find that degree of creativity and invention anywhere on the air. Back in the 1970s, I used to watch Linda Ellerbee and Lloyd Dobyns do their middle-of-the-night newscast OVERNIGHT on NBC for the same reason: not to get the news, which I received incidentally, but to get Dobyns' and Ellerbee's singular and highly personable twist on the news. I watched RUDY AND GOGO because other stimulants of comparable intensity were and are illegal.
I loved this show and wish I had recorded more episodes. It would be PERFECT programming for my current Dish Network DVR set-up. I wish The Cartoon Network could be persuaded to re-run the series in a late night slot (much more appropriate to the tenor of the material), as they have done with Barry Mills' POPEYE SHOW, and let this lost masterpiece find the rabid midnight-toker cult that awaits it. In the meantime, Barry has recently launched a Rudy and GoGo website that offers extant and prospective fans much interesting information about the show and a goodly number of treasures from the vault, including the hilarious behind-the-scenes story of RUDY'S ROCKIN' KIDDIE CARAVAN (a CD project that got "caught up in red tape" after a zillion obstacles impeded its development) and the entire never-before-shown second episode of TATERHOLE in three segments. That one you don't want to miss.
The Links page on the site mentions that Rudy, Jesse B. and GoGo's appearance on the inside cover of VW #35 was their "one of Rudy and GoGo's proudest moments," which makes this mention one of mine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Bond Where This Came From

This blog has been receiving an unprecedented number of visits over the last twenty-four hours, prompted by our free listen to the never-before-heard alternative James Bond theme "Never Say Never Again," sung by Phyllis Hyman (pictured). Thanks again to composer Stephen Forsyth for this exciting exclusive.

I should mention to 007 devotées who may not be familiar with this blog's parent magazine, VIDEO WATCHDOG, that we've published some of the most in-depth critical coverage of the Bond series to be found in any magazine. We urge Bond fans to check out these back issues:

VW #57, which includes this writer's "Lasers Revoked: Revisiting the Criterion Bonds" (8 pages), Glenn Erickson's "007: A Critical Dossier" -- an in-depth review of the seven titles composing MGM's initial JAMES BOND COLLECTION DVD gift set (15 pages), and a special sidebar on the censored scenes from LICENCE TO KILL;

VW #68 (in low supply!) features Nathaniel Thompson's "Box Sets Are Forever: The Rest of Bond on DVD," a 20-page review/article on the twelve remaining features in MGM's second and third JAMES BOND COLLECTION gift sets;

and, most recently, VW #131 with my feature-length review of the latest Bond film CASINO ROYALE. The link to our page for #131 has a clickable cover that will take you to a two-page sampling of my article. These back issues can be ordered, while supply lasts, through our website or by calling our toll-free number 1-800-275-8395.

I've been keeping Stephen Forysth abreast of the attention his song has been receiving, both here and on other Bond/spy blogs and discussion boards. He responds: "Thanks for the updates... interesting. Your description of the song couldn't have been more insightful and flattering ... thanks. Writing the song came to me easily as I had some previous experience with the Bond thing. I starred in a Bond take-off, FURY IN MARRAKESH, and was flown to Nice then London to meet Albert Broccoli for ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE."

A double surprise here, for me anyway: I haven't been able to see too much of Stephen's other film work, and haven't seen FURY IN MARRAKESH (also known in the States as DEATH PAYS IN DOLLARS), but its IMDb page carries an above-average rating and informs me that it was written by another friend, Ernesto Gastaldi -- so it's something I really ought to see. I'd never thought of it before, but Stephen could have made quite an acceptable and convincing young Bond -- I don't think his revelation about being considered for the role was made known before. It doesn't surprise me that Cubby Broccoli would have shown interest in him for the role, but the casting of George Lazenby suggests it was decided to go with an actor who might merge a bit more comfortably with the Bond created by Sean Connery. Stephen would have provided a smoother transition into, or away from, Roger Moore's characterization, but he had retired from acting by then.

On a closing, different note, I want to mention the passing of actress Kay Linaker (known as Kate Phillips in more recent years) last Friday at the age of 94. Tom Weaver interviewed Kate for our 90th issue about her friendships with directors James Whale and Tod Browning, and the result won the first-ever Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Article. She also wrote the screenplay for the original version of THE BLOB (whose soundtrack Doug Winter will review in VW #140, now in production) and played important supporting roles in a couple of Charlie Chan films, including the general favorite CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND. We send our sympathies to Kate's friends and loved ones, and salute this gracious lady for a long life well-lived.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Bond Theme You Never Heard

You may remember that, last August 6, Video WatchBlog directed you to some interesting videos from the musical career of former actor (and HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON star) Stephen Forsyth. Stephen and I have kept in touch; he's a talented and interesting man, a supportive friend, and always good for a surprise... and the other day, he came to me with a bombshell bit of information. Back in the early 1980s, he wrote a title song for a James Bond movie that the world has never heard.

In Stephen's own words:

During the filming of the James Bond movie NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, I co-wrote the title song for the movie with Jim Ryan. Warner Bros informed our attorney that the song was to be used as the title song in the picture. However, shortly before its release, Warner Bros informed us that the song could not be used because Michel Legrand, who wrote the score, threatened to sue them, claiming that contractually he had the right to the title song. So my song was never released.

The legendary Phyllis Hyman was my first choice to sing the song and working with her is one of the highlights of my musical career. I personally auditioned and sang the song to her while she was having breakfast in her manager’s office. After agreeing to sing the song, she arrived at the studio and, without any rehearsal and only having heard the song sung once at the breakfast audition, sang the song in one perfect take.

Phyllis sadly took her own life in the early nineties. The year before she died, she called me late one night and told me she felt that "Never Say Never Again" was "her best and favorite recording." I have just now made the song available on the Internet (itunes, amazon, emusic, rhapsody, etc.) on an album of some of my early songs. I’d like to make the song available to Video WatchBlog readers to listen to. Enjoy.

I've always thought of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN as an underrated Bond picture. It's got Connery, an attractive and capable female lead in Kim Basinger, and it's distinguished by one of the series' most intriguing and realistically faceted villains (Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximillian Largo)... but it's seriously hobbled by its soundtrack, and particularly its theme song (an "all time low" in contrast to OCTOPUSSY's "All Time High"). Written by Michel Legrand, produced by Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendez, and sung by Lani Hall (a distinguished member of Brasil '66, and also Mrs. Alpert), it qualifies as an inexplicable off-day for four very talented people. Its embalmed-sounding, air-conditioned, disco schmaltz sounds more like a love theme from a Joe D'Amato grindhouse picture rather than the curtain-opener of a James Bond movie. The masochists among you can refresh your memory of it here.

Stephen's version, on the other hand, is much more like it. One can hear a John Barry influence in its dramatic unfolding, its alluring and insinuating minor chords, the way it oscillates from vulnerability to bringing out the big guns. It has the mystique and sultry sex appeal that a Bond song requires, and Phyllis Hyman drives it home with confidence.

So, Bond fans... enough of my Q-like preparation, it's time to do your own field work. Here's your link to a lost chapter in 007 history: "Never Say Never Again," sung by Phyllis Hyman -- words and music by Stephen Forsyth and Jim Ryan. Give it a listen; you'll be surprised how quickly Maurice Binder-like images will start streaming through your head.