Music Video of the Day: You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon (1986, directed by Gary Weis)


How did Chevy Chase come to star in a music video?

It all started with a case of mistaken identity.  Paul Simon and his then-wife were at a party where they met French composer, Pierre Boulez.  Boulez was not sure who Simon was and repeatedly called him “Al.”  At the same time, Simon was suffering from a mid-life crisis that would not be resolved until Simon visited South Africa.   Simon brought the two incident together when he wrote You Can Call Me Al, the lead single off of his 1986 album, Graceland.

As for the video, it was the brainchild of Lorne Michaels.  Michaels, of course, is best known for producing Saturday Night Live and it was his idea to combine the tall and extroverted Chevy Chase with Paul Simon, who was neither of those things.

Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase have had a long history together.  Michaels originally hired Chase for SNL and was instrumental in Chase’s early success.  Chase reacted to his sudden success by leaving SNL after its first season and subsequently trashing the show in interviews.  When Chase first returned to host SNL, he got into a fist fight with his successor, Bill Murray.  Chase’s subsequent appearances on the show have become legendary for Chase’s obnoxious and absuive behind-the-scenes behavior.  (In 1986, for example, Chase suggested a sketch in which openly gay cast member Terry Sweeney would announce that he had AIDS and then be regularly weighed throughout episode.)  Eventually, Chase managed to become the first former cast member to be banned from appearing on the show.

Paul Simon, though, is still welcome anywhere he goes.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Annie Hall (dir by Woody Allen)


anniehallposterYou take a risk when you review a Woody Allen film, even an acknowledged, Best Picture-winning classic like 1977’s Annie Hall.  Do you address the accusations that have been made about him?  Do you ignore them and hope that they won’t be the Elephant in the Room, stomping through your review?  Do you try to justify reviewing (or, in some cases, even watching) Allen’s film?  Or do you just let the work speak for itself?

I love Annie Hall.  Quite frankly, I like a lot of Woody Allen’s films, even though I understand why his work is an acquired taste for quite a few other people.  I’ll address the elephant in the room in a paragraph or two but you know what?  I watched Annie Hall last night and I want to mention a few reasons why I enjoy this film.

First off, Annie Hall features one of Christopher Walken’s first (and best) performances.  He only has a few lines but he makes quite an impression.  He plays Duane, the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).  When Annie’s boyfriend, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), is visiting the Hall family, Duane invites Alvy into his bedroom and tells him that, whenever he’s driving, he fantasizes about intentionally swerving into incoming traffoc.  In the very next scene, Duane is driving an oblivious Annie and a terrified Alvy to the airport.  It’s a wonderfully funny moment.  (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that Annie’s apartment is full of pictures of Duane and his thousand yard stare.)

Secondly, this film also features an early role for Jeff Goldblum.  He only has one line — “I forgot my mantra” but my God, he does amazing things with that line.

Third, when Alvy and his agent, Rob (Tony Roberts), are driving through Los Angeles, they pass a theater.  According to the marquee, the theater is showing House of Exorcism, a Mario Bava film.  That’s right: Italian horror in a Woody Allen film.  How glorious is that?

Fourth, Annie Hall is an extremely dated film.  It was made in 1977 and, as to be expected about a film directed and written by a stand up comedian, it’s full of references that were probably hilariously on target then but rather obscure now.  As well, like almost all Woody Allen films, it’s a very New York film.  Alvy is an intellectual, left-wing Jew who suspects that everyone he sees is an anti-Semite and who is dating an aspiring actress and singer who hails from middle America.  (During the scene where Alvy meets her family, he immediately pegs Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.”)  The film is very much told from Alvy’s point of view, which means jokes about New York periodicals and a flashback to an Adlai Stevenson rally.  That being said, I’m a Texas girl who was born long after Annie Hall was first released and I still enjoy the film because it’s a film that captures some universal truths about human relationships.

The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was 17 and I saw a lot of myself in Annie.  While I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of her outfits, I knew what it was like to be insecure.  I knew what it was like to be nervous.  I know what it was like to worry about being smart enough.  And, like Annie, I eventually learned that independence was the key to happiness.  Annie Hall has stood the test of time because both Annie and Alvy are relatable while still remaining wonderfully unique and neurotic individuals.

(If ever a film has been a ode to the joy of being neurotic, it’s Annie Hall.)

Fifth, I love the scene where Alvy asks a random couple of the street how they make their relationship work.  “I’m totally shallow and have no original thoughts,” the woman replies.  “And I’m the exact same way,” her husband cheerfully adds.

Sixth, I’m going to assume that Paul Simon was primarily playing himself.

Seventh, there are just so many great scenes.  Like when Alvy deals with a rude cop by ripping up his license.  And then, there’s that lobster scene.  And that moment when Alvy comes over to Annie’s apartment to kill a “spider the size of a buick.”  (Judging by the number of times Alvy has to hit the spider with that tennis racket, I assume buick’s are pretty big.)  There’s the two scenes of Annie singing, one when she’s still insecure and can’t compete with the sound of plates smashing around here and the other when she’s developed the confidence to dominate and control both the stage and the audience.  There’s the scenes where Alvy breaks the fourth wall and get advise from random people on the streets of New York.  And what about when Annie starts laughing while telling the horrible story of how her uncle died at the post office?  Or what about when Alvy tries to avoid having sex with his first wife by discussing the JFK assassination?  Or when we literally see Annie mentally check out of making love to Alvy?  Or how about the split-screen therapy sessions?  Or the sudden moment when Annie and Alvy become cartoon characters?  Or the scene with the pretentious blowhard at the movies?

(As a Southern girl, I have to admit that it’s always strange to me to hear Alvy and Annie talking about “waiting on line” at the movies.  Down here, we say “in line,” which makes a lot more sense.  Since a line is just a crowd of people standing in a certain order, saying that you’re “on line,” is the same as saying your standing on someone’s head.  You get in a crowd, not on them.  Whenever I hear someone from up north talking about “waiting on line,” I assume they must be bidding for something on Ebay.)

I like Annie Hall and I always will.  As for the accusations against Woody Allen, they don’t keep me from enjoying his better films because:

  1. I’ve always been a big believer that art can and should be judged separately from the artist.
  2. Having read what both sides have said about Woody Allen and the accusations that have been made against him, I don’t think he did it.

Obviously, some are going to disagree with me on both those points.  So be it.  Everyone has to make their own choice.  For me, though, what’s important is that Annie Hall is a film that I’ve loved since the first time I saw it and I’ll continue to love it.

Shattered Politics #54: Dave (dir by Ivan Reitman)


Dave Poster

Way back in 1919, the terrible U.S. President and tyrannical dictator Woodrow Wilson* suffered a stroke that left him semi-paralyzed and unable to perform his duties.  By all standards, Wilson should have been removed from office, if just temporarily.  However, in those pre-Internet days, it was a lot easier to hide the truth about Wilson’s physical and mental condition.  While Wilson spent his days locked away in his bedroom, his wife Edith would forge his signature on bills.  Whenever anyone asked for the President’s opinion, Edith would give her opinion and then assure everyone that it was actually the President’s.

(And really, as long as you were promoting eugenics and white supremacy, it probably was not difficult to imitate Wilson’s opinions.)

Of course, back then, people were used to the idea of never seeing their President in public.  Hence, it was very easy for Wilson to remain sequestered in the White House.  If a similar situation happened today, it’s doubtful that anyone could successfully keep the public from finding out.  When we don’t see the President every day, we wonder why.  How, in this day and age, could a Presidential incapacitation be covered up?

The 1993 film Dave offers up one possible solution.

Dave is the story of two men who happen to look exactly like Kevin Kline.  One of them is named Bill Mitchell and he’s the arrogant and corrupt President of the United States.  The other is named Dave Kovic.  He’s a nice guy who runs a temp agency and who has a nice side job going as a professional Bill Mitchell imitator.

So, when Bill has a stroke while having sex with a white house staffer (Laura Linney), it only makes sense to recruit Dave Kovic to pretend to the President.  White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (played by Frank Langella, so you know he’s evil) tells Dave that Vice President Nance (Ben Kingsley) is insane and corrupt.  Dave agrees to imitate the President.  Of course, Alexander’s main plan is to convince Nance to resign and then get Dave to appoint him as Vice President.  Once Alexander is Vice President, it will be announced that Mitchell has had another stroke and then Alexander will move into the Oval Office.

However, what Alexander did not take into account was just how much Dave would enjoy being President.  From the moment that he joyfully shouts, “God Bless, America!,” Dave’s enthusiasm starts to win the public over.  Suddenly, people are realizing that President Mitchell isn’t such a bad President after all.  Even more importantly, Dave wins over the first lady (Sigourney Weaver) who, previously, had little use for her philandering husband.  When Alexander claims that there’s no money in the budget to continue funding a program for the homeless, Dave calls in his best friend, an accountant named Murray (Charles Grodin), and has him rewrite the budget…

And you know what?

Dave is one of those films that tempts me to be all cynical and snarky but, ultimately, the film itself is so likable and earnest that I can even accept the idea that one accountant could balance the budget through common sense alone.  I’ll even accept the idea that Dave could come up with a program that would guarantee everyone employment without, at the same time, bankrupting the country.  Kevin Kline is so enthusiastic in the lead role and the film itself is so good-natured that it almost feels wrong to criticize it for being totally implausible.

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate a film for being likable.

Dave—–

* For those of you keeping count, that’s the third time in two weeks that I’ve referred to Woodrow Wilson as being  a dictator.  Before anyone points out that some historians rank Wilson as being in the top ten of President, allow me to say that I don’t care.  I DO WHAT I WANT!