Friday, December 6, 2013

Mr. Mike's Mondo Video

As I said at the end of my Meatballs review, part of going through Bill Murray's entire film work means there's some buried and obscure films from the start of his career that I had never heard of before. This is definitely one of them. I'm kind of amazed that this even has a DVD release, and I would guess it is solely because of the fact that this film involves many of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live.  In fact, this was originally intended to air in the place of an episode when they were on break, but NBC rejected it and they chose to make it a film release instead.  The film is directed by Michael O'Donoghue, who plays the titular Mr. Mike.

The film is meant as a spoof the 1962 documentary Mondo Cane, which from what I can tell was a precursor to videos like the Faces of Death tapes I remember people talking about when I was young.  A sequence of disturbing imagery meant to shock and disgust you.  This one counts as a spoof in that overall, there's nothing truly shocking here, despite the repeated warnings throughout the video.  Nudity is about as racy as it gets, and some jokes are in poor taste, but it didn't make me feel uncomfortable watching it.  This is definitely a very dark style of comedy, however, and I have a feeling that many would not see any humor in it at all. 

It's a truly bizarre film, and one hard to describe without going through the various shorts one by one and recapping them.  There are so many that I don't really want to do that, but I'll touch on some that stood out to me.

After essentially three different warnings about how shocking the film is, the first short takes us to Amsterdam and shows us a man who gives cats swimming lessons.  I was initially horrified when I saw him throw the first cat into the pool, but the cat started swimming so expertly afterward and climbed back onto ground and strutted off without any type of panic that I don't think there was any kind of cruelty going on here.  Not all cats hate water and some of them do learn to swim, so clearly they found some who fit the bill.  This short is a little long, where we cut to a montage of various cats swimming in slow motion while orchestral music plays, but it was also kind of adorable to watch them swim.  Even that isn't enough for it though, as it then talks about cats being given hang gliding lessons, pauses on a "Deleted by the network" text screen for quite a while before finally cutting back to showing a cat fall from a great height. It's obviously a fake cat, but given the long pause followed by the splat it just doesn't work too well.

The next short flew completely over my head, as I didn't know who Jack Lord was.  I figured they were spoofing televangelists, as we see a group (led by Dan Aykroyd)  worshiping his picture and all wearing matching wigs.  If you're a fan of Hawaii Five-O you might get a kick out of it, but otherwise it hasn't aged very well.  Speaking of Aykroyd, he also has a brief short where he shows off his webbed toes.  From what I can tell, they are in fact real and not just them goofing around.

One of the smarter bits, in my opinion, is where they mash together Thomas Edison's "Electrocuting an Elephant" short with people being interviewed about whether or not an elephant should be put to death.  Judging by the people's answers, I have a feeling they were asked something else, possibly whether mentally handicapped people should receive capital punishment, or something like that.  The answers seem too thoughtful and considered than I think you would receive if you asked them about an elephant.  The sequence works for me, though it may  be because I've always found that short upsetting.

There's a recurring bit where Mike is trying to find footage of the American military testing out the "Laserbra 3000" and he pays people large sums of money for footage.  One person gives him home movie footage, and because he's been exchanging this footage in a violin case, another gives him an actual violin.  When he finally does get the footage and we watch it however, the joke runs on far too long.  The idea of women shooting lasers from their bras is a pretty thin joke at best, so having to see them shoot various things is rather boring.

The film features moments that are labeled "Dream Sequence" by a title card moving in and out of the screen.  I imagine that in itself is supposed to be laughable, as if anything else presented here makes any more sense than the dream sequences.  One of these I liked because it features stop motion animation.  A cat skeleton approaches a drawer, which pops open.  The skeleton is then covered with bugs, and dissolves into a pile of grey goo.  It has no point but I like the style of it.

Apparently the short "Uncle Si and the Sirens" is actually a piece of found footage, an early silent film featuring nude women.  A man has a machine that lets him watch various women, and he eventually stumbles on the sirens, which is basically a sequence of women lounging in the nude.  There's a charm to these early forms of eroticism, I think, something that makes them very beautiful.  The women look natural and most are posing fairly modestly.  I found this one charming as well.

Bill Murray makes his appearance in another sequence where they ask people on the street moral questions.  They ask if deaf and dumb people should be allowed to talk with their hands while driving a car, and for this question it is clear that they didn't ask the people anything else.  Murray portrays a drunk bum that I know I've seen him portray before, probably on Saturday Night Live.  His speech is slurred and he's rather dopey.  It's not terrible but it's not exactly funny either.  If you wanted to watch this film solely for his appearance, you would be very disappointed.

The film features three musical performances, the first, of Sid Vicious performing "My Way," is muted and overlaid with text saying Paul Anka and his team refused to allow the rights to the song.  You can hear the actual performance in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, which the clip is taken from.  The other performances are from a strange blues inspired act called Root Boy Slim, and performance artist Klaus Nomi. The music is widely varied in style, but does fit the overall subversive and absurdist nature of the film.

The final short is the one in poorest taste, presenting us with what is supposed to be a Native American culture but portrayed by primarily African American actors, and the idea is that they have given up their beliefs and instead now worship discarded pop culture, like lava lamps, I Like Ike buttons, and Star Trek posters.  I can see what he was going for here, but it just doesn't work, especially with his narration over the whole thing.  The "natives" eventually hear his narration and turn on Mr. Mike and the crew, killing them.  It's a disappointing end to a film that showed occasional glimmers of potential but largely fell flat.

If you have an interest in experimental film, or enjoyed the more subversive qualities of early Saturday Night Live, you may enjoy this one.  It's odd and is very much a product of its time, but there are a few fun moments here and there.  For the common person, you're probably better off skipping it.

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