Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'Tis the season...


Okay. I already wrote here about how my first encounter with the Marx Brothers was at Christmastime back in the dim distant prehistory of what, with pre-Orwellian irony, I still like to think of as 1983.
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I also mentioned, sort of casually, kind of half-jokingly - the way I do when I'm being deadly serious and fanatical - that I try to recreate that exact experience by rewatching the same films on the same nights at the same times.
And this year will be no exception.
But this time there's a big difference. I'm running a blog with 28 followers.
So I hereby invite you all to partake of the great annual Tonight We're Gonna Party Like It's 1983 Basically Futile Watching Specific Marx Brothers Films At Specific Dates and Times Challenge.
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You may think it's a near-alarmingly pointless thing for a man like me to still be doing at my age. If so, think how much more idiotic it would be if you did it too! Without even the pathetic, skeletal pretence of justification that animates my poor tortured brain. I don't have much of an excuse, but you'll have none at all. So come join me! Let me know how you got on, what it was like and what kind of transcendent state you reached. Send me photos of yourself with the film clearly visible on a tv screen, holding a watch to confirm the time and the newspaper to confirm the day. We can do this!
In my case, the situation is made even more complicated by the fact that the following year BBC2 introduced me to another passion: Hammer Horror films. And needless to say, I try to do exactly the same thing with those. I detail this challenge over here, on my horror movie blog Carfax Abbey. Where there are clashes, I'll let you know how to get around it, should you wish to compound the absurdity of even contemplating actually doing this by contemplating doing both.
So get your diaries out; here come the dates. Cancel that party! Forget that Gordon Ramsay's Christmas Celebrity Foxhunting on Ice Special you were planning to watch instead.
Imagine by contrast the warm fraternal glow, imagine how - in the profoundest, most Dickensian sense - Christmassy it will feel, to be part of an esoteric community, all over the world (well, Britain and America, and one in France, oh - and an Australian), all linked in this one common aim. If any one of you actually does this, even with just one of the films, or even is still reading this now, as opposed to having given up somewhere back when I started going on about taking photos of yourself holding a newspaper, I will be both profoundly delighted and frankly surprised.
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23rd December, 10:30 pm: Monkey Business
.This was the one. I actually came in late for this one, somewhere around the Chevalier impressions. I'd seen the trailer for them all several times but was only mildly curious, had been out to some family party or other, and switched on casually when I got back home - only to encounter the funniest men of all time being funnier than anybody has ever been in the history of people being funny.
You can, if you wish, recreate the exact experience by starting your recording at 10.30 but leaving the television switched off until about five past eleven. Sometimes I like to do that; other times I just watch from the start. I say this to assure you that I'm not some kind of fanatic.
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Christmas Day, 11pm: Duck Soup
.Now, this is the curious one. My memory tells me that after cursing my ill-judgement and coming in late on Monkey Business I made sure I didn't miss a second of any of the rest. And yet, I have no specific memory of this first viewing of Duck Soup. I remember other things about that night: like, for instance the fact that my mother wanted to watch the All Creatures Great and Small special on BBC1 while my grandfather wanted to see Jimmy Tarbuck on ITV. But of watching Duck Soup later that night I recall nothing. Further, one of my clearest memories of Horse Feathers was of being surprised when Groucho begins singing at the start, and not realising that they did this. Perhaps I again missed the beginning? Or perhaps I really did miss the whole film? I just don't know. However, for this reason, it is permissible to watch it at 12.20 am on New Year's Day, when BBC1 showed it in 1984. I know I didn't miss it then. It's okay if you want to stretch the rules a little and do this. I won't mind. Too much. `
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28th December, 11.15 pm: Horse Feathers
.Here, perhaps, was the moment that a temporary fixation became a lifelong obsession. I just didn't know that anything could be this funny. And my father began watching them with me at this point. He likes to pretend he doesn't much care for them now, but the truth is we were weeping with laughter. When Harpo cuts the cards he rolled off the sofa on to the floor.
The bad news is that this clashes with a Hammer Horror double-bill over at Carfax Abbey. But I didn't actually watch those 'live' as it were. We got a video recorder in 1984, so I had the luxury of watching them the following morning. Feel free to do the same.
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29th December, 10.50 pm: A Night in Casablanca
.The BBC decided to test me by throwing in a late non-Paramount and see if I'd spot the difference. I did, but I couldn't quite place why. I remember my dad saying that it wasn't quite as good this time, and I think we both concluded that they were just not at their best the day they made this one. The truth is that the film is really pretty damned good to compare so favourably with the early-thirties faultless masterpieces. Not many of the MGMs would have stood up so well in such company. For that reason I've always had a soft spot for this film.
Hammer fans will note a thirty minute overlap between this and the 1984 showing of The Mummy, which began at 11.45 pm. Fortunately, however, I missed the first half hour of The Mummy, not by pretending to watch A Night In Casablanca instead, but because my sister wanted to record a programme about Duran Duran on ITV. So again, history solves a dilemma with almost eerie precision.
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30th December, 11.55 pm: Animal Crackers
.The last, and still, for me, the best. I realised by this time that I could not bear to say goodbye to these boys. So, placing a curse on all my friends with video recorders - I basically spent the whole of 1982, 3 and the first half of 1984 fantasising about video recorders; I still love handling those tapes - I rigged up my little portable cassette recorder and taped the soundtrack. No direct linking cables or anything, just a tiny little mic inset in the machine, capturing the full gamut of household sounds along with the movie. So many times did I play it over the following years (until we finally got a Betamax video and I made the film one of my first purchases) that I still find myself mildly surprised that a door doesn't slam when Harpo makes his first entrance.
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So there we are. All you need for the merriest Christmas ever. You may do more important things this year. But it's unlikely you'll get a chance to expend energy achieving anything quite so senseless.
Let's go!
And we'll be back in the new year with an annotated Duck Soup, that long-promised discussion of the Marx Brothers' films and the rise of European fascism, and lots more!
Thanks for making this first year of the Council such fun.
Merry Christmas,
Matthew.

9 comments:

Lolita said...

Darn it, I didn't see this post until now! How did you manage to recreate 1983?
I can't wait for annotated Duck Soup guide! Happy new decade! (I started mine by cleaning up my boyfriend's absinth vomits, what did you do?)
Love //Lolita

Matthew Coniam said...

As it's you, I'm prepared to accept faked photographic evidence of you taking part. Go on, you know you want to.

I recreated 1983 by digging out my old short trousers and festooning the room with pictures of Sheena Easton.
As for the happy new decade wishes, I extend the same to you, but actually I adhere to the salamandrian calendar, by which it won't be 2010 for another three months, two days and thirty-eight minutes. Though when it is I'll certainly be trying some of those absenthe vomits you recommend. I've had absenthe and I've had vomit, but I've never thought of mixing them before. Thanks for the tip.

damian said...

Happy New Year Matthew, I raise a glass of absenthe vomit to your continued health and happiness and to all the council and its members.

As for re-creating 1983 I'm afraid not Matthew, it was just to painful the first time around for me to go through it again!

It was the year that brought us the suicidally optimistic "You can't hurry love" from the dark lord that is Phil Collins and "Uptown Girl" by Bille Joel. If that wasn't enough the year proceeded to bring a number one to the explosion in a mattress factory that were Kajagoogoo with "Too Shy" and the vagabondian anthem "Anywhere I lay my hat" crooned to death by Paul Young.

If all that wasn't enough the christmas No. 1 spot was occupied by the sideburned, donkey jacket wearing acapella hell that were The Flying Pickets with "Only You".

Just to jog your memory as to how dark a year it was you can watch this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgDKtLPp46s

Or you can get out your copy of That's what I call Music 2 and enjoy it all again first hand!

Matthew Coniam said...

We actually had a copy of that on double-LP vinyl wax turntable gramophone disc, you know.
Did you know that the bald Flying Picket was knocking Emma Thompson at the time? strange but true. Just imagine what kind of an awful noise they'd have made if they had instruments too.
Paul Young brings it back, too. My sister had his album, called No Parlez if memory serves, that Christmas, while I - hip to the streets even then - had the Russ Abbot Madhouse album. We listened to them alternately while playing Manic Miner on my ZX Spectrum.
Ah.....
Phil Collins, yes, I'll grant you.

damian said...

OK all round to yours for a game of Manic Miner and blast of "Livin it up!".

If you don't have your gramophone anymore or your wax disc copy of Russ's opus then you'll be happy to know you can download it track by track from here:

http://www.emusic.com/album/Various-Artists-Russ-Abbot-s-Madhouse-MP3-Download/11366125.html

enjoy…

Matthew Coniam said...

I'm way ahead of you. I recently bought the cassette on E-Bay.
One track is called 'Oh My Memories' and ain't that the truth.

Note to readers who may not know Mr Abbot and are perhaps wondering what precisely is his relevance to a Marx Brothers site: he was a British television comedian of the nineteen-seventies and -eighties, and he basically has no relevance at all. Sue me.
Having said that, he did once do a sketch in which he played Groucho, Harpo and Chico in quick-change close succession, as a man going to his psychiatrist because he thought he was the Marx Brothers. As always with Marx impersonators, he made a commendable stab at Groucho and Harpo, but the exact sound and rhythms of Chico's voice defeated him.

Damian - have you seen the film where Arthur Askey does a (really pretty darned good) Harpo impression?
(Note to readers unfamiliar with Askey who may be wondering...
oh never mind.)

damian said...

Thanks Matthew, I haven't seen near enough of Arthur Askeys films. I have a copy of "The Backroom Boy" and of "The Ghost Train" (which I love to death) and a few old audio snippets from various radio plays and from "Workers Playtime". I would love to get my hands on "Band Wagon" or "I Thank you".

I think a post on famous people impersonating the Marx Brothers would make for good reading and viewing and would open up my eyes up to impressions (like Askeys impression of Harpo) that I didn't even know existed.

Azz said...

It was funny reading this entry as I got into the Marx Brothers as my dad recorded Night at the Opera and some other films off channel 4 in about 1985. I watched those videos over and over again until I saved enought pocket money to buy them on VHS. I wish I still had them as I vividly remember the adverts for Clairol hair dye and play safe frisbee public service video. It must have been hard to get companies to advertise in those days as there was only a few shown then there was a short musical interlude with a picture of a Xmas tree and a separate picture of the Chico, Harpo (asleep), Alan Jones and Groucho in his state room.

The whole thing just had a character and nostaligia that not only made Xmas special when I was a kid but also made me fall in love with the Marx Brothers.

Also, Monty on the Run was THE ZX spectrum game whilst listening continuouslt to West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys (my older brothers had creative control in those days).

Matthew Coniam said...

I know what you mean about those old tapes.
I'd give anything to have the original 1983 BBC-2 recordings, with the continuity announcements first. I'd love to see that compilation trailer they ran that Christmas again too.

Does anyone out there have them? I did have one possible lead at one time, but it went cold.