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by Bill Gibron

7 Dec 2009

While the comparison has been made before, the passage of time has confirmed it as fact: Monty Python’s Flying Circus is indeed the Beatles of sketch comedy. True, similarities do stop at content and culture-shaping impact, but there are a few undeniable facts that link to two UK phenomenons together. Both came out of Britain to conquer the world, forever changing the way we look at certain artistic styles and creativity. Each used their distinctive personalities and divergent interests to shape their approach, and the final results remains relevant even 40 some years later. There’s even the same sentiment toward a “reunion”. With the death of a significant part of each outfit, bringing them back is just never going to happen.

And so, like the Fab Four, it’s time to cement the remaining members place in history. It’s time to tell the truth, Anthology style, to pour on the context and explain away the misinformation - or in some cases, create a few new myths along the way. Recently, IFC Films presented the stunning, six part overview of the group’s founding and immeasurable success that followed. While far from definitive (even at nearly five and a half hours, it still skips by many of the more important aspects of their origins) it still represents a massive attempt at explaining away Python once and for all. In that regard, A&E is releasing two separate documentaries on DVD, a pair of features that, in their own way, supplement and support the Almost the Truth take on Monty Python. While The Other British Invasion does repeat some of the same stories and anecdotes, it argues for its place as part of the overall sketch god Bible.

by Katharine Wray

7 Dec 2009

Feminism is a very loaded word. Girldrive attempts, through photography, reporting and booze, to deconstruct the word and find out what it means to be a woman. “eing a feminist is not ignoring the fact that if you’re a woman you experience things in a certain way, no matter what,” says one of Nona and Emma’s subjects. An inspired gift for any budding feminist or new college student. Without being preachy, this book explores and reveals both America and American women.

by Katharine Wray

7 Dec 2009

This Christmas CD by the Beach Boys offers up a delightful mix of holiday classics and holiday originals by Brian Wilson. This CD is the perfect gift for the awkward office exchange—maybe your cubicle buddy will stop playing the N*Sync Christmas CD and spin this collection instead. With holiday hits like “Little Saint Nick”, “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “Melekalikimaka”, you’ll be jammin’ through your winter vacation.

by shathley Q

6 Dec 2009

In his recent book Outliers, journalist Malcolm Gladwell investigates the phenomenon of the truly gifted who excel in their chosen fields and professions. What he finds is simply mind-boggling. Success it seems, is not so much rooted in talent, but relies on a vast and unseen network of lucky breaks that appears together with aptitude. The ‘self-made man’ is a myth, and ultimately one that proves dangerous to society.

In deference to this myth we fail to engineer opportunities that would allow for a proper meritocracy, Gladwell argues. We continue in the belief that hockey players are born rather than bred. Because of this we extend multiple opportunities to children born in the first three months of the year. These accumulated advantages create a vast ‘talent gap’ between children born in the first half of the year and their slightly younger counterparts. This is just one example, that when reengineered would prospectively double the pool of future hockey stars.

In 45 available this month from publisher Com.X, writer Andi Ewington treads a similar path to Gladwell. He makes use of long-form journalism as a tool for investigating the sociology of success. In a world populated by superheroes, a soon-to-be father attempts to structure his hopes and fears for his child by interviewing a series of super-powered humans. What could his child become in a world as wondrous as this one? Ewington’s fictional father undertakes a similar investigation to Gladwell in his preparation for Outliers.

But written during his wife’s pregnancy and by strange coincidence completed on the day of his son’s birth, 45 represents a very personal project for Ewington. With each ‘interview’ conducted in a unique graphic style, illustrated by a different artist, the book also represents a radical shift in comics storytelling.

The social realism of superheroes is a subgenre that stretches as far back as Denny o’ Neill and Neal Adams in the 1970s. It enters the popular imagination with Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen in the mid-80s. Ewington reinvigorates this subgenre by reinventing it. Conceptually, he transcends even Moore and Gibbons’ offering. By offering a tale linked to the personal, by coordinating multiple visual styles in a single storyline, by presenting a journalism of the sociology of success, Ewington secures his own place in comics history.

This week’s Iconographies offers an in-depth profile of Andi Ewington and insight into his genre-defining debut work, 45.

by Bill Gibron

6 Dec 2009

In the long standing debate between movies as merchandise and film as art, the sex comedy usually get laughed out of the room - and not for the reasons you think. Humor has literally nothing to do with it. Instead, the skin farce, the lust lampoon, the cracked coming of age where wantonness subs for wisdom, is repeatedly snubbed, stuffed in the same lame category as exploitation - smutty without being significant, craven without being creative or clever. Naturally, most of these scholarly decisions are based on a limited sampling of said pseudo-smut. After all, how could you call Porky’s anything other than wimpy white lightning in a unexpected blockbuster bottle, or American Pie as pastry porn?

That’s where the Canadian classic Screwballs comes in. That’s right - CLASSIC. In fact, it’s safe to say that in the seedy subgenre of teenage boys begging to get their rocks off, this surreal statement is its Gone with the Wind. Yes, it’s prurient and pasty. Yes, it makes even a post-millennial audience groan with raincoat crowd crudity. No, it doesn’t have the kind of redeeming social value or aesthetic merit to keep communal moral compasses from veering wildly away from true North. What it does offer, on the other hand, is nothing short of a window into the world circa the early ‘80s, a chance to see how far we’ve come in the days since flesh was considered a felony, and even more shockingly, the lack of any real progress since.

The story centers on boobs - there’s no other way to put it. Reigning homecoming queen (and all around stuck-up snob) Purity Busch is rumored to have the hottest rack in all of T&A High. Naturally, this gets a quintet of hormonally overcharged delinquents - chronic masturbator Melvin Jerkovski, dorky science geek Howie Bates, fun loving cut-up Ricky McKay, self-proclaimed BMOC Brent Van Dusen III, and recent transfer student/regular guy Tim Stevenson - all hot and bothered. While serving detention, the guys come up with a scheme. With the help of “friendly” coeds Bootsie Goodhead, Rhonda Rocket, and Sarah Bellum, the boys will each use their wit and cunning to discover a means of checking out Purity’s pom-poms - and it looks like her last public act will be the perfect place for the unveiling.

As you can see, Screwballs is nothing if not subtle. It’s about as understated as a group of drag queens at a Sarah Palin rally. Writers Linda Shayne and Jim Wynorski give director Rafal Zielinski a nice clothesline narrative from which to work, letting the filmmaker follow-up with one unhinged cockamamie concept after another. From the stupid science inspired inventions used by Howie to the fey false bravado oozed by Brent, everything here is a lark. It’s turn of the century burlesque retrofitted for a slightly more permissive time. This is a movie that believes it is progressive, that measures men in hefty ham steaks while the gals are fully flowered in feminism. Why? Well, because the cheerleaders acknowledge their love of nookie while the guys goof around and grunt like Neanderthals.

This is a catch-all comedy, the brains behind the camera coming up with anything and everything to get a laugh. There are clichés and funny business formulas (the absent minded professor, the cougar-cat spinster type). There are archetypes and anarchy (the horndog principal, the centerpiece known as “strip bowling”). There’s even a small amount of social satire and critical commentary to be found - of course, you’ll have to look past all the heavy petting and raw naked human libido to see it. Indeed, the reason Screwballs stands as the ultimate sex comedy has little to do with the bodkin we see and much more with the attitude it offers. Being unapologetic is one thing. Tossing tons of unclothed actresses at the screen for no other reason than genre requirements is quite a different dynamic.

Besides, it’s all in good clean, non-Puritanical, gratuitous Great White North fun. Though Roger Corman’s name is tossed about as someone closely involved in this project, the connection is weak, to say the least (his company, New World Pictures, had some part in the distribution). Instead, this is a pure Rush and back bacon view of friskiness, a ‘baby it’s always cold outside’ combination of adolescent longing and upfront scatology. While it may sound like a knuckleheaded, nonsensical appraisal, it’s actually perfect for something like Screwballs. We don’t want half-baked nostalgia or Airplane! like joke-a-thons. We don’t need a cautionary counterbalance, or reminder of the imbalance within these gender politics. This is a movie that just wants to celebrate the basic human need for pleasure. It’s biology. It’s instinct. It’s what we are.

Luckily, sleaze salvage yard Severin Films has taken this often maligned movie and given it the full blown craven Criterion Collection treatment it deserves. The 1080p transfer is terrific, taking what is often a full screen pan and scan nightmare and turning it into a fresh, if still slightly dated, delight. The colors are crisp and the details prevalent. In addition, they add a bunch of complementary context, including deleted scenes, director’s commentary, cast and crew interviews, and two scholarly overviews - one by Canuxsploitation expert Paul Corupe, the other from celebrity nudity expert Mr. Skin. In tandem, and with the rest of the bonus features provided, they give this amazing film a new lease on life - critically, commercially, and categorically.

Of course, there’s a caveat. Let’s be honest, shall we? Screwballs does have some minor misgivings. The gals we see sans clothing couldn’t compete with the plasticine honeys humpin’ across late night subscription cable nowadays. And in the end, when the big reveal is made, we start to wonder if all the titty-based rigmarole was worth it. Yet the answer is obvious to anyone who has seen the film - Hell-friggin-yeah! Even without this wonderful format update, the blissfully sweet results speak for themselves. Screwballs is indeed a classic - just not for the standard cinematic reasons. As a movie, it’s genuine junk. As a faux-funny erotic epiphany, it’s nothing short of epic.

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