An eye-opening slab of homegrown American weirdness, Paul Hough’s documentary The Backyard has been a hot item on the video underground over the past year. Even as an official DVD release, though, it still has a grimy, unfaked bootleg feel. From Modesto, Calif., to England, Hough wanders through the underworld of backyard wrestling, the wild-eyed poor cousin of the WCW, where combatants in makeshift no-budget arenas brain each other with fluorescent lights, thumbtack-studded gloves and clubs wrapped in barbed wire. The wrasslers range in age from 10 to 26, they buy their gear at Dollar General, and they’ve devised bizarro identities such as Bongo the Pot-Smoking Monster, the Retarded Butcher and (my favorite) a hamburger-suited superhero called Big Mac With a Spork. What unites them, besides class and a place on society’s fringes, is a belief in semi-faked beatings as a ticket to the American Dream. Surprisingly, the authority figures Hough finds tend to look on approvinglylike the schoolteacher who notes with pride that instead of taking drugs, her misfit kids are “hitting each other with garbage cans.” Hough’s documentary may be sloppily organized, but his bemused regard for his subjects keeps the film from becoming a Jerry Springer gawk-a-thon. Even so, you may wear out your rewind button when two Nevada kids and their mom enact some kind of Oedipal psychodrama with flaming plywood and a pit full of light bulbs.
The cultural impact of The Beatles’ three February 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show has been well dissected. But how must it have felt to be the next act on the bill, sleight-of-hand comedian Fred Kaps, stepping in front of an audience of exhausted-from-screaming teens and shocked parents? See for yourself on The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles an awkwardly titled (but tantalizingly cheap) DVD set. It offers no fresh reminiscences to put the moment in modern context, but the four hour-long programsthree from ’64 and one from September ’65set the four moptops’ electric arrival in an early ’60s showbiz frame. Positioned between the wrung-dry impressions and show tunes of Gordon & Sheila MacRae, the grotesque music-hall moves of Tessie O’Shea, some bombastic Broadway from the cast of Oliver! (with future Monkee Davy Jones playing the Artful Dodger), and Sullivan’s clumsy introductions to pizza and tea commercials, The Beatles’ low-key exuberance and simple tunefulness are a revelation all over again.
To experience the giggly disorientation of being high without actually inhaling, check out Space Ghost Coast to Coast: Volume One and Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume One, from Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” line of animated weirdness. The former was CN’s first swing at pop surrealism, presenting the old Alex Toth-designed superhero as a late-night talk-show host, grilling forgotten celebrities via satellite from his “ghost planet” studio. Packed with rapid-fire non sequiturs and awkward pauses, Space Ghost Coast to Coast established the “dude, what the heck was that” mindbomb approach of Adult Swim. Then Aqua Teen Hunger Force perfected it. The Aqua Teens are young-adult hip-hop detectivesin the shape of a meatball, a large milk shake and a floating order of frieswho spend each episode avoiding solving mysteries by hanging around their neighbor’s pool. If the show has a theme, it has to do with the frustrations of our instant-gratification culture, but mostly it’s about the slack joy of watching brightly colored fast food bicker.
Jack Black and Kyle Gass’ comic heavy-metal folk duo Tenacious D both parodies and pays homage to the element of rock culture that prizes mythology-steeped songwriting, bombastic showmanship and instrumental virtuosity. It’s a funny routine (and surprisingly catchy as music), but it can be overwhelming in large doses. So skip around the hour-long D concert on the double-disc DVD Tenacious D: The Complete Masterworks and head for the grubby, raunchy short films, the music videos and especially the six 10-minute, The Monkees-meets-Mr. Show HBO series episodes. The latter set precisely codifies the D’s sweetly generous (and gleefully profane) approach to entertainment, as they strive to be “the greatest band in the world” via their weekly appearances at an open-mic night.
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.
It was so great being one of those kids in Dayton.
I miss Iodine.
^ It's nice to see an official acknowledgement by management. Kristen Mcarther Miles (the girl…
How ironic that "Vandy radio" gets resurrected as a fictional station?! I was just glad…
Wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.