Saturday, September 5, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

We all have our guilty pleasures. One of mine is watching priceless old clips on YouTube, like this segment with Zelma O'Neal singing "I Want To Be Bad" from the the second all-talking, all-color feature released by Paramount Pictures:1930's Follow Thru.

More than half a century ago, folksinger Oscar Brand became famous for his recordings of Bawdy Songs & Backroom Ballads. Brand (who, in 2005 was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for his 60 years of hosting "Oscar Brand's Folksong Festival" on the radio) even recorded a nautical version entitled Bawdy Briny Ballads: Oscar Brand Sings Sea Porn. The following claymation video uses Brand's famous recording of Seven Old Ladies Locked in a Lavatory.

Since the 1960s, singer/comedian Rusty Warren (known to some as the Knockers Up gal) has often been called "the mother of the sexual revolution." Her hit song Bounce Your Boobies was given a new lease on life when talk show host Randi Rhodes decided to use it to introduce the Friday broadcasts of The Randi Rhodes Show.

In the latter half of the 20th century, there weren't too many people specializing in raunchy lyrics. In her film Beaches (1988), Bette Midler sang a hilarious ditty about the famous Otto Titsling:

Other than the Divine Miss M's over-the-top performance in that film, few lyricists found a way to make money from wallowing in the gutter or taking audiences to lewder, cruder, and ever so much ruder places. Since 2000, singer/songwriter Stephen Lynch has taken up the comic/musical torch of a new-age Lenny Bruce, singing songs so hilariously filthy that he has developed an adoring international audience. Many of Lynch's fans were first exposed to his evil sense of humor on Comedy Central. Here he is, performing one of his most gruesome ditties:

Lynch (whose parents were formerly a nun and a priest) has since starred on Broadway in the musical adaptation of Adam Sandler's film, The Wedding Singer, aired a second Comedy Central special, and released a new CD entitled 3 Balloons. On his website, he notes that:
"My last two albums were recorded live in concert, just guitar and voice, and I wanted to do something different this time. Whenever I write or perform a new song, in my head I hear pianos and drums and tubas and string sections and jug bands and children's choirs. I want you to hear those things too. Except we couldn't find a children's choir whose parents would let them sing about drug mules and transsexual prostitutes. Maybe next time."
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Currently onstage at New Conservatory Theatre Center is local jackoff-of-all-trades, Tom Orr (who has, at various times in his life, been a film extra, drug addict, and porn star). A good-natured song-and-dance man who has been described by his beloved Andrea Marcovicci as "a scene-stealing whore," Orr wrote and starred in Dirty Little Showtunes! several years ago. Since then he has developed a loyal following of primarily gay audiences who love show tunes and enjoy watching Orr strip off his clothes to reveal his ample endowment.

Tom Orr (Photo by: Troy Dean)

Orr's latest show (directed by F. Allen Sawyer with long-time accompanist, former Cockette Scrumbly Koldewyn at the piano) is a marked improvement over 2008's I Feel A Thong Coming On! Starting out as a classic nude atop a pedestal, Orr strikes several traditional poses before informing the audience that this is the last they will see of his impressive member as A Crass Act will be all about dressing up rather than stripping down.

Whether referring to shows like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To Santorum or My Fair Labia, Orr doesn't hesitate to rewrite a popular musical's lyrics for greater shock value. Whereas Gerard Alessandrini has great fun mocking many shows in his Forbidden Broadway revues, Orr's lyrics are notoriously sexual and/or gay-themed. Like Professor Harold Hill, he certainly knows the territory:
Stephen Lynch often tells fans that he owes his international career to his visibility on YouTube. If Orr (who frequently performs in 42nd Street Moon's productions of "lost" musicals) is serious about plans to record a CD and take his act on the road (as well as on gay cruises), then he needs to find someone with access to a good digital camera and a tripod who can film him in performance. I would especially urge Orr to record his latest "smut medley," filled with references to snowballing, fisting, and felching (OH MY!), as performed in A Crass Act.

Orr is an ingratiating entertainer with a devoted following. A self-avowed ham who loves to sing, dance, and perform quick (and often outrageous) costume changes, the only thing he lacks is a gag reflex. All I could find on YouTube that gives a solid sense of Orr's talent as a lyricist are three shaky clips that were recorded by someone using a cell phone during a performance of I Feel A Thong Coming On! When the jiggly video starts to feel too much like The Blair Witch Project, simply turn your gaze away from your computer and listen to his performance.

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As a rule, I try to stay away from horror movies. I don't like excessive violence or gore. But, as a child who played with toy dinosaurs and took frequent trips to the American Museum of Natural History, any film with a dinosaur is hard to resist.

Some, like Stephen Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) or the BBC's six-part documentary series, Walking With Dinosaurs, are triumphs of computer generated imaging (CGI). Others, like Roger Corman's craptastic 1984 adaptation of Carnosaur and Jim O'Connolly's 1969 western fantasy, The Valley of the Gwangi (in which a dinosaur is trapped in a burning Mexican cathedral that collapses around it, eventually cooking and killing the giant reptile) are just plain laughable.

Mexico got another crack at reptilian greatness with the 2007 release of Brian-Trenchard Smith's cheesy Aztec Rex, written by Richard Manning. With so many Christians insisting that man coexisted with dinosaurs (Pensacola, Florida's misguided Dinosaur Adventure Land -- a Christian fundamentalist theme park with robot dinosaurs -- was recently shut down as a result of tax fraud), how could I resist a chance to see Christians getting devoured by a Tyrannosaurus Rex?

Thankfully, Aztec Rex is occasionally aired on the Syfy Channel. Filmed mostly on Oahu's Kualoa Ranch, it offers a model lesson in what distinguishes a grade B movie from a great movie. Lacking the money that was invested in Spielberg's films (or the talent it could buy), Aztec Rex has to settle for mid-level actors and CGI technicians. While the cinematography by Paul Atkins is actually quite impressive, the plot is too silly for words.

Ian Zering as Cortes

Set in 1521 A.D., the movie begins as legendary explorer Hernan Cortez attempts to claim part of Mexico in the name of Spain. With a sizable helping of feathers, leathers, loincloths, and war makeup, Aztec Rex has plenty of eye candy to delight audiences.

Shawn Lathrop (a former exotic dancer) appears as Alvarado with William Snow as the evil Mendoza. Kalani Queypo portrays Xocozin (the very buff, hot-headed and stupid macho warrior son of the Aztec chief) who is eager to kill Gonzalez (Marc Antonio), a conquistador who falls in love with the Aztec maiden Ayacoatl (Dichen Lachman) that Xocozin assumed would be his bride.

Gonzalez really wants to help the natives battle the fearsome thunder lizard, but he and his colleagues are easily betrayed by Gria (Jack McGee), the drunken priest who was marooned on the island after a shipwreck but has taught some of the Aztec royal family how to speak Spanish in case a ship arrived that could carry him back to Spain (don't ask).

Paleontology fans may take umbrage at the fact that the term "thunder lizard" is used to refer to an obvious carnivore, whereas it was the herbivorous sauropods (Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Brontosaurus, etc.) that were actually nicknamed thunder lizards because scientists thought that the earth trembled under their feet. Where Aztec Rex does shine, however, is in the use of CGI scripting to create scenes in which the audience sees things from the dinosaur's viewpoint (through a fisheye lens) as it tries to determine where its next meal is standing. In those sequences wherein the thunder lizard gets to munch on a crispy Christian soldier or an available Aztec maiden, its jaws are thoroughly coated with blood (more so than in most dinosaur films), giving audiences a new image for a "happy meal."

Aztec Rex is a perfect example of what happens when mediocre talents working with a limited budget deliver a product that looks and sounds reasonably good but, in the final analysis, is little more than a guilty pleasure. Here's the trailer:

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