In the late 60s and early 1970s, the world of comedy changed drastically thanks to the entry of the Baby Boom generation into the field. Spurred on by the groundbreaking comedy of Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters, and Nichols & May – among many others – comedians, filmmakers, and satirists took aim at a broader range of targets, turned shock value into a fine art, and transformed personal and social tragedies into humor.
On Wednesdays throughout March and April, we’ll take a look at this comic revolution through a series of performance films, underground movies, and cult favorites, beginning with Lenny Bruce in ‘Lenny Bruce’, an amazing historical document of the beat comic who became a martyr/hero to the counterculture in the years following his untimely death. The shadows of Lenny’s take on the American Way hangs over Robert Downey’s Putney Swope, a surreal satire on race relations and the ad industry that is perhaps the ultimate “underground” comedy.
The military get their turn in MASH, Robert Altman’s mega-successful black comedy that used the Korean conflict as a stand-in for Vietnam and found laughs in the dark absurdity of war. A different kind of war – on good taste – is waged by John Waters in Pink Flamingos, one of the films that, along with a re-release of the unintentionally hilarious Reefer Madness, helped to establish the fledgling distributor New Line Cinema.
Television, one of the key experiences for the boomer generation, is lampooned in The Groove Tube, a breakout campus success that birthed the “sketch film” subgenre, whose apotheosis came a few years later in the form of the Kentucky Fried Movie. Also from TV, Britain’s Monty Python troupe took to the big screen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of the most influential comedies of all time. Finally, two more countercultural heroes who made their name on vinyl and on stage get their turn in the spotlight to round out the series: Cheech & Chong with Up in Smoke, and Richard Pryor with Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, in which the brilliant comic picks up where Lenny Bruce left off, using his personal travails as fodder for an evening of comedy.
All of these films are best seen with an audience and yet rarely screened, so we hope you can make it out for ten evenings’ worth of satire, absurdity, shock, and laughter.
Wednesday, March 5, 8 p.m.
Lenny Bruce in ‘Lenny Bruce’
(aka The Lenny Bruce Performance Film, John Magnuson, US 1967, 72 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, March 12, 8 p.m.
(Robert Downey, US 1969, 84 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, March 19, 8 p.m.
(Robert Altman, US 1970, 116 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, March 26, 8 p.m.
Up in Smoke
(Lou Adler & Tommy Chong, US 1978, 86 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, April 2, 8 p.m.
(John Waters, US 1972, 93 min., 35mm)
Friday, April 4, 8 p.m. & Sunday, April 6, 2 p.m.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
(Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, UK 1975, 91 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, April 9, 8 p.m. & Sunday, April 13, 2 p.m.
(Louis J. Gasnier, US 1936, 66 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, April 16, 8 p.m.
The Kentucky Fried Movie
(John Landis, US 1977, 83 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, April 23, 8 p.m.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
(Jeff Margolis, US 1979, 78 min., 35mm)
Wednesday, April 30, 8 p.m.
The Groove Tube
(Ken Shapiro, US 1974, 75 min., 16mm)