Friday, April 30, 2004

Video: Real Life (1979)

Albert Brooks’ first feature-length film. For some reason, it’s never on TV. I’m surprised it’s not better known considering Brooks’ reputation (MODERN ROMANCE and LOST IN AMERICA are among the only high points of 1980s movie comedy) and its subject matter (a send-up of PBS’ ‘An American Family,’ making this an early satire of reality television).

Brooks plays himself in the movie – or as he puts it, the character of ‘comedian Albert Brooks’ – and it’s a fearless performance. His attempts to document the lives of a typical American family headed by Charles Grodin collapse under his own neuroses; he’s on screen more than they are. There are plenty of great gags, a number of them involving the cutting-edge technology used in making the film. (“Only six of these cameras were ever made. Only five of them ever worked. We had four of those.”)

The subject may be topical, but the approach is practically quaint. Brooks’ subject family slowly cracks under the strain of appearing on camera. That would never happen now. Most Americans expect to have some portion of their lives captured for posterity. In that sense, REAL LIFE was startlingly prescient; it knew 25 years ago that someday everyone in the country would act like comedian Albert Brooks.

The movie’s trailer is sheer genius. It’s a three-and-a-half minute short that Brooks insists is in 3-D, and it contains no clips from the movie. It should be required viewing for anyone in studio marketing departments.

TV: Thursdays at 9PM

Or, where quality TV goes to die. As if airing a show in network television’s most-watched hour is a sign of faith. This is where Fox banished WONDERFALLS before it went to the big timeslot in the sky. Currently, ABC is burning off the run of STEPHEN KING’S KINGDOM HOSPITAL here.

Not that I helped the situation. I saw ten minutes of one episode of WONDERFALLS, and I was intrigued by the opening of last night’s KINGDOM but flipped away. I told Rosemarie that I’d watch both shows if I had TiVo, and she quite rightly called me a liar. If I had TiVo, not only would I not watch these shows, I’d never use the equipment.

Part of the reason I migrated away from network TV (Number of non-animated broadcast series I currently watch: zero) is that with cable’s multiple airings you can usually catch shows at your convenience. But once liberated from the tyranny of the programming schedule, it’s amazing how little TV you actually watch. On Demand has only made it worse; now that can I order up the latest episode of DEADWOOD free of charge any time I like, I’m running two shows behind with no real incentive to catch up. The technology isn’t in broad use yet. Once it is, the broadcast networks will be unable to resist it. At that point, the business model of television will change forever. The industry will be in the same straits that the music business is now. But what do I know? I’ve never made it through an episode of FRIENDS.

What did I watch in this timeslot last night? Spike TV’s MOST EXTREME ELIMINATION CHALLENGE. A Japanese game show hosted by ‘Beat’ Takeshi, redubbed by comedians. Tragic, I know, with KINGDOM HOSPITAL going begging for viewers. But any show that can make Rosemarie cry out “Aw, dude!” can’t be bad.

Music: Nintendo Cover Band

Ever wish you’d thought of an idea that also scares you? Happens to me a lot.