Monday, November 17, 2008

Dharma v. Dolls: Which Kicks more Ass?

So! You're asking yourself, but Movie Hooligan! Have you gone mad? Why, those two can't even be compared: a documentary on the least talented member of the New York Dolls, and a documentary on the creator of Gumby. Oh, but aren't they? As Wittgenstein taught us, two things eventually look alike if you wrap them in enough plastic wrap. More currently, as this outgoing administration has taught us, you pour enough acid on a body and you're eventually down to the bare bones! Besides, they were both featured prominently on the IFC channel... I mean, let's face it. There's only so far you can go with indie road pics about lesbians going on multiple-state kissing sprees. They're both about the Hollywood elite, both have backstories shrouded in mystery and they both feature blatant clips of Buster Poindexter... no, wait, that was Frank Zappa in the Gumby one. But I will say this up front: ultimately Gumby's had more of an impact on my life than the New York Dolls, and I've been in the presence of some hardcore music lovers who make the High Fidelity folks look like ank ramateurs, so I'm goin' with the Gumby on this one, to save all you docu-partisans out there just a little heartbreak. But for the rest of you, let's get down to the buts and nolts of this. Let's take a good hard look at both.
Up first, New York Doll, about the tragic career arc of New York Dolls' bassist, ... Gene Frenkle? Arthur "Killer" Kane, that's it. Some have called it an expanded episode of VH1, some have called it Mormonist propaganda, but I found myself nestled comfortably between the two points. And I'm as anti-Christian as the next secularist, but at least the Mormons do something useful, like the genealogy library, to which a long-haired hippie like Kane eventually gets a job. It is the standard rags-to-riches-back to rags rock story, but don't you rock freaks find each same predictable story beautiful in its own unique way? With Mick Jagger-ish David Johanson at the helm, the New York Dolls apparently filled a unique niche in the rock 'n roll family tree that they show ever so briefly (Hey! Let's see more of that!), which leads to the inception of such great bands as The Clash, and to some not-so-great ones later on like Ratt and Poison. I tell ya, Kane's makeup on the one album cover looks positively amateurish compared to the Vogue quality high-fashion transvestitism in that Poison album cover that has never been perfected upon; did they do a second album? Those were chicks, right?
For those who think it's a pro-Mormon screed, try this one on for size... wait, bad example. Besides, Kane doesn't seem too thrilled about the whole Mormon thing, anyway. Maybe that's because the BIG (kick-ass) REUNION CONCERT'S coming up! Shyeah! I also kinda liked the pre-show prayer Kane gives. (Also rare: a prayer to God that an audience has fun. And that they get rocked? Nah, too far.)
Yeah, but it's not all built-up hopes. The MTV wave that swept up so many people left Kane behind, and Kane hits rock bottom when he sees Buster Poindexter on TV. Apparently it was as the cabbie in Scrooged. When Kane saw him in Car 54, Where Are You? that cheered him right up. Oh, snap! The ending of the doc left kind of a bad taste in my mouth, but then that's the kind of thing that keeps me from being a true rock n roller. Better to go out like that than being top Realtor at your firm like SOME people I saw on VH1.
And finally, I once again must defend my embattled Tull. One critic in the doc rallies against "25-minute drum solos" as one of the things the Dolls were rebelling against in the art rock scene of the time. You think that's bad? Tull's got a 10-minute thing where the keyboardist plays Debussy on a piano! ("By Kind Permission Of") Oh, that's much, much worse.

Next, Gumby Dharma, where we look at a life similarly fraught with tragedy, the life of Gumby creator Art Clokey. Orphaned as a teenager when his mother remarries, Art gets adopted by a kindly pastor who takes him around the world and gives him a movie camera to play with. As he told his mom when they later reconciled, it worked out pretty great for him.
So there's that, and his daughter commits suicide after her friend gets hit by lightning, and a couple other tragedies that beset Clokey's life. From out of this pain Gumby is born. Clokey shows his short film Gumbasia (Fantasia + Gumby) to someone at MGM Studios, who subsequently gets him the Gumby TV deal. But he wanted to work with Ava Gardner! Important lesson, kids. If you want to work with Ava Gardner, get a shovel.
And so Gumby creator Art Clokey toils on through the 50s and 60s, and we find out that even something like this has personal origins, Goo and Prickly being modeled on people in Clokey's life. Then, still a child at heart, and drunk off Gumby's success, he goes and joins some of the flower people, but repents quite harshly, saying those were the "worst times of [his] life". So many unanswered questions: when does Gumby's eyes go from clay and BBs to the more modern style? As for the questions that got answered, we find out why Gumby's head is shaped the way it is. All you Davey and Goliath fans will want to skip that part, and probably the rest of this as well. I have new found respect for Clokey: he fought the church and lived to tell the tale! We also learn of a film he made called Mandala, a film born from his new found spirituality. It's an unreleased film, and it's not on the IMDb. For shame!

Oh, I can't remember anything else about it, so I'm not doing this doc justice. Unfortunately, I think the world is going to ultimately leave Gumby behind. 1995's Gumby movie lost out to the CGI revolution, but he'll always live on in our hearts in figurine form. That's because Gumby's a clay man of the people, not part of the elitist VeggieTales marketing juggernaut, for example.

p.s. Oh yeah! Checking out the IMDb entry, he DID do the opening credits for How to Stuff a Wild Bikini! Man, it looked pretty great in HD. That's why this doc only gets 3 and a half; they didn't cover that part.


-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

1 comment:

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