‘Cause Those Nazis Ain’t Gonna Smash Themselves

Slight break with tradition today. Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher (2011…) is not a movie. It is a show. It is a one man show. Not a movie. Yet I write anyhow. I have been having a hard time finding inspiration in the cinematic world as of late. I blame myself. Also a neverending host of ho-hum movies. Naturally when I see something that really excites me I feel a strange compulsion to write about it. I call it the twinge.

Humphrey Ker’s award winning one man show, Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher, was quite a sneaky surprise to weasel its way onto my schedule. I was told of a show (via facebook, perhaps you’ve heard of it) that it was playing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Hollywood. The friend who invited me said that a friend of his (Ker) was putting on some sort of play and that it would be funny and that I should go. Not knowing anything beyond this, I only had to glance at the title once to seriously consider thinking about it.

I had seen some bad shows before. Would this disappoint me too?

Traffic on a Wednesday night might not be too terrible, but who to go with me? Surely folks would be clamoring to see the so-called smashing of Nazis. I was quite dumfounded to discover that many people I invited were either not interested, too busy, or just didn’t feel like it. So basically I am writing this with a dual purpose. A: to tell of my enjoyment of the show and admiration for its performer and B: to stick it to all those tinkling stuffy posh anus-nibblers who missed out. The apathetic flakedom, which is the Southern California mentality, is an infectious disease and can lead to being extremely dull if not treated with sporadic doses of culture.

But really, I also want to encourage people to see shows. The movies are great. . . can be great, but sometimes breaking up your week with a real event can be refreshing and unforgettable. See more shows.

We made it to the theater (one gangly fellow did agree to go) and we spent about 28 minutes locating a parking space. We waited in line. Our hands were stamped. We joked and laughed and pondered the proximity of a pisser to purge our bladders. The doors were opened. We entered. We sat down in the tiny, intimate, black-box theater. We purged our bladders. We sat back down. There was an excessive amount of scarves that night. This was an upscale hipster’s Hollywood. The lights dimmed. The show started.

Actual review: comedian and actor from across the pond, Humphrey Ker, is a fine performer and he has a sharp wit to boot. His piece follows the narrative of a young British soldier who specializes in things Romanian, the eponymous Dymock Watson. From a series of suspicious murders, to secret orders, torrid romance, intrigue, espionage, mistaken identities, magic, and an invisible dog that puts Uggie from The Artist to shame, Ker takes us on a real journey. Clever character pops and well-timed costume changes abound in this laugh-a-line WWII spy farce that takes shots at every period war movie cliche in the book. I was reminded of some of my favorites like The Guns of Navarone, The Devil’s Brigade, and The Bridge On the River Kwai.

When Dymock Watson finds himself parachuting out of a plane and deep behind enemy lines and his team getting shorter by the minute, it soon becomes apparent that if anyone is going to be able to complete the mission and blow up the dam (smashing the Nazis) it’s going to be Dymock. But there is a saboteur in their midst, but who could it be?

I really enjoyed the cleverness of the jokes. I like clever things, you see. Virtually every line of this wonderful story is either a great line or a humorous set-up. The performer runs the gamut from broader comedy involving clever anachronistic dialogue and funny observations about the times to subtler, smarter jokes with material gleaned from history, literature, and elsewhere. I also really appreciate that most of the humor derives from the characters themselves. In addition to Ker’s excellent writing, he also displays his keenness to ad lib with the audience when the occasion calls for it. The story is not merely slapdash, but highly engaging and entertaining. You feel like you go on an epic journey with Dymock, despite the minimalism of the stage. Ker himself proves his written abilities as well as his talents as a performer. Basically I loved it like a Russian girl loves Americans. Yeah, I don’t know either. The ads on certain cites always say that. I highly enjoyed myself and found that it was well worth the price of admission, the headache finding someone to go with, and the drive.

Some of the best comedians tell stories. From Bill Cosby to Louis C. K., some comedians know how to stretch out a story and squeeze out all the comedy. Humphrey Ker takes things in a slightly different direction. He takes archetypes from a classic war drama and throttles them into humor. For approximately 50 minutes Ker dons many characters (whose jingoistic identities may seem strangely familiar) and wields them all well to convey a fun plot that leaves plenty of room for nonstop laughs. It’s not just a joke story. It’s something bigger than that.

You know how disappointing the trailers for Jackboots on Whitehall (2010) looked? (Especially if you’ve seen Team America: World Police). This is way better. I don’t want to spoil too much of the show, so just go see it. You will laugh and you will thank me.

You might be asking yourself, “Well, that’s great, BurrelloSubmarine, but you’re a movie reviewer. What background qualifications could you possibly have to evaluate the aesthetic and emotional effectiveness of this limey’s stage show?” First off, don’t use the term limey. We say lobsterbacks now. Secondly, I have a wealth of expertise in judging spoken performances, you presumptuous twit. I have been involved in the world of forensics (or speech & debate) for many years as both competitor, coach, and judge and I think I know what I’m talking about. Apart from that I done lol’d most heartily and that should be good enough for anybody.

Go see Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher if you can. Humphrey Ker is a wonderful entertainer with brilliant comic timing. And moreover, just go to a live show. The movie theaters have enough of your money. It’s time to smash some Nazis, kids.

This show really inspired me. Someday, Lord willing, I want to do a one-man-show.

Being an Extra

Extra! Extra!

What does the world of television look like from the background? Who are all these extra people wordlessly inhabiting these fictitious streets? How much room to breath is there in the “atmosphere?”

I am an extra person. By definition it implies I am expendable. Anybody can be me. It takes no skill and I certainly don’t put much effort forth. Don’t need to.

In TV Land there are several castes. Production and crew personnel, gaffers, makeup, costumes, the talent, the caterers, etcetera, but beneath all of these tiers is the extra…and beneath that seemingly final rung lurks the non-union extra (beneath that there is only the non-union spec who gets turned away). The entertainment world and its hierarchy of calculated arbitrariness is a twisted, haunted safari and being an extra can sometimes feel like swimming with man-eating sharks.

I am writing this because I cannot sleep. I have a call time that requires me to be up at 5 am tomorrow morning and so in preparation for my necessarily near-nocturnal departure I attempted to go to bed early. Mistake. When the body clock is so in tuned with going to bed at a certain hour, it takes more than simple logic to shut it down prematurely, hence my nightly restlessness. If I could even now forcibly bring about a state of dreamless unconsciousness I might be able to squeeze in 3 hours of stressless bliss. Doubtful.

Being an extra can give one much stress. One has to be on set early and ready and one must be able to locate the set and not get lost. One must be prepared to wait for hours on end in seedy, uncomfortable rooms or sometimes one gets put outside in plastic chairs beneath feverishly rigged awnings. One must deal with being yelled at by production and bossed about by malcontented wranglers and one must be prepared to “act.” And one must be prepared to suck fumes from LA’s gloriously carcinogenic atmosphere for hours in congested traffic to and from set.

familiar iconI have observed legendary cinematographers at work from only inches away. I have been manhandled by Hollywood celebrity waxworks. I have been scorned by Oscar winning costumers. I am an extra. I am faceless, disposable, and insignificant. You haven’t lived until you’ve “crowd tiled” in the Coliseum, friend.

The plus side? The food is good. Strike that. It’s downright great sometimes.

I realized something when I said a surprising thing on the last commercial shoot I was on. I was asked to walk into frame and sit down (in the background of course), but I had to squat so I could not be seen by the camera at first. I squatted uncomfortably (I also had to remove my shoes so I would not make footsteps) and then one of the crew graciously offered me an apple box to sit on. I was deeply moved and thanked him and one lady—who had been rather grouchy to me the whole day—gazed over her Versace shades to express surprise that I might presume I would be forced to squat, barefoot on some tangled wires. I looked at her and half-jokingly muttered, “I’m used to being mistreated.”

That was a shocker to myself as much as anyone who heard it and gave a crap. Maybe more. “I’m used to being mistreated.” Was I? Had I just been conditioned to know that I am bottom rung fish filth on set? I thought back. I had gotten used to scorching in the sun for hours at a time, sitting in concrete holding rooms for hours, eating last, and being yelled at for bizarre things no natural person would presuppose. Being an extra and being in show business is not natural. It is all artifice and frequently unpleasant. Sure, there had been some good shoots where I wasn’t treated like a parrot turd with a number on it, but on the whole being an extra had not been worth it.

I gazed into the eyes and face of the lead actor for this last particular ad. I was sitting right next to him and was asked to stare stone-faced at him while he ad-libbed some lines. He was a talented fellow. A nice man and a funny man, but I could not help but shake one persistent feeling: this is what I am striving for? As an extra you come to meet thousands of folks with similar hopes and aspirations. They come from all over the globe to this hub. Here at entertainment’s central nerve a lowly extra can dream of one day being randomly selected to give a line in a TV show or a movie. For many this is the equivalent of drinking ambrosia from the skull of a manatee. Many times, that is the highlight of their on-camera career too. They work to be one day seen or heard, even if only briefly and vast numbers never even get that fleeting moment, that moment where they feel somewhat important and more than an extra.

How sad.

I watched the man perform next to me. He had achieved what most extras will only ever wish for. He was the lead actor in a commercial that will be seen by a few people as they flip through the stations for a few months and then it will most likely be burned. How fleeting even that is. I was also struck by how unappealing it all looked up close. He was saying some condensed gibberish to entice people to purchase another dumb product and he had to do it over and over and over again for 8 hours. All this with a camera 6 inches from his face.

It didn’t strike me as fun like the freebie acting I have enjoyed for independent and student shorts and stage. But I know what most people would say: “You’ve got to be willing to lower yourself and your standards in the beginning.” But why? And to what end? After a long week I went to the movies and I saw a film that featured the big name actors; the household name actors. What acting were they doing in this “more reputable” venue? They were selling a movie. They were not telling a story by crafting great characters, they were simply involved in another, much longer ad. And I bought it…at first.

St. Augustine said, “the Church is a whore, but she is also my mother.” I say, “Hollywood is a whore…also it’s an abusive step-dad with a drinking problem.” There does not seem to be much reason to bend over and take it from mainstream entertainment. I see no fulfillment in it. I see only greed and headache.

Perhaps I am being unfairly cynical. The food is really good.

Maybe extras deserve to be pushed around and looked down upon. Most of them are terrible people. But it goes without saying that most people are terrible people. I’m not sure, however, if there is a more whiny, discontented person with panache for cheap fibbery and braggadocio than the TV extra. Everyone’s got a story about how they only do it sometimes when things get slow because they really all have a script being considered by Fox or some obscure Australian production company or they used to have the number one hit single in Fiji. Heck, even I have similar stories, but who are we really trying to fool? Other bottom-rung non-union extras? Even our peers we must make lower than us?and we even come in inflatable form

I’ve come to understand that almost everyone in the entertainment industry has the spiritual gift of unconditional falsehood weaving, but it surprises even me who we all want to impress. We all want to be important and so we lie. We all believe that somehow the dead-end tedium of extra-ing will one day lead to better things. We all desperately hope that the next call will be the last one we have to do and that maybe there will be chairs in the holding room and maybe the wranglers will be nice to us.

Everyone in Hollywood is sick. Everyone down the ladder from the pigs at the top to the refuse at the bottom. Everyone except the caterers, God bless ’em.

I say this world is a haunted safari. You go there expecting to see elegant and exotic mega-fauna; the wild beasts of myth. But what you discover is a land of ghosts. The animals are transparent and they’re giving off bad vibrations. The lions and tigers are fake, but they still think they can fool you up close. The wild elephants are skeletons here and we are all blood-sucking mosquitoes searching for an artery on a dry scapula. To what end? To be a bony behemoth like them? Maybe so…because we know we might look like something from a safe distance to strange anonymous folk. Then we can fool them too and imagine we truly are something.

Dear Hollywood

Dear Hollywood,

I wish I could say that I knew you were trying. I wish I could say that.

The fact of the matter is this: you don’t get me anymore. You’ve changed. I always knew you were about the money, but lately it’s been getting out of hand. You still know how to cast pretty faces, but you’ve lost that zest, that spark you had decades ago when we first met. There’s no more imagination in you. You’re not the daring risk-taker you were. You always liked to play it safe, but now you’ve become so dry and milquetoast that it’s depressing to look at you.

I sat in the theater today and I waited to be entertained. I waited for two hours and you simply could not deliver. I stared glassy eyed as you tried to appease me with promises of better things to come, but all of your cheesy, gimmick-filled trailer ploys were empty and, to be quite honest, they are beginning to all look like the same movie. When the feature finally appeared I was again letdown. It was the same pile of disappointing sadness you had tried to lay on me last time.

You used to create. Now you only regurgitate.

What happened to your glory days back in the 1930s? It seemed there was almost no stopping you. Remember all those bold films you produced in the 1960s and 70s? You used to be a breeding ground and training camp for budding imagination. You used to have real magic, but now you’re too old and scared to take any chances. I hate what you have become. You sadden me with your pathetic attempts to excite me in the movies these days. You used to make winning comedies, spectacular epics, compelling dramas, and soaring character studies, but these days you can barely muster anything beyond old, tired rehashings, remakes, re-imaginings, re-packagings, and sequels that come far, far too late.

You would be better off dead and as a fond memory. I would rather miss you and recall the joy we shared than be disappointed in what garbage you’ve been cranking out lately. There’s no more inspiration left in you it seems. You are dead to me.

I hope and pray to God that you will return to us, Hollywood. You need help. You’re eyes are bloodshot and your movements are creaky. You keep on dressing up and putting on a show at premieres to fool everyone into thinking everything’s still okay. But those who knew you best aren’t fooled. And we are distressed by your current state. We want you back.

In view of your recent shortcomings and reticence to continue on this regrettable path, I (and similarly-minded folk) have found someone else. World cinema is putting you to shame. Some smart independent features have also moved into town. There’s a whole galaxy of short films that few have seriously explored. There’s also several documentaries that are quite appealing and they are far more audacious than you ever were. Then there’s all of the wonderful entries from your own illustrious past to revisit. These and more shall keep me entertained while your fading light wanes in the encroaching night.

I don’t need you anymore. I have others who have not let me down yet. They are more interesting than you. I’m sorry. I confess that I was even beginning to create my own art toward the end. It was only because you were not giving me the stimulation I needed.

I really hate to end it like this, but you are the one who has ended it. If you come up with something original in the future I will always be available to view it, but I will be personally surprised if that day does indeed come.

Love Always,

BurrelloSubmarine

P.S. You still have a few of my shirts. I’ll be over later this week to collect them.