christopher guest

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Okkervil River: The Stage Names (UN Spin)

Okkervil River: The Stage Names (UN Spin)

At his most dramatic, OkkRiver singer Will Sheff sounds like a heavily caffeinated Richard Thompson (the ripping opener Our Life is Not A Movie) or Morrissey with a very nasty attitude (on Unless It Kicks which is like a seriously angry Smiths). His voice is pushed to its upper register and he sings with a passion that is rare. That both of...

Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords (SubPop)

Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords (SubPop)

Comedy albums are usually good for two plays. Tops. But this collection of songs which parody artists (Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, the Stylistics among them) or genres (hip-hop, 70s soul) is astute, cleverly produced and so lyrically and musically layered that it has been commanding airplay around my place in the weeks since the advance copy...

John Clarke: The Fred Dagg All-Purpose DVD and Music CD (Screenline)

John Clarke: The Fred Dagg All-Purpose DVD and Music CD (Screenline)

The genius of John Clarke in channeling rural culture and dry observations through his character Fred Dagg hasn't diminished in the two decades-plus since Dagg made his first appearance.In part that is because there was a droll social and political observation woven into Dagg's view of the world. Dagg was a character with limitations of course...

BENNY HILL: A man out of time

BENNY HILL: A man out of time

When writer Tom Hibbert sought out Benny Hill in the early 90s for a “who the hell does Benny Hill think he is?” magazine article, he found the shy, defensive star tucking into cod and chips in a pub surrounded by old friends. That was the odd thing about Benny Hill who died in 1992: he was desperately ordinary to the point of...

STEVEN SPIELBERG'S DUEL: The open road as a death trap

STEVEN SPIELBERG'S DUEL: The open road as a death trap

The best suspense movies can be very simple. There’s a lot you can do with a baby sitter, a telephone and a threatening phone call. Or two people abandoned at sea. The chill factor in the low-budget but still gripping Open Water - which engaged and terrified audiences in the mid 90s - came from a combination of primal fear and the...

THE MONTY PYTHON AUTOBIOGRAPHY by THE PYTHONS(2003)

THE MONTY PYTHON AUTOBIOGRAPHY by THE PYTHONS(2003)

The shadow of the Beatles is cast long over Monty Python's Flying Circus. The late George Harrison always said he felt something of the band's spirit passed to Monty Python, which appeared on television as the Beatles were breaking up, and Paul McCartney would stop recording to watch the show. Harrison later underwrote the Pythons' Life of...

ROGER CORMAN INTERVIEWED (2006): It's a gas. gas, gas-s-s-s

ROGER CORMAN INTERVIEWED (2006): It's a gas. gas, gas-s-s-s

Roger Corman is the King of the B Grade Movie. He has directed and/or produced hundreds of films, claims he shot his cult classic Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in two days and one night, and usually brought in a movie in less than 10 days. He would often shoot sequences for two films simultaneously to save on costs and actors would also work in...

F FOR FAKE, a film by ORSON WELLES (Madman DVD): Rooms full of mirrors and smoke

F FOR FAKE, a film by ORSON WELLES (Madman DVD): Rooms full of mirrors and smoke

The context of this curious film needs to be sketched in before the innocent venture into its bewildering chicanery and capriciously obscuring nature. Made in the early Seventies and one of the last films that Welles, a notorious unfinisher, actually completed, it is on one level a look at the life of the art forger Elmyr de Hory (if...

THE FLAMING LIPS' WAYNE COYNE INTERVIEWED (2004): In search of the miraculous

THE FLAMING LIPS' WAYNE COYNE INTERVIEWED (2004): In search of the miraculous

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is in his kitchen in Oklahoma City saying he likes that rock'n'roll is a broad church. It allows alternative music to co-exist with MTV and pop radio. "I don't want the world to be just made up of music like the Flaming Lips, White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I like that rock'n'roll is an uncontrollable...

CORNER GAS (Madman DVD): A whole lot of nothing

CORNER GAS (Madman DVD): A whole lot of nothing

It is a peculiar thing that Corner Gas -- a wry, understated and very droll Canadian comedy series -- isn't screened on New Zealand television. It has many similarities in its humour to that of Flight of the Conchords, not the least in its gentle wit, the slightly confused and often naive characters, and the similarity between what Canadians...

Flight of the Conchords: I Told You I Was Freaky (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

Flight of the Conchords: I Told You I Was Freaky (SubPop/Rhythmethod)

In retrospect, one of the funniest incidents in the Flight of the Conchords' second television series was when the nice but naive New Zealand prime minister Brian turned up and seemed out of his depth, and desperate to be liked. Who knew that the actual PM John Key would later turn up on Letterman looking alarmingly like Brian? But the...

THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO a film by JAMES L. WALCOTT (1958) (Triton DVD)

THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO a film by JAMES L. WALCOTT (1958) (Triton DVD)

Everyone is allowed their guilty secrets when it comes to bad movies: I have an unnatural affection for Zardoz (Sean Connery in the future somewhere) and The Long Ships (in which Sidney Poitier seems to swim from somewhere Moorish to the land of the Vikings). These are stupid but fun and allow you plenty of couchtime to add up the continuity...

Peter Sellers; The Trumpet Volunteer (1958)

Peter Sellers; The Trumpet Volunteer (1958)

There has been a long tradition of mocking the pretentions of rock and pop singers, which isn't that hard. Many of them take themselves very seriously. When National Lampoon for example got stuck into a Pink Floyd-like musician who wanted to create a massive rock opera (on their '75 album Goodbye Pop, helmed by Christopher Guest of Spinal...

Stan Freberg: The Old Payola Roll Blues (1960)

Stan Freberg: The Old Payola Roll Blues (1960)

While British commentators congratulate their culture on its history of comedy and satire (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, David Frost, Peter Cook, Monty Python et al) they conspiciously fail to note that America had a similar, but often darker and more biting, tradition. Stan Freberg was -- although at the time of this writing he is still...

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, a film by SACHA GERVASI

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, a film by SACHA GERVASI

The story of this rock documentary -- or "rockumentary, if you will" -- is so soaked in parallels to the fictional Spinal Tap that you cannot help notice and mention it. But let's not because at heart here there is another and better story than a real life version of a parody. Anvil is a great story of love and faith: the love of...

National Lampoon: I'm A Woman (1975)

National Lampoon: I'm A Woman (1975)

Before they got into movies like Animal House and the Vacation series (with Chevy Chase), National Lampoon was a satirical magazine which also delivered a very funny sideline in records such as Lemmings (which skewered Woodstock). One of their funniest albums, but hard to find unfortunately as it doesn't appear to be on CD reissue anywhere,...

Age of Consent: Fight Back Rap (1983)

Age of Consent: Fight Back Rap (1983)

Who said the gay power movement lacked humour? Quite the opposite in fact, and humour is a powerful weapon. This one-off appeared on the Harvey Kubernick-curated double album English as a Second Language in 1983 on Freeway Records, another in his series of recordings of poets and spoken word artists from LA which included people like Jeffrey...

Alfred E Neuman: It's a Gas (1963)

Alfred E Neuman: It's a Gas (1963)

There's the widely held if rather snooty view that fart noises and belching are only amusing to adolescent boys. This rather ignores the obvious: that there will always be adolescent boys, and even more people who have been adolescent boys. Which perhaps explains the enduring if low appeal of this outing by Mad magazine's Alfred E Neuman....

CORNER GAS; SEASON THREE (Madman DVD)

CORNER GAS; SEASON THREE (Madman DVD)

Does Canada make the most consistently interesting but largely unseen television programmes? Possibly: any country which can give the world The Beachcombers (filmed in quaint Gibsons and sold to 50 countries in the Seventies) and also the very droll Corner Gas (sold to considerably fewer) gets my vote as a nation which has found its points...

SPINAL TAP, NIGEL TUFNEL INTERVIEWED (1992): The wind cries Spinal

SPINAL TAP, NIGEL TUFNEL INTERVIEWED (1992): The wind cries Spinal

Rock history is littered with legendary bands, some more legendary than others. Some of these legends will live for ever, others even longer. But there is one rock hand which stands above all others, the most legendary of all legends. It is, in a word, Spinal Tap. The story of Spinal Tap is now part of rock’s rich tapestry, an...

Anna Russell: Folk Songs (1952)

Anna Russell: Folk Songs (1952)

With her beautifully modulated tones and remarkable voice -- which went from a soprano squeal to a screech quite effortlessly -- Anna Russell was an enormously popular comedy-cum-classical act in the Fifties. She would poke fun at Wagner and contemporary classical music equally: of the latter she said it was music for the singer who was tone...

Groucho Marx: Churchill, Chicago critics (1972)

Groucho Marx: Churchill, Chicago critics (1972)

The great Groucho has been so often copied (Alan Alda, Welcome Back Kotter etc) and parodied down the decades we forget how irreverent he was in his day. By the time of this recording however he was an old man and just five years away from his death at 86. Yet remarkably he undertook this stand-up show at Carnegie Hall and other venues where...

Mel Brooks: To Be Or Not To Be; The Hitler Rap (1984)

Mel Brooks: To Be Or Not To Be; The Hitler Rap (1984)

Very few people -- and arguably only Jewish comedians? -- can get away with making fun of Hitler and the Nazis. Mel Brooks has been relentless in his ridicule which some find tasteless and others say is a necessary corrective. Whichever way you cut it, it is dark humour which Brooks makes seem genuinely funny. By way of comparison, is...

Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam: Is 'e an Aussie, is 'e Lizzy (the Thirties?)

Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam: Is 'e an Aussie, is 'e Lizzy (the Thirties?)

This is one of those songs which, once heard, is never forgotten: how can you ever erase lines like "seems this digger likes my figure" or "he being well-born, lived in Melbourne". Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (not to be confused with the metal band of similar name, of course) were a UK-based comedy duo of the Twenties and...

LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE, a film by SHANE MEADOWS (Madman DVD)

LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE, a film by SHANE MEADOWS (Madman DVD)

Many rock musicians don't need much help to appear stupid. (The court calls Nikki Sixx.) But there has been a long line of films and television shows which parody or poke fun at musicians and their apparent lack of smarts, or even a sense of reality. Bad News, The Rutles, the classic Spinal Tap, Hunting Venus, Fear of a Black Hat (which...

Laibach: Get Back (1988)

Laibach: Get Back (1988)

The Beatles might have been about "peace and bloody love" as a droll Ringo noted at the end of the Anthology DVD series. But in the hands of Laibach out of what we used to call Yugoslavia of the late Eighties, their music sounded like it was ready to invade Poland. Laibach -- in a thoroughly post-modern and ironic manner...

Tiny Tim: We Love It/When I Walk With You (1968)

Tiny Tim: We Love It/When I Walk With You (1968)

If you were there at the time, Tiny Tim was novelty act: the long-haired eccentric with a ukulele singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips in an impossibly high falsetto. But that was the late Sixties for you, a time when the retro sound of Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band and I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman by Whistling Jack Smith could...

Bugotak: Kon Togethy (2006)

Bugotak: Kon Togethy (2006)

We could fill the bottomless black hole that is From the Vaults with just oddball versions of Beatles songs. (So far we have been restrained, just Laibach, cartoon character Elmer Fudd and the Beatles Barkers *). But this track is irresistible. Bugotak is a Russian group which plays Siberian instruments, guitars, Chinese flutes and...

THE BARGAIN BUY: Flight of the Conchords: I Told You I Was Freaky (Sub Pop)

THE BARGAIN BUY: Flight of the Conchords: I Told You I Was Freaky (Sub Pop)

Writing parody songs is harder than it seems -- one Neil Young is possible but then try for Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, Hendrix etc. Yet the Flight of the Conchords accomplish it with what seems an effortlessness, which just shows how smart they are. This album was given a major review at Elsewhere on release (here) so we needn't go over the...

Stan Freberg: Rock Island Line (1956)

Stan Freberg: Rock Island Line (1956)

Because a parody only works if you know the original it might be useful to check out the video clip here (kinda cute in its own way) before playing American comedian Freberg's poke at it. The original of Rock Island Line was by Leadbelly in the Thirties but Donegan's version of 1955 was emblematic of the skiffle era in Britain where young...

THE GREATEST LOST ALBUM IN ROCK? (2011): The remarkable story of The Voyage of the Corvus Corrone

THE GREATEST LOST ALBUM IN ROCK? (2011): The remarkable story of The Voyage of the Corvus Corrone

In late 1976 keyboard player Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock band Yes – riding a string of solo successes with his prog-rock concept albums The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Citizen Kane – gave a revealing interview to the British magazine New Music Maker in which he described his...

Lenny and Squiggy: Foreign Legion of Love (1979)

Lenny and Squiggy: Foreign Legion of Love (1979)

You don't dig into From the Vaults looking for good taste or class, but you do find oddities like this which resonates on many levels throughout rock culture. Lenny and Squiggy were the dumbcluck characters in the television show Laverne and Shirley and had very little to recommend them as on-screen characters. They were hammy klutzes who...

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