Vintage Cable Box: “The Twelve Chairs, 1970”

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“I hate people I don’t like!”

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The Twelve Chairs, 1970 (Ron Moody), Universal Marion Corporation

While ostensibly labeled a “Mel Brooks comedy”, The Twelve Chairs, the under-appreciated 1970 follow up to The Producers, and essentially a lively chase across the then brand-new Soviet Union, the narrative follows devastatingly dramatic and tragic narrative beats. Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody, in a brilliant performance) was, at one time, of noble Russian blood; an aristocrat, who held vast properties, large mansions, whole swaths of acreage; acquiring treasures from around the world, but this was before the Bolshevik Revolution when all private property (for some strange reason) became public property. That is to say the “property of the People”; the people being the communist government.

When the communists came to power, they seized everything, including a garish dining room set consisting of a table and twelve chairs.  Before Vorobyaninov’s mother-in-law dies, she tells him of fabulous jewels that she sewed into the cushion of one of the chairs.  She also spills the secret to Priest Fyodor (Dom DeLuise, oddly out of place in this movie), who promptly shaves his ridiculous beard and abandons the church to find the jewels.  For reasons that are never explained, thief and con-man Ostap (Frank Langella, in his film debut), gets wise to the booty and hooks up with Vorobyaninov to find the chairs before Fyodor does.  This mission sends them to bizarre places, like the hilarious “Museum of Furniture” (where the chairs were recently on display) only to find they’ve been split and sold off.  Ostap poses as a clerk, forges the sales records and sends Fyodor off on a wild-goose-chase, where he terrorizes a beleaguered couple he is convinced possess the remaining chairs.

While Vorobyaninov and Ostap bond, in my view, they are at cross-purposes.  In a telling scene near the end of The Twelve Chairs, they argue and come to blows when Ostap suggests they beg for the money to purchase the remainder of the chairs.  Ostap schemes that Vorobyaninov should pretend to suffer epilepsy and then they will take money from sympathetic pedestrians.  Vorobyaninov is adamant in his refusal.  He is nobility, he insists.  Ostap labels him a parasite, and (almost proudly) proclaims that he has begged his whole life.  Vorobyaninov relents.  Now he knows what it means to beg, and while his pride may be wounded, he knows this is the only way to survive.  While Ostap is interested only for the riches, I believe Vorobyaninov wants to simply retain his dignity.  It is an incisive revelation, and occurs in a Mel Brooks movie at a time when we don’t know if we should laugh or cry.

Even more shocking is Fyodor.  A man of the cloth transformed very quickly into a monster at the first thought of riches.  As the concept of communism crept into Russia, notions of materialism (and more importantly, god concepts) deteriorated under the ideology of labor and financial equality, thus eliminating the need for God (or, as my wife, speculated, “the promise of riches and eternal happiness in Heaven”).  Father Fyodor exists as an anomaly; something that should not exist in the Godless Soviet Union.  Once he has made the leap to the greed and inequities of Man, the surprising cynicism of Brooks’ screenplay (based upon Ilf and Petrov’s classic piece of folklore and legend) becomes more pronounced, and also, curiously satisfying.  Where Fyodor has lost his humanity because of his greed,  Vorobyaninov has found his humanity when he realizes his survival depends on his greed.

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Ron Moody as Vorobyaninov delivers what is, in my mind, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) performances in the history of cinema for the modern age. Vorobyaninov is a miserable little man desperately holding on to outdated notions of honor and imperalism. His face lights up at the prospect of taking back the jewels. He suffers embarrassments at the hands of Ostap who shames him for his lack of vision and street-smarts. He expresses violent rage at the thought of demeaning himself, and then he eventually acquiesces to the lunacy of the situation. This is an incredible rendition of a man who turns his back to the “progress” of the new socioeconomic order. While Brooks’ outstanding screenplay adaptation was nominated for the WGA Award, and Langella won a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor, Moody was robbed of any nominations or awards, which is staggering to me.

Even more staggering is that this is a Mel Brooks movie. There are the requisite sight gags (with emphasis on stand-alone visual cues), and silly sped-up chasing and action sequences, and memorable one-liners (as well as a Mel Brooks cameo), but the emphasis of this story rests in the tragedy of the old man, not the manic machinations of the corrupted priest. This is a cynical film, but stays true to the Brooks philosophy of the corruption of power, and the overwhelming dominance of greed.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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New Episode! “The White Album, Disc Two”

Disc-Two

Blind Dog, Blind Cat : Tribulus terrestris : And The Oscar Goes Too… :
Driving in the Snow : My Mama Said
Birthdays and Star Wars : Healthcare and Taxes
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump : English Berry Trifle

“Martha My Dear” Perfect Piano Intro Tutorial by Christopher Stovakovic from YouTube (Lennon/McCartney), Sally Field winning an Oscar® for “Places in the Heart”, “Sexy Sadie” by pianojohn113 from YouTube (Lennon/McCartney), “Good Night” (Lennon/McCartney) by Linda Ronstadt

New Episode! “The White Album, Disc One”

Disc-One

Vegas, Baby! : Polonium In Every Pocket : Slave-Picked Shrimp Gumbo
That Rickman Dude : Every Restaurant Called “Saffron”
The Continuing Story of Bernie Sanders
Thin White Duke : Having Fun In Harney County

“Fletch” (a 1985 film starring Chevy Chase), “Back In The U.S.S.R.” by the Dead Kennedys(Lennon/McCartney), “Glass Onion” by Cajun Cook (Lennon/McCartney), An Evening With Kevin Smith, “Ashes To Ashes” by Warpaint (David Bowie), “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” by Cassie Willson from YouTube (Lennon/McCartney).

“You Can’t Kill What You Don’t Understand”

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Tonight, Andrew and I discuss the candidates, Democrats and Republicans, but as with every conversation about this topic, we eventually talk Trump, and nothing but Trump!  This is the second take of the conversation because our first talk got so heated we had to re-record it just for the sake of getting our divergent view-points on the record.

BlissVille Fridays: “Protect This Rocket House (And All Who Dwell Within The Rocket House)”

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OUR 50TH EPISODE!

I wanted to talk a little about Socialism, not the original Socialism, those tenets of Charles Fourier or the French Ideals, it was actually the French and the British that were the first adopters of the economic system of Socialism, not Marx or Lenin or any of that – our friendly neighborhood idiots would have you believe Communism and Socialism are one in the same – they are not, we’re talking the separation of economics and government, for one thing – but rather, the American doctrine, the system supported by people like Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, to name one.

There seems to be a disconnect in the very definition of the word. Many people are not aware of what Socialism truly represents. These are very interesting theories that could not be put into practice today, in these United States, in this iteration, mainly because we’ve gotten used to the idea of Capitalism. Think about this way – if you make money, and you want to keep your money so you can buy, oh I don’t know, stuff – you can’t be a Socialist. If you want to stand in line and buy the latest iPhone, you can’t be a Socialist.

It should go without saying (at this point) that Andrew and I have fairly loose tongues and we tend to pepper our speech with obscenity and profanity.  This is because we record a podcast in an atmosphere where we like to be comfortable.  If you are easily offended by harsh or foul language and terse pronouncements, don’t listen.