Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lieberman for President

Back in 1972, a young film-maker named Jeff Lieberman was working at King
Features, editing old Laurel and Hardy films for television, when an opportunity
arose to make his own film. The fine folks at Pepsi were looking for someone to
make an anti-drug film to use in a PR campaign (i.e. caffeine is not a
drug...see, we're against drugs). Unbeknownst to them, the person they hired
would give them back a film that was, at it's core, not only concerned with the
selling of drugs to kids, but is actually an attack on the way businesses market
many bad ideas to kids. Besides the evil drug pushers explaining how easy it is
to get kids to try their new drugs, Lieberman takes on the music business by
showing us how a big record label funds a studio band (led by the 1910 Fruitgum
Company's "Millionaire at 22" Elliot Chirut, composer of Yummy Yummy Yummy and
Simon Says), works at creating their image ("we have to put the first record out
on a small label, so the kids will think they discovered it") and uses the band to sell other bad ideas (nose rings...big ass nose
rings) to the ever impressionable kids. The film is called The Ringer, and it is
included as an extra on the DVD to Jeff Leibermans 1977 feature film Blue Sunshine.

The feature itself is almost just as compelling as the short, though it is hard
to explain the plot without giving too much away, suffice it to say that on the
outside it is also an anti-drug film, but much deeper is a film condemning the
lost opportunities of the 1960's counter-culture, as well as the vacuous 1970's
disco culture. Consequently, as Lieberman states on the commentary track, the
film was shown more times at CBGB's in 1977 than at any actual movie theatres.
The DVD also contains, on a separate disc, the soundtrack by Charles Gross. His
staccato 70's synth work mixes well with the lite jazz and cheesy disco also
featured in the film, making this disc almost as disturbing as the movie it
accompanied. The film itself was transferred from one of the few prints that actually still survives, and has been
cleaned up considerably, as shown on the before and after demo also included as
an extra. Two years before Blue Sunshine, Lieberman made his feature-length
debut with the best killer worm opus ever committed to celluloid. SQUIRM.

Forced by his low-budget to keep the actual on screen worm mayhem to a minimum,
Lieberman, as he cops to on the commentary track, opts to tell the story a' la a
Nancy Drew style mystery. The simple story of a fish-out-of-water New Yorker
(Don Scardino) finding love and killer worms in the deep south never can be told
too many times for me. The film is never boring and DON SCARDINO's performance
is quite endearing. After these two fine films, Lieberman directed only three more
features. 1980's Just Before Dawn (well above average teen slash'em up with amazing photography), 1985's Remote Control (direct to video disaster that the director absolutely hates) and 2004's Satans Little Helper (quite good serio-comic envisioning of video game as portal of Satan). At the end of Squirm, he promises to do either a remake or a sequel, if enough people let him know.