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[whitespace] By Richard von Busack

Compulsive Repetitions: An Evening With Martin Arnold
Plays March 28, 7:30pm at the San Francisco Art Institute

Austrian filmmaker Arnold hosts the West Coast premiere of Alone: Life Wastes Andy Hardy, in which excerpts from three of the wholesome Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies are slowed down and analyzed for their dark roots. Also: piece touchee and passage a l'acte, two previous kitsch-autopsies by Arnold.

Lenny Bruce

The last dangerous comedian is profiled in a two-week retrospective. Enrico Banducci, owner of the beatnik-era Hungry i nightclub, once wrote that Bruce was more of a preacher than a comedian. This view has become the standard way of looking at Bruce since his untimely death. Bruce's 1966 overdose, and the legal persecution presumed to lead to it, gives him the martyr's crown. But Bruce despised halos. As Pauline Kael, who had seen him live, wrote: "Bruce went to the farthest lengths he could dream up, not out of missionary motives, but out of a performer's zeal." To Bruce, everything was showbiz, from religion to politics. The best of his routines are about the contrast between the performer's public affability and private viciousness. Bruce's "Palladium" monologue (c. 1962) is probably his funniest bit. It describes a coarse New York comic trying to grease himself into a high-class London theater. The stony reaction of the swank crowd--"it's an oil painting out there!"--drives the comic into "risky" material. The strategy works too well, setting off a race riot of fistfights and vandalism. The point is that the comic doesn't understand that he's in the wrong place--as he's forced out of the club, he's whining, "I didn't get to do my fag-at-the-ballpark bit!" This was Bruce's delight--the self-obsession of all performers, from the Pope down to his own bad, pontificating self. Now, Robin Williams, for example, has made at least three movies about how the humble, misunderstood entertainer suffers for our sins. Watching the devolution of Williams, once a prime, risky comedian, is an example of why it's hard to encourage the canonization of St. Lenny. Though highly acclaimed, the Dustin Hoffman/Bob Fosse 1974 black-and-white bio film, Lenny (March 17-18), is, at heart, far too cuddly. Billed with Lenny is the 1953 Dance Hall Racket, a must-see relic featuring Bruce--looking uncharacteristically shy--his late mom, Sally Marr, and his wife, the ex-stripper Honey Harlowe. This no-budget gangland exposé is directed by the psychotronic film auteur Phil Tucker (Robot Monster, Rocket Jockey). On March 19 through April 1, the Roxie hosts the West Coast premiere of Robert Weide's Oscar-nominated Bruce biography: Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth. Robert DeNiro narrates this overview of the comedian's career on stage, screen and courtroom. (On March 21, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell The Truth is displaced by the Roxie's annual Oscars party. Imagine Bruce's reaction to that kind of upstaging.)

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From the March 15, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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