Monday, May 4, 2015

HotDocs 2015 Film Review - Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

National Lampoon like other media phenomenon's can trace it's roots back to Harvard University. The school had a magazine, the Harvard Lampoon that traces its origins back to 1870. Two Students Douglas Kenny and Henry Beard started out at the magazine before heading to New York and linking up with a publisher Matty Simmons to start National Lampoon in 1970.  The new magazine struggled to find it's footing with the first few issues until Michael Gross came aboard as Art Director creating the trademark realistic style of their spoof articles and spots. The magazine due to it's sophomore locker room humour still had difficulty attracting advertising until Gerard Taylor joined the staff.

The magazine soared in popularity with the core creative team in place. Two of the major contributors to the magazine early success were writers Michael O'Donoghue and Sean Kelly. Kenny and Beard worked double digit hour days to get the publication right each month but the staff also played hard as girls, drugs and alcohol were always flowing freely.  Early creative meeting consisted of the contributors getting completely intoxicated then getting down to discussing new stories for that months publication.

Director Douglas Tirola's film is a visual and musical trip back to the late sixties and early seventies. Triola mixed in stories from many of the original participants at the magazines, performers from spin off projects and current day comedic heavyweights about their thoughts on and influences of National Lampoon. The eyes are peppered with fast moving shots of magazine articles or one off cartoons that will make the viewer, gasp, groan but mostly laugh with an underlying realization that in todays politically correct world these topics would not even been brought up in mixed company let alone make it into and be celebrated in a magazine. One famous cartoons suggested that Teddy Kennedy could have been president if only he was driving a Volkswagen at Chappaquiddick. Another issue featured a Hitler lookalike residing on a tropical island with natives dressed in Nazi gear.

The wave of talent kept coming to the magazine in the mid seventies.  Chief among them P. J. O'Rourke who would go on to the the most successful editor of the monthly. The talent and ideas were so abundant the magazine branched out to a radio show that gave a voice to performers such as Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Harold Ramis. Ivan Reitman eventual joined to directed this troop when their touring stage presentation started to catch steam and was met with great resistance at the outset. The publishers were approached by NBC who were planning a late night show to run it on their behalf.  The Lampoon brass turned them down. NBC instead hired Lorne Michael who lifted much of the Lampoon touring performers, acts and writers to create Saturday Night Live.

Tirola also touches on the early film success of the company going into detail of the background of the movie Animal House. The studio was resistant to the idea, the dailies and the hiring of John Landis to direct. Lampoon staffers played many of the secondary roles in the film. The genesis of Animal House could be traced back to a 1973 feature in the magazine entailed high school year book. The writers played the different types of people you meet in high school for a full year's worth of high school events. The first treatment for Animal House started in High School, then made it's way to College to become  the famous film.  The narrative also touches on Caddyshack that was really a Lampoon film as it starred members of the radio, touring stage group and was written by Doug Kenny who caddied at a golf club in his youth.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is an epic production that gives the background rise and fall of a culturally significant publication. The documentary touches on the creative talent of the key contributors, speaks to their skin of successes in Television and film and does not glamorize the consequences of the quirky behaviour of staff members or the inevitable negative consequences of the indulgence in excess of the group.  It's a film that has all the great elements that a story and venture require and a film that I can highly recommend.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon | Douglas Triola | U.S.A. / U.K. | 2015 | 98 Minutes.

Tags; Harvard,  New York,  60's, 70's, Magazine, Off Broadway, Radio Show, Film, Drugs, Breasts.

No comments:

Post a Comment