Harry Shearer On ClintonTV… Steve Allen On TV’s New Vulgarity …Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Harry Shearer On ClintonTV

Writer and actor Harry Shearer spoke to NYTV from his home in Santa Monica, Calif., on a day when he was reveling in the TV coverage of the Clinton mess.…

“You and I are talking right in the middle of what I like about TV, which is a time when, for better or worse, something that purports to be reality comes through in something like real time. What I hate is all the ease of editing which has given people with no taste or judgment in what should be in or out, way too much ability to make those choices. At times like these or the O.J. trial or Iran-contra, you get this vast wash of real-time stuff that has not been predigested.”…

Mr. Shearer appeared on The Jack Benny Show as a child, went on to be in the cast of Saturday Night Live and now works regularly as the voice of Ned Flanders, Burns, Smithers, Otto the bus driver, Principal Skinner and other recurring characters on The Simpsons . He’s also putting together a computer animated show for HBO-it will be a hodgepodge of documentary stuff lifted off the tube and spliced together in surprising ways.…

How do the shows he’s worked on compare? “Compared to Jack Benny and The Simpsons , there was much more drug use at SNL ,” he said. “You know, I think that Jack Benny was the most intelligent person that I’ve ever been around in show biz. He had such a deep understanding of comedy and how shows work and how a star can benefit from having people around him get laughs, which is contrary to what a lot of people in show business think. And having been exposed to him at such an early age, it’s frustrating to be around people who now think they invented comedy.”…

Do you have a philosophy of comedy? “I don’t view humor as a trivial craft. It can get to the most important and the most heartfelt stuff without being heartless, but I also think that there is nothing funnier than reality. So that one way, I see my job as taking the boring parts out and distilling the great stuff of reality. I have to convince myself that this might really happen, I have to compare what we’re going through with the fiction of Wag the Dog .” Mr. Shearer said he found the unfolding Clinton drama to be “so much better, even ignoring the fact that it’s real time and live action; the standard is really high in terms of the richness and the perversity of human behavior.”…

What about Clinton? “Here’s my theory as of 1:00 today: Clinton’s reputation as a womanizer is so intense and so widespread that he has begun to attract to himself women who are attracted to men like that. So it’s the worst of both worlds. It beggars the imagination that he would be so absolutely careless to leave messages on her answering machine.” Hear Harry on The Simpsons tonight-a rerun in which Marge pretends to be Apu’s wife. [Sunday, Feb. 1, WNYW, 5, 8 P.M.]

Steve Allen On TV’s New Vulgarity

Steve Allen, who appeared with wife Jayne Meadows on Homicide recently, was back in Manhattan, at Carnegie Hall, for the 80th-birthday bash in honor of Skitch Henderson, the conductor of the original Tonight Show band. Mr. Allen grew up in Chicago and lives in Los Angeles, but was born in Harlem and this is where he made his name as host and inventor of the first late-night television talk show in 1954 (Jack Paar took it over in 1957). He spoke to NYTV about the TV biz then versus now.…

“There are ways that it’s better now than in the golden age, but that’s because the golden age was largely comedy-Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar-you can’t get any funnier than Sid Caesar. But now almost anyone can land on their feet and do well on a sitcom. But all the cop shows, Homicide and all the Bochco shows, are really good entertainment.”…

But Mr. Allen doesn’t like the vulgarity he sees on television: “If you simply look into our cultural history, the last 50 or 100 years, I don’t think anyone could have ever imagined the present vulgarization of popular culture. In the old days, one was punished for this behavior. You’re too young, but in the 20’s, there was a man named Fatty Arbuckle and a prostitute who died after a wild party after she was approached with a Coca-Cola bottle and died because she bled to death … But this world is so comparatively depraved, he would probably end up doing a commercial for Pepsi.” Tonight on Homicide , the squad tries to solve the murders of politically active priests. [Friday, Jan. 30, WNBC, 4, 10 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Not to overwork the point, but I’m afraid the only absolutely unqualified work of art this week-that I haven’t previously recommended-is by Jean Renoir (see below). However, there are some cultish favorites. David O. Selznick produced (and co-scripted and even directed bits of) 1946’s western epic Duel in the Sun [Wednesday, Jan. 28, AMC, 46, 11:15 P.M.] in a wild, headlong attempt to outdo in every way his success seven years earlier with the epoch-making Gone With the Wind , as well as to forever extinguish (his then-lover) Jennifer Jones’ wholesome Song of Bernadette image (a 1943 Oscar to her for that) and replace it with Sex Goddess of All Time. To pull this off, he hired master filmmaker King Vidor and then proceeded to second-guess him to death. Nevertheless, though Vidor eventually quit in disgust, he did manage to just about make Selznick’s conceit work, and there’s a highly charged sense of sexual tension throughout, an intoxicated, somewhat stylized spin on the material. Gregory Peck was never again both so disreputable or so attractive, and Jones, too, let herself go as she would only do one other time (though not as far), again for King Vidor, in Ruby Gentry (1952). Over all, if you don’t take Duel too seriously, it’s a lot of fun, with a terrific supporting cast that includes Joseph Cotten, Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, Lillian Gish and Harry Carey. For 30’s Americana, set in a small post-Civil War town straddling North and South sentiments, there’s one of John Ford’s most personal early talkies, 1934’s Judge Priest [Friday, Jan. 30, WLIW, 21, 2:40 A.M.] , starring the man who was at that time probably the most popular American in the world, Will Rogers. From today’s perspective, the picture is hopelessly incorrect politically-Stepin Fetchit alone doing his stuff can infuriate people; yet, interestingly, Keenen Ivory Wayans and other prominent Afro-Americans have recently taken a newer look at the comic brilliance of these once-popular black stars, to remove the “Uncle Tom” label so unfairly attached to them. Ford encouraged Rogers in his tendency to ad lib and, as a result, the picture, though clearly dated at times, has a kind of improvisational freshness, as well as the director’s signature ability to evoke tears over bygone times. Also from Ford, five years later, comes the upstate New York Revolutionary War saga, Drums Along the Mohawk [Sunday, Feb. 1, AMC, 5:45 P.M.] . His first film in color-Ford always preferred black and white, though he made a number of the best color pictures-Drums is not up there with Stagecoach or Young Mr. Lincoln , all three of them, amazingly, released in the same 1939 calendar year. But with beautiful Henry Fonda and witty Claudette Colbert, as well as an excellent cast that includes Edna May Oliver at her best, the picture is lively and likable and features a number of Fordian images and sequences.

The Renoir Watch: As Ingrid Bergman’s personal and professional life with Italian director Roberto Rossellini was coming to a painful end, and while her American career was in eclipse, Jean Renoir offered her a 19th-century romantic comedy to star in, and the subsequent film’s success in Europe re-established her commercial appeal there: 1956’s Elena and Her Men [Friday, Jan. 30, CUNY, 75, 10 P.M.] never really opened properly in America, and that same year saw the release of 20th Century Fox’s live-action Anastasia , which won Bergman her second Oscar and the forgiveness (for running off with Rossellini) of the press and public. Renoir’s Elena (originally released in the United States as Paris Does Strange Things ) is by far the better film, of course, and was the director’s final buoyant look at his painter-father’s past as memorialized in those beautiful paintings. Mel Ferrer and French star Jean Marais co-starred with the divine Ingrid, who never looked lovelier than in this heartfelt tribute to her passionate ability to overcome any and all male obstacles.

Harry Shearer On ClintonTV… Steve Allen On TV’s New Vulgarity …Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week