A look back at American counterculture and National Lampoon
January 30, 2015
To sit through "DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon" is, for those of an earlier generation, to relive a period in American countercultural history when, in the Large Hadron Collider of the mind, particles of iconoclasm were brought up to near the speed of light before smashing into the graphic and performance art of the day.
What we were left with back then was much more than what might be referred to now as "Love in the Time of Charlie Hebdo." No, as portrayed in Douglas Tirola’s wonderfully insightful and caring film history of the young, gifted, genius, wannabe-lunatics who both propelled and rode the comedic meteor that was National Lampoon, those were much headier times.
Born out of the Ivy League Harvard Lampoon and thrust into the mainstream once Douglas Kenny and Henry Beard graduated from school (but not their collective frat-humor ethic), National Lampoon emerged as part of a grand renaissance wherein not much, if anything was sacred, including racism, politics and sex. The skewer was always at the ready and loved its job description.
Screening in the Documentary Premieres category of Sundance 2015, "DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD" takes the great notion from its magazine inception onto its roller coaster ride through radio, vinyl, television and film.
The infusion of the Second City crowd of Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Christopher Guest and Chevy Chase into the mix and the subsequent explosion of the brand is quite well-documented in the film as are the highly-creative hijinks of those equally notorious, but lesser known, iconoclasts who populated the editorial gatherings.
There is plenty for everyone here, from the die-hard collector who has all the mags, archival box sets, posters and DVDs to those only now discovering the pure magic wrought by the highly inventive minds who, in more intoxicating times, orbited the nucleus of National Lampoon.
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The film is only too happy to take Lampoon neophytes by the hand and lead them down the rabbit hole where cutting-edge comedy flaunts its shtick through innovative artwork in comics and otherwise. Coupled with first-person narratives from those who were there when sophisticated-yet-raw humor exploded like a supernova, Tirola’s film should hit the bull’s-eye of its target demographic.
Others might argue, but I don’t see the coming of "Saturday Night Live" or even "Blues Brothers" or "Ghostbusters" without a thread of continuity leading directly back to National Lampoon magazine. Of course, it was this very same pillaging of talent by the networks and Hollywood that would, in the end, tragically dilute the original concoction.
Not to say there weren’t progenitors the likes of Lenny Bruce, Shelly Berman, and Mort Sahl, but prior to this bunch, there always seemed to be an event horizon threshold to the black hole of adult humor which could only be approached at one’s own peril. This outfit smashed those barricades to smithereens!
If you don’t want to wait for "DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD" to go into general release or hit your favorite cable or satellite outlet and don’t have a hard ticket to tonight’s screening at the Tower Theater, the "eWaitlist" on the Sundance mobile app has proven fruitful for many.
That being said, I’m planning on catching it again at least once more at some point. There are just too many levels upon which the film works to allow my, excuse the expression, cognitive powers to properly digest the important historical and hysterical data.
"DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon," is an entry in the Documentary Premieres category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It will screen Saturday, Jan. 31, at 9 p.m. at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City.
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