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DVD UPDATE: Andy Kaufman lives!
April 27, 2010  | By Diane Werts

andy kaufman wrestling dvd.jpgTwo of the coolest, and rarest, things on TV are surprise and ambiguity. Not just "We're soooo complex" surprise/ambiguity, but real, stunning "What the bleep is happening?!"

Two words: Andy Kaufman.

And not the comfy foreign guy of Taxi. The weird, inexplicable, scary, confrontational Andy of all those Saturday Night Live appearances. He was merely weird lip-synching the Mighty Mouse theme on the sketchfest's 1975 premiere. But he was absolute hate-mail bait in 1979 when he started challenging women to wrestling matches.

The new DVD Andy Kaufman: World Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion flashes us back to those crazy days of is-it-or-isn't-it performance art. Andy took it from sketch bit to the pro wrestling ring to pop culture controversy. After he started offering $1,000 and his hand in marriage to any woman who could pin him, he became a lightning rod. SNL actually had viewers vote on whether Andy should be allowed back on the show. With nearly 400,000 votes cast, he lost.

This hour compilation doesn't include the SNL footage (rights issues?), but its collection of actual wrestling bouts and bluster is interwoven with something yet more amazing -- intimate interview footage in which Kaufman seems to be speaking sincerely (another guise?) about the whole thing. He says he wanted to hark back to the days of the traveling carnival, when a grappler would challenge members of the local audience. But Kaufman couldn't challenge men. He'd lose. So he challenged women instead.

That brainstorm fit perfectly into Andy's characters-and-hoaxes comedy style, which also presented us with abusive lounger singer Tony Clifton, the foreign man who morphed into Taxi's Latka, and, lest we forget, the lingering notion that Kaufman may have staged his own 1984 cancer death and continues to roam the earth pranking us all.

We should be so lucky.

The MicroWerks DVD also includes a bonus hour of Kaufman's wrestling rants at The Comedy Store. It's poor-quality home video, but a rich look at a master doing his thing.

Other DVDs out April 27:

i love lucy movie rarities dvd.jpgI Love Lucy: The Movie and Other Great Rarities -- If you've got the complete series set, you've already got this disc. It's the bonus compilation led by an early '50s movie stitched together for the European market from three existing I Love Lucy episodes plus new connecting footage. The coolest goodie here is probably the recently colorized episode "Lucy Goes to Scotland." It's really accurately colorized -- no, really! -- and offers a glimpse of what the series might have looked like had color TV already been perfected.

Earth Days -- This is last week's American Experience documentary, plus commentary from director Robert Stone (and also his 1972 film Pollution). The non-narrated history takes a lyrical look at the trashing of our country's ecology by 20th century "progress," and the environmental movement that sprang up to stop it. Illustrating the tale is lots of cool vintage footage, of such high-quality color that it effectively becomes a sort of you-are-there time trip. Stone's approach is clear-eyed, too, noting not just industrial despoiling but also the naive missteps of early save-the-planet idealists. Highly recommended.

It's Garry Shandling's Show -- For those who opted not to get the complete series box released last October, Shout Factory is now releasing single season sets of Shandling's savvy rule-breaking '80s Showtime delight (later seen on Fox). He takes us into his confidence playing a heightened version of himself -- a standup comic living in a Sherman Oaks condo -- for a winking mockery/homage to both suburban sitcom cliches and showbiz itself.




Gregg B said:

I don't know if this was mentioned in the documentary but Andy Kaufman and Debbie Harry were in a very strange Broadway show in 1983 called "Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap." The Nederlander theater was gutted and made into a wrestling ring with bleachers all around the ring. Harry was Teaneck Tanzi and Kaufman played the Ref. The show closed after one performance. I saw it in previews and the highlight of the show for me was not the performance but seeing a young (and shy) Eddie Murphy sitting directly behind me in the audience.

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