Thursday, July 13, 2006

Do I Have To Do This All Over Again? (To Quote The Monkees)

Welcome to Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot 2.0. I'm your host, Marty McKee. I presume most of you reading this post have followed me from the old Crane Shot over at Tripod, but if not, let me take this opportunity to say thank you for reading this far. If you're just discovering this blog, follow this link to catch up on the last 19 months or so of my life, which mainly consists of watching terrible movies and old TV shows. I don't really discuss too much of a personal nature here; I'm just not wired that way.

In case you're curious about the name of the blog, I'm reprinting below an early posting from the old Tripod site that kinda sets the stage.

So. Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot. When I was a kid, as many teenage boys are, especially one who are funny (hey, I wasn't voted Farmer City-Mansfield's Class of `84 Class Clown for nothin'...), I was very interested in comedy. I used to watch Carson's monologue and opening desk bit, and try to repeat the jokes at school the next day. Carnac and Art Fern were my favorite Carson bits. Of course, I watched all the great sitcoms of the period--THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, TAXI, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, M*A*S*H. There were still some good variety shows on the air that regularly featured greats like Carol Burnett and Tim Conway and Dick Van Dyke. Dean Martin roasts. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE was at its creative peak during its first five years and has never recovered. And there was SCTV NETWORK 90 (soon retitled just SCTV).

I think most people who watched SCTV in the early '80s considered it their own personal secret. SCTV actually began on Canadian television in the late '70s, but was brought to NBC in 1981 to air after THE TONIGHT SHOW on Friday nights in a 90-minute format. The cast was brilliant, so much so that all are still active in showbiz today (at least as much as they want to be): Joe Flaherty, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (Martin Short joined later in the season). At age 14 and 15, I don't recall any of my friends staying up to watch SCTV; I felt as though I was the only one I knew who was special enough to "get" it. SCTV was eventually discovered by the mass media (who eventually put them in LIFE and ROLLING STONE), but at the beginning, nobody knew about the show (and its ratings were never very big, as only a dedicated cult audience was watching).

One of many brilliant bits of that first season began in an early sketch called "Polynesiantown". It was a parody of CHINATOWN, and starred Candy's character Johnny LaRue as a bar owner. SCTV was a collection of TV, movie and commercial parodies, but it also featured regular characters who appeared in wraparound segments. LaRue was a wannabe matinee idol, a playboy failed-movie-star who was reduced to making TV-movies for the SCTV network, and "Polynesiantown" was one he wrote, directed, produced and starred in. Featuring a wild plot involving poisoned ribs and musical numbers by Dr. John, "Polynesiantown" is among Season One's crown jewels. But it's what happened later that led to its legacy as much as the sketch itself.

Candy, who also conceived the sketch, ended it with a complicated crane shot that took hours to film and left the cast and crew freezing at 3:00am on an Edmonton night. It also ran the episode over-budget, forcing an angry missive from NBC. So SCTV weaved the real-life incident into their show, with station owner Guy Caballero (Flaherty) chewing out LaRue on the next episode for going over budget and firing him. A blubbering sycophantic LaRue finally convinced Guy for another shot, which turned out to be "Street Beef", which allowed Johnny only one camera and one microphone. Johnny begged for a crane, but Guy refused to relent.

This series of gags ran through much of the first season, finally climaxing in the Christmas show, which found LaRue outside alone on Christmas Eve doing "Street Beef" all alone without even a cameraman. Drunk, freezing (it really was damn cold during that snowy Edmonton night shoot) and depressed, LaRue delivered an amazingly funny and poignant monologue directly into the lens (Candy really was a helluvan actor). At the end of it, he had a epiphany of sorts, and discovered that Santa Claus had gifted him with his very own crane, complete with red ribbon, reducing LaRue to tears.

SCTV fans remember LaRue and his crane shot with much fondness, and it's a reference that has crept into many realms of pop culture. Michael Moore thanked "Johnny LaRue" for his crane shot in the closing credits of his film CANADIAN BACON (with Candy). Jim Wynorski in his audio commentary on CHOPPING MALL and cast and crew members of FREAKS & GEEKS gush about the joke on their DVDs. Since I have recently rediscovered the genius of SCTV on Shout! Factory's recent DVD releases, I hereby dedicate this post to the cast, writers and crew of that show. And now you know the origin of Johnny LaRue's crane shot.

1 comment:

Matt Farkas said...

Glad to see you set up at your new digs, Marty!