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IN SHORT: For those that knew the mag in its prime, this is Prime. [No rating, 94 minutes]
If you were a fourteen year old boy in 1972 or 73,it was a time when there were only three broadcast networks, no Internet or electronic communications of any kind, and a moral standard that kept any chance at having sex at a zero for at least another year or two if you were lucky. It was a time when magazines like Playboy were carefully hidden by fathers in places thought unreachable, but weren't. If you didn't find your father's cache of Hefner's library, there was The National Lampoon. "NatLamp" was a magazine (google it) that, for about a buck an issue, buried in its pages a comic form called fumetti. -- comic strips with photographs of people instead of drawings. In reality, Fumetti was an excuse to get girl models naked. For those of us who were all pimply faced in the early 70s, it was our porn. That, and that the Lampoon had comics in its back pages made it the reading material of choice. None of that is mentioned in Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. Neal Adams (whose Son O' God Comics parody may still be in our collection of stuff) is mentioned once. But I digress . . .
I do not know if Lampoon Contributor, and this film's consultant Rick Meyerowitz, is related to Bob Meyerowitz, a radio syndicator whose King Biscuit Flower Hour concert series is one of his claims to fame. I do know that, as a KBFH radio engineer who would be a producer, Bob Meyerowitz brought a box into the production studio one day in 1979 and said to me "See what you can do with this." Inside the box were 37 hours, give or take, of the National Lampoon Radio Hour series; the unrestrained radio ramblings of people named Belushi and Chase and Radner and Michael O'Donohue. I listened to all of it and can honestly report that it was, collectively, 37 hours of utter junk.
From those 37 hours of junk, I condensed the best 90 minutes of comedy that radio could air without censorship bleeps. If you heard that show now, you would mourn a lost Golden Age of comedy. But it wasn't "Golden." It was absolutely Drunk Stoned and sometimes Brilliant. And that, technically, make yours Cranky the very last person to muck about in the quarter inch archive of what was funny on the radio in the 1970s. That's a long way to go to say that I had nothing to do with the utter insanity and brilliance that was the National Lampoon in its radio format. As an editor, though, I can take credit for making a small portion of the Lampoon Universe sound much, much better than it was.
The Seventies may now be derided as a fairly useless decade; in its own way it was the 50s before a radicalized 1960s. The 70s was the calm before the cocaine storm that fueled early 1980s comedy. The National Lampoon magazine was what was "cool" in that decade. This film details the magazine's origins and rise into the heady heavens of bankruptcy that was the ultimate fate of the Lampoon. Along the way the magazine spun off a stage revue called Lemmings; a film called Animal House; and the aforementioned Radio Hour; its staff was mined for movies like Vacation (and its umpteen sequels) and television shows like Saturday Night Live. That last link is virtually invisible; the why of NatLamp's failure to dominate television is dispensed with in a line of interview actuality or two. Having lived through the years of Lampoon covered in this film, and knowledgeable of the events that aren't covered in the film the film maker part of my brain started reconstructing the film, as to events that should have been referenced, even as I watched it.That's not my job as your reviewer so, shame on me.As for this film . . .
Once Upon A Time, (1876) and continuing to this day, students at the Harvard University published a magazine called the Harvard Lampoon. John Updike wrote for it. George Plimpton wrote for it. Actor Fred Gwynne wrote for it. That pretty much covers the first century though the mag gained notoriety for its parodies of magazines like Esquire and The New Yorker.. As the 1960s birthed the 1970s, Harvard (and Harvard Lampoon) students Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman continued the practice with parodies of Sports Illustrated and Playboy. When their parody of Mademoiselle magazine accidentally included a request for subscriptions, thousands of readers responded "yes!" Upon their graduation, the "Lampoon" name was licensed and so was born The National Lampoon, a marijuana fueled cultural bomb in the making. The film easily guides you through staff changes, expansions and departures that transformed a staggering magazine start-up into a a major comedic force for the next decade.
Simply put, if you are old enough to have any kind of first hand connection to the Lampoon-oriented content mentioned above, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is an enjoyable journey back into your past. If your only exposure is through Animal House, Caddyshack or any of the plethora of VOD trash that bears the National Lampoon (presents) trademark logo the film is an enjoyable sit. Peppered by interviews with publisher Matty Simmons; film directors Ivan Reitman and John Landis; actors including Kenney's friend Chevy Chase and clips that include Kevin Bacon getting paddled, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is a good sit.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, he would have paid . . .
By the way, the most famous magazine cover of all time was entitled "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog.." What the film leaves out is the cover for the following month. Doggie paws.
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