by Travis Vogt
With Indispensable Oddities, Scarecrow asks an artist of note to select and discuss a few of their favorite films which many people might not be overly familiar with. For this inaugural installment, we spoke with Emmett Montgomery, a Seattle-based comedian, beard cultivator and institution who recently appeared on Last Comic Standing.
TRUE STORIES (1986)
The Talking Heads movie. It’s really beautiful and it informs a lot of who I am. It’s this mockumentary/musical, a surreal celebration of weirdness. One of John Goodman’s best roles. I remember seeing it for the first time as a teenager, with a friend. Afterwards, I walked her to her bus stop through a field and we kissed on the mouth for just a second as the sun was setting. It was the sort of movie that inspires a sweet kiss between two weird teenagers.
Many mornings I wake up with these songs stuck in my head.
(THE BIG) CRIMEWAVE (1985)
It’s a Canadian film; the VHS was given to me and later on I drunkenly sent a message to the director. It’s this really beautiful story about a guy that can write the beginnings and endings of movies but can’t write the middle. It’s infinitely re-watchable because it’s so surreal. You have a main character who doesn’t say anything the whole time, so it’s narrated through a ten year-old girl.
It was called Crimewave in Canada, but they had to add the “Big” to it because there’s a Sam Raimi film with the same title. The director went on to direct some episodes of Kids In the Hall and he later directed a movie called Top of the Food Chain, which was rebranded in the US as Invasion–another weird, strange thing. It’s more of that kind of dark whimsy; like a fun nightmare. But the fun is so loud that you have to really look at it to see the nightmare underneath. There are so many things that should initially be wrong that just are accepted as normal and fun and you just take it.
RUBIN AND ED (1991)
Rubin’s cat is his best friend, which gets killed, so he kidnaps a traveling salesman and they go into the desert to find the best resting place for the cat. It’s set in Utah–the director is Trent Harris who is actually kind of a big weirdo in the Seattle art scene, with whom I’ve had some interesting encounters. There are infinite quotable lines, like “My cat can eat a whole watermelon” and “I am the king of the echo people!” Johnny Fever from WKRP is the shiesty salesman who gets kidnapped by Crispin Glover’s Rubin. And an unlikely friendship forms from kidnapping. It’s another one of those movies that has a lot of surreal awkward tension, which I think is something that’s mined a lot for comedy now but was maybe too scary for people in the 80’s.
It’s fallen through the cracks, but definitely the sort of thing that you hope one day will make it off of VHS.
BUGSY MALONE (1976)
What if I told you there was a gangster musical and you got all excited about that? But what if I told you there was a gangster musical starring kids using cream pies as weapons and every time someone gets hit with a pie in the face they go away? What If I then told you the songs were written by Paul Williams and the songs are surprisingly personal, with complex lyrics? And what if I told you that when the kids sing, they sing with the voices of adults?
Such a thing shouldn’t exist but it does! And it stars Scott Baio and Jodie Foster. It’s this amazing, time-traveling movie. It’s the sort of movie that would’ve been made in the golden age of Hollywood as the studios were burning down. It always was on TV when I was a kid and it was like a doorway to an alternate universe.
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981)
Scarecrow: The one that almost sabotaged Steve Martin’s career?
Did it? Did it almost get him?
Scarecrow: Yeah, it was released after The Jerk (1979) and I think audiences were expecting more of that. So it was a notorious bomb, not because it was bad but because it was not what people wanted from Steve Martin at the time.
Here’s the thing, though. If you look at The Jerk, all the hints are there. You know–this is where we’re gonna go. I think Pennies From Heaven just took a layer off. People wanted more zany commercial stuff but what they got was the weird skeleton instead. Pennies From Heaven is The Jerk without any skin. Just guts and bones. It has a beautiful dreamlike quality and such a dark ending. When you watch this sad beautiful dream happen…I love comedians being sincere and serious. I think comedians are the best at crying, the best at sadness. It’s a runner-up for saddest song sung during a hanging. Obviously Dancer In the Dark wins that contest, but this one comes close.
(Warning: do NOT watch that hyperlinked Dancer In the Dark clip. Just don’t.)
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
I think one of my biggest nostalgia hits is Big Trouble in Little China, but with Prince of Darkness you have this great, really interesting retelling of the conflict between God and Satan. This is basically quantum physicists vs. The Devil. The first half is really deep and philosophical and the second half is this gory madcap thing. There’s a subtle love story that ends with one of the best endings in a horror movie ever. It asks the question what is reality? And, of course, it fucking bombed. I think it made 11 million. I find myself gravitating to those kinds of movies. Bugsy Malone was a huge flop, too. It was the largest child casting call ever. It was supposed to launch careers and be this innovative thing. And now I own it on Korean DVD because apparently it’s the sort of thing that has no appeal out there. Kids murdering each other with food only works for some people.
Looking at this list, they are all kind of musicals. Even the ones that aren’t technically musicals have kind of dream-sequency songy things. I think that’s what I like: a lot of spectacle with lots of emotions wrapped up in it. I want quiet moments and fun nightmares. I want something to get stuck in my head.
Emmett can be seen on the first Sunday of each month at Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery. He will be featuring for Bengt Washburn at Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland on the weekend of August 29th. On August 30th he will be talking about his influences at “Caffeinated Confessions of Mormon Comics,” also with Washburn and the Beehive State Boat Rockers.
Travis Vogt is the Editor of the The Scarecrow Wire. He and Emmett go way back.