Wednesday, July 3, 2013

UHF (Jay Levey, 1989)

In the 80s, a few cult musicians and TV stars made and/or performed in some zany, frantic films.  1982, Richard Elfman directed the musical-vaudeville hybrid, Forbidden Zone, as a vehicle for his band, Oingo Boingo.  Before revising his aesthetics for commercial fare like Dark Shadows and Alice and Wonderland, Tim Burton made a freewheeling road movie with the one-man novelty act, Paul Reubens, in the candy-colored world of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

Rounding out this triumvirate of 80s cinema pop-art is UHF, a showcase for music parodist, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, and his absurdist humor, which consists of high-strung, Looney Tunes antics and playful anarchism á la Jerry Lewis.  Al’, our plucky hero, inherits a run-down local television station from an uncle.  Eventually, he makes something out of it, a leading TV station.  Managed by a militant Kevin McCarthy, a rival station leading in viewer ratings plots to suppress Al’s – it’s a tale of the struggling have-nots versus the oily haves for laughs.

No sense of pace and paying no attention to coherence, the story does not really matter, functioning simply as a chain for ‘Weird Al’ to string along his odd-ball gags, making the film seem schizophrenic.  This is a more hyperactive derivative of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films that saturated the 80s. 

Packed with intertextual film references, popping primary colors, self-reflexive gestures (Early on in the film, we see ‘Weird Al’s’ face dissolve into a shot of a hamburger patty sizzling on a grill, making the film technique readily apparent), UHF seems Tashlinesque.  The film, however, is missing a key staple of this sensibility – social satire.  Instead, UHF indulges in parody – satire numbed of a political edge. 

UHF is a post-modern joke machine, pumping out gags a minute, sweetened by hysteria and visual inventiveness.

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