Thursday, August 27, 2015

80's Watch: UHF (1989)

In the glorious summer before my Freshman year of high school, I saw UHF (1989) in the theater.  Twice.  I admit, once was at the dollar theater, but still.  In fact, one of those dates would have been right around now as my ritual was to go see a movie the night before school started, and that year, our movie of choice was UHF.  For a dollar.

You're welcome, Weird Al.

"Weird" Al Yankovic was an extremely well known figure by 1989, having broken through with his 1984 album "Weird Al" Yankovic in 3D and - much to my delight and surprise - he's still going strong in 2015.  He just played two nights in Austin.  His last album actually hit #1 on the Billboard charts.  Not bad for a song parody man who has managed to outlast and/ or outlive about 90% of the acts he's spoofed.

The movie has a razor-thin plot and is more or less an excuse for Al to move his talents for translating rock songs into jokes about processed foods into the more visual realm of pretty spot on spoofs of TV and movies.  And, really, he sort of very casually takes on the culture of TV in the 1980's in general.

In our movie, George (Al Yankovic) is a starry-eyed dreamer who can't hold a job because he's got too much darn imagination.  In this movie, imagination is defined as spacing out and thinking about yourself in the starring role in popular movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He's got a girlfriend played by SNL alum and future wingnut Victoria Jackson, a best friend played by "hey, it's that guy!" actor David Bowe, and lives next door to a karate school run by Gedded Watanabe, the guy most up for anything, anything at all, in Hollywood.*

George's gambling Uncle Harvey wins a crummy UHF channel - a forgotten artifact of the TV landscape in 2015 - and George goes to work as the station manager.  Not just wanting to air syndicated reruns of Mr. Ed**, George comes up with some original programming - and through a series of mishaps, his janitor, Stanley gets in front of the camera as the host of a kid's show and is an immediate success.  George and Bob expand original community-friendly programming with a series of spoofs and very, very 1980's-era nerd comedy ideas (Bowling for Burgers), and we are graced with Fran Drescher just prior to her breakout success as The Nanny.

any excuse to post a pic of Fran Drescher, really

The community rallies behind the station, a local network affiliate is furious (run by the pitch perfect Kevin McCarthy), and it's all a lot of silly fun.

It's interesting to see the spoofs.  I have no idea if kids would get the jokes now.  If they even know who Conan is, or the Dewey Decimal System.  Or, why Gandhi II is just funny.  I think you have to enjoy a little subversive humor in the vein of Bugs Bunny and relishing your role as an underdog in order to enjoy it.

Oh, and teaching poodles how to fly would not be okay in an all-ages movie in 2015, but that is pretty solid stuff.

I have such a place in my heart for 1980's shitty TV.  I loved reruns of old shows, local half-assed programming, game shows and shoddily produced local news and commercials, this movie is a little like coming home.  Throw in a nice "we're doing this for the community!" 1980's plotline, and I'm all in.  Plus, The Nanny.

*Really, Watanbe is terribly quotable from this movie.  I'm not sure I've ever seen Red Snapper on a menu since 1989 and not said "Red Snapper.  A very tasty fish!"

**here is where George and I must part ways, because if I ran a TV station, it would air heavy doses of Mr. Ed.


Matt A. said...

My daughter has become a fan of the man, and we're planning on watching UHF this weekend. I'll report on her reactions.

I took her to the "Weird" Al concert when he came to Austin, and she loved it (he has a really top notch act). During the intermissions, they showed various clips of rando things, one of which was the Ghandi II bit from UHF. She didn't know what UHF was (the movie or the TV frequency range and all its implications), but she knows who Ghandi was, and had a big laugh.

J.S. said...

Do dollar theaters still exist? Can we open one? It's more fun to see almost any movie on a big screen with a bucket of popcorn in your lap!

The League said...

@Matt - it's free with Amazon Prime streaming, if that helps. Not sure about netflix, etc... saw Weird Al play at Astroworld in 1993, I think. And was quite mad I missed him on this last pass through Austin.

@JS - I would LOVE to have a theater that played dollar movies. Whatever I could get from the studios. It would be a sort of Bizarro Alamo where you could talk at the screens and we'd have to run a hose over the floor after every screening from all the popcorn and spilled soda.

Matt A. said...

I bought a copy of the DVD a long time ago. It's probably the best commentary track I've ever heard; Al actually prepared for it!

As for the concert, I had to buy my ticket way back in January to see the August show.

Matt A. said...

We finished watching UHF. She didn't catch many of the movie references (Rambo, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Gone with the Wind, Beverly Hillbillies, Raiders; she did get the Conan reference). But overall, we really enjoyed the film.

Even most of the terrible physical violence was fine, but the thumb bit was a bit much (yay Emo Philips), and the flying poodles didn't go over too well.

The League said...

Yeah, it's weird to say "maybe you need the maturity of a 14 year old for this movie", but perhaps that's the case. I'm not sure humor bends toward absurdism in quite the same way in modern all-ages faire that it did in the 1980's, so I'm not surprised flying poodles and severed thumbs played poorly to today's youth. Oh well. That's what it was to find humor back in the dark ages, I guess.