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FOFF Programs

Jun 4, 2008: 9:15pm
Roxie Cinema
3117 16th Street
San Francisco

Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969) by Anthony Newley 107 min. Dye Transfer Technicolor 16mm
At the end of the 60's, after the success of his stage musical Stop the World--I Want to Get Off and a prominent role in Doctor Dolittle, Anthony Newley was at the height of his career as an actor, singer, and composer. What better time to try his hand at directing, and what better inspiration than his own fabulous life?

Far from filming a straight autobiography, Newley created a fantastical musical folly, overbrimming with vaudevillian flourishes and gleeful bad taste. On the occasion of his 40th birthday, fictionalized alter-ego Heironymus Merkin revisits the formative events of his life, many involving sexual debauchery, via a film-within-a-film device which is freely abused at all of its nested levels. This Russ Meyer-style subject matter is laced with Jacques Demy-style surreal whimsy and a tinge of British sensibility, all within a structure cribbed directly from Fellini.

Seeking neither to apologize for nor distance himself from the salacious and sordid details of his past, Newley invites us all to share in his solipsistic revelry. His candor about his somewhat Nabokovian appetite for women is especially notable as the film features his then-wife, Joan Collins, and their two young children. Milton Berle also appears as the devil in the guise of a drug-pushing svengali.

Audiences and critics were not kind to this deliriously indulgent ego-driven undertaking. Newley's career hit the skids, as did his marriage. With hindsight, however, we can appreciate its cockeyed charm. Such a film would be inconceivable today.

"A must-see for counterculture-masochists" -Steven Puchalski