It cost $350,000 to make back in 1974, and one reviewer (I believe it was Ted Mahar in The Oregonian) said that it looked like it was shot in the director’s basement. No matter. In the short months just before Saturday Night Live, itself woven from borrowed threads belonging to Second City TV, The Committee and the National Lampoon, it was the movie comedy to see. A good friend of mine was lucky enough to catch it when it first came out. But by the time it rolled through my local drive-in, on a double bill with Flesh Gordon, Saturday Night Live was already gathering its first real head of steam, and my buddy had related the most hilarious bits so vividly that I practically had the movie memorized before I ever saw a frame firsthand. Even so, as it unspooled under the stars at the long-gone Circle JM Drive-in for the first of four times that week (I was there for two of ‘em!), even though I already apparently knew it backwards and forwards, The Groove Tube was still, along with Blazing Saddles, the most side-splittingly funny movie I’d yet seen in my young life. Devised as a very loose set of sketches parodying the inanities of the still young medium of TV, The Groove Tube had no unifying theme or philosophy other than irreverence, which was, for the generation about to canonize the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, plenty unifying philosophy enough. Paddy Chayefsky would end up looking like a legitimate prophet and Howard Beale would end up looking not quite angry enough. But The Groove Tube, seen from a distance of 33 years, perhaps because of its accurately low-ball production values and chillingly precise recreations of some of the more mawkish and self-serving advertising of the era, more resembles like a murky crystal ball through which we can catch a smudged, warped glimpse of the way TV, and comedy way too raunchy for Ed Sullivan, actually was.
And thanks to YouTube, it’s my pleasure to be able to present a special viewing package of personal favorite highlights from The Groove Tube to carry you all through the upcoming long weekend which I’ll be taking off from SLIFR.
MOVE ON UP 3:11
The Groove Tube represents a lot of firsts for me—the first female full-frontal nudity I saw in a movie, the first male full-frontal nudity I ever saw in a movie, my first exposure to one of my all-time favorite songs, the brilliant Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. And, amazingly, all three are packed into this one three-minute segment, part of the movie’s opening sketch. I only wish whoever was kind enough to post this clip had included the hilarious parody of 2001 that leads directly into this segment. But you know what they say about gift horses-- never run after them buck naked through the woods.
KRAMP TV KITCHEN 5:20
This parody of TV cooking shows, shot in one take, with director Ken Shapiro’s lulling narration and Chevy Chase’s wonderful pantomime hand performance, is just as funny today, especially if you can remember life before Emeril, as it was in 1974.
BROWN 25 1:10
Of course The Groove Tube was littered with spot-on, barely exaggerated TV commercials, of which these two spots for the mysterious industrial corporation Uranus, "aired" during the nightly news program, were the absolute peak. The first mocks like a dagger the notion of the sensitive, caring multinational by perfectly aping the brokenhearted, ecologically-oriented public service announcements of the time. The second— Well, you just have to see it for yourself.
FOUR LEAF CLOVER 1:17
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE 1:24
JUST YOU JUST ME 2:12
But The Groove Tube wasn’t just great TV parody. Three of its most memorable moments were inexplicable musical bits crammed into the leaky crevices of the movie’s stitched-together structure. The first, “Four Leaf Clover,” again features director Ken Shapiro on drums and Chevy Chase on vocals (stick around for Shapiro’s sociopathic “who’s next” stare at the end). “Democratic National Committee” showed up about 2/3 of the way through, and if it weren’t so weirdly funny and appropriate it might have signaled the point late enough along where the movie, like Saturday Night Live typically would later on, had started to run out of gas. But the Tube still had surprises in store, not least of which is the third clip, “Just You, Just Me,” the penultimate sketch of the movie, featuring Ken Shapiro again, proving that you don’t have to be built like Gene Kelly to be light on your feet.
Do you remember other great Groove Tube moments?