Oct 15, 2007

NYFF: Don Rickles: Mr. Warmth

I made the midnight show of the new John Landis documentary Mr. Warmth, about the one and only Don Rickles, who at 81 years old is still busy insulting people and making them howl with laughter, God bless his punim.
The film is a delightful hoot because mostly it has lots of Don Rickles in concert. And the man is priceless. His humor is so ancient that it is almost quaint, the jokes about drunk Irish catholics, and toothy Japanese and Nazi Germans and sleepy Mexicans deserves to be in a museum, but the funny thing is that it works. The man is truly hilarious. The genius is in the delivery. The improvisation, the mercurial comebacks, the sharpest sense of timing... and that face. The face of a puckish pug. The face of a mamzer. And I say this with gushing admiration.
But the movie is also about a world that is lost. Everybody in it (Steve Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Newhart and other ancient wonders of the world) waxes poetic about how cool Vegas was when the Mafia ran it. It was a classy joint, not the podunk amusement park it is today. People dressed up, drank and gambled seriously: there was glamour, goddammit.
As someone says in the movie, Don Rickles shows up with his orchestra and a mike and there are no albino tigers and people hanging from ropes and laser beams and firecrackers. And for your money, he is still the best show in town.
Glamour is utterly dead and buried. There is simply no such thing as glamour anymore. Please do not confuse the stars parading borrowed gowns and jewelry for glamour. Do not think because you cover yourself in logos that you bought in Chinatown, you are glamorous. Glamour is something else. And it is gone from the face of Earth, which saddens me to no end. Instead of glamour, we have marketing, which is the death of everything.
Now, to talk about glamour and Don Rickles in the same sentence is strange, but there is a connection. He belongs to a time where you had to dress up to see him, just as he still puts on his tux and his patent leather shoes to entertain you.
I once saw an open mike night at the Laugh Factory in LA and the pathetic losers on stage were not funny, so they started to abuse the audience with really crass, vulgar and witless comments. The difference between Rickles and them is that he is not a bitter loser. He is a talented performer who enjoys commanding a room. He is a performance artist and I love him to death. The doc will show on HBO. See it.

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