TV OR NOT TO BE "All around is magic, just open your eyes and see it," declares either Siegfried or Roy at the beginning of A Rich Tradition of Magic, a previously VHS-only compendium of visual abuse compiled by the inimitable Pinky of TV Carnage. The man isn't kidding. The menu of Rich Tradition is formatted to look like a remote control with the push of a button, your screen melts like the hallucinogenic kick-off of a bad acid trip, bringing visions of spray-on hair, senior citizen aerobics, white teens moonwalking to Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," and grunge figure skating set to "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (Is this what drove Kurt Cobain to suicide?)
Not yet prone to gutwrenchingly funny juxtapositions (Say Anything boombox scene meets child with extreme vibrato singing "Lady in Red"; John Ritter meets Rosie O'Donnell's horrible idea of someone with Down syndrome), this early installment in the TV Carnage library veers toward the straightforwardly unsettling and outright disturbing. We get aerial performers accidentally slicing each other in half in mid-air, an elephant stomping on people in a circus tent and then rampaging through the streets, and a split-second skull-glimpse of Heaven's Gate suicide guru Marshall Applewhite. We get Real TV footage of a methed-out man holding his baby as hostage, dangling the boy Blanket-style from a second-story window and demanding that police deliver him some beer.
Kids are people, too. A Rich Tradition of Magic's hapless master of ceremonies Gary Coleman ricochets between performative childhood and sad adulthood. A public service safety announcement by a Diff'rent Strokes-era Coleman is cross-cut with an Entertainment Tonight report about him assaulting an annoying fan. Later, Coleman warns us all of the dangers of "Showoff-itis."
John Travolta lipsync footage is perhaps the chief disturbing link between A Rich Tradition of Magic and The Dinah Shore Portal to Hell, another DVD whose beyond-Dante depths I'm just beginning to plumb. The opening installment is a series of lipysnc and live musical performances on Shore's television show. A strange assortment of performers including Jeff Bridges and NFL star Terry Bradshaw try to be musical with varying degrees of success. William Shatner repeatedly attempts to be dramatic and poetic. All the while, unexpected lesbian golf icon Shore looks on admiringly, our friendly guide to the diabolical stretches of celebrity narcissism, her reliable appearance taking on an increasingly absurdist quality. Later, we are treated to Roger Ebert repeatedly tongue-lashing Gene Siskel between takes while recording promo spots. Rumor has it that it's the later chapters devoted to alcohol, cocaine, and LSD that truly deliver the TV horror. I'll report on those another time, if I survive them. (Johnny Ray Huston)