Funnyman (1967)

“It doesn’t mean anything. I want it to mean something — anything!”

Synopsis:
A comedian (Peter Bonerz) struggles to find both romantic and creative meaning in his life.

Genres:

Review:
John Korty’s second feature-length outing — after his uniquely satisfying debut film The Crazy-Quilt (1966) — was this highly experimental character study starring Peter Bonerz (then active in the Bay Area improv troupe known as The Committee). Unfortunately, the non-linear, improvisational storyline (co-written by Bonerz and Korty) fails to engage us on anything other than a superficial level; the central protagonist’s quest for satisfaction in both his career and his love life never really sustains our interest, largely because we’re not emotionally invested in this likable but self-absorbed character. As the film opens, we see that Bonerz’ “Perry” has recently broken up with a long-time girlfriend (though we don’t learn why); throughout the course of the movie, he sleeps with various women who present themselves to him, but learn next to nothing about any of them. Meanwhile, we see Perry’s resentment at having to bastardize his creative talents by contributing ideas to a marketing firm — which ironically leads to one of the film’s most engaging and inventive sequences, as we see stop-motion advertisements Bonerz has dreamed up for bug spray; one can’t help thinking of Korty’s later work on the enormously inventive Twice Upon a Time (1983).

When Perry throws a tantrum and demands to be given a chance to put on a solo show, we’re curious to see what he’ll come up with — but the result is imminently forgettable. Meanwhile, the rest of the film turns into essentially a meandering road trip, as Bonerz leaves the city (to where, we’ve never sure) and encounters a variety of diverse individuals. I won’t say more, at risk of giving away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that the final half-hour or so consists of a series of intriguingly cinéma vérité encounters without nearly enough narrative context to sustain them. Ultimately, the entire affair comes across as simply self-indulgent — which is not to say it doesn’t hold interest on some level. Korty is a strong enough director that even his overly experimental, New Wave-inspired cinematic palette — including frequent shifts from b&w cinematography to various tinted hues — can be forgiven as simply an attempt to bring a fresh perspective to the proceedings. However, while The Crazy-Quilt is a hidden must-see gem (buy a copy from Korty himself!), Funnyman is only worth seeking out if you have a strong interest in the early development of Korty’s unusual oeuvre.

Note: Bonerz had supporting roles in a few big-name films after this — including What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969) (not listed in Peary’s book), Medium Cool (1969), and Catch-22 (1970) — and was the coke-sniffing psychiatrist in Serial (1980); his best-known role was probably as Dr. Jerry Robinson on “The Bob Newhart Show”. However, the bulk of his career has been spent as a director; see his listing at IMDb for more details.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Creative incorporation of animation
  • Peter Bonerz as Perry

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Funnyman (1967)”

  1. First viewing – and in complete agreement with the well-thought-out assessment.

    Though I also very much enjoyed ‘The Crazy-Quilt’, this follow-up feature is something of a setback. It has an interesting premise – chronicling, as it does, the inner workings of a comic and his wrangling with self-doubt about his work as well as the meaning of life in general.

    But even though Bonerz is interesting to watch in a somewhat-hangdog sort of way, the film is more or less undone by its aimlessness. We don’t really get pulled into the comic’s closed-off existence enough to see more than his general dissatisfaction with…everything. (There is a slight reprieve to all this by the film’s end but that seems tacked-on for the sake of an ending, and it’s still not all that satisfying for the audience.)

    There was one improv sequence I did enjoy (because it’s the funniest comedy in the film) – in which Bonerz is seen making out with a woman and begins to tell her how much he enjoys sex with her, compliments her on her appeal and asks that they get married and have sex all the time. When the woman takes that as her cue to start talking seriously about real, mature marriage, Bonerz (of course) becomes less interested and downright aloof. (It’s a routine reminiscent of Mike Nichols and Elaine May as a comedy team.)

    As noted, Korty’s animation bits are lots of fun. (And the studio exec’s reaction to Bonerz’s voice-over for the bug commercial is amusing since it’s spot-on: “We don’t want to think of ‘down things’…hairy legs…”) As with ‘The Crazy-Quilt’, Peter Schickele’s score is also a plus.

    All told, though, this is a minor effort. It moves along ok, so it’s not unwatchable – but it’s a slight independent film.

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