“The Best of Times” (1981) with Crispin Glover and Nicolas Coppola (Cage)

“The Best of Times” is a truly awful television pilot from 1981 that only aired once (to the best of my knowledge) and never continued past its first episode.  Co-produced by “Laugh-In”‘s George Schlatter, “Times” (I imagine) was supposed to be a lighthearted, albeit sensitive look at the struggles of being a teenager, though it’s executed in the most ass-backwards, tasteless early 1980s corporate TV manner.  It’s a truly weird WTF hybrid of lowest common denominator sitcom humor, occasional drama, and … yes … musical numbers.  Imagine “Freaks & Geeks” had it been produced by Sid & Marty Krofft and you’ll get the picture.

So why am I even talking about this?  Yes this is partly due to “Times” being truly one of those god-awful train wrecks that’s worth watching for its sheer cluelessness.  But mainly  because the stars are Crispin Glover and Nicolas Cage … sorry Coppola … before they became famous.  And they’re playing characters called Crispin and Nicholas, respectively.

I don’t feel too bad ripping on this because I’m sure Glover and Cage would gleefully agree this is not their finest hour.  But what makes this particularly an odd watch is seeing a 17-year old Glover struggling to play a “normal” early 1980s-era sitcom teenager.   It’s simultaneously painful and fascinating to watch and arguably stranger than Glover’s legendary appearances in “River’s Edge” and “Wild at Heart.”

Now here’s the really weird part … I totally remember watching this when I was 11 years old.  While my tastes back then were not as evolved as they are now, I remember being totally baffled by “Times” … and not in a good way.  This was so memorably bizarre that I actually thought about the show the other day, but not remembering the title or who was in it.  Thanks to Glover’s appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast today, I looked the show up on YouTube and much to my shock, I realized “So, THIS was that odd and terrible show I remember seeing when I was 11!”

If you have a strong stomach, are a fan of really bad TV pilots, or want to see what certain stars did before they became famous, “Times” is a must-watch.

“Wild at Heart” (1990) dir. David Lynch

Video

When you create a film that many people consider to be a masterpiece and a lasting contribution to the art of film (in director David Lynch’s case, it was 1986’s “Blue Velvet”), it’s a fool’s errand deciding what you’re going to do for an encore.

Some directors scale back and do something more modest (i.e. Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” Barry Levinson’s “Avalon”). Some directors create the epic they’ve always wanted to make, oftentimes with varying results: from great (Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, PT Anderson’s “Magnolia”) to severely flawed (Bernardo Bertolucci’s “1900”) to catastrophic (Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate”).

Still others decide to make a film that is a depository for every weird idea they’ve ever had, for every f–ked-up notion they’ve ever wanted to put into a film but couldn’t before, and are making this film because this is the one time they can possibly get away with it. These films are typically ones that you probably hate on first viewing, but may grow to like, even love. The best examples of this are Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” (his follow-up to “MASH”), The Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (their follow-up to “Fargo”), and David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart.”

“Wild at Heart” came with big expectations and actually won the Palme d’Or at 1990’s Cannes Film Festival (to a cavalcade of boos, allegedly led by Roger Ebert). I had huge expectations for “Wild at Heart,” not only because it was Lynch’s new film, but had Nicolas Cage (when he was only starring in cult movies), Harry Dean Stanton, Laura Dern, and Willem Dafoe, all favorite actors of mine.

My initial reaction? Supreme disappointment, almost anger. The film was as violent and disturbing as “Blue Velvet,” but I thought Lynch trying way too hard to live up to some reputation as some Fellini-esque boogeyman and was just being freaky and weird for the sake of being freaky and weird. I thought it was calculated and crass, a Troma film for art houses.

But … I couldn’t get the movie out of my head. I saw it again at college a few months later and liked it a little more. When I was home that summer, I rented it on video and grew to appreciate it even more. By the end of the summer, I was a fan, but still thought it was a much lesser work than “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead.”

Over the years, I’ve grown to like it a lot more and now see it as a transitional film for Lynch as an artist. Kind of a movie he had to get out of his system, before he really let his freak flag fly with “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Dr.,” arguably his masterpiece even more than “Blue Velvet.” (I like “Blue Velvet” more, but think “Mulholland Dr.” is one of the most complex and brilliant films ever made).

This is not to belittle “Wild at Heart”. As I’ve said earlier, I’ve grown to appreciate and even love this film. Yes, it’s oftentimes weird for the sake of being weird. Yes, it’s patently (and I believe intentionally) ridiculous in many scenes, but if you’re in a mood to be rocked silly with graphic sex, violence, vulgarity, and insanity, it can be a lot of fun. Definitely not for prudes.