THE GROOVE TUBE, 1974
Cast: Ken Shapiro, Richard Belzer, Chevy Chase, Buzzy Linhart, Richmond Baier, Berkely Harris, Jennifer Welles
What turns the apes on? What makes a cop dance in the street? What has the night tonic done for her? Who chases her through the woods? What can Butz Beer do for you? Why are they eating grass?
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In the fall of 1990 I was 12 years old and getting ready to start middle school just outside Miami. My parents wanted to spend Labor Day weekend at my aunt’s house in the Florida Keys, so I had three days to prepare for what was a the time the scariest moment of my life. The school had a reputation for being tough: a lot of fights, gang violence, food fights, vandalism. I was this shy, nerdy film geek (still am) and wasn’t ready for it.
That Friday I switched to my local PBS affiliate to watch a rerun of That’s Hollywood, a rather historical news magazine hosted by Tom Bosley. A lot of rare footage, tidbits, and Hollywood know-how made the show interesting. On this episode the subject was the Midnight Movie with emphasis on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but some mention of Polyester, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and The Groove Tube. I thought of these movies during my weekend and that first week. (I walked out of that school without a scratch.) And 12 years later when I became one of Netflix’s first subscribers, The Groove Tube was on my list.
The Groove Tube was a feature film compilation of sketches from Channel One, a “television theater” company in New York City helmed by Ken Shapiro, a modern Orson Welles – writer-director-star. The movie poked fun at television at the time and was ahead of SNL, Tunnel Vision, The Kentucky Fried Movie or SCTV. A quite young Richard Belzer was part of the short cast and a not-so-much-younger Chevy Chase was also a cast member.
The film begins with a hilarious spoof of 2001 where the early primates discover and go “ape shit” for a TV. (They don’t throw their feces or anything.) There are various not-so-serious news segments, a children’s show clown who also reads dirty literature, a bunch of commercials, and The Dealers, a sitcom about two pot-smuggling roommies played by Shapiro and Belzer. The latter segment had to have been conceived before the ‘70s outbreak of cop shows….and is fun to watch considering the Belz’s later incarnation as Det. Munch on Homicide, Law & Order, The X-Files, Arrested Development, and The Wire….and Sesame Street. The Belz also plays a tough commander-in-chief – “I’m the fuckin’ president;” and (I think) an Afro-American hooker being interviewed by a TV reporter whose bones he jumps.
What is probably the funniest and most brilliant piece is a PSA for venereal disease featuring a talking puppet. As the puppet gives its talk about VD, the camera zooms in and zooms in until we slowly realize that….you’ll have to see it to believe it and wonder just how they accomplished it. Most of the humor in the film is more ideas than delivery; it feels dated and doesn’t hold up as the other compilation movies do 35 years later. The film inspired another one, The Boob Tube – great title, but I don’t really remember anything else about it.
Chase later collaborated with Shapiro again on another cult hit Modern Problems, and Shapiro shares same name as a prominent awards show writer. Lane Sarasohn, who co-wrote Groove Tube and appears a dancing cop, confirmed for me in an email three years ago that it’s two different guys. This Shapiro didn’t do too well in Tinseltown and may have moved to Northern California. He recently invented Bed Books (http://www.bedbooks.net/), a super-cool innovation for those of us that like to read lying down. I do wonder if but seriously doubt that NBC pays him anything for “Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow," which his anchor character says much like Chase’s Weekend Update persona did on SNL. It’s worth mentioning that a biography of director Gus Van Sant I glanced through credits Shapiro as having somewhat mentored Van Sant in the late ‘70s.
The film ends with Shapiro dressed in a pink suit and blue tie lyp-sincing and dancing through a busy section of Manhattan. He dances with pedestrians, a cop, and with himself. Who knows or remembers if they had permits? This kind of thing would just be on youtube today.