In the very long history of musicians, musicians have desired to be taken seriously as actors. Frank Sinatra won an Oscar. There's the entire Elvis filmography. The Beatles are credited with creating the modern music video through their films. And there's all the rappers these days who've popped up in action films. And even Weird Al got in the act with his 1989 film, UHF.
I've already blogged how the summer of 1989 was a magical time for me. I'd already discovered the music of Weird Al and was playing his albums ad nauseum around the house. One evening, when we saw the first commercials for UHF on TV, I very clearly remember hearing my mother say, "Oh, crap. He made a movie." Good thing it was summer, and there was no school the next day, for I remember staying up late one moonlit night to watch Weird Al promote his film on The Arsinio Hall Show. I'll never forgot that:
Arsinio>> So, would like to set up this clip?
Weird Al>> Sure! (Weird Al stares directly into the camera.) Here is a clip from my movie!
Sadly, I never got to see UHF that magical summer. Never got to see it on video, either, as the corner store never brought it in. I finally got to see it in the summer of 1990 -- a full year after it first came out. The cable company was goodly enough to give us a free sample of Super Channel that August, and they were about to have the premiere of UHF. I watched it, and loved it thoroughly. Had the good sense to tape it, too, and I watched it over and over and over again.
Finally picked up a VHS copy in college. I was doing some Christmas shopping in West Edmonton Mall. I had never, ever seen UHF on store shelves, and for some reason, that was nagging at me that day. I was browsing at VHS tapes in Music World, when a clerk asked if he could help me with anything. "I don't suppose you've got UHF?" I asked. Clerk disappeared into the back room and actually came back with a copy. Of course I bought it!
It hit DVD on 2002, and I was there the day it was released to pick it up. Because I had seen it so many times before, I immediatly went to watch it with the running commentary. And I learned a lot about the film listening to that running commentary.
The movie studio, Orion, thought they had a sure-fire hit on their hands. The positive buzz around the film was phenomenal. In test screenings, people absolutly loved it. The studio was getting ready to sign Weird Al to a long-term deal, to make him their "comedy guru" and pump out comedies. It was doing so well in test screenings, that Orion decided to release it as a summer blockbuster. And as has been well-documented, the summer to 1989 was one of the first summer ever that was just glutted with blockbusters. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters 2, and the one that ruled them all, Batman. Up against all that, UHF was crushed and promptly bombed. Weird Al said that that was the most hearbreaking time in his career, as Orion stopped returning his phone calls, all of Hollywood was making fun of him, and, since it was a personal project, he was just very depressed.
But, as always, there was a silver lining. When it came out on VHS, it was a top renter and a top seller. Weird Al couldn't mention this while doing the running commentary, but when it was released on DVD, it instantly shot to the top of the DVD charts. UHF has become a certified cult classic.
The plot, in case you don't remember. Weird Al plays George Newman, a lovable loser who can't keep a job because his overactive imagination always has him daydreaming. But then, his rich uncle soon becomes owner of a little old UHF TV station, and makes George the station manager. At first, George tries his best, but he doesn't do so well. When his girlfriend dumps him, he decides to put the station's janitor, Stanley Spadowski, on the air, in a fit of depression. But, Stanley's show becomes a hit, and George finally lets loose, putting his overactive imagination to good use and comes up with all kinds of wacky shows. Channel 62 quickly jumps to the top of the ratings, raising the ire of Channel 8, the (former) #1 station in town. The evil manager of Channel 8, RJ Fletcher, tries to buy Channel 62 from George's uncle. But George gets to work to raise the money to match RJ's offer, having a huge telethon. Not even the kidnapping of Stanley can slow their efforts. George raises the money, buys the station, makes up with his girlfriend, and lives happily ever after!
Don't know what more I can say. I still find this movie as funny as the first time I saw it. The catch phrase of Kuni, "STOOPID! YOU'RE SO STOOPID!" has entered the common lexicon. So many jokes from this film I still quote and still make me smile when I have a bad day. It's just funny.
Before I go, just one last story. When I was in Japan, and perusing the TV listings, I once saw that UHF was going to be on at 1 in the morning. I called up my friend, "Dude! Should I stay up late and watch it? It might be my only time to see it dubbed in Japanese!" My friend told me I was nuts and to skip it. However, I did have to get up to pee in the middle of the night, and when I saw the time, i thought I'd stay up and watch the end...it was everything from the Rambo sequence onwards.