Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Compleat Al

Here we are again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch and blog about one of the many DVDs/Blu-Rays that I own.  This time out, I fill in another gap in my Weird Al collection with Weird Al's 1985 straight-to-video opus The Compleat Al.  This is originally in my notes at November 22, 2014.  

Well, the "Weird Al" Yankovic classic UHF recently got a 25th anniversary Blu-Ray.  But, I've already watched that film and reviewed it here on the blog.  So, along side UHF, the good folks at Shout! Factory also released on DVD, for the first time, the Weird Al rarity The Compleat Al, which I'd been curious about for some time.  Originally released straight-to-video in 1985, I'd seen clips of it in Weird Al's first Al Music special on Much, watched more clips on YouTube over the years, and passed up a chance to buy it on VHS at HMV in the late 1990s.  And now it's mine on DVD, and I can finally check it out!

It's tough to describe what The Compleat Al is.  I used to think it was a straight-to-video movie.  Wikipedia describes it as a "long-form music video."  Watching it this afternoon, what it is is Weird Al's first video compilation of his music videos.  But, in order to fill the space between and set up the music videos, Weird Al does a bunch of comedy sketches.  The end result is a mockumentary, detailing Weird Al's rise to fame.  The name, in fact, is a take off on The Compleat Beatles, which, in 1985, was considered the definitive Beatles documentary. 

In addition to the sketches there are clips of Al TV.  That's what the Americans with their MTV got instead of Al Music up here in Canada.  There are some clever bits in there, like Weird Al sharing the conspiracy theory that all of rock n roll's greatest songs were written by aliens.  Weird Al...doing that "Aliens!" meme before it was a thing.  The best bit, though, is when Weird Al is to be premiering the new music video for this one song.  But they couldn't get the band together to film the video.  So the music video Weird Al gets is just the record rep badly singing the song in his office.  Most folks would cut that gag after a minute or so, but no.  It's the whole song. 

What I really got a kick out of was a whole segment filmed in Japan, during Weird Al's first tour there.  We see Weird Al performing "Eat It" on a Japanese talk show.  We see Weird Al going through what I went through many times:  looking in the windows of many a restaurant, marveling at all the model food on display, only to settle on McDonald's.  And this one bit with Weird Al being interviewed on a Japanese radio station.  The interviewer asks the question in Japanese, and then Weird Al's translator translates it...into a different dialect of Japanese.  When Weird Al admits he can't understand anything anyone is saying, they all just laugh at him for not knowing Japanese.  *sigh*  Had staff meetings were like that.

This also marks the genesis of many classic Weird Al bits.  Weird Al showing his old home movies of his childhood, while giving a running commentary on his life?  It started here.  Harvey the Wonder Hamster also makes his first appearance. 

And even though it's a sarcastic look at Weird Al's rise to fame, some of it is true.  He really was born in Lynwood, California.  He really did get a degree in architecture.  He really did get the name "Weird Al" as his college radio on-air name.  And he really did record his first single, "My Bologna," in his dorm bathroom. 

One sketch I really liked was "Me, Myself and I," which, according to the film, was when Weird Al entered his "experimental phase."  His band eventually brought him back to reality by dunking his head in a tub of strawberry yogurt, and the tape was destroyed.  But still, even in a joke documentary like this, the promise of a long-lost Weird Al album is tantalizing. 

When all is said and done, this is a fantastic time capsule to Weird Al's career, as he was just becoming a superstar in the mid-1980s.  It's a great look back, and interesting to see what was to come. 

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