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“Dynamite Chicken”: “Shtick, bits, pieces, girls, some hamburger, a little hair, a lady, some fellas, some religious stuff, and a lot of other things.”
In this skit culled from Dynamite Chicken, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs and actors from Revolting Theatre — Marshall Effron, Lanny Kenfield and Sylvia Topp — take on the always current topic of police brutality, showing how cops can practice crushing melons with their truncheons in preparation for their inevitable head-on confrontations with Yippies (this clip also includes Efron showing us the merits of wearing a protective “Yippie Protest Helmet“).
Produced and directed by Ernie Pintoff (a TV veteran and the Oscar-winning director of the short animated film “The Critic” with Mel Brooks), Dynamite Chicken was so-titled, apparently, because the filmmakers thought it represented the kind of mess you’d have if you’d actually dynamited a chicken. In that respect, it’s accurate, but what a lovely mess it is, a delicious time-capsule curio from another time in American history.
The full title is actually Dynamite Chicken: A Contemporary Probe and Commentary of the Mores and Maladies of Our Age … with Schtick, Bits, Pieces, Girls, Some Hamburger, a Little Hair, a Lady, Some Fellas, Some Religious Stuff, and a Lot of Other Things.
We believe this was one of the first of the so-called omnibus films, comprised of montages, sketches, skits, parodies, musical performances, and film clips (it was compiled in ’69 and ’70, but not released to theaters until September 1971). Other examples of omnibus films include Groove Tube (directed by Ken Shapiro, 1972) and Kentucky Fried Movie (directed by John Landis, 1977), although those examples are all quite different from the tone of Dynamite Chicken, which focuses on the hippies/Yippies vs. cops, and peace movement of the late 60s and early 70s, during the height of the Vietnam War.
Along the way, we’re presented with clips that show a variety of opinions about life in America during wartime — about peace, the Vietnam War itself, Women’s Lib, controversial statements made by Malcolm X, and more — sometimes delivered straight, and sometimes satirically, and some more tongue-in-cheek, by members of the Black Panthers, hard-hatted construction workers arguing with intellectuals on the American Flag, and many others.
The film — which was partly funded-by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who also make an appearance — begins with opening titles which attempt to spell out what the viewer will be seeing with a scrolling explanation:
“A contemporary probe and commentary of the mores and maladies of our age… With shtick, bits, pieces, girls, some hamburger, a little hair, a lady, some fellas, some religious stuff, and a lot of other things.”
Richard Pryor’s footage, which appears interspersed throughout the movie, was shot outdoors in just one afternoon, while he was shooting basketball somewhere in the projects in what appears to be New York City, and shows him in a paint-spattered work shirt, giving us about eight full minutes of his stand-up material amid the rubble of a boarded-up cinderblock building.
A text crawl tells more of the tale:
“In the late ’60s, Penelope Gill, Chairperson of the Daughters of the American Civil Patrol, filed this report:
‘On June 18, I attended a Richard Pryor performance in the company of policewoman Elsie Schoenberg, #6492. During his presentation, Mr. Pryor used the following words on several occasions:
The substance of Mr. Pryor’s dissertation was primarily based on denouncing the Military, the Pope, the President and the Police.
In addition, Pryor great offended us by graphically illustrating how family, friends and luminaries pass gas’.”
In addition to John and Yoko (their appearance is a statement about their “bed-in” in a Montreal hotel room a few years earlier), the film also includes mostly what is probably best called “found footage” of other famous early 70s counterculture heroes, who each appear as themselves, an impressive list that includes (in no particular order):
Andy Warhol, Ondine, Joan Baez (singing “Carry It On”), Lenny Bruce, Michael O’Donoghue, Leonard Cohen, Charon Cohen, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Krassner, Peter Max, Screw publisher Al Goldstein, Jim Buckley, Jimi Hendrix, Humphrey Bogart, B.B. King, Malcolm X (from archival footage), Al Capp, Jay Garner, Muddy Waters, the Velvet Underground, members of Sha Na Na, Tuli Kupferberg and the Revolting Theater, and so many more.
Some — like Warhol, looking on as Ondine reads aloud from his book a: A Novel, and poets Frank Lauria, Leonard Cohen, and Allen Ginsberg reciting their work in extreme fish-eyed close-up — consented to appear in the film, but others, certainly President Richard Nixon, must have had no prior knowledge they were going to show up onscreen in Piintoff’s film.
Indeed, many of the people appearing in the film — Bruce, and Malcolm X, for instance — had been dead for quite some time and it’s fairly clear that their estates weren’t approached for permission to use their footage.
As we see with both Groove Tube and Kentucky Fried Movie — both which set aside the mostly political content, choosing to concentrate on the humor — we get a lot of sophomoric, puerile humor here too, much of it involving naked or semi-naked women, like the naked women unsuccessfully reading for roles like the lead in Cinderella, and a strip-teasing nun, named Sister Filomena, featuring Michael O’Donahue (original Saturday Night Live writer/performer and National Lampoon-er), who also does an extended scene reading from his bohemian project Phoebe Zeitgeist.
Some of our other favorite bits include:
The Ace Trucking Company comedy troupe (featuring Fred Willard), who perform several skits, show us the reality of what goes on during the filming an Aqua Velva aftershave lotion commercial:
Michael O’Donoghue spoofing a cigarette commercial:
Ron Carey’s swinging Catholic priest, dancing and miming to Lionel Goldbart’s “God Loves Rock and Roll” in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Ave, in New York City, and we later see him walking out of a porno theater in Times Square. You might recognize Carey from 70s TV sitcom “Barney Miller” (this clip was posted to Youtube after Carey’s death in 2007):
We also liked the documentary footage about the Burger King Whopper — they were a still a relatively unknown company at the time, based in the 1950s in South Florida:
We must again address Pryor’s appearance in the film, and why he is attributed as the star of the movie, which as we’ve explained, is a hodgepodge ensemble of bits and pieces and no one should really get the top billing.
As we mentioned here, in our post on The Phynx, it’s always fun to see these early performances of Pryor, and we believe this is one of his first film appearances as himself.
By the time this film was released, he’d already been living in Berkeley, where his circle of intimates included Huey P. Newton and Ishmael Reed, and he’d been doing stand-up for more than five years, making appearances on a lot of TV shows and in a few small parts in movies like The Busy Body (1967) and Wild in the Streets (1968). He’d released his first self-titled comedy LP around this same time too, and his star was rising.
However, after his career really took off, Pryor became more and more annoyed with his association with how he received top-billing in movies that he barely appeared in, like Dynamite Chicken, and he successfully sued the filmmakers to bar “the distributors of the film … from emphasizing his role in the film,” according to an issue of Jet from December 1982: