The primary goal of a documentary is to educate an audience to something they might not know or have completely overlooked. In the case of National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, I learned that the humor magazine is no longer being published. They stopped printing issues back in 1998. Of course it’s easy to not notice this event since over the last two decade there’s been plenty of movies with the title National Lampoon Presents…. Thankfully the documentary is a lot more entertaining and hilarious than National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze 2. The film’s focus are how the magazine started in the late ‘60 and became a massive comedy juggernaut until its success derailed it.
For all the reputation of the Harvard Lampoon, it really wasn’t to much of a laugh for decades. Then things changed when a women’s magazine asked the Lampoon writers to lampoon them in the late ‘60s. This venture lead to the writers quickly having fun with other major magazines and even a few pop novels of the time. The two students who ran the operation didn’t want to quit the fun when they were graduating. Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney went to Manhattan and found someone who believed they could find a reading audience for humor that was a bit more potent than the “Laughter Is the Best Medicine” feature in The Reader’s Digest.
After a shaky first few issues, the magazine came together. Writers who didn’t attend Harvard found themselves gravitating towards contributing to the pages. This included Tony Hendra (This Is Spinal Tap and Michael O’Donoghue. The magazine gleefully tore into all aspects of American life. Nothing was sacred as they exposed the carnality and perversion that had been hidden with the facade of Father Knows Best. They had a knack for turning up the discomfort level to absurd levels. The ‘70s were properly mocked in the pages as it attempted to bring sarcasm to the Vietnam War including O’Donoghue’s masterpiece of a Vietnamese Baby Book that includes baby’s first shrapnel. The movie delves into the biggest issue of being a no limits magazine which is trying to attract well paying advertisers. This is why Mad Magazine never had advertising. The Lampoon got into trouble with a fake ad for a VW Bug that pointed out how the vehicle could have made Ted Kennedy the president.
In the early ‘70s, the Lampoon was the place to be for uncensored comedy. Besides the magazine selling in the millions, they had gone multi-media. They had scored with the live musical Lemmings. This was a Woodstock for people wanting to kill themselves. The performers on the stage included John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis and Christopher Guest. National Lampoon Radio Hour aired weekly on various counter culture loving stations across the country. It also featured Belushi and crew along with Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Michael O’Donoghue, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Gilda Radner, Harry Shearer, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty and Richard Belzer. Both stage show and radio show found themselves being released on record albums. Perhaps your cool great uncle owns a couple of them. This was a powerhouse of talent that still has an impact in comedy. But when all was going right in 1975, it all started falling apart. Beard and Kenney were eager to cash out to collect a massive buyout that was in their deal with the publisher. The magazine told NBC no to creating a late night comedy show. And personalities were classing in power battles. Plus way too many people were drugged up to see clearly about the future of the Lampoon.
The documentary is a fine mix of interviews with those who survived the ‘70s and vintage footage and photographs to take us into the heart of the weirdness. They have footage of Belushi working both on stage and in the radio booth. Bill Murray is so young that he does look like Brian Doyle-Murray’s brother. The feud between Tony Hendra and Michael O’Donoghue gets proper coverage although only Tony gets to tell his side of the story since Michael refuses to rise from the grave. There’s even detailed memories of how John Hughes’ short story about a family trip was turned into National Lampoon’s Vacation. Director Douglas Tirola and his crew bring out the best stories from the former staffers who are more than willing to share happy and horrific memories. Judd Apatow talks a lot even though he mostly subscribed. Kinda sad to see no Nick Bakay moment.
This movie is belongs in the collection of anyone that has the first five seasons of Saturday Night Live on the shelf along with Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. By the end of the film you’ll have a clue about how those creative forces gathered strength before becoming the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead delivers on telling an amazing tale of a magazine that needs to be lionized for its impact in popular culture. Still hard to conceive that it’s been gone for nearly two decades.
The only disappointment is the movie isn’t dedicated to the memory of Chevy Chase.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer looks fine although quality varies on the vintage video. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1. The sound mix is great for the interview segments. The movie is subtitled.
Additional Interview Footage includes Stan Lee, Tony Hendra, PJ O’Rourke, Henry Beard and others. There’s even more talk from Judd Apatow.
Deleted Scenes include segments of John Goodman reading Doug Kenney, More talk on Animal House, drugs in the workplace, Jaws 3 People 0, Working in NYC, feelings toward Saturday Night Live and folks remembering their favorite Lampoon pieces. There’s even famous folks reading pieces by John Hughes, focus on the artists and Chevy Chase’s “Seeds” story. The saddest part is how Spielberg killed Jaws 3 People 0 yet allowed Jaws 3-D to be made. Further proof that he has zero sense of humor except when the joke is on him.
Magnolia Home Entertainment presents National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead. Starring: Chevy Chase, Kevin Bacon and Tony Hendra. Rated: R Running Time: 95 minutes. Released: April 19, 2016.
Tags: National Lampoon