By the time Legend met Kaufman, he was riding high on his success with Taxi. Legend had a pretty impressive resume himself: "a rock 'n' roll star in my spare time" with Johnny Legend & His Naked Apes; the man behind Teenage Cruisers ("the first X-rated rockabilly movie!"); and the writer and producer of wrestler Fred Blassie's record, "Pencil-Necked Geek." Hating My Dinner with Andre, Legend was inspired to make a parody with Blassie as one of the film's raconteurs.
"We were wondering who would be the perfect foil, and then it suddenly hit us: Andy," says Legend. "So one fateful night we were all on the way to Madison Square Garden, and we cornered Andy before the show and hit him with the idea of doing this take-off. A week or so later, he went to see My Dinner with Andre, passed out in the theater, and called us in the middle of the night, saying, 'I have to do this!'"
One of the first films shot for the video market in the summer of 1982, Blassie begins with Kaufman's bus ride to Sambo's, a long-since vanished chain of theme restaurants based on the children's story of the "Little Black Sambo" who ingeniously turned tigers into butter. For the next five hours, he filmed the two chewing the fat on the subjects of celebrity, cleanliness, and why you shouldn't eat "dough" for breakfast (pancakes, waffles).
Undeniably self-indulgent, Blassie also has moments of genuine absurdity, as when Kaufman insults the women at a nearby table, then tries to pick them up. The film also captures Kaufman meeting his future girlfriend, Margulies, one of the women at the table. "He really was trying to hit on Lynne," Legend says. "After we were done, every time I'd call him he'd ask me how she was doing and could he get her number." Kaufman's co-conspirator, Bob Zmuda, also appears in the obligatory vomit scene.
Legend is considering a "making of" film on the project, due to the wealth of outtakes. "Not to toot our own horns or anything, but Blassie was actually a masterful editing job!" he says. "A lot of people think it takes place in real time, which is quite flattering. There's a whole lot of conversations where we'd take three or four words from a sentence and then cut to 20 minutes or an hour later for the reaction shot. It was a whole Citizen Kane-ish ordeal getting it to make sense."
I'm from Hollywood, which Margulies co-wrote, directed, and edited, looks at Kaufman's intergender wrestling career, and his long-running feud with wrestler Jerry Lawler. Released in 1992, it treats Kaufman's wrestling escapades in all seriousness. Footage of his wrestling matches with women, his taunting of the entire Memphis wrestling community, and the "neck-breaking" incident with Lawler, are intercut with contemporary interviews with Lawler, a worried Robin Williams, and a zonked-out Tony Danza (the great musical interludes are provided by vocal group the Bobs).
Though each film is available on video, shorts and other rare footage will be shown at each screening. When Legend speaks of his work on Blassie, he could just as easily be talking about Hollywood as well: "Andy thought this was the best slice of pure Andy that had ever been captured. A full hour without it having to be part of a plot line, or a bunch of skits, or where he only has 10 minutes to do something. This was a warts-and-all, complete dose of Kaufman -- which is what he really liked about it."
Johnny Legend will introduce My Breakfast with Blassie on Thurs Jan 13 at 7:30 & 9:30 pm; Lynne Margulies will introduce I'm from Hollywood on Sat Jan 15 at 7:30 & 9:30 pm.