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John's Picks

Lieberman for President

Back in 1972, a young film-maker named Jeff Lieberman was working at King Features, editing old Laurel and Hardy films for television, when an opportunity arose to make his own film. The fine folks at Pepsi were looking for someone to make an anti-drug film to use in a PR campaign (i.e. caffeine is not a drug...see, we're against drugs). Unbeknownst to them, the person they hired would give them back a film that was, at it's core, not only concerned with the selling of drugs to kids, but is actually an attack on the way businesses market many bad ideas to kids. Besides the evil drug pushers explaining how easy it is to get kids to try their new drugs, Lieberman takes on the music business by showing us how a big record label funds a studio band (led by the 1910 Fruitgum Company's "Millionaire at 22" Elliot Chirut, composer of Yummy Yummy Yummy and Simon Says), works at creating their image ("we have to put the first record out on a small label, so the kids will think they discovered it") and uses the band to sell other bad ideas (nose rings...big ass nose rings) to the ever impressionable kids. The film is called The Ringer, and it is included as an extra on the very limited edition DVD to Jeff Leibermans 1977 feature film Blue Sunshine.

The feature itself is almost just as compelling as the short, though it is hard to explain the plot without giving too much away, suffice it to say that on the outside it is also an anti-drug film, but much deeper is a film condemning the lost opportunities of the 1960's counter-culture, as well as the vacuous 1970's disco culture. Consequently, as Lieberman states on the commentary track, the film was shown more times at CBGB's in 1977 than at any actual movie theatres. The DVD also contains, on a separate disc, the soundtrack by Charles Gross. His staccato 70's synth work mixes well with the lite jazz and cheesy disco also featured in the film, making this disc almost as disturbing as the movie it accompanied. The film itself was transferred from one of the few prints that actually still survives, and has been cleaned up considerably, as shown on the before and after demo also included as an extra. Two years before Blue Sunshine, Lieberman made his feature-length debut with the best killer worm opus ever committed to celluloid. SQUIRM, 1975

Forced by his low-budget to keep the actual on screen worm mayhem to a minimum, Lieberman, as he cops to on the commentary track, opts to tell the story a' la a Nancy Drew style mystery. The simple story of a fish-out-of-water New Yorker (Don Scardino) finding love and killer worms in the deep south never can be told too many times for me. The film is never boring and DON SCARDINO's performance is quite endearing. After listening to the director's commentary track, I was hoping to find out whatever happened to old Don, but I guess that's what the internet is for. After these two fine films, Lieberman directed only two more features. 1980's Just Before Dawn (teen slash'em up) and 1985's Remote Control (direct to video disaster that the director absolutely hates). At the end of Squirm, he promises to do either a remake or a sequel, if enough people let him know. I want a sequel, Jeff! Are you there?! Hello!