Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gross Gems -- Funny Forgotten Films

Gross Gems LogoIf you view my Blogger profile, you'll see a couple of Favorite Movies listed of which you have never heard: Tarzini of the Garbanzo and Mission: Imbroglio. You won't find them listed on IMDB and (until my profile) a Google search would turn up nothing (Tarzini) or coincidental couplings of the two words "mission" and "imbroglio" (although there seems to be a foreign film trailer of that name).

The two films -- and several others -- were the creation of a "studio" called Gross Gems. What was Gross Gems? In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a bunch of high-school guys in the Los Gatos-Saratoga area (one-horse towns back then, but now "wealthy suburbs of Silicon Valley") somehow got hold of a 16mm camera and proceeded to create a handful of one-reelers that spoofed the culture of the times. While I remember Tarzini (a great take-off on every Tarzan film ever made) and Imbroglio (a dead-on satire of Mission: Impossible that predated anything the Abrahams/Zucker trio ever did), they also created Utter Confusion, Jet Car, Golfer, Scramble, and more. I had seen some of the films at our high school (I think) and then, most memorably (since I kept the program book) at Villa Montalvo, a ritzy arboretum in Saratoga.

I remember the night well (or do I? Time may have played with my memories). It was my first date with Terry Sicular, and my dad drove us there. I had overcome my shyness to ask her out because I suspected she would appreciate their wicked humor. I must have been a good judge of intelligence, because I Googled her name recently and discovered that Dr. Terry Sicular is a globe-trotting economist at the University of Western Ontario! She's written tonnes of articles about China.

The show consisted of the Gross Gems films interspersed with "Gross-Outs" -- short blackout skits with titles such as "Snake-Charmer Gross-Out" and "Rod McKurihanihanO'Clancy Gross-Out". I recall them being amusing-to-hilarious and alternating very well with the films.

(After the show was over, I tried calling my parents to pick us up, but the phone was busy -- this was long before call-waiting. So the curator of the arboretum drove us down the hill to the gate, racing at breakneck speed and honking loudly at every curve. Terry and I looked at each other as if we might become a headline in the Los Gatos Times-Observer about the fatal dangers of the Montalvo access road.)

But I digress.

The producer/writer/actor was Rick Harper; Doug Harrison played piano, acted, and did some soundtrack work; Sandy Stotzer wrote and acted; Don Langston wrote and acted; Peder Jorgensen provided production assistance; Roger Pease, also PA; Don Stewart and Lane Parker were PA's; Roquefort the Lizard engaged in Public Relations and The Ape (see photo above) provided backstage noise.

My favorite line from Mission: Imbroglio was from the opening scene in which the Jim Phelps-type is receiving his orders from the tape recorder, which reminds him that "...if you or any of your IM force is caught or killed, the secretary will miss you guys around the office."

I just wanted it on the record that the Gross Gems films ought to be resurrected, digitally restored, and made available to the world. They were that funny.