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FUNNYMAN (1967).

Films about troubled artists in search of meaning often become irritatingly self-absorbed or overly cutesy, but this early effort from director-cinematographer John Korty brings spontaneous humor and a decidedly sunny approach to this heartfelt material. It's also a marvelous acting opportunity for 29-year-old Peter Bonerz, who gained mainstream success five years later as orthodontist Dr. Jerry Robinson on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and later directed such iconic TV-series as MURPHY BROWN and FRIENDS (as well as forgettable features like POLICE ACADEMY 6: CITY UNDER SIEGE). Highly unconventional for its time, the heavily improvised script by Korty and Bonerz incorporates the popular San Francisco comedy troupe The Committee, which Bonerz had been a member of for several years, but the film suffered from a bumpy release -- after premiering to stellar reviews at the 1967 New York Film Festival, it played limited arthouse runs in Los Angeles [the Los Feliz] and San Francisco [the Surf Theater] in 1968, but didn't officially open in Manhattan until 1971... Perry (Bonerz) has been performing improv for three years, yet feels oddly "stagnant" and is determined to change his life. We witness him interacting with friends and work colleagues, dumping live-in girlfriend and fellow troupe-member Jan (Nancy Fish), irritating his agent by screwing up a lucrative job writing commercials for Blast insecticide (with Korty including animated snippets of the rejected ideas, using a cut-out style similar to his amazing 1983 feature TWICE UPON A TIME), plus dating and bedding various women (including Carol Androsky's appealingly quirky costume designer). Perry even creates and performs his own one-man show, complete with avant-garde visuals, but still can't shake this emptiness. Incapable of enjoying his life, even in the midst of success, Perry finally takes a trip far from his urban comfort zone and up the coast to Bolinas -- befriending SF-area painter Arthur Okamura and his family, entering into an unexpected new romantic relationship, and reaching some small but profound epiphanies... Korty's career has spanned TV-movies (GO ASK ALICE, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN), acclaimed indies (RIVERRUN, SILENCE), as well as misfires like the unwanted LOVE STORY sequel, OLIVER'S STORY, and he gives FUNNYMAN an unfocused, documentary-style veneer that feels utterly genuine, while shifting from color stock to boldly-tinted black-and-white throughout. But this is primarily Bonerz's showcase, performing various characters and voices on-stage and off, but also expressively nailing the story's quieter moments, while making Perry legitimately talented, creative and, despite all of his problems and insecurities, remarkably charming. Several members of The Committee also appear throughout the film, including Larry Hankin, Mel Stewart, Roger Bowen, Richard Stahl, and Committee founder Alan Myerson (future director of POLICE ACADEMY 5: ASSIGNMENT MIAMI BEACH) as a "way out" lighting man, with Korty squeezing in a few of their on-stage Commitee skits as well. A bald Marshall Efron also turns up as a kinky photographer and future-Tony-nominee Gerald Hiken plays the improv troupe manager.

© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.