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Who Is Bruce Kimmel?
From actor to director, from composer to producer, Bruce Kimmel has been a part of the entertainment industry for thrity-some years (or more). Baby boomers instinctly recognize him from his guest starring roles on such television classics as "The Partridge Family," "Laverne & Shirley" and "M*A*S*H." Cult film lovers know him for two strangely wonderful films from the 1970's - "The First Nudie Musical" and "The Creature Wasn't Nice;" each film saluting a genre, with riotous results. Musical theater (and film) mavens know his name from his "Spotlight Series" on the Varese Sarabande recording label, where he initiated quite a few albums of note, as well as a series of "Unsung Musicals" which put the spotlight on great songs from forgotten shows, "Lost in Boston" featured songs which were dropped from shows in their out-of-town try-out periods, all using a veritable ensemble of new voices, as well as a few old favorties. Today, Kimmel has added another couple of feathers to his crown: he has just published his first novel and he has personally overseen the DVD release of his charming cult movie "The First Nudie Musical." Anthony D. caught up with the very busy Bruce for an exclusive DVDlaunch interview (a first for Anthony) to discuss all the things Bruce is.
Q: "The First Nudie Musical" became quite a cult movie, didn't it? What do you think drew people (like me) to it in the first place?
A: It became a cult film out of necessity. In its initial release it was all but buried by its distributor - but critics and audiences managed to discover it on their own. We received some amazingly wonderful reviews that first time around. As to what drew people (like you) to it in the first place, well, I think it was, for its time, fairly outrageous with a lot of nudity and raunch and was pretty consistently amusing. And the people who discovered it felt like it was their own baby, in a way, and they told their friends and their friends told their friends. Later on, it was one of the first movies to be shown regularly in hotels and then on cable, and its audience grew quite a bit from those showings.
Q: It really is a charming, innocent film. Other than the difficulties with the studio upon its release, are there any other tales from that shoot that you haven't managed to discuss on the DVD?
A: Well, three commentary tracks and a documentary later, I think we pretty much exhausted the tales to tell. We never shut up for three days.
Q: Now that we have "The First Nudie Musical" on DVD, what are the chances of an Anniverary Edition of "The Creature Wasn't Nice," your 1981 sci-fi musical? (Which also featured Cindy Williams, BTW.)
A: Well, it would only interest me if they could also include my version of the film. Unfortunately, my version only exists on a three-quarter inch tape, but still it would be great to have both so people could see what it was really supposed to be. The DVD that's out (under it's third title, Naked Space) is awful - full frame, way too bright, and I just can't stomach what they did to it. Funnily, people have, in the last several years, "found" the film and enjoyed it - so for that I'm grateful. And it does still have the odd funny moment and the highlight, the creature's song survived unscathed.
Q: You are quite obviously a DVD geek; what are your current favorite DVDs? And why?
A: My favorite DVD release of the year so far is Anchor Bay's brilliant Cliff Richard box. I had never seen any of those films and they were a revelation - so much fun, and beautifully done. The transfers are amazing (Studio + Canal does it again - they're the best!) and anyone who would like to know what perhaps inspired the visual look of The Young Girls of Rochefort (aside from the obvious MGM musicals) need only look at Summer Holiday. I had a blast watching those films, and the commentaries are quite nice to boot.
Q: Outside of the musical theater community, your name is not that well known, but you have a very interesting on-going career. Post "The First Nudie Musical," you worked as a very young character actor on several sitcoms (M*A*S*H, The Partridge Family and yes, LaVerne and Shirley), do you have any anecdotes from your television days that you would care to share?
A: I worked in television for twelve years straight - always playing nerds it seems. One gets tired of such things after twelve years, I must say. But I had a blast and did lots of fun shows and worked with wonderful actors and directors. One of my favorite things was on the second Happy Days I did. I played a "villain", a college kid who rooked Richie in a poker game. I was cast by the producers, who I'd worked for before on many Partridge Family shows. So, you know, they just gave me the part. I walked onto the set and Jerry Paris, the wonderful director, looked at me and said, "Oh, no - you're all wrong, how did this happen." And he was SERIOUS! He'd seen me doing all these nerdy boyfriend things and he was mortified because he thought that's all I could do. So, we rehearse the first scene and I do my dialogue and he comes running up to me and apologizes and says, "You're an actor! Thank God! You're an actor - that was great." And from then on, whenever I'd see him on the Paramount lot he'd shout at me, "You're an actor! Thank God!" I loved that.
Q: Your career then went from television to recording, and you were one of the founders of Bay City Records, correct? Bay City specialized in licensing various Broadway Cast albums and releasing them to cd. Which cast albums were you responsible for? How did your move from Bay City to Varese Sarabande take place? Which label did the soundtrack for "The First Nudie Musical" appear on?
A: So many questions, so little time. Well, there were a few years in-between - I made my second film, I directed and wrote a bunch of comedy shorts for a cable show called Likely Stories, I directed a third film (under a pseudonym - my very first pseudonym) and wrote a lot. Then some friends and I started a label, Bay Cities. We were in business for three years and did quite a few reissues - American classical music, Broadway show reissues, soundtracks, both new and reissue, and a handful of jazz and vocal things - 93 releases in all if I remember correctly. Our Broadway show reissues were A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Chicago, Woman of the Year, Golden Boy. It was a nice company, but we were at the mercy of an independent distributor who wanted to own part of the label - when we refused the offer, they just killed us basically. Wouldn't pay on time, kept us at bay. And I saw we could never grow and that I'd never be able to take the company where I wanted to - which was to produce original recordings. Then I was offered the Varese deal - basically carte blanche to start my own line - a Broadway division - and to do whatever I wanted, within certain budget constraints. I went for it, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Nudie Musical soundtrack was Varese Sarabande's very first soundtrack. How about that?
Q: For a brief spell, didn't Varese Sarabande get into the DVD biz? (or I am the only person to have the "Jerry Herman at the Hollywood Bowl" DVD?)
A: They only put out the one DVD. I tried to tell them we should get into it more, but they are very slow to change there.
Q: Other than Goblin's soundtrack to "Suspiria," (and some limited edition boxed sets) a cd of a film's soundtrack rarely appears with the DVD. What guided you to release "The First Nudie Musical" soundtrack with the DVD? In a limited run of DVDs, how many "First Nudie Musical" DVDs will contain the soundtrack?
A: It was Image's idea, actually. It's just whatever the first pressing is - about 8,000 DVDs. After that, that's it for the soundtrack CD. And I must say, they've almost gone through the 8,000, so grab 'em while you can.
Q: As a special feature, the cd is a godsend, for not only does it contain the soundtrack to the film, but features the delightful soundtrack to "Dollars to Doughnuts," the exclusive DVD retrospective documentary. How was this decision reached?
A: The CD was actually at the pressing plant when I heard the three songs of mine that Grant Geissman arranged, for use in the documentary. I hadn't wanted the documentary to be scored with vocals because I thought that was weird, and even though I had the instrumental tracks from the songs, without the vocals there were no melody lines. So, I went to Grant and asked him to do three songs. Anyway, they were so great, his arrangements, that I said, "You should just do the rest and I'll stick them on the CD." That excited him and he had them all done about four days later. I pulled the CD from the pressing plant, remastered it with the additional tracks and then sent it back to the pressing plant.
Q: After listening to the commentary tracks on "The First Nudie Musical," it's obvious that you have listened to quite a few yourself. What do think a commentary's major function should be? What commentaries have truly impressed you? Three commentaries, each one worthwhile, were you trying to set some sort of record?
A: You know, I haven't really listened to a lot of them, but the ones I hate are the ones where they just say, "Oh, look, there's a green curtain on the window." And then there's a twenty-minute silence. I like the commentaries where they're having fun, that are anecdotal and informative without being dry and pompous. We'd done the two commentaries for the film - and we were scoring the documentary and I turned to Nick Redman and said, "Let's go do a commentary on the documentary - no one's ever done that." And we did - just like that - no thought, no prep, no nothing. Just ranted on and on. I'm quite fond of that one.
Q: What upcoming titles are you looking forward to on DVD?
A: Certainly Sweet Charity. And I keep hoping someone will put out A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) and Fellini's The White Sheik. I'm looking forward to Spielberg's Duel whenever the hell that finally comes.
Q: Bruce, you truly are a renaissance man. Would you care to tell us a little bit about your newly-begun literary career?
A: Well, I'd been threatening to write a novel for twenty years. Last year I finally sat down and did it. For years I wasn't sure what I should write - I almost tried a mystery about six years ago - had the plot and everything, but ultimately I just got bored with it very quickly. I'd always wanted to write a valentine to growing up in 1950s Los Angeles, and that's what I ended up writing. It's called Benjamin Kritzer, and it's just come out from 1st Books. I lucked out and got great blurbs from the likes of Ira Levin, Gary Owens and Rupert Holmes. And people seem to like it, so that's the icing on the cake.
Q: What online DVD review sites do you read?
A: This one of course. Only this one. I never look at any others, only this one. This is the one I look at. I've never seen any others. Are there other DVD sites? Because I only look at this one. If there are others, I've never seen them. (Editor's Note: Bruce Kimmel is my new hero. You can learn a lot from him, everyone!) I do frequent a DVD Usenet newsgroup, which is populated with some of the biggest wazoos it's ever been my displeasure to encounter. There are two or three nice folks who always have interesting things to say, but then there are these other jerks who just turn it into a playpen for malcontent twelve-year-olds.
Q: In a situation which Oscar Wilde would cherish, you seem to have lost one of "The First Nudie Musical's" leading actresses. Any leads since the DVD's release?
A: Sadly, no. We did find a Susan Stewart, but she says she's not THE Susan Stewart, this one's a script supervisor. Part of me wants to go snoop around and make sure she's just not trying to hide her past, but I haven't done that yet.
Q: You have a daily online column (one of my personal favorites, I might add), would you like to send out a little plug for our readers?
A: Yes, come and visit us at www.haineshisway.com. We have a lovely family of friends there, and it's all very civilized and too too. We celebrate regularly by wearing our pointy party hats, putting on our colorful tights and pantaloons and dancing the Hora or, if we're feeling very bold, the Mashed Potato. Then we eat the official foods of haineshisway.com, cheese slices and ham chunks. Oh, what fun we have, so do come and join us. You can also buy signed copies of the DVD and of my novel, and we also have lovely First Nudie Musical products, too - t-shirts, cups, clocks, frisbees, underwear, it's all too exciting for me to continue.
Q: Is there a new Bruce Kimmel musical in the near future?
A: I have several projects in the works - including a new stage musical. The other projects are still hush-hush but will be a ton of fun if and when they come to fruition.
Q: Finally, since this is MY first interview, it's time for "The Barbara Walters Question:" Bruce, if you were a tree, what tree would you be?
A: That's a Barbara Walters question? That is what she asks? If I were a tree? If I was on the Barbara Walters show she would ask me if I was a tree what tree would I be? I'd kick her in the shins if she asked me that. Who in tarnation does Barbara Walters think she is asking me if I were a tree what tree would I be? What do people answer? An oak? An elm? A willow tree? A wisteria tree? Or is that a bush? I'd like it if she asked me if I were a bush what bush would I be? I'm just baffled by this tree thing. What kind of tree would SHE be, that's what I'd like to know. Let's just turn the tables on Barbara Walters, damn her eyes.
Q: Thank you so much for the interview. Best of luck with the DVD's success.
A: Wait, I haven't said what kind of tree I'd be.
A very special thanks to Bruce Kimmel for participating in this interview! "The First Nudie Musical" is now available on DVD courtesy from Image Entertainment. You may purchase it at DVDEmpire, and be sure to check out Anthony's in-depth review of the film and DVD!