Not content to be a pioneer in the contemporary reinvention of radio known as the podcasting scene, comedian and dangerous free-thinker Greg Proops has decided to make his mark on cinema as well. But not by producing films; no, a look at his extensive tour schedule is evidence that he’s much too busy for that. Instead, he aims to shape the way we watch and discuss movies by doing exactly that: watching and discussing movies. The catch? Proops has teamed up with Los Angeles’ Cinefamily to start the Greg Proops Film Club, an excuse to show his favorite films at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Ave, preceded by his thoughts on the film and followed with a live audience Q&A. And the entire thing gets recorded and released for free as part of his regularly scheduled podcast, The Smartest Man in the World.
This past Tuesday, Proops held the most recent in his series of screenings with Withnail & I, a cult classic comedy about the (somewhat delayed) coming of age of a twenty-something actor (Paul McGann) living in a filthy apartment in London’s Camden Town. Written and directed by real life actor Bruce Robinson, Withnail & I is a fictionalized version of a young Robinson’s relationship with his bats**t best friend, played here by Richard E. Grant as Withnail. Broke, bored, and deathly afraid of what might be growing beneath the dishes piled up in their sink, Withnail and the film’s lead (identified in the credits simply as “...& I”) decide to retreat to a remote cottage owned by Withnail’s flamboyant uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths).
Perpetually drunk and with a total disregard for their health and safety that rings immediately true to every formerly floundering young male, the two cruise out into the country in a Jaguar sedan so busted and rusty that it defies logic by starting at all. To them, what they find at Monty’s place is a harrowing adventure fraught with danger; to us, it’s pure laughter. It’s easy to see why a comedian would hold a movie like this near and dear to his heart, especially considering Proops’ relative age to the film’s stars – roughly a month older than McGann, Proops began residing in the UK not long after Withnail & I found its following there, something we’re still waiting to happen here in the US.
Proops himself is also an actor and comedian, and if his routine is to be believed, he’s not without practice pulling the cork. In fact, he often refers to his podcast as a vodkast, in honor of his recording-time refreshment of choice. To introduce the film, he started by reading a list of all the drinks imbibed in Withnail & I, challenging his listeners at home to drink along with the film. An obsessive researcher, Proops is never without a portfolio of print-outs that serve as reference for his recordings. “Mouthful of red wine. Lighter fluid. Double gin. Finger of cider, with ice. Finger of cider, with ice. Finger of cider, with ice,” he recited from a Withnail & I drinking game he found online.
But even with a great film to anchor the evening, the talk wasn’t without several series of rapid tangents, the likes of which Proops has made his trademark over the course of his podcasting career. In no time at all, the conversation zigged from topic to topic before zagging its way back to Withnail & I, at which point the audience had likely forgotten a movie was still waiting to be shown.
Starting at Robinson’s work as a director we jumped to his work as an actor in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. This brought out recollections of high school screenings and a quick retrospective of the works of Shakespeare. From there, it was Roman Polanski’s Macbeth, which Proops recalls for two reasons over all others: a brutally bloody battle between mace and face, and the credit to Playboy Productions for getting that movie made. The mention of the mace led to a quick look back at famous medieval weaponry as portrayed in modern film, which would lead to Proops thrashing The Lord of the Rings in an assault that is sure to come back and bite him after this recording is released. The nod to Playboy triggered an impromptu impression of Hugh Hefner and an annihilation of the reality show The Girls Next Door that should upset nobody. And then – oh, right – back to that wonderful movie we’re all here to see. Did you know Robinson once got lit on homemade booze and smashed the walls of his apartment with an artificial leg?
This is the charm of a Greg Proops podcast, and the unique appeal of this series of Cinefamily screenings, which are scheduled to happen on a monthly basis from here out. While The Smartest Man in the World is a freeform monologue in which no topic is set, the Greg Proops Film Club presents specific confines to work within, something out of the ordinary for this orator. Not that he has to respect those confines; after all, it’s his club. There’s nothing to stop him from talking about English Literature class, or broad swords, or bad TV for an hour and then letting the film roll. It’s up to you to listen in and make sense of it all for yourself.
Why We Like It: intelligent film discussion, hilariously encyclopedic reference knowledge, Greg Proops