From Albert Brooks to the TV Funhouse:
Films from Saturday Night Live
A 90-minute Compilation Screening
September 7 to
October 21, 2001
Sundays at 3:00 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.
September 7 to
November 2, 2001
Fridays at 6:30 p.m.
Sundays at 4:00
On October 11, 1975, Saturday Night Live
exploded into a late-night landscape of old movies and reruns and
galvanized its alienated, youthful audience with an irreverent,
defiantly countercultural sensibility. SNL's incalculable
impact on popular culture over its twenty-six-year run has been well
documented, but one of the show's most intriguing achievements--its
emergence as network television's premier showcase for short
films--has been curiously neglected.
Casting about for a
"name" comedian to act as permanent host and draw viewers to a
program otherwise populated by unproven unknowns, SNL's
producers approached ultrahip Albert Brooks, whose
"anticomic" persona dovetailed with the show's underground flavor.
Brooks declined, suggesting that SNL book a different guest
host every week. Instead, he would contribute a series of short
films... and so it began.
Brooks used the assignment as a de
facto film school, turning out polished, satirical pieces on show
business tropes that foreshadowed his work in features. His
successor, Gary Weis--a former apprentice of legendary
director Sam Peckinpah--crafted whimsical slice-of-life
documentaries and wry character studies that contrasted sharply with
Brooks's cutting "inside" humor.
Tom Schiller was
SNL's next in-house filmmaker, an accomplished documentarian
who had worked with such luminaries as Willem de Kooning and Henry
Miller. Schiller was a master stylist, adept at parodying a wide
range of material, and his pieces crackled with heady references to
the likes of Fellini and Picasso.
Later in the show's run,
cast member Christopher Guest perfected his deadpan
improvisational style in shorts like the classic "synchronized
SNL also welcomed films from a wide
variety of outside contributors:
Robert Altman offered a piece featuring Sissy Spacek
that referenced the identity games the two would explore in
the film Three Women.
Eric Idle debuted a segment of his parodic
masterpiece The Rutles on the show. Rutles
editor Aviva Slesin contributed short pieces before
winning an Academy Award for her documentary feature on the
Algonquin Round Table.
Andy Warhol inspired mass head-scratching with
typically elliptical offerings.
Tim Robbins gave his right-wing folksinger Bob
Roberts a dry run in an SNL short.
Eclipsing all of the above in popular impact was Mr. Bill,
the brainchild of Walter Williams, an accounting school
dropout who submitted a bare-bones home movie featuring an
accident-prone little fellow made of modeling clay; Mr. Bill
went on to become one of the most beloved characters in the
The tradition continues today with Adam McKay's
disquietingly absurdist pieces and Robert Smigel's TV
Funhouse, an umbrella title for a series of animated shorts that
cloak pointed social commentary in the guise of the Saturday morning
cartoon shows of the seventies. These short films still provide many
of the show's most treasured highlights, as SNL continues to
champion this vital and often marginalized aspect of the filmmaker's