Friday, April 20, 2018

Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979)

USA, 78 minutes, documentary
Director: Jeff Margolis
Writers: Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney
Photography: Tom Schamp
Editors: Daniel J. Johnson, Ken Johnson, Steve Livingston

I'm filing this under "documentary," which I guess is what you do with concert movies, but I was struck in poring over by how difficult it is to find in Richard Pryor's profile. He's not considered an actor in it—fair enough. Nor is he director or producer (at least of this one). It's there in the jumble under "Self," along with his awards hosting and talk show appearances. The quickest way to it and other similar stand-up documentaries is probably under writer—again, fair enough, but not all of his writing credits are for movies like this, so it's another jumble. I'd like to see a list of all his stand-up comedy movies in one place, please. For that matter, it's not listed at all in the Halliwell's film guide and it's old enough and was popular enough that it should be—at least, that's the way I remember it. In fact, I remember it was considered a kind of watershed milestone for stand-up comedy at the time, because Pryor deals so frankly not just with racial issues, as he always did, but also with the legal and health troubles related to his notorious drug use at the time. What I remember about it most is how funny it was. People talk about "laughing till it hurts" but that was actually my experience. I saw it repeatedly and pretty much always laughed until I couldn't stand it. All these years later, sure, it's dated. How could it not be? I still laugh but now it's more like smiling, and not till it hurts anymore. Some of the material has inevitably gone rancid—the attitudes toward gays and women can notably induce cringing and/or despair. It's no longer the single most amazing object of stand-up comedy I've ever seen, though I'd have to think about what betters it.

Partly because of this milder response, it's actually easier now to pick out how he does it, as it's often still effective. It relies on the dynamics of improv comedy, which is the most immediate and "hottest" type of comedy, where you and a performer feel most in synch. Pryor probably used some kind of "set list" of topics, and had already developed most of it to some extent, but there's a sense he might do anything as each one comes up. His chanting riffing and nervous stage prowling somehow create a world where the most ridiculous things happen vividly—a doleful German Shepherd briefly extends sympathies on a sad occasion before warning he will be on Pryor's ass again the next day, or a man suddenly finds himself caught in an extremely long and slow-moving line for death by way of sex, or demonstrations of racial differences are made by reactions to encountering a snake. Pryor also has a square, instantly recognizable white-guy voice that is good for laughs just in itself, and he knows it. It's still always funny. I loved this movie but full disclosure I never did make it to any of the follow-ups (Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip from 1982, and I thought there were others but I don't recognize them now by title). IMDb accurately but misleadingly calls Richard Pryor: Live in Concert his second filmed stand-up performance. When I tracked down the 1971 nightclub set that preceded it I saw it had actually been commercially released only in 1981, doubtless springboarding off the success of this. If you saw Richard Pryor: Live in Concert and enjoyed it in about 1979 you will probably still have a good deal of affection for it. If you never did, it might be a crapshoot now. I have no idea how it plays. From my view, the case for Richard Pryor as a remarkable original still finds some of its best evidence right here.

No comments:

Post a Comment