Drawing on her SNL characters, but spiced up without the censorship imposed by television broadcasting, Gilda opens with her racy Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals, adding a touch of Lenny Bruce to her own unique physical humor.
She gives us edgy versions of her signature characters, holding nothing back. One wonders where she finds the reserves of intense energy in that petite body. Gilda plays Judy Miller, the hyperkinetic kid literally climbing the walls, treating her bed like a trampoline and letting her emotions shriek with a cathartic abandon. She plunges into the depths of excess with Candy Slice, her version of a self-immolating, drugged-out rock ‘n roll star, ala Mick Jagger / Patti Smith. [See the YouTube clip below.] Nor are we deprived of her other characters, including Lisa Loopner, Roseanne Roseannadanna and Emily Litella. And of course the 1960s Jewish girl group Rhonda and the Rhondettes turn up with their identical, high-camp Farah Fawcett hairdos.
In between her scenes, she has two sidekicks who do bits while she is changing her costumes. A young Paul Shaffer (then a band member on SNL, now the band leader for David Letterman) gives surprisingly nuanced comic performances. Don Novello plays his SNL character Father Guido Sarducci, spokesman for the comatose Cardinal (high on a piece of a Quaalude). [See the YouTube clip below.] The wit in these pieces remains no less relevant and biting today.
The film is shot like a modern concert documentary, complete with glimpses of Gilda’s high-speed costume changes, of the controlled backstage chaos of a theatrical evening and of an adoring audience. In fact, Mike Nichols opens with a shot of Gilda in her dressing room trying to do something with her wild hair. “No hairbrush!” she laughs into the camera. “Opening night and there’s no hairbrush.”
This spectacularly funny DVD is a bittersweet experience for Gilda Ratner’s fans, knowing by hindsight that she is to pass away so very young a decade later. Her super vitality, her ability to so utterly inhabit her alter-egos and her willingness to expose herself to physical and emotional danger remain unsurpassed. The adulation of the audience is as palpable as Gilda’s sincere gratification.
This review first appeared on EdgeBoston.com.
Here are Gilda and Paul Shaffer doing the edgy Candy Slice and the Slicers.
And here is the Five Minute University from Don Novello playing Father Guido Sarducci.