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The Source of 'Austin's' Mad Power

Movies: The American Cinematheque swings into 'Mods & Rockers!' gear with a festival of films from the 1960s.

June 25, 1999|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thirty years before Austin Powers uttered his first "Yeah, baby, yeah!" or danced the frug with a group of "birds" down Carnaby Street, people were grooving to a diverse, often outrageous crop of movies that came out of the swinging England and hip, hot Hollywood of the '60s.

These flicks ran the gamut from freewheeling musical comedies to head trips into the world of psychedelia to plotless excursions into surrealism. They proved to be an inspiration--and not just to Austin. Jay Roach said he clinched the job directing "International Man of Mystery" by "showing these super-hyper stylized movies of jet-set pop art films" to Mike DeLuca, production chief at New Line, which released both "Austin" films.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 26, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 6 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
'Mods & Rockers!'--The American Cinematheque's Mods & Rockers English Tea Party on July 4 is $15 for members and $20 for the general public. Information provided by the sponsors listed an incorrect price in Friday's Calendar. Information: (323) 461-2020, Ext. 3, or fax (323) 461-9737.

"I got the job by convincing them that you could make a stylized comedy, and that it would be a really broad comedy, but a really rich pop art sort of feeling to it," Roach says.

Now the American Cinematheque is casting the spotlight on these classic, campy and sometimes incomprehensible flicks that inspired Roach and "Austin Powers" star Mike Myers. The Cinematheque's "Mods & Rockers!" festival kicks off today at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and continues through July 4.

These films were a rebellion against the staid Britain of the 1950s, notes British humorist Martin Lewis, the festival's co-creator and producer.

"Our '50s weren't even in black and white. It was gray," he says. "'It was a deeply depressing decade. When the Beatles and [the comedy troupe] Beyond the Fringe burst on the scene, it blew off the cobwebs."

Actor Michael York, who began his movie career in such trendy '60s gems as "Smashing Time" and "The Guru" and has appeared in both "Austin Powers" films as Austin's boss, Basil Exposition, vividly recalls the liberating feeling of those times.

"You can't imagine the shock in England just to see everyone taking off their ties and formal suits, letting it all hang out. It was an amazing time--all roads lead to Carnaby Street," York says.

York realized England was breaking out of its doldrums, when, as a young actor in repertory in Scotland, he caught a clip on the tube of 1964's "A Hard Day's Night." "My eyes bugged out," York recalls. "I thought, 'This is fantastic.' "

Besides such well-known films as the 1965 Beatles classic, "Help!," and Michelangelo Antonioni's legendary pop culture film "Blowup," set in London, the festival features such groovy goodies as:

* "Bedazzled": Stanley Donen's 1967 comedy starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and featuring Raquel Welch as Lust.

* "Tonight Let's All Make Love in London": Peter Whitehead's documentary of mid-'60s London featuring Michael Caine, Vanessa Redgrave and the Rolling Stones.

* "Wonderwall": The American premiere of the surreal 1969 headtripping experience starring Jane Birkin. George Harrison supplies the sitar-laced score.

* "Privilege": Director Peter Watkins' chilling 1967 examination of the media-controlled future starring former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones.

* "Psych-Out": A 1968 American International Pictures flick starring Jack Nicholson as a Haight-Ashbury musician, Garry Marshall as a cop and director Henry Jaglom as an artist who takes a really bad acid trip.

* "Lord Love a Duck": George Axelrod's dark and delicious 1966 satire starring Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld.

* "Head": The Monkees' bizarre 1968 feature film, co-written by Nicholson, and featuring Annette Funicello, Victor Mature and famed San Francisco-based topless dancer Carol Doda.

* "Having a Wild Weekend": Director John Boorman's surprisingly mature 1965 musical starring the pop group du jour the Dave Clark Five.

The festival concludes with the 1965 documentary "Go-Go Mania" and an English tea party complete with British food and drink, surprise '60s pop guest stars and a costume contest.

'90s Kids Interested in the 1960s

What strikes Lewis about the success of "Austin" is how much it taps into a passion for the '60s on the part of kids of the '90s. A Beatles expert, Lewis speaks at various conventions and he notes that half the audience is under 25.

"I wondered if they were dragged there by their parents, but they had independently discovered the '60s," Lewis says. "They were finding very positive, cheerful optimism within the music and . . . also what was surrounding it."

Walter Shenson, the producer of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!," is still surprised about the continuing popularity of these films. (Shenson will appear Saturday at the screening of "Help!") Shenson was an American producer working in London when United Artists approached him about making a film with the Beatles. "The executives said the reason we want to do it is that we at UA records would get the soundtrack album, and it is worth us financing a film for that album."

Though not originally a Beatles enthusiast, Shenson got along famously with the boys, as did director Richard Lester. "Hard Day's Night" was made for just $450,000 and garnered two Oscar nominations.

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