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dirs. Howard Zuker and Neil Cohen, 1988/2016
73 mins. United States.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15 – 7:30 and 10PM w/Zack Norman (aka Howard Zuker) and Neil Cohen in person for Q&As!
(These screenings are $10.)
“There are people through the decades who become regular fixtures in the pages of Variety – everyone from Al Jolson to Jimmy Durante to Michael Ovitz to Harvey Weinstein. But no one’s presence has been as constant as that of Zack Norman.” – Variety
Filmed in the dead center of Reagan’s second-term, CHIEF ZABU was conceived as as a send-up of the get-rich-quick American mentality of the yuppie ’80s, following a couple of loudmouths who get themselves into an ill-conceived real estate venture in the fictional Polynesian island nation of Tiburaku. Zack Norman (of SITTING DUCKS and Robert Downey’s AMERICA) co-stars—and co-directs under his the name Howard Zuker—alongside the legendary Allen Garfield and Allan Arbus. Filmed over a two-week period at Bard College’s campus with a small indie crew (lensed by Frank Prizzi, who also DPed for SLEEPWALK and LIVING IN OBLIVION), it also enlisted a 22-student fleet of Bard interns padding out the shoot. The shoestring budget was so ludicrously scrappy, the production was profiled in a special “film centennial” issue of Life magazine.
Perhaps in an act of life imitating art, the production was subjected to its own comedy of errors, toiling for well over a year to find a distributor and eventually languishing after its would-be acquirer declared bankruptcy mere weeks before its planned premiere. But the story didn’t end there: the film achieved an unexpected second life as a running gag on MST3K, its hosts echoing the long-running page-3 ad ran in Variety for three years—”Zack Norman is Sammy in CHIEF ZABU”—every time a newspaper is shown on screen.
In October 2016, the political ascendancy of a certain real estate tycoon who rose to prominence in Reagan’s America—and whose own conquests had been a literal inspiration the film—motivated Norman and producer Neil Cohen to dust the film off, showing the film as a series of road show screenings across the US. Its influence is slowly but surely paying off: if you’re ever at Ft. Lauderdale tiki bar The Mai-Kai, you can order a rum speciality drink called “The Chief Zabu.” Indeed, it’s probably worth a revival—it’s a handsome 73 minute character-driven comedy, carried not only by its heavies Garfield and Arbus, but by Zack Norman’s gabby, desperate, puppy dog comedic ingenuity.
Norman, a real estate mogul in his non-celluloid life, is an actor, stand up comedian, and film financier (under pseudonym Howard Zuker), whose industriousness helped fund Spaghetti westerns, cult lesbian vampire film DAUGHTERS OF THE DARK, Peter Davis’s epochal Vietnam documentary HEARTS AND MINDS, and many of the films of Henry Jaglom. In honor of his forthcoming appearance at Spectacle and decades-long dedication to the seventh art, we also show selections from his on-screen career—the early ’80s buddy comedy SITTING DUCKS; the much-maligned Robert Downey Sr. film AMERICA; Henry Jaglom’s film festival send-up FESTIVAL IN CANNES; and a very odd, porno-chic parody of JAWS titled GUMS, directed by Robert J. Kaplan (director of the Holly Woodlawn midnight SCARECROW IN A GARDEN OF CUCUMBERS) and starring Brother Theodore .
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