Alameda-based archivist/nostalgist/bon vivant Johnny Legend flabbergasts with the two-part “Christmas in Acidland” program he is bringing to Camera 3 in San Jose on Dec. 12. Here are relics of what the season used to mean in the early days of television: skeevy puppets, inebriated midgets, false-bearded, cackling weirdos in cotton-trimmed suits and ventriloquist dummies on the moon.
In this two-part potpourri, vintage mid–20th century performers such as Liberace, Paul Winchell, Jack Benny and Ricky Nelson show that they still repay the attention. The first half is a harvest of quaint old seasonal snippets. Ronald Reagan uses the “faith and brotherhood” of the season to shill for General Electric. Ernie Kovacs shows some sobriety in a season where “Everybody’s a little bagged” as he does an anti-advertisement for Dutch Masters cigars.
Amid this array comes one of the most startling things Legend has ever disinterred. It’s untitled, but let’s provisionally call it “The Monkey’s Christmas,” a magenta-shifted torture session beginning with a home-invading Santa: “I want you to believe in me,” he threatens. To convince a pair of doubting children, St. Nick uses stock footage of swarming monkeys at some horrifying zoo fighting like gladiators over a single pretzel, as well as tarted-up costumed chimps acting out an inexpensive Xmas pageant.
But what, says a small voice, what of the children who still doubt Santa?: “They do not believe except they see; they think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds.” If this enormity is not actually the work of Ed Wood, it’s so far down the idiosyncratic director’s alley that Wood could have had it towed for blocking his driveway.
At 7:30pm, a Christmas noir cavalcade includes 1953’s “The Big Little Jesus,” a Dragnet episode directed by Jack Webb, in which Joe Friday and his partner hunt down the punk who filched a baby Jesus from a church’s manger. “Silent Panic” is like that Cornell Woolrich Christmas special you’ve been begging for, with Harpo Marx as the deaf-mute witness to a serious crime.
Also: popular puppet Howdy Doody investigates the case of a kidnapped Santa, which turns out to be a typical goof by pro wrestler Ugly Sam (Dayton Allen, a ringer for De Niro in Cape Fear). Oh, come, let us abhor it.
Christmas in Acidland
Wednesday, Dec. 12, 7:30pm