What if you were invited into a closet filled with a thousand of the world’s great classic movies on DVD/BluRay and told that you could select a dozen to add to your library?Photo courtesy of Katie Hogan’s “She Likes Movies.”
Comedy writer Eric Drysdale (The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee) has not been invited into the closet yet but he was inspired to create his own version, a spot-on parody with knowing tributes from titles to the cover art.
When did you fall in love with movies? Do you have some memorable movie experiences from those formative years–or since?
I can’t remember not loving movies — but it got serious when I worked at an independent video store in Vancouver, BC during high school and college. This was late 80s / early 90s. It had a great selection, smart clientele and knowledgeable staff. I was able to watch and learn a lot. Movies I remember being in heavy rotation at the store included Harold And Maude, Miller’s Crossing, Blue Velvet, Rear Window, Repo Man, Stop Making Sense, Koyaanisqatsi, the Batman ‘66 movie… so many. But also TV stuff like Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special or Looney Tunes cartoon collections, which I’d watch over and over again when the store was quiet. It was a huge education.
Some very knowledgeable people there turning me on to amazing things. I also went to film school (Emerson) – but was more drawn to history, theory and criticism than making things – which was a surprise to me. Had great teachers that showed me lots I’d not gotten to yet… Chris Marker, Maya Deren, Hollis Frampton, Chantal Ackerman, etc.
Can you tell us some of your favorite movies?
I’ve made one of those Facebook lists – which included Airplane by Zucker-Zucker & Abrahams, Dziga Vertov’s Man with A Movie Camera, Jacques Tati’s Playtime, Dazed and Confused, Jan Švankmajer’s Alice, Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, Rocky Horror Picture Show and a few other ones… but ask me on any given day and it’ll be different. Airplane is definitely a contender for the top. I was 11 or something when it came out in the theaters so it was perfect timing – I remember that feeling of being out of control with laughter. To the point of worrying about it, like– “Am I going to hurt myself?” –and then finally, blissfully, giving in. Add to that being in a big theater full of howling people, mostly adults, experiencing the same thing — It was very, very powerful. That’s the power of jokes. I think that really stuck with me.
I’m a Criterion Channel subscriber – I have a few Blu-Rays and DVDs but not many. In fact half of my very small collection of physical media things are probably from Criterion. I’ve got the wonderfully funny Pierre Étaix box – I was at Film Forum when he came and showed those in US for the first time. What a discovery. With my interest in film technology, I was very excited to see the Paul Whiteman 2-strip Technicolor film, King of Jazz so I got that one right away. A few others. Most recently I watched the two Karel Zeman films on the channel – both a few times — I cannot believe I’d never seen these before. So great – very, very funny stuff in them too which is totally unnecessary, and probably difficult to achieve, when everything else about them is so lush and fastidious.
How did you research your parody? Obviously your passion for movies and knowledge about them comes through.
This one I did not do much research at all – just sort of drawing on my knowledge. I left Samantha Bee to pursue some personal projects and then the quarantine hit. I was catching up on the last few months’ “Criterion Closets” — I truly do enjoy them very much. I don’t know what possessed me/gave me the energy to do the Criteriumb video. “Jan Švankmajer’s 20 Minute Ab Workout” was a joke with no home that had been rattling around in my head for a while — but it’s not enough to be its own thing – and it’s also for about 11 people I wanted the jokes to be accessible even to people who didn’t know exactly the references I was making — but also rewarded those who did. Anyway, I thought it would be a good, fun way to do it and blow by the Jan Švankmajer joke fast. Here, you don’t need to know it’s even a real person. That’s why after the Švankmajer joke – there are no other “films” by real filmmakers.
This has, however, given me a bit higher degree of difficulty as I approach possible sequels.
How did you go about making the short?
It is a perfect small thing to do in quarantine. I tried some slightly more professional setups but ultimately just shot it on my iPhone for expediency’s sake. If I’d known it was going to go anywhere outside my Facebook and Instagram friends, I’d maybe have put a little more into it – or at least done a couple of more takes to know the script better, etc. I cringe every time I say “Um,” which is a lot.
Do you have some favorite Criterion Closet episodes that I should include in the article?
I find most of them fun and fascinating — even from people I don’t know much about. But I love seeing anyone I’m a fan of. It’s like hanging out and talking about movies for 4 minutes with Amy Heckerling, John Waters, or Laurie Anderson… what’s not fun about that?
Oh, and the Anna Karina one deserves mention, just because she seems so “of film” that it’s hard to believe she ever was a real person who could be in a closet. Like a magic trick.
You have mainly been a television comedy writer. Do you have plans to write and/or direct features? Comic or serious?
I have strong ambitions but only fuzzy plans. I don’t think I’m capable of doing anything too serious- comedy for sure.
Do you want to visit the Criterion Closet in person and select films? What do you think will be high on your list?
I’d love to do that! Of course! Definitely their Harold Lloyd reissues — I had a hard time justifying buying those titles yet again but I bet there’ll be a lot more to dig into with the Criterion versions. Now that I have discovered him on the Criterion Channel, the Karel Zeman box looks like one worth owning. I’m sure I’d have no trouble filling a tote bag. Or a Hefty bag.
Sequels? You need to show us some stinkin’ sequels—please.
I have been working on them right now. But again, I want to make them feel like they’re not just repeating and take the concept to different places. So… patience. I will send you Part 2 in a few weeks.
View more Criterion Closet videos with dozens of visitors.
Visit the Criterion site to find out what movies are available on DVD and Blu-Ray, always packed with extras, commentary, special documentaries, and other surprises. You can also learn about joining the Criterion Channel with a 14-day Free Trial. And read The Current, Criterion’s online magazine filled with terrific articles about filmmakers past and present, Top Ten lists, and David Hudson’s The Daily covering international film happenings, especially coverage from film festivals like Venice and the upcoming Toronto and New York Fests.
It is a free film education.
Eric Drysdale is a writer, comedian and 3-D photography enthusiast in New York City.
Eric has contributed to over 1500 hours of late-night television as a staff writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (2000-2005), The Colbert Report (2005-2015), The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (2015-2016) and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (2016-2019) He also contributed to the Daily Show’s best selling America: The Book, The Colbert Report’s I Am America and So Can You and its sequel America Again.
In 2010, he wrote, photographed, designed, and self-published the original 3D View-Master comedy-adventure The Man With F.E.E.E.T.. The project was named among TimeOutNY’s “Best of Comedy, 2011.”
In 2018, Eric’s collection of amateur 1950s three-dimensional photography was featured in 3D: Double Vision, a survey exhibit at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). He also contributed an essay to the exhibition catalog. He continues to share his collection with small groups in his shows. You can find out how to attend at Midcentury Stereopanorama. Eric’s 3D work has been profiled in the New York Times and Atlas Obscura.