From the 1920s “lost generation” expats in Paris to the beat poets of 1950s’ Greenwich Village, cultural history resonates with moments in time when great, creative people came together unexpectedly. Without planning to, they created movements of outsize influence.
That’s what happened at the National Lampoon in the 1970s. A wildly outrageous, semi-demented group of men and women joined forces to whack social taboos, from politics and race to sex and religion. Nothing was sacred.
Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and like-minded talents used an irreverent magazine to launch records and movies (“Animal House,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation”) that changed the face of comedy, culture — perhaps even America itself.
For years, filmmakers — including an Oscar-winner — tried to capture that special moment. All those projects imploded.
Now Westporter Doug Tirola and Susan Bedusa have done it.
Their company — 4th Row Films — is in the final, frantic post-production days of “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon.” The 93-minute documentary weaves never-before-seen archival footage with the magazine’s beautiful and often shocking art, in a film that is already drawing praise and attention.
There’s much more to come. It premieres this Sunday (January 25) at the very prestigious, make-or-break-a-movie Sundance Film Festival.
As a kid in Westport, Tirola saw “Animal House” twice at the Fine Arts Theater. He scavenged for new issues of National Lampoon at Bill’s Smoke Shop. He hauled the now-legendary Lampoon 10th Anniversary Anthology from grad school to his 1st apartment to his home here, when he moved back.
After batting around the idea of a Lampoon history film, Susan Bedusa — a fellow Staples graduate, and Tirola’s longtime producing partner — convinced him to contact the Lampoon‘s owners. At a meeting in Los Angeles, they said they’d cooperate — if the original magazine owners signed off on the concept.
Coincidentally, at the height of its popularity, Lampoon publisher and “Animal House” producer Matty Simmons owned a summer home on Lamplight Lane. Belushi, Radner and other stars came here for parties.
Tirola got the rights to the story — including the artwork that was an important part of the magazine. National Lampoon launched the careers of artists who went on to work at the New Yorker, and for “The Simpsons” and “Home Alone.”
Now it’s a race to finish the sound mixing and color correction. Then it’s on to Sundance, and the Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead premiere.
Afterwards, there will be a party.
Togas are optional.