Tag Archives: Susan Bedusa

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead In Stamford

In the summer of 1978, Doug Tirola’s parents took him to see “Animal House” at the Fine Arts Theater (now Restoration Hardware).

He was not yet a teenager, but he loved it. When the film ended, he and his father got right back in line for the next show. It remains one of the funniest movies he’s ever seen.

Soon, Doug sought out National Lampoon — the magazine that spawned the movie — at the Merritt Superette, Westport Smoke Shop and Christie’s Country Store. He was swept up by its boundary-breaking irreverence.

Doug Tirola

Douglas Tirola

A few summers later, Doug was working at the Westport Country Playhouse. He earned 25 cents for every business that put an “upcoming show” poster in its window. With his hard-earned savings, he went to Remarkable Book Shop and bought “National Lampoon’s 10th Anniversary Anthology.” Even today, he says, that collection of art and articles seems outrageous.

Many years passed. Living back in Westport, Doug — now a filmmaker himself — and his wife were invited to a dinner party. With the economic downturn underway, the man seated next to Douglas lectured him about all the rules needed to get things going again — which applied to everyone except the man himself.

Doug made a poor, not-Lampoon-worthy joke about German profiteers in World War II. It ruined the dinner party, and a woman told him “Doug, you always go too far. You always have to say the thing everyone might be thinking, but you’re not allowed to say.”

He’d never heard anything like that. It got him thinking about that National Lampoon 10th Anniversary Anthology. He’d kept it with him, during moves all over the country. He realized that one book had influenced his entire life.

He had just finished his 2nd movie, for his company 4th Row Films (where he teams with fellow Staples grad Susan Bedusa). The 1st was acquired by HBO. The 2nd was about to be released in theaters, and on Showtime. It was time to make a film about National Lampoon.

The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.

The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.

The result was “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead.” It premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and after playing at Tribeca was picked up by Magnolia Pictures.

The Fine Arts Theater is now just a memory. So is National Lampoon.

But tonight, Doug

sfilm will be show at the Avon in Stamford (7:30 p.m.). Friends and family — and Lampoon’s many fans — will enjoy the film.

A film that would never have been made, if not for Doug’s laugh-out-loud experiences decades ago in Westport.

And, of course, that dinner party a few years back.


Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

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.

Perhaps the most famous National Lampoon cover of all time.

Perhaps the most famous National Lampoon cover of all time.

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.

The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.

The National Lampoon crowd, in the 1970s.

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.

Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola.

Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola.

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.


Hey, Bartender!

Steve Carpentieri is a former VP of Citigroup. Around Westport though, the Staples grad is best known for his long ownership of Dunville’s — for 30 years Saugatuck’s version of Cheers.

Soon, moviegoers across the country will also know “Carpi.”

According to press notes for “Hey Bartender” — a new documentary written, directed and produced by Westporter Douglas Tirola — Dunville’s serves “both the working class and the white-collar communities of Westport, CT.”

Bartender logoHowever, “with the changing landscape of the economy, the industry, and the town, Dunville’s went from being the ‘it’ bar in town to a place trying to stay successful.”

Both his business and personal life cause stress. Carpi’s dream of running a bar is never easy.

The film — which more broadly examines bartenders “and the cocktail culture” — premiered at South By Southwest Film Festival in March. It opens tonight at New York’s Village East, spreads soon to LA, then rolls out nationwide.

Doug — a Staples grad who earned an MFA at Columbia — had to shoot at Dunville’s without intruding on the crowded, lively bar. He wanted to let Carpi’s life “unfold in real time, right in front of the camera,” while allowing audiences to experience the life of a bartender.

The wet hands, cutting fruit, mixing cocktails, dealing with regulars (and drunks), counting tips, getting people out the door at the end of the night — it’s all there in “Hey Bartender.”

Doug’s goal was to show what drives people to become bartenders; how they fit into their community, and how their lives (and communities) are changing.

(From left) Steve Carpentieri, Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola at the "Hey Bartender" premiere.

(From left) Steve Carpentieri, Susan Bedusa and Doug Tirola at the “Hey Bartender” premiere.

Here’s a review from IndieWire:

Because of the history involved in the major-league-level cocktail mixing — the drinks and techniques themselves often have a kind of Gilded-Age air about them — there’s a lot of fashion in “Hey Bartender.”

What’s probably good is that Tirola shows the other side of the bar biz — Steve Carpentieri, who owns a joint in Westport, Conn., called Dunville’s, is struggling: Drinking is down, drunk-driving penalties are up, and his kind of local watering hole is an endangered species (there’s a great scene of Carpentieri quashing a bar-fight-to-be and imposing tough love on a couple of unruly regulars). So he starts exploring the idea of transforming his place into a more cocktail-oriented establishment, which of course enables Tirola (and us) to tag along.

In addition to Carpi and Doug, local connections include Westporter (and Staples grad) Susan Bedusa. She’s a vice president of 4th Row Films, “Hey Bartender”‘s producer.

A bit more of a stretch: Commentary comes from Danny Meyer, owner of our town’s Shake Shack (among others).

If you’ve never been to Dunville’s — or haven’t been for a while — this movie may make you want to visit Westport’s own Cheers.

Based on previews, big-time mixologists and bartenders have already headed there.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

Westport’s Own Boys In The Band

When Doug Tirola grew up in Westport, an early video store — The Video Station — sat behind Carvel.  Pickings were slim, so he rented just about everything.

Including “The Boys in the Band.”

The groundbreaking 1970 film — like its predecessor, a 1968 Broadway play, it brought gay characters and situations to a mainstream audience — may not have been completely understood by young Doug.

But he loved it.  Over the years he saw it several more times.  The friendships and relationships between the men stayed with him; the writing was funny, intelligent and memorable.

Fast forward (ho ho) to today.  Doug and fellow Staples graduate Susan Bedusa head up a New York company — 4th Row Films — producing documentaries and TV series.

A few years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, they met Crayton Robey.  He was pitching something to be included with the 40th anniversary DVD release of “Boys in the Band.”

Susan knew very little about “Boys in the Band.”  However, she understood the challenges and struggles involved in making a movie.  Crayton’s passion for the project sold her.

The next day, Susan and Doug called Crayton.  They said they’d help him get the movie made — but as its own film, not a DVD extra.  The result — “Making The Boys” — opened in New York last Friday.

Tomorrow Wednesday (March 16, 7:30 p.m.), there’s a special showing at Stamford’s Avon Theatre.

Though gay issues — same-sex marriage, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” California’s Prop 8 — are all over the news, Doug and Susan were not trying to seize the political moment.  They saw an important movie to be made, and they made it.

In between its 1968 stage debut and its 1970 release as a film, the world underwent seismic change.  Smack in the middle, in 1969, came the Stonewall riots — the 1st roar of the gay rights revolution.

Some of the same people who praised the play picketed the movie.  They said it reinforced stereotypes of gay men.

“Making the Boys” meets that controversy head on.  It’s rich with interviews with gay culture icons like Larry Kramer, Terence McNally and Tony Kushner.  (Edward Albee is also interviewed.  He hated the film from the start.)

The film also explores the impact — a few years later — of AIDS.  Several “Boys in the Band” cast members succumbed to the disease.

It could sound like “Making the Boys” has a niche audience.  But the producers don’t think so.

Besides gays and lesbians, and Broadway and film buffs, Doug and Susan say they’ve made a film for anyone interested in American history.

“The surprise of our film is how much it’s about the struggle to get out there and pursue a dream,” Susan says.

More than 4 decades ago Mart Crowley — a kid from Mississippi, with no connections to anyone in the entertainment business — wrote a play that still commands attention.

Crowley himself — along with Doug, Susan and Crayton — will be in Stamford for Wednesday’s showing.  Afterward they’ll host a Q-and-A with audience members.

“The love that dare not speak its name” will be spoken about, loud and clear.

(Tickets for Wednesday’s “Making the Boys” showing and  post-film discussion are $10 general admission, $8 for seniors and students.  To purchase tickets, call 203-661-0321.  For more information, click here.)