Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Harry Shearer

The comedian and radio host also talks to us about his Katrina documentary.

by | August 31, 2010 | Comments

KT

If Harry Shearer isn’t a household name, he really should be. The well-rounded entertainer has focused his talents on film, on radio, in music, and on television, among others. Among his many credits are roles in This is Spinal Tap, Saturday Night Live, and The Simpsons, for which he voices such popular characters as Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and Principal Skinner. This evening (Monday, August 30th), Shearer’s latest directorial project, The Big Uneasy, a documentary about the truth behind the New Orleans catastrophe during Hurricane Katrina, engages a special one-night screening in theaters across the country on the five-year anniversary of the tragedy. Shearer was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to give his Five Favorite Films and talk about his film. Read on for the full interview!

Dr. Strangelove (1964,
100% Tomatometer)



Dr. Strangelove

I’ll start with Dr. Strangelove. The best satirical movie ever made. Has some amazingly funny performances. When you see Peter Sellers at his best, that’s about as good as you can get, and it’s a brilliantly written, brilliantly directed dissection of the military industrial state.

To Be or Not to Be (1942,
97% Tomatometer)



To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be, Ernst Lubitsch’s World War II movie. To make a comedy about World War II in the middle of World War II is major league balls, and he pulls it off brilliantly. It’s Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. It’s her last film; she’s amazingly funny. And Benny does this great trick of playing the character in the film and yet getting laughs off what you know about the Jack Benny character from out of the movie, without ever disrupting the flow of the story. Just a brilliant movie. Really well worth studying for how to direct a serious comedy about a serious subject, and yet be really funny.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952,
100% Tomatometer)



Singin in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain. Just the best musical film ever made and one of the funniest movies about Hollywood ever made.

Laurel & Hardy Films


Forrest Gump
Any Laurel & Hardy feature. My wife and I took a couple of Laurel & Hardy features over to a friend’s house in Fiji, out in the middle of nowhere, and he’s friends with the kids in the neighboring village. And these 8-10 year-old Fijian kids came in and watched Laurel & Hardy and laughed their heads off. It travels through time and space.

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963,
77% Tomatometer)



It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World

This is one that will never be in the list of really great movies, but there’s so many really good comedy performances in it, and it’s a comedy museum by itself of performers of this certain era and how great they were. It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. My favorite thing about It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which was, in its original release, pretty f***ing long, is that at least one of the versions that came out on home video, they released it with 20 extra minutes. So that would be It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World. You have to add an extra “Mad” to it.


Next, Shearer talks about why he made his documentary and what it’s about.

RT: So let’s talk about The Big Uneasy. Apart from the obvious – the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans – what prompted you to make this movie?

Harry Shearer: The fact that if you follow the news, you don’ know why this thing happened. It’s as simple as that. And I got fed up with the fact that I knew that the news coverage on the fifth anniversary was going to be, in so many ways, a rerun of the news coverage at the time. A lot of the same footage of suffering people, a lot of the same characters brought back for “Where Are They Now?” interviews. “What’s Ray Nagin doing now? What’s Mike Brown doing now?” But still, no real desire to ask or answer the question, “Why did this thing happen?”

The media became fixated on the idea that it was a hurricane story, and they’ve never let go of that. And it’s not a hurricane story. It was a hurricane story in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it was a hurricane story in South Louisiana, but it was a very different story in New Orleans. You can sum up that story the way one of the investigators we profile in the film, a distinguished engineering professor from UC Berkeley, summed it up: it’s the worst manmade engineering catastrophe since Chernobyl. Chernobyl is major leagues. We’re not talking Triple-A here.

The film is only being shown on Monday, August 30th, right?

Yes. I felt that, after this weeklong display of the problems with the news coverage, that it would be an appropriate night, Monday night, the fifth anniversary of when we really realized how bad the flooding was, to give people the opportunity to see the answers to the question “why.” We follow the course of two of the lead investigators in each of these two investigations from the moment that they first had their doubts about the official explanations, through being in the muck to their findings to what happened to them as a result of going public. And we do the same thing with a third person who was a whistleblower from inside the US Army Corps of Engineers.

What are you hoping people will get out of this film?

Well, I hope that, you know, after five years, people will understand why this happened, which was basically that we, as federal taxpayers, through our congress, thought we were buying a system to protect New Orleans from hurricanes, and instead bought a system that almost destroyed New Orleans. And it maybe that it was bold to expect it would be done better at the time, not just for New Orleans, not just the New Orleans story. This agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, is supposedly protecting more than a hundred cities with levee systems like the ones they built for New Orleans. Sacramento is one of them, and the prognosis isn’t good.

With all of your time with your radio show and your work on TV and the movies that you do, how did you find time to make this?

I just cleared everything away. I mean, I still did my radio show, I still did The Simpsons. You know, this was done on a very accelerated schedule for a normal documentary, and I just went balls-out, night and day. I had an editor who was willing to commit to that same kind of schedule and a great New Orleans crew and a great cinematographer from Los Angeles. People just bought into the idea that this was worth doing and therefore we had to do everything we could to get it done.


This is the first documentary that you’ve filmed. I know that you’ve done the faux documentaries before. Did you have to leave behind some of your instincts as a…

Oh, you leave behind that whole side of your personality that fools around. When you’re doing comedy, you have to be irresponsible, and when you’re doing this you have to be totally responsible.

Was it hard to play it straight through the whole production?

No, you know, I mean look. You don’t play it straight. The sound man who worked on our crew said he’s never had more fun on a shoot in his life, because, you know, when you’re dealing with very serious stuff, when the camera’s not rolling, you tend to try to release the tension and have fun, keep people enjoying their job. There was plenty of time for that, but I knew I had very little time to get this right. I had to be focused on communicating a pretty complicated story to as wide an audience as possible in a comprehensible and yet not trivial manner. So all the brainpower was focused in that direction.


As someone who listens to your show, I’d like to know: do you think we’ll see you going the route that Al Franken has gone? Will we see “Vote for Harry?”

I’m going to guarantee you no. And this isn’t a politician’s guarantee, this is a human being’s guarantee. No f***ing way. But, you know, I didn’t go the way Al Franken went in the comedy business either.



The Big Uneasy, Harry Shearer’s truth-seeking documentary about Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans, will play for one night on Monday, August 30th, at select theaters. For more information on the film, see the official page for The Big Uneasy, and for theaters and showtimes in your area, click HERE.

Tag Cloud

breaking bad Amazon Prime versus cancelled TV shows Lifetime BET Awards disaster PBS Interview blaxploitation Rock 45 ghosts TLC Spectrum Originals transformers TCM Star Trek Countdown vampires Spike Character Guide TNT Rocky First Reviews news animated Action romantic comedy Best and Worst Sci-Fi Women's History Month elevated horror FXX Peacock MTV medical drama WGN Logo Summer ITV CBS independent Calendar Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt YA 24 frames Black Mirror OneApp zero dark thirty Lucasfilm Cannes Superheroes Family RT History Trivia Paramount Network Watching Series concert DirecTV Freeform series Reality Film Sony Pictures Shudder dragons HBO Go The CW Emmys television richard e. Grant TCA Winter 2020 spider-man YouTube Red free movies reboot Awards CMT Podcast FOX Holidays Starz TCA 2017 casting green book hispanic SXSW Year in Review Quiz franchise Dark Horse Comics IFC American Society of Cinematographers YouTube Travel Channel Elton John movie Tubi Pixar Fantasy psychological thriller Shondaland christmas movies finale Valentine's Day screenings NYCC Esquire SundanceTV mockumentary Infographic Marathons period drama festivals rotten movies we love 007 Drama WarnerMedia robots Film Festival Netflix Stephen King A&E TBS Bravo scary movies Adult Swim name the review facebook crossover harry potter The Purge Biopics 4/20 dramedy Crunchyroll Cartoon Network 2017 MSNBC CNN critics Television Academy Music science fiction Ghostbusters cancelled television Sundance Now Opinion Amazon Comedy Central DC Universe sequel cancelled reviews Comic Book nature GIFs diversity cooking anime zombies Tarantino stand-up comedy based on movie Mudbound crime drama Binge Guide parents justice league batman Song of Ice and Fire Acorn TV Heroines Pirates Pop TV crime thriller latino Nominations chucky PlayStation E! indie Paramount what to watch technology Awards Tour History Sundance TV TV renewals romance Mindy Kaling Martial Arts Netflix Christmas movies tv talk FX Academy Awards Creative Arts Emmys BAFTA Sneak Peek Emmy Nominations The Witch See It Skip It Schedule comiccon Election Polls and Games cults VICE Premiere Dates Thanksgiving cars Masterpiece cinemax documentary San Diego Comic-Con Oscars cats hist FX on Hulu 2019 Ovation Tomatazos YouTube Premium docudrama movies Apple Captain marvel IFC Films indiana jones Crackle Food Network Mary poppins Lifetime Christmas movies ESPN Hallmark Christmas movies Super Bowl book First Look Ellie Kemper Arrowverse 20th Century Fox Toys Epix USA all-time blockbuster 2016 E3 theme song Red Carpet Cosplay best Mary Poppins Returns asian-american foreign police drama Universal Musicals Set visit Christmas Pop cartoon spy thriller quibi TCA politics Syfy Fox News comedies LGBT Hallmark adaptation kids mission: impossible universal monsters zombie directors Western BET Avengers Disney streaming service Baby Yoda dark 21st Century Fox witnail political drama singing competition TV Marvel canceled screen actors guild Turner Classic Movies CW Seed doctor who Nickelodeon OWN PaleyFest Hear Us Out historical drama films talk show Showtime criterion crime DGA mutant ratings Disney Channel game show Amazon Prime Video supernatural DC streaming service Black History Month HBO Animation Amazon Studios game of thrones ABC stoner toy story Mary Tyler Moore 2020 children's TV composers CBS All Access Superheroe cops serial killer Grammys Chernobyl video on demand Video Games spanish language Turner spain Britbox werewolf Funimation Winners sag awards Star Wars Rom-Com award winner slashers spinoff a nightmare on elm street Tumblr New York Comic Con BBC One Hulu social media Anna Paquin renewed TV shows south america Musical dceu golden globes dogs 71st Emmy Awards Chilling Adventures of Sabrina TruTV discovery comic Marvel Television President AMC RT21 TV Land Horror Pet Sematary dc 2015 VOD strong female leads thriller Classic Film Fall TV Apple TV Plus Disney+ Disney Plus Disney Plus Apple TV+ Box Office Nat Geo comics canceled TV shows Vudu anthology jamie lee curtis APB USA Network sports satire Columbia Pictures psycho Brie Larson revenge NBC binge adventure boxoffice Spring TV aliens Walt Disney Pictures child's play BBC twilight Country Holiday Comics on TV Kids & Family travel space El Rey The Arrangement Writers Guild of America natural history The Walking Dead true crime ABC Family Trailer Rocketman Reality Competition Comedy streaming Certified Fresh cancelled TV series joker National Geographic Endgame biography Discovery Channel Warner Bros. GoT LGBTQ MCU Marvel Studios Photos Mystery Teen miniseries Winter TV die hard Pride Month halloween documentaries SDCC war video BBC America VH1 Disney sitcom X-Men Extras 2018 unscripted GLAAD teaser DC Comics Lionsgate TIFF HBO Max Sundance Trophy Talk A24