Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind event! On July 22nd at 7:30 pm, the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum is screening some of Ernie Kovacs’ works, followed by a Q&A and signing with Josh Mills and Pat Thomas, authors of Ernie in Kovacsland: Writings, Drawings, and Photographs from Television’s Original Genius!
About the event: During a tragically brief career marked by outré achievements, of the endless credits that flashed across the cathode-ray tube bearing multi-hyphenate television impresario Ernie Kovacs’ name, from writer to director, to actor, to producer, the descriptors that perhaps best encapsulates his eternal mad genius on the small screen are surrealist and absurdist. A true broadcast pioneer, Kovacs was both born into television and helped birth it. As a seasoned veteran of every network from ABC to NBC (with CBS and DuMont in between) and nearly every TV format possible (including his unorthodox game/panel show Take a Good Look), Kovacs is responsible for helping to define the medium in its formative years while simultaneously deconstructing it.
Of the surviving moving image remnants of Kovacs’ oeuvre, his conceptual kinship with the likes of Salvador Dalí are notably illustrated in the Saturday Color Carnival: “Ernie Kovacs Show” (1957) for NBC and the Ernie Kovacs Specials videotaped for ABC in 1961. These programs illuminate Kovacs’ gleeful defiance of television’s rigid genres and tropes that demanded canned laughs and cue card banter, opting instead to forcefully break the fourth wall and constantly remind the viewer that they were staring at an electronic box with potential that was previously unconsidered. From the hilarious incongruity of shattering a TV taboo with misplaced sound effects in his color “silent show,” to the medium-bending modernism of oscilloscope waves filling the screen, to the tune of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife” (warbled in its original German), at his most experimental Kovacs utilized TV as a primetime, electronic audiovisual canvas and antidote to the vast wasteland. Or, as expertly summed up by Edie Adams, Kovacs’ gifted life partner, fellow broadcast multi-hyphenate, and posthumous rescuer of his nearly lost works: “[Ernie] saw laughter as a means of survival and created a television of the absurd as a fallout shelter.”
Join us for a screening celebration of the experimental works of Ernie Kovacs–more info here (link)!
Program notes by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Curator.