Tuesday, July 17, 2012
William Asher (1921-2012)
Asher was some sort of auteur. A sitcom specialist who spent most of the Sixties directing his wife Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched, he was also the principal director of American-International's "Beach Party" series and, just to be different, the director of the violent neo-noir cult film Johnny Cool, in which Montgomery played an unreliable romantic lead for Henry Silva's title gangster. Asher's Beach pictures are sunbaked pop art, comic books come to formulaically anarchic life or something almost like being. I ignore the banality of beauty on the surface and focus on the reanimated old-timers like Karloff and Keaton, playing roles or playing "themselves," whose presence is less degrading than deifying, and on the eternal recurrence of the Rats and their master, Erich von Zipper, a burlesque villain godlike and hapless at once, pining after his "ideal," raging against the "stupids" all around him, asking always, "Why me? Why me all the time?" Time has been kind, I think, to films I would probably have hated had I lived when they opened. They'll never be comedy classics, but they now enjoy the charm of good-natured obsolescence as they document their era's cloudless fantasy of a world without real threats and with parties every day. Before the hippies came, Bill Asher did much to shape the Sixties of our media-based retroactive imaginations. Like it or not, he was a major contributor, in quantitative if not qualitative terms, to our pop-culture legacy, and that makes his passing worthy of notice here.