BOOTLEG FILES 393: “Cher…and Other Fantasies” (1979 TV special starring Cher, Lucille Ball, Elliott Gould, Shelley Winters and Andy Kaufman).
LAST SEEN: Not broadcast since its one-and-only presentation on March 7, 1979.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Out of circulation for more than three decades.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.
The new season of “Dancing with the Stars” is coming up, and it is getting more attention than usual thanks to the presence of Chaz Bono among the competitors. I suspect that Bono was cast in the hopes of bringing in a guest appearance by his celebrated mother – after all, having Bristol Palin on the dance floor in a previous season brought in her controversial mother for a number of guest appearances.
However, Cher has made it clear that she is not going to turn up in the audience of “Dancing with the Stars,” which is fine since she clearly deserves her own spotlight. And that brings us to this week’s bootleg goodie: a 1979 TV special called “Cher…and Other Fantasies.”
In 1979, Cher’s up-and-down career took a quick swing upwards thanks to success of her disco-flavored tune “Take Me Home.” The song put her back in Top 10 for the first time since “Dark Lady” in 1974 and it helped push her out on her first solo concert tour. To milk the success of the song even further, a one-shot TV special was created around the tune.
“Cher…and Other Fantasies” opens with the star performing a wonderfully funny rendition of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Cher changes costumes with each line, moving through a series of 19th and 20th century finery before settling in the outlandish Viking-inspired wardrobe of the “Take Me Home” album. (Bob Mackie, of course, is the genius behind her clothing.) The number represents Cher at her best: sultry, self-confident, and yet sly enough to know that her sex appeal is rooted in self-deprecating camp. Vocally, she is at her peak, and it is a shame that her version of the classic tune was never released as a single, since it could have easily become a best seller.
The rest of “Cher…and Other Fantasies” never quite hits that effective mark. The rest of the production takes place at night in a creepy office building. (The landmark Bradbury Building in Los Angeles is effectively used as the main set.) Cher finds herself alone in the building, unable to locate an exit. She keeps running into a weird handyman (a bearded Elliott Gould) who points her through a variety of doors, each which opens to either a comedy skit or a musical number.
The comedy, sadly, is lame. Cher goes through a door marked “Misery Loves Co.” and finds herself in a shop that sells classic tearjerker moments from the movies. Cher and guest star Shelley Winters do shrill impersonations of memorable boo-hoo scenes from “Wuthering Heights,” “Gone with the Wind” and “Bambi.”
Slightly more encouraging is a romp in the Garden of Eden, with Cher as the serpent (looking ultra-hot in a snakeskin suit and matching snakeskin eyeglass frames) while Andy Kaufman (in his Foreign Man persona) is the clueless Adam. Cher is amusing as the serpent, particularly in her deadpan quips to the omnipotent thunder roars that follows her excessive behavior (she looks skyward and deadpans: “Can’t you take a joke?”). But Kaufman, for whatever reason, fails to meet Cher on the same comic level, and the skit ends on a flat note with the arrival of Eve – played by Cher, reviving her tacky Laverne character from the old Sonny and Cher variety show.
Both of these skits are curiously saddled with laugh tracks, although the scenes with Gould (which are meant to be funny) have no added audio accessory. Toward the end of the special, Lucille Ball shows up as a surly cleaning woman – her growling at Cher and Gould it is among the least funny moments of her career.
Musically, this special is somewhat more encouraging than the 1978 “Cher…Special,” which had the star trying (and not really succeeding) in expanding her range to include gospel and the score of “West Side Story.” (That production is the subject of a Bootleg Files column from June.) Cher learned from the mistake of that earlier effort by using “Cher…and Other Fantasies” to concentrate on songs that were closer to her vocal strength. “Take Me Home” gets a pair of treatments: the chart-topping disco hit and a slow tempo ballad that plumbs an unexpected emotional depth to the lyrics. She also goes retro with a memorable spin on the standard “More Than You’ll Know,” another gem that she never released on an album.
And being a 1970s TV special, there are the obligatory tacky dance numbers – including a wildly absurd remake of “The Red Shoes” set in a roller disco environment. Cher shows off her slender body by bumping and grinding with a number of male dancers, and most of those guys have trouble maintaining a straight face during their sequences.
But the problem with “Cher…and Other Fantasies” is the same problem as the earlier “Cher…Special”: we know that Cher can do much better. The inconsistency of the production makes it more of an endurance test than an entertainment showcase.
Perhaps Cher realized that the TV variety genre was a dead end road for her career. She turned her back on the genre and concentrated on recording and began to find her way into dramatic acting. In four years, she earned her first Oscar nomination for her remarkable performance in “Silkwood.”
NBC broadcast “Cher…and Other Fantasies” on March 7, 1979, pre-empting a low-rated series called “Super Train” to accommodate this one-shot presentation. The special earned Bob Mackie an Emmy Award nomination, but it was not rebroadcast.
To date, “Cher…and Other Fantasies” has never been released in any home entertainment format. The problem, I suspect, is clearing music rights to the show’s soundtrack. However, Cher fans have been selling bootleg DVDs for years, and other fans have posted the “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” number on YouTube.
But, hey, even second-tier Cher is better than “Dancing with the Stars.” You can keep Chaz Bono…I’ll take his mom any day!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!