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Sid Laverents

by Jake Austen

(From Roctober #36, 2003)

Thanks to the great Sid Scholars of the world, Melinda Stone, Ross Lipman, Dan Streible and the Orphans of the Storm film symposium for bringing Sid Laverents and his amazing films and music to my attention.

I am not alone in calling “Multiple SIDosis” one of the greatest amateur/underground films ever made. Since its release in 1970 (originally screened for the San Diego Amateur Moviemakers Club, but eventually distributed to amateur film societies internationally) the nine minute “technical comedy” has won a wallfull of awards and honors, climaxing in 2000 when the Library of Congress selected it as the only amateur film to be entered into the National Film Registry, ensuring it’s preservation and place in history for as long as America exists. I perhaps may be in a more exclusive club when I loudly declare that “Multiple SIDosis” is THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE! Then again, everyone I’ve ever shared this film with has been amazed.

And why not? It is certainly an amazing film. Opening with an regular-looking older couple relaxing at home on Christmas, the action is initiated when wife Adelaide gives husband Sid (film director Sid Laverents, playing himself) a two-track reel-to-reel tape recorder as a gift. Sid is soon experimenting with overdubbing and begins to layer tracks on a quirky song (an old tune named “Nola”) he is recording. Sid’s version features a hypnotizing metronome, an amazing whistling performance and some freaky falsetto backup harmonies reminiscent of both Brian Wilson’s best experiments and Lou Christie’s Tammys recordings. Like the studio overachievers who mastered multi-tracking before him (Les Paul) and after him (Prince, Stevie Wonder) Sid brings to life a singular vision that would be unachievable if multiple musicians were playing together. More importantly, Sid also brings that vision to life visually. In a technical feat that has astounded filmmakers for years, the inventive Laverents figured out a way to use multiple exposures so that when he is performing two, three or eleven parts of the song at once, two, three or eleven Sids are seen performing. This was all done in-camera using techniques he created (involving special black mats and a lot of patience). These were done without computers or special equipment or postproduction or any formal film training. It is hard to describe the effect this has on a film viewer in words, but suffice to say that it is one of the most joyful, hilarious, inspiring, humorous things you will ever see. “Multiple SIDosis” is a profoundly important individual achievement about individual achievement. And it is so generous and entertaining to its audience that it is in no way self-indulgent. (For a longer description see the Sid Filmography at the end of the article)

Of course what’s most amazing about “Multiple SIDosis” is the fact that this brilliantly odd, creative, original, strange magic came out of this completely normal guy. When you see Sid and his wife Adelaide sitting at home to open this film, the house, the clothing, the furniture, the hairdos all invoke regular grandparents who stopped making aesthetic decisions in the 1950s. They are the perfect retired suburban couple, sitting in their comfortable chairs, watching their comfortable TV shows and enjoying a quiet, all-American Christmas morning. The ensuing musical circus is bizarre and nutty, and it is made nuttier by the fact that it sprung from the mind of Mr. Normal. The greatest subtext of “Multiple SIDosis” is the contrast between the wildly unique thinker and the seemingly completely regular guy...the normal fellow who made the film.

And that is the biggest lie in the movie.

Since he looked to be in his fifties over thirty years ago, I was surprised to still be able to order a video copy of the movie directly from Sid (most of Sid’s films can still be ordered from him.)* I was more surprised when it arrived in about 3 days, the lightning fast response accompanied by a nice hand written note from Sid and a solicitation to order his vanity press-published autobiography The First 90 Years Are the Hardest (2002, Publishamerica). When the book arrived, some amazing truths were disclosed. Despite the short-sleeved, button-up shirts and Floyd the Barber haircut and lovely Southern California suburban bungalow home, it was revealed that Sid was anything but normal. Before settling down and starting an amateur film hobby, Sid had lived a life that challenged any ideas of normality you might have. Fueled by youthful, slightly twisted, gleamingly unique creative sensibilities, Sid had lived a life that had him spending years touring the vaudeville circuit in a tricked out jalopy as a One Man Band, had led him to lead orchestras on Florida’s nightclub circuit and that led him literally from rigging up a doorbell-powered 2000 pound xylophone-mobile to the world of actual rocket science. Sid is about as normal as a three dollar bill!

(*Order videos from Sidney N. Laverents 3705 Mesa Vista Way Bonita, CA 91902-1135, or e-mail I have ordered with both cash and check. I suggest sending him $20 for a VHS tape with “Multiple SIDosis” and five other short films, and also $20 more for his other great volume with “Stop Cloning Around,” “The One Man Band,” and several other. If you request a catalogue you can also special order individual films, he lists 19 titles. Also inquire about his books, which can be ordered from him or from

Sid Laverents is one of my favorite filmmakers so I am honored to assemble a critical filmography of his works.

This filmography does not represent the entire body of Mr. Laverents’ work, only the titles he has “officially” listed in his catalogue (a double-sided, single sheet photocopy). Sid certainly made a number of other movies. The fact that he includes some of his later “home movie”-style vacation videos in his catalogue means that virtually anything he ever shot could be considered a Sid film. So works not listed here include his debut, a 1957 film of his parents 50th anniversary (shot with a rented camera and an audio recorder that he mishandled, resulting in an unintentional silent film). He bought a nice Bolex camera in 1959 and shot a vacation movie of a Canadian trip (the first film he showed the San Diego Amateur Film Club), and thirty-five years later he did a video of another Canadian vacation that he also withholds from the catalogue. He did several commercial and industrial projects, including a Langley corporation promotional film, a commercial for a local shop and an early 70s film about the building of an oil rig, which is archived in the Smithsonian. (Ross Lipman, who did the archival work on “Multiple SIDosis” at UCLA has seen this piece and speaks highly of it). There’s also plenty of random footage; mini films of Sid purchasing his RV, Sid driving cross-country, Sid winning awards. So the following list is not comprehensive by any means, but it represents a nice slice of Sid magic.

Like all great filmmakers, Sid Laverents’ body of work reveals a number of recurring themes when viewed en masse. Many of his pictures open with Sid and his wife sitting in the living room. Many of the films rely on the professionalism and corny humor and sense of showmanship Sid acquired during his vaudeville days. Sid’s best work often has a foundation in technical experimentation, and the problem solving, engineering, inventing and ultimately, patience these technical achievements require. Sid, a sexual guy all his life, very often appears shirtless or scantily clad (bold considering he begins his film career in his late 50s and his physique is never Adonis-like) and lusty themes also recur. His films also feature an excellent use of music, with hokey stock music handled adeptly and clever original music showcased beautifully. His credits are also a Sid trademark. His sign making skills usually result in a masterfully painted front title and his end credits often humorously emphasize Sid’s many hats (after a long scroll of Sid’s name credited with every conceivable filmmaking role he often adds the phrase, “He was very busy!”). But in the end, the true trademark of Sid Laverents’ films is that nobody but Sid Laverents would have or could have done anything like the movies he made and makes.

Without further ado, here are a few dozen works by Sid...he was very busy!

IT SUDSES AND SUDSES AND SUDSES (1963, 9 minutes, 16mm film) Though this is Sid’s first official film completed, it isn’t the first one he started shooting – he had long been hard at work on his nature film, “Snails,” when he undertook this comedy. And comedy this is, perhaps the most straightforward work of humor he’d ever do. This doesn’t rely on technical experimentation, just a lot of comedy writing and a major sight gag. Opening with the titles painted on cellophane rising out of some sudsy bubbles, this debut sets a few Sid standards. We see his raunchy side when we first meet Sid on film (he is sitting in the living room making google-eyes at an issue of Playboy). Distracted by the Playmates he doesn’t hear his wife tell him that she is taking advantage of a big sale on shaving cream. The next morning Sid (with a full head of black hair...this is our youngest Sid at a youthful 55) awakens. When his wife stirs Sid out of bed with a cartoon-gag intercom that practically jumps off the dresser it invokes the cartoonish aesthetics of the great Frank Tashlin (director of “The Girl Can’t Help It” and the best Martin & Lewis films). This is brought home by the next few minutes of the film where Sid goes through his morning routine and proves himself to be the perfect Tashlin nebbish. His inner monologue and physical antics rely on some tried and true corny jokes (here we see his vaudeville side.). He dismisses his (then tiny) bald spot by shrugging, “I’ve heard that bald headed men make the best lovers.” He stands shirtless in front of the mirror (Sid almost obsessively would appear shirtless in the majority of his titles over the next four decades) with a huge round gut, then sucks it in and allows himself to believe he’s Charles Atlas before reverting to potbelly mode. Finally we get the big payoff...he opens the medicine cabinet and knocks over several of the jumbo shaving cream bottles his wife purchased. They set off a chain reaction of aerosol chaos, as shaving cream foam fills the bathtub, toilet and every crevice of the room. Soon a horrified Sid submits to his foamy fate (all accompanied by horror movie music). Buried in suds (a cute special effect that starts off as shaving cream foam but quickly becomes billowing soap bubbles) Sid ultimately is forced out of the bathroom window by an avalanche of shaving cream. His wife sees him and scolds him for messing around and sad sack Sid looks at the camera and gives us his best “You can’t win” shrug. Though certainly an innovative, low budget special effects-filled gem, this is far from the “technical comedy” work that would bring Sid immortality, but this sure is a fun flick with lots of larfs.

THE ONE-MAN BAND (1964, 10 minutes, 16mm film) Sid’s most straightforward title, this is simply a filmed version of his vaudeville-era one-man band act as revived for a company party. Sid set up a curtain in his house to look like a stage and designed a soundproof box to mount the loud camera in (it was in the room with his chinchillas) so that he could do his first live synchronized sound recording. Perhaps because it was such a simple film he labored over the most elaborate of his title sequences. Sid sculpted the title and credits and even copyright info in colorful wax then set a hot light over it so it would melt as he filmed it. He then ran it in reverse so that we see a pile of goo magically form into a vibrant title page. The film then opens with Sid introducing his act to the crowd (actually just canned applause and some interspersed audience footage...executed pretty convincingly). Sid is in his goofy one-man band getup; oversized glasses, bright multicolored satin duds, and tons of goofy instruments. Before playing he shows off all the contraptions “for those of you that are mechanically minded.” He’s got a bass drum on his right leg played with the right toe, and on his left hip he has another drum played with left heel. He is holding a soprano banjo. He is festooned with a rack of four instruments on his chest, a mouth harp, a trumpet kazoo, a slide whistle (the slide attached to the banjo) and a saxophone kazoo (not to mention a cigarette in a funny holder). He’s got cymbals under his left arm, a crash cymbal on his back played by a beater on his left elbow, a wood block on his left knee played by jerking up on the banjo, a bike horn between his knees and some mystery instrument that makes a rude noise. He then lets loose with really solid, entertaining versions of old vaudeville standards. As he plays the camera does close ups on various gadgets occasionally, but much of this is a simple full shot. Listen to the CD for his excellent version of “St. Louis Blues,” his rousing take on “Tiger Rag” (which utilizes the harmonica and slide whistle and gets faster and faster and more gloriously chaotic as it proceeds) and then as his encore, after he mocks an exit, “The Washington and Lee Swing.” He plays the first chorus on banjo and then gets tricky by playing two different melodies with the same hand on verse two (the banjo’s chords and the slide whistle’s slide are both executed by the right hand). Then he brings it home with a funny chicken dance, rotating until his cymballed backside is to the audience. He then faces them again for a final bow. The technical wizardry here was not in the filming, as it would be in his most famed films, but in the performance, and a straightforward documentation of it was the most appropriate (and valuable) thing he could do.

SNAILS (1964, 26 minutes, 16mm film) Intrigued by the amazing magnified photography he could do with his camera, Sid began filming creatures in his back yard, making the first of his three “Wonders That Surround Us” nature films. These exercises in curiosity and patience each took years to complete, and eventually found homes in classrooms around the country teaching kids about critters. Perhaps when he surprised himself by selling this film to schools he was motivated to take it more seriously, so the sequels to this are pretty straightforward. This science film, on the other hand, is a genuine Sid comedy, influenced more by flea circuses than natural history museums. Sid and Adelaide are in their backyard one day and she (in strange dubbing that evokes a cheap Kung Fu flick) complains that they have a snail problem. Sid decides to study up on snails to combat his backyard’s infestation. The rest of the film balances Sid’s wacky sense of humor with serious science and superb magnification photography. Closeups of a snail’s mouth, of mucusy snail trails and even of snail sex (including kissing and graphic penetration) are all amazingly shot. But then Sid’s experiments to find out what Snails are all about get a little twisted. He demonstrates their nimbleness by having a snail crawl across a razor’s edge. He demonstrates their strength by tying a toy dump truck to a snail and filling it with a pound and a half of butter (the snail easily pulls it...then complains in a funny cartoon voice). He paints numbers on snails and has them race while he makes horse track sounds to demonstrate...that a snail race is funny. This is certainly not PETA’s fave film. There are a number of amazing Sid touches here. He does an odd and impressive (and Windsor McCay styled) animation of a schematic of how a snail moves. When he shows himself with a big box of snail poison it is “Brand X” brand oversized box Sid painted himself using his commercial sign painting background. And, of course, he brings it home by reluctantly eating a plate of escargot with butter and garlic. This is one of Sid’s weirdest and best films. If you doubt that just check out the conclusion...he has a snail spell out “The End” in cursive with its slimy snail trail!

THE BUTTERFLY WITH FOUR BIRTHDAYS (1965, 25 minutes, 16mm film) Opening with a beautiful painted sign, this exquisitely photographed nature film starts with a lusty Sid device of having a sexy cheesecake-model kiss a butterfly. Then it is all business. Sid juxtaposes the lovely butterfly with the hideous caterpillar, but this study of the Anis Swallowtail Butterfly actually is far more amazing at showing the beauty and wonder of the first three birthdays (egg, caterpillar, pupa/cocoon) then the fourth birthday (butterfly). The visuals here are far more remarkable than in the snail film; the ugly tongue of the caterpillar, the vivid color of the caterpillar’s skin which it oddly sheds, the spinning of the silk, the emergence of the butterfly, the drying of the butterfly’s wings. This really does celebrate wonders that surround us! Sid uses sweet fennel to attract a butterfly then photographs it with the patience of Job. His plans almost go awry when a wasp that kills butterflies drills into the cocoon, and there’s more peril later when his subject faces the praying mantis (the voracious killer of the insect world). Oddly, Sid refers to the mantis’ comical appearance despite showing a closeup of a horrifying mantis face that looks like Satan incarnate. This is a weird wonderful film. I always wondered where the strange movies they showed in school came from. Now we know that at least some of them came from the Sids of the world. This ends with Sid declaring this “A One-Man Production.”

A TRIP TO YESTERDAY (1968, 20 minutes, 16mm film) Sid presents a travelogue-type film that describes a train-buff tourist trip that Sid and Adelaide enjoyed and decided to revisit and immortalize. The “Trip To Yesterday” is a steam-engine train ride on the last narrow gauge rail in America (riding on three-foot wide rails instead of the much wider contemporary standard). Sid and Adelaide (as co-narrators, Adelaide’s proper diction and delivery is very convincing) explain that the government would not let the railroad discontinue this unprofitable Durango-Silverton narrow rail line because it was the only means of transportation for people in the region. Eventually the railroad company had the clever idea to buy property at the end of the line and turn it into an old-timey Western town for tourists, complete with faux gunfights and a cowboy on a horse racing the train. One of the most extravagantly shot Sid films, the Laverents family took an extra vacation in their mobile home just to shoot from outside the train and Sid even hired a plane to take aerial shots. Pretty amazing dedication for an amateur filmmaker to show to his film club! But the results are worth it, the photography and the natural landscapes are extremely impressive and beautiful. The credits are notable in that this opens with the notice that “All train sounds were recorded live when filming” and closes with credits that fully acknowledge all of Adelaide’s contributions, including a cute Valentine’s Card drawing of a pretty girl to represent her. And the drawing actually animates to give us a wink!

MULTIPLE SIDOSIS (1970, 9 minutes, 16mm film) This is it...Sid’s masterpiece! When showing this to my friends I, without irony, introduce it as my favorite film of all time and possibly the best film ever made! Though all of Sid Laverents’ movies are interesting and reflect his unique spirit and artistry this is head and shoulders above the rest, it is his only title in which everything is executed flawlessly. One can’t help but marvel at this brilliant “technical comedy,” (a phrase coined by David Francis, chief of the Library of Congress movie, TV and sound division, upon “Multiple SIDosis’ selection for the National Film Registry). The movie opens in Sid’s living room as he and his wife Adelaide are enjoying Christmas. Sid opens a bulky present as she looks’s a reel to reel two track recorder! After his wife chides him to save the ribbons he starts experimenting. He uses a metronome and records himself whistling and playing ukulele. As he plays this back he takes out the manual and reads about “use-of sound-on-sound.” Sid then goes into another room and empties a drawer full of instruments; a banjo, an ocarina, a Jew’s harp and more. He then takes out staff paper and begins writing out a multi-part arrangement of the song. As he starts recording the metronome again, a psychedelic swirl overtakes the screen and the hand-painted title of the film appears (fully halfway through the movie). Then the magic happens: we hear a brilliantly executed multi-track recording of the peppy song “Nola” (all instruments and singing done by Sid, most notable is the joyous, technically impressive whistling and the bizarre, falsetto backup harmonies reminiscent of the weirdest Brian Wilson or Lou Christie/Tammys stuff). And accompanying the music are visuals that for decades have astounded and confounded the rare audiences that have seen this film. Whenever a new instrument or verse is introduced, by use of inventive black mat multiple exposures, we see two, four and eventually ten little heads of Sid playing different instruments simultaneously. The different shaped portals featuring the Sid heads continuously change and shift. As a testament to his quirky aesthetics Sid (not satisfied merely to have achieved a seemingly impossible technical feat) has combed his hair differently, worn glasses, even donned Mickey Mouse ears so that all the musical Sids look different. This brilliant, joyous film is almost impossible to describe. All I can do is vigorously urge you to see the movie any way you can. There are numerous things that make this so remarkable, but two ideas really resonate with me. The first is that Sid’s work is different from that of many of the CGI wizards today who are so enamored with technical possibilities that they either churn out visually impressive but soulless product or they don’t take the time to notice that the laborious technical work they are agonizing over is serving stupid, inferior product (hello Jar Jar Binks!). Sid invents technologies and pushes the medium to the limit not because he is a tech-head, but because he has a spirited, clever narrative idea and is willing to patiently craft whatever it takes to get that vision to the screen. I’m also impressed by how every element of this film is just right, not always the case with Sid’s flicks and certainly unusual in amateur cinema. Though the first, non-musical part of the film may seem slow, seeing the meticulousness of Sid’s process (reading the instructions, arranging on staff paper) is totally what the movie is about. That care is required to achieve the brilliant brain candy of a musical number that makes this film a national treasure. To paraphrase Gayle Sayers’ “Brian’s Song” speech, “I love ‘Multiple SIDosis” and I want you to love ‘Multiple SIDosis” too!”

INDIAN SUMMER (1974, 4 minutes, 16mm film) Sid’s silliest film. You know the joke where a guy comes upon an Indian on a trail with his ear to the ground, then the guy puts his ear to ground and says, “I don’t hear nothing,” and then the Injun replies, “Me’s been like that all day.” Well, this movie simply acts out that joke...with Sid (shirtless, of course) as the Indian! His redface is, I suppose, a throwback to his brief blackface career. The best thing about this film is it ends with a comic “boing!” to punctuate the joke.

LISTEN TO THE MOCKINGBIRD (1977, 27 minutes, 16mm film) Sid’s sanest (and in a way dullest...unless you are a bird aficionado) nature film. After mockingbirds build a nest by the Laverents living room (always a good place to kick off a Sid film) Sid starts observing and obsessing. After he scares some baby birds out of the nest trying to get a closeup shot he gets in deep. He hunts bugs and worms trying to feed the fallen baby birds, then puts them in a box and returns them to the tree where their parents welcome them back (despite what kids told me about mommy birds rejecting human-touched babies). He then sets up a remote camera so he wont scare them, then builds blinds, then he invents a bird trap to capture one, mark it (with spray paint) release it, take slow motion shots of it flying away, and track it. He then keeps notes and shoots film of mockingbirds for years. He actually proves to be a very patient, thoughtful scientific scientist and he learns a lot about the birds. First of all, they are good looking, have good eyesight, and possess nice eyebrows. More interesting is Sid’s study of the songs of the mockingbird. He tapes them, slows it down two octaves, then directly addresses us as he explains what is on his reel-to-reel tapes of the birds (played on the same storied tape machine of “Multiple SIDosis” fame). He identifies144 separate songs the bird sings in under 10 minutes. Comparing them to other birds’ songs (he buys a bird song record) the amateur musicologist concludes that the bird doesn’t mock or mimic, it just is so prolific that some of its tunes bear mild resemblance to the calls of other birds. The film ends with a dramatic (though hard to see) snake-bird confrontation. The big question Sid’s “Wonders That Surround Us” nature films beg, is how does this fit in with his vaudeville aesthetic? Clearly he utilizes patience, curiosity and an engineer’s inventiveness in these films, just as he does in his “technical comedies,” but with the exception of the snail film (with races and tricks and snail eating) these don’t seem to conform to the prevailing hokey vibe that defines most of Showman Sid’s work. Perhaps he really is submitting to nature, and conceding that these wonders are truly the greatest show there is.

HEIDI (1977, 11 minutes, 16mm film) This film is about (and allegedly made by) the Laverents’ dog Heidi (there aren’t the usual Sid-heavy end credits, so one can assume that the narrator, Heidi, is the filmmaker). Heidi sort of sounds like Disney’s deep-voiced, slow talking Goofy (Sid at the time was interested in experimenting with tape speed, as he demonstrates to greater effect in “Stop Cloning Around”). The protagonist is a long-haired dachshund who used to belong to a mean old man before Sid and Adelaide took her in. She sits on Adelaide’s chair (as seen also in “Stop Cloning Around”), she chases varmints and she shows off her operation scar. Heidi is hot for socks and dead gophers and cool on baths and squeaky toys. There are two keen scenes that make this delightful short a prime Sid movie. Heidi wonders, “Where’s Pops? I bet he went back to that room where he always shuts the door...” Then Heidi opens the door to reveal Shameless Sid shirtless (and pantsless) on the toilet. Then the film ends with an awesome duet between Sid (on piano) and Heidi (apparently, also potentially known as Heidi the Singing Dog) performing a Sid penned Heidi Theme Song. “Heidi” is one of the most charming films in the Sid Cannon.

STOP CLONING AROUND (1980, 15 minutes, 16mm film) “Multiple SIDosis” is the masterpiece, but this may be the perfect Sid film, as it features every theme that makes Sid movies Sid movies. It opens with the living room supposition, it overtly references vaudeville humor, it has its foundation in technical experimentation, Sid appears shirtless and gets bawdy, it utilizes Sid’s sign making skills, it is extremely musical and it ends with funny credits that give Sid multiple props. The film opens with Adelaide and Sid lounging in the living room. Adelaide pets sleepy Heidi and Sid reads an article on cloning until he nods off. He then (in his dream) is at a podium introducing a film “done in the vaudeville tradition.” His microphone starts acting up and a Sid double with a nametag reading “Clone #6” comes and adjusts it. What follows is a long sequence where Sid has all kinds of microphone trouble, and while the bit is executed well and is funny it is much too long, especially with the promise of clone antics on the horizon. Here I think Sid is using pacing more appropriate for the stage than for film and that is why this film, as great as it is, is no rival to “Multiple SIDosis.” However, it is a worthy a second in the eyes of many Sid fans. Sid (when his mic finally works) explains that, “with the price of labor it’s almost impossible for a one man producer to put on a show like this.” That is why he bought a do-it-yourself home cloning kit. We then see him (in flashback) with his cloning chamber, festooned with a Sid-painted sign reading “Little Handy Dandy Cloning Machine.” It is simply a funny box with a curtain and some Christmas lights, knobs and switches. When he gets to cloning an “Error Reject” light comes on and out pops Clone #1, a stout little midget Sid in nothing but red swim trunks. It seems that in real life Sid had acquired an anamorphic camera lens, which allows a filmmaker to alter photography like a funhouse mirror, and this film was his exercise in that process. After a few adjustments Sid comes up with Clone #2, an elongated version of himself (who also leaves little to the imagination garment-wise, though this Sid is thinner). Sid soon fixes the problem and it is showtime! Clone #5 opens the performance playing piano for Clone #2. We then realize that real-life Sid is not only playing around with photographic manipulation but audio manipulation as well. He slows down his voice so that Clone #2 sings in a deep bass. The split screen in which Clones #5 & #2 both appear isn’t too convincing (the long Sid is flickering a bit) and the song isn’t too compelling, but the show is just getting started. Next up is the awesome Clone #1, aka Fatso, singing in a Chipmunk-ish voice (or “comic tenor’ as Sid puts it) with his ukulele. He complains about being a “clone of some clod...why couldn’t I be a clone of Paul Newman, or John Travolta or even Al Pacino?” He then sings a bawdy, horny little song in old vaudeville style, with corny old time jokes, yet with a reference to Pacino in the lyrics! This is one of the best Sid songs ever. In a clown suit (red nose, rope belt, polka dot shirt, oversized bowtie) he laments, “Why is it that nobody loves a fat man...why can’t someone love me for my body, my warm and plump and sturdy little, tantalizing scrumptious little, peppy and rambunctious little, cute and sweet and sexy little body?” Then comes the big payoff...a barbershop quartet in which Clones #1-4 sing in something resembling harmony, with real-life Sid recording all four parts separately at different tape speeds, resulting in an eerie, vibrating bizarre tone. We see two regular Sids and a tall and short Sid standing together, so it is a quadruple exposure shot, with different trick cameras for half of the exposures. That alone is an awesome achievement, and this film is amazing. It also speaks volumes about Sid’s ego, his one-man work process and his sense of humor. The movie abruptly ends as Sid awakens to find that the clone world was a fantasy. But today that’s not the case...look for Sid to emerge with a documentary remake of this as soon as the cloning doctors and him come to an agreement.

SHINE ON HARVEST MOON (1982, 2 minutes, 16mm film) This is an incredibly pleasant little film. A fairly timeless piece that relies on vaudeville era-aesthetics, this actually reminds me of the less edgy animation work done by art school student filmmakers. As we hear a charming (Sid played) version of the title tune we see Sid’s time lapse study of the total lunar eclipse of July 5, 1982. The jittery footage of a full moon making its way to full eclipse evokes flickering early silent films. After the moon eclipses we switch to a pair of wooing shadow puppets holding hands as they watch the celestial wonder. We then see the moon reemerge from darkness. The young lovers then go from hand-holding to smooching to a full reclining position out of our view, dirty dancing in the moonlight. This is a sweet short that is short but sweet

THE FISHERMAN (1982, 17 minutes, Super 8) This is the sore-thumb of the Sid cannon. Not to imply that it’s painful (at its worst it’s numbing) but rather that it sticks out. A much more collaborative effort than his other pieces, this film was the “1981-1982 Club Project for the San Diego Amateur Movie Club,” and thus writer/director Sid is working with someone else’s story idea and using a film crew that doesn’t live at 3705 Mesa Vista Way. Also making this an unusual project for Sid is the large cast of dozens and the fact that it was shot on Super-8. Sid classifies this as a video in his catalogue, apparently showing his disrespect for the Super-8 format. This movie (which is under 20 minutes, but feels like an hour) very indirectly tells the tale of a 65 year-old retiring from his job as a railroad engineer and moving in with his daughter’s family. The husband has decided that the old man might be bored so they decide to set up activities for him, which mainly consist of strenuous, difficult chores (chopping wood, painting the exterior of the house, etc.). This doesn’t fit in with his idea of retirement so he takes up “fishing” in a nearby fish-free lake, spending his days sleeping in the sun with his rod propped on a stand as the townsfolk call him a kook behind his back. When he surprisingly catches a fish he has a fantasy of what will happen when he shows it to the gossipy men on Main Street – a mad rush of would-be fishing-folk destroying his tranquil oasis, so he ultimately throws the fish back. The fishing frenzy fantasy, complete with wavy inner-thought lines and a kooky, frenetic parade of eccentric fishermen (extras from the S.D.A.M.C., I’m pretty sure I saw Sid and Adelaide making Hitchcock–esque cameos) is the highlight of the movie, a really energetic, funny sequence. However, the bulk of the film, shot like a feature, is weighed down by far too many elaborate scenes that do little or nothing for the plot, including a long bit where the family attempts to donate to Goodwill but ends up keeping everything. Most of the weaknesses of “The Fisherman” can likely be attributed to the un-Sid-like collaborative nature of the picture, as can the main plot. I can not see this as autobiographical...Sid Laverents was never a lazy retiree, in his 60s he reveled in projects and in his mid-90s he still does. One notable addendum: I believe this film features the only guest appearance of Rock & Roll in any form in a Sid film. What finally drives Grandpa out of the house is his two adolescent granddaughters listening to a hokey disco song on their little radio while dancing stiffly. In a very Steve Allen/Bob Hope bit, the tame, virtually bass-free tune literally shakes the pictures on the wall (another mysterious Sid special effect) and causes Grandpa to histrionically cover his ears.

CARIBBEAN CRUISE (1993, 19 minutes, video) This is the first of a two-part epic, and it is really a pretty normal-looking home-video documenting Sid and fourth wife Charlotte’s November 1992 vacation. The only thing that distinguishes it from your uncle’s video of his cruise is the first few minutes. A living room scene has Charlotte ask, in her lovely accent and stilted delivery, “Where would you like to go on vacation?” To which Sid replies, “Well, I never went on a cruise, why don’t we go on a cruise this year?” Then a cutout airplane flies across a map to Miami. After that, other than a lovely hand-drawn map of the Caribbean, this is mostly of interest only to those on the trip. Highlights include Charlotte looking great on of the cruise’s dress up nights, their personal Turkish waiter cutting up their salad, and Sid recapturing his nature film past during a nice trip to a St. Thomas aquarium. The cruise ends with culinary school graduates running amok to create sculptural centerpieces carved out of ice, butter and cheese that include nautical themes as well as a nude bust of a woman and a rampaging Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. Though Sid remains clothed for this picture he is seen reclining invitingly on the cruise ship bed. In a surprise twist ending Sid and Charlotte decide to extend their vacation and get a flight to Mexico...but that is a tale for another video!

CANCUN (1993, 18 minutes, video) Again, this features a nice cutout plane with an animated dotted line showing their travel course. Despite a few negatives (Charlotte’s suitcase is briefly lost, and there is bad tile work in the bathroom that Sid says, “looked like it was done by a 10-year old Mayan apprentice”) they have a lovely trip. Though Sid is on the beach early in the picture he somehow manages to keep his shirt on for several minutes. A particularly horny entry into the Sid cannon, this film features numerous shots of women of varying ages and shapes in bathing suits (“some of the better views”). Significantly this title has Sid leaving in a video glitch here and there, demonstrating a mellowing in the perfectionism that made “Multiple SIDosis” possible.

THE DRIP (1993, 18 minutes, video) This opens with great title cards and perhaps Sid’s best song ever, a super catchy vaudeville-ish tune about a man’s struggle with a pesky drip. Then we go to fairly dark video footage of Sid in the ubiquitous living room reading, then retiring to bed. On his way to the bedroom he sees Charlotte in the bathroom and she explains that the sink is stopped up. Sid (who moves pretty slowly...much like this movie) goes to the kitchen to get the plunger and the Drano but while grabbing a cookie knocks over a pyramid of fruit, tipping the Drano bottle into the kitchen sink, leaving Sid ill-prepared to meet the bathroom challenge. Though I suspect the younger, taller Charlotte could plunge a sink pretty well herself, she relies on Sid, who fails, causing her to complain about the resulting drip. As the song says, “the drip drip, it’s driving me crazy, drip drip, the whole night through, I could fix it if I wasn’t so lazy, so it drips the whole night through.” Though some of the other incidental music in this is kind of dreary the reemerging “Drip” theme is triumphant, a perfect tune for the film. Well, not perfectly accurate, as Sid proves to be not as lazy as the theme song implies. He tries everything, including putting a balloon on the faucet with a rubber band, which eventually mundanely falls off (no wacky Warner Brothers cartoon payoff here). The most redeeming thing about the film (other than the song) is the fact that Sid built a special set to show himself under the sink, ruining the plumbing and eventually getting the inevitable gush of water in the face. The wetness forces him to take off his shirt, or course, (as if wet shiny pajamas weren’t sexy enough). He eventually gives in and calls the all-night plumber. The main problem with this film (besides it being too slow) is that it is essentially a slapstick comedy, and even though Sid is clearly super-capable as he pushes 90, it’s just not pleasant to see an older gentleman drop tools on his foot. Also, there are a few moments of shoddy production values (at one point the timecode was left in). Not major problems, of course, but shocking in light of Sid’s meticulous early films.

CHARLOTTE’S BALLOON RIDE (1994, 20 minutes, video) Charlotte and Sid are sitting at home in the living room watching TV and she sees a hot air balloon, and expresses interest. Sid has clearly found a wife who is more than willing to act in his movies, despite not having the theatrical background of Vaudeville Sid, and she perfectly delivers her scripted lines of delight and hopefulness that Sid will video the ride. Alas, this is not as perfect a videotaping opportunity as Sid foresaw. When they arrive and the mullet-bearing balloon-spokesman starts teasing Sid for videotaping you get an inkling of trouble, and sure enough, Sid not allowed to ride in the official balloon-following car. Basically, we get a lot of video footage of the balloon filling up and then we have to rely on Charlotte’s lovely still photos of the flight taken from the balloon, and Charlotte’s account of the flight’s wonderful eerie silence (a silence broken up by other balloon passengers ooh-ing and aah-ing at the houses of the rich and famous). Birthday cake and a stunning sunset end the film. Due to her many contributions Charlotte gets an unusually generous amount of props in the end credits. She gets nods for her roles as still photographer, 2nd grip, assistant cameraperson (the “man” in “cameraman” is crossed out, replaced by the more gender-neutral word) and chief advisor.

DINOSAUR DREAM (1995, 9 minutes, video). When it comes to action there is no better Sid film. Just check this out: Sid wanders around a mysterious wooded area and sees a stegosaurus that makes him declare “Holy smokes!” and run away as fast as he can. But there are dinosaurs everywhere! He makes the mistake of touching one of their eggs and then gets chased. He sees more creatures and sneaks away from them but then unwittingly gets too close to T-Rex, the king of the thunder lizards. The monster sees Sid, who is being chased by a sabretooth tiger, and grabs the terrified human in his jaw and bites off Sid’s arm leaving a bloody stump. Then he leans over and picks up Sid, who was writhing in pain in a pool of his own blood. The mighty dinosaur eats a moaning, whimpering Sid whole before burping up the words “The End.” Clearly this is an amazing film, but what makes it a little offsetting is that its source of greatness is apparently the opposite of what makes his earlier “technical comedies” so brilliant. In his early films he was a perfectionist and made absurdly “professional” films that were technically impressive. This on the surface seems to belong to a different school of amateur filmmaking; the zero-budget, pie-tin flying saucer, rubber monster mask, sci fi movies that teenage boys make. Like “The Drip,” this seems kind imperfect. The color is spotty, the robot dinosaurs that Sid filmed are so slow that they seem completely fake (often Sid is actually superimposed with stills), and the chromakey has imprecise edges. Now if you don’t know what chromakey is, that is the key to this movie. Even before the title Sid declared this picture “An Exercise in CHROMAKEY.” Chromakey is the process of using a blue or green screen to superimpose an actor on a different background (to make Superman fly, for example). Sid made this film after purchasing an MX-1 video mixer, precisely to use the chromakey. He videotaped robotic dinosaurs at an animal park and then used his new toy as well as he could to create the crazy special effects, all of which are entertaining, many of which are ingenious, but none of which would leave you in “Multiple SIDosis” awe. However, though this seems to be a far cry from his early work, his next film would contradict that conclusion.

THE MAKING OF DINOSAUR DREAM (1995, 8 minutes, video) This documentary is in many ways a more important and revealing film than the movie that is its subject. It opens with Sid explaining how excited he was when a local wild animal park had an exhibition of robotic dinosaurs. He gushes over how realistic these stiff, slow automatons are (he explains that kids were scared of them so they displayed one without “skin” so youngsters would know they weren’t real). He declares, “I got home with a lot of good footage but I didn’t know what to do with it.” Then the film journeys into an area where we learn an amazing amount about Sid’s creative process, his motivations and muses, his methodology, and most importantly, what “Life with Sid” is like. Hemming and hawing about buying an expensive video mixer he breaks down and gets it when he realizes it has a chromakey function. He decides to make his own chroma-version of “Jurassic Park,” but soon realizes that his footage isn’t quite right. Luckily the dinosaur exhibit has returned. We then see Sid and Charlotte at the park trying to get the right footage from these uncooperative, slow robots. There are a number of amazing things that transpire as they try to get the shots. At one point Sid is perched in front of a beast, trying to get a sound effect he needs, grumbling, “Come on...growl!” At one point a dinosaur spits in his face and Charlotte demands (of the dinosaur? of Sid?) “Do it again!” And at one point a guard tells Sid he can’t go over the fence to film anymore (I LOVE the idea of an elderly dude emerging as a mischief maker/pest in the eyes of security, peskier than a teenager). Most importantly we see Charlotte shooting in the field and it is obvious that this is one seriously dedicated wife. Sid is making his silly dinosaur movie and she is down for the program, doing an excellent job getting the shots framed and executed as well as possible (they still need to repeat each shot numerous times to get them lined up right). The absolute highlight of the flick is, while attempting a particularly frustrating shot, Charlotte chiding, “TRY AGAIN...TRY AGAIN...dammit!” With all the field work done they hit the home front. Sid makes a blue screen out of lumber and blue cloth and then patient Charlotte helps him shoot chroma-scenes. Ultimately what emerges from this is that even though there are more seams and “shoddier” production values in his video work, it is clear that Sid still has the same dedication and drive that he had as a young man of 62 when he made “Multiple SIDosis.” He takes on new technological challenges and then goes through dozens of attempts to get each shot. And when you see Sid swaddled from head to toe in a thick mummy-wrap of blue fabric with only his arm uncovered to get the gruesome severed-arm shot how can you question his dedication? You also see the reality of his “One-Man” productions...Charlotte works her ass off helping on this, and you realize how much she and Adelaide must have contributed over the years. And you also get to see Sid inventiveness in action. For the truly troubling shots he solves his problems by creating shadow puppets of the tyrannosaurus’ head and Sid’s crumpled body. For the gore he splatters ketchup on the ground. He uses his backyard to double as the animal park that doubled for Dinosaur Island (or wherever it was supposed to be). In the end this emerges as one of the most informative Sid vids ever. The video concludes with him explaining how he did the awesome burping “The End” shot, and then demonstrating it, declaring that the “Making Of” movie has come to an end as well.

THE TATTOOED LADY (1996, 17 minutes, video) One of the stranger, more minimal Sid films. Relying on pure vaudeville shtick, this opens with old-time theater music and Sid slowly stumbling onto the stage (the “stage” being a curtain in his studio) to do a drunk-routine featuring a series of corny jokes amidst the “hic” here and the “tee many martoonis” there. One of the uglier Sid films, the bright video and the 88 year-old Sid acting impaired doesn’t make for a pleasant visual experience, especially after opening with another beautifully painted title card (proving that the impairment is all an act). Though not one of his best, it actually can be read as one of his most avant-garde films, because Sid not only adds a laugh track, but intersperses shots of an audience at a 1980s comedy club yucking it up. The laughs are woven in at bizarre moments where the jokes are either not funny or sometimes not anywhere near the punchline. This randomness is dada-esque and could be taken as commentary on the sorry state of comedy or on the tragi-comic nature of human existence. This is most vivid when he does some vaguely autobiographical stuff (“I was married four times...the first two were terrible...). As he sadly talks about the misery of his early marriages, implying that he murdered both women, a fat man is seen wiping tears of laughter. There is actually one very Redd Foxx-y joke that is pretty good. His second wife joins Women’s Lib and takes off her bra and starts yelling at Sid that there’s going to be major changes. He keeps responding to her orders with “You’re beautiful...” Finally she demands an explanation for his unexpected amorous reaction to her feminism-inspired harangues and he responds, “You’re beautiful...when you took off your bra your boobs fell down and pulled all the wrinkles out of your face!” The routine ends with Sid grabbing his ukulele to sing the title tune, a pleasant old-timey song that would have made the Sid CD if it weren’t sung in a stumbling, slow, cracking faux-drunk voice, making it one of the few musical miscues in Sid’s cinematic career. The final credits, appropriately include, “Apologies to Foster Brooks.”

ALASKA (1997, 12 minutes, video) Another travelogue, this opens with an extended living room discussion (the in-camera microphone doesn’t provide perfect audio, but the dialogue between Sid and Charlotte as they discuss taking a tour up North is great). This one again has nice maps, and Sid includes the excellent detail of a cut-out shadow under the cut-out airplane that takes Charlotte and he to Seattle, then Alaska. There are some lovely views of snowy mountains shot from the plane. When they arrive they are continuously warned to beware of bears, but much to his chagrin Sid gets great shots of foxes, musk oxen, domesticated Caribou and sled dogs, but only tiny specks of distant bears. For fans of bawdy Sid this may be a disappointment...the cold requires him to keep his shirt on for the entirety of the picture, and the fact that this is an all-elderly tour eliminates opportunities for lusty-lenswork or asides. However, he does make reference to certain “services” for oil workers that are not part of the tour...perhaps that can be read as mildly blue.

THE SID SAGA (1985-2003, 106 minutes, 16mm film/video) This four part autobiographical film was for the most part assembled around1985-86, with little things added over the years. Then in the 90s when Sid switched to video he began very slowly putting together part four. He just completed a working copy earlier this year. “The Sid Saga” is a strange, fascinating, labor intensive, unusual, one-of-a-kind piece. The true triumph of it is that you not only learn his life story but his execution of the film demonstrates ways that his mind and sensibilities work that are far more revealing than the mere facts of his life.
In “Part 1 The Early Years,” some friends, Bob and Karlene, are in Sid’s living room and they ask about his oversized scrapbook. They didn’t know what they were in for, as Sid launches into his life story, from before his birth until his years on the vaudeville circuit with his first wife. It initially seems like we are in for a Ken Burns’ “Civil War” experience, with mostly pans around still photos accompanied by Sid’s narration. Then when we get into the 1920s Sid starts adding his own flavor. Certain scenes are illustrated by Sid-painted watercolors done in an expressive bigfoot-cartoon style. He does a painting of a flapper, a painting of him as a one-man band auditioning for a police chief (to get a busker license), and most amazingly, a painting of a crowd enjoying Sid perform, Sid actually being a photo glued onto the painting. And to confuse things, it is a photo of 57 year old Sid in his vaudeville duds! The most exciting device in the film, used to explain his act, has the guests looking at a color photo in the book of older Sid dressed as a one-man band, then that photo comes to’s actually a scene from the film “The One-Man Band!” There’s some sex here (he dated a hot Jewess, but, “was too young to know what to do with her”) though for the most part he tells the racy stories more graphically in his autobiographical book 17 years later. The main exception is a fairly graphic painting Sid did of his anecdote about being paid by Shriners to play one-man band music for their surprised copulating buddies.
“Part 2 The Middle Years” has Sid sitting in his studio in front of a curtain, directly addresses the film’s audience, explaining that his house guests have left. Nineteen year-old Sid and his older wife Sue hit the vaudeville circuit and on their way up to New York and end up in a terrible flood. To convey the natural disaster Sid does some innovative things combining paintings and photos of the flood with flashes (to simulate lightning) and simple animation done by cutting up paintings of architecture and having the pieces fall apart. This section follows Sid through his musical career, the breakup of his marriage and into his second marriage with Stella. He does lots of jobs, from sign painting to metal work. To demonstrate his job as a Fuller Brush salesman he does a crude painted animation of him getting lucky with a Mae West-type housewife. Thirty-two year-old Sid’s sheet metal skills get him drafted and he has adventures in Calcutta (and some great world maps of his ship traversing the globe). Due to his army training, in this section we see stills of the only shirtless Sid that one might consider “beefcake.”
“Part 3 The Later Years” opens with Sid sitting in front of his amateur film awards addressing the viewers. He then tells the dramatic story of coming home from the service and catching Stella cheating. His life is interesting during these years as he returns to airplane engineer work, raises chinchillas, builds a house, gets a degree and in 1949 meets Adelaide. He also begins his life as a filmmaker so we start to see footage of the things he is discussing. Some is familiar (he shows his backyard by sharing “Listen To The Mockingbird” footage) and some is private home footage. We see Adelaide walking (you never see her polio in the proper Sid films), Sid driving an RV, Sid’s family and of course, Sid and Adelaide sitting in the living room. He also discusses his amateur film career and uses footage from his familiar films when describing them. To show the breadth of his life he wraps things up with a montage of photos of his face from childhood to senior citizenship. Though completed in 1986, Sid adds a sad postscript in 1989, relating the death of Adelaide.
“Part 4 The Late , Late Years (this segment shot on VIDEO)” may be the most amazing section of the four. Though we no longer get the multimedia magic of the earlier segments, and though the video is far less rich looking than the film stock, this compensates by being more emotionally raw and revealing. We see widower Sid, in his 80s, doing lots of heavy lawnwork and chores. Something about Sid simply setting a camera on a tripod and then painting the house opens a window into the profound loneliness he was feeling at the time. He then explains how he felt that as a fat, wrinkled old man he would never get another mate, so using pure Sid will he loses 100 pounds. This emphasizes his wrinkles even more, so then he remarkably embarks on a cosmetic surgery journey, getting a major facelift as an octogenarian to lure a lady. After a photo montage of recovery bruises he explains how he ran an ad in “Senior World” in which he listed his age as “70+” (technically accurate). He soon finds a lovely, sturdy Scandinavian paramour 17 years his junior (he almost rejects Charlotte because she made a mistake converting from the metric system and reported her height as midget size). Not deterred by being in his 90s, Sid includes himself shirtless in a bathing suit. He also uses footage from his “Caribbean Cruise,” “Cancun” and “Alaska” travel videos, and he shows how he did his “Drip” and “Dinosaur Dream” movies. “The Drip” is actually edited down to a far more entertaining short here. He wraps things up by discussing his National Film Registry honor, and includes an entertaining segment on him shot for a PBS show. He ends the film by addressing the camera and explaining that he is in his 90s, is in good health, and hopes to make 100. Nonetheless, he declare this video done and boasts that he is perhaps the only man to ever include a “The End” in an autobiography.

In recent years Sid has explored an alternative to filmmaking, and his new creative outlet is the printed page. Here are brief reviews of Sid’s first two written works:

RAGING WATERS (PublishAmerica, 2001) Sid’s thriller novel is a vaguely-historical fiction based on his experiences during the terrible Elba flood. Sid and his first wife appear as minor characters, a travelling vaudeville couple, but their roles are expanded when they end up finding some crucial-plot-device riches and hiding them amongst their one-man band gear. The main character here is also a Sid-figure, but Sid’s fantasy superhero persona, a lawman of action who knows how to use his fists and his penis (when respectively appropriate). It would be absurd to say that this was a very well written novel, but I have one method of criteria for deciding good or bad; boring is bad. This book is definitely not boring, and I really enjoyed the flow once I got into it. There’s a brutal murderer/rapist super villain here, and Sid the author is a little loose with the vividly described rapes and violence (not to mention the graphic sex) but there’s a happy ending, so it’s all good by the last page. Rage on Sid!

THE FIRST 90 YEARS ARE THE HARDEST (PublishAmerica, 2002) One of Sid’s many masterpieces! This is Sid’s life story, and what a story it is. Much like his “Sid Saga” movie this tells basically every tale he can remember or that he has good documentation of. However, since 1985 Sid has decided to be a little more upfront about the blue stuff, so expect more honest descriptions of Sid’s sexual motivations. The weakness here is that, especially during less eventful times in his life, Sid is just stringing whatever he can recall together without a literary structure and regardless of if the anecdotes have any bearing to the larger themes of the book. The super-strength here is that Sid opens with a killer literary device (that he also used in Raging Waters) where he abruptly starts the book at the best part, cuts it short of the climax and then starts the story at the beginning so you have to wait over a hundred pages to get back to what hooked you. The book opens with Sid using a clever Sid invention to monitor his second wife cheating on him. He catches her in the act, grabs a gun and heads in for business handling...cut to Sid’s grandpaw coming to America in 1879. The best thing I can say to recommend this book is that after reading it I was faced with conflicting drives; I HAD to write this article too spread the Sid gospel but I also knew that this article was kind of pointless, because this book tells it all.