I was referred to the movie “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” as a movie about the accordion. As the producer of the Cotati Accordion Festival I deemed it blasphemous not to take the time and watch it. Indeed the film is as much an “accordion film” as any that have come down the pike. However, the reality is that it is another Al Yankovik parody movie, of which genre he has had tremendous success with.
One of the themes throughout the movie was that “Al Yankovic might not be the most “technically talented accordion player”, but he is the “most famous accordion player of all time”. Hence, the movie is a parody of a talented accordionist who has risen to fame over the decades as a parody specialist in a few different genres. In this movie Yankovic begins with the accordion and then goes on to produce an hour and a half parody of himself(played mostly by Daniel Radcliffe). Also, it just might be true that Al Yankovic is the most famous accordion player of all time, as unfortunate as that might be.
In the early 1950’s Dick Contino was the most famous accordionist of all time. He crossed into pop music with his polka based concerts, playing the Hollywood Bowl in front of thousands of screaming Bobby Socked girls. I know that is hard to imagine for some, but it doesn’t take a deep Google dive to discover that it is true. The difference between Dick’s fame and Al’s fame is that Al came about during MTV, has made movies, and there are simply a lot more people now than in 1950. Hence, a lot more people know about Weird Al, no slight to my late good friend, Dick Contino.
All that being said, the movie is damn Weird. The parody is often way over the top, the accordion pretty much disappears halfway through the movie, and it is more a series of comedy sketches than a movie. Yet, part of the artistry is how the movie remains a comedy as so many people are killed and maimed by Al himself. There is no shortage of gratuitous blood letting. After all, when you go down the road tabbing Pablo Escobar as a major player in the movie, there is no escaping at least a nominal number of executions.
At this point I have to explain why I would dive in at the deep end of the pool and try to explain the phenomenon of this often over the line movie? Part of the reason is that anyone who has been to the Cotati Accordion Festival in the last 10 years has heard the “featured accordionist” that plays throughout “Weird:The Al Yankovic Story”. Yes, its my close friend Cory Pesaturo that you see in the credits at the end of the movie listed as the “featured accordionist”. Cory himself is not seen in the movie as he had the luxury of doing his role in the confines of a world class recording studio. However, you hear his accordion playing all through the production.
Cory, who has a collection of world champion trophies, has played numerous times at the Clinton White House, and is part of the Cotati Accordion Festival team, believes his involvement in the movie is the ultimate irony. Cory, like most young accordion students, was fed polka lessons growing up. Yet, Cory was a music prodigy and the sooner he could evolve away from polka the better. As Cory told me, “I have spent my whole life trying to put polka in the rearview mirror, only to get a movie role that features my music, and its all polka based music that I am required to play ”. I am sorry Cory that you have to take that sad march to the bank and accordion notoriety!
Cory did tell me before I viewed the movie that a lot of liberties were taken with the Madonna character and that it made her look pretty bad. That turned out to be true, but a bit of the sting is taken out of Madonna’s ego when you consider that the movie was a comedy parody. While there was a lot of truth in the movie, the bulk was Al Yankovic’s ability to put his made up comedic fantasies into a major motion picture. I have seen Al on stage in person and the movie was as if he did one of his touring acts with a lot more sets and props.
I have always been asked, “Why haven’t you booked Weird Al at the Cotati Accordion Festival”. I reply that I have given it my best shot. I have talked to his booking agent at least three times over the years. Let’s just say he is less than thrilled when I get through to him on the phone. He doesn’t disguise his belief that talking to me about playing the Cotati Accordion Festival is a gargantuan waste of his time. When I ask if I can talk to Al myself he makes it crystal clear that I would have more of a chance interviewing Muhamad Ali(which ironically I have). He has told me that he would never give me Al’s number, his mailing address, nor would he give Al my number. “You will never talk to Al Yankovic as long as I’m his agent!”.
One year Al did a two hour show at Konocti Harbor. I watched the entertaining two hour show where he did one song where he played the accordion and one song where he used it as a prop and did not even play it. Obviously, even if I could hire the touring act, it would not work at the Cotati Accordion Festival. I did try to get back stage to talk to Al. I was told by a large security fellow that I might have my teeth removed Lake County style if I did not leave the area. So much for the back channel.
Back to the movie, how did Cory get this valued opportunity to be a central part of a major movie? As it turns out, Al Yankovic’s bass player is a good friend of Cory’s and he told him of the movie. Plus, Cory had met the two “30 year old kids”, who were composing for the movie, at the S.E.L. Awards where Cory had performed. They told him that he would be perfect for their new “secret” project. When the dust settled, Cory found himself doing the accordion cuts for Weird Als’movie.
As a side note, the movie starts with a door to door accordion salesman going to the Yankovic home in Southern California in an attempt to sell them an accordion. In the movie Al’s father pummels the salesman for bringing an agent of the Devil into his home. In reality the real life salesman who sold Al Yankovic that 12 bass accordion for $450.00, is a personal friend of Cory’s. For $450.00 back then it must have been a fine accordion.
Would I recommend the movie? If you have ever had any involvement with the accordion you should watch at least the first half. If you like Al you will like the movie. If you want to see a comic Quentin Tarrantino like movie you will like it. Otherwise, just expect it to be WEIRD.