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Accusing a comedian of being crazy is usually a high compliment. In the case of Andy Kaufman, the eccentric performer most widely remembered as Latka on the series "Taxi," the word may be too accurate.

In the latter days of his career, the comedian lived out his proclaimed fantasy of becoming a big-time wrestler - with a twist. On TV talk shows and on tour, he wrestled female volunteers from the audience, promising them a cash prize if they could beat him. They never did.Kaufman's wrestling escapades are the subject of Shanachie Entertainment's "Andy Kaufman:

I'm From Hollywood" (60 minutes, $24.98), and it's one of the strangest tapes you'll ever see. None of Kaufman's network material from "Saturday Night Live" or David Letterman's "Late Night" (two of his biggest TV forums) is here. Instead, the producers have relied on local TV sports broadcasts (primarily in Memphis, scene of many of his matches), nightclub performances and news accounts of Kaufman's exploits. There are even some home videotapings - fascinating stuff but of mediocre image quality.

You may remember that Kaufman, who died in 1984, liked to tease and exasperate his audience. His wrestling career took audience-baiting to unprecedented heights. The inability of women to defeat him in the ring, he insisted, was evidence of their physical inferiority. His inflammatory remarks were in the tradition of wrestling braggadocio, and he had women howling for his blood.

Soon a feud developed between Kaufman and professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, who said Kaufman was mocking his sport. The Yankee from Hollywood was certainly mocking the South in general and Memphis in particular. At one point Kaufman appears in a tape apparently intended for Memphis TV stations in which he instructs Southerners on how to use soap, razors and toilet paper.

Several matches with Lawler are shown, including the encounter in which Kaufman winds up hospitalized and in a neck brace. One highlight of their feud is recounted only in newspaper clippings - their joint appearance on the Letterman show, when Lawler struck Kaufman and the comedian exploded with a string of obscenities.

Was it just an extended put-on, like so much else about pro wrestling? Maybe it started out that way, but even Kaufman's friends seen here are uncomfortable at the proportions of the joke. Tony Danza, Marilu Henner and Robin Williams, all speaking several years after Kaufman's death, testify to his comic gifts but remain perplexed by his behavior.

One person on the tape says Kaufman realized his happiest moments when being jeered by 10,000 irate wrestling fans. "I'm From Hollywood" provides plenty of evidence for that view.


Question: I have some family movies on Super VHS tape. Can they be watched on an ordinary VHS VCR?

Answer: Usually Super VHS tapes can be played back only on an S-VHS VCR. However, a few recent VHS models from JVC, Panasonic and Quasar offer an S-VHS playback ability. The resulting picture, of course, will resemble ordinary VHS, not the improved images of S-VHS.

- Andy Wickstrom


- Do you have a question you'd like answered? Send your queries to Andy Wickstrom, The Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101.


TWISTER - You think your family is weird? Although the title refers to a tornado that harmlessly sweeps over the house of a middle American family, it also hints at the twisted characters who live inside. Harry Dean Stanton is the dad, a self-made millionaire named Cleveland who wants to invest in miniature cows. Crispin Glover is his son, whose name, Howdy, is the most ordinary thing about him. Less wacky but much more affecting is Suzy Amis (one of the best up-and-coming actresses; she's also in the current "Rich in Love") as a 24-year-old single mother who drinks too much and is struggling to imagine a future beyond this sheltered home. When her former boyfriend (Dylan McDermott) comes to see their daughter and says, "Your family is crazy," he knows what he's talking about. "Twister" doesn't offer much in the way of plot. But the actors make up in liveliness what the script lacks in drama. And it's hard to resist a film in which Howdy and Maureen go searching for their mother and run into William Burroughs taking target practice instead. Vestron. 93 minutes.

- Caryn James (New York

Times News Service)