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DID YOU READ

Loving a 30-foot Ape

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With the roaring passion of Kong making screens quake, I find myself meditating on the great cinematic tradition of interspecies love affairs. The great films about man — or woman — and beast, locked together in love’s sweet embrace. I’m not talking about Lassie and the boy who pets him or Bobby Joe out back with a goat; I’m talking about grand amour that is capable of transcending such banal labels as Human Being and Basset Hound.

Shocking? Profane? Indecent? Gross? Interspecies love stories are grounded in a literary tradition at once vast and ancient, reaching back as far as the 2nd century myth of Cupid and Psyche, in which a maiden marries a hideous creature; Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that has the fairy queen making love to an ass; and, most appropriately, “Beauty and the Beast,” first published in France in the 18th century, but based on older folklore about girls wedding crocodiles, frogs, bears, monkeys, all kinds of inappropriate matches whose ugliness represents sexuality and the fear it incites in virginal maids. In each of these stories, one loving kiss (or lick on the face) from their wives magically turns the animals into nice, marriageable young men.

In Jean Cocteau’s haunting film version, “La Belle et La Bête” (1946), which inspired the later Disney film, Belle (Josette Day), a merchant’s daughter, is promised to a lonely, misunderstood beast whose furry face would make most maidens shriek. But Belle learns to love the kind-hearted beast and, for her ability to see beyond his appearance, is rewarded. Her affection breaks a wicked spell and transforms him into dreamy Jean Marais sans the werewolf-esque headgear he sports as La Bête.

In Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong,” the relationship between the terror of Skull Island and the comely actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) develops like many a love affair, with seduction rituals that seem all-too-familiar: He sweeps her off her feet (literally) and drags her back to his place. She’s hard-to-get, dashing off every time his back is turned. He sulks and beats his chest before chasing her down and, finding her in harm’s way, slays dinosaurs to save her. Impressed by his strength and battleground prowess, she softens, dancing and looking pretty for his amusement. Now it’s his turn to play blasé. They take in a sunset that turns her golden hair rose and connect deeply over its beauty.

But then what? What can the future hold for soulmates who want such different things? He gets off on crushing T-Rexes’ skulls and she dreams of playing the great dramatic roles before settling down to make blond babies.

The real taboo here is sex. The consummation question would be a tricky one for Ann and Kong and nobody (especially Ann) wants to go there. Indeed, outside of the realm of friskyfarms and analbestiality.com, no self-respecting director will touch man-beast love of the carnal kind — unless, of course, it’s funny enough. In “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask” (1972), Gene Wilder’s Dr. Ross becomes smitten with a pretty, young sheep named Daisy. Writer-director Woody Allen, well aware of the age-old rumors about shepherds cozying up to soft, docile lambs who don’t whine like their wives, treats the difference in species as inconsequential. When Dr. Ross is hauled to divorce court by his wife, the judge declares, “The defendant did commit an adulterous act with a sheep — most distasteful in view of the fact that the sheep was under 18 years old.”

And who can forget in “Airplane!” (1980), when Captain Oveur’s wife cheats on her husband with a horse? Nobody imagines that the neglected hussy chose her lover for his Kong-sized heart.

Ron Howard explored the logistical problems of interspecies love in “Splash” (1984), in which ordinary guy Allen Bauer (Tom Hanks) learns that his girlfriend Madison (Daryl Hannah) is a mermaid. While she has no problem doing the nasty all over Allen’s swanky pad while in human form, Madison has other needs — namely being surrounded by saltwater — that prevent her from living a normal life on land. In this case, it’s Allen who sacrifices his natural habitat and home to, in a fairy-tale twist, swim off to a wistfully happy ending at sea.

Apparently interspecies romance barely registers if neither party is human. It seems completely normal for Stuart Little the mouse (Michael J. Fox), for example, to fall in love with a cute little bird who speaks with Melanie Griffith’s sweet, chirping squeak. And nobody questions the annoying flirtation that unites sensitive Kermit the Frog and his bimbo Miss Piggy — although nobody really wants to imagine what antics they get up to in the bedroom either.

With technology that allows directors to improve the classics with stunning feats of CGI-driven realism and the wisdom that comes from digesting films past, modern movies are able to deconstruct cinematic mythologies to create new ones that take the old ones’ lessons into account. While Jackson’s Kong decapitates more realistic brontosauruses and develops a more emotionally complex connection to Ann than the 1933 original, so “Shrek” one-ups “Beauty and the Beast,” riffing on fairy-tale conventions to smart, comic effect. In the 2001 film, the princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) sees the loveliness that lies inside an ugly green ogre (Mike Myers). Instead of wishing her frog would turn into a prince, Fiona embraces the ugly green ogre in herself — rectifying the interspecies divide with a fresh, post-modern spin. Shrek and Fiona’s happy-ever-after is especially satisfying because the misshapen misfits find true love without having to turn blond, skinny or beautiful. In fact, they reject that option when it’s offered. Instead, they find love based on the loveliness within. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and to Shrek and Fiona, there’s no face they’d rather wake up to in the morning.

But “King Kong” is not a fairy tale. There are no spells to turn Kong into a handsome playwright or Ann into a pretty she-monkey. So their love story turns tragic, as a relationship between a woman and a giant ape cannot last. If no spell has been cast, if the beast has no hope of becoming human, what options does he have? The feud between the Montagues and Capulets seems a mere pockmark compared to the chasm dividing Kong from Ann Darrow. There is no hope for their union, and once he’s loved her, Kong is no more capable of living without Ann than Romeo without his Juliet. Like those other star-crossed lovers, death is the only option for King Kong. As Jack Black’s character Carl Denham says as he stands beside the fallen body of Kong, “It wasn’t the planes that got him. It was beauty killed the beast.”

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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