DID YOU READ

Guy Maddin’s “Brand Upon the Brain!”

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

[Photo: The Film Company/Celluloid Dreams, 2006]

Guy Maddin’s latest fever dream of a film, “Brand Upon the Brain!,” descended upon the Walter Reade Theatre on October 15 to close out the Views From the Avant-Garde section of the New York Film Festival. In tow were an orchestra, a team of foley artists (for live sound effects), and Isabella Rossellini, who would perform the narration for the film, which was, as you may have guessed, silent. It went out with a bang, or to be more precise, a bang! No director today is as fond of the exclamation point as Maddin, the Canadian cinephile and creator of strange celluloid objects. His works are borne out of a mixture of silent movie melodrama and self-conscious camp — a mix of Frank Borzage and John Waters. The subjects range from incestuous psychodramas in the Alps (“Careful,” 1994) to Depression-era musicals starring beer-filled glass legs (attached to Rossellini in “The Saddest Music in the World,” 2003). The often outrageous material is played with absolute conviction, and is always tied to themes of family strife (recently it’s been missing fathers) and sexual repression, lending his films an unexpected emotional heft amid their giddy excesses.

His new film is no different. In the Fall issue of Cinema Scope, Maddin describes how the Seattle-based “The Film Company” offered him a budget to make a film before they even saw a script. They gave him complete freedom, the only restrictions being he had to shoot it in two weeks and use local actors. He had to scramble for a story, and earlier in the article he describes the image that spurred his imagination: “A lighthouse positively swollen with the unseemly sexual desires of children — and their parents!” From this charged thought a whole seamy narrative was woven, circling around the main character “Guy Maddin” (Eric Steffen Maahs) (after the screening the director claimed the film is autobiographical, like his hockey peep show “Cowards Bend the Knee” (2003)). The unseemly desires center around a teenage sleuth harpist, Wendy Hale (Katherine E. Scharhon), who’s investigating Guy’s overbearing mother for abusing the kids in her orphanage (and how!). Guy’s in love with Wendy, but she only has eyes for his Sis (Maya Lawson). Gender-bending, bosom-baring and slurpy sound effects filled the room until an orphan revolt, re-animation of the dead, and a barrel of brain nectar shuttled the film to its close. Maddin packs a whole serial’s worth of plot twists into its 95 minutes — and all of it is scored to the hypnotic tempo of Jason Staczek’s pulsing score and Rossellini’s formidable voice.

The actress, nattily decked out in a dark suit and red tie, deftly navigated the film’s hysteric rhythms without a wink of condescension while always returning to nail down its mournful refrain: “The past! The past!” (Rossellini has become a bit of a muse for Maddin, appearing in “Saddest Music” as well as the delightful short essay-film “My Dad is 100 Years Old,” which celebrates the work of her increasingly neglected father, Roberto). In the framing story Guy returns to the lighthouse after 30 years — and hallucinates visions of Wendy, including brief flashes of color (flowers! her lips!) in the midst of the grainy black and white Super-8 stock. Like Alain Resnais’ superb festival entry “Private Fears in Public Places,” which is diametrically opposite stylistically, it is an adult story about loneliness that leaves its characters adrift in the final scene, enclosed in Spartan spaces filled only with regret. Resnais opted out of the cannibalism scene, though. Both are without distributors as of this writing.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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