The Rise of the Fanumentary

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By Dan Persons

IFC News

[Photo: “95 Miles to Go,” ThinkFilm, 2006]

Halfway through a screening of “95 Miles to Go,” the video diary of comedian Ray Romano’s performance tour through the south, I thought I saw the future of documentary filmmaking, and it scared the shit out of me. I saw comedians, rock stars, actors — anyone with the self-possession to offer themselves up to the spotlight and the inclination to jam a camcorder into a subordinate’s hands — capturing the tiniest minutiae of their lives for the camera. I saw distributors, motivated by star names and low, low budgets, snapping up 90-minute draughts of real-life esoterica better fit for the bonus features of a concert DVD. I saw a new breed of vanity filmmaking gone mobile: Every Holiday Inn a studio! Every personal assistant a de facto documentarian! And I steeled myself for the tide of ego-fueled effluvia that I felt was sure to come.

It hasn’t gotten that bad, but the threat still looms. “95 Miles to Go” should be the cautionary lesson that puts filmgoers on their guard. Much as I enjoy Ray Romano’s comedy, a hour and fifteen minutes of him whining about hotel rooms and rest-stops is certainly more than anyone should be asked to endure (imagine what the full, eight-day journey was like). This is pack-yer-camcorder filmmaking at its most basic, and most tedious. Watching it, you get the sense that the biggest difference between such road-documentaries and your average home movie is the amount of Velcro mounting material that gets packed.

Ray Romano is not the only target of filmmakers who seem to think the world spins on their subject’s merest breath. Take, for instance, “The Outsider,” Nicholas Jarecki’s adoring profile of gadfly director James Toback. As the brother of nonfiction helmers Eugene and Andrew Jarecki and the author of “Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start,” Jarecki’s managed his own break-in by corralling a who’s who of cinematic talent — Woody Allen, Barry Levinson, and Robert Towne amongst them — to sing Toback’s praises. And for about 45 minutes, it sort of works. There’s a certain, perverse fun in watching Toback ply his craft (the sum of his direction to model Bridget Hall is, “You are yourself, and you stop me and tell me you’re fascinated by my book”). The more you observe, though, the more you may be reminded that, while some regard Toback’s work as masterpieces of free-form filmmaking, others see only formless rehashings of his obsessions with desperate gamblers and two-on-one sex. By the time Jarecki starts sitting Toback down in the same frame with the people who are supposed to be talking about him — always a bad idea — the mutual stroking becomes as oppressive as the knowledge that any twenty-something actress in a Toback film will inevitably wind up naked in a clinch with Robert Downey Jr.

There’s even more star-power in Sidney Pollack’s “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” but of a distinctly Forbesian pedigree: Michael Eisner, Barry Diller, Mike Ovitz, Philip Johnson. They’re all here to bear witness to the architect’s inarguable genius, yet what may lodge most indelibly in your mind is not their testimony, nor the shots of Gehry’s mammoth, undulating structures, but the sight of Pollack wielding a camcorder as he interviews the man. The prevalence of such footage is curious — it’s as if the Hollywood stalwart wanted as much to immortalize his own embrace of new media as to celebrate the work of his subject. (The self-consciousness becomes all the more conspicuous when you realize that Pollack’s gone to the trouble of having another cameraperson there to record his foray into film-it-yourself production.) It doesn’t work, of course — much as Pollack wants to display his blossoming as an indie filmmaker, the industry roots still show (viz those mover-and-shaker interviews). But at least he brings in critic Hal Foster for an opposing viewpoint, and, since I seriously doubt I’ll ever set foot in Bilbao, I have to welcome any opportunity to explore Gehry’s dazzling, radical style in this kind of detail.

As for the celebrity list of “Wrestling with Angels,” how about Meryl Streep, Mike Nichols, and Marcia Gay Harden? The plus side here is that these stars feel more in proportion to the real world, maybe because the film’s subject, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, feels rather grounded himself. I only wish director Freida Lee Mock had taken her stylistic tip less from Kushner’s down-to-earth personality and more from the bold imagery of such plays as “Angels in America” — her straightforward treatment pays off in such moments as when Kushner visits his Louisiana home, but devolves into something like a succession of making-of videos while the film catalogues the creation of some of Kushner’s recent work (a sense only emphasized as Maurice Sendak, through no fault of his own, briefly wrests the spotlight away from the film’s putative subject). Still, the passion and social concern of the man overcomes the bland treatment — any person who can create a piece in which Laura Bush reads “The Brothers Karamazov” to a group of dead Iraqi children has earned, in my estimation, whatever adulation falls his way.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.