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DID YOU READ

“Fur.”

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"You think I'm strange, that I can't be normal."
[Reposted in expanded form from here.]

"Fur" contains the first full-body shaving scene with erotic/symbolic intent we’ve come across in our years of watching movies. The first, and, it’s probably safe to say, last. You have to tip your hat to that — director Steven Shainberg‘s "imaginary portrait" of photographer Diane Arbus pursues an interesting premise deep into territory that would have most filmmakers surrendering in self-shame. It’s a valiant mess, but such an odd and unrepentant one that we left halfway won over.

As an opening title card informs us, the film is not a historical biography but one that "invents characters and situations that reach beyond reality to express what might have been Arbus’ inner experience on her extraordinary path" — a tactic necessitated by the fact that the Shainberg didn’t have the rights to use Arbus’ actual photographs. The film is set in 1958 New York, shortly before she launched the career that would eventually make her one of the foremost photographers of the century. Diane (Nicole Kidman), at least in the film’s imaginings, was at this point a perfectly groomed 50s housewife, caring for her two daughters and assisting her husband Allan (Ty Burrell) with his commercial photography studio. But not meant for the role of faded helpmate is Diane, whose life comes crashing in after she befriends her mysterious neighbor Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), a man afflicted with hypertrichosis, a condition that’s left him covered with the titular full-body pelt.

Like Shainberg’s last film, "Secretary," "Fur" mixes a hyperconscious fairytale tone with themes of blooming outré sexuality. Lionel’s apartment, tucked away up a winding staircase in the depths of the building, is the rabbit hole through which Diane enters a nocturnal world of amputees and dominatrices, dwarves and drag queens. If the film weren’t so quick to introduce Lionel to the rest of the Arbuses, he could almost be imaginary, a freakshow Harvey arriving to seduce Diane away from her immaculate apartment and mild-mannered spouse and into another realm.

Shainberg apparently grew up in a house filled with Arbus’ photos — she was a friend of his uncle’s. It’s odd, then, that the film so simplifies her interest in unusual subjects — recalling a boy with a large birthmark she followed home as a child, Diane sighs breathily "He was so beautiful." Kidman plays the photographer as a wide-eyed, timorous-voiced ingenue whose interest in the unusual could absolutely never be conveyed as anything but benign. The spectre of voyeurism has been locked away in the basement — Diane, the film insists, was as much an oddity as the subculture she loves (and in the film’s world that word is most definitely singular — all those counter to the shiny, pastel norm mingle together in an all-accepting urban utopia). And why? Because she cared to look, and, we’re often reminded, to listen. The film’s favorite image is of Diane laying her camera aside to speak to someone; any fan of Arbus’ work will likely chafe at the reduction of her startling portraiture talents to a willingness to hold hands and share secrets with her subjects first.

As the invented Lionel, Downey Jr. manages to convey a whole weary world with just his gaze. Kidman, on the other hand, acts with all her might, but never manages to emotionally engage or present any convincing complexity. "Fur" doesn’t ultimately give much insight into the subject it purports to examine — instead, it’s more a portrait of a portrait of an artist. We end up with a good idea of how Shainberg imagines Arbus, as an unhappy girl, yet another repressed housewife with a unexpressed inner life, yearning for freedom. In trying to buck the biopic trend, Shainberg has achieved something structurally inventive but thematically flat or flat-out risible. His most provocative (and praiseworthy) move is to not include Arbus’ suicide at age 48. Given Indiewood’s love of fetishizing the tragic ends of mentally fragile female artists (Kidman herself walked loaded her pockets with rocks and walked into the river as Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" — Oscar!), it must have been a great temptation indeed.

Opens in New York and Los Angeles November 10th.

+ "Fur" (Picturehouse)

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.