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“Tribulation 99,” the Superman serials

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Tribulation 99,” Other Cinema/Facets]

A subterranean poet of paranoia, bricolage wizard Craig Baldwin makes movies out of yesteryear’s garbage celluloid that are half radical firestorm and half psychotic poppycock. The mixture is virtually self-defining: cheap cultural flotsam emerging from Frankenstein surgery with a boggled head of Freudian free-associations and an insurrectionary temper. Each time he redefines a chunk of educational film or government agitprop or Mexican horror flick, he is questioning what the images mean, how absurd their original intentions were, and how their political power can be used not for oppressive evil but for good — or, at least, sardonic hijinks.

A radical anti-establishmentarian, Baldwin is less pedantic than he is pulp-satiric, and the movies are endlessly unpackable. His most famous film, “Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America,” is also his masterpiece: a breathless, fevered screed in 99 chapters that details the tapestry of 20th century history as it has been influenced and manipulated by the inner-earth-dwelling Quetzals. The story, illustrated by pirated sci-fi movies, military PSAs, TV commercials and school-science reels, intersects with the CIA, Howard Hughes, Fidel Castro (seen as a skid-row Bible-class Jesus), Manuel Noriega, Ronald Reagan, Atlantis, Pinochet, Kissinger, E. Howard Hunt, the Mayan empire, United Fruit, the Bush family, Oliver North and many more.

Only 48 minutes, Baldwin’s film packs in enough loony ideas and sly comedy for four features; every cut and snippet is a layered joke, about American paranoia as well as the very real conspiratorial establishment that has dominated politics in the postwar era. For purists, just the harried repurposing of orthodox film footage (always without permission) is enough of a rebel yell, and with this film Baldwin had raised the bar on an entire school of experimental filmmaking: the kind that doesn’t use cameras. “Tribulation 99” is sci-fi avant-garde intellectualism as action film, and perhaps unique among “underground” films, it can be and should be seen several times, with each viewing paying off like a broken slot machine.

Or you can return to the image bank itself — with the old matinee sweetmeats “Superman” (1948) and “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), 15-chapter theatrical serials released as a sweet DVD box in order to multi-promote the dreary “Superman Returns” disc. In a pre-television world, film series like these were the weekly gasoline poured on the imaginative flames of Cold War kids, one of which was the apparently impressionable George Lucas. Punctuated with mushroom clouds, charmingly set-bound, and unscrupulous in their use of archive footage (by way of freeze-frame, Superman actually halts the whip-wobbling of the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge in mid-collapse, in order to evacuate a bystander), these vintage mini-movies (or four plus-hour marathons, depending on how you take them) are blissful gray heavens, child-like yet haunted by nuclear dread.

They’re also faster-moving than the later George Reeves TV show or Christopher Reeve movies, not wasting a frame and breathlessly comfortable with replacing star Kirk Allyn in mid shot with a zooming cartoon figure, shooting out of office windows like a cannonball. This is rentable ur-cinema, an entrancing place to retreat to, perfectly suited for a rainy or hungover winter Sunday afternoon. The supplements — new making-of interviews with cast and historians, a doc about the S-man’s trajectory through the 20th century — push the box total to well over nine hours.

“Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America” (Other Cinema/Facets) and “Superman – The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection” (Warner Home Video) will be available on DVD on November 28th.


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.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

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:


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.


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!


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.


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.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.