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2006’s 15 Best DVDs to Never See an American Projector Beam

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Eric Rohmer’s “Triple Agent,” Koch Lorber]

There’s no shortage of speculation and analysis among maddened cinephiles about what is wrong with the American film distribution industry and why it is that way, but what’s certain is that every year scores of films that might have, and should have, gotten honest projector time instead get their first “release” in the U.S. on DVD. Once that happens, they just vanish in the fog — presently, a legal DVD disc cannot qualify for inclusion in critics’ polls and award systems, despite the fact that often the receipts are higher than those a “specialty” theatrical run would garner, and the rentable/buyable indie or import in question is far more accessible and is seen by more people. How could the new Eric Rohmer film not be awardable, simply because distributors have lost their nerve and/or their ability to market to an increasingly dumbed-down populace? Born to kvetch, I offer up my favorite dozen-plus-three straight-to-disc U.S. debuts this year, the likes of which would fill up my year’s top ten list if we were playing fair.

“The Power of Kangwon Province” (Tai Seng Video)
The second film from despairing Korean New Wave structuralist Hong Sang-soo, this 1998 ballade is surely the movement’s most critic-revered work, a sly diptych with a wounded heart. Shot with Hong’s symptomatic rigor, the film unfurls like a haunting memory, replaying itself but always failing to find an elusive truth. In the end, Hong’s clinical interrogation of modern love and its discontents holds at the center, more heartbreaking in its way than any tale of passion crippled by fate or society.

“Triple Agent” (Koch Lorber)

In his 87th year, Eric Rohmer is finally sent straight to video — but this historical drama, which revisits the Miller-Skoblin affair, a mid-30s Euro-tangle of reckless espionage and collateral damage that had White Russian émigrés in Paris double-dealing the Nazis, the Soviets, French Reds and each other, is a gabby, lucid head trip, sometimes as boldly theatrical as a 1950s teleplay, sometimes volleying between visual homages to Rockwell and Vermeer.

“The Wildcat” (Kino)

In his Berlin days, Ernst Lubitsch was honing his comic rapiers with silent torpedoes like this 1921 farce, a masterful ditty set in a militaristically absurd frontier fort beset by a girl-magnet playboy lieutenant (the impossibly deft Victor Janson) and a marauding band of bandits led by a wild-haired Pola Negri.

“The Desert of the Tartars” (No Shame)

A fascinating whatsit never released here, Valerio Zurlini’s 1976 adaptation of the revered 1938 Dino Buzzati novel of the same name is a massive post-Lean epic — a colonialist drama, shot in widescreen on location in Iran with an international cast including Jean-Louis Trintignant, Max Von Sydow, Fernando Rey and Philippe Noiret — that’s actually about the absence of event and consequence. It may be the grandest and most lavish existentialist parable ever made — it was shot in the Bam Citadel, which has since been leveled by the 2003 earthquake.

“A Trick of the Light” (Anchor Bay)

Between episodes of American jukebox sentimentality, Wim Wenders returned to Germany in 1995 to film this utterly lovely and wise meta-semi-silent-docudrama about the brothers Skladanowsky, German inventors who ran neck and neck with Edison and the Lumières in the race to invent the movies. It stars, as herself, the younger’s 91-year-old daughter Lucie Hürtgen-Skladanowsky, and her cache of memorabilia.

“The Secret Glory” (Subversive)

A fascinating, self-aggrandizing mythmaker and gadfly, South African-born Richard Stanley is famous for his boggled fiction film projects, but this is his best feature, a dizzying archival montage (freely using classic film footage) detailing the extraordinary rise and fall of SS officer Otto Rahn, the troubled Nazi in charge of searching for the Holy Grail. The film’s included on the extra discs for Stanley’s “Dust Devil” (1993).

“Fuse” (First Run)

Good old-fashioned anarchy, this 2003 Bosnian farce — the first feature by director Pjer Zalica — plops us down into a corrupt, rancor-poisoned village on the Serbian border just two years after the civil war, as it scrambles to create the illusion of law-abiding togetherness and democracy on the eve of a visit from President Clinton: smugglers, white slavery, land mines, martyr ghosts, relentless renditions of “House of the Rising Sun,” guns everywhere.

“Phantom” (Flicker Alley)

An archival film-geek event, this long-neglected 1922 detour in German master F.W. Murnau’s tragically brief career (it was one of three movies he made between 1922’s “Nosferatu” and 1924’s “The Last Laugh”) is a reverent morality play and an object lesson in Murnau’s subtle reinvention of visual expression.

“Damnation” (Facets)

This 1988 film by Hungarian dyspeptic Béla Tarr, one of the planet’s great cinematic formalists, was the artist’s long-take turning point, and first discovery of a classic cinemanic space: apocalyptically run-down, dead-or-dying villages on vast Mitteleuropan plains of mud, poverty, crushed will, delusionary behavior and charcoal skies, all observed by a point of view that stalks silently and patiently through the ruins like a ghost. It’s a serotonin-depleted ordeal — catnip to Tarrians — with some of the most magnificent black-and-white images shot anywhere in the world.

“Zigeurenwiesen” (Kino)

However much it may have seemed so to us, genre berserker Seijun Suzuki didn’t just kill time between his famous Nikkatsu Studio firing in 1966 and his comeback with “Pistol Opera” decades later. His most defiant resurgence came in 1980 with “Zigeurnerweisen,” the first chapter in a loosely-knit trilogy all set during the affluent, decadent 1920s, and all intensely, drowsily tripped out on reflexive slippage, narrative Dada and gender-combat ambiguity.

“Johan van der Keuken: The Complete Collection Vol. 1” (Facets)

The late, great Dutch documentarian/freeform personal filmmaker is virtually cineaste non grata on these shores, but now he’s DVD’d in this three-disc set, which five features and four shorts, all of them eloquent and moving expression of JVDK’s aesthetic, which is fastidious only in its refusal to prioritize moviemaking over the spontaneous textures of ordinary existence.

“Farewell, Home Sweet Home” (Kino)

Otar Iosseliani, the Paris-stationed, Georgian-expat master of human ceremonies, has been building one of the world’s most sublime filmographies largely out of American purview. Call him the heir to Renoir and Tati and a contemporary of Tarkovsky’s, with a vision of contemporary life that is scathing and yet warm and wry. This hypnotic 1999 farce about French class envy observes its characters’ folly and fate (and the masterful performance by a giant Marabou stork) like a patient boulevardier on his second glass of Pernod.

“The Seventh Continent” (Kino)

Austrian director Michael Haneke has had quite an autumn-years run lately, so finally we get access to his first feature, “The Seventh Continent” (1989), a droll, methodical, deeply discomfiting portrait of inexplicable nuclear-family auto-destruction. Based in some detail upon a real incident, and never exploitative.

“Culloden” (New Yorker)

The overdue DVDing of Peter Watkins’s long-marginalized, cry-in-the-wilderness corpus continues with this long-unseen debut feature, made for the BBC in 1964 and structured in Watkins’s trademarked mock-doc mode, with appalled cameramen witnessing the English suppression of Jacobite highlanders in 1746 (a parallel to the escalating “peace actions” then under way in Vietnam is clear as glass). On the same disc with Watkins’ first brush with notoriety, 1966’s “The War Game.”

“Videograms of a Revolution” (Facets)

Czech-German doc pope Harun Farocki, working with Andrei Ujica, assembles video footage shot by scores of sources during the week of riots that culminated in the Ceausescu overthrow of 1989, and what results is not only an hour-by-hour history of the revolution but also an exploration of how it was conceived and seen as a televised event.

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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.


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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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