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A Lynchian Line-up

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By Aaron Hillis, Michelle Orange, Matt Singer, R. Emmet Sweeney and Alison Willmore

IFC News

[Photo: “Eraserhead,” Absurda/ Subversive, 1977]

[Listen to our podcast on “Inland Empire”]

David Lynch’s latest film, “Inland Empire,” may be the first film that greets the auteur of oddness’ legacy with a wink and a self-acknowledging nod. For years, Lynch has made a career of defying expectations with a determinations that’s lead him to make films that are startlingly opaque (see “Lost Highway”) or even more startlingly accessible (see the first entry below). Most memorable may be his characters — beautiful freaks, larger-than-life ingénues and inexplicable entities that immediately lodge themselves in your memory. Below are some of our favorites from the Lynchian line-up.

Alvin Straight

“The Straight Story” (1999)

It’s hard for me to pick a favorite David Lynch character, not because there are so many to choose from but because so many of them are less characters and more squirming snippets of our subconscious made walking, talking flesh; it almost seems too revealing.
I considered Laura Palmer, the ubiquitous corpse of “Twin Peaks” fame, and though I can’t deny she’s right up there (has a plastic shroud ever worked so hard?), ultimately that choice seemed too cheeky, too Lynchian. In my heart of hearts, it’s Alvin Straight who’s my favorite, the cranky, proud, heartbreaking Iowa widower who rides his ’66 John Deere tractor across state lines to visit his dying brother and end their ten year feud. “The Straight Story” was released by Disney (!) in 1999, and Richard Farnsworth’s performance as Alvin Straight was hailed as a marvel of strength, understatement, and warmth — of character; he almost managed to overshadow Lynch’s departure from form, a stylistic z-turn that almost zagged right back around to subversive (again: Disney!). 80-year-old Farnsworth was nominated for an Oscar for his role, and it came to light that he had been fighting terminal cancer all the way through the shoot; the poor man shot himself six months later. —Michelle Orange

The Baby

“Eraserhead” (1977)

To this day, David Lynch refuses to describe how he created the monstrous infant that’s dropped unceremoniously into the dystopic bachelor life being led by Henry Spencer (Jack Nance). Embalmed cow fetus or not, the baby has always been for me the most indelibly Lynchian character, a nightmare vision of the perils of parenting, sex or maybe just human contact in general. The baby, at once a ridiculous phallic symbol and a parasitic mutant, appears after Mary’s (Charlotte Stewart) alarmingly brief pregnancy (“Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby!”). Given that Henry greets the world through a fog of mild bemusement, it takes a lot to shake him out of his stupor, but his constantly crying, pustule-covered deformed child does eventually manage it, chasing Mary away and driving Henry to make the unfortunate discovery that the bandages in which it’s swaddled are actually holding its organs in. It’s a gruesome metaphor: parenting as both a hazard-filled path down which one must blindly make one’s way, and as a trap that leaves you hovering in a permanent purgatory of responsibility. “Eraserhead” was supposedly inspired in part by Lynch’s impending first-time fatherhood — if that’s so, it’s amazing he managed any offspring at all. —Alison Willmore

Cousin Dell

“Wild at Heart” (1990)

Sticking Elvis, “The Wizard of Oz,” and other Americana under the wheel of a road trip to Hell, Lynch’s underappreciated Palme d’Or winner (and in my opinion, his masterpiece!) begat nearly as many wonderfully warped characters as the whole “Twin Peaks” prime-time run. There’s snakeskin-tailored hound dog Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and his star-crossed trash kitten Lula (Laura Dern); her wicked mommie dearest (real-life mama Diane Ladd); the disturbingly sleazy yet funny sociopath Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe); Laura Palmer herself as the ethereal Good Witch (Sheryl Lee); and we’ll never know what the hell is up with Double-O Spool (the late Jack Nance), a twitchy fella who caustically proclaims a non-existent dog is always with him. So it’s a true feat to stand out as the most memorable in a cast this collectively outlandish, and cult-hero hellion Crispin Glover pulls it off with less than two minutes of screen time, one line of dialogue, and a whole lot of screaming. In bed with Sailor, Lula narrates a post-coital “story with a lesson about bad ideas,” prompting flashback snippets to her cousin “Jingle” Dell (Glover), first seen being escorted home in a filthy Santa suit by the police. When his mother tells him that it’s summer and nowhere near Christmastime, Dell twists his feet into the bathroom mat and shrieks like something alien. He squirms in awkwardly precise slow-motion after putting cockroaches in his underwear, gets caught squishing dozens of sandwiches in the middle of the night (when the light comes on, Dell double-pounds the counter: “I’M MAKING MY LUNCH!”), and cries from the living room corner while poking what he thinks is a sinister rubber glove with a yardstick. As Glover recalls in a vintage featurette on the DVD, “David said if I let that glove go, it would be really, really bad. And I understood what he meant by that.” Don’t let anyone convince you Glover’s nervous eccentricity is a Lynchian calculation; that guy’s the real deal. —Aaron Hillis

The Cowboy

“Mulholland Dr.” (2001)

“The Cowboy” (Monty Montgomery) is a straight shooter. Inviting hotshot director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) to join him for an intimate rendezvous at the local abandoned corral, he gently forces him to hire one Camilla Rhodes as his lead actress — or else. Deathly pale, donning an oversized ten-gallon hat, and speaking in a disconnected monotone, he’s a ghost of Hollywood past, a shriveled (but still powerful) representative of old-time studio strong-arm tactics. Skewering Kesher’s “smart-aleck” attitude, he diplays the moral certitude of a Randolph Scott hero, here used to nightmarish effect as an agent of a shadowy producer’s cabal. Lynch then lifts his influence to the metaphysical, as The Cowboy’s whisper “Time to Wake Up” marks Naomi Watts’ identity swap of the gold-hearted Betty for the conniving jealousies of Diane. Interestingly, Montgomery was an associate producer for the “Twin Peaks” pilot as well as for “Wild at Heart,” so his character speaks with self-reflexive authority. —R. Emmet Sweeney

Jeffrey Beaumont

“Blue Velvet” (1986)

Though he would later become one of Hollywood’s most sexually adventurous actors (not for nothing does he appear as the male lead in Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls”), there is something downright wholesome about Kyle MacLachlan when he arrives in Lumberton at the start of “Blue Velvet.” Like a Hardy Boy who doesn’t realize he’s in the middle of an adventure (possibly one guest written by the Marquis de Sade), he stumbles into town after his father’s collapse and finds the severed ear that turns the whole plot on its, er, ear. Every time I watch “Blue Velvet” I marvel at MacLachlan’s air of innocence: he not only seems impossibly pure of body and spirit, he seems (as we are) totally unaware of where the story is going. All actors are supposed to act as if they’ve never read the film’s screenplay; MacLachlan’s the rare one who convincingly pulls it off. When he’s hiding in Isabella Rossellini’s closet and he starts watching, really watching her, there’s no telling what will happen next. And Dennis Hopper hasn’t even showed up yet. —Matt Singer

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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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