DID YOU READ

“Lunacy,” “Apartment Zero”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Lunacy,” Zeitgeist Films, 2006]

It could be said that movies get closest to being fabulous art not when they are at their most self-consciously “artsy,” but when they reflect an obsessive visionary’s perspective and personality as purely and expressively as a painting or a poem. If this is so, then Jan Svankmajer’s films belong on the highest shelf, because it’s quite possible that no moviemaker’s oeuvre is as uncompromised and as hermetically sealed as his. When you watch, you’re uneasily shaking hands with the man’s unexamined, fecund imaginative power source, with no intermediaries present. Famously a die-hard Surrealist who still “belongs” to recalcitrant Surrealist federation in the Czech Republic, Svankmajer has been exploring the anxiety of everyday objects for over 40 years, and in a vast variety of forms (including poetry, sculpture, painting, ceramics, collages and cabineted creations fashioned largely from taxidermied animals). Of course he is predominantly a stop-motion animator, inheriting the Czech puppet tradition and forcing it down the gullet of his own noxious id. His filmography is basically one long smash-up of subconscious fears, cultural recyclings, socio-sexual commentary, food used in ways it shouldn’t be, things that shouldn’t be food but are, and a crystalline faith in the desire of objects.

His new feature, “Lunacy”, is quintessential Svankmajer — not quite the textual acrobatics of “Alice” (1988) or “Faust” (1994), but, as the title suggests, closer to the Freudian craziness of his many shorts and “Conspirators of Pleasure” (1996). The “story” is an almost abstracted play on nightmare logic — our hero Jean (Pavel Liska) has reoccurring dreams about being mugged in his sleep by asylum attendants, a situation that proves sympathetic to a cackling maniac called, simply, the Marquis (Jan Triska), who has more than a whiff of Sade about him, and who dresses 18th-century style and lives in a castle performing outrageous black masses. Needless to say, Jean’s singular nightmare returns again and again, the Marquis’s sanity is hardly to be trusted, and a climactic visit to a Charenton-style nuthouse leads us to question if there’s any significant difference between the patients and the staff.

Throughout, Svankmajer interpolates his narrative with parallel visions of rogue flesh on the animated march — literally, perambulating cow tongues (a motif he first explored in 1969’s “A Quiet Week in the House”), eyeballs, moist calves’ brains, self-slicing steaks and bleached bones, all roaming over the film’s interior landscapes like escaped lab mice. (In one appalling sequence, chickens pecking at self-grinding beef lay eggs that hatch more meat, which jump into the grinder…) Svankmajer’s political thrust here is too wacky to parse — the Reign of Terror is explicitly evoked, but who exactly the aristocrats, the revolutionaries and the madmen are is impossible to figure. Perhaps this is how Sade saw it from behind his asylum walls: an anarchic exchange of one organizational derangement for another. Who knows — it’s Svankmajer’s little universe to command. We’re just tourists.

A far more reasonable take on insanity, Martin Donovan’s “Apartment Zero” (1988) made one of biggest indie splashes of the late ’80s, co-opting primal Hitchcockian ingredients and going for broke. Set, evocatively, in Buenos Aires, the movie tracks the unsettled but budding friendship-cum-codependency between two immigrant roommates — a boisterous, hedonistic, semi-educated American (Hart Bochner) and a socially inept, nervous British movie geek (Colin Firth). A serial killer is meanwhile terrorizing the city, and suspicions fly just as social virtues are exchanged and each man begins to leech off the other. Naturally, an imbalance is reached, personalities imperfectly swap (kinda), and blood spills. The actors have a revving ball, while their characters introduce a pre-Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon moviehead parlor game, which my wife and I long ago dubbed the “Apartment Zero” Game. Simply, one person names three actors from a film, the other must name the film. Firth’s neurotic dweeb beats out Bochner’s rangy hotshot every time, but the game quickly established an extra-cinematic life all its own.

“Lunacy” (Zeitgeist) and “Apartment Zero” (Anchor Bay) will be available on DVD on February 20.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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