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Ken Loach on “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “The Wind That Shakes The Barley,” IFC Films, 2007]

Ken Loach must have an awfully big trophy case. The 70-year-old British writer/director has won enough accolades for three filmmakers, including two British Independent Film Awards, two Césars, a slew of prizes from the Berlin, Portland and Venice Film Festivals and several awards from Cannes, including, oh, the Palme d’Or for his latest film, “The Wind the Shakes the Barley,” a story of two brothers in the IRA during the 1920s.

I spoke to Loach on the eve of the US release of “The Wind the Shakes the Barley”; he used the word “balance” frequently during our conversation — balancing the political content in the film, balancing the needs of one audience against another. It’s one possible explanation for why the film, for all its anger, never loses focus, never becomes a simple laundry list of injustices, and never forgets the human cost of war.

Is there anything more satisfying than winning a Palme d’Or? As awards go, it seems like one of the best.

It is one of the best. You don’t make films to win prizes, but it did give the film a seal of approval. It was very satisfying, particularly because it’s for the whole film, the actors, the writer, and the producer, the cameraman, everybody.

What drew you the material?

Well, it’s an extraordinary story of how people who were not professional soldiers, who were farmhands and clerks and shop assistants, drove the British empire, the most powerful empire in the world, out of their country. In and of itself, that’s a brilliant story. And then how that conflict turned into a civil war and why that happened, and the tragedy of that, is a very important story as well. I had it in the back of mind to do it for a long, long time.

Are Damien and Teddy [two brothers who are the central characters of the film, played by Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney, respectively] based on specific people who were in the IRA?

No, but there were brothers who fought each other. There were two brothers in the town we filmed in called the Hales Brothers. The one who was anti-treaty had his fingernails pulled out by the British. The one who was pro-treaty was assassinated.

The story is about huge political issues, but at the same time, it’s also about these two brothers and their story. How do you balance those different aspects? It’s got to be difficult.

Yes, it is. It’s a balance but, in the end, the personal has to take priority, because otherwise you’re stopping the film to point something out to the audience and that’s just bad work. When you’re looking at the script, you’re thinking, “Well we’ve got to have a scene where we show this or that.” But actually, when it’s all cut together, the total effect makes things a lot more implicit and you don’t need to spell things out. I’ve found in the past that dialogue you put in in order to make a point you invariably cut out, because you don’t need it.

What’s the reaction to the film been like in England?

Well the right wing was apoplectic and seriously disturbed. There were a handful of right-wing commentators who just poured abuse on the film, particularly when it won the award at Cannes, because they hated this view of history being approved. A typical comment was, “I haven’t seen the film and I don’t intend to see the film. And I don’t need to read “Mein Kaumpf” to know what Hitler was like.” This was typical! It’s not an argument, it’s just abuse. You can’t discuss that! Apart from that, the reaction has been very good. In Ireland, it was amazing and really warm and supportive.

Watching the film, I was particularly struck by how often the soldiers are simply pointing their guns and yelling at the Irish. At some times there seems like there’s more screaming than actual dialogue in the film.

It’s the army technique! The British soldiers in the film are, by and large, real ex-soldiers. The Army wouldn’t help us, the reservists wouldn’t help us, so we had to find ex-soldiers. And I said to them, “How would you deal with this situation in real life?” They said this is what you’d do. This ‘wall of sound’ is a technique to disorientate the people. It isn’t about individuals being brutal, it’s a technique they’re taught.

I remember when I was given military training, you were taught how to bayonet an enemy soldier, and you had to shout as you were doing it. It’s part of the drill. You put the blade in, twist it around and you’re shouting all the time! And the shouting is, as I said, to disorientate and to confuse and to not give them time to settle. Cause if they settle, they’ll fight back.

Despite all the violence in the film, the most intense scene may be the one where the members of the IRA just sit and debate the treaty that’s just been passed [making the Irish state a dominion of the British empire].

Yeah, it was a very enjoyable scene to do. We’d had sessions beforehand where we talked about why people would argue from a certain point of view, and what their best arguments were. Everybody came to the scene not only with the script in their mind but with their own ideas that they could supplement. The substance of the scene is scripted, but I ran it like a real meeting and we filmed it like a documentary.

There’s an interesting line of dialogue in the film that goes, “It’s easy to know what you’re up against. It’s another thing to know what you’re for.” Do you agree with that statement?

I think it’s absolutely true of the vast majority of people. People will see injustice, or they’ll see the illegal war in Iraq or they’ll see exploitation of people and they’ll say, “This must end. This must stop.” But how do you construct a society to put in its place? That’s one of the interesting things that comes up at times like this. When an imperialist country is being forced out, the question becomes “What kind of society can we build?” And that’s the big question. In Ireland, some people weren’t into it, they just wanted the Brits out. Some people want the society to stay the same, they just want to be the ones in power. All that is up for grabs, but it was in many colonial struggles. The American constitution, for God’s sake; it wasn’t just about getting the British out, it was about Thomas Payne and the rights of man and wanting a different kind of country. And you’ve ended up with George W. [laughs]

“The Wind That Shakes The Barley” opens in limited release on March 16 (official site).



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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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