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DID YOU READ

Apichatpong Weerasethakul on “Syndromes and a Century”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: “Syndromes and a Century,” Strand Releasing, 2007]

Since his 2000 feature debut, “Mysterious Object at Noon” — which crafted a docudrama out of a surrealist parlor game — Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul (but you may call him “Joe”) has become an art-house favorite among cinephiles for his wistful, highly independent vision. Commonly known for his experimental narrative structures, non-professional casts, and themes of nature, sexuality and memory, Weerasethakul’s films are becoming a fixture on critics’ year-end lists, especially with the 2005 release of his supernaturally romantic folk-tale “Tropical Malady.”

His fifth feature is “Syndromes and a Century,” one of several films commissioned by Peter Sellars of Vienna’s New Crowned Hope festival to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Hardly a literal interpretation of the assignment, the film is bifurcated to chronicle the lives of two hospital doctors, one who works in the jungles of Thailand, the other in industrialized Bangkok. Serenely beautiful and deeply personal, “Syndromes” is an ode to Weerasethakul’s Buddhist beliefs, the geographical distinction between where he grew up and where he now resides, and, most importantly, his parents, both of whom practiced medicine and were the primary inspiration behind this must-see drama.

This past week, the Thai Censorship Board demanded you remove four scenes, including one where a monk is simply shown playing a guitar. Instead of recutting the film, you took a stance and pulled its domestic release entirely. How does it make you feel to be censored in your own homeland?

Well, I’m saddened of course. But I think, in a way, I’m glad because now we want to do a petition to be submitted to the government to question what’s wrong with our system, and how efficient it is [since] it hasn’t been changed for more than 20 years.

Is this a common problem for others?

For some filmmakers, it’s become such a standard that when one makes a film, they’re automatically aware of the censor system so they won’t do this and that. I think it affects the way we tell stories. So many Thai films resort to being about comedy or ghost stories or something very light. But at the same time, this is about a studio system because my film is not part of this system that operates on fear.

Considering you don’t even like classical music, how exactly does “Syndromes” relate to Mozart?

[laughs.] Peter Sellars encouraged us to think in a more abstract and emotional way, about how we connect to the pieces of music; the idea behind it rather than the pieces [themselves]. I think Peter focused on three pieces of music. One of them, “The Magic Flute,” talks about the idea of magic in everyday life and how we incorporate it into our lives to be able to look into the future. I was thinking about that while talking with my mom about her life, so I’m thinking for me, to realize being alive is magic already. I thought I’d create a film about all this music and the people who give me life.

What kinds of music do you listen to?

Pop music, electronic music… I have a friend who runs a record company, and he sends me discs, so I can update myself. [laughs.] I like this guy in Thailand who created a persona called Cindy Sweet, a one-man operation. It’s electronic music, very beautiful.

This is your third feature film to be bisected. What fascinates or inspires you about this particular structure?

At first, I didn’t intend it to be two parts. But when we started, it was quite obvious: man and woman, rural and modern. So we said, why not? I think it’s about the contrast in Thailand and in my life, how things changed and are changing quickly. We yearn for a certain thing that cannot come back. For “Syndromes” and “Tropical Malady,” the reasons for them being in two parts are different. For the previous film, it’s more about desire and whether this is a dream or real. I think this is how we all operate, using memory. I always say that making a film is like writing a diary, so it’s a way to remember them, and it’s how our brains operate. When we remember certain things, we tend to do so in a cinematic way. You know, we have our own favorite angles and time for particular actions or moments. To make films about this is kind of challenging in a way.

Do you have such a poor memory that you need filmmaking as a tool of recall?

No, no, no. You know, like “Tropical Malady” is sometimes not about particular memories, but certain feelings or events accumulating. For me, to put it on film is about love. About someone you love, like my mother or my lover.

You live in an urban area and hold a degree in architecture, yet your films keep returning to the jungles of Thailand. Is it because you see a deeper correlation between the environments, or is it more about your own nostalgia?

It’s both, because the landscapes of Thailand are changing. Sometimes when you go to outer Bangkok, you still seem the same thing you did 20 years ago. For me, it’s conflicting, how we were and are going. Obviously, what’s changed is the way we shop. It’s quite cliché, but it’s everywhere; in Thailand, too. We no longer have these small shops, which change to something like Wal-Mart or Target. In Thailand, this kind of megastore is everywhere downtown. We don’t have a museum or big cultural institution, so this shopping mall becomes our new place for recreation. Like a new temple.

Globalization wins another battle.

It’s quite obvious, but sometimes we’re slow to realize it. For example, my boyfriend and I will have nothing to do on the weekend. Okay, let’s go to the mall! It’s so shallow, but I mean, there’s really nothing. We don’t have a decent park or movie theater. When you’re in tourist Thailand, there’re many historical places to go. For us, it’s so boring. There are some nice restaurants and bars, but I like quiet places. I’d prefer to walk in a park or a museum, some place I can be a little more conscious of my breathing. We have some parks, but they have speakers and sometimes they play music. I have to say, Thailand night life can be fun.

You grew up watching American disaster movies and effects-driven blockbusters. Are you still into popcorn movies?

Yes, I love watching these because I like special effects, and I really don’t differentiate. My films are somehow similar; I’m making emotional disaster films. It’s very intriguing that when you watch these kinds of films, you think about the future, in terms of the content itself, the special effects, how we are moving very fast [with] digital technology, the new ways of distribution, things like that.

Would you like to make a film like that?

Definitely. Like in “Syndromes,” we already did, but in little things. We have that one shot of a solar eclipse. Audiences aren’t sure if it’s an effect or not. For me, I approach each movie differently, [but] I appreciate special effects that sometimes just want to show off: “Okay, that’s big! Wow, you’re good!”

What was the last blockbuster that left you smiling?

I enjoyed “Grindhouse” very much. Is that a blockbuster? I really loved Tarantino’s part.

“Syndromes and a Century” opens in New York on April 18th (official site).

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SO EXCITED!!!

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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.