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Just a movie.

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At The Nation, Charles Taylor looks over two new biographies of Leni Riefenstahl — Jürgen Trimborn’s "Leni Riefenstahl: A Life" and Steven Bach’s "Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl" — noting that "[e]ver since Triumph of the Will
goose-stepped across movie screens in 1935, Riefenstahl has been
central to the arguments about whether politics can be separated from
art, whether form can be separated from content." He goes on to also question Riefenstahl’s true prowess when it comes to aesthetics, but returns to that prickly issue of separation:

At its most benign, that separation can be a case of a talented
director making something stylish and witty and entertaining out of
trashy, routine material (or a good script ruined by bad direction).
And we certainly have to be able to separate art from politics. The
best liberal intentions have never made John Sayles‘s movies anything
more than plodding, inept pieces of storytelling. The most simplistic
fantasies of agrarian revolt cannot make Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1900
anything less than one of the movies’ most staggering examples of epic
lyrical filmmaking…

But if we are truly going to face up to the movies’ propagandistic potential, we can’t sit back and pretend to be aloof from the feelings the most talented polemical filmmakers can rouse, even if we are appalled by those feelings. It’s cowardly to acclaim The Birth of a Nation as significant because it was the first film to succeed on an epic scale without acknowledging Griffith‘s ability to get our blood pounding as we watch the Klan race to the rescue in the climax. Gillo Pontecorvo‘s The Battle of Algiers is so brilliantly made, so emotionally involving that you glide right past its contention that violence was the only avenue open to Algerians under French colonialism. And while I’d argue that Potemkin, like all of Eisenstein‘s films, is more a demonstration of his theories of montage than a dramatic experience, there is no denying the revolutionary fervor the director stirred up.

Of late, this question seems applicable not only to Riefenstahl’s Nazi epics and other films brandishing an overt agenda, but to what we turn to for intimation-free entertainment, whether that be epic violence or queasy historical revisitation. Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly last week found herself disturbed by what she saw as critics giving nods to "Black Book’s noxious moral relativism before rushing to lavish praise on its undeniable merits as an edge-of-your-seat thriller":

[W]e live in dodgy critical times when aesthetic sophistication trumps moral and political discrimination. And when pop aestheticism reaches all the way from effusing over the ritualized violence and reverse feminism of a Sin City or a Grindhouse to heaping laurels on a movie that pits sensitive Nazis against treacherous resisters, it may be time to get uncool and start pointing the finger.

Simplistic cousin arguments to these topics have abounded this year — for pop aestheticism, there’s the "it’s just a movie" argument recently presented with bluff aggression in the makers of "300"‘s insistence on their film’s irrelevance and benign lack of context. The flipside claim, dusted off on the occasion of Seung-hui Cho’s possible "Oldboy" fandom, is the outcry that extreme movies, video games and TV are molding the minds of the masses like so much fruit cocktail-studded jello. Reality, of course, lies somewhere in between (or at least equally far away from) those two extremes, as much as film is firmly planted between art and entertainment.

Over at the Bright Lights blog, Erich Kuersten finds something disturbing beyond the current standards of torture-happy horror flicks in "Vacancy"‘s incidental snuff footage:

[T]his is a thriller with two recognizable b-list box office names, not some grindhouse quickie! For all that, even a grindhouse quickie would see the connection between the evils of a snuff film operation and the profit-minded fake torture films of modern Hollywood. Vacancy almost makes it a point of missing the connection and/or commenting on it, and maybe that’s the ultimate difference between art and exploitation.

Ned Beauman at the Guardian‘s Film Blog is similarly perturbed by Gillian Anderson‘s new film, "Straightheads," which he places in the mainly 70s tradition of the rape-revenge genre, a category he find simply can’t work as entertainment.

And elsewhere, Joel Stein at the LA Times responds to the Harvard School of Public Health’s suggestion that movies with smoking get an R rating to spare impressionable youth:

I also don’t believe that showing implies approval. Not everything a character does is meant to be positive or desirable. Even if smoking looks cool, it doesn’t necessarily make you want to do it. Getting a machine gun for a prosthetic leg looks pretty cool too, but three weeks after "Grindhouse" opened, most people are sticking with their legs.

+ Ill Will (The Nation)
+ Black Book, Grindhouse and the Relativist Hole (LA Weekly)
+ Collateral Torture (Bright Lights After Dark)
+ Shame on Straightheads for reviving the rape revenge genre (Guardian Film Blog)
+ Puff away; it’s just a movie (LA Times)



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.