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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)

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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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