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“Deliver Us from Evil,” “David and Lisa”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Deliver Us from Evil,” Lionsgate, 2006]

The decision to make a documentary — which even today is almost always a personal decision, not a corporate one — is contingent on a number of things, but arguably foremost among them is the sense that your subject matter will produce honest-to-God fireworks. Being politically relevant or socially informative is hardly enough; you want human explosions and earthquakes, even if they’re the subtle, ironic variety found in politicking docs like Rachel Boynton’s “Our Brand Is Crisis” and Laura Poitras’s “My Country, My Country,” to pick just two recent examples. I’m not talking about psychodramatics in the film itself, but the sense of appalled outrage you as the audience experience when a film explores material ordinary passed over by the mass media, in depth and with attention the media never musters. (That’s what non-fiction film is for, no?) Still, no new-ish documentary will set fire to your house quite like Amy Berg’s “Deliver Us from Evil.” Only one contemporary non-fiction topic will boil the blood faster than pedophilia (as it did in “Capturing the Friedmans”), and that is, in a far-too-fervently Christian nation, pedophilia as it has been perpetrated and enabled by the Catholic Church.

Berg pulls the mother of all documentary tropes — getting the guilty monster at the core of her controversy to not only cooperate with the film but to virtually assist in its making. Gaining the complicity of the morality-challenged makes for jaw-dropping cinema, just as it has since 1975’s “The California Reich” and its dumbfounded portrait of all-American neo-Nazis. Why would these people — be they pedophiles, politicians, fascists or just plain assholes — consent to a documentary crew shining a camera light on their actions? Perhaps it’s ego, or perhaps they often assume the default power of the Stockholm syndrome, which did in fact muddy the inquisitive waters, for example, of Ellen Perry’s “The Fall of Fujimori,” enjoying as it did hanging in exiled plutocrat Alberto Fujimori’s limo a little too much. But that’s the exception, and even Perry’s film emerged as something Fujimori, if he didn’t already have far larger problems, should have regretted.

In Berg’s remarkable film, the still-at-large ex-priest Oliver O’Grady speaks frankly and even engagingly about his sexual hunger for small children, and the literal decades he spent as a working clergyman in California, molesting, raping and sodomizing preadolescents as young as nine months. A kindly, soft-spoken, even leprechaun-ish Irishman, O’Grady is a walking cognitive dissonance — he is in demeanor as far from a sneaky, creepy sex ogre as you could imagine. But there’s no getting around his relaxed shamelessness, or his actions, which are so universally abhorred by every culture on Earth that only within the rotten, power-mad bell jar of the Catholic Church could they be tolerated and even ignored. Which is what happened: Berg’s real story is in tracing exactly how O’Grady’s crimes were covered up by the Church, how he was bounced from parish to nearby parish for years, and how various archbishops — and even the current Pope, in his old administrative role in the Vatican — conspired to minimize the damage O’Grady wrought after the victims began speaking out.

The gone-public victims, all grown adults now, are appropriately lost in their own landscapes; the father of one, an aging Japanese-American man howling in recrimination, can barely keep the lid clamped on his furnace of rage. But somehow more stinging is the thorough case erected by the filmmaker and various activists (some of them ex-priests) around the utter self-defensive turpitude with which the Catholic Church, at almost every level, behaved in regards to O’Grady and thousands of predators just like him. The Church comes out of the facts bearing the ethical integrity of a corporation grown fat on the ruined lives of its customers — in other words, as demonstratively criminal. Where’s the lawyer bringing it to The Hague?

If O’Grady is mentally ill, it’s in a way science hasn’t really figured out to address yet; we’re far afield from the old ideas of Freudian psychology, represented in the pop consciousness by Frank Perry’s classic 60s indie “David and Lisa” (1962). Nominated for Oscars (as was Berg’s film, 45 years later), “David and Lisa” is old-school, old-book gray-sky melodrama, in which two near-psychotic teenagers in an old-estate sanitarium overcome their inner barriers and connect. Keir Dullea is a wealthy, unbearably snooty anal-compulsive whose social tools are restricted to derision and dashing from the room; Janet Margolin is a chatterbox schizophrenic who must rhyme to prevent sinking into a complete dolorousness. Something of a sensation at the time among sensitive middle-classers, Perry’s film (written by his wife, Eleanor) does date, clearing the feverish, mannered stage where the committed portrayal of mental disturbance ends and sheer, unfettered overacting begins. But it’s exactly that stage that’s interesting today — part Twilight Zone hysteria, part earnest Actors’ Studio “method,” part fashionable psychobabble, the movie is something like an act of healing made in response to Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” released two years earlier. (The sources of both films’ sicknesses are horribly maternal.) Watching it is not unlike viewing the black and white home movies of American cinema’s maturation, from pure and innocent Golden Age dream machine to struggling but hopeful realism of the American New Wave.

“Deliver Us From Evil” (Lionsgate) and “David and Lisa” (Homevision) are now available on DVD.

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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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