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Dusan Makavejev, “Heavy Petting”

Dusan Makavejev, “Heavy Petting” (photo)

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Sex and politics — today these two great tastes smush uneasily together, usually only when a middle-aged white powerbroker gets caught with his dick swinging, or when we joke about how Hillary Clinton has seemed to abandon one flavor entirely for the other. God, piety, fear and malevolence have made the stew of politics bitter, unironic and pleasureless, in government and in the cultural crockpot. It was not always so — Criterion’s completely uncalled-for double-trouble DVD release of Serbian barn-burner Dušan Makavejev’s two most notorious films, “WR: Mysteries of the Organism” (1971) and “Sweet Movie” (1974), reminds us how the lava-hot mid-Cold War years fueled an almost limitless variety of untamable flames.

The chemicals between us burst the seams of the twin repression systems of American power and Communism, and along with free love, Woodstock and the pill, we got Andy Warhol, Jim Morrison, Linda Lovelace, Godard & Karina, May ’68, public porn, revolutionary communes, “Midnight Cowboy,” Milan Kundera, Erica Jong, “Loves of a Blonde,” “Last Tango in Paris,” literary obscenity trials, suburban roulette, Anne Sexton, Jane Fonda, Playboy clubs, Eric Rohmer and Makavejev.

Yugoslavia in the day was noted as the only European Communist country stubbornly unaligned with the Soviet Union, but in Makavejev’s gestalty vision Marxism, sex, capitalism, history, repression, freedom and social inhibitions are all crispy kindling for crazed dialectical bonfires. Makavejev’s signature mode is the confrontational shtick-documentary-surrealism- found-footage collage, and “WR” established this wacky arthouse minigenre in the forebrains of ‘Nam-era college students all over the industrialized globe. (But not, unsurprisingly, in Yugoslavia, where it was banned for years.) It began as a Ford Foundation grant-subsidized documentary on Wilhelm Reich, the post-Freudian psychologist and culty sex theorist who was persecuted for his teachings in both Nazi-era Germany and in the U.S.; he died in an American prison, a victim of law-enforcement witchhunting and his own refusal to defend himself in court.

Shooting in New York and Belgrade, mixing in copious Reichian footage, hunks of Communist propaganda films and talking-heads interviews (sex-obsessed artists, Warhol factory star Jackie Curtis, surviving Reich disciples), Makavejev concocts a heady, self-contradicting, irreverent cocktail of collision, a messy paste-it essay on repression and liberation, as the two oppositive quantities are both represented by political power, by Communism, by sexual relations and by history itself. “Mysteries” is right — Makavejev is no Communist, nor is he fond of American values; two polar ideologies are never enough for him, and “WR,” in his nation’s proudest manner, is a thoroughly unaligned movie. Everybody gets slammed and celebrated (well, Stalin just gets slammed), and every dogmatic idea of the era is flipped to its B-side.

It’s only occasionally funny, for what that’s worth (I prefer two earlier, slightly saner D.M. features, overdue for DVD: 1967’s “Love Affair; or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator,” and 1968’s “Innocence Unprotected”). But Makavejev’s graduation to “Sweet Movie” isn’t as concerned with humor as transformative assault. Or something — from Reich’s orgasmic “orgone therapy” to, in “Sweet Movie,” Otto Muehl’s regression therapy (in which members of Muehl’s commune vomit and pee all over each other), Makavejev was for a time vulnerable to the idea of being systematically delivered from modern civilization to a state of primal, carefree innocence. “Sweet Movie” — a blitz of outrageous and nearly criminal offenses, cobbled onto a handful of silly dream-plots that include a global beauty pageant for virgins and a ship bearing a huge Karl Marx figurehead (and a single plastic-bag teardrop, with a goldfish inside) carrying preadolescent boys, sugar, candy and semi-nude women down an Amsterdam canal — is nothing if not struggling toward consequence-free innocence. But of course it’s not merely a liberating gob in society’s eye — although the brutal élan that emits from this often wildly unpleasant movie is unforgettable. Makavejev was a conflicted anti-ideologue, and the mating between his cackling affronts (dinner plates of fresh shit, a castration in a vat of sugar, uncomfortable sexual intimidations, star Carole Laure’s climactic pornographic bath in chocolate) and his stabs at Soviet legacy and Yankee imperialism (John Vernon as a Texan gazillionaire with a gold-plated penis) are uncomfortable at best. But discomfort is the crazy Serb’s base position, and it may be in the end exactly how we should feel about social power as it inflicts itself upon our lives and our sexual desires. (The Criterion discs come laden with typical supplemental goodness: related audio, essays by Jonathan Rosenbaum, David Sterritt and Stanley Cavell, Makavejev shorts and interviews, et al.)

A far less dangerous non-fiction look at sexual history, Obie Benz’s “Heavy Petting” (1989) is a fond look back at the American mid-century’s teen and his/her discovery of sex in the postwar years. Benz sticks to two strategies: interviews with the loquacious likes of Allen Ginsberg, David Byrne, Abbie Hoffman, Spalding Gray, Laurie Anderson, William S. Burroughs, and so on, and archival footage, some from movies and TV, most from PSA shorts made as anti-sex propaganda. It’s the chilling gray heaven of the archival screeds that rules the film — so naive, so filled with terror (fear of a rampagingly erect teen planet, indeed), so fraught with neurotic lies and conservative anxiety. The new two-disc Docurama set, in fact, overshadows Benz’s quaint nostalgia trip with ten sex-scare shorts included in their entirety, with titles like “As Boys Grow” and “Perversion for Profit.” They’re meant to be a campy-kitschy riot, but they’re a fascinating window on the ’50s and ’60s no historical film or memoir can match.

“WR: Mysteries of the Organism” and “Sweet Movie” (Criterion) and “Heavy Petting” (Docurama) are now available on DVD.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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