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DID YOU READ

“Tears of the Black Tiger,” Fernando Arrabal

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Tears of the Black Tiger,” Magnolia, 2007]

With Abbas Kiarostami’s “Through the Oliver Trees” the most notorious prisoner of Miramax’s burial chamber for hard-to-market foreign films, Wisit Sasanatieng’s “Tears of the Black Tiger” has finally emerged into the light of day — whisked away by Eamonn Bowles’ Magnolia Pictures for a very limited run in a few urban theaters a few months ago, almost seven years since Big Harvey bought it up at Cannes, and now climaxing its censored trajectory in uncut, unfucked-with, un-Weinsteined DVD form. All that persecution, secrecy, greedy neglect and mishandling can put a martyred shine on any movie, but “Tears” comes off now as a particularly fascinating victim, a delicate, unclassifiable orchid of a film that Weinstein, and the middle-brow audience he has been so expert in suckering, had no chance in appreciating. As with the Kiarostami movie — which is still officially locked-up for good, and is available only in NTSC on bootleg DVDs from iranianmovies.com — Weinstein responded only to cinephiles’ buzz, and opened his checkbook. When he actually saw what he’d paid for, he shook with frustration, and the famous Shelf of Oblivion received another dust-collector.

Picturing Harvey’s sputtering horror has inevitably become part of the film’s frisson. Not that Wisit’s lurid, crazy, campy Thai gorefest/melodrama needs more textual baggage — it intersects with and parodies handfuls of old film genres, including some that were already parodic (namely, cheesy Thai versions of the American western). It’s a Thai western, alright, but one set in a Wild West of palm trees, painted fluorescent skyscapes, primary-color lighting, arch theatrical design, a Village People sense of costume design (the muscly gunslingers here all wear color-coordinated tight shirts and immaculate kerchiefs tied around their throats), sub-Herschell Gordon Lewis grue, contemporary combat munitions (rocket launchers, Uzis), and ponds crowded with lotus pads the size of truck tires.

The story is a pretzel of a hundred movies — star-crossed lovers, embittered gunmen, a maiden facing an arranged marriage, tragic misunderstandings, bloodbrother betrayals, shoot-outs and corrupt villains. Frankly, Wisit’s cast is rarely up to the screenplay’s demands in any serious way, but they’re not asked to be: the drama, posed and mannered, is as rabidly earnest and drolly ironic as any film by Douglas Sirk, R.W. Fassbinder or Guy Maddin. (Here, when two gunfighters pledge loyalty to each other, they don’t just shake on it — they bleed into each others’ glasses of tequila, drink up and then dance.) It’s a one-of-a-kind movie, even (reportedly) for Thailand, a freaky gout of self-conscious retro-style. What we would’ve done to see Harvey’s face…

Some would misuse the word “surrealism” in reference to Wisit’s Pop Art pulp pie — but for real, raw, hardcore surrealism that hearkens right back to André Breton’s rudest drunken daydreams, we now have available to us the primary features made by Fernando Arrabal. Along with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, Arrabal was a founding member of the neo-Surrealist “Panic Movement” in 1960s Paris, which manifested, as these kinds of things used to, in theater performances, movies, books and heaps of public outrage. Arrabal’s films are even more “Panicky,” or subversively profane, than Jodorowsky’s much more famous “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain.” But these are popular terms that need analysis, since most of what’s considered “subversive” in the popular culture plays more accurately as just sophomoric and childish. Arrabal skirts the line in “Viva La Muerte” (1971), an autobiographical sketch about a boy with rampaging Oedipal problems growing up during the Spanish Civil War and after his father was murdered for being a Communist. More to the point, it’s a roughshod stew of subjective dream imagery — genital mutilation (fake), slaughtered animals (real), crucifixions, sexual play, random violence, nude children, etc., all solarized with video colors and shot with the bull-headed gracelessness of a mushroom-addled teenager determined to piss off his parents.

“I Walk Like a Crazy Horse” (1973) is a little more coherent, and more didactic — a suave, rich American man (George Shannon) with a good case of Oedipal lust himself flees into the desert after his mother dies and meets a merry midget living with goats in the dunes. In no time at all, they’re frolicking, kissing goats, eating sand, crapping with their butts touching, etc., until they decide to head back to civilization. The third film, “The Guernica Tree” (1975), is the most orthodox, detailing the ravages of WWII on a small Spanish village that was already home to lunatic excesses in predatory sadism and primitive madness.

Shot mostly in France, Italy and Tunisia, Arrabal’s films are not polished art objects, but, deliberately, anarchic spit-shots in society’s eye, chockablock with taboo tableaux and violative juxtapositions. The Panickers, like the Surrealists before them, spoke in terms of liberation, of sundering social restrictions and defying power. It’s always been a questionable approach — who’s being liberated, from what, exactly? — but Arrabal’s films are the closest either movement came to a legitimate political act, confronting as he does again and again police force, military might and capitalist decadence. The problem is, the alternatives he offers are ridiculous, and the pagan vocabulary he uses silly.

But you don’t go to Surrealists of any era for answers or solid arguments — you go for the brio of adolescent resistance, the messy nuttiness of life and culture lived (or attempted) outside of civilization’s bell jar, whether or not it makes sense, speaks a truth or gets a little too involved with Catholicism, farm animals and feces. Maybe you go, too, for the extra-cinematic thrill of imagining your mother, or teacher, or priest, shook to their self-satisfied socks (just as Big Harvey surely was, in his way) by a Surrealist transgression.

“Tears of the Black Tiger” (Magnolia) is now available on DVD; “Viva La Muerte” and “I Walk Like a Crazy Horse” (Cult Epics) have been recently re-released on DVD, while “The Guernica Tree” is available as part of The Fernando Arrabal Collection, also from Cult Epics.

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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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