This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“Five,” “Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954”

Posted by on

By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Abbas Kiarostami’s “Five Dedicated to Ozu,” Kino, 2003]

You can’t judge the state of 21st-century “avant-garde” or “underground” or “experimental” cinema (you pick the label, they’re all ill-fitting) by looking at Abbas Kiarostami’s “Five Dedicated to Ozu” — the actual subterranean, non-mainstream filmmaking going on in this nation alone is such a chaotic culture, undergoing such massive sea changes (aesthetic and technological), that you’d have a better chance at nailing down a blob of mercury. But make no mistake, “Five” is out of the mainstream, far out — and a radical departure for even the ever-reductive Kiarostami, turning out to be the first film of his in 12 years that didn’t get a stateside theatrical release. Still, it may be the only completely non-narrative experiment-on-film the average American cinephile might be likely to see now that it’s properly DVD’d and, thanks to Kiarostami’s celebrity, might be likely to rent.

Perhaps it’s best to define “Five” by its essential surface contradictions — on one hand, it is the antithesis of everything we take movies to be: momentum, speed, energy, character, story, glamour, visual saturation. On the other, “Five” is so winnowed down, so pure in its affect, that it comes close to being distilled cinema — the bare-bones relationship between celluloid images, your eyeballs, time and your cerebral cortex acting and reacting, observing the film and itself in the process. What it is in essence is five individual sequences — each one long shot, or in one case an amalgamation of shorts devised to look like one — digitally videoed on the banks of the Caspian Sea. Nothing much, in the absolutely conventional sense, happens: we see a piece of driftwood jockeyed by waves, we see boardwalk strollers, we watch a herd of ducks pass before the camera, we see a pack of wild dogs frolicking by the shoreline, we observe a pond reflecting the moon.

Potentially useful as a mediation video, “Five” is hardly just ultra-minimalism for its own sake. As always with Kiarostami, the film is a result of life-vs.-cinema interaction, and an integral factor in the “life” side of the equation is us; how we react, how our expectations are defied, how our minds may roam, in the viewing. But also, there’s Kiarostami’s life and the influence of reality around the film. This consideration is something we ordinarily avoid as spectators, which is why Kiarostami’s accompanying making-of doc, “Around Five,” is essential. We learn that whereas the ducks were orchestrated in a huge flock (though the way we see it, Kiarostami’s chief intention was to see what would happen if he brought several hundred ducks to the shores of the Caspian), the dogs appeared magically in front of the running camera after the filmmaker had gone to sleep. Will the wave break the driftwood, and when? Is the night pond a complete illusion? Kiarostami tells a fabulous tale about how an Indian royal proudly sent a Persian prince the newly invented game of chess, and the Persian in reply sent back the new game of backgammon — a wiser game, it is said, because it accepts the role of fate and chance in life where chess purports to control its outcome through human will and logic alone. Which is more real? Which would make better (or more truthful) movies?
Watching “Five” is a lulling, sleepy experience even for those schooled in the derisive irony of Warhol and the structuralist minimalism of Michael Snow. But the aboriginal cinematic action of it — the images, the passage of time, the questions about fact and invention, Kiarostami’s ultimate generosity — are impossible to get out of your head.

Avant-gardes are not audience-friendly — which is why you never hear anything about the scores of new experimental films released every year on DVD. This is true except in retrospect; the underground films of yesteryear are helplessly seductive, naive but lovely — inspiring a ripe nostalgia for the life of the fringe aesthetes, who in the 20s through to the 50s always seemed to be having more fun than ordinary, job-holding people. Kino’s new “Avant-Garde 2” is their second DVD of multi-decade, multinational avant-garde classics reaped from the private collection of late L.A. programmer Raymond Rohauer, and can be thus attacked from a number of postures: as more hard-to-find landmark works by seminal artists, as an infinitely ponderable showcase of extinct cultural history (artists can’t afford sets, so real homes and neighborhoods are captured in amber), or as a time capsule of charming aesthetic innocence. You get no less than four out of Stan Brakhage’s first five shorts, complete with narratives, music and comedy (!); two early films by Sidney Peterson, an ignored giant in the American avant-garde; James Watson and Melville Webber’s must-have “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1928), made the same year as Jean Epstein’s); Joseph Vogel’s conspicuously Derenesque “House of Cards” (1947), indulgent hooey from James Broughton and Marie Menken, and scads more.

Something like the collection’s centerpiece, Jean Isidore Isou’s “Venom and Eternity” (1951) finally emerges into the video-age daylight — a notorious, feature-length anti-film made by the founder of the quasi-anarchic Lettrist International, a short-lived, postwar rebel art movement made famous in Greil Marcus’s “Lipstick Traces.” (It’s indicative of the movie’s rarity that Marcus apparently never saw it and even misreported its running time by over two hours.) Isou’s self-advertising, self-exploiting mess is primarily random footage of Isou’s coterie roaming around Paris, framed by a furiously egomaniacal narration (by Isou) that never stops telling us, while the movie unfurls, what grand act of defiance it is and how it will change the world. That’s when the soundtrack isn’t subsumed by fellow Lettrist poets reciting their poems, which consist of abstracted, rhythmic syllables and sounds rather than words. Try as they did, none of the original Dadaists managed to make an unwatchable, self-destructive film, but a few decades later Isou did, laying down a pre-punk gauntlet nine years before Godard’s first feature and a full year before Guy Debord finished his first juvenile short. Truly, it makes today’s indie rebels and anti-establishment garage banders look like market-obedient sheep by comparison. Part of the movie’s myth status is the unverifiable riot it supposedly caused at the Cannes Film Festival in 1951. Even if that’s an urban legend, those were the days.

“Five Dedicated to Ozu” (Kino) and “Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema From 1928-1954” (Kino) will be available on DVD on July 24th.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

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

Watch More

Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

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.

Watch More

G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

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

Posted by on

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….


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.


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.

Watch More