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DID YOU READ

“Malpertuis,” “Tideland”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Malpertuis,” Barrel Entertainment, Inc.]

A peculiar side effect of 125+ years of mass entertainment culture has been the snark hunt: the desire for the maudit, music or books or films that have been largely scorned or misunderstood or forgotten or all three, but which, it is held by the lone, courageous voice crying in the wilderness, are in fact sublime and subversive and ultracool. We all know of movies like this (“cult” is the too-often applied term in the U.S.), and we all also nurse ardor for some unique examples ourselves (OK, me: Kalatozov’s “The Letter Never Sent” (1959), Fassbinder’s “Whity” (1970), Buñuel’s lowliest Mexican films, Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” (1977), Jean Rollin’s “The Living Dead Girl” (1982), the Bill Murray version of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984), Alex Cox’s “Walker” (1987), and so on).

Harry Kümel’s “Malpertuis” (1971) is a prime and much mooned-over example — ambitious and crazy, rarely seen, butchered by its producers, mocked at Cannes, and, up to now, a stranger to home video. (It’s never even been shown on American TV.) Truth be told, no film could quite live up to the decades of subterranean fanboy hype it’s inadvertently produced. As it stands — in the new DVD, in a director’s cut version 19 minutes longer than the truncated original — Kümel’s loopy Belgian launch of surrealism (adapted from a novel by prolific pulpmeister Jean Ray) is vintage, post-New Wave Euro-nonsense, with an international cast (led by a bedridden Orson Welles) all broadly dubbed into Flemish and all embodying their roles as if they’re in a Halloween pageant. The story is appropriately dream-like: on shore leave, a callow sailor (Mathieu Carrière) visits a cartoonish brothel/nightclub, is knocked out and wakes up where he presumably started: back in the huge, labyrinthine family mansion of the title, where the leering, grinning, moping family members, servants and hangers-on wait impatiently for Welles’ sweaty patriarch to die. This “house of the damned” is never seen from the outside — concrete reality of all sorts is not a factor. Naturally, there’s a secret to be revealed, and it has something to with why Euryale (Susan Hampshire) cannot look at someone without turning them to stone…

Kümel’s first feature, “Les Lèvres Rouges” (Daughters of Darkness), released earlier the same year, is a widely appreciated elegant-decadent rejigger of vampire lore set in a bedazzlingly barren off-season seaside hotel. “Malpertuis” is as inelegant a movie as you can imagine, in your face, lit like a carnival and entranced with its own grotesqueries. Hampshire deserves an award of some kind for playing four distinct roles and only conjuring the vague sense that Kümel hired a number of somewhat similar-looking actresses to fill up his cluttered rooms. But, frankly, the phantasmagoric allure of Kümel’s most notorious film flew right by me (though not past David Del Valle, the starry-eyed Malpertuisian who wrote the copious liner notes), as much as its expression of a kind of 1960s-70s lawless filmmaking — well-funded and targeting a large counter-culture audience, but still often outrageously ridiculous — made it a sweet place to visit. You have to see it, of course, and I’m glad I did, finally, after all these years.

Almost that film’s 21st century counterpart, Terry Gilliam’s “Tideland” — which has been out on DVD for a while, following its panicked micro-release earlier this year, but which I just caught up with — is a snark-hunted freak just waiting for its historical moment, decades from now, when someone makes a case for it as a neglected masterpiece. It’s certainly been treated like boot-stuck dog crap for now — which, given Gilliam’s unpredictable nose for audience-pleasing, can make any hardy cinephile predisposed to love it. I can’t say I fall into that camp entirely — it may be one of those films that require a distanced cultural context, not the demands of the marketplace now, to frame it — but it is certainly a strange, slouching beast of a film, whose slouching is a ferocious effort to, as Gilliam says in his pleading DVD intro, capture the world through the imagination-fogged eyes of a child. It certainly does that — “Tideland” lurches and lopes around its lone prairie farmhouse, its rotting corpses and its defiantly self-preservative heroine (Jodelle Ferland, capable of unearthly rapport with the camera) as if lost in the skull of a daydreaming trauma victim. Other filmmakers have put their viewers through ordeals, aiming for a cathartic final stage, but usually rigor, depletion and shocking violence are the tools in use. Gilliam’s familiar, post-Python visual style reads instead like a cinematic code for pop-fantasy fun and games — did he realize we might misread his intentions, that his style was in conflict with his material? Or do they seem in conflict only because we’ve been preconditioned to think that Gilliam’s emphatic, fish-eyed palette and the cinema-of-cruelty art film are mutually exclusive? This may not be the right question to ask, but we may not figure out what the right questions are for years to come.

“Malpertuis” (Barrel Entertainment) will be available on DVD on July 24th; “Tideland” (Velocity/Thinkfilm) is 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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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.

via GIPHY

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!

via GIPHY

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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