“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.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.