This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


“They Live By Night” and fellow noirs, “Zodiac”

Posted by on

By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Farley Granger in “They Live By Night,” RKO Radio Pictures, 1948]

To sing the song of noir — it’s not as easy as it once was, when critics like Raymond Durgnat and Paul Schrader were busy cataloging and specimen-boxing the genre as if it were a breed of black butterfly that had long lived on our streets and yet escaped our notice. In terms of utilizing the genre ourselves, nowadays we’re somewhere near post-retro-neo-meta-noir; the original tropes are no longer recyclable even as TV commercials, and the Jim Thompson-rediscovery school is garnering yawns on the straight-to-video indie shelf. “Sin City” — please. But the original noirs remain, despite formidable culture-rehash odds, the coolest and most resonant school of movie to have ever emerged in America — a half-century or more after the fact, the then-disregarded classics of the genre sit high on our trophy shelf while the huge hits of the ’45-’60 period — think “Forever Amber” (1947), “Jolson Sings Again” (1949), “The Robe” (1953), “White Christmas” (1954), “Guys and Dolls” (1955), “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), etc. — are forgotten like the blundering, uninsightful trash they were. Further proof arrives almost monthly in the form of high-profile, reverent DVDs — noirs represent a huge, profitable percentage of today’s archive releases, while the expensive films listed above and dozens like them lay dormant in the vault.

The new Warner megabox — including no less than ten films on five discs, from RKO, MGM and Monogram in addition to Warner — is a bustin’ example, a veritable Belgian block of postwar alienation and all-American hardcore doom. The predominant world-beater in the mix is undoubtedly auteur-god Nicholas Ray’s disquieting debut “They Live by Night” (1948); it’s DVDization is an event. Not so well remembered today, Ray was once the “Cahiers du cinéma” crowd’s most sanctifiable discovery, Godard’s personal Star of Bethlehem (“Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray.”), and the auteur theory’s prototype: the irascible Hollywood pro who turned studio formula into quizzical masterpieces of pain, rue and struggle. “They Live by Night,” adapted from Edward Anderson’s “Thieves Like Us,” is prototypical noir: a decent-hearted but despairing portrait of the American ideal gone sour, with central characters (luckless crook-on-the-lam Farley Granger, his hapless girl Cathy O’Donnell) driven toward one dead end after another by impulse and fate.

Moody, subtle and emotional vulnerable, it’s one of the greatest debuts in film history, and you’d think the film would overshadow the rest of the set. But there are key works of powerful mistrust here, especially Anthony Mann’s Manhattan-tale thumper “Side Street” (1950), also with Granger and O’Donnell; Don Siegel’s flirtatious hoot “The Big Steal” (1949); John Farrow’s remarkable, long-take-beautiful “Where Danger Lives” (1950), in which a concussion-plagued Robert Mitchum finds himself woozily on the run for the border with bipolar slut Faith Domergue; and Fred Zinnemann’s thorny “Act of Violence” (1948), in which a vengeful Robert Ryan is, astonishingly, upstaged by Van Heflin’s meltdown suburban dad (discovered to be a POW camp informant), and Mary Astor, just seven years after “The Maltese Falcon,” appears as noir’s most convincing barroom whore. Each and every movie comes with audio commentaries (noir scholars, James Ellroy, aging stars) and exegetical featurettes.

If noir has a future and not merely a vivid, unforgettable past, it might lie with frustrating, cold-eyed, inconclusive docudrama epics like David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” a rangy historical tapestry, shot in the thoughtful-yet-overwrought way that Fincher has made his own, about an unsolved serial killer case that remains, guess what, unsolved. So the film isn’t about the crime or the criminal so much as society as it is ill-equipped to confront, not a genius mastermind, but simply a homicidal nobody who refuses to play by social rules and also refuses to leave himself obviously vulnerable the way psychopaths ordinarily do in films and in reality. In other words, it’s a careful, astute portrait of postwar America attempting to control the uncontrollable, a mere single individual who will not behave according to established norms. An anxious sense of reverse vulnerability is palpable — giving me plenty of good cause to think of 9/11 as well, another not terribly brilliant criminal scenario that succeeded merely because we never guessed anyone would ever do such a thing. Fincher’s film focuses on four investigators (cops Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, journalist Robert Downey Jr., obsessed cartoonist Jake Gyllenhaal), all of whom get waylaid along the way by other social demands. And the killer skates. Tragic conclusion? Not really — the film makes no final statement, save perhaps this: we may smugly, nervously construct our civilization around control, safety and security. But there’ll always be ghosts in the machine.

“Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4” (Warner Home Video) and “Zodiac” (Paramount) are now available on DVD.

Watch More

A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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