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Tom DiCillo on “Delirious”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: Left, Michael Pitt in “Delirious”; below, Tom DiCillo on set, Peace Arch Releasing, 2007]

Tom DiCillo comes to the table with a truckload of indie cred, from his early-career cinematographer gigs on Jim Jarmusch’s “Permanent Vacation” and “Stranger Than Paradise,” to his leap into writing and directing with 1991’s “Johnny Suede” (starring a relatively unknown Brad Pitt, long-rumored to be the inspiration for the self-absorbed Hollywood actor slumming it in DiCillo’s 1995 hit “Living in Oblivion”). That DiCillo isn’t more famous after premiering his sixth feature at Sundance this year is particularly ironic, considering the premise of his latest: “Delirious” takes a satirical bite out of celebrity-worship culture and pathetic, petty behavior displayed by those who want to be a part of it. Steve Buscemi stars as a deluded, sad-sack NYC paparazzo who reluctantly takes a wide-eyed homeless kid (Michael Pitt) under his wing, until their relationship becomes strained — comically so — after Pitt’s puppy-dog crush on a pop diva (Alison Lohman) somehow springboards him into celebrity status. DiCillo, who has recently started blogging on the film’s website, sat down with me to discuss fame in the digital age.

What is becoming of our society? Is this our downfall, worshipping the Paris Hiltons of the world?

I’ve put a lot of thought into it. Now, just because I think of these things doesn’t make them valid; they’re just my theories. But certainly, if you have eyeballs, you look around and see what appears to be this fungus that’s growing. What do you call it when something keeps doubling on itself? It’s a bizarre focus of attention on something that I find both fascinating and terrifying. I did a lot of research about this. Neil Gabler wrote a great book about celebrity [entitled “Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity”], in which he detailed some of mankind’s development of fame. It used to be that people were famous for doing something. In the earliest times, if a bear attacked a village, and a guy went out with his spear and killed the bear by himself, that became a real thing that was perpetuated, sometimes for centuries. But it’s only been in the last five or ten years, this idea of being famous for doing nothing.

What event do you think instigated this change?

The explosion of the information age. Any piece of information, whether it’s visual, verbal or whatever, gets spewed out into the world instantaneously. Anybody can do it, so that means anybody can be famous. I mean, look at all the people who want to be on YouTube: “Look at me! Look at me!” Why should we look at you? Why do you feel someone should look at you? I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be sanctimonious, I’m just saying. One of the things Gabler talks about is people being satisfied with what they do. That, whatever your job, whatever that thing you do, it satisfies you. You shouldn’t feel the need to have the entire world not only know who you are, but to give you validation. That’s something I’m really interested in, this sense of worth and worthlessness. That’s more prevalent today than I’ve ever seen before. People are feeling that, my god, if Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan get this much attention for doing nothing, what am I? How can I be valued? That’s one thing it does, and the other is: “Well, let me have that, too! I want that.” People don’t really feel comfortable today; I don’t think people have a sense of what their place is in the world. For a lot of people, the world has become a place with no value on it. That’s a tough thing for any human being to deal with.

Tom DiCillo on the set of "Delirious."Could a backlash divert this trend to any extent? Like, now that all these party girls are getting busted and going to jail regularly, will people ever wise up and realize fame for fame’s sake is a silly goal?

That’s a good question, I don’t know. Even now, with Lindsay going back into rehab — she just got out, for chrissakes, and people are fascinated to hear about it! I think the entire world, not just America, is fixated on some idea of fame or celebrity. If the entire world tells you that you’re an incredible person, you never have to think about it: “I don’t have to go to a shrink! The world tells me I’m great, so I’m great.” I think it solves a lot of problems for people, or they think that it will.

So how do you deal with this belief? Where do you find your own values and aspirations?

It places them in a very precarious situation. Sometimes I feel like I’m on an alien planet. The only thing I can fall back on, with this movie in particular, is that people really respond to its emotional resonance, and that’s assuring to me. It makes me feel like I’m not alone and that there are people out there who recognize it’s the human element that matters. That’s what keeps me going.

Well, having seen all or most of your work, I respect that, for better or worse, you don’t compromise your independent status to make the films you want to make. Maybe it’s come at the expense of being less famous, but your films never feel like they exist to please the mainstream indie masses.

I have to tell you, I really appreciate that comment because it’s taken me quite a while to actually understand why I do what I do. It came to me about a year or two ago, when I saw one of my films, and my name came up, and I thought, “You know what? I’m proud of that movie.” I made it the way I wanted to, it’s my film. Not in an ownership [way], but I made what I felt was important, what had value to me. If I can continue doing that, seeing my name come up on a film and not cringing, that’s what it’s about. The whole independent business today — and again, I don’t want to sound like sour grapes, because I’m not — these are facts. The independent business is driven by the exact same priorities as Hollywood right now. This film opens [on August 15th], and I guarantee the first thing that’s going to happen: “How’d the box office do? How are the reviews?” It’s going to depend on the exact same things that Hollywood films survive on: star power and box office. I think this is affecting the kinds of films that are being made because even an independent film needs to survive opening weekend. How do you do that?

How do you feel about having your passion projects commodified like this to judge their success?

There’s no question about it, you feel a tremendous sense of vulnerability. It’s hard, and the real challenge is to have the faith and confidence that you made what you made. On the other hand, you can’t deny that reaction to the film is going to affect how you’ll proceed. It’s either going to make the next film easier or harder. Certainly, everyone would opt for easier, but you also hope the things you feel are important and vital are recognized, and that other people respond the same way. No one wants to feel that they’re operating in a vacuum, that’s a terrifying feeling.

On top of that, how do you attract people’s attention when there’s so much out there to watch, read, listen to, etc.? Do you think about this when you’re making a movie, or do you block that out until the production’s finished?

I’m of two minds about that. If you think about it, it could be terrifying because it’s like looking up and seeing a tidal wave, and trying to run as fast as you can to stay ahead. If you’re running, then you’re not concentrating on what you’re doing. You have to be aware of it, you can’t be blind to it. But I believe that if I continue trying to make the films the best that I can, people will respond to them. You can’t even comprehend how dense the marketplace is. And where it’s going, the idea of showing films on iPods? That’s the most depressing thing I’ve heard in the last ten years. What kind of movie would sustain itself on an iPod? I guess I’m just a purist. The idea of sitting at home and watching movies, it’s convenient, but it’s not the [theatrical] experience where something sparks to life.

Alright, I’ll stop depressing you here. How did Elvis Costello end up in the celebrity cameo role?

That was a great happy accident. I wanted someone in that scene who would motivate Steve Buscemi’s character to be speechless in the presence of a star. Originally, I had gone to Paul McCartney, but that didn’t work out. Then David Bowie didn’t work out. We were a week before shooting, and one of the people on our list was Elvis. Steve said he knew him, he called him, and the next thing you know I’m in a location van, the phone rings, and it was Elvis Costello. I was as speechless as Steve’s character in the movie. He said, “Sure, let’s do it.” I met him the next day, we sketched out that scene, and he was fantastic. He’s a real artist and generous as hell. He gave us the song at the end of the movie for free. He’s just a great guy, I had to keep pinching myself.

Because he’s one of the deservedly famous, like your villager who kills the bear.

Yes, exactly! That’s a very good analogy. [laughs]

“Delirious” opens in limited release on August 15th (official site).

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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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.

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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…


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

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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.


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.

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