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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).



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


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.