This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Two from Raymond Bernard, “Popeye the Sailor”

Posted by on

By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Little Swee’ Pea” (1936), from Warner Home Video’s “Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938, Vol. 1”]

Even the most seasoned filmhead must acknowledge, if only to him or herself, that there are helpless gaps in his or her education, that cinema, being a tumultuous, chaotic, century-long business-culture circus-with-a-million-rings, has encouraged much of what’s sublime to rise to the canonical surface but has left much scattered by the wayside. Historical excavations, performed for the most part by archival restorationers to some degree funded by the cinephiles’ DVD market, is the real entertainment news for our tribe, and thus it has been with Criterion’s release of two films by forgotten man Raymond Bernard. A leading figure in French cinema in the late ’20s and early ’30s, Bernard eventually fell victim to the vagaries of economics and French taste — the epic, big-budget, big-message French film he represented soon fell victim during the ’30s to the far less expensive “poetic realism” trend, exemplified by Renoir, Carné, Pagnol, and Julien Duvivier. Truth be told, there isn’t an enormous difference between Bernard’s achingly lyrical, visually effulgent films and the works that supplanted them; French culture, as always, thrived on divisive perceptions and progressive aesthetics. Bernard’s two films here, “Wooden Crosses” (1932) and “Les Misérables” (1934) seem to form a kind of bridge between the gargantuan expressionism of Abel Gance and the more intimate verities of Renoir, displaying virtues from both camps. Of course, today the categories are more or less meaningless, and Bernard emerges like Lazarus from the cave.

“Wooden Crosses” turns out to be the greatest of the early talkie WWI anti-war sagas, beating out, to my mind, Milestone’s revered “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Gance’s “J’Accuse” (partly because the film is peerlessly cynical about military life and its purpose). The thrust is simple, taken from Roland Dorgelès’ novel: a ramshackle regiment of French trench soldiers are ordered from rueful leave time to front-line hellfire and back again and again, in a seemingly pointless undulation between irreverent downtime camaraderie and combat experiences that are tantamount to running into a plane propeller. Not very dramatic, technically (compared to something like Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” which directed its outrage at a single war crime, not war itself), Bernard’s film is all about the accumulated moments of human poetry lost in the mayhem. After one sudden night battle, Bernard cuts back to the sole casualty’s body, lying face down in the dirt, as yet another flare in the sky makes his shadow grow out like a spreading lake of blood. When the soldiers have their flashbacks, they imagine them (and we see them) in silence. A letter comes for a dead man, and another soldier launches out on a trek to shred it over the dead man’s impromptu hand-dug grave. The irony of a climactic siege in a corpse-littered cemetery is lost on no one; when they are sent marching yet again at film’s end, the men end up parroting the same dialogue they had in the beginning. Bernard’s thematic agenda, so soon after that war’s end left the French countryside scorched and littered with bones, is shoot-the-wounded: the war-dead ghosts walk in endless queues, and infinite fields of crosses act as a motif. (Samuel Fuller’s description of war as “body parts everywhere” graphically evokes “Wooden Crosses” more than any Western film of the pre-‘Nam period.) Throughout, Bernard’s camera is on a restless walkabout years ahead of its time — there’re even chaotic battle scenes filmed from a handheld perspective, making this closeted relic feel utterly new. Bernard’s treatment of his character’s depths and breadths doesn’t impinge on Renoir’s ’30s war films, but the spirit and sympathy of its visual ideas definitely does.

“Les Misérables” uses Hugo’s novel to rectify that shortcoming — in no other dramatized version, and that counts the wretched Broadway musical version, do Hugo’s characters establish such weight and presence. It helps that Bernard is faithful to the book — hugely, meticulously so, to the tune of 281 minutes, providing Valjean, Javert, Cosette, et al. the patience and time to inhabit their grand story and make it leave a footprint on your brain, not simply a fleeting, abridged Classics Illustrated impression. Bernard’s visual palette became even nervier, evoking his character’s turmoil with a lurking, rocking, swiveling camera style the likes of which no one saw at large until the ’60s. As Valjean, mountain-faced Harry Baur is 100% downtrodden prison issue and zero slumming movie star; as Javert, a young Charles Vanel is icy and convincing without being villainous. But, as Hugo intended, the two men are just solitary figures lost in the bloody fog of French history, and this is what Bernard painstakingly evokes, with details and potent poetry — an entire pre-industrial culture on the edge of collapse, progress and war. (Bernard was also obviously a fierce advocate for society’s exploited and neglected, which puts him in rare company in that glamour-struck era.) Bernard’s “Les Misérables” is a Gibraltar of a movie, and it’s difficult to believe that it was ever forgotten.

In other archival news, Warner has finally, finally packaged up what remains, next to Warner’s 40s-50s Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes tsunami, American animation’s most inspired and wildly imagined geyser of film: the Fleischer studio’s “Popeye the Sailor” cartoons, reaching from the forearm-distended barnacle bill’s debut in 1933 until 1938, when the comic’s original artist, Elzie Crisler Segar, died. This was not Disney’s brand of cute, anthropomorphic pratfall: this was animation unfettered by logic or even easily readable humor, an activating volcanic id of Surrealistic connections and bizarre transformations, inappropriate musical numbers and racist ker-splats, hyperbolic dream visions and often startling brutality. Sixty cartoons in all (including the two wannabe-“Snow White” epics redoing the Sinbad and Ali Baba tales), plus a surplus of nostalgic making-of docs, audio commentaries (welcome back, John Kricfalusi), and a brace of extras silent ‘toons, from studios Bray (from whence came Krazy Kat), and Sullivan (including a few with Felix the Cat), and from the “Out of the Inkwell” series.

“Raymond Bernard – Eclipse Series 4” (Criterion) and “Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938, Vol. 1” (Warner Home Video) 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