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DID YOU READ

“On the Silver Globe,” “The Valentino Collection”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Andrzej Zulawski’s “On the Silver Globe,” Polart, 1987]

What we talk about when we talk about “lost film” pertains, more often than not, to celluloid allowed to decay into nitrate goo, usually at the hands of neglectful businesses who saw little reason to preserve films once they’d had their theatrical run. But Andrzej Zulawski’s “On the Silver Globe” (1987) is another kind of lost altogether — a berserk, one-of-a-kind science fiction epic, conceived and fashioned by Europe’s most notorious hyperbolist, the production of which was halted and destroyed in 1978 by the censors in Poland, who probably didn’t know what in the name of a pagan god to make out of Zulawski’s outlandish, gory, screaming-mimi footage, but saw clearly that it wasn’t what the Politburo had in mind when it came to Communist culture. Zulawski expatriated to France in a depressed rage; after he returned to a democratized Poland in 1986, he was convinced by Film Polski and the loyal cast and crew to assemble the film anyway, shooting new footage, recording narration to fill in the story gaps, etc., for a kind of honorary screening at Cannes. After that, “On the Silver Globe” vanished — Zulawski did not want it publicly shown, and it quickly became one of the most hankered-after unseen films of the modern age.

In fact, when I wrote about Zulawski and “On the Silver Globe” for Film Comment five years ago (I’d seen a bootleg), I labeled the film (and I promise, this will exhaust my self-quotation rights for the next decade), “one of cinema’s most appalling, breathtaking follies, and the most frightening art film you will never see.” That is, until now — somehow, someone wrested it from Zulawski’s embittered grasp, and here it is, sans explanation, on DVD. Newcomers to Zulawski’s filmmaking might be discombobulated even if the film weren’t a fragmentary cobble-job: the tone he doggedly attains, the manner in which he ratchets up his cast and camera, is as close to skull-splitting psychotic frenzy as movies have gotten. No actor reads lines realistically in a Zulawski film when he can howl them in maddened agony; no shot simply captures a landscape when it can scramble and catapult and race like a starving cheetah. “On the Silver Globe” is, of course, a special case (the only Zulawski film to ever get a theatrical release here was 1981’s “Possession,” a portrait of dissolving marriage that involved a Carlo Rambaldi monster and a measure of procreative-sexual unease that makes David Cronenberg look like Nora Ephron). The story is pulled from a famous series of Polish science fiction novels, the “Moon” trilogy, written by Zulawski’s own granduncle, and here it is mostly told in narration over footage of contemporary Warsaw: A disastrous mission to the Moon (Zulawski used the Gobi desert and the shores of the Black Sea) spawns a primitive society that, a few generations down the road, hails an investigating cosmonaut as their messiah and warrior-king in the battle against a race of winged mutants.

But it’s the primal, ghastly originality of Zulawski’s Dantean visuals that brand the memory: armies of black-robed savages dancing through mysterious rituals on white-sanded beaches; the sea water in flames behind a slow-motion shore battle between moon-men and mutants; tribal dramas played out in what looks like a hand-carved cavern the size of a warehouse; cinema’s most appalling crucifixion; a mob of heretical victims impaled — as in, Vlad-the-Impaler-impaled, through the rectum — on 25-foot, intestine-roped stakes on the same beach, captured by Zulawski in a crane shot that launches high enough to hear one of the poor bastards choke out a few last words of protest. “On the Silver Globe” is an unfinished thing; it’s both difficult to say it’s a successful film as it stands — that was certainly never Zulawski’s intention — and to imagine what it might’ve amounted to, almost 30 years since its plug was pulled. But you’re not likely to see anything remotely like it, ever.

A more traditionally lost-and-found box of rarities, the new Flicker Alley two-disc set of Rudolph Valentino vehicles acts like an immaculate time machine, not to a silent-film era of auteur masterpieces, but of the simple, empathic melodramas easily captivating Americans in a TV-less world. Herein lies the allure of archival effluvia for the hardcore cinephile — a sunset filmed in a classic iris-halo in 1921 retains an inevitable poignancy that, far from being beside the aesthetic point, encapsulates what is sad and beautiful and memorial and human about cinema. Then there’s Valentino himself, an icon as legendary for his unprecedented popularity among moviegoers (well, female moviegoers) as for that popularity’s peculiarly short shelf life (only five years or so, from 1921’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” to his spectacularly mourned death in 1925, and even the latter half of that period saw Valentino’s star waning). Today, he’s an oddity: an inexpressive, Italian-born snake-like gigolo-type (which is how he was branded by a disdainful masculine press), half angelic nancy-boy and half dolphin-esque hunk. (No one, not even Douglas Fairbanks, displayed so much well-defined buffness, and no one in Hollywood would until 50 years later.) He was clearly the first male movie star made famous only and exclusively by his ability to ignite the loins of his female viewers. All other considerations were off the table.

The DVD set is comprised entirely of his non-hits — not the movies that created a nationwide craze, but the films that otherwise shored up Valentino’s strange and precarious career and serve as a background to understanding his phenomenon: pure romantic hokum as a well-meaning society heir in “A Society Sensation” (1918), the three-reel version of which was edited down from six and re-released in 1924 to capitalize on Valentino’s fame; swarthy villain work in the Marguerite Namara melodrama “Stolen Moments” (1920); “Moran of the Lady Letty” (1922), a blithely enjoyable yarn about a stranded society fellow taken aboard a mercenary ship and shown the ropes, a project that was conscientiously devised to macho-up his image; and “The Young Rajah” (1922), a faux-exotic return to Sheik-dom that survives here only in pieces, abetted by stills, original intertitles and promotional materials. Naturally, the set is bubbling over with supps: promotional ephemera, stills, vintage shorts, new docs, bio info, a map of Valentino’s homes and famous funeral site, original tribute songs from the ’20s, a 1925 audio recording with the mysterious memorial-attending “Lady in Black,” rare trailers and scrap footage, and, preposterously, a good deal more.

“On the Silver Globe” (Polart) is now available on DVD; “The Valentino Collection” will be available on September 11th.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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