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“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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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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