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“12:08 East of Bucharest,” “The Kenneth Anger Collection Vol. 2”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “12:08 East of Bucharest,” Tartan, 2007]

The emergence of “new waves” may well be a matter of Newton’s Third Law — fatuous, homogenized blockbuster “action” produces an oppositive reaction, from the otherwise optionless cultural industries of nations the New Globalism forgot, be they Iran or Malaysia or Mexico or Romania. The reaction is not just the filmmakers’; discriminating audiences around the globe gobble up the proto-new-wave syntax of hyperrealism, open-ended narratives and daring art-film ethos, as they have recently with the Romanians, represented for the most part by Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (which won Best Film from the nation’s most expansive critics’ poll, on, Cristian Mungiu’s upcoming “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days” and Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest.” (All three landed trophies at Cannes.) Of course, 95 out of a hundred Americans couldn’t find Romania on an unmarked map if their mothers’ lives depended upon it, and the films remain the quizzical film-year prizes for the anointed minority, for whom cinema is a challenge and a blessing and a mystery, not a mouth-breathing weekend-night distraction.

So, suddenly, a poor ex-totalitarian Balkan nation that had little visible film culture at all for decades (outside of Lucien Pintille, something of the new generation’s granddaddy) is now the hotbed of what the world’s film festivals perceive as new-millennium cool, fresh, expressive and pertinent. “12:08 East of Bucharest” is a key film in the movement, because it explicitly addresses the 1989 revolution that ended the Ceauşescu regime, a pivotal moment in the country’s sense of itself — during which the filmmakers of Porumboiu’s herd were still teenagers and film students. (Indeed, the best primer for “12:08” and all of modern Romanian film is Harun Farocki’s found-footage doc “Videograms of a Revolution,” available from Facets, which assembles all of the broadcast material from the week of the revolution, which was, thanks to the seizure of the nationalized TV network, televised from beginning to end.) Porumboiu’s movie, like its contemporaries, possesses a Slavic-style death-rattle humor, and is set in a muddy, worn-down post-Communist Bloc village of newly capitalist predators and broken losers. On the 15th anniversary of the overthrow, we meet three of the trashy little town’s men: a smug, upwardly mobile local-station anchorman (Ion Sapdaru), a cynical history teacher completely wrecked from epic alcoholism (Teodor Corban) and an eccentric codger focused on playing Santa Claus for the local kids (Mircea Andreescu). The TV host’s show that afternoon will address the anniversary, and the resonant question, did the revolution happen in the town, or not? The comedy slowly leaks out of the inability to rope in anyone but the drunk and the old man as guests; once it begins, with the three men seated before the camera as if on a tribunal, half of Porumboiu’s film is consumed with the program and its collapse, as neighbors call in and rabidly dispute the teacher’s assertion of having participated in the historical moment, by (as he claims) heroically rallying in the town’s square at the moment (12:08, December 22) that Ceauşescu surrendered power.

Porumboiu’s actual title translates to “Was There or Was There Not?”; beneath the film’s head-on simplicity and deadpan wit lies an effortless docket of expressed ideas about memory, national pride, community politics and the new Romania, enduring as so many quasi-Third World states do on the outskirts of legality, poverty and social order. But unlike “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” also shopped by Tartan in this country as a comedy, “12:08 East of Bucharest” is authentically funny, in a boozy-Renoirian kind of way — the laughs drip organically from the characters. Porumboiu’s camera allows us to observe them in real time (as liberating a strategy as it is eventually brutally claustrophobic), and there’s no need for jokes.

A far more hermetic experience, Kenneth Anger’s rarefied avant-garde film output exists nowhere except inside his stormy skull — which by the looks of it is a lava pit of Satanist iconography, homoerotic kitsch, Tinseltown detritus and mythomania. Fantoma’s new Vol. II of Anger’s collected films, following up the juvenilia and precious early films of Vol. I, includes the opuses that made him famous: “Scorpio Rising” (1964), the landmark free-form portrait of rough-trade, James Dean-loving, leather-wearing, cycle-driving gay culture; “Invocation of My Demon Brother” (1969), the assaultive black mass montage featuring an unbearable synthesizer score written and performed by Mick Jagger; and “Lucifer Rising” (1972/1981), Anger’s vivid, semi-Egyptian “magick” epic (which had to be reshot from scratch after Manson cohort Bobby Beausoleil buried the first negative in Death Valley; as penance, apparently, Beausoleil recorded a score for the film from his prison cell). For several generations of American youth, this is what the real counter-culture looked like, and Anger’s crazed, fringy, non-linear syntax gave birth to thousands of idiosyncrat underground imitators, music video collages, nightmarish dream sequences, and even the new breed of post-“Se7en” credit-roll montages. The Fantoma package is practically genuflective, stocked with extras, including Anger’s full-on commentary, a rarely-seen 2002 short by Anger about his “magus” Aleister Crowley, restoration demonstrations and an artfully illustrated 48-page booklet featuring new essays by Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, Guy Maddin and Beausoleil himself, all of 60 and still locked up.

“12:08 East of Bucharest” (Tartan) will be released on October 9th; “The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. II” (Fantoma) is now available on DVD.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.