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“Kz,” “Klimt”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “KZ,” Image Entertainment, 2005]

No matter how long you live and how many Holocaust documentaries you’ve endured, you should never be seduced by the impression that you’ve seen it all; the Nazi phenomenon was apparently almost cosmic in its limitless and deathless ability to re-manifest itself as jaw-dropping news, even 60 years later. One of the most original and philosophically fluent documentaries on the subject ever made, Rex Bloomstein’s “Kz” (2005) casts a gimlet eye on not only the mass exterminations but the ways they are considered today — not in films, but on the ground. We begin on an opulent cruise trip up the Danube, from which we board a tour bus to Mauthausen, Austria, where a guide plainly tells us that industrialization in Austria at large only began around 1938 and was a product of concentration camp slave labor. Then the well-dressed, well-fed, middle class new-millennium tourists disembark for a guided tour of the most notorious death camp in Austria.

Bloomstein keeps quiet for most of the film, simply filming the calm, saturnine, hypnotic lecturers (many of them young men with SS grandfathers) as they matter-of-factly regale crowd after crowd of international vacationers with the grueling minutiae of what one calls the “stations of life” of a Mauthausen inmate. We also spy openly at the observers, mostly American high schoolers in their push-up bras, eyeliner and designer wear, who mostly go pale and sometimes grow faint from what they hear. “It’s an attack on your mind,” one German adult mumbles over the crematoriums (after we see a serious but kitschy young couple take snapshots of each other by the open ovens), and this is Bloomstein’s real subject — the legacy of unempathizable, emaciated humanity the Nazis left behind, impossible to fathom but, as time goes by, more and more appallingly folded in with the other elements of our everyday culture. One might visit Mauthausen to learn about the functioning of evil, but our quotidian comfort and complacency remain unaffected — even the showerheads have been stolen as souvenirs.

Bloomstein doesn’t stop there — while his favorite interview is an Austrian guide whose life is slowly falling apart because of his Mauthausen obsession, he also interviews a plethora of elderly locals, all of them horrified by what they’d seen so long ago but none very bothered by their inaction or even their fond memories of Hitler Youth solidarity and, in one case, a happy marriage to an SS officer who worked at the camp. Mauthausen thrives now as a happy suburb with its own McDonald’s and touristy beer garden (enjoyed today much as it was during the war by the SS). Virtually every image of “Kz” is a chilling, ironic mini-movie worthy of an encyclopedic Umberto Eco unpacking, down to the Holocaust-culture insistence by the filmed tourists to mourn Jews (“Anyone know Kaddish?” one German woman asks of the crowd), even though the guides explicitly say that Mauthausen’s hundreds of thousands of victims were overwhelmingly Poles, Catholics, Russians, homosexuals, criminals and “asocials” (a label which, the quietest and cruelest guide intones, could be affixed to anyone). But of course Mauthausen, for the visitors, as well as the film’s audience, represents “the camps” as well as merely itself, and what we know about the Holocaust is nothing today if not representations: numbers, photographs, movies, testimony.

Raúl Ruiz, with his 75th or so feature, “Klimt” (2006), offers a much more conventional — or conventionally unconventional — portrait of Austrian history, plunging into the Art Nouveau era and his titular hero’s biography as if into a love pit full of nymphomaniacs. Klimt, by most accounts, was a prickly artiste who painted a lot, bickered a bit with the Viennese art world institutions, had a few relationships and then died of pneumonia. But in Ruiz’s version, he was a rabid, anti-social progressive constantly being seduced in two-way mirrored rooms by naked women and getting into spats with stuffy society types in crowded dining rooms. (Little mention is made of the Vienna Secession, an organizing effort that would’ve required a measure of social diplomacy, tact and camaraderie on the artist’s part.) Ruiz also implies, rather surrealistically, that Klimt (played with shrugging distraction by John Malkovich in a sea of European accents) went insane, or at least delusional, toward the end of his life. As a film, it’s a lush, ridiculous fantasy of an artsy, clichéd Mitteleuropa that never quite existed (brothels full of mustachioed women, a bulging-eyed Egon Schiele, played by Kinski scion Nikolai) peopled by symbolic personages (dream muse Saffron Burrows, nameless bureaucrat Stephen Dillane), all revolving around Klimt as if he were a walking martyr for misunderstood geniuses everywhere. Like many of Ruiz’s films (not, it should be said, his magisterial version of Proust, “Time Regained”), it’s a ripe lark, thick with dream interpolations and Euro-opulence of the old school.

“KZ” (Image Entertainment) will be available on January 15th; “Klimt” (Koch Lorber) is now available on DVD.

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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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