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“Saved from the Flames,” “The Kingdom — Series Two”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: Chuck Jones’ “Hell-Bent For Election,” from “Saved from the Flames,” Flicker Alley, 2008]

There are movie lovers, and then there are cinephiles — the latter tribe can be discerned from the population by an ardor for cinema that runs beyond the requirements of mere entertainment. The average moviehead needs to be enthralled in a conventional, narrative way while cinephiles find the celluloid moving image itself, and its historical legacy, epiphany enough. If you know the names Mary Ellen Bute or Slavko Vorkapich, then you’re one of the anointed obsessives, and something such as the new three-disc set from Flicker Alley, “Saved from the Flames,” could be your idea of a gold mine. A scattershot collection of “orphans” — scatterings of film that, by definition, profit nobody, and so are therefore only salvaged and restored by cinephilic charities and archives — the set is distinguished from the magnificent “Treasures” series of DVDs put out by the National Film Preservation Foundation in that most of the films have not been “restored” via a laboratory, but are simply digitally spiffed-up prints of films residing in two collections: U.S. distributor Blackhawk Films (which used to be a public domain VHS factory) and France’s Lobster Films.

In the viewing, it hardly matters. Here in a case is the melancholy luster of cinema — the entering into a past at once captured as if in amber, and simultaneously forever lost to time. The substantial helping of French silents offers one surprise after another — the shocking chutzpah of Segundo de Chomón’s “An Excursion to the Moon” (1908), which steals every one of its images, sets and compositions from the Méliès film made six years earlier; the Bizarro World alternate versions of key Lumière films, including a reworking of “Card Party” that features working class chums sipping wine instead of stuffed shirts swilling beer; footage of serpentine dancer Mme. Ondine performing inside a cage full of angry lions from 1900; sound films from 1900 and 1907, a filmed 1939 performance by Django Reinhardt, and so on.

The American-made films also have plenty of historical juice — we get the Fox Movietone newsreel of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 take-off; Ub Iwerks’ immortal “Balloonland” (1935); the infamous MGM-produced fake newsreel story “California Election News #2,” anonymously aimed at scotching Upton Sinclair’s 1934 bid for the governorship; a sampling of WWII-propaganda “soundies”; D.W. Griffith’s outlandish 1912 anti-cocaine melodrama “For His Son”; and a richly colored copy of Chuck Jones’ fiery, luridly surreal FDR campaign cartoon “Hell-Bent for Election,” which hit theaters in 1944 and makes contemporary campaigning seem mild-mannered, at least in terms of iconography.

But two preeminent eye-poppers are generally European. In 1938, stop-motion animator George Pal went to Holland to make a Philips Radio “broadcast” party film, which was intended to advertise the hardware, but instead packed more Spanish-flavored, rainbow-colored, cranked-puppet song & dance fun into five minutes than Disney did in a decade. Still, the climactic set piece of the program is a montage of censored silent film clips, kisses and hugs and amorous glances separated from their films à la “Cinema Paradiso” by an unknown projectionist in Brussels, the remnants of an old school habit of squeamish prudery that, just as in Tornatore’s film, is transformed by time into a bewitching suite of movie love.

For story, coming at you like a stampede of wildebeest, Lars von Trier’s “The Kingdom — Series Two” (1997) continues his 1994 saga with this nearly five-hour sequel (total of “Kingdom”-ness: almost 10 hours, for those sick days when already feeling sick is not quite enough), in which the titular Copenhagen hospital, still haunted by ghosts and omened by Downs syndrome dishwashers, is beset by (or still beset by) Satanic cults, suicide-sport interns, voodoo, homicidal medical experiments, badger obsessions, drugs, and, most nuttily, a giant mutant baby (the son of Udo Kier from the first “Kingdom”) played by… Udo Kier. One could only wish that American television shows would, or could, replicate Von Trier’s agenda here — to just keep ratcheting up the devilish invention and horrifically consequential story ideas — and do so with von Trier’s exhaustive measure of satirical intelligence. The squirrelly, dingy video look of the show may not seem as sui generis as it did in the ’90s, but here’s to being grateful for such a ridiculously generous helping of malevolent narrative nonsense, and to hoping someday for a “Kingdom — Series Three,” in which the cliffhangers can finally fall and the world can finally end.

“Saved from the Flames” (Flicker Alley) and “The Kingdom — Series Two” (Koch Lorber Films) will be available on DVD on January 22nd.

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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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