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“Pierrot le Fou,” “Hélas pour Moi”

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By Michael Atkinson

Let us belt the battle cry of Godard, cinema’s own Robespierre and Whitman and Dylan all rolled into one transfiguring powerhouse, reinventing film from Day One and never letting the rest of the world quite catch up. We’re lucky to have had him, and to have him still. There should be no question that Godard has been to his medium what Joyce, Stravinsky, Eliot and Picasso were to theirs — utterly unique, rule-rewriting colossi after whom human expression would never be quite the same. Quentin Tarantino may be the most famous public genuflector before Godard’s legacy, but Martin Scorsese, Abbas Kiarostami, Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, Lars von Trier, Jim Jarmusch, Raul Ruiz, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Richard Linklater and Wong Kar-Wai, among innumerable others, all owe him a debt they could never pay out. Wrestling in any capacity with movies as art means facing his body of work and taking a deep breath. Workaday reviewers still quake in dread at the prospect of having to elucidate the complicated reality of a Godard film to their readers. Somehow, though, the seductive energy of this most elusive filmmaker maintains its grip on each successive generation of moviehead, and now, years after graduating to video-making himself, Godard’s oeuvre is finding itself properly feted on DVD.

When I interviewed Anna Karina, swooningly, in 2001 for the re-release of “Band of Outsiders,” I asked her what was her favorite of the seven features she’d made with Godard, and, after demurring (“If you had seven children, how would you say which one you prefer? After all, it was a love story, wasn’t it?”), she dared to guess mine, and nailed it: “Pierrot le Fou.” Of the Godardian ’60s, this effervescent, self-mocking, effortlessly iconic masterpiece may be the filmmaker’s quintessential work, the ultimate commentary on how life and movies fuck and spawn spectacularly beautiful children. It’s not merely a guy-&-girl-on-the-run film, nor a farcical tango with the subgenre, but a catapulting Godardianism, a living tissue, a fabulous and hilarious shared week in the life of Godard, Karina and co-star Jean-Paul Belmondo as they make a movie together on the Cote d’Azur, and make it part of our lives, too. Karina and Belmondo, whatever their screen names, jump magically – that is, cinematically – from being acquaintances meeting at a high-end party (where Sam Fuller appears, pronouncing famously on the essence of cinema) to homicidal lovers escaping to a depopulated, semi-tropical island (in a convertible!), blithely leaving thug corpses in their wake.

Where another filmmaker would focus on the telling of the tale, Godard trains in on the vibe, the aura, the juice, the silly élan of the movie-life experience. His reputation as cold, intellectually forbidding artist is decimated by “Pierrot,” which in all of its advertising-haiku clutter and goofy playacting is rampagingly spontaneous, intimate, irreverent and sometimes as messy as a fucked-in bed. The few musical numbers, whispered off-handedly by Karina, alone reveal a filmmaking heart bleeding with joy at the world. “Pierrot” is very much a young man’s movie, a spirited lark with tragic modernist undertones and a sense of pretending that plays like new lovers’ experimentation with life. But it’s not real (when asked why there’s “so much blood” in the film by a journalist, Godard famously replied, “That’s not blood, that’s red.”), it’s a movie.

But the movie is real, of course, a graceful, rebellious, life-affirming fact of our culture community, just as much as it was real in 1965 for Godard and his young, lovely, ocean-eyed wife, playing at being a genius and a movie star on the beach. The Criterion party thrown for “Pierrot,” so supercool and long overdue, comes with an extra disc packed with interviews, docs and video pieces.


Godard, like us all, has aged, and if his formal voice has remained furiously consistent over the decades, he has been perfectly frank about his maturation from a crazy jukebox meta-movie youth to a pensive, cynical old man finding poetry less in the buoyant fantasy of movieness than in the captured simplicities of earthly life: young girls with translucent skin, meadows in the breeze, European metropoli cooling at dusk, spectators frozen by the beauty of landscapes. Sticking out in a new box set of Godard’s later films (including 1982’s “Passion,” 1983’s “First Name: Carmen,” and 1985’s “Detective”), “Hélas pour Moi” (1993) takes as its structure the Greek myth about Zeus and Alcmene, but as Godard has aged, his movies became even more fragmented and, at the same time, more contemplative. “Hélas pour Moi” is a creative nonfiction essay, built from multi-layered tableaux of random incidents and gestures and dramatic dialogues and arguments with God on love, devotion and memory, which to Godard all translate to regard for The Past, and our pitiful disregard for it. Godard is still attentive to pure cinema: The long composition-in-depth featuring a park, a couple, a voyeur, a trash collector and a canal ship is breathtaking, as is the simple close-up that Godard morphs into a emotional statement by beginning in sub-irradiated overexposure and moving slowly to brooding, portentous underexposure.

But his primary movies-are-life idea still stands. The reality of cinema is all there: the experience we have watching, the experience Godard and his team had filming, the passage of minutes, the affectionate distance between the actors (including Gerard Depardieu) and their “roles,” between the camera itself and what it photographs – all of it happily naked to the eye and mind, none of it slickly masked by editing sleight-of-hand or “story.” What the work may be “about” at any given moment is never prioritized over the beauty of a morning garden, a woman’s watchful eyes, the political injustice currently burning in the filmmaker’s conscience, or the fact that he may be eating an apple. For Godard, it’s all good.

“Pierrot le Fou” (Criterion Collection) will be available on DVD on February 19th; “Hélas pour Moi” is now available as part of the Jean-Luc Godard Box Set (Lionsgate).



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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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