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“The Films of Sergei Paradjanov,” “El Cid”

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By Michael Atkinson

A summoning of pagan energies if ever there were any in the era of television, the major features of Sergei Paradjanov have maintained a flabbergasting constancy in the Western filmhead cosmos — these prehistoric, narratively congealed Central Asian mutants have never been out of circulation in this country, as retro-able prints or video editions, and are now all available on DVD from Kino in newly restored versions, including, for the first time, his epochal international debut, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1964). It’s intensely odd, because Paradjanov is one of the most hermetic, arcane and completely original artists in cinema history, and his films do not resemble those made anywhere else, by anyone. Perhaps their sui generis freakiness is their saving grace — and thus a sign of hope for the survival of adventurous film culture in this country. It’s not too much to say that no effort at understanding the outer reaches of filmic sorcery can be complete without a confrontation with Paradjanov’s world — a timeless meta-past of living icons, bristling fairy tale tableaux, stylistic extremities and culture shock.

Paradjanov was Georgian-Armenian by birth, cursed by fate to make

films within a Soviet system that condemned him as a decadent and a

“surrealist.” He spent time in the gulag (released thanks to

international outcry in 1978), but the Politburo wasn’t wrong;

Paradjanov was nothing if not a catapulting folklorist, recreating the

primitive pre-Soviet era as it might’ve been dreamt of in the

opium-befogged skull of Omar Khayyám. There could hardly have been a

more oppositive reply to Socialist Realism. The films — “Shadows,” “The Color of Pomegranates” (1969), “The Legend of Suram Fortress” (1984) and “Ashik Kerib”

(1988) — are all based on folk tales and ancient history (Ukranian,

Armenian and Georgian), but only “Shadows” is centered on narrative.

It’s also the most visually dynamic; unfolding a tribal tale of

star-crossed love and familial vengeance in the Carpathian mountains,

the movie is one of the most restless and explosive pieces of

camerawork from the so-called Art Film era, shot in authentic outlands

with distorting lenses and superhuman capacity, and imbued with a

grainy, primal grit.

Utterly convincing as a manifestation of

pre-civilized will and superstition, “Shadows” was still only a

suggestion of the netherworlds Paradjanov would then call home. The

next three films, separated by years of censorship battling and

imprisonment, are barely narratives at all, but rather medieval art and

life conjured up as a lurid, iconic, wax museum image parade, bursting

with native art, doves, peacocks, Byzantine design, brass work,

hookahs, ancient ritual, cathedral filigree, symbolic surrealities, ad

infinitum. This is not a universe where quantities like acting and pace

are issues; Paradjanov’s vision can be read as the dynamiting of an

entire cultural store closet of things. “Pomegranates” traipses

through the life of 18th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, “Fortress”

revives an age-old Georgian war legend and “Ashik Kerib” adapts an

“Arabian Nights”-style tale retold by Mikhail Lermontov. Together, they

represent one of the most unique usages cinema has ever been put to,

employing the full range of native textures (scrambling Russian

traditionalism with Turkish, Arabic, Indian, Chinese and Rom) and

ending up, for all of their stasis and ornate compositions, with a

party-hearty-Marty celebration of traditional culture and life in the

unruly wilderness of Asian societies rarely if ever visible to American

filmgoers. The four DVDs come with an array of background/profile docs,

an impressionistic portrait comparing/contrasting Paradjanov with buddy

Andrei Tarkovsky, and, best of all, several rare Paradjanov shorts.



years away, medieval historicism in Hollywood gained substantial

gravity by 1961, when producer Samuel Bronston and director Anthony

Mann relocated what must’ve been a majority of Italian film laborers to

Spain to make “El Cid,” and struggled to give the monster a

sense of Old World veracity while so many Cinemascope epics of the day

settled for studio lot interiors. Appearing finally on DVD in a

nostalgic gift box equipped with lobby card and comic book reprints,

Mann’s film has long been the quixotic favorite of David Thomson and

Martin Scorsese, who provides an introductory essay. True enough —

despite its genre-monolithic stiffness and starchy period dialogue, “El

Cid” is a muscular, sometimes strangely disturbing historical launch,

fashioned by Hollywood’s greatest landscape painter into a menacing

examination of class struggle and honor-bound tragedy. The portrayal of

invading Muslim Moors and the ostensibly Christian Spanish royalty are

both equally venal, Charlton Heston does the axiomatic job only certain

movie stars can do (riding out, dead but strapped to his horse, along a

beach that foretells the climax of “Planet of the Apes,” seven years

later), Sophia Loren looks so impossibly beautiful that her face seems

on the verge of orchid blooming, and the crowds — all real, all

occupying Mann’s ancient Iberian horizons in a tangible way that

digital hordes cannot — march and rampage. But mostly the movie is an

essay on landscape’s colossal indifference to man, as are so many of

Mann’s films, an eloquent and impressive perspective with which heroic

sagas are rarely blessed.

“The Films of Sergei Paradjanov” (Kino Video) and “El Cid” (Miriam Collection) are both now available on DVD.

[Photo: “The Color of Pomegranates,” Kino Video; “El Cid,” Miriam Collection]



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.