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SXSW 2008: René Pinnell & Claire Huie on “The King of Texas”

SXSW 2008: René Pinnell & Claire Huie on “The King of Texas” (photo)

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It was an oddly complementary pairing at SXSW when there was a mid-festival premiere of “Lou Reed’s Berlin” followed by “The King of Texas,” a documentary about indie film pioneer Eagle Pennell. Like Reed, whose sole album fronting The Velvet Underground inspired a host of imitators, Pennell is cited as an influence for not only filmmakers like Richard Linklater, who picked up Pennell’s loose-knit aesthetic for “Slacker,” but also for the likes of Robert Redford, who was said to have been inspired by the film to commandeer the U.S. Film Festival in Utah in order to make it a forum for regional filmmaking — now known as Sundance. Pennell made two films that suggested far greater things — the laconic, lived-in slices of life “The Whole Shootin’ Match” in 1979 and “Last Night at the Alamo” in 1983 — before his struggle with alcoholism and other personal demons left him homeless and ultimately, dead mere days before he was to have turned 50 in 2002.

Although Pennell’s work is largely unknown outside of Texas, his friend and restoration expert Mark Rance is hoping to change that with a DVD of “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” complete with a new documentary on Pennell made by his nephew René Pinnell and Claire Huie. But make no mistake, the resulting film, “The King of Texas” is far more than your typical DVD special feature. Insightful and pulling no punches, the film chronicles Pennell’s adventures as a filmmaker who was immensely talented and unprepared for success, with interviews with Linklater, screenwriters Bud Shrake and Kim Henkel, and several other of Pennell’s friends and collaborators. Pinnell and Huie spoke about capturing Pennell’s larger than life personality shortly after their film’s SXSW premiere.

You say in the film you didn’t really know about Eagle’s films until he died. When did you first discover them?

René Pinnell: I’d known before [Eagle] had passed away that he was a filmmaker, but I had no idea what kind of movies he made or where. When he died, [Austin Chronicle editor and friend of Pennell] Louis Black organized a retrospective screening of his films at the downtown Alamo Drafthouse. I watched his movies and I was blown away because they were really good. It was totally bizarre to me — I think I was 18 then and had already been making movies since when I was really young. I started doing animation when I was eight or nine, claymation and hand-drawn animation, and as soon as mini DV cameras came out I started working with those. [Filmmaking] had already been a huge part of my life by the time I found out that someone in my family actually made a movie that I liked.

03252008_wholeshootinmatch.jpgWas it a huge shock to find out that you were related to such an accomplished filmmaker?

RP: It was a neat connection, and I remember wondering why I never knew the guy. I knew the basic reason was because he was kind of a drunk and a bum for the later part of his life. But I didn’t really understand why he was never a part of my life at all until I made the movie, because it was only then that I understood the full extent of how difficult my dad’s relationship was with his brother. Before I was born, he and Eagle tried to write a film together. They were trying to write a western and my dad took it really seriously and worked hard and had a lot of hopes riding on it. Eagle would have some good ideas, but he could never sit down and finish it, and never gave the direction that my dad needed. So it fizzled, and I think after that it was just always painful for my dad to do anything with his brother, [for] that and a whole host of other reasons.

Because this is a personal story and you had so many family members involved in the making of the movie, were there things about Eagle that people shied away from talking about?

RP: Claire would probably be the best one to answer that because she was our barometer in terms of making sure that we were honest.

Claire Huie: There were scenes that were difficult, that initially, when Chuck [Pinnell, René’s father and Eagle’s brother] saw them in the edit, he thought we should take out. The scene where Eagle is at his [own] wedding reception and hitting on the [sister of his newly wedded bride], that was hugely painful for every Pinnell involved. At first, [Chuck] said “You have to take it out,” and we decided to leave it in, because you really see just how delusional he is in that moment.

How receptive were people to talk about Eagle?

CH: I think people were very reticent to talk about the bad times, and I think there were a couple of people, like Lin Southerland [who starred in Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match”], who resisted for a long time just to do an interview.

RP: She never actually agreed to an interview. We showed up and were like “Can we at least film Chuck getting the [archival] stuff?” And that’s why we did the whole interview in front of her little shed/barn.

CH: She started talking about everything, and I think it was definitely 15 minutes into the interview before she realized that she was being interviewed. [laughs]

What do you hope this will ultimately say about Eagle’s legacy?

RP: I think the first thing that comes to mind is the myth that he created around himself — the larger-than-life tall tales of Eagle being ridiculous and crazy and drunk, and I think that totally overshadows the fact that he made two good films — “The Whole Shootin’ Match” and “Last Night at the Alamo,” and even his short, “Hell of a Note.” It wasn’t just caricature. There was a man behind that who had complexities and depth. He could be a terrible asshole, but he also had a different perspective.

He made some good films, they influenced some people and then the rest of his life is really just a cautionary tale. I think everybody that makes movies can see a little bit of themselves in Eagle, because it takes a lot of those traits. It takes the ability to pull a group of people together and put your film and often yourself ahead of everyone else, because it’s such a hungry baby that you have to feed. I think that selfishness goes hand in hand with filmmaking, and knowing more about [him] has shown me pitfalls I think I’ll be able to avoid more effectively now that I’ve seen his whole life play out and I know it’s not the road I want to go down.

[Additional photo: Eagle Pennell’s “The Whole Shootin’ Match,” Watchmaker Films, 2006]

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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