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SXSW 2008: “Wild Blue Yonder”

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03112008_wildblueyonder.jpgCinéma-vérité and the first-person documentary go to war in “Wild Blue Yonder,” and vérité wins — this engrossing car wreck is an unintentional argument as to how difficult it is to successfully include yourself in your own nonfiction film. “Wild Blue Yonder” is about “a daughter’s search for her father,” as the filmmaker, Celia Maysles, puts it — that father is David Maysles, who with his brother Albert made seminal docs like “Grey Gardens” and “Gimme Shelter,” and who passed away in 1987, when Celia was 7. Judith Maysles, Celia’s mother and David’s widow, fought it out with Albert over the rights to the Maysles brothers’ films in an ugly court battle that ended in a settlement and the rights of all of the films, including “Blue Yonder,” the film David was working on at the time of his death, becoming solely Albert’s. The lawsuit pretty much ended communication between Maysles Films and Celia and Judith, until Celia decided to bridge the gap in the making of this, her own debut film.

“Wild Blue Yonder” is about David Maysles, but it is, as you might suspect, really about Celia, about how much she misses her father; her process in seeking him out in his friends, subject and notes; and her attempts to get outtake footage of him left over from “Grey Gardens” — footage Albert was mining for “The Beales of Grey Gardens.” Albert noted in an interview that “in the film, I come off as the bad guy,” refusing to allow Celia access due to concerns that their two films were going to cover too similar ground. And he is very much villainized, but Celia’s lack of perspective ends up making him the more sympathetic party. “Wild Blue Yonder” deals with what’s understandably an anguished and emotional topic, but as a filmmaker, Celia conveniently chooses not to distinguish between the personal and the business, between documented and undocumented life. She doesn’t just want access to the footage to see her father, which is what she weeps to Christo and Jeanne-Claude when she interviews them — she wants to use the footage in her film. She cuts Albert off when he tries to go into the lawsuit, saying she doesn’t want to talk about a time that was so painful for herself and her mother, and then lets her mother tell it from her side later. And unacknowledged is the fact that the film, by its very nature, is trading on the filmmaker’s pedigree — and that unseen footage from the “Grey Gardens” days, which Celia treats as only fair, as essential to her personal journey, also has marketable value attached to it, something Albert certainly knew when deciding to put together his own follow-up.

How to determine who owns the work of a life? Albert Maysles, for better or worse, was given control of everything David produced, even “Blue Yonder,” the film that was David’s own personal project, an attempt to separate himself from his sibling and, appropriately, a documentary look at their own father, who died when David was 13. But “Wild Blue Yonder” makes it a herculean task to feel any sympathy for Celia, who’s petulant, devoid of self-awareness, endlessly confesses to and cries on camera, and, as things grow worse between her and her uncle, tends to stride up to him and then ask if it’s okay that she’s already filming. The excavations of the Maysles brothers’ subjects, of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, of “Grey Garden”‘s charmingly eccentric Lois Wright, are far too brief and yet burn a thousand times brighter than Celia’s sharing of the details of her teenage eating disorder while holding the camera pointed at herself out at arm’s length. “Wild Blue Yonder” isn’t a successful in any sense of the word, but I must confess it’s one of the films I’ve talked about the most with fellow festival-goers — a maddening and marked example of documentary self-indulgence.

[Photo: “Wild Blue Yonder,” Corra Films, 2007]

+ “Wild Blue Yonder” (SXSW)
+ “Wild Blue Yonder” (Official site)


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.