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)


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.