The New York Underground Film Festival’s Last Hurrah

The New York Underground Film Festival’s Last Hurrah (photo)

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As film festivals proliferate like strip malls in nearly every city on the globe, say sayonara to the seminal anti-fest fest, the New York Underground Film Festival, giving up the ghost and closing shop after 15 years of courageously struggling to commercially showcase the inherently uncommercial. Over the years the fest has been the nation’s premier landing zone for every type of film no one else would show: screaming punk sci-fi, optical abstractions, found-footage statements, transgressive fiction features, counter-culture homage, post-Waters camp, video installations, ageless-teen rebellion, radical politics and what have you. It’s been a sack full of fighting rats every year as festival dockets go, but that’s been part of the festival’s charm and, frankly, its necessity, abetting and fueling as it has an entire secret film culture that has always had a hard time finding screens, and will now find times only tougher.

As usual, the fest this years favors shorts over features — “feature-length” being a construction of the marketplace, after all — although Thomas Bender’s “Hoopeston” is a sharp-eyed and ironic portrait of a small, NIMBY Illinois town beset by an influx of Wiccans; the Vice boys’ “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” punches out your lights limning the pressurized lives of the war-torn city’s only headbanger band; James June Schneider’s “The End of the Light Age” adeptly evokes a comatose hyperfuture by way of relentless tedium (even with Lou Castel in the house); and Josh Koury’s “We Are Wizards” offers up a queasy but endearing look at extreme Harry Potter fandom, including the perfectly awful phenomenon of wizard rock.

The shorts, from time immemorial the best-suited form for “underground” cinema, or underground anything really, play with fire. Amid works from vets like Leslie Thornton, Jem Cohen, Michael Almereyda, Peggy Ahwesh and James Fotopoulos, there’s Kevin Jerome Everson’s “Playing Dead” — a found-news-footage minute-and-a-half as painful as a dull knife used quickly — and Ahwesh’s sublime “Beirut Outtakes,” pieced together from old, decaying reels of American films, Arabic pulp, trailers, underwear commercials, etc., found in an abandoned theater in the titular city. Hito Steyrel’s “Lovely Andrea” follows the filmmaker’s investigation through the bondage-porn industry of Tokyo to find a trussed-up photo she’d modeled for 20 years earlier; unfortunately, Steyrel’s simplistic political points are made with a flat shovel. Takeshi Murata’s op-art loop “Untitled (Pink Dot)” is a rapturously sludgy orgasm of oozing pixels (I only watched it once), while Jennet Thomas’s “Black Tower” shorts smack too much to me of a tourist jaunt through Lynchistan.

04042008_californiablue.jpgThere’s no resisting, however, Abbey Williams’s “CALIFORNIA/blue,” which essentially crafts a Joni Mitchell music video from surreptitiously-shot scenarios played out in the fake rooms of an IKEA store, nor John Smith’s “Dirty Pictures,” which begins and ends in a Jerusalem hotel room with mysterious moving ceiling tiles, but embraces the entire dilemma of Palestine in the process. Almereyda’s work-in-progress “Paradise” sticks to my skull wall, though, because it is unfinished — an off-hand diary film of inconclusive real moments and minor ecstasies, often shot in night vision, the pieces we get climax in Pleasantville watching a pale Jersey girl in the ghostly video shadows trying to catch fireflies. What more could you want?

[Additional photo: “CALIFORNIA/blue,” Abbey Williams, 2007]



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.