DID YOU READ

“The Delirious Fictions of William Klein,” “All You Need Is Love”

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05272008_whoareyoupollymaggoo2.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

Like a missing-link hominid stepping out of the jungle, famous photographer William Klein emerges on 21st century DVD as the great bullgoose Art Film-era satirist we never knew we had. Hallowed for his still images and his documentaries, the Paris-based Klein also made three furiously hostile lampoons that were nominally released, ignored and then forgotten. Until now, you could only find “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” (1966), “Mr. Freedom” (1969) and “The Model Couple” (1977) in scruffy bootlegs from pro-am vendors like Pimpadelic Wonderland — and given the movies’ paucity of reputation, you would’ve had little reason to do so. A busy ’60s shutterbug for the French Vogue, Klein more or less fell in with the Left Bank New Wavers (Resnais, Demy, Marker, Varda) and the Panic Movement (Fernando Arrabal and Roland Topor both show up in “Polly Maggoo”). But his perspective was New Yawk pugilistic, his humor was mercilessly accusatory and his eye was unerringly sharp and expressive. The movies in the new Criterion Eclipse set are a revelation (arguably, they’re the most astute left-wing mockeries of their day), but more than that, they appear to be timeless, and their blitzkrieg critiques are just as pertinent now as they were then.

Perhaps more so, since the brainless sociopathologies that Klein attacks have only grown more powerful and pervasive in the intervening decades, and precious few Western filmmakers today have the nerve to satirize the culture that feeds them. Klein’s first and best feature, “Polly Maggoo” lays into a world Klein knew intimately — fashion, from the designers to the magazines to the TV media covering both. The titular heroine (played entrancingly by the rather Theron-esque Dorothy MacGowan in her only film) is a simple Brooklynite hitting the big time in Paris as a cover girl, accosted by slavering men on the street, chased down by a TV-exposé producer (Jean Rochefort) trying to fathom what he perceives to be her beautiful emptiness, and pursued by the bumbling emissaries of a mythical prince (Sami Frey), who’s fallen in love with her photo. Chockablock with imagery and set pieces that are simultaneously gorgeous and thick with outrageous content, making vicious fun of men and sexism and media shallowness and Diana Vreeland and haute couture (the opening sequence plays out behind the scenes at a runway show where a designer has outfitted his girls entirely in giant shards of sharp-edged aluminum), Klein’s movie is nothing less than Voltairean in its exactitude and Buñuelian in its sardonic wit.

05272008_modelcouple.jpg“The Model Couple,” conceived and filmed years later, prophesies “The Truman Show,” “EDtv,” “The Real World” and “reality” everything, as a perfectly “average” French husband and wife (André Dussollier and Anémone) are sequestered in a government-analysis “model apartment” and subjected to tests and studies as the entire travail is televised live and commented on by panels of asinine pundits. Superbly acted, it has only a minor satiric bite (and, ironically, it dates more than either earlier film). But “Mr. Freedom” is the discovery of the moment, if only because its relentless, scabrous rip through American jingoism and xenophobic sloganeering remarkably expresses the Bush administration mindset (as well as its Rovian reasoning, press conference rhetoric and homicidal policies) even more accurately than it characterizes the American public personality during the ‘Nam years. “Antifreedomism!” is the danger confronted by Mr. Freedom (John Abbey), a ludicrous superhero-spy whose uniform is a mélange of sporting equipment, whose theme song actually misspells “freedom” and who hollers at a huge-but-powerless inflatable SuperFrenchMan, “Are you with me, or against me?!?”

Mr. Freedom is the bloodthirsty tool of a mercenary corporation, sent to France to protect them from the “Reds,” and in the process, from an underground bunker filled with hoochie-koochie acolytes painted red, white and blue, he manages to bomb half the country out of existence. This predates “Team America: World Police” by 35 years, and derisively howls in just the same way at how America views the world and itself — but don’t overlook Mr. Freedom’s bout of stigmata, Delphine Seyrig in a peach Afro and tissue-thin gownless evening strap rallying the troops with a percussion band of tubby wrestlers, Philippe Noiret as the evil Soviet Empire (in a massive foam-rubber suit), the U.S. Embassy-as-huge-discount-department-store-with-cheerleaders and Mr. Freedom’s inspiring speech to his minions, a harangue of absurd sales pitches and meaningless aphorisms that’d fit perfectly in Bush’s mouth. (Klein heard “freedom” being chewed into gristle by politicians during the Cold War, but he was also imagining the future of the Dubya reign.) There’s a good deal more — nobody could accuse Klein of not having ideas, or not having a tireless sense of humor — and though it can get tiring, “Mr. Freedom” stands as a monument to irreverent dissent. “Duck Soup” and “Les Carabiniers” come to mind as companion pieces — is there higher praise?

05272008_allyouneedislove.jpgA more neutral archaeology, the DVD release of Tony Palmer’s long-unseen British TV miniseries doc “All You Need Is Love” (1976) is a welcome look back upon the long history of pop music as it evolved piecemeal and at the behest of musicians, before the 24/7 market ubiquity of iPods, “American Idol,” satellite radio and internet streaming. This is Ken Burns before Ken Burns (if not quite as polished as “Baseball” or “Jazz”), comprised of interviews and archival footage both common and rare (including footage of a singing Woody Guthrie, and a woeful Roxy Music performance that nonetheless affords a glimpse of a synthesizer-playing Brian Eno), and unfurling the whole story, from Scott Joplin to Earl Hines to Bessie Smith to Benny Goodman to Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Jethro Tull.

Palmer’s 14-hour-plus odyssey is filthy with progressional details — as when it is made clear how the WWI upkick in urban munition factories mobilized southern blacks to northern cities, encouraging them to leave the harmonica and piano behind in favor of the steel guitar and what became the modern blues. Destroyed are the common beliefs that ragtime, jazz and blues grew out of one another (they were completely separate entities, culturally and geographically), and that the Mississippi Delta was some kind of ground zero for the blues (you needed to go hundreds of miles upriver). Palmer also dedicates, amid the swing and rock and country and folk, entire episodes to pivotal periods/manifestations you’d never think to include (or wish to endure), among them ‘music hall’ (featuring Liberace!) and The Musical (oh boy, “Tommy”). Pop music itself is by definition a very mixed bag, so some of the necessary digressions are painful, but the banquet is large and long and enriching. My favorite morsel: a live Roosevelt Sykes doing the best “St. James Infirmary” I’ve ever heard, and giving it credit as a 300-year-old Liverpudlian riff to boot.

[Photos: “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?”, 1966; André Dussollier and Anémone in “The Model Couple,” 1977; The Rolling Stones in “All You Need Is Love,” 1977]

“The Delirious Fictions of William Klein” (Criterion Collection: Eclipse Series) and “All You Need is Love” (Zeit Media Limited) are now available on DVD.

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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.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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