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“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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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