On DVD: The Films of Chris Marker, “Boarding Gate”

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06102008_thelastbolshevik.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

I’m sorry, but if my choices are superheroes, Sarah Jessica Parker’s handbag materialism, Ashton Kutcher, learn-to-love-again indies and an Adam Sandler comedy that couldn’t even muster jokes enough for a two-minute trailer, then I’ll stay home and have a conversation with Chris Marker. I’ll at least be assured of having truthful contact with a real human consciousness, of having learned, of having been made aware of cultural connections no other artist would make and of bearing witness to first-hand history. An integral soldier in the French New Wave, Marker is famous here only for “La Jetée” (1962), the beloved all-stills time travel mega-short that was remade by Terry Gilliam as “12 Monkeys.” Though he’s remained a prolific manufacturer of cinema into his 80s, he’s never been a meta-acrobat like Godard and Resnais and Rivette, nor a romantic ironist like Truffaut or Rohmer or Demy, and it’s been virtually impossible to see his films, old or new, in the U.S. A few fictional tangents aside, Marker’s mode was always the personal documentary — a non-fictional amble between political fact and subjective, and often poetical, observation, and over the years, practically under the oblivious noses of the filmgoing world, it’s become one of the medium’s most insightful, humane and profound strategies.

Marker’s like Godard and Kiarostami in that filmmaking isn’t his career but his life, woven inextricably into his daily routines, ruminations, friendships and memories. Thus, his movies don’t have the mouth-feel of traditional entertainment or even of agenda-structured docs, but of personal correspondence, open-ended and imperative and exploratory. At long last, a slew of Marker films are available on DVD, including “The Last Bolshevik” (1993), a magisterial biopic of Soviet filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin, arranged by Marker as series of first-person “letters” to the late giant, who followed the Eisenstein-Vertov-Dovshenko-Pudovkin cataract and thereafter suffered whatever totalitarian crap was thrown his way just so he could make movies. A good deal of the celluloid Medvedkin shot was on the “film train,” a crazy, egalitarian form of movie production in which Medvedkin and a large crew drove a development-lab-equipped train around the USSR, shooting and printing films on the spot, showing them to the peasants they’d filmed, and then often discarding the celluloid thereafter. Marker was friends with Medvedkin (he had introduced the Russian’s forgotten work to the West in 1971), and saw him as a kind of last man standing of Soviet history, born at the beginning of the century and dead just a few years before the empire fell. And so amid the movie’s interviews with Russian film history luminaries and clips, there are intimate reminiscences, fond reconsiderations of the past and Marker’s distinctive detours, drawing parallels and tendril-like connections between images and occurrences that always appeared to be unrelated. While you watch “The Last Bolshevik,” it has the rhythm and vibe of an ordinary, if affectionate, documentary, but when it’s over, you take away the overwhelming sense of having lived a new history.

That accumulative awe is the feeling of having Marker’s sensibility sneakily come to bear upon you. Other Marker films also hitting the discs include “Remembrance of Things to Come” (2001), a lavish, dense and devil’s-food-rich memoriam to neglected photog Denise Bellon, who just happened to live through and record the ascent of the Surrealists, the 1937 World Fair, the birth of the Cinémathèque Française, the Popular Front, the Nazi occupation and so on, her shots forming a fascinating, and rather Markerian, mini-history of two decades of French life. (Typical is the matter of Henri Langlois’ famed bathtub full of film prints hidden from the Germans; some have since thought it an urban legend, but Bellon was there to photograph it.) Also, unforgettably, there’s Marker’s philosophical meditation on the post-9/11 world, “The Case of the Grinning Cat” (2004), which impulsively tracks the course of culture from a moment of traumatized empathy (even Marker is stunned by the headline on Le Monde: “We’re All Americans”), to a rising struggle between opportunistic state power and the uncontrollable will of the people, personified by graffiti of a mysterious smiling feline Marker finds all over Paris. The Icarus/First Run discs, which are currently only available from Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts’s online Chris Marker Store (they’ll be widely released in the fall), include a number of extra films, by Marker and by his subjects — Bellon’s short “Colette” (1950), and, happily, Medvedkin’s absurdist masterpiece, “Happiness” (1934).

06102008_boardinggate.jpgAs far as French filmmakers getting a sweaty grip on the post-9/11 landscape go, Olivier Assayas certainly brings his bargeload of obsessions to the table in “Boarding Gate” (2007) — this modern world is a global spider web of instant travel, menacing commerce, brutal narcissism, cold-blooded sex, urban lostness and ceaseless doping and smoking and tough-talking. Assayas also sometimes indulges an unexamined proclivity toward populating his films (that includes his script for André Téchiné’s “Alice and Martin,” “demonlover” and “Clean”) with young, slim, gorgeous, fashionably disheveled characters, and the effect can be unconvincing. Luckily, here Assayas has Asia Argento starring as an ex-hooker who gets tangled up bad (in her black underwear and pumps) with ex-boyfriend/sleaze magnate Michael Madsen, and who then is sent ricocheting toward Asia (the continent) and running from spoiled drug deals, murder plots and the like. The framing material of “Boarding Gate” may seem thin, but Argento, after more than 20 years flitting around the fringes of Euro-pulp and costume epics and the occasional Hollywood action flick, emerges here as a crystallized star. Unpretty but smuttily pugnacious and given to wildly unpredictable line readings, Argento is hypnotizing movie-stuff, as much the overpowering sexual core of this otherwise nutty and forgettable movie as Dietrich was of her Sternberg films, or Monica Vitti was of “The Red Desert,” or Sandrine Bonnaire was of “À Nos Amours.” She keeps getting compared to Brando in reviews, which accounts for Brando’s instinctive animalism if not his restless intelligence. But sometimes in movies, instinctive animalism is more than enough.

[Photos: “The Last Bolshevik,” Icarus Films, 1992; “Boarding Gate,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]

“The Last Bolshevik,” “Remembrance of Things to Come,” “The Cast of the Grinning Cat” (Icarus Films) and “Boarding Gate” (Magnolia Pictures) are now available on DVD.


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.