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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.

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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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