On DVD: “Variety,” “Come Drink with Me”

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06032008_variety.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

One of the pioneering wagon-train movies of the inaugural, New York-based independent film movement, predating Jarmusch’s “Stranger than Paradise,” Bette Gordon’s “Variety” (1983) comes off in retrospect as a veritable time capsule of post-punk downtown coolness. Just read the credits: screenwriter Kathy Acker (experimental novelist), star/photog Nan Goldin (famed shutterbug and model for the Ally Sheedy role in “High Art” 15 years later), soundtrack composer John Lurie (of Jarmusch movies and The Lounge Lizards), cinematographer Tom DiCillo (director of “Living in Oblivion,” etc.), producer Renee Shafransky (Spalding Gray’s longtime girlfriend), co-star Luiz Guzman, bit players Spalding Gray and Cookie Mueller (veteran of John Waters’s universe), production assistant Christine Vachon, and so on. Where is Cindy Sherman? The grungy vibe of “Variety” is itself a window on the past — only at the nascent launch of a DIY indie wave in the post-’60s period could you, or would you, set an interrogatory neofeminist psychodrama like this in a Times Square grindhouse devoted exclusively to cheap Euro-porn.

Gordon’s heroine is Christine (Sandy McLeod, who later went on to co-direct the 2003 Oscar-nominated short “Asylum”), an unassuming out-of-town girl who takes a job selling tickets at the joint out of desperation. Of course, she begins to brush up, sometimes literally, against the men that used to attend those theaters, becoming vulnerable to deranged masturbatory phone calls and even falling tentatively into the orbit of a wealthy middle-aged mystery man living a shadowy criminal existence at night, after spending his days watching porn. All the while, Christine tries to maintain her relationship with a reporter (Will Patton), but the more she talks about the movie house and its clients, the more he’s repulsed. Acker and Gordon’s simple masterstroke here is to make Christine hard to nail down — she’s good-natured but not sweet, attitude-free but not naïve, more curious than shockable, and not overtly political in any way. As “Variety” presses on, Christine nonjudgmentally explores the possibility of being a sexual object — we’re meant to read into her blankness, Rorschach-style.

“Variety” is smart but strangely, even beguilingly off-putting. It’s also profoundly depressing; the lack of proactive energy on Christine’s part is both the film’s overriding message and the source of its hopelessness. (The dialogue and acting — excepting Patton, who was already perfecting his think-one-crazy-thing-say-another persona — tends toward the arch and stiff, but this is back when “indie” meant “without professional training or infrastructure of any kind,” not “slumming stars taking a pay cut.”) But historically, it speaks volumes: this is one of the first American films with a true feminist docket and an unalloyed female perspective, in a Reagan-era New York of lingering Forty Deuce smut and all-night luncheon counters and cultural warfare in the streets between the old-guard desires of men and the newfound sexual self-definitions of women.

06032008_comedrinkwithme.jpgWe were, of course, behind the times — female fighting machines, for instance, are de rigueur today, but Hong Kong cinema was putting them front and center decades ago, as in the seminal, long-time-coming-to-video HK classic from legendary director King Hu, “Come Drink with Me” (1966). This is where “Kill Bill” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and the latter movie’s far too many candy-colored imitators, came from. King’s epic is many times more arresting because the razzle dazzle and vaulting combatitude is arrived at not via digital effects but with old fashioned stuntwork, snap-crackle editing and simple filmmaking savvy.

Fans of the utterly psychotic wuxia pian fantasias Tsui Hark pushed to their limit in the ’80s and early ’90s know where we are: the amorphous period of medieval dynasties, where a bandit clan with big grudges has kidnapped an official, and Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei; think of her as the Sandra Dee of spine-shattering kung fu) is sent to the rescue…whatever. The plots of Shaw Brothers movies from the ’60s onward were clotted, preposterous and often simply abridged for the sake of action. This is, in a sense, cinema in something close to its rawest form. In fact, the film’s first major set piece — when the harmless-seeming Golden Swallow arrives at a country inn in bandit country, and soon has to take on dozens of bad guys alone, using the tables and rafters and everything else — is visual explosiveness and high-flying breathlessness almost completely sans narrative. You can get whiplash trying to keep up with the flurry of perspectives and lightning-fast shifts of physical activity, but you won’t ever accuse the movie of playing to the cheap seats or telling you something twice.

[Photos: Bette Gordon’s “Variety,” Variety Motion Pictures, 1983; King Hu’s “Come Drink with Me,” Shaw Brothers, 1966]

“Variety” (Kino Video) and “Come Drink with Me” (Genius Products-Dragon Dynasty) 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.