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Interview: Eugene Hütz on “Filth and Wisdom”

Interview: Eugene Hütz on “Filth and Wisdom” (photo)

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King of the gypsy punks, Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz has fast become known as one of indie rock’s highest-energy performers, his multi-ethnic rebel band’s rollicking accordion-and-fiddle swagger raising the room’s temperature while Hütz swings from the rafters. (There aren’t enough superlatives to do their staggering live shows justice.) Yet some might better recognize the Ukrainian emigrant-turned-downtown New York icon from the cinema, not least because he had to shave his renowned curly mustache for Liev Schreiber’s 2005 directorial debut “Everything Is Illuminated.” As Alex, the blinged-out Michael Jackson fanatic and Ukrainian tour guide to Elijah Wood’s visiting Jewish-American nerd, Hütz hilariously steals the show faster than you can say Jonathan Safran Foer.

Leave it then to Madonna to seek out what lies between the fascinating facts and fictions of Eugene Hütz. The pop legend, still reinventing herself as a 50-something Material Girl, will surprise quite a few with her directorial debut, “Filth and Wisdom.” Both funnier and more entertaining than this writer might’ve imagined, Madonna’s scruffy, sexy, low-budget charmer stars Hütz as narrator and one of three struggling roomies seeking out their dreams in London. His name may not be Eugene, but Hütz’s character “A.K.” is a semi-autobiographical creation: an aspiring musician with an immigrant’s background, a band called Gogol Bordello and a day job as a dom who humiliates his all-male clientele… okay, perhaps we can attribute the S&M fantasy to Madge. A few hours before “Filth and Wisdom” had its star-studded New York premiere, I sat down with Hütz to yak about the film, politics, perversions and mustaches.

You don’t share a writing credit, but A.K. is clearly based on some of your real world experiences. Specifically, where’s the line drawn between this film and your life?

Honestly, who fuckin’ knows? [laughs] I think the line between that gets mystical right away, what comes from where, because we didn’t have a lot of time to make this film. I was there for three weeks. As you can tell, there is stuff that is purely autobiographical, and then lots of funky abracadabra in the mix. Not just the relocation to London — that’s almost insignificant. We were having fun and taking liberties as we were going along. It was just gonzo beatnik style, you know?

In her director’s statement, Madonna compared the experience to being put through film school. Having been on a film shoot with a bigger budget and crew, what would you say the pros and cons were to working on this smaller, more D.I.Y. project?

10152008_eugenehutz2.jpgWell, the advantage was I didn’t have to change my look. Also, nobody set me aside and applied disciplinary measures. [laughs] Or, try to put me back on a schedule with the rest of the world. Sometimes I don’t go to bed for two or three days, and that’s the way my life is. I still can pull through. So I was completely free with that, with my flow.

But they were both classes of film school, you know? The major difference is that “Everything is Illuminated” was a lot more intricate work, where I had to absolutely invent the character, as much as all the writers were convinced that they were going to actually meet Alex when they interviewed me. That never happens — I hate to bum you out, guys. That was an absolute creation. It has nothing to do with my biography. Here, I didn’t really have time to piece anything together. I stayed in the mode of rock ‘n’ roll musician, and there were things that I wished were presented more explicitly.

Such as?

Just the desperation, you know? This film focuses on the stage of life when you’re in a mode of soul searching, and existentialist rage is just on the surface. But maybe there could be more rage expressed, because that’s how I remember it. [laughs]

You’ve described Gogol Bordello as a collective, both musically and politically. How so?

It pretty much speaks through everything we do. It’s nine people who are all from absolutely different parts of the world: Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, very far Russia — I’m talking about Siberia — Scotland, the States, Israel. We live in a political world, and those areas are the most politicized, and on opposite sides of the political spectrum. We were all raised in a Cold War, actually. It robbed our childhood. Back when every single hockey game on TV was extremely political because like, okay, Russians are playing Canadians. Now it’s like, who cares? But back then: “Wait, Canada is next to the States, so fuck them because those guys are about bombs.” Everything was so intense and edgy and hateful, you know?

So for us to come together and amalgamate into this family, where that’s all left outside, I’m amazed about that every fuckin’ day. That shows that politics don’t exist, actually. It’s just a cheap business. Economics is what makes politics. Oil has a price, everybody’s fighting over that. Soon it’s gonna be water, and the same thing is going to happen over that. But for us, people who realized that, there is no conflict. Obviously, we live together on the road, of course we argue; of course we get into rowdy situations. But it never seems to be over politics. That’s the last thing on our mind. It’s more like we’re a collective both musically and anti-politically, to make it more correct. It just proves a point how overblown this place of politics is in life, and how force-fed it is.

10152008_eugenehutz3.jpgI, on the other hand, find myself reading about the corruption and idiocy causing our ongoing economic crisis and think: “Holy crap, we’re all doomed.”

No, because any day a meteorite can hit the motherfuckin’ earth and liberate everybody from this doom. [laughs] Many things can reshape things. People are obsessed with their supposed powers and what they can really do. That’s something that I’ve been realizing more and more on a daily basis: Yeah, it’s getting harder to believe in an actual embodiment of some new profound social organization through one massive change because, already, a lot of revolutionary thought discredited itself through history. But millions of small changes can be done, and through that, there can be a bigger impact because anybody can talk to another person. Anybody can educate somebody if they feel like their neighbor is stupid. It’s more like “Educate thy neighbor, my friend.” I think that enthusiasm, and not giving into lazy-minded cynicism, is where the potential and hope is.

When collaborating with Madonna, whether it’s this film or onstage, what do you both bring to the table to best take advantage of your creative strengths and weaknesses?

What weaknesses? What the hell are you talking about? [laughs] You know, this whole swirl of doing things together was so spontaneous. Five days before the Live Earth concert happened, I didn’t know anything about it. It was an on-the-spot decision, so I think we just wanted to blow people out of the water in a way that nobody expected. What we did was obviously done by people who had a lot of fun, as unconnected as [the collaboration] seemed at first. Like Joe Strummer was saying: “Of course, rock ‘n’ roll is our weapon, but don’t kid yourself.” It is also just rock ‘n’ roll, a huge part of which is intellectual and physical entertainment. It is done by people who are essentially performers, somehow linked into theater.

For me, the criteria was: How enlightening can you make your entertainment? How subversive and how brutal can it be? Even the musicians who scored the greatest radical reputations — like Bob Marley and Jello Biafra, for example — were very aware of theatrics and its actual presentation. Actually, I just met Jello Biafra for the first time. He was at our show in San Francisco. That’s my childhood hero, and we talked about this because all stage tactics are employed to channel a school of thought. Delivering a dry message in a pretty way, who the fuck needs that? That always gets on my fucking nerves when people get like that. Some of the best rappers get like that. I think our philosophy is more of throwing all these things on the table, like a playground of multiple options that is hopefully inspiring and entertaining.

10152008_eugenehutz4.jpgEvery time you popped up on-screen in another of your S&M role-playing costumes, I was just cracking up. In our desensitized society, is anything truly perverse anymore?

The desensitization itself is the perversion. For example, [’80s Cinema of Transgression filmmaker] Nick Zedd, coming out with his stuff in that time was extremely subversive. It challenged the remains of the plastic façade, the “Totem of the Depraved” that had the power. Now, the fucking mainstream television is the Totem of the Depraved. The good news is that it’s just a passing point in evolution. I don’t know if we’ll get to see the better stage in our lifetime; evolution is so fuckin’ slow. That’s why I’m constantly coming back to ideas of internal, personal revolution. Even if you can’t speed up the world, I want to see it in my lifetime, you know? I know other people who do, too. I mean, I don’t want to get into post-humanism, transhumanism, and all those things that might be too far out. We’re certainly not going to see that, but sometimes I think we’re still living in some fuckin’ invalid times, you know? I think we can do a lot better and enjoy a lot better.

Lastly, what’s the trick to maintaining such an amazing mustache?

Not doing shit, man. That’s the trick.

[Photos: Eugene Hütz in Madonna’s “Filth and Wisdom,” IFC Films, 2008]

“Filth and Wisdom” opens in New York on October 17th; opens in Los Angeles on October 31st.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.