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DID YOU READ

Two from Jean-Pierre Melville, “The Last Laugh”

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Supercool and desperate and retroactively magnificent though it is, American film noir rarely had — film for film — very much deliberate philosophical torque; they were too busy being fast-moving, medium-to-low-budget programmers. In the American psyche, westerns always held more self-consciously ontological cachet: here were portraits of the American soul reckoning with evil, with fate and with itself. Noir came by its resonance more circumstantially, collectively and after the fact, although the catalogue of ’45-’60 noirs still constitutes the most culturally expressive chunk of Hollywood films ever made. It took the French to recognize noir for what it was, and, in the personage of pulp archangel Jean-Pierre Melville, to transform the noir paradigm into a full-on dark night of existentialist tribulation. The two Melvilles to get newly, ravishingly Criterionized, “Le Doulos” (1962) and “Le Deuxième Souffle” (1966), are studies in the famous genre’s evolution from haphazard Zeitgeist to the expressionistic poetry of modern alienation. The hapless gangsters in Melville’s films don’t know much except two things: their sense of honor is the only thing they can take with them to the grave, and that date with the grave is coming all too soon.

Melville was a one-man filmmaking combine who famously lived in an apartment above his own studio; both Bertrand Tavernier and Volker Schlöndorff schooled here, and the Cahiers du cinéma crowd loved him. While not his most romantic or ambitious movie, “Le Doulos” might be his best; there’s no underestimating the thrill of having seeing it in 1962 and sensing that the overcast, uncaring, starkly capitalist world you live in was being captured on film for the first time. (For Americans, the battle between male friendship and criminal necessity in a society being stripped of masculine options was best expressed in 19th-century frontier towns; in France, it was in the chaos of contemporary cities and their outskirts.) It begins simply enough, in drizzly gray black and white that begs for a trenchcoat: Faugel (Serge Reggiani) is a crook released from prison and engaged quickly in a simple heist. But then it seems as if his friend Silien (Jean-Paul Belmondo) ratted on him, but then it seems he didn’t, and as it reveals its narrative selectively, Melville’s film becomes an epistemological inquisition: how much do we think we know about anyone, and how much of that is true? Most of the time, we, like Faugel, do not know who to trust. (To paraphrase William Hurt from “The Big Chill,” men in hats are always doing something terrible.) With its doublings and mirror episodes and postponed judgments, “Le Doulos” is a famous Tarantino correlative (you can imagine that as a clerk at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, Tarantino took home “Le Doulos,” “City on Fire” and “Diner” one night, and “Reservoir Dogs” was born). It’s still one of the most innovatively conceived crime movies ever made, and one that feels intimate with the fringe mob life in unique and convincing ways.

10142008_ledeuxiemesouffle.jpg“Le Deuxième Souffle” begins more abstractly — with an absorbing prison break sequence that’s visualized completely in terms of angular rooftop vertigo and executed completely in silence. Again, the narrative appears easy to grasp at the outset, but Melville is never less than committed to the idea that while we watch one thing, a myriad of significant actions are unfolding off-screen. Always. Of the escapees, one survives, Gu (Lino Ventura), an aging, burly bull of a stock-in-trade murderer, and his efforts at staying hidden and then participating in one more heist, so he can flee the country, dominate the story. You expect the heist to go awry, but it doesn’t — life does. Meanwhile, Melville’s gray, realistic images of lost men in fedoras facing the inevitable uselessness of their lives on Earth come off as iconic as traditional Christian sculpture, and his fascinating habit of revisiting places and instances from successive points of view makes him a filmmaker-philosophe, the undisputed Antonioni of the genre film.

10142008_thelastlaugh.jpgNo one has recently thought to reevaluate the thematic gist of F.W. Murnau’s film school staple “The Last Laugh” (1924), a lavishly realized silent classic that’s as famous for its Murnovian “subjective camera” mise-en-scene (he reused many of the tropes a few years later in Hollywood, in “Sunrise”) as it is derided for its simplistic morality-tale story, in which Emil Jannings’ self-important luxury hotel doorman becomes demoted, due to his age, down the company ladder to lowly washroom attendant. Today, the intertitle-free film no longer scans merely as an indictment of hubris and status-mongering — after all, how far does the fat old fool actually fall? (He lives, with a deluded sense of importance, in a ghetto.) The emphasis, visually realized and otherwise, focuses on the character’s point of view, but if you step back, “The Last Man” (as it was originally titled) plays like a parable on service industry exploitation, a downsizing nightmare, and thus it is not far from Kafka, or from modern American society. The tacked-on happy ending insisted upon by the producer, which declares itself to be improbable, has never pleased anyone. The film’s a landmark no matter how you read the thrust (Murnau set a high bar for the moving camera that was only equaled in the ’30s by Lang and finally surpassed by “Citizen Kane”), but with time its proletariat message has only gained force. The definitive Kino edition comes with both the restored German version and the unrestored export edit, a making-of doc and a new score.

[Photos: “Le Deuxième Souffle,” 1966; “The Last Laugh,” 1924]

“Le Doulos” (Criterion Collection), “Le Deuxième Souffle” (Criterion Collection), and “The Last Laugh” (Kino Video) are now available on DVD.

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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.