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“Billy the Kid,” “No Mercy, No Future”

“Billy the Kid,”  “No Mercy, No Future” (photo)

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Context and perspective can be everything — it’s not difficult to simply view Jennifer Venditti’s adroit and honest documentary “Billy the Kid” (2007) as a sympathetic portrait of a working-class high schooler inflicted with Asperger’s. You can, if you insist on doing so, take it clinically, or as yet another small-framed nonfiction slice of life bearing with it a fashionable special-needs public issue. Too bad about Billy P., a 15-year-old Maine kid living in a converted mobile home with his remarried mom, remembering an abusive father, and mixing uncomfortably with his neurotypical teenage contemporaries in school, who largely tolerate him but keep him at arm’s length. Billy himself is a lively piece of work, chattering endlessly from a headful of old movies and entertaining dreams of being a rock star, but you need only to watch his tense body language and searching eyes for a few seconds to understand that he’s disconnected, that he cannot mesh with everyday human society.

I wouldn’t have thought much of that movie, but rather mysteriously, Venditti’s evolves into a different kind of experience. Simply put, as we’re forced to immerse ourselves in Billy’s daily struggle rather than ignore him like we might if we found ourselves behind him in line at McDonald’s, he becomes more than just a kid with a handicap — he becomes an iconic figure, a walking, talking representation of adolescent traumas. It’s hazardous thinking of handicapped individuals this way, and Venditti doesn’t do very much to encourage our thinking. But Billy does, and in his wake Asperger’s becomes more than just a disorder, but a living metaphor for our own tribulations growing up, trying to navigate an overwhelming world, attempting to find love and friendship and having to nurse the scars alone when we fail.

11042008_billythekid2.jpgOnce you go there, Billy’s indomitability becomes stirring. Miranda July, in her mini-essay accompanying the DVD, nails it viscerally: “There was nothing Billy said or did that I couldn’t relate to, and for this reason ‘Billy the Kid’ was a hair-raising ride for me. I’ve worked so hard to control all the impulses he lets fly… [B]y the end of the movie, it seemed to me that Billy was a superhero…” It’s true: as Billy creates, out of sheer force of will, a romance with a 16-year-old diner waitress with nystagmus, and then confronts its collapse, Venditti’s film becomes almost unbearably triumphalist, an anthemic paean to awkward teenagers everywhere. “Heroic” is a too-often-used term for the handicapped — after all, what choice do most of them have? But with Billy, it seems apt, because by dint of his condition he plunges fearlessly ahead when all of us would probably hold back and shy away. He’s not exactly a tragic figure, in the Aristotlean sense, but the movie is a covert “Quixote.” I thought as well of André Gide, and Hamsun’s “Hunger.” It’s too much to consider Billy as a Christ figure, but he may be a modern Prometheus.

Existentialist parallels bubble up helplessly, too, watching Helma Sanders-Brahms’ “No Mercy, No Future” (1981), the latest film of this internationally renowned German filmmaker’s oeuvre to be DVD’d by Facets. The fiery, dogged, despairing feminist voice of the New German Cinema, Sanders-Brahms is an all but unknown figure here, despite having had a few of her films distributed to American theaters. Deep into her career she remains an unrepentant New Waver, montaging and jump-cutting and metafictionalizing all over the place. Of her Facets catalogue, “Under the Pavement Lies the Strand” (1974) is a kind of frau reimagining of Godard’s “Masculin, Féminin,” in which the failure of a post-1968 romance corresponds to the failure of all idealism, as it also liberates the woman. “Germany, Pale Mother” (1980), perhaps her most fondly remembered film, is an occasionally clumsy autobiographical period epic in which Eva Mattes plays Sanders’ mother, left alone (as so many of the filmmaker’s women are) during WWII, and forced to trek across the landscape away from the carnage with the child on her back.

11042008_nomercynofuture.jpg“No Mercy, No Future” is a leaner and scarifying world apart — a relentless odyssey endured by a schizophrenic young woman who abandons her helpless upper-crust family and hits the streets of Berlin, the ultimate lost soul, looking for Jesus (so she says) but finding only men to exploit her. In a classic, show-it-all acting coup that doesn’t wriggle free of your memory very easily, the cataclysmically anemic Elisabeth Stepanek has a genuine, disturbing lostness, and her portrayal of soul-destroying madness is far from Romantic. Like Billy, Stepanek’s wastrel is an extreme case gravitationally attracting larger significances; practically every abuse and suffering a woman can endure in the western world falls between her legs. The heroine is a clueless lamb in an endless landscape of wolves and weasels. Rape is a given, and in Sanders-Brahms’ view not as harmful as emotional manipulation and romantic deceit. Certainly, the most appalling scene involves a horny immigrant man who ostensibly wants to marry her; he insists on sex too soon after an abortion, and the resulting hemorrhage-soaked coitus is hard to watch. And it goes on, punishingly, until the couple is swimming in a symbolic flood of gore. This is not a movie that goes gentle into the night of feminist outrage.

[Additional photos: “Billy the Kid,” Elephant Eye Films, 2007; “No Mercy, No Future,” Facets, 1981]

“Billy the Kid” (Zeitgeist Films) and “No Mercy, No Future” (Facets Video) are now available on DVD.


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.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

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:


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.


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!


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.


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.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.