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The Films of Budd Boetticher, “Camp de Thiaroye”

The Films of Budd Boetticher, “Camp de Thiaroye” (photo)

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The last of the red hot Golden Age Hollywood genre buckaroos, Budd Boetticher represented a long-vanished prototype: the man’s man studio director who, before turning gruffly to making pictures, had spent years being a boxer or a stevedore or a soldier or what have you. Today, filmmakers pay their dues by earning six figures shooting shampoo commercials; then, a man who made westerns or war movies or gangster films was a man who had lived in the world and returned with a heartful of brutal and hopeful business you can’t learn by watching other movies. In a sense, Boetticher outdid the competition by becoming a professional Mexican matador right out of college — a scenario difficult to beat for hard-won iron-man chops in Tinseltown. Of course his biography influences how his best films — the westerns he made between 1956 and 1960 — have been perceived and why they’ve been canonized, as they have been now in the new, lovely tombstone of a DVD box set from Sony. Such are the pratfalls of auteurism.

That’s not to drain air out of the films’ reputation: “Seven Men from Now” (1956), “The Tall T” (1957), “Decision at Sundown” (1957), “Buchanan Rides Alone” (1958), “Westbound” (1959), “Ride Lonesome” (1959) and “Comanche Station” (1960) are all still shockingly unique, realistic, weathered, fatalistic and never less than adult. (The DVD cache elides “Seven Men From Now” and “Westbound,” which both had different producers.) Looking at them anew, they remain quietly revolutionary, but, insofar as it matters, the achievement seems to be not only Boetticher’s, but a fortunate meeting of minds between the director, his aging star Randolph Scott, their producer Harry Joe Brown and screenwriters Burt Kennedy and Charles Lang. The films are not notable for directorial flourishes, but for a subtle, cohesive vision of humanity and community. It’s clear that this team was set, within the framework of B-movie westerns, on cleaning out the genre’s penchant for childish, mythic baloney and remaking the western the way it should be, as convincing, minor-key battles between real grown-ups in a more or less lawless landscape.

11112008_thetallt.jpgThe films, of which “The Tall T” and “Ride Lonesome” are the best and the most fully inhabited, stick to skeletal plotlines in which honor and justice are mutable, fragile things; they are as well full of convincing frontier detail (such as the recurring use of the lonely, vulnerable “swing station” outposts for stagecoach lines). The dialogue can be prototypically hokey in some of its details but utterly tough and believable in its textures, density and unmelodramatic understanding. Outlaws (like “The Tall T”‘s Richard Boone and “Ride Lonesome”‘s Pernell Roberts) are rueful bastards who would like a second chance to live normally, while Scott’s ramrod hero is both beaten by a long life and sometimes sadly holding onto his dignity as the last thing on Earth that’s his. Of course, by winnowing away the western’s accumulation of playground ethics and movie-movie reflexes Boetticher and Co. happened to reinvent the western myth in a modern mode, as an existential conflict, where even trivial actions question the point of trying to live a good life, and where time is everyone’s hardest enemy. In the lineage of the western’s profound revitalization in the postwar years, these films raised the bet of the slightly earlier Anthony Mann-James Stewart films, and paved the way for Peckinpah, Hellman and the very idea of an “anti-western,” which is when the genre ceased being just an all-American daydream and became as much a global expression of humanist despair as film noir.

It’s when movies pass from being a litany of mere particulars to being totemic and universal that we swoon for them the most, and few filmmakers made such a point of pride out of the transformation of the specific into metaphor as Ousmane Sembene, who’s most expansive film, “Camp de Thiaroye” (1987), appears finally on video for the first time. A perpetual motion machine of ethical ambiguity and confrontational tension, Sembene’s was one of the first African films to explore contemporary native history, and was the first Pan-African feature produced completely without European technical aid or co-financing — it took nearly 30 years, but with this Algerian-Tunisian-Senegalese co-production, West Africa could truly be said to have its own film industry.

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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.