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A Dream-Memory of Patti Smith and a Sharp-Edged Hollywood Farce

A Dream-Memory of Patti Smith and a Sharp-Edged Hollywood Farce (photo)

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The DVD era has been very generous to low-grade biodocs focused on culty, semi-obscure pop wonders — everyone from the Holy Moly Rounders to Roky Erickson, Benjamin Smoke, Townes Van Zandt, Gary Wilson, Joy Division, They Might Be Giants, Scott Walker, et cetera, have received their official, devotional, feature-length eulogy. Graveside homilies they are, too, there’s little point in denying it — for the aging musicians of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s as well as for our long-lost younger selves, now only faint traces of remembered élan, hope and indestructibility. Of course, Patti Smith, like Leonard Cohen and the Ramones (so nicely requiem-ed in 2003’s “End of the Century”), is far from little known, but she still occupies that musty corner of pop legend-dom: more admired than listened to, known for her history more than her songs, aging into a kind of marginal retro-hipness but still not as well-known as she should have been or as many of her imitators actually were. Which is the nature of popular culture — many are called, few are chosen, and virtually none are remembered by a majority once the moment has passed.

I’ve never been a Patti-ite, but my rather picayune musical tastes have little or no relevance in relation to Steven Sebring’s doc “Patti Smith: Dream of Life” (2008), because it is a lovely, enrapturing and wise film that eschews a straight-on biographical timeline, and instead, with Smith’s obvious creative input, evokes a dream-memory of Smith’s life that skips and swoons and dawdles according to private whims. It helps that Smith apparently remembers everything, including the dates she first met people like Robert Mapplethorpe and Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard, and she has also apparently saved everything as well: a good chunk of the movie lollygags around Smith’s cluttered apartment as she unearths childhood dresses and old photographs and tattered objects imbued for her with totemic value (including a handmade Mapplethorpe tambourine). Filming took a solid decade (early on in the montage, Smith quietly declares a strike, and refuses to move from her chair), and reams of archival images are poured in, but what surprises most, and what keeps the film warmly glued together, is Smith herself, who despite her famous grim visage turns out to be a gentle mother, a devoted friend, a loving daughter to her elderly parents (still living in Deptford, NJ), a dedicated artist and a thoughtful person for whom remembrance and aging do not dampen the spirits of the impish girl inside the woman.

There is, always, a good deal of sensible love in the room — Smith off-handedly singing to her windowsill-lounging cat was a highlight of my documentary year. Throughout, life themes subtly emerge: Smith’s haunted relationship, mostly from afar, with Bob Dylan; her mourning the loss of Mapplethorpe and her husband Fred Smith; her hopes for her daughter Jesse, who Sebring reveals to us as a kid and then in one breathtaking cut shows us the young woman she is now, smiling into the camera. But the film will have us understand that Smith’s life is her own, and that the film is a kind of song composed of its parts, and if we’re kept at a certain kind of distance, we are at the same time so close to her that the impulse to brush her shaggy hair aside is almost irresistible. After seeing the film, it’s not surprising that Sebring and Smith decided to forget all about Smith’s 2007 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — there are no landmarks here, and most of the concert footage is recent, celebrating the present only.

01272009_thedeal.jpgIf Sebring’s film is shockingly cynicism-free, Steven Schachter’s “The Deal” (2008) is nothing if not pure, vodkal derision, a manifestation of Hollywood vapidity skewering itself. There’s no shortage of such satires (they date at least as far back as Tay Garnett’s 1937 “Stand-In”), and it’s not invalid to wonder if we need another on the heels of last year’s adaptation of Art Linson’s tell-all “What Just Happened.” (Someone agreed: despite its pedigree, there was no theatrical release for “The Deal” following its premiere at Sundance ’08.) All the same, there’s little else that can so fecundly attract the vengeful wit of industry screenwriters as the very Absurdistan that exploits them and underpays them for content. This bouncy, sharp-edged farce is all inside baseball; its target audience is, to some degree, its own cast and crew. Still, it’s difficult to resist when the purely idiotic is openly mocked by a sure-footed cast of line-readers, led here by William H. Macy (who co-wrote) as a has-been producer who’s saved from suicide by a life-affirming, devilish idea: set up one more impossible, absolutely wrong-headed blockbuster project by exploiting the industry’s own nearsightedness and vanity. “We’re in the entertainment business,” he says early on, “I’m entertaining myself,” and he does this by setting up a biopic of Benjamin Disraeli (using a script he won’t let anyone read, and which he’s constantly hiring writers to revamp) starring an African-American action star (LL Cool J) recently converted to Judaism. Meg Ryan gets a thankless role as an executive bamboozled into making the film (her inevitable romantic entanglement with Macy’s dead-end sleazebag adds to the ignominy), but the dialogue is fast and dead accurate, and of course, the target is a fat, awful, patronizing goldfish in a small bowl, begging to be shot.

[Additional photo:”The Deal,” Peace Arch Releasing, 2008]

“Patti Smith: Dream of Life” (Vivendi Visual Entertainment) and “The Deal” (Peace Arch Home Entertainment) 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.