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Rituals and Royalty from Roberto Rossellini and in Mobile, Alabama

Rituals and Royalty from Roberto Rossellini and in Mobile, Alabama (photo)

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Roberto Rossellini has never been the most accessible of cinema culture demigods — his neo-realist trilogy seems more influential than timeless these days, and his Ingrid Bergman films often feel offhand and crude. In 1962, as critic Colin McCabe recounts in his essay for Criterion’s release of “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV” (1966), Rossellini renounced cinema per se, and promised he would from then on make only historical films for television. It’s these films, in a string that lasted 13 years, that are the hardest to see and the most frustrating; the filmmaker’s perspective grew more inhospitable and pedagogic the more he saw postwar culture slide into amnesiac self-indulgence. But, ironically, this irascibility resulted in a kind of stringency Rossellini never had before; “Louis XIV” may be the least deliberately “passionate” film ever made by an Italian, perhaps partially because it is French.

There’s no underselling the movie’s arid wax museum affect; in detailing the history of the Sun King’s ascension, from the death bed of Cardinal Mazarin (when Louis was 22) to the new monarch’s consolidation of control over a fractious kingdom, Rossellini paints every scene like a shadowless Baroque tableaux, keeping the pacing methodical, shooting in actual Versailles spaces where camera movement was sometimes difficult and instead using zooms to capture entire courses of action without resorting to intercutting. (This extends to off-screen action, which always rolls onward out of view.) The posed iciness that comes of this approach is formidable; it is Rossellini denying cinema’s penchant for easy empathy and illusion, and for the reduction of history to melodrama. “Louis XIV” might be the most realistic historical film ever made: the smells, dire hygiene, dull intervals, waiting, indulgent ritual, petty aristocratic decorum, horrifying lack of knowledge, etc. “History” can take on a gargantuan identity and weight if we let it; Rossellini is cutting it down to size, to just a litany of actions by ordinary, if nauseatingly privileged, men. Here, Versailles and the king’s surroundings are not costume-drama luxury, but a scalding statement all their own about class injustice and state power. In this sense, it forecasts the implicit howl of Sokurov’s “Russian Ark,” even as it immolates the memory of Visconti’s “Ludwig,” also recently DVD-ed.

01202009_louisxiv2.jpgWhat it seems to me Rossellini discovered was the chilled, unpatronizing purity of Bresson, and how correctly it might be applied to history without glorifying it. This approach may arguably have met its Waterloo with the casting of Jean-Marie Patte, a rookie amateur, as Louis. Diminutive and robotic, Patte could not remember his lines, and so his dialogue is read from off-screen blackboards. This is a distracting fact once you’re aware of it, but it also gives the performance a spooky, no-eye-contact detachment that echoes the king’s in his scheming manipulation of other members of court. You could say the upshot is in some senses rather Ed Wood-esque (there’s a stilted, read-only eeriness to some of those performances that’s never been acknowledged), but it’s also quite Bressonian, a distancing, a winnowing away of the inessentials. It is, in any case, a far cry from Anna Magnani and the bad Italian post-dubbing of the middle century. The more exhausted we become with the uninflected ritual, and guileless delineation of rampaging guile, the more Rossellini’s point, about Louis and aristocracy but also about our own impatience with unglamorized historical knowledge, is proven.


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.