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DID YOU READ

“The Wedding Director,” Michael Powell

“The Wedding Director,” Michael Powell (photo)

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Turning 70 this year, Marco Bellocchio has finally attained old-guard respectability, in light of the ironic, seasoned, historically quizzical mastery of “My Mother’s Smile” (2002), “Good Morning, Night” (2003) and now “The Wedding Director” (2006). Notorious here as a mere provocateur (largely thanks to Maruschka Detmers’ half-hearted blowjob in “Devil in the Flesh”), Bellocchio has always seemed young and ready to rumble ever since his 1965 debut “Fists in the Pocket,” fashioned, when he was 26, as a sneak attack on all things Old World Catholic, provincial, late-baroque, aristocratic and traditional. Now, after many darkling family tales and adaptations of Pirandello, Bellocchio has mellowed into a ruminative, absurdist autumnal mood, and “The Wedding Director” is his most sheerly enjoyable film in years. The movie has a pleasantly Rivette-like dimension to it — however much we see, we’re always aware of something unmentioned and mysterious going on at the fringes of the story.

The opening is typical: Elica (Sergio Castellitto) is a famous and successful director in preproduction of yet another adaptation of Alessandro Manzoni’s “The Betrothed,” and the scenes are full of quiet gotchas, actresses acting out their auditions with such abrupt conviction that Elica doesn’t know if they’re “real” or just talented. Then a woman begs to see him, as she’s being chased by police agents of some type; Elica is suspected, but of what? Looking for an escape, Elica flees to Sicily, where his movie-movie world seems to follow him: along with meeting a supposedly dead director who’s hiding out so he’ll receive prizes posthumously, Elica meets a wedding videographer who has the intimidating task of making “a real film!” from the upcoming wedding of a homicidal aristocrat’s daughter. The job defers to Elica, who embraces the unreality of the assignment, as well as the daughter, with whom he falls instantly, movie-ishly, in love…

01062008_weddingdirector2.jpgThough it’s a thoroughly contemporary comedy, Bellocchio beautifully engages that juicy, Godardian-Rivettian slipperiness we’ve come to love so much as a film culture, so that his movie feels less like an objective story we must follow than a wistful conversation we’re having with the director over drinks. Bellocchio winks at us, but gently; we’re never sure how much Elica is “directing,” or how much he’s being directed by the bride’s father (the surveillance at the villa is non-stop), or how much the whole thing isn’t a fictional concoctive window onto Elica’s creative process. (In fact, it’s not unlike a modest, unstructured variation on “Synecdoche, New York,” and a brother film to “My Winnipeg.” In any case, Bellocchio feels free to fold in scenes from the 1923 version of “The Betrothed,” and once you discover that there have been no less than nine adaptations of Manzoni’s book between 1909 and 1990, Elica’s “serious” project seems even more hapless than the private wedding film he opts to make instead — “à la Visconti!” someone cries.) The scenario flirts with Hitchcock, too, but it’s wisely, doggedly funny, and full of ironic character. An actress needs only three seconds of close-up in a Bellocchio film to limn a 3-D character, giving the movies a distinctively inhabited quality. Bellocchio’s primary partner in crime, though, is Castellitto, whose dog-eyed, rumpled, Richard Lewis-y watchfulness is terrific reactive fuel to the film’s absurdities, and, therefore, to the nonsensicality of our own presumed omniscience as film viewers. “The Wedding Director” is, we sense, only a partial record of its own narrative, and the joke’s on us for expecting the messiness of life, or of weddings, or of movies, to be wrapped up into a neat package without secrets.

01062008_amatteroflifeordeath.jpgCertain varietals of grandly gestured cinema inspires crazed, indecipherable, passionate devotion among cinephiles: the films by Welles, Ophüls, Sirk, Leone, Scorsese and Wong, for example, tend to magnetize our nerve endings more than our frontal lobes, and such infatuations often last a lifetime. Of course, Michael Powell belongs on the list; it’s not a question of whether you’re in love with a Powell film, but which one. Cultists stake their ground all over (although how to measure the amperage provided by Emeric Pressburger’s often perversely odd screenplays remains a nagging question), but the more romantic of them steer toward “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946), or “Stairway to Heaven,” as it was titled in the U.S., because it actually involves a stairway — actually an escalator — to Heaven, taken up in the third act by WWII aviator David Niven, who somehow survives his parachute-free mid-battle disembarkment, arrives in England to fall in love with his American radio contact (Kim Hunter), and therein argues with the bureaucracy of Elysium that they should own the cock-up and let him live. As lovely a homefront British movie as was ever made during the war years, the movie strikes a special note of beleaguered, noble stubbornness; Niven’s persona could be read as London-can-take-it pridefulness boiled down to a savory cosmic-love reduction. This release has its eager audience waiting in the wings — an out-of-print 2002 DVD release can be only had on Amazon for $129 or more — as does Powell’s never-DVD’d swan song “Age of Consent” (1969), a surprisingly cheesy riff on the life and work of bohemian artist Norman Lindsay featuring the debut of a relentlessly nude 23-year-old Helen Mirren.

[Additional photos: “The Wedding Director,” New Yorker Films, 2008; “A Matter of Life and Death,” Universal Pictures, 1946]

“The Wedding Director” (New Yorker Video) and “Michael Powell Double Feature: Age of Consent & Stairway to Heaven” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) 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.