Astra Taylor Explains the “Examined Life”

Astra Taylor Explains the “Examined Life” (photo)

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To say that the films of 29-year-old documentarian Astra Taylor are thought-provoking is not such a lofty compliment; it’s literally the goal she has in marrying cinema with philosophy. 2005’s “Žižek!” trailed Slovenian psychoanalyst, philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek around the world as he expounded on ideology and made eccentric observations on love, revolution and his own self-critique. Taylor’s latest feature, “Examined Life,” is no less absorbing, an intelligent yet accessible anthology of ideas that sees eight highly influential thinkers of our time (including Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Michael Hardt — and yes, the wild and wooly Žižek) pontificating while taking walks through modern culture. Kwame Anthony Appiah talks cosmopolitanism from inside an airport, Žižek dissects ecology while digging through a garbage facility and Cornel West compares philosophy to jazz and blues while being driven around the streets of Manhattan by the director herself. When Taylor and I met up over coffee in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we discussed the possibility of chatting in the car in which West was filmed, but it was unfortunately being used to sing in by her husband, Jeff Mangum (reclusive frontman of the influential ’90s indie-pop band Neutral Milk Hotel), who also contributed some sounds to the film’s score.

I’m fascinated by your restraint in the film, since you occasionally appear onscreen, but with a far more passive voice than your subjects.

Every time you put yourself in a film you risk things [being] pointlessly narcissistic. Why make something autobiographical that doesn’t need to be? In this project, I perceive myself as an inquisitive voice that’s not necessarily so much identified with Astra as an individual, but taking on the perspective I want the audience to have: questioning but not attacking, and not arguing for its own sake. A lot of philosophy is based on argumentation, so I wanted to break philosophy out of that habit for a bit, give some space to listen, and try to get to the heart of people’s perspectives. It’s something I’m so ambivalent towards — my presence in the film. I haven’t reconciled to it.

Is it seeing yourself on camera that you’re uncomfortable with, as plenty of people are themselves?

No, it’s just when people insert themselves, it’s often gratuitous. At the same time, I made a pact with some of the philosophers in the film that if they were going to appear, I would appear — namely Avital Ronell, Judith Butler and my sister Sunaura. So I already had a certain responsibility to be a presence because their participation was contingent on that. Perhaps it’s more honest because it’s not an objective portrait of philosophy today as you might discover in philosophy departments. It’s absolutely not that. This is a film that focuses on ethics, human vulnerability and interdependence. These are things I’m interested in, so they’re highly personal, I suppose.

02192009_examinedlife.photo.jpgSo let’s get personal. What’s your philosophy on philosophy? Why is it so important to you?

This project is sort of appropriate to my personality. Even as a kid, I was always wrestling with the world. I had this magazine [as a child], “Kids and Animal Rights and the Environment.” I was already reading Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation” and different books, especially on animal rights, which brings you into ethics and moral issues. My question at that time was: What are the mechanisms through which adults brainwash children into eating other animals? [laughs] How is this reinforced in culture, and the bullshit children’s books you get about the happy farm? I was investigating ideology, so that’s the motivation. I have some sort of vision of a more just world in my mind. I’m wondering why other people don’t agree with me, and why my values seem so out of step. This is the thing about being raised in a strange bohemian family; you’re out of step with everyone else, and you wonder, “Why are we so odd?”

It’s just something I’ve always done and gotten enjoyment out of. Questioning things, thinking about how we ought to live, how we could arrange society in a more equitable way. I also have a strong educational philosophy that’s rooted in my experience of being “unschooled,” being home-schooled but with no curriculum, no schedule. Your parents don’t play the role of teachers but maybe facilitators. When you’re unschooled, the world is your classroom, and it’s all about experiential learning: by doing, at your own pace, and on your own time.

Gigi Rotblum, Ricky – Photo Credit: Adam Rose/IFC

Cooking With Gigi

5 Ways to Prepare For Tonight’s Gigi Does It and Become a Culinary Expert

Get in the kitchen with Gigi Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

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It’s Monday, so you know what that means: Break out the turquoise eye shadow and bedazzled sweater! Tonight’s all new Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT will keep you charged for the rest of the week. But before you forge headlong into septuagenarian hilarity, here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode.

1. Brush up on your culinary skills.

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According to Gigi, every dish should be prepared with a lotta love and a little bit of lust. But be sure to keep the ecstasy to a minimum and all bodily fluids outside the pot.

2. Experience the Great White North’s signature dish.

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French fries, cheese curds and gravy — poutine is a delicacy that isn’t for everyone. Love it or hate it, you should have at least a few bites if you want to be considered a true Canadian.

3. Whip up some “special” cookies.

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Competition is fierce when Gigi and her friends vie for the affections of eligible bachelor Melvin. Cookies are always a good idea to win someone’s heart — particularly if they’re baked with love and a little “extra” ingredient.

4. Watch the video Facebook doesn’t want you to see.

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Deemed “Too Hot for Facebook,” this montage of Gigi-isms removes the bleeps and blurs for a raw, NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

5. Crack open Gigi’s book.

Gigi Does It Book Cover

Like most seniors, Gigi knows how little appreciation grandparents receive from their grandkids. Which is why the saucy old broad penned a children’s book reminding today’s youth to call their dear grandmothers. Give it a read here.

Nightmare on Elm Street IV

Ready for Freddy?

Take the Ultimate Nightmare on Elm Street Movie Quiz

Spend Halloween with an all day Nightmare on Elm Street marathon on IFC.

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Freddy Krueger first grabbed America’s attention with the Nightmare On Elm Street films – and later grabbed cash with a TV series, a Nintendo game, a 1-900 number, toys, dolls, a board game and a pinball machine. But despite the corny spin-offs, the Elm Street movies left psychic scars on a generation of horror fans. Before you catch IFC’s Nightmare on Elm Street movie marathon this Halloween, see how well you know the Freddy films.


Marc Maron – Maron, Gallery Art – Photo Credit: Katrina Marcinowski / IFC.

WTF with Bob & David

Listen to Bob Odenkirk and David Cross Talk Comedy With Marc Maron

Todd Margaret returns January 7th at 10P on IFC.

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For fans of Todd Margaret and Better Call Saul, this week’s episode of WTF with Marc Maron is mandatory listening.

Bob Odenkirk stopped by Marc’s garage to talk about his new Netflix show W/ Bob and David. Not content to have one of comedy’s new legends on hand, Marc got David Cross on the phone so the duo could talk about working with the Mr. Show gang once again on the new project, Bob’s work on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and more. David also dropped some hints about the third season of Todd Margaret, which he calls “quite different” and Bob dubs “mind-blowing.”

Listen to Bob and David on the latest episode of WTF below, and be sure to catch the return of a very, very different Todd Margaret when season three premieres January 7th at 10P on IFC. You can also catch up on seasons one and two of Todd Margaret on Netflix and on IFC this Thanksgiving during our Sweatsgiving Marathon.

Who is Todd Margaret? Find out below.

Want more Todd? Check out the season three trailer below.

Catch up on seasons one and two of Todd Margaret right now on Netflix.


The Future Is Funny

The 10 Funniest Sci-Fi Comedies

Happy Back to the Future Day!

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Often covering heady concepts like philosophy and tragic social norms, science fiction is always in danger of being too dry and dour for its own good. However intelligent and astute the observations may be, if the themes don’t align with the tone, the end results could be a slog to watch. Sometimes we just want laughs to accompany aliens, time travel, and dystopian futures. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of sci-fi comedies that perfectly pair humor and futuristic wonder into a delightful package.

Here are 10 such sci-fi comedies that deserve a play when you need cheering up.

10. Repo Man

A staple in the cult film pantheon, Repo Man throws a punk-rocking Emilio Estevez into the bizarre world of car repossession set against a backdrop of a slightly-more-dystopian version of Los Angeles. Featuring veteran weirdo Harry Dean Stanton, a Chevy Malibu with aliens in the trunk, and a thumbnail philosophy centered around a hypothetical plate of shrimp, this midnight movie is a must-watch for those who are sick of boilerplate plotlines.

9. Night of the Comet

If you ever watched Valley Girl and thought it could use some zombies, then Night of the Comet is for you. This unfairly forgotten gem pits two mall-obsessed sisters against undead stockboys, bloodthirsty soldiers, and healthy teenage hormones in a post-apocalyptic land straight out of Omega Man. With tongue firmly in cheek, Night of the Comet is a fun and cheesy sci-fi comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

8. They Live

Written and directed by genre king John Carpenter, They Live is a hilariously over-the-top treatise against commercialism, government control, and religious zealotry. The movie stars the sadly late (and never-better) Roddy Piper as migrant worker Nada who finds a special pair of sunglasses that reveal a world choked with subliminal consumerist messages and humanoid aliens. It’s endlessly quotable with a ridiculous yet valid message and contains the best street fight ever captured on film.

7. Idiocracy

If you’ve read the comment section for an article on the Kardashians, energy drinks, or the state of our educational system, then you’re probably familiar with Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Depicting a future where every American institution has crumbled due to wanton stupidity, average bloke Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) becomes an Einstein among the mentally challenged and humanity’s last hope for survival. Like Judge’s Office Space, Idiocracy achieved cult status after a mismanaged theatrical release. It was also oddly prescient.

6. Innerspace

Endless charm and eye-popping special effects rev this high-energy, high-concept Joe Dante sci-fi comedy. Basically a goofball version of Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace injects a minuscule bio-pod piloted by Dennis Quaid into a neurotic Martin Short and propels them into the dangerous scientific underworld of nanotechnology supremacy. Quaid and Short — along with Meg Ryan, Robert Picardo, and Kevin McCarthy — are fun personified in this rollicking, rewatchable classic.

5. Galaxy Quest

Unfairly derided as “Three Amigos in space,” Galaxy Quest is actually one of the most accurate depictions of sci-fi tropes and geek fandom ever produced. A thinly veiled satire of the original Star Trek series, the ensemble comedy tackles everything from fan conventions to space-based MacGuffins, but does so with an unmistakable love for the genre.

4. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Movie concepts don’t come any higher: A lovable pair of wannabe rock gods travel through time in a phone booth to assemble historical figures as a means to pass their history final and unite the planet through music. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are an effusive duo you can’t help but love, George Carlin as their time-guide Rufus is perfectly cast, and the moral message (“Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes!”) should be a real-world Golden Rule.

3. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

With a running time of 75 minutes and lacking a second “Mad” for loonier interplay, MST3K: The Movie is considered a lesser entry when compared to the television series. However, Mike and the Bots are in top form when mocking the sci-fi flick This Island Earth — Interocitor assembly and alien foreheads have never been richer for riffs — and any fan of the show would be remiss to skip the film.

2. Tie: Ghostbusters and Men in Black

It doesn’t get any more quotable than Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the titular spectre-snatching quartet. At its core, this beloved treasure follows the hardships of a new fringe business as it tries to find a reliable customer base. But add supernatural elements, and Ghostbusters becomes a perfect blend of comedy, sci-fi (those proton packs wouldn’t be out of place on Star Trek) and the occult. Every line in every scene is a bona fide classic, rightfully earning the film its place among other worn-out VHS tapes in our collection. Meanwhile, Men in Black channels Ghostbusters with its mix of comedy, sci-fi and creepy creature-based bureaucracy.

1. Back to the Future

Arguably the best matchup in a comedy film, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are absolutely perfect in this 1985 favorite. Back to the Future features Fox as a time-traveling teen sent back 30 years whose existence is in jeopardy when his 17-year-old mother falls in love with him and his father is too shy and weak-willed to pursue her. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay and spending 11 weeks at number one in the box office, Back to the Future is the rare mix of audience appreciation and critical acclaim — not to mention comedy and sci-fi.

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