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A Film Critic Digs Into His Family’s Slave-Holding Past

A Film Critic Digs Into His Family’s Slave-Holding Past (photo)

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Say it again — there’s a film inside every family, and all you need is the head and heart to find it. (That is, you don’t need to be the cursed Great Neck residents of “Capturing the Friedmans” or “Tarnation”‘s Jonathan Caouette, and in some ways, it’d better for us all if you aren’t.) Film journalist Godfrey Cheshire’s “Moving Midway” (2007) has a deep ditch of historical soil to dig, but it’s not a personal-regional family doc that focuses on dysfunction or tragedy; rather, its position is ironic and aciduously nostalgic. Originally from North Carolina, Cheshire may well be the most universally liked personage in contemporary New York movie critic culture (notoriously a small pond with mean fish; disclosure-wise, he is a friend), and his film comes both bearing an enormous amount of good will and receiving the same. I can’t untie the extra-cinematic humanity from the film’s threads, and there’s something about both Cheshire’s peripatetic friendliness and the film’s unforced congeniality that encourages me not to try.

Foremost, it’s an excavation: the legitimate history of Cheshire’s family runs back to slave-holding days (his great-great aunt, however, decided the bloodline ran back to Charlemagne), and includes an old family plantation, Midway. A relatively new highway and its accompanying suburban sprawl compels Cheshire’s cousin, Charlie, to literally move the sizable manse physically to a more secluded plot, a decision that inspires Cheshire to consider the meaning of the house and its slavery legacy (as well as that legacy’s life in the American consciousness, as Reconstruction pop culture and, later, movies). Then history begins to have its civilized revenge — Cheshire uncovers a post-Civil War interracial coupling that created an entire branch of the family no one knew was there, leading to “one hundred” African-American kin nobody at Midway knew they had, including, most vocally, NYU Africana Studies professor Robert Hinton, whose life and career has hinged on being the direct descendants of slaves.

02172009_MovingMidway_charl.jpgThere’s even a concrete connection to D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” and multiple reports of family ghosts. (One historian points out, fascinatingly, that the Klan uniforms in Griffith’s film were invented for the film, and thereafter provided the template for the revived Klan’s famous ensemble.) Cheshire’s too good a film critic to let his movie slip into didactic political argument, and so there are layers of ambivalence here. In person, Cheshire is plainly moved by his own childhood memories of the house, and by the prospect of it being transplanted, but “Moving Midway,” as a whole, is more temperate, acknowledging but not crowing about the contradiction between accepting the home’s roots as a slavery institution and loving it all the same. (It’s no surprise, for family’s sake, that Cheshire steers clear of saying anything critical of his cousin, whose lavish expenditures and obsession with keeping the house in Reconstruction style suggest exactly the sort of lingering privilege, vanity and self-satisfying conservatism that characterized the rise of the South’s “moonlight and magnolias” vision of itself.) As in last year’s “The Order of Myths,” there’s a sense of the new-millennium South as a place where slavery is now merely a context for explored mutual history, and no longer, finally, a social trauma to be redressed. Even Hinton, as he admits that he’d hoped to hate the descendants of his great-grandfather’s owners, seems to agree.


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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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.