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Two From Buñuel, “W.”

Two From Buñuel, “W.” (photo)

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Frankly delighted with human folly, and as fluent as a Symbolist poet with the effortlessly iconic image, Luis Buñuel may have been the greatest filmmaker of cinema’s first century. Certainly, among the ten or 12 unassailable masters of the medium, he’s the wittiest, the least sentimental, the most philosophically imaginative and formally the least self-conscious. At the same time, I’d imagine that many cinephiles on, say, the south side of 30 will wonder what the fuss is about — where are the pyrotechnics, the daring rigor, the innovations, the elevation away from avant-gardish pulp and toward high art? Let’s say this: that Buñuel is among the very few cinema giants you couldn’t in your wildest dreams accuse of pretension (Renoir, Ozu and Bresson are the other three), that Buñuel’s sense of irreverence remains a Swiftian glory of a kind too rarely acknowledged as “art,” and that Bunuel’s surgeon-like evaluation of his audience’s desires and impulses is rivaled only by Hitchcock.

But when it comes down to it, you cannot, I think, authentically appreciate Buñuel without becoming a Buñuelian, without naturalizing to the Doppler shift of his embracing, sardonic perspective. There’s little point in comparing Buñuel’s films to other filmmakers’; you could make the case that, for instance, his “Diary of a Chambermaid” is superior, and funnier, in conventional ways than Renoir’s earlier version, but you’d still be standing outside Buñuelonia, looking in from a practical distance. This is the true meaning of auteurism: confronting the filmmaker’s work as it exists on its own plane, as the undissectable expression of a single artist’s personal force, as we would a Stevens poem or a Pollock painting. Artists, even if they’re film directors, aren’t race horses. If we’re lucky, they manage what Buñuel did: the imposition of their personal spirit onto a medium, creating a singular “vision” or context to which you must adapt, because it will not adapt to you.

02102009_SimonoftheDesert.jpgWe do this because there’s pleasure to be had across that border, the uncut, essential pleasure of art, and of cinema when it’s not made by committee. The Buñuels at hand from Criterion, “The Exterminating Angel” (1962) and “Simon of the Desert” (1965), are beautiful, hilarious, prime Buñuel, on the last legs of his underrated and underexamined Mexico period, before he finally moved to France and became world famous all over again. “Angel” is the less problematic of the two; its outrageous dream scenario (guests to an elaborate dinner party inexplicably cannot leave the dining room, for days and then weeks) is easily accessible and loaded with semi-Surrealist satire. But “Simon” is a different case — if it’s no less a masterpiece, that’s because we know the man behind the camera a little, and we’ve learned from him a distinctive sense of the absurd. The parable-like set-up — for a Spanish filmmaker in Mexico, waist-deep his whole life in medieval Catholicism — is choice: in a mythical Mexican outland, a self-styled ascetic “saint” (Buñuel staple and Mexican institution Claudio Brook) lives atop an enormous pillar in order to demonstrate his selflessness and devotion to God. (The pillar, an “advance” on a more modest one, is provided by an unseen “benefactor” — sanctification is a business, too.)

Unfortunately for Simon, the local peasants and clergy won’t leave him be; recognizing his holiness, they demand sacraments, and with each confrontation, Simon’s piety becomes a little more testy. The crowning moment of duplicity from Señor “I’m an atheist, thank God” Buñuel is the moment when Simon actually performs a miracle, restoring a thief’s severed hands — the newly blessed man and his family instantly, greedily turn on their heels and go home without a glimpse of gratitude or awe, having gotten what they wanted. (Still, the most rancid slams are reserved for the priests, who see their own power base jeopardized by the hapless schmuck on the pillar.) Eventually, of course, the Devil shows up, in the form of luscious Silvia Pinal, to tempt Simon, landing him eventually in a contemporary nightclub, where his brand of monastic dedication has no meaning whatsoever. (Contrary to various readings of this scene — Pauline Kael griped that the pop-boogie decadence is not actually terribly sinful — it’s clear that Buñuel saw rock ‘n’ roll youth culture as a joyous escape from old-world conservatism. The cocktail-&-sex-loving Luis was, after all, no reactionary.) “Simon” is, famously, an unfinished film, clocking in at 45 minutes, the victim of an empty-pocketed producer. But however mitigated by circumstance, as a launch out of Buñuel’s humane-but-acid-soaked brainpan it is life-invigorating, surpassingly lovely (the last Buñuel piece photographed by Gabriel Figueroa) and invaluable. For those of us who have been initiated, undiluted Buñuel morsels are worth their weight in caviar.


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.