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Paul H-O on Cindy Sherman’s March

Paul H-O on Cindy Sherman’s March (photo)

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A poignant charting of one man’s course through the art world of the 1990s and early 2000s, “Guest of Cindy Sherman” is also a meditation on the relationship its subject and director Paul H-O began with that world’s queen, the artist referred to in the title. The psychic kin of personal documentaries like Ross McElwee’s “Sherman’s March,” “Guest” (co-directed byTom Donahue) begins with a fairly simple premise — the host of cable access show “Gallery Beat” strikes up a bond with the elusive Cindy Sherman and is swallowed by her soignée circle — that splinters off into subsets when the relationship, perhaps compromised by the film itself, begins to break down. Using “Gallery Beat”‘s extensive archives, interviews with a wide range of art scene players and H-O’s indefatigable analytical re-con efforts where his relationship is concerned, the film captures a booming and perhaps decadent period in New York’s art world. While H-O admits that his doc played a part in ending his relationship with Sherman and may have even tainted the relationship that followed (“She wasn’t crazy about my making a film about my ex-girlfriend,” he says), it’s also responsible for one of the most fruitful and edifying collaborations of his life, with Donahue. Within it, ironically, he finally got the chance to explore what it means to be fully himself. I spoke with him recently about breaking up and moving on and whether it was all worth it.

The theatrical release of the film seems like the end of a pretty long road for you; it’s been a number of years now that you’ve spent essentially pondering the terms of your relationship with Cindy Sherman. Most people want to get as far away from an ex as possible after a break-up — did you have any idea what you were getting into when you started this project?

Oh hell. If I could divine that kind of thing I’d be down in the South Pacific right now, doing my thing.

But was there a point in the process, say, when the relationship started to break down, where you had to either stop or decide to continue on? And were you aware of the risks you were taking by continuing the project? You basically decided to move through your grieving or healing process knowing that you couldn’t really get away from the person you were grieving, that can’t have been an easy decision.

When I take on a project — and this project is of a much larger magnitude than I had previously obligated myself to — it’s like a runaway train. It’s going down a track and it’s very hard to stop, let’s put it that way. Once the production became real, we got investments, we had obligations. We have a lot of people who put their time, brains and effort into this project. When you have a lot of support for what you do, it tends to reinforce what you’re doing. I’m not the kind of person who quits, and I knew I had something that was really good. The project works and it worked through thick and thin, and even though Cindy and I broke up around halfway through the process of making the film, I mean, [ruefully] it gave us an end we never imagined we would have. I laugh about it, because what else could I do — there was misery, of course, as well — but part of me was like, ‘Well, I certainly solved that problem.’ The ending answers a lot of questions about the relationship, even though people always have more questions than we have answers for. I think the best thing for a person to have when a film ends is more question marks, rather than complete closure.

03252009_GuestofCindySherman3.jpgBut because you did shoot for so long and over such a tumultuous period, how and when did it become clear to you that the film — and not just the relationship — was over? When did you know to stop shooting?

The break-up gave us the end as a concept, but it’s true, that was not the end of the story. We knew that there was a real end point to the relationship — of course, there was a small part of me that was hoping that, who knows, maybe there’d be a turnaround point at some later time, and she would realize that I was better than the rest of them [chuckles]. But so far, David Byrne is still keeping things alive. Those bitches can get dressed up and go out, [dramatically] I don’t care! I’m moving on, that’s what I’m doing.

I met Tom back in 2003 and I showed him some of the material that I had, around the time that I had my “guest of Cindy Sherman” moment [as H-O discovered was his title on a place setting when he was still seeing her]. Tom and I had a film love at first sight kind of thing. He liked the material that I showed him very much and he didn’t know that much about art, but as a documentary filmmaker, he was adept at researching and becoming an expert on his subject. And I had a whole lot of material on that subject, which was the art world of the 1990s and leading into the 2000s. I have so much trust in Tom’s ability to carve a story out of [everything] I supplied. It’s definitely the closest collaboration that I’ve ever been involved with — we don’t have to talk much anymore about what we want to do. Things are pretty well understood.

You must have had a lot of support to keep you going.

We always knew that we had something that people felt pretty passionately about. [“Harlan County U.S.A.” documentarian] Barbara Kopple encouraged me to do this movie from the time I said, “You know, I’m thinking about doing a movie,” in the elevator — we live in the same building. I did this monologue [about being enveloped in Sherman’s shadow] and she came and she said, “You’ve got to do this movie.” And when someone like Barbara Kopple says that, you do it.


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.