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Jim Jarmusch Pushes the “Limits”

Jim Jarmusch Pushes the “Limits” (photo)

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As filmmaker Jim Jarmusch sits down for our conversation, he pulls out a small notebook filled with what looks like quickly jotted-down ideas during his travels. When I ask about it, he jokes with the same deadpan wit that his movies are known for that they’re his answers to my questions. He then segues to his musician friend and hipster icon Tom Waits, who apparently kept a similar notebook full of topics he wanted to remember to discuss while being interviewed: “So, regardless of the question, he’d say: ‘Do you know there are albino moles living under Las Vegas?'” Since his rise from early ’80s Lower East Side breakout to world-renowned auteur, Jarmusch is still one of the coolest people living in New York.

Also effortlessly chic is “The Limits of Control,” Jarmusch’s first film since 2005’s “Broken Flowers,” in which a sharkskin-suited Isaach De Bankolé stars as an enigmatic, meticulous criminal on an unknown assignment in picturesque Spain. Shot for shot the most gorgeous film of the year thus far (thanks to cinematographer extraordinaire Christopher Doyle), the film is an impressionistic, minimalist art-thriller… but maybe that’s not accurate. The two-espresso-drinking De Bankolé sits in cafés, visits museums, walks around and encounters a bizarre series of contacts (Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, John Hurt) on the way to completing some mission involving Bill Murray’s patronizing businessman. It’s a viewing experience that’s mysterious and fulfilling, cerebral but open to analysis. Jarmusch and I certainly analyzed the film a bit, while occasionally discussing William Burroughs and French poetry, Dick Cheney and naked women. If you’re confused by Jarmusch’s references to “he,” by the way, that would be De Bankolé’s nameless “Lone Man.”

After reading “The Limits of Control,” the William Burroughs essay with the same title, the only direct correlation I could come up with was that you frequently have characters who interact with one another through language barriers.

The Burroughs essay isn’t all that pertinent to the film, although it concerns language as a control mechanism, a very powerful one. But really, I was just lifting the title because I liked it. The essay is interesting, although somewhat out of date due to the web. The way information is disseminated now is quite different than 1975 or whenever he wrote that. More importantly from Burroughs to me are his investigations into coincidence, the cut-up method and using the I Ching. Those things were very important in how this film was created. The essay itself is less directly relevant than some [other] ideas of Burroughs’.

What made me think there was more to it was the end credits, which close with “No Limit. No Control.” That was the only reason I took another peek at Burroughs’ essay.

Well, it’s in there. But this film has an incredible amount of references to other things that are not essential to understanding. I didn’t want to make a film that was mentally taxing. I wanted it to be, not an exercise, but a trip for the audience to be sucked along by, and hopefully be entertaining on some level. The film was structured [so that audiences] accept things as we went along and look for connective layers that would present themselves if you’re open to them.

I don’t know if you know this French school of poetry called Oulipo. Raymond Queneau used a lot of game structures, puzzling things together that are seemingly not connected but then become connected by juxtaposition. Burroughs made a series of incredibly beautiful scrapbooks where he would take things out of the newspaper. He’d find things on the same page that were seemingly unrelated, and yet he’d find something else that connected them. I like Brian Eno’s little Oblique Strategies cards. All those things were inspirations on to construct a film as you go, to some extent. I had all the scenes sketched out, but I hadn’t written the dialogue. We were very open as we went. That makes no sense at all now. [laughs]

04302009_jimjarmusch2.jpgNo, it does. I was enthralled with the film’s peculiar sense of logic. It has these delightful red herrings, and an elliptical sense of both dialogue and imagery that seems just out of reach of concrete meaning. It’s a very human trait to search for patterns in these kinds of elements.

Yeah, and to me, one of the strongest forms of human expression has always been variations on things. The film embraces that, too. A lot of the situations keep repeating, but they’re varied by the place or the person he’s meeting with, or where he’s waiting. It’s just a series of variations, which is in classical music, pop music, fashion, architecture, literature and painting.

At the press screening I attended, a woman behind me kept sighing. I think she was expecting something more to happen, and I wanted to turn around and say, “You’re watching it.” In a film that’s clearly about the moment-to-moment experience but still about the puzzle, how do you strike a balance between giving and withholding?

In this case, one key is the first painting that he goes and looks at, a Cubist painting of a violin by Juan Gris. The film, although not visually referential to Cubism in any other way, is kind of cubistic philosophically or structurally, in that you can look at scenes differently, details differently, details from different perspectives that are all equally valid. The film doesn’t tell you how to interpret anything, really. That was the intention, which I understand — for some people, like that lady — might be frustrating because it’s an action movie with no action. That’s contradictory and frustrating if you’re expecting conventional action, but we’re referencing crime films and action movies in small ways… my big Michael Bay helicopter descending shot, you know? There is no real convention that satisfies those things, although the ending is kind of a convention because he [has to] complete his mission. But even that, what does it mean? It’s amusing to me to hear that people have interpreted some things that I didn’t even think of.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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