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When Hearing “Hallelujah” is No Time to Rejoice

When Hearing “Hallelujah” is No Time to Rejoice (photo)

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There’s no shortage of songs that get overused on the big and small screen, and whether the result of unimaginative hacks or some ill-conceived notion of what audiences want (uninformed hacks), it’s always baffling. Staples like “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Let’s Get It On” and James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” should never be heard in a film again. Then there are songs that have been so overused they should never be heard again, period. Bad to begin with, mindless garbage like “Takin’ Care Of Business” and “Walking on Sunshine” are musical trans fats — artificial, monetized and bad for society, they should be banned as such.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a different sort of song altogether. It’s far from bad, nor is it really a staple that’s overplayed its welcome. In fact, it should be acknowledged, once the mind’s cleared of the cynicism wrought by overexposure, that it’s one of the best folk songs ever penned. That’s precisely why, as a soundtrack choice, it must be earned. It’s a special song that should be brought out only when nothing else on God’s green earth will do. Instead, it’s been used and abused dozens of times in both film and TV, in its original form or in one of the over one hundred cover versions that have been recorded.

The first soundtrack appearance of “Hallelujah” that I can find is in “When Night Is Falling,” a 1995 Canadian film that centers on a lesbian love affair between a literature professor and a hot carny performer. It’s a forgettable cover that takes away all the power of the song and replaces it with a gospel chorus and bongos. A more memorable early use is John Cale’s respectable interpretation in 1996’s “Basquiat.” It should have stopped there, but Cale’s cover was used again in the animated feature “Shrek” (though it was Rufus Wainwright’s version on the album), the Johnny Depp-directed short stuff, and other titles. It’s after this that the primacy of Jeff Buckley’s version arises. The first time I heard “Hallelujah,” it was Buckley’s beautiful voice and melancholy guitar that I fell for. A girlfriend played it for me by candlelight in her bedroom on a cool summer night — a “from your lips she drew the Hallelujah” kind of night. But it seems everyone’s had this same girlfriend and this same unforgettable moment with this song. And even Buckley can’t keep its potency from fading in everything from an episode of “The West Wing” to the Nicolas Cage flick “Lord of War.”

The latest “Hallelujah” shame (and mockery of that once magical evening) is the excruciating moment in which Cohen’s original version of the song scores a sex scene in Zack Snyder’s recent “Watchmen,” which plays out like a bad joke told by a sad clown. Worse, you have to sit there while the sad clown painfully explains the punch line to you when you don’t laugh. I also have to mention the completely unearned “The Sounds of Silence” travesty — Snyder, man, you have to earn Simon & Garfunkel.

This easy payoff/Wall Street approach to film soundtracks where nothing is sacred is all too common. But since it’s poor form to criticize without offering solutions, here are a few suggestions to consider in place of any iteration of “Hallelujah.” Amazingly, none of these have been used before in any film that I can find, or if they have, it was a cover that never should have been made and that’s now totally forgotten. At least hopefully — no one should have to recall Blind Melon’s take on “Candy Says,” as heard in “The Cowboy Way.”

The top 5 songs off my record shelf to use in place of “Hallelujah”:

  • “Candy Says,” The Velvet Underground
  • “Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac
  • “Brother,” Jorge Ben
  • “Never My Love,” The Association
  • “New Partner,” Palace Brothers

There’s another film coming out this week that features “Hallelujah,” though co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson”) use it sparingly in their forthcoming “Sugar.” It’s unnecessary at best in a naturalistic film with an otherwise deftly done soundtrack. It’s certain not to be the last time we hear the song either — I can easily imagine a future with James Franco as a tragic Jeff Buckley singing “Hallelujah” on some moonlit pier. Oh, the mobs of breathless teenagers, it’s inevitable.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com 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….

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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.

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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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