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Classic Status

Classic Status (photo)

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The critical work on the American New Wave, it seems, has only just begun — Robert Altman still gets a free skate (who thinks “M*A*S*H” is worthwhile anymore?), Hal Ashby has been sanctified, but Alan J. Pakula has not, and Robert Aldrich’s contributions to the decade are forgotten, while the proper canonization of the films of Monte Hellman and Barbara Loden’s “Wanda” is paperwork still waiting to be filed, and the few fascinating films Peter Fonda directed are still cinema non grata. The era’s propensity for desperate road travel, dusty realism and pitiless narrative makes it the match for the meaning of film noir, but as yet it seems more critical and academic thought has been devoted, generally, to “Blade Runner” and “E.T.”, to the least of Hitchcock’s films and to the oeuvre of David Fincher. There’s still so much that’s left out of the discussion — for example, the ’67-’77 period’s genuine, humanizing and startling passion for American subcultures, be they road racing, bar life, cockfighting, country music, grunt military life, farming, moonshining, surveillance work, construction, beauty pageants, Little League baseball and so on. For a span, a very real America thrived on movie screens, a nation we’d never seen before on film, and for that alone the era should be reexamined.

But there are recent glimmers of regard in the murk, not the least of which is Criterion’s feting of Peter Yates’ all but forgotten crime ballade “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973), a film that seemed to coast on post-“French Connection” vibes and affection for the weathered mountainside that Robert Mitchum had become in middle age, but which at the same time was never taken seriously by critics, and disappeared without much ado. (I was too young in ’73, but my “Godfather”-loving mother saw it, Mitchum-ophile that she was and still is.)

Yates’ film, based on a virtually-all-dialogue novel by George V. Higgins, is hardly a thrillathon in the car-chase days of “Bullitt,” “The French Connection,” “The Parallax View” or “The Seven-Ups.” But its elusive stasis is what makes it remarkable. The story is structured almost completely as a series of secret, mano-a-mano backroom discussions, each unfailingly placed in a grungy urban locale of exactly the sort in which no one ever shot movies even five years earlier. Mitchum, lugging himself around like an old bulldog, is Coyle, a petty Boston crook with an extra set of broken-finger knuckles, trying to at least appear to go straight even as he contemplates ratting on one of his associates to get out of a felony stint he has to face in New Hampshire. At the same time, he buys guns from Steven Keats’ high-strung young runner, while a motley crew of bank robbers enjoy a holdup spree, and we’re more than an hour in before we’re clear on the connections between the two threads. Likewise, Peter Boyle’s bartender-snitch-confidant is also an offhand hitman, Alex Rocco’s bank robber may be the only straight-shooter in sight, and Richard Jordan’s turtlenecked fed oozes the moral compromise of all authority. In a dance of veils, the story reveals itself — we thought it was how Coyle would wriggle free and begin again (because it’s clear he wishes to), but then we slowly understand it’s a tale of Coyle’s inevitable doom.

05182009_EddieCoyle2.jpgYou have to admire the film and its elusive, elliptical set of nuts, and for Victor Kemper’s classic early-’70s cinematography, all burned-out windows, endless shadows and chilled Boston aura, and the actors all bring their real deals to the table, Method or no Method. Still, Yates is no Cassavetes or Lumet, and his film suffers from a tentativeness and an occasional urge toward unnecessary jazziness. (Honestly, Dave Grusin’s brass-blast soundtrack, which couldn’t have been cool even in 1973, does irrevocable damage to the movie’s sotto voce mood.)

In fact, there’s something about “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” that makes us want to love it more, to perceive it as a slightly richer, slightly more convincing dark night of the soul than it really is. (A credit goes, I think, to the irony-redolent title, one of the subtlest and most curious of the decade.) But the bar is high for the early ’70s by now, and the middle-shelf pillars of the age’s aesthetic deserve Criterionizing as well as any Japanese classic or French New Waver. As it is, the disc’s booklet comes with both an essay by Kent Jones (telling the perhaps tall tale of Rocco’s Boston gangster days), and a full reprint of the 1973 Rolling Stone profile of Mitchum and his co-stars by New Journalism bad boy Grover Lewis, who did the on-the-set magazine article like no one before or since, and who worked in the day when movie stars were real people giving no two shits about what reporters heard them say.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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