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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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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.