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Looking Back at “Dont Look Back”

Looking Back at “Dont Look Back” (photo)

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Watch the world premiere of the latest Bob Dylan music video, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” exclusively at IFC.com.

As if capturing a momentous period in Bob Dylan’s career and crafting one of the best and earliest examples of a major cinematic movement — cinema vérité — with “Dont Look Back” weren’t monumental achievements enough, D.A. Pennebaker began his seminal film with what would be recognized decades later as perhaps the first music video. Ironically, this opening sequence, set to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” is one of several instances in the film where Pennebaker strays from the tenets of vérité: in an overtly staged performance (which in fact was shot in alternate takes in two other locales) with Dylan playing to the camera, the singer/songwriter lets a series of placards do his lip-synching for him. In a wide-legged stance, boards with various lyrics and riffs on lyrics (written out by Allen Ginsberg — who appears loitering in the background — Bob Neuwirth and Donovan, the film’s delectable Dylan frenemy) stacked in his right arm, an affectless Dylan tosses corresponding cards to the ground as his Beat-inflected lyrics fly by.

Shot in one take, the sequence was Dylan’s idea, and despite his manager Albert Grossman’s involvement as a producer of “Dont Look Back,” it’s probably the best if not the only example of the control Dylan was able to exert over the project. Control, of course, or unfettered access, is a vérité director’s lifeblood, and one of the marvelous things about looking at “Dont Look Back” today is the atypically candid (or candid-seeming, but more on that in a minute) portrait we get of an artist who came to guard himself from portraiture almost completely in its wake.

In the spring of 1965, Pennebaker followed Dylan over four days of his tour of England, just as fame was beginning to take its confounding hold on his life and career. The involvement of Grossman, as Richard Goldstein suggested in his 1967 New York Times review, does leave the film open to accusations of leaning toward a “commissioned portrait,” with Pennebaker’s access granted as conditional to flattering this young star on the make. But then Grossman, who’s featured in the film in a couple of unsavory sequences, comes off worse than anyone, and Dylan reveals himself, almost immediately, to be no fan of publicity. One need only revisit the film these years later to confirm that Pennebaker was up to something more.

05102009_Don'tLookBack3.jpg“Dont Look Back” is often cited as a watershed film, though it’s more accurately a well-timed culmination of several of its forerunners, beginning with Robert Drew’s 1960 political doc “Primary” and Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor’s 1962 NFB short “Lonely Boy,” which follows Paul Anka as he attempts to transition from teen to adult performer. “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA,” the Maysles’ 1964 documentary about the Beatles’ arrival in the United States fleshes out the model Pennebaker would use a little further. Combining his subject, an unlikely idol and ambivalent star on whom the mantle of truth-teller and generational prophet had fallen, and the nascent filmic mode of “truth-telling,” whose host of signifiers were all meant to suggest an authentic presentation of “reality,” resulted in its own star-making moment for Pennebaker, who’s worked steadily in film — and often rock documentaries, a genre his film would influence heavily — ever since.

Despite having no overt narrative structure other than “Bob Dylan Tours England,” Pennebaker shot enough film to create a supple, nuanced structure in the editing room. What was innovative about “Dont Look Back” when it was released in 1967 remains so contemporarily, not only because we can now recognize its style as having infected both feature films and television, where hand-held cameras, natural light and locations and unobtrusive, minimal crew has come to connote “reality,” but because so many of the rock documentaries of today can’t match its stylistic invention.

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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.