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Lost in Found Footage

Lost in Found Footage (photo)

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A paradigmatic New York indie of the kind that cannot be accused of star-slumming or dependie bloat, Azazel Jacobs’ “Momma’s Man” tells an incremental tale of modern regression, and as such it is patient and stinging. Mikey (Matt Boren), a flabby thirtysomething man of undefined profession, gets laid over in New York and bunks in his aging parents’ loft instead of waiting at the airport. At least we’re told so — the next day Mikey invents a few more excuses to linger in the house in which he grew up instead of going home to his wife and child in California. The days pass, his enabling mother (Flo Jacobs, the director’s mother) caters to him sympathetically (her priceless first note left at the breakfast table tells him there’s cereal, there’s fruit, “put fruit in the cereal”), his distant father (Ken Jacobs, Azazel’s father) wonders silently what the hell’s going on, and Mikey slips semi-consciously off the grid, rummaging through his old toys and comics, erecting a battery of lies to all concerned so he can simply avoid returning to adult life. It’s a crafty variation on a pungent contemporary theme (only recently have filmmakers considered the middle-class husband/father surreptitiously on the run from his responsibilities, and they’re at it now with a vengeance). Jacobs adroitly connects the impulse to vanish with the desire to regress into youth, and Boren underplays the breakdown perfectly, knowing that Mikey is lying to himself every moment as well.

But there’s more to “Momma’s Man,” more ambivalence and context, than a plot summary suggests. Ken Jacobs, of course, is one of the founding figures of modern American experimental film, an influence on Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Ron Rice, Robert Nelson and many more, and remains, in his 70s, a prolific and restless visionary. He has, over the last 20 years or more, been exploring the meaning of images by subjecting found footage to his “Nervous System” shows, which involve a dueling pair of projectors manually controlled by the filmmaker. Likewise, the home featured in “Momma’s Man” is the real Jacobs homestead, a massive downtown labyrinthine warehouse packed with artstuff, effluvia, plywood partitions, endless boxed archives, old toys, film editing equipment, improvised electrical wiring, convex store mirrors and so on. You can only wonder what it was like to grow up in this gargantuan curiosity shop, and it’s no surprise that Jacobs fils realized his familial crib was in fact a giant, natural movie set, no less fecund and seductive than the basement of Xanadu and evoking all sorts of eccentric history.

In fact, it creates a bizarre particularity around Mikey’s unexpressed psychological balancing act — how has a childhood spent within the collection-obsession orbit of one of the greatest found-footage filmmakers shaped him? (In the movie, Jacobs pere essentially plays Ken Jacobs, and works on Jacobs’ projects.) Does Azazel Jacobs avoid this question (Mikey is conceived as a kind of schlubby everyman, while Azazel is a safety-pin-eared indie moviemaker), or does he simply consider his family and home to be unexceptional? The anxiety of influence is seeping up through the water table: Ken Jacobs’ father figure is a quiet, reticent observer to the film’s narrative crisis, but one look around that maniacal workshop-catacomb tells us he’s the family’s and the home’s defining force, and hardly a marginal player, like so many fathers who go away to work each morning and return only peripherally involved with what’s been going on at home all day. Certainly, theirs couldn’t have been an orthodox, placid father-son relationship.

05102009_Momma'sMan2.jpgWhat’s more, you get the sense that much of what Mikey does while skirting his bourgeois existence — read, doodle, daydream, try to make sense of the past, idly experiment with making stuff — is what Jacobs pere has in effect done his whole artistic life, albeit with driving ambition. (He certainly has avoided being a member of the bourgeoisie.) Mikey’s sole evidence of creativity is a song he wrote in high school after getting dumped (the chorus begins “Fuck Fuck You”), and when he gives it a go on his old guitar, Ken Jacobs pipes up from somewhere, “Please play quieter!” Whatever documentary anxiety we may sense in “Momma’s Man,” it’s obvious too that Azazel is a wise explorer of his own world — he dares to include on the DVD a new short by his father, “Capitalism: Child Labor” (2006), which optically prints-dissects-hyperventilates a short piece of early-century footage of children at work in a thread factory, and in 14 dazzling minutes puts most of last year’s features to shame.

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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.