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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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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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