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DJ Spooky Witnesses a “Rebirth”

DJ Spooky Witnesses a “Rebirth” (photo)

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A prolific artist and writer, Paul D. Miller is still best known under his “constructed persona” as the experimental trip-hop musician DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid. Miller’s latest multimedia project could begin classifying him as a film director, sort of, as his “Rebirth of a Nation” is a feature-length remix of D. W. Griffith’s seminal yet blatantly racist 1915 Civil War epic “Birth of a Nation.” Applying a similar methodology to what he does as a sampling, manipulating DJ, Miller’s deconstruction of the original film has been hyper-colorized, with digital effects added, its previously silent soundtrack reinvented musically (aided by the Kronos Quartet) and politically (via Miller’s eloquent commentary running throughout). I spoke with DJ Spooky himself earlier this month to mix it up about the (former) white man’s world, who owns memory and why he wants to collaborate artistically with Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and Dubya himself.

Can you remember back to your first viewing of “Birth of a Nation,” and your initial reaction?

I saw it back in college. It was hard to take seriously: “What the hell is going on with this?” It’s usually taught [to be] looked at as a historical document. I went to a small school in Maine, Bowdoin College. We were in the middle of nowhere, so we had a lot of free time on our hands. I got a chance to do quite a bit of reading and watching crazy, quirky films. When I saw it in the ancient early ’90s, as a young plebe at Bowdoin, it was surreal. Here is this heavyweight film, but what’s all the controversy about? It seemed like a comedy show.

You’ve said that “Birth of a Nation” set the tone for the country. Is cinema so powerful that it could keep up a momentum of prejudice for several decades?

Absolutely. It’s funny, right now, [with the] Sonia Sotomayor nomination, the Republican right is frothing at the mouth. They’re saying she’s like the KKK without the hoods. It’s wildly hypocritical, saying she’s racist. [laughs] It doesn’t stop with the Republicans, they’re like characters straight out of “Birth of a Nation.” That was the first film to really show how deeply flawed elections are. It’s also the first film to show a black person getting elected to the highest office of the land, so the resonance with contemporary culture is very direct. I’m looking at Obama versus these Gingrich-types as an update of the similar narrative.

You can’t say “Birth of a Nation” set the tone without looking at what the actual tone was. [There was] the restructuring of American culture after the Civil War, and a century-plus of deep racial unease in the American psyche. If you look at the beginnings of American pop culture, it’s the minstrel show, whites in blackface caricatures, saying nonsensical stuff, but immensely popular. Whether it’s the Beastie Boys or the Rolling Stones, it’s still a similar narrative, just updated and remixed. I’m not saying these guys are KKK, but the idea is their appropriation of racial politics through this prism of entertainment and mass media.

06222009_RebirthofaNation.jpgMinorities are expected to be the U.S. majority by 2050, and Obama’s our chief executive. Is it still a white man’s world?

What is “white”? I think we need preservation. “Whiteness studies” is quite intriguing right now. [laughs] If you’re an American growing up, you’re going to be bombarded by hyper-multi-cultures: your family going to a Japanese restaurant, your mother doing yoga. The bigoted Archie Bunker stereotype, that’s pretty remote to most people, but the power and economic dynamics of whiteness are clearly defined. It’s the self-entitlement that Bush… he doesn’t represent all of white America, but [those] easily subdued by these breathtakingly incompetent idiots. Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton. Bush graduated with a D-minus average. [laughs] But he was on cruise control. Nobody questioned his intellect, in the Republican camp at least. Maybe whiteness right now is about strange insecurities popping up, or neuroses about becoming a minority? Whites, on the planet, are a minority — the majority of the human species is Asian, then black and Latino.

I like your idea of the director as DJ, but with this project, I even see you as an essayist. I’d be curious to hear you expound on that idea, and what it means for future projects.

Most of my work is about this idea of looking at texts. I’m very interested in how we tell stories in the 21st century. Don’t forget, 2004 was the last major election cycle before YouTube. I really think that YouTube, if it had been around, would’ve changed the dynamic of how the Republicans [circulated] disinformation.

DJ culture is an amazing way of getting information out. It’s telling an underground narrative, something that says “You are the media generator.” You’re not receiving mass media, you’re producing it. That’s turned the whole media landscape on its head. You’re going to be seeing a lot more people pulling bits and pieces from the media, and making compelling statements from collage. It’s this blender of all the data around us.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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