Drawing Out Memory

Drawing Out Memory (photo)

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Nobody saw it coming — the most unique film of 2008-09 was a head-shaking Israeli fugue between social documentary and digital animated epic. Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” is also a direct address of a modern atrocity Americans have all but forgotten, if they knew about it at all: the Sabra and Shatila refugee massacre of 1982, the politics of which were perhaps always a little too tangled to suit American news media. But, anyway, can a documentary be animated? The moment you create a film frame by frame, how close could it be to even a historical truth?

Folman’s movie, heralded around the globe but still underseen, is all about contradictions — its textural craziness corresponds eloquently with the knotted ethical dilemmas at the story’s core. The movie comes at you like a lysergic drug that targets your optic nerves: from the opening, as we zoom along at ground level with a pack of ravenous, fanged dogs running through the Tel Aviv streets under a stormy yellow sky, drawn and animated with high-contrast, nightmarish surreality, it’s clear that “Bashir” looks and feels unlike any other film. It’s difficult to pin down exactly how the film was manufactured — cartoonish, digitally fluid, painterly and journalistic, all at once — and the disarming visual tide of it is enough to brand it upon your brain. As a subjective portrait of the hallucinogenic experience of war, it’s poetic and expressive in a brand new way.

The dogs are part of a dream — the dream of an Israeli soldier who, years earlier amid the invasion of Lebanon, couldn’t shoot people and so was given the thankless task of shooting watchdogs instead, all 26 of which hunt him in his sleep. The soldier is just one compatriot sought out by Folman, who, 25 years after serving in the army and being present for the ’82 massacre, cannot remember a thing about it. So he interviewed friends from that time, and friends of friends, to find out what happened and, by extension, why he’s suppressed the memories. The interviews, transformed after the fact, became the baseline of the film, as animated versions of very real people speak with an animated Folman about the invasion and the heady, Menachem Begin-led days of Israeli empowerment.

Most of Folman’s film is comprised of those reminiscences, vividly captured in a dazzling, almost exhausting cataract of visual invention. The tableaux — entire landscapes scorched by bombings, a downed pilot’s sea-lost hallucination of a giant naked woman, an international airport wrecked and abandoned after an aerial attack, a lingering stream of blood running from the back door of an armored vehicle — could hardly have been rendered so energetically, or indeed rendered at all, in a modestly budgeted live-action film. Points of view are always shifting, time frames meld, what the soldiers think they saw supplants the reality.

06232009_WaltzWithBashir2.jpgMemory cannot be photographed, after all. But it can be drawn, or puppeteered. Folman’s own recurrent dream image is of fiery lights falling softly from the night sky; they’re remembered by various characters as rocket fire and a meteor shower, but only later do we (and Folman’s avatar) understand what they actually were: flares the Israeli soldiers shot to illuminate the sky above the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, passively allowing the Christian Lebanese Phalangists to carry out their bloody work. (The history behind the incident scans like a typical escalation catastrophe: after Israel had invaded in 1982 in order to assault PLO strongholds, the Christian militia leader (and Israel schmoozer) Bashir Gemayel was narrowly elected prime minister of Lebanon, then quickly assassinated by Syrian operatives. Two days later, Gemayel’s Phalangist militias, with the cooperation of the occupying Israelis, slaughtered 2,000 Palestinian refugees, an act that dwarfed the PLO’s car bombings in every way and drew international scorn. There’s the waltz: the Israeli army (all young, naïve conscriptees) hovered close but did not touch, leading but otherwise merely following the proscribed dance steps.)

After seeing too many recent Israeli films (including quite a few good ones) that waffle about the Israeli-Palestinian question, and that too often adopt a “Crash”-like, can’t-we-just-get-along centrism, “Bashir”‘s attempt to mediate a howling sense of cultural guilt came as a surprise to me. Folman won’t let us, and his Israeli audiences, miss the point: the climactic chunk of the film reverts to stock footage of the dead refugees (including children’s body parts jutting out of rubble, exactly as discussed by the animated characters earlier), and it’s a thundering exclamation point to an already searing experience.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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