Won’t Get Fooled Again

Won’t Get Fooled Again (photo)

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Since he emerged out of the psychotronica closet of his first potent but crude features, there have been two fairly distinct David Cronenbergs — the extremist/obsessive who’s been happy to exploit the fleshier anxieties of science fiction and surrealism, and the critic’s darling that sprung up around the time of the still-underrated “Crash” (1996), all the easier to laud for having left the icky aspects of genre behind him. Relative to the psychosexual force on exhibition in “Videodrome” (1983), “The Dead Zone” (1983), “The Fly” (1986), “Dead Ringers” (1988) and “Naked Lunch” (1991), it seems to me that “eXistenZ” (1999), “Spider” (2002), “A History of Violence” (2005) and “Eastern Promises” (2007) are both fairly prosaic and predictable, especially in light of the critical handstands they inspired. It’s not all as cut and dried as that, of course, but it still leaves “M. Butterfly” (1993) lingering, coyly and enigmatically, right in the middle. Cronenberg fans never warmed to this unsensationalized Broadway adaptation, and for theater fans, the film was far too odd, too self-aware, too subtle. Despite producer David Geffen’s highball hopes, it sank without a splash.

Saying “M. Butterfly” fits in with Cronenberg’s docket of ideas, from body horror to identity-versus-perception to cataclysmic sexual confusion, is nothing new, but the film’s replacement of fantasy disorientation with a freakshow true story was. And what a story, rich in double meanings and fractured realities: a French diplomat in 1960s China named Bernard Boursicot was seduced by a male Peking Opera star he believed to be a woman, carried on a years-long affair with him/her (all the while divulging state secrets, which were passed on to the Chinese), and even produced, somehow, a child, and for the length of the relationship the Frenchman never realized he was in love with a man. In Cronenberg’s closed-maze version (though shot on location, the film’s Beijing is made to resemble the Zone from “Naked Lunch”), Jeremy Irons is the diffident, dreamy bureaucrat, and the cross-dressing spy is John Lone, and though they act the devil out of the many dicey scenarios on hand (including the discreet, fully-robed, must-be-anal sex), the casting is both the movie’s ball & chain and its wittiest flourish.

Lone is the stickiness here: never for a moment is he believable as a woman (as opposed, it is said, B.D. Wong on Broadway), even if Cronenberg himself says in the DVD supplements that he worried about Lone’s name in the credits giving the game away.

But Cronenberg knew he wasn’t going for verisimilitude: I remember reading interviews at the time in which he dismissed several authentic drag queens while casting, saying they were too convincing — kinda like Christ’s last temptation, what does the diplomat’s moony ardor and credulity mean if it’s easily fooled, if we all might make the same error? (Cronenberg’s decision to avoid gotchas is so much more interesting than the near-contemporaneous and comparatively banal “The Crying Game,” whose cross-dressing hero didn’t fool me, a straight man, for a second either.) As usual with Cronenberg, there’s a sense of meta-awareness that doesn’t always jump up and say howdy — every one of Lone’s scenes is a defiant essay on otherness, scrambling received notions of femininity, masculinity, Chinese-ness, continental European-ness, even “Orientality,” as Lone’s Chinese man masquerades as a woman singer playing a female Japanese character in an opera written by an Italian man, for a French audience (played by Brits), who mistake him (or see him truly?) as a male Beijing Opera actor traditionally playing the female parts. No wonder Beijing looks like a set. Appearances are everything — as the Maoist students demonstrate outside, burning great piles of traditional dress.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.