Back from the Grave

Back from the Grave (photo)

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One of the world’s great film culture apostates, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg is mostly notorious for the seven-hour-plus 1977 film “Our Hitler,” and for Susan Sontag’s rocket-to-Mars essay, ambitiously praising it to the heavens, and for being the most recalcitrant of the New German Cinema’s unholy four (with Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog).

Finally, two of his famous earlier films have been released on video to contextualize that later behemoth, “Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King” (1972) and “Karl May” (1974), the three of which supposedly comprise a “German trilogy.” Syberberg hardly seems disposed to ever make films about anything else, and it’s an unassailable career project, especially in light of the last decade or so of Holocaust movies produced in Germany and elsewhere, which have tried to straitjacket and even romanticize the horrifying mystery of German culture’s evolution.

Syberberg has always regarded it as a monstrous enigma, and his movies reflect his position in every frame. But the man does not make “movies” as we normally define them — Syberberg’s films are friezes, poised tableaux expressing German social anxiety with stockpiles of evidence. Syberberg makes movies the way Charles Foster Kane collected artwork. Forever roping in the poisoned spirit of Wagner and Nazism, the films are not dramatic but dissertative, dreamily and endlessly questioning and never daring to answer.

The two earlier films are not nearly as gigantic — “Ludwig” is, in fact, a solid hour-and-a-half shorter than Visconti’s “Ludwig,” and “Karl May” just pokes past three hours total. Still, neither is a breeze to confront — Syberberg comes at his historical inquisitions from an angle, and “Ludwig” dallies as much with the infamous monarch’s narcissistic biography as it does with Jarman-esque camp, Wagnerian kitsch, nude girls, 19th century graphics (projected as background sets), cabaret shtick, children with mustaches, stuffed swans, etc. — all of it assembled and explored on a proscenium stage that recalls Méliès in more ways than one. Fairly tongue-in-cheek, “Ludwig” is more like an epic carny sideshow orchestrated by a guilty Teutonic madman than a film, and stands as the definitive precedent of Syberberg’s exhausting Hitler film.

“Karl May” is different — its baroque warehouse-stage shenanigans are kept to a minimum, and instead, Syberberg ruminates on the legacy of the titular writer, a kind of hyper-popular, turn-of-the-century pulp mashup in Germany of Robert E. Howard and Jack London, who specialized in American Indian stories and pretended to have first-hand knowledge of primitive cultures. Inspired and emboldened by May his whole life, Hitler may’ve been the author’s biggest fan, and so May’s fate (here played out against and intertwined with a series of late-in-life lawsuits with which he struggled) appears permanently entangled with the fate of Germany as a whole.

10192009_KarlMay.jpgProbably the most conventional of Syberberg’s features, “Karl May” is almost an ordinary period film, shot in genuine locations. But there’s a dagger up its sleeve: the cast is almost entirely made up of German industry vets who worked on films for and under the Third Reich, including director Helmut Käutner (as May), “Caligari”‘s Lil Dagover, Kristina Söderbaum (star of, among other Nazi films, “Jud Süss”), Käthe Gold, Attila Hörbiger, Mady Rahl, et al. The movie plays out like an autumnal conference held between cigar-pumping codgers blessed with nothing but time, idly deciding on the cursed celebrity’s fate even as their own culpability in German history is ignored, but looms nonetheless.


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.