What’s the matta with “Schmatta”?

What’s the matta with “Schmatta”? (photo)

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Marc Levin is still finding pins under the floorboards of his loft in New York’s Garment District. He ended up digging far deeper to find the hook for his latest doc about the economic crisis — “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags,” a startlingly prescient history of the clothing industry from 7th Avenue to Bangladesh which airs on HBO on October 19th, having made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September.

Like a lot of American industries, the “schmatta” (Yiddish for “rags”) business was once booming, but has diminished in the face of globalization, leading to the stunning statistic presented by Levin that now only five percent of all American clothing is produced domestically. As his documentary puts it, where the clothing business goes, so goes the economy.

A year ago, Levin found himself at a Marc Jacobs show after hearing the news of Lehman Brothers’ collapse. “I thought I was the kid in ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes.’ I kept thinking the economy has no clothes,” said the director, who made a name for himself with the poetry drama “Slam” and the doc “Protocols of Zion.” Even in the midst of a busy fall, the documentarian still found the time to talk about the expense of cheap clothing and the importance of documentaries in a 24-hour news cycle.

How did you get interested in the Garment District?

The Garment Center is a character — that was my starting point. Street smart, ballsy, humorous, full of vibrancy, soul, heart. How do you bring that to life? It happened to be 2008. Little did we know it would be such an epic historic moment, but from the February shows to the September shows, there was tremendous fallout. People were losing their companies, their jobs, their work. We look at what was happening in a season, but we go back and knit together a history of this almost fabled magical kingdom that had its problems and issues, but was this gateway for immigrants, especially Jewish and Italian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century, to enter America.

They were the vanguard of a labor movement that wrote up a new social contract for America. Unemployment, health care, housing — all these things that we take for granted came out of the Garment Center. After the war, 7th Avenue [made] America the center of the commercial clothing business. And then the ’70s, ’80s and the ’90s, the emergence of designers as superstars, and marketing and lifestyle that was more than clothes — it’s a cultural force. When I grew up, music was the leading cutting edge and certainly movies, but in many ways, fashion has eclipsed everything in popular culture around the world as [something] young people want to be part of and plugged into and understand.

It also seems like there’s a growing disconnect between the American public’s knowledge of how things are made.

If we can get a deal, whether it’s fast food or a shirt or a dress for under $10, it’s attractive. But you don’t think of the connection to that, how it’s made and what it says. Maybe it’s giving somebody an opportunity, but maybe in my neighborhood, people that worked in this business are out of work [because it was made overseas]. You don’t see it all interconnected, and it is.

Do you see documentaries becoming increasingly important in making those connections?

I think [documentaries are] important. Look what happened this summer with health care — the 24-hour cable news cycle, there’s no context. It’s just a food fight. So cinema, indie film, documentaries, they are, in a way, filling the gap of a hunger that we have to try and comprehend and make sense of our world where we have access to information, but we overload on it. A lot of opportunities come out of crises, and I’m an optimist just by nature, but I do feel that context, story, humanity, heart and soul need to be part of the mix, so that people can make a more informed discussion of where we go from here and we look at ourselves. We like to dress up and look in the mirror and see how we look. Now, the real question is: How do we want to look?

“Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags” premieres on October 19th.

[Photo: A scene from “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags,” Blowback Productions, 2009]



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.