Dystopian Visions

Dystopian Visions (photo)

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On our last day in Denmark, a few of us in the CPH:DOX American contingent stopped by Christiania, Copenhagen’s hippie paradise and self-proclaimed autonomous zone. In stark contrast to the cobblestones and slick Scandinavian design of the main city, Christiania is dirt paths and DIY housing, a neighborhood based around abandoned military barracks that were taken over by squatters in the early ’70s.

It was too early for much to be going on, but on the main drag the cannabis market that’s made the area a favorite for backpackers and a constant source of controversy was already open, with stalls displaying giant blocks of hash for sale, while a few nearby stands offered rasta wear. A dog trotted by, and a few dreadlocked Danes warmed their hands over a trashcan fire.

“Maybe it’s just me, but this all seems incredibly ‘Children of Men,'” I said.

Or maybe it was just that dystopia was on everyone’s mind, being a strong undercurrent in the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival program. These days, dark visions of the future and docs pretty much go hand in hand, since nonfiction film has become hopelessly entwined with social issues.

With one of the most progressive, boundary-pushing, eyebrow-raising lineups you’re going to find in a documentary festival, CPH:DOX actually actively strives to get away from the idea of docs as just journalism, or as just a means of galvanizing viewers toward activism — to promote, as the programmers stressed, “the documentary as cinema, and the documentary as art.” Which ultimately meant that doses of impending doom came not with a lecture, but with artful vision — these are, after all, unavoidably troubled times.

11172009_videocracy.jpgTake “Videocracy,” Erik Gandini’s brilliant jaw-dropper about the ties between Italian politics and Italian television that could hold its own with Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah” in a disturbing double feature depicting the country as careening towards “Blade Runner.” At its center is the elusive figure of Silvio Berlusconi, who’s both Italy’s Prime Minister and its major media mogul, and, in Gandini’s view, the man responsible for infecting the nation with a terminal fixation on boob tube celebrity.

That’s the kind of ambitious scope that usually defeats a project before it even begins, but “Videocracy” works astoundingly well because it’s styled as an essay, without the pretense of objectivity. Gandini narrates and makes a sort of stream-of-consciousness case for his conception of Italian today, luxuriating in a Lynchian score and hypnotic footage of glittering, never-quite-graspable talk and game shows, brightly lit sets, scantily clad dancing girls and applauding audiences — television as a sweeping sedative.

“Videocracy” hops between interview subjects, often favoring them with wordless still portraits in their chosen surroundings. There’s Rick Canelli, the singing martial artist who aspires to be a combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ricky Martin, but who meanwhile is a factory worker who still lives with his mother. There’s Marella Giovannelli, the woman who lives next door to Berlusconi’s vacation villa on Sardinia, and who makes a living taking flattering photos of his party guests and making them available for purchase. There’s Lele Mora, the country’s most powerful agent, who never seems to leave his all-white house but who nevertheless manages to pull strings via cell phone — his ring tones are hymns to Mussolini, of whom he’s a proud fan.

11172009_videocracy2.jpgAnd then there’s Fabrizio Corona, the mesmerizing/repugnant head of a paparazzo ring that sells incriminating photos back to the celebrities in them. Others might call this extortion, which is what Corona gets indicted for, but when he gets out of jail, he reinvents himself as an opportunistic, nihilistic truth-teller and vaults into the realm of celebrity he used to despise, guesting on talk shows, launching a t-shirt line and making a series of paid nightclub appearances. In “Videocracy”‘s money shot (though not its literal one, in which Corona lies in bed, surrounded by a pile of cash), he showers and then preens, nude, in front of the mirror, suiting up and soaking himself in cologne, dead-eyed and directly out of “American Psycho.” An unmentioned attendant is there in the bathroom with him the whole time, but then again, so is a camera crew. As “Videocracy” makes clear, in this world, shame is for the weak.

A more tangible type of forbidding future is on view in “Cities on Speed,” four hour-long docs from Danish filmmakers, each set in a different megacity, that had their premiere at CPH:DOX. Bogotá, Cairo, Mumbai, Shanghai: all face serious urban stresses as their populations explode — well, presumably so, in the case of Bogotá, as that was the one I didn’t get to see. The best of three I did catch was “Mumbai Disconnected,” an examination of attempts to remedy traffic problems in India’s largest city.


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.