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Schizo Miracles

Schizo Miracles (photo)

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Samuel Fuller had one of the most fascinating of Hollywood careers — a 50-plus-year self-mythologizing rampage that began with scriptsmith work in the mid 1930s at the age of 24, evolving into one of the most distinctive auteurs America has ever produced, writing/directing some 25 movies and having a hand in writing 25 more, helplessly manufacturing himself into a crusty man’s-man Hollywood gadfly in the process, readily available for manic interviews and iconic appearances in young auteurs’ self-conscious films.

There are always corners in his career that you, whomever you are, haven’t yet explored (honestly, any single Fuller film remains half-experienced if you’ve only seen it once), and so the new Sony set of Fulleriania is a prize, beginning as it does with “It Happened in Hollywood” (1937), Fuller’s first screenplay credit, and an utterly freakish, Charlie Kaufman-esque launch of meta-ness that centers on Hollywood’s discomfiting transition from silents to talkies, barely a decade after it happened and 15 years before “Singin’ in the Rain.” Richard Dix, essentially playing himself, is an aw-shucks cowboy star for whom both the demands of dialogue and the moral compromises of early gangster roles proves too much, but it’s clear that Dix is indeed a terrible actor past his dubious prime, playing an inept matinee icon and moseying through a scenario about his own career’s demise.

Though the dynamic suggests “The Wrestler,” Dix keeps to his old westerns’ dull and pious persona, initiating a kind of hall-of-mirrors journey that climaxes, phenomenally, with a huge house party populated with a forgotten class of Hollywood creatures: actual stand-ins, look-alikes playing themselves playing their studio stars in a creepy alternative Golden Age where slightly off Mae Wests, Marlene Dietrichs, Eddie Cantors and Clark Gables wander the rolling lawns of Beverly Hills, like a live version of those Warner Brothers cartoons bustling with caricatured celebrity cameos.

It’s an early clue to the degree of irony and distance inherent in all of Fuller’s work, and it’s a unique thing in a filmography of one-of-a-kinds. The DVD box includes six other films (along with four new interview supplements with Tim Robbins, Wim Wenders, Martin Scorsese and Curtis Hanson), including “Underworld U.S.A.” (1961), an arch, lurid crime nightmare in which every frame is a cluttered knot of perspectives, contrasts and spite, and which, it seems to me, is precisely where film noir, properly defined, died, burned at the stake of Fuller’s psychodramatic hyperbole. But because Fuller’s voice was unmistakably his, the sensibility collisions in the films directed by others are the revelations. “Scandal Sheet” (1952) was directed by Phil Karlson, who was as much of a confrontational, subtlety-immune noiriste as Fuller, but whose style was much more pseudo-documentary.

11032009_ScandalSheet.jpgFuller had no hand in the movie — it’s based on his novel “The Dark Page,” published in 1944 while Fuller was fighting in Europe with the Big Red One. Still, it boils over with his storytelling energy and his signature reflex, the urge to discover, expressionistically, the painful, hard-boiled reality as he knew it within the movie-movie universe of Golden Age Hollywood. The set-up itself is nearly autobiographical: Fuller used to work on the New York Graphic, a screaming-mimi, truth-manipulating exploitative tabloid on Park Row that makes the contemporary New York Post look like The London Review of Books.

Broderick Crawford’s bulldog editor pulls the daily out of its economic doldrums with lurid front pages and invented news; John Derek is his amoral star reporter, the two of them heading a newsroom that has only Donna Reed to recommend it in the way of moral compunction and compassion. The thorny patter and amoral brio proceeds apace until Crawford is confronted at a publicity event by a middle-aged woman, who summons an entire unwanted past that eventually leads to her manslaughter and a hot news story that must be pursued even if Crawford is its last station. It’s a fast-gabbing, meat-eating show, with only one typical handicap: pretty boy star Derek (future husband of Bo) is a baby-faced cipher beside the roaring rockface of Crawford, and even the quick-eyed beauty of Reed. But the story is expertly fashioned, scanning today as a prescient indictment of Rupert Murdoch-style media exploitation.

“Shockproof” (1949) is even odder — a hard-boiled egg of a Fuller script (co-written with women’s-picture foghorn Helen Deutsch), but directed by existentialist-romantic Douglas Sirk, tracking parole officer Cornel Wilde as he attempts to keep smokin’ released murderess Patricia Knight away from her flimflam boyfriend and out of the hoosegow. Of course, the story twists up with romantic passion and another murder, and Knight’s bitter modern woman so bristles with betrayal that we never know who she wants, but it eventually ends up on the road in a kind of domestic hellfire of poverty and paranoia, a year after “They Live by Night” and before “Gun Crazy.” Fullerish in its hidden impulses but Sirkian in its expressionism and moaning self-pity, the movie is a minor and forgotten schizo miracle.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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