DID YOU READ

The Naughts: The Film of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Film of the ’00s (photo)

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I’m not sure if “Adaptation” is emblematic of the American-film ’00s — I’m afraid that the real culprit might be one blockbuster or another, exemplifying at this stage our fears instead of our hopes — but it’s certainly an endlessly resonating high-water mark, a mirror-hall launch that Godard could’ve loved, and which preemptively folded all commentary about it, positive or negative, into its self-knowing structure. Director Spike Jonze never dropped the ball, and Nicolas Cage was surpassingly brilliant, but it’s Charlie Kaufman’s bomb test, successful enough to establish him, in a stroke, as the most original and fecund screenwriting talent this country has seen since, possibly, ever.

A kind of perpetual motion machine, Kaufman’s screenplay might be the most subversive filmmaking act in Hollywood since 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock turned the star of “Psycho” into bathtub carrion only 40-odd minutes into the film, essentially leaving it protagonist-free and the audience unmoored in a lawless cinematic frontier. Kaufman tortures the sacraments of orthodox moviemaking in a much more outlandish manner: he is his own protagonist, and the movie we’re watching is one he cannot write, until he does, sort of, with the help of a twin brother he doesn’t have, but the screenplay doesn’t actually get written as far we know, but of course it did in reality, with fictional brother Donald’s name on it, eventually spiraling the movie into exactly the preposterous mainstream idiocy the film’s Charlie Kaufman abhors, which is not to say that Kaufman himself abhors the same, because while he mocked and subverted the Robert McKee-mandated flowchart for screenwriting success, he also followed it perfectly, out of derision or desperation or insecurity or ambition or…

It was not uncommon in the New York screening rooms of 2002 to hear the dimmer but often high-circulation critics kvetch about how the film “just went downhill” in its last, rippingly farcical third act, a position you’d hope they’ve had the sense and shame to modify in the years since. But in a sense it’s hard to blame them — Hollywood was built and is sustained by the placid rewards of “invisible” filmmaking and plot-work guilelessness.

12112009_Adaptation2.jpgMass audiences do not have a history of enjoying challenges to their semi-subconscious moviegoing experience, while it is exactly that passive semi-subconsciousness that could be said to be responsible for so much damage. (You could start with D.W. Griffith, and his refinement of classic syntax extolling the virtues of the Klan to unschooled millions, inciting decades of renewed racial violence.) Subversion, even if it’s not political, is more than sport — it’s awareness of the world we’ve built ourselves, not merely awareness of its many mirrors.

“Adaptation”‘s version of this attack has as many layers as a Dobos torte. As we have seen since, Kaufman never meta-fiction he didn’t like, and the film is best taken, with aspirin, as a hyper-Godardian ruse (the film’s closest cousin might be Godard’s “King Lear”), a neurotic essay on creation posing as a self-analytical failure to evolve into an ordinary cinematic chronicle of action and feeling. Call it the most thoroughly reasoned, and slyest, example of what might be called the “Duck Amuck” paradox, in which the film proper never “becomes,” but inexplicably “is” anyway, because we’re watching it (aren’t we?), as it unfolds its drama of abortive composition.

This may be a mutant form of Brechtian “distanciation,” but we’re never far — watching the movie we acquire a fierce intimacy with movie-ness itself, as a process and as an experience. How can we not? This is realist cinema, admitting at every step that movies are sandcastles, voluminous lies, protracted jokes on the idea of seeing and believing. For McKee, a film script may be a matter of preordained, formulaic manipulations, but for Kaufman, it’s as tempestuous and enigmatic as life.

For all of that, Kaufman’s keyhole trick is to actually invest in the characters we’re not supposed to think are genuine, giving them woeful humiliations and random ailments and loneliness and self-defeating habits and, regularly, moments of old-fashioned sympathetic catharsis. Like Godard at his ’60s peak, Kaufman wants to have his self-reflexive cake and to throw it, too, and have us eat it and be moved.

If you write movies like this — my editor of the erstwhile Village Voice critics’ poll, in explaining why Kaufman came out on top that year, shrugged and said, “Just look what he did” — they will come. True to his aesthetic, Jonze was focused, rough-&-ready, on his characters, not on the camera, and the cast all brought their impish game faces, and though Chris Cooper won something of a character-actor career Oscar for his ropey hick gamester (transformed, as the movie progresses toward Donald Kaufman’s hackwork, into a hunky villain), Cage outdid even Jeremy Irons in limning the space between two conflicting halves (conflicting, mostly, over their ideas of what “artist” and “screenplay” mean), and all the while manifesting the bleeding heart inherent in Kaufman’s work, a desire to live to make movies as if they mattered, and mattered not merely to the viscera, but to the mind.

12112009_adaptation4.jpgThe ’00s so far have been a gift of Kaufmania, from “Adaptation”‘s ouroboros (imagine, a Hollywood movie that had the elitist temerity, flaunting Brechtianism and familiarity with ancient Greek, to actually use the word) to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”‘s movie-as-memory literalism, to “Synecdoche, New York”‘s apocalyptic world-within-a-world-within-a-world. The decade was not a dull one, if you knew where to look — my choice for the ’00s’ global big dog would be Peter Watkins’ “La Commune (de Paris, 1871),” another mongrel that busted the paradigm in a mess of ways, and suffered far worse in its struggle to find eyes. But “Adaptation” has been our Tristram Shandy of Bush-era cinema, and we may have only begun to appreciate it.

This feature is part of the Naughts Project.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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