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What Has Werner Herzog Done Now?

What Has Werner Herzog Done Now? (photo)

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It seems like Werner Herzog never sleeps. The 67-year-old Bavarian buccaneer of cinema astounded hungry-eyed cinephiles back in 2005 when he had four documentary features in theaters (“The White Diamond,” “Wheel of Time,” the decade best “Grizzly Man” and the sci-fi quasi doc “Wild Blue Yonder”). This fall, Herzog’s again kept our senses busy with back-to-back narratives: first up was “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” a hilariously addled live-action Nicolas Cage cartoon destined for the cult classics shelf.

Equally nervy is “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” which Herzog himself has called “a horror film without the blood, chainsaws and gore.” Loosely based on the real story of Mark Yavorsky — a University of San Diego grad student who killed his mother with an antique sword — this ominous if sensitive portrait of mental illness stars “Revolutionary Road” Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, here renamed Brad McCullum. Struck by a mystical feeling during a walkabout in Peru, McCullum returns to California and, as we learn after the fact, murders his mother (Grace Zabriskie). Recollected in testimonials and flashbacks during a hostage crisis, the film investigates this eccentric man’s descent into hell, the events pieced together by McCullum’s fiancée (Chloë Sevigny), his theater director (Udo Kier) and a hard-nosed detective (Willem Dafoe). Herzog called me to discuss animals, working with executive producer David Lynch, and the scariest thing he’s experienced since moving to Los Angeles.

How did you stumble onto the Yavorsky story, and what still attracts you to madness in your work after several decades?

Well, let me first address madness. I didn’t want to go too deep into the clinical side of it. It would have been boring and for medical journals. There’s something that fascinated me, and that’s the kind of fear that is creeping up at you, and you don’t know exactly where it comes from.

But for the first part of your question, a friend of mine, [co-writer] Herb Golder, who had been an assistant director for me in various projects, he’s actually a professor of classical studies at Boston University. Since he translated Sophocles into English, he was always interested in stagings of ancient Greek drama. He came across this bizarre case about the staging of “The Oresteia” in San Diego, where the leading actor behaved in a very erratic way, and finally ended up murdering his own mother instead of his stage mother.

12092009_myson6.jpgYou met Yavorsky once and said he was argumentative. Was there anything positive or helpful that came out of your conversation with him?

Not really. I had to stay away from him. He had spent eight and a half years in a maximum security institution for the criminally insane, and was released because he apparently didn’t pose a danger for the community. His crime was so specifically against his own mother and no one else. [He had] this obsession with her, like with the drama where the son has to murder his mother, the queen.

The man himself didn’t look right. He lived in a decrepit little trailer in a trailer park near Riverside. He had a poster of “Aguirre,” a little shrine in the corner and burning candles in front of it. I had a feeling the man was not really kosher yet, and he was totally upset that he was never able to stand trial. The prosecutor and the defense attorney stepped up to the judge and conferred. They decided he was unfit to stand trial, which infuriated him because he wanted to have a big show and be crucified on national television. He still had some of that in him, and I had the feeling it was not going to be good for him, nor the film, if we maintained contact.

You talk about writing with Golder, but I think of you as a filmmaking warrior who ventures into the battlefield, armed with a camera. It’s hard to picture you cozying up with a word processor and banging out a screenplay. What’s your writing environment like?

It can be anywhere. I don’t have a writing environment. [laughs] I don’t need seclusion in a cabin in the forest. I wrote the screenplay for “Aguirre” on a bus with my rowdy soccer team. We had two barrels of Bavarian beer for our hosts. One and a half hours into the trip, they started to taste the beer, and then drink one of the two barrels. They were all drunk and hollering and chanting obscene songs, and I wrote my screenplay on a typewriter on my knees. I can focus. Herb Golder had spent years investigating and saying he was going to write a screenplay, but he didn’t do it. I said, “Let’s sit together for a week, and we’ll do it.” In four and a half days, we had it.

12102009_myson9.jpgThis is definitely not a traditional horror film, and I know you’re not really a film buff, but are there any horror flicks you’ve enjoyed?

I haven’t seen many, but I’ve seen one that impressed me. The first “Halloween,” by [John] Carpenter, is a very fine movie. [I liked] the simplicity of it. I remember the scariest shot in the film: you saw down suburban streets, houses left and right, shady trees, and far in the distance, a man crosses the street and looks towards you. You have the feeling: “Is he wearing a white mask?” And he disappears. In context with everything, it was so scary that I still remember the moment.

Michael Shannon’s performances always have such a strange and intense energy. What is it about him that makes such a compelling image on screen?

That’s hard to explain, but I can see a great talent like him from miles away. I actually cast him well before he had the Academy Award nomination, and I said, “Mike, you have to shoulder the leading character of my new film,” and he said, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it.” In order to warm up to each other, I invited him to join me on the set of “Bad Lieutenant,” where he plays a small part. I said, “It would be nice if you could see how I’m functioning, how I work.” That was very good.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 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….


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.


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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