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The New Serial Cinema

The New Serial Cinema (photo)

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Film serials go back to the earliest days of cinema — think “Perils of Pauline” cliffhangers or the exploits of French criminal mastermind “Fantômas,” unspooling in theaters in weekly installments. More recently, a new kind of serial cinema has emerged. Less reminiscent of those silent movies or the Hollywood franchises of Harry Potter or James Bond — themselves a kind of large-scale, ever-expanding serial — these news works are film compilations more akin to the networked complexity of the best of contemporary episodic television. It’s no surprise then that the latest example of the form, the British import “Red Riding Trilogy,” was originally made for UK broadcast. (The film series will appear this week in U.S. theaters, but fittingly, on VOD, as well.)

What separates these movies from say, the further adventures of Indiana Jones or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy, is that the uniting force tying them all together isn’t an individual hero but instead a setting — e.g. the mean Baltimore streets and bureaucracies of “The Wire” — or a theme, or an all-encompassing mood.

01202010_Pusher.jpgBut they’re not television, either. Though originally conceived to air on TV, the creators of the “Red Riding Trilogy” were filmmakers, and always thought of the work as closer to cinema. Nicolas Winding Refn, director of the “Pusher” trilogy — another connected collection of movies, centering on the desperate criminal underground in Denmark and made in 1996, 2004 and 2005 — also eschews television comparisons. He says TV would reduce “the stillness, the complexity” of the work. “It would be more traditional,” he explains. “By making them as features, I was able to make them part of an organization with individual units.”

Likewise, the “Red Riding” films, based on a quartet of novels by David Peace, work like a set of subatomic particles — functioning both alone and as a single unit, colliding and connecting with one another. (The chemistry term “multivalent” has been used to describe this type of intricate sequential cinema.)

All set in the same murky, neo-noir environs of Yorkshire, England over the course of nine years, the “Red Riding Trilogy” begins with “1977,” which follows a young hotshot reporter investigating a series of child murders. The second, “1980,” is about a Manchester inspector’s inquiry into the Yorkshire police’s handling of another serial killer. The third, “1983,” dovetails with the first in its chronicle of a guilt-ridden Yorkshire chief detective who put the wrong man behind bars for the ’77 killings. Minor characters lurking on the fringes of the first part take on greater prominence in the second and third installments. In the later episodes, flashbacks to the earlier films further interweave the tales. And yet each one also stands on its own.

01202010_RedRidingTrilogy3.jpg“I was trying to shape each one individually and then at the same time keep enough strands running across them,” says screenwriter Tony Grisoni, who wrote the three screenplays, in addition to another, “1974,” that was never filmed because of financial constraints. “So gradually you build up a huge, multi-layered world that is not finite, where you feel that these people have other lives outside of the drama and you’re constantly being surprised by who knows who and what the connections are.”

Repeat viewing of the films, Grisoni hopes, will elicit new discoveries. “A lot of it is left in the dark, and that was a central part of the darkness of those narratives,” he explains, likening the stories to 17th century Jacobian tragedy, with its conspiracies, corruption and violence. “It was never just about the terrible things you witnessed; it was more about the terrible things you didn’t witness.”

This open-ended intermixing of narratives and characters, coincidences and connections, has its own links to the work of Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski. His landmark 1989 10-part Polish television series “Decalogue,” based on the Ten Commandments, and his much-acclaimed “Three Colors” trilogy, inspired by the French national motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” are similarly constructed as singular parts of a whole, with intermingled characters and a serial form that is itself integral to the experience of the projects.

As Annette Insdorf, author of “Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski,” puts it, by choosing a minimum of three stories, Kieslowski “opens things up, implying an open horizon, a multiplicity of perspectives.” And in so doing, he “implies a refusal to choose one as the sole reality.”


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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.