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All that snobbery allows.

All that snobbery allows. (photo)

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The “emperor’s new clothes” argument has always been a remarkably unsatisfying one, a smug fable invoked by anyone angry with any given politician or acclaimed film they happen not to like. The beauty of it is that it can be applied to anyone or anything — all you need is some kind of consensus to rail against. Case in point: Jeffrey Wells’ diatribe against Douglas Sirk, which unleashed the angry passions of Glenn Kenny and is sure to keep fur flying on both comments boards all day. I’m with Team Kenny on this one — the movie Wells calls out, “Imitation of Life,” happens to be one of my favorites — but the specifics aren’t my point here.

Sirk, best known for his ’50s melodramas like “All That Heaven Allows,” wasn’t considered particularly important until a retrospective at 1972’s Edinburgh Film Festival brought him into academia. “Far From Heaven” briefly made the wider world care (or not), but he’s always been a loaded gun, and arguments over Sirk’s greatness are periodically resurrected as an anti-snob thing. See Wells, who writes:

The dweebs are playing an old snob game. They’re basically saying that you have to be a serious cineaste to recognize Sirk’s genius, and that if you don’t recognize it then you need to think things through because you’re just not as perceptive as you need to be. There’s no winning against this mindset, which is somewhere between a schoolyard bully move and an intellectual con.

02232010_colossalyouth.jpgThis inspires a vision of the world where Sirk fans are wildly powerful (ha) and where everyone’s nervously burnishing their cinephile bona fides at all times, less concerned with their own reaction than how they should react. It’s the kind of bad-faith arguing that can be applied to virtually any filmmaker you dislike (unless it’s, you know, Michael Bay).

If you’re the kind of person who cares a lot about film, then you’re probably going to end up measuring your reaction to what you see against whatever consensus you’ve gathered is out there. And, inevitably, no matter what kind of critics, journalists, bloggers you find yourself in tune with, there will always come a time when you’re staring at something in disbelief, wondering why in the world anyone takes it seriously. (For me, that’d be Pedro Costa’s “Colossal Youth.” Or most Pedro Almodóvar movies.)

You know what you don’t do then? Decide that everyone’s trying to put one over on you, start frothing at the mouth and repeating “emperor’s new clothes” while feeling very incisive.

[Photos: “Imitation of Life,” Universal, 1959; “Colossal Youth,” Criterion Collection, 2006]

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Seven memorable movie winter snowstorms.

Seven memorable movie winter snowstorms. (photo)

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Right now, much of the east coast is effectively snowbound. Since we’re all stuck here in front of our computers while the rest of the country, here’s seven memorable on-screen snowstorms to wile away the long hours.

“The Fatal Glass of Beer” (1933)

A Canadian Mountie walks into W.C. Fields’ cabin, with a big gust of fake snow following. “Is it still snowing?” Fields asks, before proceeding to accompany himself on auto-harp on a song about a young man who goes to the city, starts drinking and learns a valuable lesson about not breaking other people’s tambourines. Later Fields says “I reckon, guess and calculate” his incarcerated son is soon coming home. Still later he goes out to milk the elk. This a slow-moving but winningly bizarre meta-parody of the now obscure Yukon melodrama, oft compared to Monty Python for its sheer strangeness. Fields’ indomitability in the face of cold weather is inspiring.

“Odd Man Out” (1947)

A memorable usage of symbolic snowfall as impending death, this fascinatingly incoherent Carol Reed movie finds wounded Irish nationalist James Mason wandering around Belfast, hallucinating with increased severity until the world starts being as strange as what he’s dreaming. As the snow falls and the time to flee the city decreases, Mason ends up being kidnapped by an insane painter fixated on capturing the dying man’s eyes as he dies, in a memorably excessive sequence.

“The Cardinal” (1963)

Otto Preminger’s long, social-issue-y “The Cardinal” is actually better than you’d think. A big, splashy three-hour movie adopted from a hot-topic bestseller with no lasting value, “The Cardinal” marches through all of its Big Issues — abortion! racism! Nazis! — with a fearlessness and commendable indifference towards good taste. At one point, during darkest winter, Cardinal Tom Tryon (later a horror writer) comes to visit old friend Father Burgess Meredith. But he’s not dying in the snowstorm because of his penitential, bread-and-wine diet — he’s dying because of multiple sclerosis. This is one surprisingly tough-minded movie, though the eight-minute edit below does a good job of making it look hypnotically terrible.

“Airport” (1970)

After producing most of Douglas Sirk’s ’50s Hollywood work and the first Doris Day-Rock Hudson pairing, Ross Hunter’s final big bang was this opulent if unwieldy blend of the old-fashioned “Grand Hotel” style melodrama (“seven different stories,” as the trailer helpfully spells it out for us) with a disaster movie, with blustery George Kennedy trying to figure out how to clear off a snowed-over runway for a plane with all kinds of problems, not least that Van Heflin’s planning to blow it up. Everyone’s seen “Airplane!,” but this straightfaced original has its own special kind of entertainment value still: the airport of 1970 looks suspiciously, tantalizingly opulent.

“The Dead” (1987)

John Huston’s final film is generally considered the remotely successful attempt to put James Joyce on screen, boring in on one of his most compact stories and translating it with scrupulous but lively fidelity. The memorable final soliloquy (unfortunately unembeddable) comes intact, visualizing how “snow was general all over Ireland” as an elegiac state of mind — it tends to drive most people to tears.

“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)

The teen-emo movie to end them all, with kabuki-faced Johnny Depp as the boy whose scissorhands let him carve topiary and ice with equal skill, with the flakes that fly off his statues forming enough snowfall for a whole town. “Edward Scissorhands” gets a bit more embarrassing as I get older, but it’s endearingly angst-ridden — once you can groove with the heavy sentiment, it’s a good time.

“The Ice Harvest” (2005)

Of course, for an utter lack of sentiment you could turn to this curious neo-noir, with John Cusack clearly enjoying destroying his own image as he swears vigorously, solicits sexual favors, vomits and kills people. Alongside him is a more-foul-tempered-than-usual Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt as a hilariously bluff drunkard. The movie’s not as smart as it wants to be — it’s just as snowy as “Fargo” but a lot nastier, just as violent but a lot less elegant about it — but it’s still enjoyably misanthropic low-stakes winter fun.

[Photo: “The Ice Storm,” 20th Century Fox, 1997]

Rap Biopic – Goes Global (ft. Bushido).

Rap Biopic – Goes Global (ft. Bushido). (photo)

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Here in the states, “Avatar” was finally stricken from the top of the charts by “Dear John,” equally gooey but less dragon-tastic. But in Germany, Cameron’s film was done in by “Times Are Changing,” a biopic of rapper Bushido. Bushido, in case you’ve not been keeping up on your German hip-hop, is a relatively controversial guy, whose lyrics once proposed “we’ll take every faggot and beat him up” and (equal opportunity!) “Just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean I won’t beat you till you’re blue.”

There are questions of whether the formerly vile Bushido is now really reformed or just cannily marketing himself to appeal to the “bourgeouis press” (as Rolling Stone‘s German editor put its). But that’s beside the point — like Eminem before him, Bushido is running from hip-hop success to mainstream cinematic glory, which (somehow) legitimizes his lyrics as self-expression, as long as he plays nice with the press.

For all the talk bandied around for at least the last 20 years about how hip-hop represents the present and/or the future better than any other musical movement, hip-hop biopics/movies have been few and far between. When they’ve been made, they’ve invariably been helmed by older white males: Curtis Hanson (57 at the time of “8 Mile”), Jim Sheridan (56 for “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”), David Kellogg (a commercials/music video/Playboy video director who was 39 when he made “Cool As Ice”). Even the African-American George Tillman Jr. was 40 by the time “Notorious” came out.

02102010_8mile.jpgThere are surprisingly few hip-hop musicals to point towards, much less hip-hop biopics. The few movies made about rappers have been about commercially massive figures with large white-black crossover fanbases, successful over multiple albums rather than one-hit wonders. Somehow this is considered a safer bet than “Nine.” Those who don’t fit that description can go the rapsploitation route if they’re impatient.

Bushido’s biopic will almost certainly not be seen here (Edel, by the way, is 63), but that doesn’t really matter. What it means is that at those rare moments when a rapper, through whatever confluence of circumstances, can touch a nerve — political, commercial or both — in a country, he’ll get the biopic he deserves, in all probability one designed to clean up his image. With hip-hop’s current status and lasting influence very much up for debate, it’s worth remembering that what the U.S. started isn’t over by a long mile. Globally, it might just have begun to percolate in movies — ones whose issues and celebrities are presumably too local to translate, but might be even more enlightening for that.

[Photos: “Times Are Changing,” Constantin Film, 2010; “8 Mile,” Universal, 2002]

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