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Watching movies from inside books.

Watching movies from inside books. (photo)

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Don DeLillo’s new novel “Point Omega” is narrated by a documentarian and begins and ends with a description of Douglas Gordon’s “24 Hour Psycho,” a 2006 MoMA installation in which Hitchcock’s film was slowed down to stretch over a day and night.

Maybe that’s why everyone writing about the book seems more focused on DeLillo’s obsession with movies than with how it ranks in his canon. At the New York Times, Geoff Dyer, who knows more than most about art criticism (check out his own recent novel “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi,” set during the 2006 Venice Biennale) sees DeLillo’s take on “24 Hour Psycho” and raises him with Gordon’s “5 Year Drive-by,” which played “The Searchers” in “real time” — one frame every 20 minutes.

At the Boston Globe, Mark Feeney‘s interested in DeLillo’s ongoing relationship with more mainstream movies — he points out that DeLillo’s voracious cinephilia is all over his work, with references to a meat-and-potatoes studio release like “Act of Violence,” fake Eisenstein movies and Robert Frank.

Trying to think up a systematic list of other novels that include interesting invocations of film is surprisingly hard. The movies that characters watch seem to me to mostly get used for banal texture, like in Jhumpa Lahiri’s stupefyingly dull “The Namesake,” where the kind of films being invoked tell us something about class in New York City (they go to see an “Antonioni double-feature” — do they even have those anymore? — and a revival of “Alphaville”).

In “High Fidelity,” the pop-culture-crazed Rob Gordon meets an ex — now a film critic — at a screening of what’s clearly “Raise the Red Lantern,” a nice easter-egg that’s hard not to recognize if you’ve seen it. During the time James Frey was pretending he wasn’t a fraud, an inspiriational speaker in “A Million Little Pieces” enters to “the theme song from a famous boxing journey about an unknown Palooka from Philadelphia who almost wins the Heavyweight Championship,” which seems like an awfully complicated way of saying “Rocky.”

I’d be curious to hear people’s favorite examples. If you haven’t read Paul Auster’s “New York Trilogy,” you really should if only for the great passage about “Out of the Past” in “Ghosts” (part of which can be found here). But I’ll nominate the slightly more obscure and underappreciated Frederick Exley for a spot of honor.

02072010_gazzara.jpgOne of the best and most underappreciated American writers of the 20th century from where I’m sitting (with a small but rabid cult following), Exley wrote three self-flagellating memoirs about his alcoholism, sexual voracity, sports fanaticism and thoughts on literary matters, roughly in that order. It’s constantly disturbing and almost always hilarious.

Exley spends a lot of time watching TV: he interrupts 1974’s “Pages From A Cold Island” for four pages to rant about how he’s “always believed [Ben] Gazzarra one of the most shamelessly affected actors in the business […] he made walking to the sink for a glass of water appear the end of an exhausting quest.”

But Exley watched movies too. Towards the end of “Last Notes from Home,” he runs into father-and-son racketeers from his hometown of Watertown, NY, who’ve just seen “The Godfather” and weren’t impressed: “Howie told me how ‘Pop’ had, to the consternation and extreme ire of those viewers seated around them, laughed all the way through it, including laughing at those places the audience was accepting with a reverent solemnity. When they were leaving the theater, Howie said, Pop, still chuckling helplessly, had turned to him and said, ‘Howie, that was the most hilarious Guinea fairy tale I ever saw.'” Now that’s a critique.

[Photos: “Psycho,” Universal, 1960; “TV Guide” cover of Ben Gazzara, Feb. 3, 1968, OpenGate Capital]



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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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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


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