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Putting the “I” in film writing.

Putting the “I” in film writing. (photo)

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At a friend’s party on Saturday, I talked to a former rabid cinephile who, four years ago, got rid of almost all of his DVDs and effectively quit watching movies. It wasn’t clear whether this was because his life just got too busy or because he got to feeling too overwhelmed. If it’s the latter, I’d completely understand, because the next day I found myself on the way to Lincoln Center’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa double-feature while reading a book about film festivals, and, after the screening, chatting with five people I regularly (generally only) see at rep cinema.

I once heard Jim Jarmusch say, on a panel at SXSW, that (paraphrased) “I don’t have time to see as many as I’d like. I probably only see three or four a week.” I completely understood what he meant by saying that wasn’t a lot — I see a lot of movies, but my enthusiasm’s effectively peaked. Most don’t make much of a dent — I’m mentally dicing them up as I watch them, tucking aside things to think about later and ignoring the dead air that seeps into all but the best films. I see maybe 20 movies in a good year that really knock me out, which isn’t bad at all, but I don’t get very excited anymore. Given that this is effectively compulsive behavior, I enjoy myself, honestly.

I realize this might strike some people as unnerving. Sometimes I agree. Clearly I’m not the only one: Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek spends a good chunk of her last Berlinale dispatch worrying about “the importance of having a life outside the movies”: “You sometimes need to step outside of movies in order to find your way into them.”

Most daily film criticism (in English, anyway) is impersonal; even if the writer has a lively voice and is allowed to use the first person, they rarely stray outside the world of film to tell you anything about how they saw the film, what happened before and after or any related anecdotes it dredged up. Film festival reports may be the only time all year they’re allowed to speak directly about themselves. Gleeful party-recapping interjections — or, more commonly, a melancholy tone with vague hostility directed at the festival as an entity — are a standard feature of these essays.

In “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” Chuck Klosterman explains that most sportswriters despise sports. “The worst part about being a sportswriter is that no one will ever have a normal conversation with you for the rest of your life. Everyone you meet will either (a) want to talk about sports or (b) assume you want to talk about sports… You may have insightful thoughts on the Middle East, but no one will care.”

02222010_fletch.jpgThis tends not to be as true for film critics in my experience — everyone will think you’re an elitist and weird and avoid the topic (one time I told a roomful of people I liked “Zodiac” and they refused to talk to me for the rest of the evening). I’ve toyed with telling people I work in insurance, which late “Fletch” writer Gregory Mcdonald used to do on planes to avoid conversation. (Unfortunately, I don’t look like someone who plausibly works in insurance.)

So I sympathize with Zacharek’s urges to remind us she has a life outside of film, as with all similar essays — when watching movies becomes a job, inevitably it’s a kick to write about anything else. (A lot of the film writers I know are highly literate people in general; they want to write as much as they want access to the movies they’re writing about.) Of course, once you’re on the career path, it can become hard to remind people that — like most anyone who’s not half-witted — you care about more than one thing. The problem isn’t too many movies, necessarily: it’s too much time writing about the movies and nothing but.

But the personal interjection can be a dangerous device, one which often comes off as unduly self-pitying. Unless you’re blogging (hi!) from inside your head all the time (like Jeffrey Wells) and the interjections are a regular attraction, I think it’s a bad idea. It’s true a lot of daily film writing is rote — synopses and adjectives — but that’s just lazy writing. Best to develop a worldview within the actual criticism rather than stop everything cold to remind people you’re not just a viewing automaton.

[Photos: Kurosawa’s “The Revenge: A Scar That Never Fades,” KSS, 1997; “Fletch,” Universal, 1985]



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.


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.