Seven great movies that star architecture.

Seven great movies that star architecture. (photo)

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Alongside the almost-certainly-definitive restoration of “Metropolis,” this year’s Berlin International Film Festival saw the premiere of “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?,” a doc celebrating British architect Norman Foster — who, coincidentally, is working on a development in Abu Dhabi “with driverless trains and elevated walkways.”

“Films like ‘Metropolis’ are an architectural experience,” Foster says. “They truly are both inspirational and prophetic.” True enough. Here’s seven more movies that have productively grappled with architecture, both real and imaginary:

02172010_northbynorthwest2.jpg“North by Northwest” (1959)

For most people, “North By Northwest” is instantly associated with Mt. Rushmore or crop-dusters — but the house of James Mason’s villainous Vandamm is probably next up there if you think about it. In keeping with the film’s tony settings (the Plaza Hotel, the United Nations Building), Hitchcock had his design team create a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque abode that would scream luxury on par with Cary Grant’s usual proclivities (Wright’s rates were too high to have him design something for real). Hitchcock may have inadvertently created a link in audience’s minds between modern architecture and villainy — regardless, the film came out a little more than three months’ after Wright’s death, an inadvertent tribute to his influence.

02172010_ilposto1.jpg“Il Posto” (1961)

Ermanno Olmi’s first film to get major international attention, “Il Posto” presages Antonioni’s ’60s work and his general sense of youth in revolt through very simple means. Domenico (Sandro Panseri) commutes from the rural village of Meda to Milan to land a bureaucratic job everyone assures will have him living in stable, dependable, unexciting and modest comfort for the rest of his life. During the lunch break of his daylong interview, he and his instant crush Antonietta (Loredana Detto) wander around the city, with the glass-concrete-steel architecture already there, dominating the landscape materially and demonstrating to Domenico how close the world he knows is to irrevocable change and evaporation. Architecture as cultural change: this movie’s still ahead of everybody.

02172010_playtime1.jpg“Play Time” (1967)

“Play Time” is the infamous ultimate example of architectural extravagance onscreen, as Jacques Tati constructed his own “Tativille,” complete with a power plant — the cost of the whole enterprise kept him in debt for years. The architecture of Tati’s platonic modern city is both intimidatingly massive and strangely designed for, well, play; the “characters” (such as they are) respond accordingly, eventually exploring and having fun with the space. It’s the rare movie that responds to impersonal architecture with delight and curiosity rather than automatic suspicion.

02172010_thepassenger1.jpg“The Passenger” (1975)

Antonioni always paid a lot of attention to space — it could be more important than the people — but he introduced many to Antonio Gaudi with “The Passenger,” in which Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider have a memorable conversation on the roof of La Pedrera. Gaudi’s work has since come to be a lazy if always-delightful shorthand for Barcelona on-screen, in everything from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s wordless, unblinking 1984 documentary simply named “Antonio Gaudi,” one of the few films devoted to simply examining the insides and outsides of one man’s work.

02172010_myarchitect1.jpg“My Architect” (2003)

Nathaniel Kahn’s quest to discover his oft-absent architect father Louis Kahn can be initially narcissistic and off-putting — he insists on his unique pain as the son of a neglectful dad, which isn’t actually all that unique — but it’s a surprisingly immersive, patient introduction to Kahn’s work, taking time to capture Kahn’s buildings in lovely, space-preserving shots. And he’s more than open to stopping the movie to let someone else talk uninterrupted — as below, say, when a man tearfully rhapsodizes over what Bangladesh’s finally-completed Parliamentary Building meant. He’s equally open to letting people insult the work on-camera, which is refreshing.

02172010_24city1.jpg“24 City” (2008)

The vast, brutal and impersonal architecture of Communism has been handily documented — I remember in particular the bizarre Soviet musical “Cheryomushki,” where people dance on planks held up by construction cranes and lyrics include “Where is the housing superintendent?” — but in “24 City,” Jia Zhangke captures the end of all that, following the destruction of a whole group of no-longer-needed industrial factories being knocked down to make way for condos. As in Jia’s”Still Life” (where the real destruction of buildings and walls is worked into the movie), seemingly impersonal structures take on the symbolic weight of the passing of an entire social experiment.

02172010_international1.jpg“The International” (2009)

In this moronic but eminently watchable flashback to ’70s paranoia, director Tom Tykwer nearly overcomes a ridiculous script by just focusing on the buildings — German parking lots and train stations, gleaming steel-and-metal constructions whose looming qualities make you distrust the (literal and figurative) transparency of the corporations inside. And of course there’s the much-beloved Guggenheim gunfight (whose spiral staircase was also used as an effective leaping point for Ophelia’s suicide in 2000’s updated “Hamlet”).

[Photos: “Metropolis,” Kino, 1927; “North by Northwest,” MGM, 1959; “Il Posto,” Janus Films, 1963; “Play Time,” Continental Distributing, 1973; “The Passenger,” MGM, 1975; “My Architect,” New Yorker Films, 2003; “24 City,” Cinema Guild, 2008; “The International,” Columbia Pictures, 2009]



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.