Mr. Lipes’ Opus

Mr. Lipes’ Opus (photo)

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Though best known for his lyrically stunning work as the director of photography on “Afterschool” and “Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell,” Jody Lee Lipes would rather be known as a filmmaker than as a cinematographer. His directorial feature debut, the provocative doc “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same,” premiered at SXSW ’09. It’s then that Lipes met director Lena Dunham and agreed to shoot her Manhattan dramedy “Tiny Furniture,” making its world premiere at this year’s fest.

However, he’s a filmmaker first: Lipes’ second feature (as co-directed with Henry Joost) is the Emerging Visions entry “NY Export: Opus Jazz.” Commissioned by two members of the New York City Ballet, this conceptual staging of Jerome Robbins’ titular “ballet in sneakers” (like a raw B-side to “West Side Story,” here followed by a fun behind-the-scenes doc profiling Robbins and the project) is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous marriage of choreography and cinematography. In fact, has there been a richer dance performance committed to film, with camerawork catching subtle details instead of the typical lazy wide shots, this side of Bob Fosse?

Loosely structured into an abstract narrative about youth expressing themselves in forbidden venues, five dance movements are filmed in an NYC we haven’t yet seen: a geometric guys-and-dolls dance-off colorfully fills Brooklyn’s McCarren Pool, a dusty-floored warehouse overlooking the nighttime skyline becomes a mating call between a lithe beauty and her gentlemen suitors, and a sexed-up, limb-entangling duet in the knee-high grass of the High Line railyards could change the minds of those without a regular taste for modern dance. (Okay, at least one!) I spoke with the New York-based Lipes after he had been shooting all day, and just before we both headed down to Austin.

As the doc shows, Jerome Robbins had a cinematic eye and placed bulky cameras in seemingly odd set-ups. Did you take anything from his notes?

We definitely did. The only movie that Henry and I watched together before shooting was “West Side Story.” That’s the best example of dance on film that we’ve seen. One of the most intelligent things he did was to integrate the movement into the actual space that they were shooting. We needed to stay true to the choreography as much as possible, but the dancers are having to negotiate around train tracks or the pillars in the second movement. On stage, it’s just people walking in from both sides.

03172010_OpusJazz2.jpgNew York City is one of the most photographed locations in the world. Was it difficult to find new ways to illustrate it through cinematography?

Definitely. Location was a huge part of the film. Luckily, we had a lot of time to look. We had years to keep our eyes open. There’s a quality to it where you know it’s New York, but it’s not the New York you usually see. A lot of it is run-down New York that used to be something else. That was a huge part of the film for me, finding spaces that would work that we didn’t have to change much.

I’ve never interviewed a shooter before, so I’d love to hear you riff on the technical methods you’ve picked up from others or accidentally discovered for yourself. Is there a specific approach to your style?

I can say that Gordon Willis is the biggest influence on me in terms of cinematography. One of the biggest imprints that the camera makes is that each one of the movements is shot in its own unique style. The first movement is all on stick, all totally static camera except for one pan, the second is almost all on Steadicam, the third movement is the most handheld, the fourth is on a crane, and the fifth movement is almost all on a dolly. By making those rules for yourself, you force yourself to have to renegotiate the way you normally do things.

Do you have that — a way you normally approach material?

In general, I try to cover things as minimally as possible. If there’s a way to show something without having to cut [and] that’s not distracting, that’s the best way. Lighting is the hardest thing to learn about cinematography because it’s so technical. It takes so much practice to find out what you like and don’t like, and you never stop learning. That’s why successful cinematographers are usually in their forties or older because it takes so long to have that experience.

03172010_lipes.jpgAlso, most people who graduated from film school in the past few years don’t use film much anymore. I was right on the cusp of that changeover. I was pushed hard to work on film, and lucky enough to do a bunch of projects that did. I’m part of the last generation of people who are comfortable working on film. It was such a battle to raise the money to be able to shoot on anamorphic 35mm, which is obviously expensive. Jerome Robbins only directed one movie and it was on 70mm, so we wanted to make sure we were shooting on the best format possible. I shot anamorphic before on “Afterschool,” and it has this retro quality, but it’s also very high quality.

So many filmmakers are purists who don’t want to shoot digitally. Having done both, what do you like about video that you can’t do with film?

For example, the shoot I did tonight was shot on the same camera that [“Tiny Furniture”] was. It’s a digital SLR, so really it’s just a still camera that shoots video. What’s amazing about that is that it’s extremely sensitive to light in a way you can never get with film. Part of the reason we shot Lena [Dunham’s] movie on that camera is because there are a lot of night exteriors, and we literally didn’t have any money to light. That’s really the only camera in existence that can see that way. They had come out a week or two before we started, so we did a quick test, but it was just jumping in. Shooting on film, it just would’ve been black.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.