The morality of making movies about the Holocaust.

The morality of making movies about the Holocaust. (photo)

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Bernard-Henri Lévy’s “Shutter Island”/”Inglourious Basterds” op-ed in The Australian has been making the rounds for the last few weeks, jumping from one paper to another. (If you haven’t seen “Shutter Island” and want to go in rasa, stop reading now, though there’s nothing here that isn’t in the first reel.) The editorial, which claims the films display “a real and potentially dangerous revisionism” in their treatment of Nazism and the Holocaust, is mostly bunk, but it does raise an interesting point.

Lévy, a French journalist and philosopher, was recently publicly embarrassed by writing a whole book attacking Kant — based, as it turned out, on satirical writings. So there are reasons besides moral ones as to why Lévy might want to weigh on the truth underlying “Shutter Island”‘s Holocaust passages. It’s certainly a good time to call out someone else for historical ignorance.

Lévy’s only substantive point is that Scorsese (either deliberately or mistakenly) conflates Dachau and Auschwitz visually (“What can one say about the film’s use of images from Dachau confused with those from Auschwitz in casual unawareness, notably the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign over the gate? Is it ignorance or wilful confusion?”).

But what’s really bugging him is the long-standing debate about the aesthetics of the Holocaust — what can be shown on-screen without cheapening the magnitude of the event (if anything), and what degree of aestheticization is too much. On this point, he couldn’t be clearer: Lévy’s with Claude Lanzmann, director of the monumental documentary “Shoah,” who declared unambiguously “I am deeply convinced that there is a ban on depiction.”

Fair enough. But that isn’t really Lévy’s stance. Mostly, he’s worried that “Shutter Island” — where the POV of the wavering protagonist could, you know, explain the inaccuracies and conflations — is, like “Inglourious Basterds,” a sign that “Nazism is becoming a new playing field for the amusement of the bad boys of Hollywood.” That’s a more interesting proposition, that the Holocaust isn’t necessarily undepictable, but that it’s certainly not to be toyed with.

03302010_judgmentatnuremberg.jpgWhat unites “Basterds” and “Island” isn’t so much rewriting of history (“Island” doesn’t rewrite it at all) as their insistence on fusing the undeniably pulpy with what’s about as serious a genocide as is known to history — a new development. Hollywood first took notice of the Holocaust with some haunted protagonists (Kirk Douglas on the run in Israel in 1953’s “The Juggler”) and some big productions that yoked seriousness with appropriate running times and a sense that the films in question (“The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Judgment at Nuremberg” and so on) deserved to be applauded just for existing.

The Holocaust film as a genre took a long time to get off the ground it was more likely to exist in the background (like the flashbacks haunting Rod Steiger in “The Pawnbroker”) than as the focus of the running time. But when the Holocaust-as-primary-setting films came, they were not shy of grim footage. Even “Life Is Beautiful” — until recently the most iconoclastic take on the subject — didn’t have the nerve to let its hero escape. At the end, grim history must always be reckoned with as the primary subject.

What’s unnerving about “Basterds” and “Island” (especially the latter) is that there’s really no way to know, going in, how important the Holocaust will be to both of them; the movies don’t announce what should be, theoretically, the Most Important Thing about both films. “Basterds” posits movie-love as a backhanded way of getting revenge. “Shutter Island” goes further in showing how mass genocide could serve as the first triggering trauma for a man who came as close as possible to it without actually being complicit. Both, though, evade responsibility and refuse to stop dead to show the footage you’d normally expect.

03302010_inglourious.jpgThat could be what’s unnerving some, though it’s worth noting — like The Auteurs Danny Kasman did a few weeks ago — that “It wasn’t until the 1950s’ adult cinema that it became widespread and mainstream for movies to be so self-conscious of their own seriousness, and placate the audience with it.” This kind of B-movie-with-a-budget approach to the ultimate in the unrepresentable is long overdue. The alternative isn’t very productive.

If you believe that nothing is unrepresentable (and I kind of have to), far better than this than some weepy violins and a return, again, to the camps. What “Shutter Island” makes vivid, finally, is trauma from another angle; its images are problematic, but indelible precisely because they’re problematic, something no one watching them could be unaware of.

[Photos: “Shutter Island,” Paramount, 2010; “Judgment at Nuremberg,” United Artists, 1961; “Inglourious Basterds,” Weinstein Company, 2009]


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.