DID YOU READ

James Franco sketches out “Saturday Night.”

James Franco sketches out “Saturday Night.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

James Franco’s student film for NYU’s graduate program was originally intended to be a portrait of “Saturday Night Live” star Bill Hader, but “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels had other ideas. In a short video played before the start of “Saturday Night,” Franco’s full-length look at the venerable NBC variety show through one week of production, the actor-turned-documentarian offered a disarming mea culpa for missing out on his own premiere since he was busy shooting in Salt Lake City (where he pointed out the main Mormon temple from his hotel room — “right next to the car dealership” — and that he couldn’t enjoy porn on the internet since it had been blocked). When he wasn’t mugging for the camera, he explained how he wanted to craft a “Maysles brothers-style observational doc,” despite the fact Michaels had previously nixed a similar treatment from D.A. Pennebaker and Ricky Leacock during the 1970s. “Maybe that incredible cast had more to hide,” Franco said with a wink, before cutting to a shot of himself in the shower and the water rushing directly into his face.

Franco appears occasionally on camera during “Saturday Night,” but the star of the film isn’t him or Hader or any particular “SNL” star, but rather the grueling artistic process that starts anew every week. (As Will Forte says at one point, “You just kind of learn to live in a haze.”) Day by day, Franco breaks down how the show’s sketches are pitched on Mondays, written during an all-nighter on Tuesday, subject to a cast table read on Wednesday, fit for sets and props on Thursday and start to be rehearsed on Friday where only nine of the 50 sketches (on average) will survive. On the particular week Franco was allowed to bring cameras in, John Malkovich was the host, which only makes things more interesting.

03152010_SaturdayNight2.jpgThere’s an added level of intrigue for loyal viewers of the show who can recall Malkovich’s December 2008 turn — fans will greatly enjoy Seth Meyers’ irresistible itch to write a skit about a hot tub-set “Dangerous Liaisons” sequel called “J’acuzzi” and writer/producer Paula Pell and Kristen Wiig evaluating fart sounds to put in a skit about Wiig’s flatulent office bombshell. (Unfortunately, that’s about all there is of Wiig.) Yet Franco’s film also functions as a drama about the tension that exists when creativity is scheduled for a deadline; the laughs that are in “Saturday Night” are mostly incidental from the sketches being prepared.

Forte, Hader, Meyers and Fred Armisen look particularly beaten down by the Tuesday routine, unshaved and unkempt as they head home at 8 in the morning only after a night of brainstorming to return to sell their complete skits an hour or two later at the table read. Casey Wilson, who was unceremoniously dumped in 2009, is another victim of the demanding schedule; perhaps because she was fired, Franco was more willing to include footage of the actress describing how she had “zero confidence” amongst the cast of pros with seven-plus years of experience and after giving her all to a rendition of “All That Jazz” that falls flat at the table read, she says in no uncertain terms that “I wanted to kill myself” when she realized it went off the tracks.

You’ll notice I’m mostly mentioning the performers — Franco rarely strays from them. He goes to the “Scene Shop” where art director Joe Detullio creates all the show’s sets and spends some time in the writers’ room and in the recording studio, where the music department works on a theme song for a Jason Sudeikis-Kenan Thompson sketch called “Horsecops.” But by and large, we get to see the evolution of the sketches from the performers’ perspectives, in particular the nips and tucks that occur to a skit involving Hader’s lecherous Italian talk show host Vinny Vedecci, a Judy Blume-inspired sleepover sketch and a Forte-penned bit where Malkovich plays a voice actor forced to sing the Empire Carpet jingle. (The latter doesn’t make the show, but watching Forte rewatching the ad on a loop is one of the film’s funniest scenes.)

03152010_AndySamberg.jpgFranco includes some other nice touches along the way, including a talk with one of the lead writers who admits he looks down from his office window at the NBC News ticker at Rockefeller Center for ideas for “Weekend Update,” an all-too-brief interview with a man who has sat at the head of the studio audience line for 573 shows, and remnants of what must’ve been Franco’s original doc on Hader, where the actor screws around in his dressing room by imitating Franco’s “Spider-Man” co-star Willem Dafoe and getting heavy with a lip-synced version Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” But there’s also plenty that either must not have made the cut or was simply off-access to Franco — we see the end result of the popular digital short “Jizz in My Pants,” but nothing related to its production, and the absence of Wiig, Thompson, Darrell Hammond, and then-freshman Abby Elliott, except for brief glimpses, is notable.

In an exit interview, Franco asks Michaels, “You think we’re not getting the whole thing?” to which Michaels replies, “There’s many surfaces to things.” Michaels is right. There’s a kind of magic that remains elusive about “Saturday Night Live”‘s creative alchemy even after Franco’s film ends, but this rare peek behind the curtain gives the viewer a whole new appreciation for what the “Not Yet Ready for Prime-Time” players do.

“Saturday Night” currently has no U.S. distribution.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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