DID YOU READ

The Blind Spot

The Blind Spot (photo)

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“God save us from the good intentions of well-meaning white liberals.” That was Morgan Freeman years ago at the press junket for “Driving Miss Daisy” explaining to some concerned Caucasian that, no, it wasn’t retrograde to depict an elderly black character in the American South of the ’50s and ’60s not acting like Huey Newton.

God didn’t do such a hot job for Bruce Beresford’s movie — that graceful, sly two-hander is still talked about as if it were some antebellum fantasy of black servility.

But if, as Pauline Kael said, there’s a separate God for the movies, then perhaps He or She will some day explain how “Precious,” a racist freak show, has been widely embraced as a gritty, unsparing film about black inner-city life, while “The Blind Side,” a tough-minded, unresolvable picture about the contradictions that occur when race and class and talent collide in America, has been generally derided as a sappy triumph-of-the-human-spirit crowdpleaser.

Part of the answer has to do with the willingness of critics to be suckered by miserablism, the simple-minded formulation that equates drabness or hopelessness or barbarism with seriousness and depth. The uglier part of the answer has to do with the willingness of white liberals to be suckered by miserablism when it comes to race.

03032010_Precious5.jpgIf the story of “Precious” were told with white characters, its ludicrous pile-up of dysfunction and abuse might have led many critics to think of Thelma Ritter in “All About Eve” listening to Anne Baxter’s tale o’ woe and delivering the verdict, “Everything but the bloodhounds yappin’ at her rear end.” (New York Press critic Armond White did hear that line and quoted it in his review, one of the first to call out the racism of the movie). Instead, that very ludicrousness is what’s gotten the movie acclaimed as unsparing and true.

The critics falling for “Precious” are like the parody in John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation” of the prosperous white tourists who travel to South African townships and ask their guides, “Are you sure they’re the worst off? I mean, we’ve come all this way. We don’t want to see people just mildly victimized by apartheid. We demand shock.”

“Precious” satisfies the belief that only when we’re shocked are we seeing a true version of black urban life. And it panders to that desire for shock as crassly as a splatter film panders to moviegoers looking for blood and dismemberment. After all, “Precious” is a horror movie.

To be specific, it’s The Moynihan Report reimagined as a horror movie. That 1965 report, named after the future New York Senator who headed the commission which produced it, raised an uproar with its claims that “the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which… retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.” Nearly 50 years after the left condemned the racist paternalism of that report, white liberals are embracing essentially the same vision in “Precious.” Mo’Nique’s monster of a mother presides over the film like Leatherface, and it’s Gabourey Sidibe who is, metaphorically, hanging on the meathook the entire time.

03032010_Precious4.jpgEven The Moynihan Report allowed that, given the horrors suffered by African-Americans, a lesser race would have died out. But the vision of “Precious” negates every idea of black progress, every idea of people persisting through the most awful circumstances. The “truth” as presented by “Precious” is unending disease and dysfunction and degradation. Where is the emergence of a soul that the film’s admirers have claimed? As Ishmael Reed’s noted in his takedown of the film on the New York Times op-ed page, “Precious” leaves its protagonist HIV-positive, unemployed, barely literate, with two children, one of them with Down syndrome. And as Dana Stevens wrote on Slate, ” ‘Precious’ is supposed to be about the heroine lifting herself out of abjection, yet the film itself wallows in abjection.”

The director, Lee Daniels, pushes everything in our face: the abuse, the dingy surroundings, the fatty food cooking on the stove, and especially the faces of Sidibe and Mo’Nique. Daniels uses Mo’Nique and Sidibe’s weight to confirm their characters’ ignorance, to disgust us, presenting them in unrelenting close-ups that make them look less like people than beasts growling at each other in a tightly confined space.

It’s not just that “Precious” allows its audience to wallow in the pornography of compassion, it’s that the film’s supposed objects of compassion are presented as subhuman.

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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.