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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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