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The two Americas of “World’s Largest” and “Citizen Architect.”

The two Americas of “World’s Largest” and “Citizen Architect.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

America may be under siege by killer bees in Texas and giant buffaloes in the middle of North Dakota, if “World’s Largest” is to be believed. The people in small towns are getting stung and stomped not by creatures’ tails and hooves, but rather by the hope that building large fiberglass monuments in their honor will lure tourists to their tiny burg off the side of the highway. Of course, roadside attractions have been a staple of American pop culture for well over half a century and as co-directors Amy Elliott and Elizabeth Donius exhaustively and sometimes exhaustingly demonstrate, what started as a nifty gimmick in rural areas to benefit the chamber of commerce has now become a last-ditch effort in some communities to stop the bleeding of a bad economy and the urban flight of younger generations.

Although the film breathlessly criss-crosses the country from an oversized Boll Weevil in Alabama to the Minnesota Paul Bunyan statues immortalized in “Fargo,” “World’s Largest” finds a home in Soap Lake, WA, where there is a battle brewing over the town’s plans to build a 65-ft. tall lava lamp downtown. Nevermind that Soap Lake has a natural claim to fame — the world’s biggest natural mineral lake — or the health hazard for potential heatstroke posed by the requisite 65,000 gallons of glowing goo, as one angry resident complains; with nothing else on the horizon, some in Soap Lake print up pamphlets with “Lava Love in the Sun” and T-shirts to sell, even though the town can’t afford the lamp, leading one pro-lava lamper to muse, “You don’t want to throw the word ‘hoax’ out there [with regards to the unbuilt lamp], but you do start to wonder.”

03182010_WorldsLargest.jpgUnfortunately, the hoax appears to not affect the disappointed few who roll into Soap Lake expecting to bask in the warmth of a gargantuan lava lamp, but rather the mostly lower-class and largely elderly communities of Soap Lakes around the U.S. that delude themselves into believing that they’re one extravagant tourist trap away from reenergizing their town. Elliott and Donius travel near and far to places where Elks Clubs and VFWs still reign supreme and parades down Main Street require mandatory attendance, yet the local businesses have closed their doors and all that’s left in their wake is a huge Swedish coffee pot. (Actually, two towns came up with that one.)

While eulogizing a bygone era when Americans could afford such largesse and there was more interest in pulling off I-95 to take a picture with a giant frying pan, the film is far from the downer I may be making it sound like, simultaneously serving as a celebration of these man-made wonders and taking the temperature of communities that might not be on the map without them. Elliott and Donius have many monuments to get through and the film’s breakneck pace occasionally turns the towns and their local dignitaries into a bit of a blur, though that may be the point — places that once were vibrant and had an identity are now desperately trying to find one. “World’s Largest,” on the other hand, has no problem being vibrant or with its identity, since it’s so thorough.

03182010_CitizenArchitect.jpgIf one is looking for a rosier outlook for American ingenuity and cultural uplift through architecture at SXSW, you couldn’t be more energized by any film than Sam Wainwright-Douglas’ “Citizen Architect.” Given its running time of a mere hour, one is well-aware that the doc is destined for public television, but that would be doing a disservice to the big-screen worthy architecture on display from the Rural Studio, an undergraduate program at Auburn University that builds astoundingly inventive housing and buildings for the underprivileged in Hale County, Alabama. Utilizing materials ranging from scrap metal to rubber tires (as seen in the memorable Yancel Tire Chapel), Auburn’s architectural students not only get an education in designing structures but forging relationships with their clientele who are less concerned with buttresses than simply having shelter.

The program was the brainchild of Samuel “Sambo” Mockbee, an Auburn professor, and even though he passed away from leukemia in 2001, his influence for cleverly designed, low-cost housing has extended to others around the world. Just for good measure, Douglas interviews Yale architecture professor Peter Eisenman to balance out the warm, humanitarian vibe of the film, saying such things as “”I’ve never seen any architecture that helps to make a better world; as a matter of fact, I think architecture creates problems rather than solves problems.” But Eisenman has obviously never met a Hale County resident simply known as Music Man, the recipient of a small but beautifully built home from the class, the construction of which serves as the backdrop for the film. If there’s a downside to the doc, it’s that we don’t learn more about Mockbee, who appears to be a colorful character that almost comes off as a deity here (the director is his son-in-law), but in fact what the Rural Studio does is a godsend and “Citizen Architect” is nearly as elegant as the architecture it presents.

“World’s Largest” is currently without U.S. distribution; “Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio” will air this summer on PBS after its festival run.

[Photos: “World’s Largest,” 2010; “Citizen Architect,” Big Beard Films, 2010]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.