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]


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.