DID YOU READ

Documentary rehab.

Documentary rehab. (photo)

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Writing about the upcoming documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” Jeffrey Wells notes that the film — a loving profile — has rehabilitated Rivers in his mind from “‘uh-huh, whatever’ status” to someone who’s a “highly admirable paragon of toughness and tenacity. Plus the doc deepens and saddens our understanding of who Rivers is, was and continues to be.”

That’s a win-win scenario for anyone who sets out to rehabilitate a person who’s become a punchline — or worse — in the public imagination, something that happens less often than you’d expect in an era when the unlikeliest people can be reclaimed from the pop-cultural dustbowl (say, Rick Astley’s transformation from ’80s artefact to YouTube “rickrolling” phenomenon and winner of “Best Act Ever” at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2008).

Many quality documentary profiles choose to take either a highly ambivalent take on their subjects (because it makes for good drama) or even an attack-dog one — a tricky act to pull off when you need the cooperation of your interview subject, but it can be done. Witness Barbet Schroeder’s “Terror’s Advocate,” in which interviewee Jacques Vergès doesn’t seem to understand that the more he explains his reasons for defending Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the deeper the hole he’s digging becomes. Schroeder’s a past master at hanging with morally objectionable people and letting them hang themselves (see also his documentary on the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin); why people cooperate to let themselves be hung is unfathomable, but good for him.

A more ambivalent — and shockingly persuasive — example came in the form of “The Fog of War,” in which Errol Morris performed the unlikely task of letting Vietnam policy mastermind Robert McNamara plausibly present himself as a person who actually feels guilty about his past policy work rather than as the cold-blooded architect of one of America’s great traumas. It’s a tough-minded but oddly generous balancing act.

04082010_eyes.jpgFor straight-up celebration, though, politicians are almost impossibly problematic. It’s safer to stick to pop cultural figures, like Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s unlikely celebration of Tammy Faye Bakker, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” — from fraudulent televangelist to gay icon — or “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” In both cases, a too-easy pop cultural punchline (the latter long-forgotten) is given their dignity back, a kind of mutual-interest collaboration which is easier to do without crossing ethical boundaries when no serious moral offenses have been committed.

But here’s an example of a political figure given an unlikely rehabilitation, at least for 23 minutes. Ernesto Samper is the controversial 37th president of Columbia, who was investigated for having drug cartel money donated to his campaign — a scandal never definitively resolved, but which (among other things) led to his visitation visa for the US being revoked, effectively banning his presence.

In this hilarious short, which you should watch if you have 23 minutes to spare (and, with taxes due in a week, who doesn’t), Samper simply sits there and watches TV with running commentary — Fox News first, but then he starts channel-surfing out of sheer boredom, which is when things get fun. At one point, watching a telenovela, he groans “This is awful! And I’m responsible! I privatized TV!”

[Photos: “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” IFC Films, 2010; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Lions Gate Films, 2000]

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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.