“Kapò” and “The Missing Person” on DVD

“Kapò” and “The Missing Person” on DVD (photo)

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Once upon a time, one of the best film critics in any language, a Frenchman named Serge Daney, found himself at 17 inspired toward his vocation by a single line of writing — about a film he’d never seen, and would never see.

The film was Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Kapò” (1959), and the first reviewer, the firestarter, was none other than Jacques Rivette, already on his way to being one of the world’s greatest and most fiercely principled filmmakers. The piece was in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1961. This is the line that changed Daney’s life: “…Look however in ‘Kapò,’ the shot where [Emmanuelle] Riva commits suicide by throwing herself on electric barbed-wire: the man who decides at this moment to make a forward tracking shot to reframe the dead body — carefully positioning the raised hand in the corner of the final framing — this man is worthy of the most profound contempt.”

Stings the corneas, doesn’t it? Daney’s famous essay “The Tracking Shot in Kapò” — you can find it translated online — was written years later, and without firsthand knowledge of the film. The film, after all, was irrelevant to Daney’s program — it was Rivette’s insistence on cinema and its form being a matter of ethics that drove Daney forward. And both critics are absolutely correct — cinematic images are a matter of ethics, of respecting the moral value of the subject and the intelligence of the viewer, of creating a world in which the way we see things reflects a functioning moral compass. Daney spent a good part of his career railing against the so-called “‘Kapò’-ization” of modern movies, before he died in 1992 of an AIDS-compromised immune system more likely plagued by bad movies and cinephilic outrage than anything else.

04132010_Kapo2.jpgAll of which is decidedly beside the point of “Kapò” itself, except that the film has been out of circulation so long — more famous, in fact, for Daney’s evocation of Rivette than for any actual viewings — that the question eventually arose (in British and French film magazines of the last decade, mostly) of whether Rivette’s account was reliable and whether the “tracking shot” actually exists. This took on the usual tone of sectarian film critic spitting matches — imagine monstrous, toothless walruses hurling phlegm loudly but harmlessly at each other — until whoever owned the film reinjected it into the mainstream, first for cable broadcast and now as a Criterion “Essential Art House” DVD, and we can see for ourselves that, yes, there is the tracking shot in “Kapò,” just as Rivette described it, though perhaps so brief it may hardly qualify by today’s standards.

It’s probably just as well that Daney, writing in the ’80s, never saw “Kapò” — his mojo would’ve taken a hit, since in comparison to the heyday of Spielberg, Lucas et al., the tiny manipulations in Pontecorvo’s chilling Holocaust film are absurdly small potatoes. Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, the movie is a perfectly harrowing wail of postwar, post-Neo-Realist historical filmmaking, closer to the ashen psychodramas of Wajda than to the guerrilla tension Pontecorvo brought to “The Battle of Algiers.”

Released the same year as “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Pontecorvo’s film was the first major European production depicting life inside the Nazi camps, and, as the title suggests, it’s a milieu primed for some heavy self-loathing. (The film is Italian, and then from a culture particularly torn between guilt and victimhood.) The brand of intimate evil perpetrated by the Kapòs, or prisoner-functionaries, who brutalized fellow prisoners in exchange for privilege and survival, is the crux here, as a 20-year-old Parisian Susan Strasberg, having starred in the Broadway production of “Anne Frank” just a few years earlier, is shipped out to Auschwitz and then a Polish labor camp, and eventually, accidentally, becomes a Kapò herself, a soul-wasted servant of genocide amid a crowd of starving women.

04132010_Kapo3.jpgPontecorvo’s recreation of the labor camp landscape is appalling in its scope and detail. There’s a veracity when Europeans in the middle century make movies about the war that American filmmakers can never touch, even Rivette didn’t seem to mind that the prisoners of “Kapò” all look far too healthy after years of hard camp labor (as they even did in the 1948 Auschwitz film “The Last Stage” — conventions die hard). But “Kapò” is necessary and incisive, and deserves a high shelf in the troubled history of the Holocaust film, which has lately become so poisoned by complacency and glamour. “Contempt,” I dare say not, as even Rivette might not, given the intervening decades of amoral tripe.


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.