“The Italian Straw Hat” and “La France” on DVD

“The Italian Straw Hat” and “La France” on DVD (photo)

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There was a day when to love movies meant a thirst for the full century’s worth of the form and loving all of its timeline’s eruptions equally. That a film was old and in black and white were never reasons to exclude it from the discourse. This was when silent films were still shown on public television, when film criticism freely compared Renoir and Ford to new directors, when grubby urban retro theaters could trot out a double bill of “Sherlock Jr.” and “The Cameraman” on badly beaten TV prints and there were still enough interested college students to half-pack the house.

Has this day finally passed, in spirit as well as lifestyle? I can’t decide — on one hand, the typhoon of new, fast, loud, sparkly distractions has never been more overwhelming, and often the very idea of paying attention to anything more than a few decades old seems openly scorned. On the other, silent cinema, for example, has never been more available to us, carefully restored and digitized for home use by the score every year, as well as streaming on YouTube (where a lot of young and not-so-cash-heavy inquirers I know go and dig into sequential swatches of Feuillade, von Stroheim, Gance, and Pabst). The numbers might be small, but they’re persistent and, apparently, tireless.

04062010_ItalianStrawHat2.jpgI dare to say that it’s foolish to call yourself a cinephile or movie lover, should you care to do so, if you don’t have the attention span required to watch silent cinema. But of course it’s just a matter of focus and perspective, not patience. Semi-forgotten beauties like René Clair’s “The Italian Straw Hat” (1927) require far less patience from me than contemporary romantic comedies or franchise blockbusters — for one thing, Clair’s farce is as subtle as the smell of the wrong woman on a shirt collar. And it’s that kind of late 19th-century farce we’re dealing with, although it seems that Clair’s movie, revamped from an 1800s stage play, is where the traditional comedy of manners morphed into screwball.

Famous but long unseen in the U.S. and only newly restored to its original length, “Straw Hat” takes place over a single wedding day, an occasion plagued from the beginning by portents of disaster — a pin lost down the back of the bride’s dress (she twitches for the rest of the film), a missing glove, a dress shoe that needs three men to jimmy on. But the real crisis begins when the groom’s carriage horse gets away from him en route, and half-eats a straw hat it finds in the bushes — which belongs to a married woman caught with her britches down (figuratively speaking) with a soldier in the brush. Soon enough, the dragoon and his hilariously swoony mistress find their way to the groom’s house and demand he replace that hat — without which she cannot go home.

04062010_ItalianStrawHat3.jpgAnd so the dominoes fall, as the groom worries about his townhouse being destroyed from the inside out by the impatient dragoon and tries to replace the rare hat even as the wedding proceeds through its own debacles. For all of its misunderstandings and brawls and head-butts, the story is almost an extended episode of “Seinfeld,” but what makes Clair’s film magical is how he shoots it, in simple master shots (unusual for the catapulting style fest that was the pre-talkie film scene in 1927-28), which may be the best vehicle for comedy ever invented. The full-body reactions of Albert Préjean’s distracted groom or Paul Ollivier’s stone-deaf uncle or Olga Tschechowa’s constantly fainting demimondaine need whole rooms and get them, and Clair’s touch is palpable in the performances, which are among the driest and deftest I’ve ever seen in a silent comedy.

The ensemble broadens out to dozens of characters, all of them preoccupied with their own narratives. Of course, there’s a steady drip of class satire aimed at the fin de siècle French bourgeoisie, with the same iconic sport made of pompous jerks in top hats that Clair would make in “À Nous la Liberté,” and absurd imagery that would also resurface a few years later in Buñuel’s Surrealist anthem-film “L’Âge d’Or” (which could be, in a few ways, considered a remake). Simply, it’s essential viewing if you’re devout about your movie love.


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.