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“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.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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