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Slow cinema backlash.

Slow cinema backlash. (photo)

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It was inevitable that someone would get around to complaining that the dominant mode of the arthouse film had become super-languorous master takes. Over at “Sight & Sound,” Nick James has periodically used his front-of-the-magazine editorials to rail against what he sees as the excesses of “Slow Cinema.” Now the debate has shifted to passionate unpaid online writers: Harry Tuttle was peeved, and then Steven Shaviro did a frankly better job of articulating the anti-slow cinema case than James did. His argument is simple but eloquent: if contemporary slow cinema is descended from Antonioni, Akerman and so on, their rigorous long takes were adventurous provocations created by extremists. In the modern slow cinema, boundaries aren’t getting pushed: people are operating within a recognized, default artistic idiom. That suggests people are missing out on the chance to push the medium forward (wherever “forward” might be located).

Here’s the problem: there are masters, and then there are imitators. The problem isn’t “slow cinema” per se, any more than the problem with purely narrative, story-oriented film is that it can be practiced by both, say, David Mamet and Steven Spielberg as well as Steve “Paul Blart” Carr. That doesn’t mean narrative is dead; that means some people do it better than others. But with narrative movies, your average viewer can draw upon a wider sample selection of the effectual and ineffectual. The rigors of arthouse films require more cunning and self-motivation to track down.

05122010_lourdes.jpgSo when you get a small sample size of more rigorous-type films, you can get disillusioned a lot faster. But the names being brought up with monotonous regularity as premiere disciples of slow cinema — Bela Tarr, Carlos Reygadas, Tsai Ming-Liang — are pretty much indisputably the very best at what they do. You may not care for a five-minute sunrise, nor long tracking shots of the back of someone’s head. And that’s totally understandable. But these filmmakers are almost objectively the premiere practitioners.

The problem isn’t the masters. It’s the second-tier wave of films that premiere at Berlin and smaller festivals, rarely get picked up for distribution, and simply stagnate in their own self-righteous slowness. Outside the festival circuit few will ever see them. But those that do instantly understand why someone would wish a pox upon the whole movement. Earlier this year, a few American cities were treated to one such specimen: Jessica Hausner’s “Lourdes.” This is a movie that really does feel like it’s slow because it doesn’t know any better: shots go on but they’re not particularly complicated. There are no visual riches worth taking in slowly and the drama fails to rise. The whole thing just feels dull. I have no idea how this got distribution; the sheer star power of Sylvie Testud?

That’s really what James is objecting to: movies that show up expecting to be hailed for their high seriousness without earning it first. And that’s fair, because it complies with the golden rule of art: 99% of everything is garbage. The problem isn’t the mode, it’s the average product. The exceptions are always what matter.

[Photos: “Red Desert,” The Criterion Collection, 1964; “Lourdes,” Palisades Tartan, 2009.]

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

ikea heights

IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

fresno

When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

soap

Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

darkplace

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

attitudes

Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

peaks

Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

invitation

Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

acorn

First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

pointplace

In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

We need more squalor and misery in this comedy!

We need more squalor and misery in this comedy! (photo)

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A side pleasure of subscribing to Sight & Sound, the fine monthly magazine put out by the British Film Institute, is that you get to read about the dozens of British films that never raise their heads this side of the Atlantic. Many of the reviews come with qualifiers about the movies’ small budgets and smaller ambitions. The tone is generally optimistic but mildly disappointed.

One such film is “Cemetery Junction,” the second directorial effort from “The Office” creator Ricky Gervais, who shares the credit with regular collaborator Stephen Merchant — it has yet to receive an American release date. And while “Cemetery Junction” was produced by Sony, and will almost certainly make it to theaters here eventually, David Cox’s disparaging observations about the film in the Guardian inadvertently suggest reasons why so many other British films don’t make it to the U.S., even without the handicap of subtitles that hamper most other foreign films.

The problem with “Cemetery Junction,” writes Cox, is that Gervais and Merchant have grafted Hollywood elements — an uplifting “reach for the stars” arc, good-looking young actors — on top of ’70s environments that don’t match: “The dishy protagonists would look quite at home on one of the big screen’s sunlit campuses; on the outskirts of Reading their allure is faintly embarrassing.” He suggests the British don’t want sunshine and reassurance: “We want to salivate over hospital closures, redundancies and uncollected rubbish.”

04212010_damned.jpgMaybe that’s why a crowd-pleaser like “The Damned United” didn’t do very good business in America — not because it’s a soccer story, but because middlebrow arthouse audiences aren’t into “lovingly observed squalor” as a form of nostalgia. Imagine someone making a nostalgic movie about how wonderful urban blight in ’70s Detroit was — it’s well-nigh impossible.

Cox’s speculations are tongue-in-cheek, but he’s getting at (and embodying) a stereotype about the British — that they’re proudly gloomy, taking self-deprecation and deprivation to pathological levels — and saying it’s true. Surely there must be some truth for it to remain so virulently persistent. But it suggests those reams of British films never make it over here not because they’re bad, but because they project modesty of expectations and take a certain gloomy pleasure in squalor — and when you’re marketing an English-language movie in the U.S., where quirk and some kind of happy ending seem required, that’s the last thing you want.

[Photos: “Cemetery Junction,” Sony International Motion Picture Production Group, 2010; “The Damned United,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2009]

Season 6, Episode 2: Going Grey

Kumail Wants to Believe

5 Reasons Why Kumail Nanjiani is the Ultimate X-Files Fan

Catch Kumail Nanjiani cohosting the 2016 Spirit Awards live Feb. 27th at 5P ET/2P PT on IFC.

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There are many things to love comedian Kumail Nanjiani for. His hilarious stand-up. His role on Silicon Valley. His all-star cameos on Portlandiaincluding this week’s episode where he informs Fred about The Cloud. Heck, he’s even set to host the 2016 Spirit Awards Feb. 27th on IFC. But the thing that’s perhaps most surprising, and most endearing, is his deep love, bordering on obsession, for The X-Files. No one, and we mean no one, has done more with their appreciation of the ’90s cult hit than Mr. Nanjiani, who’s turned a love of the show into a flourishing side career. With The X-Files returning to television, and the movies airing on IFC, we know you want to believe in Kumail’s super-fandom. Well, trust us, the truth is out there. Here are just a few examples.


5. He has a podcast dedicated to the show

IFC Originals

IFC Originals

For a year and a half, Kumail has hosted The X-Files Files, a podcast in which he and a guest break down specific episodes of the long-running show. Now 56 episodes deep, the podcast has welcomed everyone from Paul Scheer to Jack Black to Fox Mulder himself, David Duchovny. This is a deep dive into all things X-Files from someone who knows what it’s like to be obsessed with Mulder and Scully.


4. He moderated the X-Files Comic-Con panel

Kumail joked that he tried to wait as long as possible before accepting the offer to host the X-Files panel at last year’s Comic-Con, because he didn’t want to seem desperate. He lasted 30 seconds.


3. He hosted his own X-Files marathon

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

Kumail hosted a binge watcher’s dream for X-files fans in Los Angeles in anticipation of the new season. The marathon played six classic episodes, including the terrifying “Home” and the Bryan Cranston-fronted “Drive.” Show writers Glen Morgan and James Wong stopped by to share trivia, like how they made Mulder obsessed with Elvis Presley just to annoy Duchovny.


2. He thought The X-Files was a true story


Growing up in Pakistan, Kumail had limited access to American pop culture. As he told Conan, episodes of The X-Files had a warning before each episode, stating that they were based on true stories. This, unsurprisingly, blew his mind. It turned out to be a huge disappointment when he finally moved to the States, and realized how few aliens and monsters we really had.


1. He’s on the freaking show

@kumailn/Twitter

@kumailn/Twitter

Suffice it to say, all this love has not gone unnoticed. When it was announced that The X-Files was coming back to television, Nanjiani fans knew they had to get their boy on the show. A Change.org petition was set up, demanding he be cast on the new season. This tidal wave of support garnered 91 signatures. Okay, not exactly a movement, but it turns out it didn’t matter. Nanjiami secured a part on his own, and will be in next week’s episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” He told Comic Book Resources that he had to call his wife from the set to help him get through a scene because he couldn’t remember his lines. She urged him to calm down, and just think of it as any other show. He, of course, said, “I can’t! They look like Mulder and Scully!”

Missed Portlandia? Watch it now on the IFC App. And click here to find IFC on your TV in your area.

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