DID YOU READ

“Death Race 2000” and “Bluebeard” on DVD

“Death Race 2000” and “Bluebeard” on DVD (photo)

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It’s not difficult to let yourself get carried away by full-bore dystopian satires like “Death Race 2000” (1975), for a landfill full of reasons. Two immediately pop into mind: on one hand, unsavory poppycock like Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s infamous film make plain the simple fact that science fiction, when it’s done properly, isn’t about thrills. It’s about ideas and social speculation, and is therefore a far closer cousin to pure satire than it’s ever been to horror films (the genre with which sci-fi is usually clumped).

You could argue it a dozen ways pro or con, but sorry, without the twisted birth imagery and post-industrial wage-slavery context and equation between commerce and rabid predation, “Alien” (for one example) would be just a horror film and also not worth remembering. With it, it’s a scalpel taken to the thorax of our socioeconomic Manifest Destiny.

Examples are everywhere, and once you grow up, you learn to appreciate dystopias particularly, because they are baldly about the present, and they wield the sharpest blades of any topical fiction. Sadly, they’re a touch out of date — virtual-life entries like “Gamer” and “Surrogates” have unsharpened teeth and tend toward action-movie bathos.

Of recent films, only “WALL-E” had the walnuts to satirize the entire thrust of the American lifestyle, even if it charmed us, too, and made a half-billion dollars in the process. If nobody got angry, chalk it up to the same superhuman self-indulgence powers the Pixar movie skewered.

06222010_Deathrace2000.jpgIn the ’60s and ’70s, things were different — fierce, wicked dystopian scenarios were hot, often popular and remarkably eagle-eyed. (When they’re remade today, as “Rollerball” or “Death Race,” they’re turned into Disney Channel young adult actioners.)

“Death Race 2000” was in its day an inevitable splooge: the future-fascist-state-ruling-by-homicidal-sport idea is at least as old as Elio Petri’s “The 10th Victim” (1965) (which is very much a comedy about televised human hunting, and vulnerable to a humorless remake soon). It’s not a notion that could’ve arrived before television, because no one had seen social control like TV before.

In Bartel’s outrageously silly take (based on a story by genre maven and filmmaker Ib Melchior), America rules the world and remains entranced and juiced only by a televised cross-country race in which the drivers accumulate points by running over pedestrians.

Think for a moment on the statement that makes to filmgoers just a few years after the cessation of fresh war footage broadcast every night from Southeast Asia, and then consider how much closer the film is to “Network” than, say, “Star Wars,” and how much closer today’s televisual fads are edging toward real-life mortal risk in order to nab viewers.

06222010_RobertaCollinsDeathRace2000.jpgGood thing the text resonates, because Bartel is a proudly tasteless oaf, and his movie was crude even by Corman’s standards, tracking David Carradine’s mysterious Frankenstein (dressed, provocatively, in B&D zippered leather) and his broad-comedy competition (including Sylvester Stallone when he could be funny) across desert byways in a set of absurd roadsters clearly inspired by Hanna-Barbera’s “Wacky Races.” (One of the racers, Pam-Grier-prison-movie vet Roberta Collins, is a Nazi covered in swastikas — imagine that today.)

“Death Race 2000” is a poundingly obnoxious film. As the TV host, The Real Don Steele, a famous LA disc jockey, is practically the film’s lead character, braying hyperbolic announcer baloney directly into the camera in a manner that should make us ashamed of advertising media in general. The cheap gore and glib attitude toward road death is its own kind of commentary, of course, as is the Orwellian agitprop-villainization of the French (!).

The race’s victims aren’t forgotten — their widows are trotted out in front of the cameras game-show style and awarded vacation homes. This was us in the Nixon era, and guess what, it still is. In the ’70s, plenty of critics (like Roger Ebert) were dismayed by the movie’s amoral attitude, but today it looks positively ethical.

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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.