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“Suddenly…”: Seven different salutes to the Odessa Steps scene.

“Suddenly…”: Seven different salutes to the Odessa Steps scene. (photo)

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Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film “The Battleship Potemkin” boasts the double-edged distinction of containing a sequence so famous — the “Odessa Steps,” part of the very ABCs of film history — that people who’ve never seen the movie are intimately familiar with it, the same way everyone’s seen a rocket launch into the moon’s eye-socket even if they don’t know it’s a Méliès short.

The steps sequence, which you can watch, with the Pet Shop Boys’ new soundtrack, here, is famous for its effectiveness, its pioneering use of montage, its striking violence, and of course, its bit with the baby carriage. And because of this, it’s been ripped off, homaged, parodied and appropriated in dozens of ways. Here are seven of the best examples of the way it’s trickled down into the culture.

06142010_untouchables.jpg“The Untouchables” (1987)

Brian De Palma is as diametrically opposite a filmmaker from Eisenstein as you could imagine. No fast editing or montage for him — he favors the long, cool gaze, preferably in slow motion. The most cynical movie of his career (and, for some reason, one of his rare hits), “The Untouchables” contemplates Kevin Costner’s preening Prohibition agent Eliot Ness as he chases down bootlegger and crime king Al Capone (Robert De Niro). The big shoot-out, set in Chicago’s Union Station, does two things. It allows De Palma to destroy montage theory (filming it in elegant slow-mo as opposed to with fast, dynamic cutting) and it lets him taunt the audience. “Okay,” he seems to be saying; “worried about that baby? Fine. The baby can live. Everyone else will get shot though. Happy now?” The cuts to the blond-haired urchin seal the deal.

06142010_vaccuum.jpg“Brazil” (1985)

There are plenty of good reasons for Terry Gilliam to parody “Potemkin” with a vacuum cleaner in place of a baby carriage. It plays nicely into “Brazil”‘s skewed hierarchical world, where the mundane has been elevated into the sublime and ducts are the highest architectural embellishment. In the film’s satiric rendering, the death of a loud, annoying house-cleaning accessory is as tragic as the snuffing out of an infant. But according to Gilliam on the commentary track, “this is what happens when I get bored” during shooting — he claims his elaborate shot parodies were made up to kill time. Gilliam’s compared the over-designed frames and sight gags of his work as being in part inspired by Mad magazine’s old trick of including cartoon gags in the margins of unrelated pages. His invocation of “Potemkin” is intended in the same spirit. (Skip to about 7:30 in the video below.)

06142010_partner.jpg“Partner” (1968)

In Bernardo Bertolucci’s third film, characters say things like “Advertising is a servant of fascism” and mean it. Loosely inspired by Dostoyevsky’s “The Double,” “Partner” stars Pierre Clementi as two doppelgangers, both of whom happen to be assholes. The revolutionary rhetoric leads to one of the film’s more amusing bits. Clementi and his theater students stand on a staircase, put an explosive in a baby carriage and push it down the stairs. When it doesn’t go off (presumably some kind of metaphor), they run around releasing red colored smoke into the air while making noises that sound a lot like a six-year-old imitating an airplane. While I couldn’t track down a video of that bit on YouTube, I did turn up this sequence, which contains the strangest song you’ll hear this week:

06142010_bullets.jpg“When Nature Calls” (1985)

Troma release “When Nature Calls” is a movie that, to get to a mere 75 minute runtime, had to be padded at the front with three faux-trailers, beating “Grindhouse” to the punch decades early. One of those is “Baby Bullets,” about a gangster baby. It’s ridiculous, but contains a “Potemkin” sight gag that’s inventive — the carriage goes down the stairs, but it’s actually a small car, with the baby whizzing past everyone, including the glasses woman. The rest is forgettable — much better is the full-length trailer for the whole film, which includes excerpts from “Raging Bullshit” (I’m sure you can guess what that’s a spoof of), a dead-on visit to the “Asylum for the Terminally Jerry Lewis” and a cameo from G. Gordon Liddy.

06142010_critic.jpg“The Critic” (1994-95)

This one’s brief but worthwhile: a down in the dumps Jay Sherman — his show canceled, his life purposeless (well, more so than usual) — decides to revisit his film school days and screen his student short. We’re invited to snigger at all the tropes of the unwatchably pretentious art film, which include salutes to the “Potemkin” baby carriage as well as “The Seventh Seal” (the title “L’artiste est Morte” is a dead giveaway), before Jay calls himself “Prometheus Sherman” and hangs himself. As far as art school parodies go, it’s as wan as “Art School Confidential” (it’s shooting fish in a barrel, and no one really does this), though the Kool-Aid jug morphing into a mushroom cloud is a nice touch. Jay, of course, is honest with himself: “I know,” he shrugs. “It stinks.” (Skip to 1:28 if you’re in a hurry.)

06142010_catastrophe.jpg“Une Catastrophe” (2008)

In his book “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell proposes that the essential mindset of the 20th century is to live in perpetual wartime, used to the fact that there’s never global peace. Jean-Luc Godard would probably agree — the opening “Inferno” montage from 2003’s “Notre Musique” posits as much. If you don’t have ten minutes to spare (or the patience to give Godard ten minutes) on that clip, here’s the just-over-a-minute short “Une Catastrophe,” whittled down from the same material, and reappropriating “Potemkin.”

06142010_naked.jpg“Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” (1994)

By the time Leslie Nielsen’s no-brow “Naked Gun” franchise got around to parodying “The Untouchables” (back in the day when you could assume audiences remembered a movie from seven years ago — now our rapid-response parodies are a lot faster, and generally poorer for it), “Potemkin” didn’t really have anything to do with it. Instead, we get sight gags, the most inspired of which is O.J. Simpson doing a touchdown dance with a baby (three months later would come the murders and the white SUV and the trials, retroactively changing the tone of the movie). The parody doesn’t so much mock De Palma’s ponderousness as simply raise the absurdity quotient until it achieve comedy, two degrees removed from the sequence that started things.

[Photos: “Battleship Potemkin,” Kino, 1925; “The Untouchables,” Paramount, 1987; “Brazil,” Universal, 1985; “Partner,” New Yorker Films, 1968; “When Nature Calls,” Troma, 1985; “The Critic,” Sony Pictures Television, 1994-95; “Une Catastrophe,” Viennale, 2008; “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult,” Paramount, 1994]

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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.