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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.