DID YOU READ

“The White Ribbon” and “Divided Heaven” on DVD

“The White Ribbon” and “Divided Heaven” on DVD (photo)

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Another Teutonic act of queasy self-analysis, Konrad Wolf’s “Divided Heaven” (1964) is something like the “Rebel Without a Cause” of Cold War-crazed East Germany, made during a cultural thaw that oddly coincided with the erection of the Berlin Wall.

It’s a New Wavey romance, a tale of young lovers trying to find happiness under Communism, but as much as it feels robustly Truffautian (especially all those rooftop shots of the Berlin streets and sidewalks), it’s not gritty but spiffy, polished and visually rich, almost the GDR version of “The Cranes Are Flying.”

The new, severing vibrations of The Wall, barely mentioned and never seen, haunts the action, which is often overtaken with factory politics, union vs. management vs. worker, and witchhunting at university, where a co-ed’s parents jumping ship to the West is enough to get her expelled and painted as a lackey of imperialism.

As Rita, the passive factory girl who links up with a cranky chemical engineer and scion of her factory’s management (Eberhard Esche), Renate Blume is one of those movie faces that changes depending on how you look at her, reedy Natalie Wood maiden one minute, doe-eyed Juliette Binoche lost girl the next. Wide-eyed and sympathetic, she’s a classic foil for the story’s social tensions, which eventually carry the couple over the Wall and into the intimidating freedom of the West.

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Still, the loveliest thing about Wolf’s movie is its generational vibe — the era’s requisite youthful fire is in great supply, but this was also when movies discovered that sometimes, people just hung out, and young people in love hang out a lot — as well as its meaning for Germans of a particular age, then and now. (In 1994, it was voted the 57th most important German film of all time in a survey of filmmakers and critics, above Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” and films by Herzog, Dreyer and Pabst.)

It always fascinates me — if not everyone else, I know — to discover films that have been epochal touchstones in the lives of entire filmgoing publics and yet have remained more or less unknown to us in the English-speaking, supposedly tastemaking West.

To an entire slice of postwar Northern Europeans, “Rebel Without a Cause” (or pick your anthem film) could be “the American ‘Divided Heaven,'” not the other way around.

“The White Ribbon” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is now available on DVD and Blu-ray; “Divided Heaven” (First Run Features) is now available on DVD.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Where our greatest actresses fit in at the multiplex and at the arthouse.

Where our greatest actresses fit in at the multiplex and at the arthouse. (photo)

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Shortly after the Cannes awards were over, the London Times‘ Kate Muir sat down with Best Actress winner Juliette Binoche to conduct an interesting interview.

Muir makes the observation that Binoche “is one of the few actors to cross, undamaged, from mainstream to arthouse and back.” That’s a select club — one whose female population might be argued to include Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton and few others.

That cluster doesn’t have much in common, except that all were big stars of the past decade without big hits. Watts and Moore can be a little more hit-or-miss with the scripts they choose, while Swinton isn’t as well-known, which gives her more liberty to dip into both paycheck supporting roles (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and hardcore arthouse exercises (“The Man From London”). Penelope Cruz has more charisma than chops, but she’s never boring to watch. Regardless, we have a lot of talented actresses distinguished by their dedication to small films, perhaps by necessity.

It’s considered smart for all but the most infallible stars to, from time to time, diversify their resumes with low-budget parts presumably designed to shore up their cred. Binoche, uniquely, seems to have almost never taken the paycheck in the first place. With the exceptions of “Chocolat” and, uh, “Dan In Real Life” (which I’ve heard is above average anyway), she’s managed to be One Of The Few French Actresses People Know By Name while barely coming anywhere near the multiplex. It’s an impressive trick.

05252010_flight.jpgPart of the reason Binoche seems not to belong anywhere near the multiplex is simple: aside from Swinton on the above list, few performers take so much trouble to actively alienate their audiences. Watching her is to see cerebrality in action.

Which is precisely why I like her. Binoche is a chilly actress. As a harridan in “Cache,” she rocked; as a self-absorbed thespian (making up most of her dialogue!) in “Flight of the Red Balloon,” she gave arguably the definitive portrait of what it means to try to be a good single mother while maintaining a career. She’s chilly, much more so than Kidman or her fellow arthouse standbyes, which makes her fascinating. She’s a crossover star best known for her possibly worst movie (“The English Patient”) well recognized without having a mainstream career.

Globally, our best female actors (such as Binoche, who rules) tend to be given parts that take out everything that made them interesting in the first place. If they’re safely famous outside the blockbuster circuit, that gives them the liberty to ignore their presumably star-making roles (never a safe bet there days) and cred to go back and forth. The franchise rarely rests on them: Gwyneth Paltrow gave both “Iron Man” movies some juice, but apparently that doesn’t matter no matter how much better she made the movies.

Sexism doesn’t exist in an overt form; it’s just there in the proof that talented female actors settle for indie films far more than they should. Binoche could’ve been a star (or at least starlet) in a previous age; now she just takes serious parts because, honestly, why not. Writers are plentiful; good female parts, not so much.

[Photos: “Certified Copy,” IFC Films, 2010; “Flight of the Red Balloon,” IFC Films, 2007]

X-Files Movie as a Swedish Movie

Xistential-Files

See What The X-Files Would Look Like as a Swedish Film

Catch the X-Files movies Saturday, January 23rd starting at 12:15P ET/11:15 PT on IFC.

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20th Century Fox / Ten Thirteen Productions

For all its strengths, The X-Files is largely lacking in morose soliloquies pinned by existential ennui. So we decided to grab the Bergman by the horns and remedy the issue. Through simple, everyday teutonic voiceover and apiary symbolism, the Swedish version of Mulder and Scully represents the angst-ridden government agents-slash-nihilists we all wish them to be. Is Mulder searching for his sister…or his soul? The truth is out there.

Check out what The X-Files would look like as an expressionist Swedish film below. And be sure to catch The X-Files: Fight the Future and The X-Files: I Want to Believe this month on IFC.

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