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“Word Is Out” and “The Disappeared” on DVD

“Word Is Out” and “The Disappeared” on DVD (photo)

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Movies are Saturday night-wasting entertainment and they’re transcendent mega-art, but they’re also history, living tissues of the past that overpower any other medium we have for preserving experience and retaining cultural memory. This is no small matter, despite the relatively slight influence that film’s historical potential has in the consumer marketplace, which is virtually defined by its amnesia. “Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives” (1977), then, is a gift, not just a film preserved and sold as product, but a piece of the 20th century that will now never quite fade completely from view.

Shot and assembled by a six-person collective (including Rob Epstein, later director of “The Times of Harvey Milk” and “Common Threads”), this film is as simple as it is expansive: amidst the definitive stirrings of the gay rights movement, the filmmakers sat down with 26 gay men and women — young and old, fat and skinny, urban and rural, educated and not, of a variety of ethnicities — and just let them tell their stories.

Such a film made in 1997 or 1987 might have been an interesting cultural footnote or at best an AIDS-era testament, but filmed and released during the Ford Administration, “Word Is Out” pioneered the territory, and captures the overlapping moment when gay life transitioned from a secret and shameful underground into an indelible social force, where it’s been ever since.

06082010_WordisOut2.jpgIt’s a ’70s doc, so it’s rough and slapdash and shot on actual film, itself a kind of time capsule of activist-filmmaking innocence. But it’s the people that matter, and it matters that some are remarkable while others are not, and yet all have snapshots to add to our understanding of life as it was constructed for us and by us not so long ago.

From elderly couples to college students, the stories often (but not always) entail a self-discovery flashpoint when the Eisenhower-era institutional ideas didn’t work anymore, and husbands and wives walked out of their marriages (with and without their children) in order to reinvent themselves as they should’ve been to begin with.

There are subversive disclosures — some forgotten (several witnesses testify to years wasted committed to mental hospitals, complete with electroshock) and others still not acknowledged (several men have blissfully fond memories of being children involved in sexual relationships with adults). Since the movement was still building and hadn’t yet freeze-dried into a jargonized militancy as so many movements do, there’s a refreshing lack of self-aggrandizement and flaunted eccentricity, amid the copious beer and cigarettes, and a well-articulated sense that being gay in the ’50s and ’60s was a kind of espionage, belonging to a massive sleeper cell from which you couldn’t wait to awake.

Inevitably, “Word Is Out” is a club movie, an anthem for gays, but it’s also a full-frontal contextualizer for the rest of us, at the time (it circled the globe, and played on PBS) and right now, standing in its new restored form as one of maybe eight non-fiction films high schoolers should be required to see before graduating.

06082010_TheDisappeared.jpgThe Brit horror indie “The Disappeared” is more likely what the high schoolers will pull off the Blockbuster shelves or VOD or whatever, thinking it’s a stay-up-late creep-out among far too many. What they’ll get, though, is a moody meditation on grief — which is what modern J-horror-inflected horror films all are, walking-talking metaphors in which ghosts et al. aren’t merely bugaboos or even Robin Wood’s “surplus aggression,” but symbols of personal trauma.

Director Johnny Kevorkian (his real name, apparently) has studied his Asian genre films, and “The Disappeared” is so richly subjective and gritty, with a working-class London vibe so acutely evoked, that it’s as if Ken Loach had decided to make a horror movie.

The story is maybe too simple: Matthew (Harry Treadaway) is a teenager just released from a mental hospital after his little brother vanished in a nearby park. The disappearance upsets the city, the absent lad’s face still shows up on missing children PSAs, and Matthew’s father still boils with rage, blaming the older brother. Of course, Matthew begins to hear his brother’s voice on video and audio tapes, begins to see the boy lurking around the tenements, and so tentatively searches for clues to his whereabouts.

Soon enough, Matthew realizes half the people he meets and speaks to turn out to be ghosts — busy Nigerian actress Nikki Amuka-Bird leaves a thumbprint on your forehead in a three-minute performance. (As Matthew’s buddy, Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton is almost unrecognizable.) The convenient denouement, tightly scripted as it is, isn’t important, but the film’s subtextual thrust is — it’s not the first film to use horror movie staples as a way to see social tragedy and the traces it leaves behind, but it’s a good one.

“Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives” (Oscilloscope Laboratories) and “The Disappeared” (MPI Home Video) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photo: Ros Leeming and Harry Treadway in “The Disappeared,” IFC Films, 2009]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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