DID YOU READ

“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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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.