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Disc Covering: “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same” and neither will documentaries.

Disc Covering: “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same” and neither will documentaries. (photo)

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I promised this column wouldn’t just be about making fun of DTV crap. And I’ll be honest: to date, I haven’t really kept my promise.

Well, this is the week we correct that.

“Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same” (2010)
Directed by Jody Lee Lipes

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: An artful doc about a young artist preparing for his first solo gallery show while ignoring his bills and fighting with his girlfriend.

Salable Elements: An extremely talented director/cinematographer, a subject whose work has been exhibited in galleries around the world and covered by the New York Times. (In other words: not much).

07062010_BrockEnrightDVDCover.jpgBiggest Success: With “Brock Enright,” first-time director Jody Lee Lipes managed a rare feat: to make a documentary that doesn’t look like a documentary. Lipes works primarily as a cinematographer, and in making “Brock Enright,” he abandoned the hand-held camera and talking head format of basically all modern documentaries. Instead, he shot the film like one of the fiction features he’s worked on — like Antonio Campos’ “Afterschool.”

His emphasis is on carefully composed medium shots with very little movement, either from pans or zooms or from jostling camera in your hands (nearly every shot is from a camera mounted on a tripod). The effect is complicated: at first, we’re simply stunned to be watching a documentary that looks so much more dynamic than what we’re used to seeing. Some have argued that the entire film is staged, and given the beauty of the shots and how difficult and time-consuming it could have been to achieve them, it’s not hard to see why. But Lipes’ style would be little more than a novelty and a conversation piece if it didn’t relate to the film’s subject, which is the way in which an artist sees — or tries to convince himself to see — the world.

Enright, who gained a degree of notoriety in 2002 for an “art project” that involved creating designer kidnapping schemes for the rich, was commissioned by the Perry Rubenstein Gallery in New York for his first solo show in 2006. To prepare the work for the show, Enright and his girlfriend Kirsten Deirup travel cross-country from their home in Brooklyn to her family’s cabin in California, which has been offered up to the couple as a sort of outdoor studio. Along the way, Enright directs Deirup in a bunch of disconnected scenes, intended for a film Enright’s working on, that range from demeaning to nonsensical to demeaningly nonsensical.

In “Afterschool,” Lipes’ idiosyncratic framings — close-ups with way too much headroom, dialogue exchanges between characters shoved all the way to the side of the screen, shots more focused on elements of the mise-en-scène than the characters in the foreground — mimicked the amateurish camerawork and accidental beauty of the film’s Flip Video-obsessed protagonists. Capturing Enright’s world in similar fashion could be Lipes’ way of implying a similar level of immaturity on the part of Enright. Based on the way he’s depicted in this film, that doesn’t seem like an outrageous assertion.

07062010_BrockEnright2.jpgIt’s also possible to read Lipes’ off-kilter aesthetic as a representation of the disconnect between the artist’s perspective of the world and the world’s perspective of the artist. The film begins with a close-up of Enright in a wig, fake nose, and fake teeth, mumbling under his breath incoherently about how he’s “trying to tell a guy” something. Since we can’t quite make out what he’s saying, and since most of Enright’s work makes very little sense even to some members of his own family, the scene seems to address the way an artist is only as good as his ability to communicate his vision. Maybe Enright’s art is terrible. Or maybe it’s great. Or maybe Enright’s just not doing a very good job of expressing his point of view.

Enright believes in his work strongly, but he can never really convey — to himself or anyone else — what it’s all about. He cares what others think about his art — we hear him crying, at one point, after a withering critique from his potential brother-in-law — but his own thoughts seem hopelessly out of reach. (“I don’t know what the fuck we just did,” he tells a collaborator proudly.) Some of the pieces he likes best, in fact, are the ones that he can’t rationally justify. In presenting a visual perspective on the world different from the one we’re used to seeing without offering any sort of explanation for it, Lipes’ photography echoes that central dilemma.

Biggest Failure: Factory 25’s otherwise beautiful limited edition LP/DVD version of “Brock Enright” completely spoils the huge surprise awaiting viewers at the end of the film by putting an enormous picture of it on the packaging. While it’s probably a good bet that anyone buying this expensive and elaborate box set is already a fan of the film, why take the risk? If you haven’t seen the film, and you do get this version of it, I’d avoid eye contact with most of the interior box art until after I’d watched the feature.

07062010_BrockEnright3.jpgBest Moment: While fighting to finish this project, Enright is constantly up against his limited timeframe and even more limited funding. His excessive spending, and its impact on his relationship with Deirup is one of the ongoing themes of the movie, and the driving force of most of their scenes. Again and again, she demands he explain how they’ll pay their rent without any income, and again and again he deflects because, he claims, any talk of fiduciary reality is a drain on his extraordinarily fickle creativity.

The looming threat of economic catastrophe hangs over much of the movie, but never with as much bleak humor as the scene where Enright shops for art supplies with a friend. Lipes locks off the shot of the pair ringing up their purchases so that the clerk and the cash register is in the foreground, with Enright in the background facing the camera. As Enright and company come and go from the frame, the camera stays trained on the register, as it prints out the receipt, which just grows longer, and longer, and longer, and longer…

Special Features: Factory 25’s release of “Brock Enright” comes in two editions: a standard version and that spoilery limited LP/DVD edition that includes a Brock Enright vinyl album with individually hand-drawn artwork. (My copy has the word “night” written on one side and some diagonal lines on the other). I don’t have a record player, so that extra’s value is lost on me, though it’s worth nothing that the music Enright himself plays throughout the film is beautiful, and maybe the truest and clearest expression of his artistic talent.

07062010_BrockEnright4.jpgIt’s unfortunate that the rest of the DVD extras are focused on the film’s subject, since the most interesting artist connected “Brock Enright” is its director. Sadly, the only interview on the disc is a backslapping conversation with Enright; the other special features are a batch of video loops and an hour-long work-in-progress version of the experimental video Enright and his associates create throughout Lipes’ documentary. Scenes that appear in “Good Times Will Never Be the Same,” like Deirup jumping rope in her pajamas on a desert road while repeatedly shouting “Fuck you, you piece of shit!” don’t make any more sense in context.

At one point, “Brock Enright,” Enright dismisses his girlfriend’s worries about money by reminding her that if they’re $20,000 in the hole, they only need to sell two of his videos to break even. Anyone willing to pay $10,000 for this video needs a copy of “Summer Hours” and a stern talking to.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release: Absolutely. Lipes broke some new ground in the world of documentaries with “Brock Enright.” In my book, that automatically makes a film that’s worth seeing on the big screen.

For Further Viewing: Check out the trailer for Lipes’ “NY Export: Opus Jazz,” a dazzling adaptation of a Jerome Robbins’ “ballet in sneakers” he co-directed with Henry Joost. This film, made for PBS’ “Great Performances” was amongst the most exciting visual experiences I saw at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. Mark my words: Lipes is going to make a major impact on the world of cinematography, folks. With these two films, he’s already started.

[Photos: “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same,” Factory 25, 2010]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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