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The Doc Days of Summer: “Great Directors”

The Doc Days of Summer: “Great Directors” (photo)

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Angela Ismailos probably wasn’t intending herself to be included when she gave her film the simple title, “Great Directors,” but when the film played to a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival last year, Ismailos figured they were just applauding for the ten internationally renowned auteurs she profiles.

“Todd Haynes was like ‘get up!'” laughed Ismailos, who eventually realized it was the only thing that would stem the five-minute-and-counting ovation. “Marco Müller, the director of Venice told me, ‘I’ve never seen an audience touched so much by a documentary.’ I guess it reminds people what all good cinema used to be.”

Indeed, “Great Directors” will likely have movie lovers running to their local video stores and Netflix queues to discover or revisit the work of the ten directors Ismailos gathered for her documentary, a celebrated group that includes Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Agnès Varda, Ken Loach, Liliana Cavani, Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater and John Sayles. But the film is far from the rote dissertation of the directors’ greatest hits that one might imagine, instead benefitting from Ismailos’ curiosity as a burgeoning filmmaker and free-associating interrogator.

07012010_ToddHaynesGreatDirectors.jpgIsmailos was actually working on a fictional film of her own when she decided to take the research she was doing with screenings of French New Wave and Italian neorealist classics and channel it into a full-fledged “thesis on cinema.” That ability to shift gears effortlessly is one inherent to “Great Directors” as a whole.

The documentary flows freely between talk of cinema, of course, but also of politics (Frears notes the media had a very different relationship with politicians when he started, saying “[The BBC] encouraged you to misbehave”), class structure (“In America, there are classes and we don’t like to talk about them,” says Sayles) and sexuality (“Eroticism, I don’t know what that is,” says the always provocative Breillat).

Offering context for their work, “Great Directors” sees the ten directors discussing the experiences and influences that shaped them rather than anecdotes from their sets; Lynch, who ironically tells some of the film’s best inside production stories, warns Ismailos early in the film, “As soon as you make a film, people want you to talk about it. The film does the talking.”

In fact, Lynch was the last person to agree to be interviewed, but was won over by the same personalized letter-writing campaign that Ismailos used to persuade other filmmakers to be in the film, with a pitch steeped in her own love of Jean Cocteau, Tarkovsky and Renoir and focusing on the fact that she “wasn’t a journalist, I was a filmmaker and I didn’t have any specific questions.”

Some early reviews have taken Ismailos to task for including herself so prominently in “Great Directors,” with several noting her eye-catching flaxen locks as one of the film’s main characters. Yet one wonders whether anyone else could have gotten the same degree of openness from her subjects, including this bit from Lynch on the failure of “Dune,” which we have as an exclusive clip here:

“I think to face your failure as a human being and as an artist is very important,” said Ismailos, who also devotes significant screen time to Linklater’s “The Newton Boys” and many of the lesser-regarded works of the directors on hand.

Even of their triumphs, Ismailos catches Cavani saying her “Night Porter” that “We were shocked and even a little offended by its success.” Likewise, the usually reticent Frears speaks to the accomplishment of “My Beautiful Laundrette” as being ultimately being a failure since he envisioned it as an attack on Margaret Thatcher and its financial success led “[us] all to become small businessmen, which is what [Thatcher] wanted.”



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.”


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. 


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.


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…


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.


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 ’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?”


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).



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.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.