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Álex de la Iglesia Isn’t Clowning Around at Fantastic Fest

Álex de la Iglesia Isn’t Clowning Around at Fantastic Fest (photo)

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“I really hate clowns,” Álex de la Iglesia admitted mere moments into his introduction for “The Last Circus” (or “Balada Triste de Trompeta,” which translates to “Ballad of the Sad Trumpet”) his epic, darkly comic story of two clowns who fight for the love of an acrobat during the tumultuous era of fascism that followed the Spanish Civil War. Joined by Carolina Bang who plays the object of the clowns’ affection, de la Iglesia made the rare trip to the States for Fantastic Fest co-founder Harry Knowles, who geeked out while telling how he was first introduced to the director’s work when someone slipped him a sixth generation VHS copy of de la Iglesia’s “Day of the Beast.” He even added that de la Iglesia had an inadvertent hand in creating Fantastic Fest since it was after a screening of “800 Bullets” in Sitges that he and Tim League first discussed the idea of a genre festival in Austin.

Greeting Knowles with a hug, de la Iglesia was far less gracious when discussing clowns, to the delight of the audience. “My father took me to the circus in some dirty place. It always smelled bad,” de la Iglesia said. “[I would wonder] why are these guys so desperate? The red nose in the middle of the face? He’s a fucking alcoholic. The big shoes, why?” He went on to wonder aloud why there was always a sad clown — “why is he there if he’s not funny?”

09302010_AlexdelaIglesiaLastCircus.jpgIn “The Last Circus,” the sad clown Javier (Carlos Areces) has a purpose, assigned to his lot in life after coming from a long line of funny clowns that ends when his father explains to him that he’s seen too much tragedy in his life to be funny, only minutes before his execution at the hands of a general in Franco’s army. Next thing you know, it’s 1973 in Madrid and Javier is putting on bushy eyebrows and a single black teardrop down his face to perform in circus where he meets the beautiful and dangerous Natalia (Bang), who descends from the heavens twirling on a red ribbon and winds up being Javier’s one-way ticket to hell when the two strike up an easy friendship and her jealous, abusive boyfriend Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) turns out to be the funny clown to his sad one. Upon their introduction, Sergio tells Javier if he weren’t a clown, “I’d be a murderer.”

De la Iglesia has been down this road of violent one-upsmanship before with 1999’s “Dying of Laughter,” but in weaving in actual historical events like the assassination of Blanco during the counter-cultural revolution, “The Last Circus” is one of his broadest films to date, both in terms of scope and its humor, which pulls no punches in showing a nude Javier stripping the bones of a dead deer carcass clean while hiding from Sergio in the forest or basking in the grandeur of a war sequence involving circus performers that is usually reserved for a Spielberg-Hanks World War II miniseries. Fans of de la Iglesia will appreciate that his wild streak is back after the more serious-minded “The Oxford Murders,” and while some might not spark to his occasionally outrageous sensibilities and asides, I found “The Last Circus” benefitted from a second viewing where I wasn’t quite as caught up in his always clever visuals (he is shooting in and around a circus, after all), which allowed the story and political subtext to shine through.

“I don’t want to transplant my life onto my country’s experience,” said de la Iglesia, during the post-screening Q & A in a rare moment of seriousness. “But I believe everyone in Spain has some pain and we need to talk about it. That’s why I made the movie.”

09302010_AlexdelaIglesiaCarolinaBang.jpgThe mood was considerably lighter during his introduction to the film when he explained the inspiration for the story that pitted a sad clown against a funny one — “With age, I’ve learned one cannot laugh if somebody else is not suffering” — and subsequently put the onus on the audience: “The only way we can have fun here is if we know others are suffering.” (He plunged the dagger in when he added, “With the money that was spent making this movie, lives could’ve been saved.”)

Following the screening, Knowles pressed him on a variety of subjects and was joined by the audience in asking about his next project (“a small drama in Spain about a man who is immobilized by an accident and cannot be moved”), his and Knowles’ shared obsession with the death of Gwen Stacy in the “Spider-Man” comic books that served as a template for a scene in “The Last Circus” (“It is something that traumatized me my whole life,” said de la Iglesia) and his reaction to people who felt his English-language diversion “The Oxford Murders” was a departure from his previous work (“People say it’s not like you. Well, who am I?”).

Knowles wasted no time in asking de la Iglesia for a return visit to Austin for a career retrospective, to which the director was at least publicly noncommittal, but it was clearly a good night for de la Iglesia, who was only weeks removed from winning the Silver Lion and an Osella for best screenplay in Venice for the film. As he growled before the curtains raised on the film, “Let’s enjoy being bad.”

“The Last Circus” will be distributed next year in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures.

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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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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….

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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.

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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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