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The Dark Backward: The Secret of George Clooney’s Success

The Dark Backward: The Secret of George Clooney’s Success (photo)

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You gotta wonder, in our pimply-faced, iCarly-ed, CGI-stoned, giant-fucking-robots-&-superheroes teenage CandyLand, where the millions of dollars “young adults” somehow obtain to spend on everything overrule the rest of us and Hollywood movies rarely get made if they do not beg for a pubertal audience, what the deal is with George Clooney. Just skill, intelligence, good looks and the lust factor of middle-aged filmgoing women can’t fully explain his power and prominence. His movies, good or bad (mostly pretty damned good), coming usually two per year, are always aimed at educated, discriminating adults, a chunk of society normally as valuable to Hollywood as Papuan cannibals.

“The American” provides a clue, or rather, I should say, “The American”‘s ad art does — the composition and graphics are deliberately retro, deliberately 40 years out of date, evoking more acutely the posters for “The Quiller Memorandum” or “The Mackintosh Man” than any film made this millennium. But it’s not a marketing designer’s inspired fluke — it fits Clooney’s entire persona like a silk suit, because Clooney is not Of the Present but a deft, carefully engineered manifestation of the ultracool past. There’s nobody else that does this; he is our only retro-icon movie star, a vital cultural presence strangely and exhilaratingly connected to yesteryear.

Nostalgia is a dirty word, for good sociopolitical reasons, but it’s also a pleasure. For one thing, the past is beautiful. History is beautiful. Michael Chabon, admitting in an essay in “Maps and Legends” to suffering “intensely from bouts, at times almost disabling, of a limitless, all-encompassing nostalgia, extending well back into the years before I was born,” makes a concise claim toward the impulse’s reevaluation:

The mass synthesis, marketing, and distribution of versions and simulacra of an artificial past over the last thirty years or so, has ruined the reputation and driven a fatal stake through the heart of nostalgia. Those of us who cannot make it from one end of a street to another without being momentarily upended by some fragment of outmoded typography, curve of chrome fender or whiff of lavender hair oil from the pate of a semiretired neighbor are compelled by the disrepute into which nostalgia has fallen to mourn secretly the passing of a million marvelous quotidian things.

09022010_clooney3.jpgI’d be as happy as the next guy to blame the situation on rampaging commodification, as Chabon does, though I suspect a good many cultural pressures are responsible collectively. Whatever — if you belong to this tribe, Chabon provides you with an anthem in the next paragraph:

We are not, as our critics would claim, necessarily convinced that things were once better than they are now, nor that we ourselves our parents, or our grandparents were happier ‘back then.’ We are simply like those savants in the Borges story who stumble upon certain objects and totems that turn out to be the random emanations and proofs of existence of Tlon. The past is another planet; anyone ought to wonder, as we do, at any traces of it that turn up on this one.

Here, here. George Clooney would probably agree, because his career choices have routinely harbored forgotten DNA in them: the neo-Sinatra heist films, the menopausal dramas (so popular in the American New Wave), the love of old time broadcasting, the history-drenched political voyages, even rash experiments like Soderbergh’s “The Good German” and Clooney’s own “Leatherheads,” both of them misdirected attempts at literally reincarnating Golden Age genres. I’d even suggest that the Coen films Clooney’s starred in are closer in spirit to the Peter Sellers films of the Johnson-Nixon years than contemporary comedies. But the way Clooney is marketed and framed, even for films not inherently nostalgic, still recalls the day and age when Clooney was a boy hanging with his dad in Midwestern TV station newsrooms.

There are two factors at work, and one is simply the seductive power of nostalgia in general, which I’m surprised is not more prevalent now. (Think about it: nostalgia for the previous decade or two was a rampaging cultural blight ever since “Happy Days,” but right now we seem only interested in the next five minutes. Meaning, frankly, that I am a little nostalgic for when nostalgia was cool and ubiquitous.)

09022010_clooney2.jpgBut there’s also this, on behalf of Clooney’s audience: he’s a man. There’s no mistaking him for a cute-teen-idol-turned-baby-faced-semi-adult, a la the Depps and DiCaprios and Pitts of the world. This is something remarkable in and of itself these days, now that Harrison Ford has aged out, and most leading men otherwise seem like earnest, protein-shake-swilling lacrosse players. This is not how it used to be: going back to the ’30s, movie stars always seemed like fully grown, savvy, experienced adults, even when they were in their 20s.

No one then or now would confuse Clark Gable or Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart for post-teen hunks, and neither would we, come the ’60s and ’70s, wonder when Steve McQueen or Sean Connery or Charles Bronson were going to start playing believable adults. Things began to change quickly with Star Wars and the Reagan Administration, two successive forms of cultural infantilization — suddenly, adolescence was the new adulthood, and movie stars who would resemble teenagers deep into their 40s gained eminence.

Clooney is a throwback in this way most of all, to the bulk of the 20th century and movie history, to the days when male movie stars had lines in their faces and needed to shave every day. Over three-quarters of Americans are old enough to legally buy whiskey, and Clooney is for us, the undertargeted majority who do not spend days playing “Halo,” do not read graphic novels regularly, and do not know or care to know who Ke$ha is. At least for now (Clooney will be 50 next year), he’s the one-man living proof in theaters that the world is not owned by tenth-graders.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.