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I should say, “The American”‘s ad art does — the composition and graphics are deliberately retro, deliberately 40 years out of date, evoking more acutely the posters for “The Quiller Memorandum” or “The Mackintosh Man” than any film made this millennium.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.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



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.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.