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George Hickenlooper, 1963-2010

George Hickenlooper, 1963-2010 (photo)

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Besides the initial shock that comes with the news that writer/director George Hickenlooper died in the midst of a whirlwind festival run for his latest film “Casino Jack” at the far too young age of 47 is the great irony that he reportedly passed away quietly of natural causes. For anyone who has followed Hickenlooper’s career, the latter fact may come as an even greater surprise since even more so than his films themselves, he may be best known for the struggles he endured in getting them made, the product of a indefatigable love of film, and as his cousin, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper said in a statement to The Denver Post, “his unquenchable curiosity.”

As the late Hickenlooper recounted in the foreword to his invaluable 1991 collection of interviews with directors and film critics, “Reel Conversations,” such passion for the medium was evident from an early age when he arrived in Hollywood at 17 from St. Louis over the summer and snuck onto the set of “Poltergeist” only to be escorted out by security guards in tears. Showing the same toughness he was defined by as a filmmaker, he hopped on the next bus to American Zoetrope studios across the city where he made it into the office of Francis Ford Coppola unscathed, charmed him with a sketch he drew on the bus and got invited to lunch by the director.

Incidentally, Coppola would be the subject of arguably Hickenlooper’s most famous film, “Hearts of Darkness,” that shaped the hundreds of hours of footage shot by Eleanor Coppola on the set of “Apocalypse Now” into one of the most engrossing behind-the-scenes documentaries ever made. (The film that got him the gig, “Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City,” which detailed the tumultuous making of “The Last Picture Show,” is equally compelling.)

10292010_Hickenlooper.jpgA student of medium who had the arts running in his blood (“Fantasia” composer Leopold Stokowski was his great uncle), Hickenlooper was unusually connected to greatness, moving on from documentaries about celebrated filmmakers to making dramas that would become important stepping stones for one reason or another. In 1994, he directed the short “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which would later lead to star Billy Bob Thornton’s award-winning feature (though a falling out between the director and star would prevent Hickenlooper from returning to “Sling Blade.”)

Likewise, his gritty dramas during the ’90s about life in Los Angeles would introduce or reintroduce some of the city’s finest talent to audiences in films such as “The Low Life,” featuring Kyra Sedgwick, Ron Livingston and Renee Zellweger, and “Dogtown,” starring Jon Favreau and Rory Cochrane, not to mention his 1996 thriller “Persons Unknown” with a then-unknown Naomi Watts starring alongside Kelly Lynch and Joe Mantegna. Hickenlooper even dared to take on Orson Welles by directing the unproduced screenplay for the political thriller “The Big Brass Ring” and cast Mick Jagger in one of his most successful onscreen performances in the writer’s block drama “The Man From Elysian Fields.”

Hickenlooper acknowledged to Bright Lights Film Journal in an extensive interview in February that his passion for film history actually may have handicapped him in his early days of making narratives, telling Steve Johnson, “I was making serious and intelligent documentaries, but my interest in making them inherently came from this love. And so as a consequence of that, I made a lot of films where I was evoking the sensibilities of a lot of other directors.”

However, one could argue that it was a documentary that allowed Hickenlooper to really find his groove as a storyteller in 2003 when he helmed “The Mayor of Sunset Strip,” an alternately joyous and heartbreaking portrait of Los Angeles radio legend Rodney Bingenheimer. Since the film’s subject was a Zelig-like presence in the ’70s music scene, Hickenlooper’s ability to appreciate pop culture and celebrity without being in awe of it made for a particularly poignant and understanding look at a man who craved fame.

Hickenlooper’s next two narrative features, the Edie Sedgwick biopic “Factory Girl” and “Casino Jack,” the blow-by-blow account of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, would explore similar themes and though each ran into complications outside their actual production – “Factory Girl” was rushed into release by The Weinstein Company and “Casino Jack” survived a change in distributors — they are distinctly the brand of fiercely independently films that Hickenlooper at first admired and then became a purveyor of.

While there will be great sadness at the Starz Denver Film Festival on Thursday night when Hickenlooper was scheduled to present “Casino Jack” in his cousin’s city (two days after John could potentially become the state’s next governor), it will likely be the premiere of “Casino Jack” in his hometown of St. Louis on November 11th that will prove to be the most emotional. (Tributes on his Facebook wall are already flooding in.) “Casino Jack” is currently scheduled to open nationally on Christmas, a day when Hickenlooper’s gifts to the artform he loved can be properly celebrated, though that’s no reason not to start now. (As Moisés Chiullan notes in his warm personal remembrance of Hickenlooper, many of his earlier films are on Netflix Instant.)

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

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

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

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

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