Stephen Frears Gets Drawn Into “Tamara Drewe”

Stephen Frears Gets Drawn Into “Tamara Drewe” (photo)

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“So dinosaurs rule,” demurs Stephen Frears as he cracks a rare smile getting up from his chair. It’s perhaps as close as he’ll get to accepting a compliment on “Tamara Drewe,” a brilliantly devised reworking of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel about a seductive young woman’s upheaval of the small English town of Dorset that itself is an update of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” As vibrant as the bright blue Mini Cooper Gemma Arterton’s Drewe rides into town in, and as cheeky as the Lily Allen album she puts on blast, the comedy appears to be the work of a director a third of Frears’ 69 years, though it has an easy wit and canny eye for observation that only comes with age.

Being one of the few resounding successes of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “Tamara Drewe” has worked her charms on Telluride and Toronto, a disposition that seems to agree with its director, who spoke about adapting his first graphic novel, the widening gap between art and entertainment in movies and the future of British films in the face of the recent decision to shut down the UK Film Council.

You’ve done other adaptations, but with this one, does having a visual reference in addition to a textual one change the way you approach the film?

Yes, I’m sure it did. I thought the comic book was so wonderful and I think the artist is such a brilliant woman, so I found it very liberating, but I really liked recreating frames she had done. When they made silent films, they would find a relational painting and say let’s light it like that and I would frames of the book and say, oh look, let’s do that because it’s so economical. It’s so beautiful. So I didn’t find it at all restrictive.

09022010_GemmaArtertonTamaraDrewe.jpgWe once talked about “Dirty Pretty Things,” where you said the scene where Chiwetel Ejiofor discovers a heart in a hotel toilet was the point where you knew you wanted to do the film. Did that have a similar pull for you in this one? I’d think the scene where Dominic Cooper’s drummer Ben Sergeant’s seduces Tamara in with his banging of pots and pans in her kitchen might’ve been one.

No, not as much as [Tamara Drewe] getting over the stile in hot pants. [laughs]

You’ve known Posy Simmonds for nearly 40 years. Why did it take this long to become collaborators?

Because I’m not very imaginative. In the end, somebody else had the idea, somebody got a script written and then they send it to me and when I read the script, I knew Posy, I just don’t have a mind…I’m not a producer, I guess.

You live in Dorset and I could imagine the opening conversation of this film, which takes place during a writers’ retreat, being one that could be similar to ones you’ve had with friends. Did this touch on a few personal notes for you?

My friends are writers, but they’re very good writers, so they’re not struggling in this way. I mean, I know what writers are like and writers say what’s good about this film, it’s very, very good on writers. It’s done from the inside, as it were.

I’ve heard you say the same thing, but I’ve been telling people this is the type of film that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – the clever middle-class comedy.

Well, of course, I like that about it.

Beyond economics, do you think there’s a reason for that?

I can see the way the world works. I can see the studios are no longer capable of making films like these for economic reasons. Grown-up films are harder to make. There are fewer of them. I don’t know. It seemed to me pretty obvious this should be made. It was so funny and so inventive and so fresh. But whether it’ll find an audience, you never know that.

09072010_TamaraDrewe.jpgComics have become legitimized, but do you take some satisfaction in taking something considered mildly déclassé by some and turning it into something that’s appreciated by a highbrow crowd?

I was conscious that I was making a film from a graphic novel, which is very fashionable, but that it was the most unlikely graphic novel in the world and it wasn’t about a superhero. It was always very funny and very intelligent.

At Cannes, you discussed the growing separation between art and entertainment in film…

Well, that’s just a particular beef of mine. When I grew up, there was no such thing as an arthouse cinema. The popular films that were made were made by highly intelligent men and so there wasn’t this separation. I suppose that somebody like me, I don’t like the separation. I want films to be intelligent and popular.

When did you start to notice that separation occur?

Well, it started in the late ’50s.

Really before you even started…

It was before I started making films, but it started in very specific ways. The cinema started going in two different directions and that always seemed to be a pity. And the films I always most liked were popular and intelligent. You know, a film like “Apocalypse Now” or “Taxi Driver,” they’re not arthouse films. So in my stupid way, I’ve gone on trying to square the circle. You know, a film like “Singin’ in the Rain” is made by clever people. It seems to me to be very, very good art, “Singin’ in the Rain,” but it’s made in a completely mainstream context.

The old adage is you shouldn’t work with children and animals: did you enjoy the challenge on “Tamara Drewe”?

Well, I made a Western, so I’m good at cattle. I’m a master of cattle. And the young teenagers I had in the film were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

What’s more difficult: directing cattle or filming real crowds enjoying Sergeant’s fictional band Swipe at the End of the Road Festival in Dorset?

09082010_tamaradrewe88.jpgThe rock concert you have to stage, you have to grab. You have to be very, very fast. The cattle stampeding, you had to be very patient. You can’t do it like “Red River.”

The film starts on a bittersweet note since it bears the logo of the UK Film Council, which was recently shuttered. While filming, were you aware how dire a situation it was?

I knew there was a credit crunch. I knew the country was in a mess. Yes, of course, and in a way, there’s a small amount of public money for films and I’ve been given this much, a bit of it and you don’t want to waste it. You don’t want people to think, oh, that was a waste of money.

How do you think this is going to shape the future?

It’s very, very difficult because the thing that’s really at issue doesn’t have to do with the Film Council, it’s to do with what public money they will give to films. The Film Council was very much identified with New Labour, so I’m not surprised they scrapped it. It also had faults, so I’m not surprised they scrapped it. It did certain things extremely well. It’s really what they put in its place that’s important.

As a filmmaker who came up under the BBC and having a son who is starting a career as a filmmaker, you would seem to have a unique perspective. Do you break into the business the way it is today?

No. In the end, it’s really a competition about capitalism and it’s very, very interesting. There are at least two kinds of capitalism and in a way, the studio system was much more stable. And of course, at the time, its overthrow seemed a good thing. Now, you also miss its stability and this sort of tooth and claw competitiveness is very destructive.

On a slightly more frivolous note, do you have a favorite experience from a film festival?

I drove through the most beautiful country in the world [for Telluride] last weekend, so that’s very nice. Toronto, I’ve twice won the audience award and Cannes is heaven. Listen, I’ve had a charmed life.

“Tamara Drewe” opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 8th before expanding into limited release.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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