DID YOU READ

Peter Weir Takes the Long “Way Back”

Peter Weir Takes the Long “Way Back” (photo)

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From “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to “The Truman Show” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” Peter Weir’s filmography is rife with tales of men engaging with imposing environments, a fixation that continues with his newest film “The Way Back,” the real-life saga of three men who, in 1940, escaped a Russian gulag and traveled by foot to India – a trek spanning thousands of miles across five countries. Weir’s latest may feature big-name stars Colin Farrell and Ed Harris in an epic adventure, but in style, tone and content, it’s an anti-blockbuster of the first order. Shot by longtime Weir collaborator Russell Boyd with a combination of landscape majesty and close-up intimacy, it’s a narratively straightforward portrait of determination, survival and absolution that the writer/director layers with subtle thematic and emotional depth. On the eve of last week’s 11-film Lincoln Center career retrospective, Weir spoke about the veracity of “The Way Back”‘s source material, the “gamble” of making films for adults, and how being a director is sometimes like being a school headmaster.

Why was there a seven-year gap between “Master & Commander” and “The Way Back”? Was it difficult finding a new project, or putting this particular one together?

No, it was really just a series of projects – three in total – that, frustratingly, just didn’t come together for different reasons. I think they were films that I wasn’t meant to make. That’s my rationalization on it. But I did have to draw on deep reserves of patience, because I thought “God, there can’t be another one that goes south.” I think it was 2007 that I was sent the book [Slavomir Rawicz’s “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom”] that became the inspiration for this film, and that was the one to make.

01172011_WayBack2.jpgWhat was it about the book that first sparked your interest?

Generally speaking, I think it’s profoundly an emotional experience. It’s more than intellectual and, therefore, not necessarily immediate. Over the days that I’d read it, it would come back to me and, in some ways, I would find it quite touching. I would think, “What is it about human nature, about the human spirit, that can endure so much, and yet keep going? What is it to survive?” I’d been touched by the book and thought that if I can bottle that lightning and pass it on to the audience, then they’ll feel what I felt.

I’ve read reports that Rawicz may not have actually been on the walk, but instead may have heard the story and claimed it as his own.

Yes, it’s that maybe he wasn’t on the walk. It’s documented that he was in a gulag, [as] a Polish officer who had – along with the majority of the Polish military in the Soviet zone in Poland – been sent in 1939 to the prisons. We know that they murdered a lot of them. But was he on the walk? I said to the producers that I couldn’t do the film unless I knew the walk occurred [and] that we can work around [Rawicz] and fictionalize it, but I’ve got to know there was a walk – that was what moved me. I didn’t particularly want to make the life story of the author. And that’s what we found. We got the evidence and I was happy, and so I could retitle it, and even reintroduce some other characters, and redraw those characters, all based on either interviews with survivors or from true accounts. I set myself that standard, so I would have a reality that I was dealing with.

You have a reputation for being very interested in historical details. Where did you start, in terms of research, after reading the book?

In this case, I think there were three key steps. One was to go and meet Cyril Delafosse-Guiramand, a young French guy in his late 30s, [who] walked this walk inspired by the book some time after 2000. He started off in Siberia and he walked all the way to India. So I had to meet Cyril. He was up in Laos, and I flew to meet him, and had him tell me what it was like — in the Gobi, in the forests north of Siberia. So he became vital. A lot of what he said I put in the script, then he became a member of the crew, and he helped the actors.

Secondly, I went to the locations – particularly to Mongolia, China and Siberia. And thirdly, I met survivors in Moscow (Russians obviously), and then in London, I met with Polish gentlemen who had survived and, in one case, one who had escaped. So those where the three key areas. And then, lots of reading. I’ve got quite a library.

01172011_WayBack11.jpgWas there ever a thought about not shooting on location?

Generally, I believe in faking as much as you can, so that your actors are as comfortable as possible to do what they’re trained to do. In other words, it doesn’t make the performance better just because you go and climb a mountain. You can put up a fake mountain in the studio and make them work more on their performance. In this case, I did think it was important to go to the real places, or facsimiles of them — four thousand miles, and through all the seasons, from blizzards in Siberia to the scorching desert to the Tibetan plateaus on to India. So I firstly cast those parts, if I can call the landscapes actors. I couldn’t shoot in Siberia, so we shot in the forests of Bulgaria. I couldn’t shoot in the Gobi desert for various reasons, so we used the Sahara. We shot in India, at Darjeeling.

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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.