DID YOU READ

“Project Nim,” Reviewed

“Project Nim,” Reviewed (photo)

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Reviewed at the Sundance Film Festival 2011.

If James Marsh’s 2008 “Man on Wire” was Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk by way of “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Project NIM” could be described as the story of Herbert S. Terrace’s chimpanzee study by way of, well, “Splice.” But maybe it’s better summed up by one of the interviewees shrugged explanation for what must have looked like a much saner idea at the time: “It was the ’70s.” Terrace, a professor at Columbia, headed up a project to raise a chimp named Nim as a human, to teach him sign and observe to what extent the animal would be able to communicate and form sentences in order to learn more about our own relationship with language development. In theory. In practice, as recounted by the film, the experiment was a hopeless jumble of personal entanglements, squishy hippiedom, safety and ethical concerns and heartbreak. And getting the chimp high, which at least two of his caregivers attempt.

Terrace first hands the infant Nim to Stephanie LaFarge, a psychologist and his former lover, who has no significant experience with chimps or sign language, and who raises him in her family’s Manhattan brownstone as she would a human foundling, swaddling him in diapers, letting him frolic with her other children, even breastfeeding him. When Terrace becomes skeptical of LaFarge’s permissive parenting, he spruces Nim away to an idyllic estate in Riverdale where the chimp is cared for by a series of well-meaning if not always very trained teachers, including the young Laura, with whom Terrace becomes emotionally entangled and then discards, couple Bill and Joyce, sign instructor Renee. It’s Nim who’s the through line in the film, and so as these people pass in and then out of his life, they slide out of the screen, the camera keeping its gaze on the primate’s journey from famous, coddled center of attention in New York to returned resident in the Oklahoma primate colony in which he was born to medical research fodder in a nightmarish facility.

Nim is an adorable baby, a mischievous, destructive youth, a sometimes frightening adult chimp and a slate onto which everyone around him seems to projecy. Most importantly, he is, despite the way he’s treated, an animal, one capable, as the years go on, of considerable destruction. Many of the interviewees bear scars from his attacks, and one almost died at his hand. As for how much ASL Nim has actually learned, it’s a matter of debate — Terrace himself has questioned the validity of the claims of his own study and other similar ones, and as much as we see of the animal in the accrued archival footage of which the film is primarily constructed, the extent to which he has any exceptional ability to communicate or connect with humans seems as much an aspect of the personalities of those claiming to see these things as anything we ourselves glimpse on screen. As the film turns from a fascinating documentation of an experiment that blurred the lines between species into a more depressing and expected tale of animal cruelty, the main revelation of “Project Nim” isn’t that it was inappropriate for these people to treat Nim like a human as much as it was when they all eventually stopped.

“Project NIM” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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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.