Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: “National Velvet”

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: “National Velvet” (photo)

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IFC.com film writer Matt Singer is embarrassingly unfamiliar with the filmography of the late Elizabeth Taylor. This week he’s catching up with as many of her movies as he can.

At approximately 2:14 AM on March 24, an unexplained rise in pollen localized entirely in my bedroom sparked an outbreak of watery eyes while I was watching the film “National Velvet.” Though I could find no record of any kind of mass pollen migration with the National Weather Service or American Allergenic Council of America, I know it happened. It’s the only explanation for my uncontrollable tears that makes any sense. Surely it couldn’t have been the movie. Surely, I, a 30 year old man with no daughters who hates horses, wasn’t crying at “National Velvet.”

I surely was. “National Velvet” is a beautiful, charming movie and it jerked the hell out of my tears. What affected me wasn’t how sad the movie is, but how sweet and inspirational it is. Now I understand why “National Velvet” has been a cultural touchstone for decades. This isn’t just a cutesy story about a girl and a horse: it’s the empowering tale of a young woman who accomplishes her dreams; dreams, I should add, that aren’t of the “find a guy and marry him” variety. Released in 1945 and set some twenty years before, its strong feminist message is less dated today than many of the iconic girl-centric movies I grew up with in the 1980s. It features an empowering mother-daughter relationship of a kind I’m unaccustomed to seeing in movies. That’s what caught me off-guard, the shot at the end of the movie when mother and daughter embrace in silent acknowledgement of their bond and mutual love. Suddenly you’d have thought I was chopping onions in my bedroom at two in the morning.

The mother, Mrs. Brown, is played by Anne Revere; the daughter, Velvet, by Elizabeth Taylor, who became a full-fledged movie star at the age of thirteen with “National Velvet.” It is easy to see why. She has an infectious smile and a rabid enthusiasm for life. The Elizabeth Taylor I know — and the point of this ongoing exercise is I don’t know her all that well — is a lusty bombshell of a woman. So it was a bit surprising to see how Taylor built her stardom on pure, uncontaminated innocence. Velvet is so unequivocally good she’s practically a saint; the patron saint of pre-teen girls everywhere who love horses more than life itself.

Oh how Velvet loves her horse. She calls him The Pie and, truth be told, the horse playing The Pie always looks a little perturbed to be acting alongside her. Velvet doesn’t notice. She’s the one with blinders on; she loves The Pie with a passion so intense it could melt steel. Velvet acquires him in an auction. The Pie is a troublemaker and his former owner decides to rid himself of the damage and liabilities he causes by selling him for one pound to a random lucky winner in the small English village where he lives. That lucky winner, of course, turns out to be Velvet. Part of The Pie’s problem is no pen can hold him. But Velvet sees his fence jumping as a skill, and a chance to prove to the world both his merit and hers.

That’s where Mrs. Brown comes in. As we slowly learn over the course of the film, Velvet’s stern, reserved mother had a bit of a wild streak in her youth. As a 20-year-old, she swam the English Channel for no other reason than to prove she could. At the time, everyone said she was mad. When Velvet comes to her with her own mad idea — enter The Pie into the Grand National, the biggest horserace in the country — she supports her 100%. Clearly Mrs. Brown sees some of her younger self in Velvet, and also The Pie, who also has trouble finding a productive outlet for his athletic inclinations. Cue the eyeball faucets.

“National Velvet” has a terrific cast that also includes top-billed Mickey Rooney as a drifter who wanders into Velvet’s town and becomes The Pie’s trainer and Donald Crisp as Velvet’s father, a great big Tootsie Pop of a man: a hard exterior surrounding a gooey heart. Angela Lansbury also appears, almost unrecognizably, in one of her earliest roles — the first I’ve ever seen that conclusively proves she wasn’t born a middle aged mystery novelist — as one of Velvet’s sisters. The film’s stakes are never very heavy or large, though there is one scary scene where The Pie falls ill. Mostly “National Velvet” is a simple story about what’s possible for anyone, boy or girl, when they follow their dreams. But it’s never less than totally charming.

That goes for Taylor too. Velvet is so unabashedly sweet, and the film is so completely free of irony, that she borders on self-parody (released in another time period, “National Velvet” would have made great material for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, with Belushi as Liz, of course). But there is something irresistible about Taylor in this part. An actor needs to commit to what she does, and she is fully committed. I believe she would step in front of a bullet for that damn horse. When she refuses to let Mr. Brown exploit The Pie’s newfound fame, her eyes welling with tears as she pleads to leave him home with her…

…I’m sorry, does anyone have a tissue?


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.