DID YOU READ

Jane Russell, 1921-2011

Jane Russell, 1921-2011 (photo)

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Not many actresses had enough raw charisma to share the screen with Marilyn Monroe without getting upstaged, but Jane Russell could. Russell, who died Monday at the age of 89 of respiratory-related illness, was a rare Hollywood commodity: an actress who combined raw sexual magnetism with a razor-sharp wit. She was beautiful and sexy and smart and funny, the total package. And man, what a package.

Russell gave the world two gifts for which we will be forever grateful: the musical comedy “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” with Monroe, and a figure so voluptuous it inspired filmmaker, aviator, and voluptuousness hobbyist Howard Hughes to invent one of the first underwire brassieres. As the legend goes, Russell served as Hughes’ bra muse during production of his film “The Outlaw” in 1941. The 19-year-old actress had been plucked from obscurity working in a doctor’s office when Hughes cast her for her curvaceous body and smoldering onscreen presence. Here, according to NNDB.com, is what happened next:

“Hughes had his engineers design a seamless underwire brassiere, a breakthrough in bra science to lift Russell’s 38-D breasts, leaving no visible support lines to interrupt the under-blouse contour of her bosom. It was the first practical “lift and separate” push-up bra, but Russell later said she did not wear the uncomfortable contraption during filming. Instead she wore her own bras, adding a layer of tissue paper over the cups to eliminate unsightly support lines. Hughes, despite directing the picture himself, never knew the difference.”

The publicity photos of Russell for “The Outlaw” — reclining with a gun in a dress that looked like it was about to fall off her frame completely — became one of the most iconic images of sexuality of the 1940s. The stills’ blend of sex and violence continues to inspire movie marketers to this day.

Anyone whose obituary includes the phrase “breakthrough in bra science” has already lived a great and important life. But Russell wasn’t done. In 1953, she made Howard Hawks’ “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a hilarious comedy about two man-crazed showgirls living it up on a cruise to Paris. Almost sixty years later, I’m not sure Hollywood has yet to make a funnier and sexier movie from a woman’s perspective. The film was completely ahead of its time, feminist before feminism even existed, in its depiction of its two leads as capable, independent women in complete control of their lives and their powerful sexuality.

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is most famous for Monroe’s climactic musical number “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and rightfully so, but Russell gives an unforgettable performance too. She plays Dorothy Shaw to Monroe’s Lorelei Lee, chaperone for Lorelei’s transatlantic voyage to marry her rich fiance Mr. Esmond (Tommy Noonan). Esmond’s father disapproves of the marriage and so the couple travel separately to Paris for their nuptials. If they have any hope of convincing Esmond Sr. of their seriousness, there can’t be any funny business on the boat. Hence it’s Russell’s job to keep an eye on things, an arrangement which suits her well. “The chaperone’s job is to see that nobody else has any fun,” she tells Esmond on the docks. “Nobody chaperones the chaperone.”

Dorothy Shaw has to be one of the coolest characters in all of the movies, a one-liner factory built like a brick house. Her sexuality is both powerful and empowering. Her eyes widen when she sees the entire U.S. Olympic team on the boat, and she later shares a lusty musical number with them in their skin-colored swim trunks, “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?,” which puts a lie to the theory that all Hollywood films are designed solely for the pleasure of the male gaze.

Russell’s promiscuous ways — in an age when married couples still slept in separate beds onscreen, Dorothy openly admits to sleeping with a guy on their first date — aren’t portrayed as sleazy or slutty. Dorothy is simply smart, self-aware, and self-reliant. None of the men in this movie, even the one she ultimately chooses to be with, seem good enough for her — Hawks, taking a page of the Hitchcock playbook, cast duds as his male leads so that the women would be even more appealling. It worked: though “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” stars two of the most beautiful women to ever appear in the movies, it’s not about fantasizing about them; it’s about fantasizing about being them.

Though Russell worked steadily through the 1940s and 50s, including notable films with Bob Hope (“Son of Paleface”) and Robert Mitchum (“Macao”), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was her unrepeatable apex. The New York Times story about her death says that in her later years she became a bra spokesman, struggled with alcoholism and, maybe most surprisingly, dabbled in conservative politics. There was nothing conservative about the young Russell, who pushed boundaries, broke taboos, and offered one of the most comprehensive arguments in history why gentlemen shouldn’t prefer blondes.

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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.