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Mourning the End of an Era at Cinematical

Mourning the End of an Era at Cinematical (photo)

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While it isn’t fair to those still working there to pronounce Cinematical dead, this week has seen a steady stream of writers and editors leave the site in recent days, all but leaving it for dead, and without sounding too grandiose, taking a little bit of film culture along with it.

Of course, there are thousands of film sites now covering every crevice of the industry and artform. Whether you’re into the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, title sequences, films of the ’60s and ’70s, or a podcast devoted strictly to the Criterion Collection, there’s a place where nearly every cinematic interest can be satisfied. But that wasn’t the case back in 2005 when Cinematical debuted with the drive to cover them all. At the time the site was launched under the stewardship of Weblogs founder Jason Calacanis, Mark Rabinowitz and Karina Longworth, film writing on the Web was mostly fragmented because it had to be, which in turn made it harder for writers with considerable passion but little experience to find a forum.

For the most part in 2005, legitimacy was still hard to come by if you weren’t a part of the traditional media and the sites gaining traction were built around geek culture like Ain’t It Cool News and and often had their writers shrouded in pseudonyms, which allowed for anonymity to challenge mainstream sites with news scoops, but often made it easy to attack their credibility.

Cinematical would benefit from their timing as one of the first major film sites to launch on the blog platform, making it easier for writers to publish their work online. (It’s hilarious to see that one of Cinematical’s first posts, “Who’s Blogging at Sundance 2005?” rounds up just four sites, all of which redirect elsewhere now.) But the site also capitalized on the fact the successful Web-only film sites, while catering to a large, previously underserved audience, still felt exclusive to a crowd that loved science fiction, action and fantasy and as a result, Cinematical sought to serve film geeks of every stripe, seamlessly mixing reviews of the latest films with ample consideration of the older ones, pioneering festival coverage in a way that had been previously the domain of the trades like Variety since writers were based everywhere, and creating a mix of voices that was unusual for any film site then or now where the only common trait was an obvious love of film and the ability to dissect them in an interesting way.

That passion and analytical thinking could define any number of film sites – and sadly be considered the antithesis of so many others – but it was Cinematical‘s greatest achievement that it offered a sense of discovery (and rediscovery) on such a large scale, not only to the wide variety of films they covered, but the writers the site introduced to a larger audience. Longworth had been working in a pasta factory before writing full-time for Cinematical and now she’s revitalizing the L.A. Weekly‘s film section. The writers/editors that followed included Kim Voynar, who’s expertly covered the site’s demise from her essential blog Film Essent on Movie City News, Ryan Stewart, who moved onto Moviemaker magazine, Scott Weinberg, who is now the North American editor for TwitchFilm, and Erik Davis, who resigned Tuesday, but will be continuing to file stories for (Even Peter Sciretta, who launched arguably the most successful movie site in recent years with /Film, got his start at Cinematical.)

If you notice a trend, they’re all now shaping the discussion about film on other sites and following the first takeover of Cinematical when AOL bought Weblogs in the fall of 2005 and eventually attempted to fold it into their more commercially-minded Moviefone brand and culminating in the recent merger of the Huffington Post and AOL, it’s been the tragedy of Cinematical that after breeding a generation of talented writers, they haven’t been able to keep them under one roof.

Even though there is (and should be) palpable outrage over the events that led to the mass exodus of the Cinematical staff, there is some comfort to be taken that many more current and former staff have found homes elsewhere. You can find other hall of fame members of the site like Eric D. Snider at his personal site, Peter Martin at Twitch, Christopher Campbell at IndieWIRE‘s Spout, Jette Kernion’s coverage of film in Austin for Slackerwood, James Rocchi’s silver-tongued criticism at MSN Movies, while emerging writers such as Peter S. Hall and William Goss have decamped for and, respectively.

Still, the loss of Cinematical, or at least as we know it now, stings because in a world of niche sites online, it was gloriously mainstream without aiming to be, existing as a collection of personal voices that covered minutiae that can be the foundation of an entire site nowadays, and yet taken as a whole, it covered a spectrum of film that most resembled our movie culture in America — or at least, what we’d like it to be with the spectacle of blockbusters and the thought-provoking films, fiction and nonfiction, that deserve further discussion. Perhaps there’s a replacement, and it could even come from within Cinematical‘s next incarnation, whatever that may be, but there’s no doubt that this week’s news has made the end of an era official and those of us who love talking about movies are poorer for it.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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