DID YOU READ

Tribeca 2011: “The Union,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “The Union,” Reviewed (photo)

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My worry about “The Union,” Cameron Crowe’s documentary about the musical collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell, was that it would be just another making-the-album documentary of the kind a lot of bands make these days to upsell Special Edition CDs and ward off piracy. And basically it is; it’s just the best possible version of that film, made with the sort of craft and heart that only a director (and music lover) of Crowe’s caliber could provide.

Elton John, you know, the prolific singer-songwriter of many hits in the ’70s and ’80s (including “Tiny Dancer” which was immortalized in a great scene in Crowe’s “Almost Famous”). Leon Russell, you might not; I didn’t. As a session musician, band leader, and piano player, he was an enormous influence on John’s life and career, maybe the biggest, according to “The Union.” At a loss for inspiration, John suddenly found it while on safari in Africa (oh, rock stars…). He would make an shared album with Russell. The final product, ultimately called “The Union,” would be split 50-50 between them, each providing vocals, piano, and songwriting. Crowe’s film is split about that evenly too, a fact reinforced by his rather brilliant use of split-screens throughout. Though John’s voiceover guides us through the story and offers insights into the songwriting and recording process, Russell’s journey and struggle is given equal narrative weight.

Crowe, the former Rolling Stone journalist turned screenwriter turned director, understands pop music better than almost any filmmaker who’s ever lived. Given his affinity for music and interviewing musicians, it’s kind of crazy that this is his first documentary about rock and roll. Not so crazy is how good he is at it. His use of technique, like those aforementioned split-screens, is phenomenal. One scene, in particular, which divides the frame between Russell playing a song he wrote for John and John overcome with emotions as he listens in the control room, cuts to the core of what the film is all about: the way the best and truest music comes from the heart and hits people in the same place. And it’s clear that John trusts Crowe — even soliciting his opinion about his music at times — in a way that makes “The Union” a much more unguarded portrait of two artists than it would have been in different, lesser hands.

Maybe the most revealing thing, and certainly most poignant, about “The Union”‘s portrait is its depiction of the artist in the autumn of his years. With “Almost Famous,” Crowe made one of the definitive movies about young rock and rollers. With “The Union,” he tackles the same subject from the other side of the hourglass. Russell is 69; in the middle of “The Union” sessions he suffers a “near-fatal health scare” that requires brain surgery. John is 64 and openly acknowledges that his days as one of the biggest rock stars in the world are well behind him (the fact that Michael Jackson couldn’t acknowledge it, he says, is part of what destroyed him).

John’s got enough money to hang out on African safari for the rest of his life if he wanted to. Rock stars at his age are supposed to settle in to full-on sellout mode. Unlike film directors, novelists, poets, whose creativity often grows with age, pop musicians’ relevance peaks around age 35. But John still has a creative fire in his belly that isn’t sated by money. So he’s still following his instincts wherever they lead, rather than following his record label’s advice to make a Motown record or a Christmas album (it will never happen, John vows). The final montage of “The Union,” set to a John and Russell song, sums it up nicely. The song is called “Never Too Old.”

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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.