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DID YOU READ

Down Into the Roots of Cultural Vegetables

Down Into the Roots of Cultural Vegetables (photo)

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I finally got a chance to read Dan Kois’ controversial New York Times Magazine article “Eating Your Cultural Vegetables,” which has garnered all sorts of interesting-slash-outraged responses and reactions from all around the web. And, hey, I’m on the web! I have responses and reactions to things too! So now it’s my turn.

You should read Kois’ entire piece, but here is an excerpt that gets right to the meat — or rather the vegetables — of his argument:

“As I get older, I find I’m suffering from a kind of culture fatigue and have less interest in eating my cultural vegetables, no matter how good they may be for me… Yes, there are films, like the 2000 Taiwanese drama ‘Yi Yi,’ that enrapture me with deliberate pacing, spare screenplays and static shooting styles… but while I’m grateful to have watched ‘Solaris’ and ‘Blue’ and ‘Meek’s Cutoff’ and ‘The Son’ and ‘Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)’ and ‘Three Times’ and on and on, my taste stubbornly remains my taste.

Kois makes a lot of “Meek’s Cutoff,” his most current example of what he alternately describes as cultural vegetables and “aspirational viewing,” i.e. languidly paced art films, which he describes as a “quiet, arduous” viewing experience that he found difficult to sit through. Kois says he’s drawn to films like “Meek’s Cutoff” because they’re enjoyed by people whose opinions he respects and whose company he enjoys but, as he puts it, “I usually doze lightly through them; and I often feel moved, if sleepy, afterward. But am I actually moved? Or am I responding to the rhythms of emotionally affecting cinema? Am I laughing because I get the jokes or because I know what jokes sound like?”

As a general rule, my favorite critical essays are the most honest ones; if there are flaws in Kois’ piece, they don’t include a lack of honesty. Essentially Kois is outing himself in the most public forum possible so that he can’t pretend to love these sorts of movies anymore. From here on out he’s got no choice to lay his cards out on the table, and that is kind of brave.

I do agree with Kois that there are folks out there who hop on the bandwagon for quote-unquote art films because they have a great reputation and they want to appear cultured to their friends and loved ones. People often don’t want to admit what they really think about an “important” movie — that it’s boring or pretentious or dated — because they don’t want to look like philistines. And readers should be skeptical of any critic who believes they hold the one true and correct view about a film. Personal taste matters, and the best critics filter cinema through personal taste to give us their unique perspective on culture.

Still, I wish Kois wasn’t painting with so broad a brush when he talked about these movies. Not all quiet viewing experiences are created equal. I’ve seen movies that I had trouble finishing. But maybe the problem wasn’t that they were slow; maybe the problem was that they were just plain bad.

Look, there are days when I’d rather watch “America’s Next Top Model” than a film by Chantal Akerman (those days, by the way, are called Wednesdays). But plenty of movies that look like “cultural vegetables” are so much richer than they might initially appear to be. Two films on my top ten list from last year, “Sweetgrass” and “Alamar,” might look like cultural vegetables; they’re both micro-indies, one a doc the other a quasi-fictional narrative, with very little in the way of action. The most memorable moment in each film involves a real but genuine interaction between human and wild animal. But those moments are more transcendant and memorable than anything in “America’s Next Top Model” (except the one episode where Tyra told all the finalists they’d been kicked off the show just so she could watch them cry. Epic!).

To me, the success or failure of one of Kois’ cultural vegetables always comes down to a matter of form following function. Anyone can make a slow, contemplative art film, but if you’re not contemplating anything in particular, you’re wasting everyone’s time. “Alamar” needs to be a deliberate film because it is about savoring this deliberate way of life that the main character wants to pass down to his son, who he may never see again. I haven’t seen “Meek’s Cutoff” yet — unfortunately, since I’m a big fan of its director, Kelly Reichardt — but I would suggest that Kois discovered the function of its form when he wrote that by the end he “could sympathize with the settlers’ exhaustion” because he felt “as if I’d been through a similarly grueling experience.” Again, I haven’t seen the film, but couldn’t that have been the whole point?

What I want out of a critic is not someone who will blindly praise a film simply because Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s name is on it, but rather a writer who understands their work and is interested in engaging with it. On the flip side, I’m not interested in someone who blindly dismisses Hollywood blockbusters, either. The best critics are worth reading whether they’re writing about something that cost $100 million or $100. Critics shouldn’t aspire to importance or respectability. They should just try to show us things about the movies we don’t see in them on our own.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.