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Interesting Talk About Boring Movies

Interesting Talk About Boring Movies (photo)

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You might remember Dan Kois’ notorious piece in The New York Times Magazine about “cultural vegetables,” in which the author admitted to suffering “a kind of culture fatigue” when dealing with movies he found slow, or deliberate, or flat-out boring. I wrote my own response at the time; now, Times critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have weighed in with their own piece entitled “In Defense of Slow and Boring.” CRITIC FIGHT! (Say it like Cartman from “South Park.”)

As their title suggests, Dargis and Scott do not side with Kois on the issue of cultural vegetables. Dargis connects his use of the word “boring” with her use of the word “thinking,” as in any movie that requires you to think a little, that doesn’t deaden your senses into submission with an assault of noise and light, is labeled as boring. Here is more:

“So, is boring bad? Is thinking? In Chantal Akerman’s 1975 film ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’ there is a scene in which the title character, a housewife who turns tricks in her fastidiously neat home, makes a meatloaf in real time. It’s a tedious task that as neither a fan of meatloaf or cooking, I find difficult to watch. Which is the point: During the film’s 201 minutes Ms. Akerman puts you in that tomb of a home with Jeanne, makes you hear the wet squish-squish of the meat between her fingers, makes you feel the tedium of a colorless existence that you can’t literally share but become intimate with (you endure, like Jeanne) until the film’s punctuating shock of violence. It makes you think.”

This is not far from the argument I made in my own piece on cultural vegetables; while acknowledging that some deliberate films are tedious, I noted that in the worthwhile ones, form follows function. A quick cut montage of Jeanne Dielman making meatloaf set to the sound of Donna Summers’ “She Works Hard For the Money” might be entertaining (get on it, YouTube!), but it wouldn’t allow you to experience the soul-deadening desperation of the protagonist in the same way as that a lengthy real-time depiction of the meatloaf cooking.

Scott spends a lot of his section responding to critic Richard Schickel’s review of “The Tree of Life” (which, while far from mainstream, is hardly a cultural vegetable in my opinion; too many viscerally exciting visuals. Also, dinosaurs). But his conclusion raises an interesting question about the issue of cultural vegetables:

“Why is it, though, that ‘serious’ is a bad word in cultural conversations, or at least in discussions of film? Why is thinking about a movie an activity to be avoided, and a movie that seems to require thinking a source of suspicion? It seems unlikely, to say the least, that films like ‘Uncle Boonmee,’ ‘Meek’s Cutoff,’ ‘The Tree of Life’ or Jean-Luc Godard’s recently and belatedly opened ‘Film Socialisme’ will threaten the hegemony of the blockbusters, so why is so much energy expended in defending the prerogatives of entertainment from the supposed threat of seriousness? …I would like to think there is room in the cinematic diet for various flavors, including some that may seem, on first encounter, unfamiliar or even unpleasant.

On the one hand, I can understand the point of view of someone who reads Scott’s piece and is confused by his love of unpleasantness in cinema. After all, we judge most movies, even many smarter ones, by gauging their pleasantness: the cleverness of their dialogue, the rapidity of their pacing, the intensity of their scares or thrills. A movie that lacks those things is typically described as unsuccessful, so it sounds a little weird on the surface to recommend a movie on the basis that nothing happens and what little does happens, happens really slowly.

Scott’s question reminds me of issues I heard discussed during George W. Bush’s presidency, and the question of why many modern Americans seem to dismiss or even distrust intellectuals while preferring political leaders who position themselves as “average Joes” (here’s an example of the sort of article I’m talking about). Perhaps the two are connected. Maybe we distrust intellectual movies in the same way. Maybe dumb Hollywood entertainment feels more American somehow.

Or maybe there’s a much less nefarious conspiracy at work. Maybe it’s just a matter of brain chemistry. On a daily basis, we’re being more and more deeply conditioned to expect instant gratification. No need to watch three minutes of commercials during your favorite TV show; your DVR box will fast-forward through them. No need to watch the highlights of the NBA playoffs when you get home from a date; you can watch or listen to the game right on your phone (the date might not go so well, but some things are more important than romance). Some people I know are incapable of going to the bathroom without using the four or five free seconds of privacy to check their email. It’s not even a choice at this point for a lot of people. It’s a reflex. In a world so heavily committed to instant gratification a movie like Andy Warhol’s “Empire” — an eight hour shot of the Empire State Building — isn’t just a tough sell; it’s an impossible one. “Eight hours straight? Without checking my cell phone?”

To those that feel that way, let me suggest something: try it once. As my impossibly patient wife can attest, I’m on my own phone way too much (in my defense, I’m doing really well in fantasy baseball this year). Sometimes it can feel like an addiction: I have to stay connected, I need to make sure I don’t have any new emails. So I view cultural vegetables at a welcome escape from the intensity and insistence of modern technology. I look forward to turning off my cell phone and disconnecting myself from the grid, losing myself for a few hours and thinking about something other than when I can next check Twitter. In that way, these movies really can be cultural vegetables: something genuinely nourishing.

What’s your favorite “cultural vegetable?” Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter and Facebook!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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