DID YOU READ

Robert Sklar (1936-2011)

Robert Sklar (1936-2011) (photo)

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Details are sketchy at this point, but I just received the very sad news that Robert Sklar, film historian, author, and long-time professor of cinema studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts passed away over the weekend in Spain, apparently of injuries suffered in a cycling accident. Professor Sklar — Bob to his friends, but always Prof. Sklar to me — was my faculty adviser for my two years at NYU and one of the best teachers I ever had, on the subject of film or anything else.

Though you may not recognize his name, Sklar had an enormous impact on the world of film and film studies. His books, including the indispensable “Movie-Made America,”, have become required reading for thousands of cinema studies students. Educated at Princeton and Harvard, Sklar worked as a professor of history at the University of Michigan before moving to NYU’s burgeoning cinema studies department in 1977. He was also a member of the Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board, a former president of the Society for Cinema Studies, a Guggenheim fellow, and a contributing editor to Cineaste Magazine. Unbeknownst to myself and my fellow grad students at the time we were at NYU, Prof. Sklar had another impressive claim to fame: he was a member of the very first fantasy baseball league, Rotisserie Baseball, which was founded by Daniel Okrent, another (far more distinguished) former student of Sklar’s.

When I arrived at Tisch in the fall of 2003, NYU was an intimidating place for a relative newcomer to cinema studies. Many of my colleagues in the graduate program of the cinema studies department had already had four years of undergraduate work under their belts on the subjects of film history, film form, and film theory. They dropped the names of dudes like Balasz and Gunning in casual conversation. I was just a movie nerd who loved the medium, and I was overwhelmed and panic-stricken. The class that convinced me not to run away screaming was Professor Sklar’s History of American Film. Prof. Sklar’s teaching style was laid-back and inclusive: he rarely lectured and instead let the class’ own analysis of films dictate where the lesson went.

The man practiced what he preached: in his introduction to our very first class (yes, I still have my notes), Prof. Sklar asserted that films are not fixed; that time and place tend to change how films are viewed and read. Appropriately, he didn’t force his own opinion of 1931’s “The Public Enemy” on us in that first class, despite the fact that he had written one of the definitive books about James Cagney’s films, “City Boys,” or that a few years later he would record a fantastic commentary track for the film’s Warner’s Gangster Collection DVD. He shared a few of his thoughts about censorship, onscreen violence, homoeroticism, and Hollywood’s representation of “the city” in the 1930s, and then encouraged us to share our own interpretations. He introduced us to films and filmmakers we didn’t know, and gave us new ways to look at familiar ones. He made intimidating films accessible, and brought brilliant textual analysis to so-called empty-headed popcorn entertainments.

Prof. Sklar taught me to trust my instincts and speak my mind; he was the first person to ever encourage my interest in the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and paid me one of the greatest compliments I ever received when told me my finished final paper on the subject was worthy of publication. He showed me that one informed opinion of a film was just as valid as any other, no matter how many or how few credentials that opinion had behind it. He made me feel like I belonged in this world. I’m terrified to consider what I might have done with my life if I had never met him.

I kept in touch with Prof. Sklar occasionally after grad school, and I always looked forward to our run-ins at New York City press screenings; the last time I saw him was at a screening of “The Social Network” last fall. I don’t think I ever told him just how much his classes and his encouragement meant to me, but I know I thanked several times for his help and his advice. I hope he knew how much I meant it.

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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.