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“Better Than Something: Jay Reatard” may be the best rock doc since “Dig”

“Better Than Something: Jay Reatard” may be the best rock doc since “Dig” (photo)

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Not long before Jay Reatard was found dead in 2010 at his Memphis home at the age of 29, filmmakers Ian Markiewicz and Alex Hammond spent time interviewing and shooting the punk-rock firebrand for a short promotional film. In spite of Reatard’s combative public image — created by sensationalistic media coverage of his intense and confrontational live performances — Markiewicz and Hammond found him to be affable and contemplative, as he vividly recalled a short but eventful life distinguished by poverty, alienation, and an indomitable spirit to transcend his circumstances.

After Reatard’s death, Markiewicz and Hammond turned to his friends and family for the rest of the story. The result is “Better Than Something: Jay Reatard,” a sad, exhilarating, and ultimately inspiring documentary about a complicated young man whose life ended just as he appeared to be overcoming his demons. Combining interviews with astonishing performance footage dating back to Reatard’s teen years, “Better Than Something” traces Reatard evolution from the aimless anger of adolescence to something resembling inner peace as he was approaching 30. It’s a difficult journey — and Something doesn’t sugar-coat how difficult Reatard himself could be — but an incredibly moving one. “Better Than Something” is the best rock documentary since “Dig.”

“Better Than Something” is currently playing the festival circuit — including a screening Aug. 11 at the Don’t Knock the Rock Film Festival, which marks the film’s Los Angeles premiere — and is without distribution. IFC.com spoke with Markiewicz and Hammond about the film and how they got Reatard to open himself up.

IFC: You didn’t know Jay Reatard before you began the film. How did you come to be involved with the project?

Ian Markiewicz: Jay was getting kind of pissed at the press. Any time anyone would do a story on him, it was just about how fucked up he was, and going down to Memphis and getting messed up with him. Jay had an idea: Let’s do a film. He wanted to somehow clear the ear or tell his side or whatever it was. They looked at a few different filmmakers, but for whatever reason, when he met with us he said, “This is it.”

Alex Hammond: One of the things he said during that interview was that he didn’t want a fan to make the film. He wanted someone from the outside, to drop in and get an honest picture of his story. Two weeks later we were flying down to Memphis

IFC: One of the most disturbing sequences in the film occurs when you’re driving around Memphis, and touring Jay’s childhood home and haunts. At one house, he tells an anecdote about neighboring drug dealers busting in on crack addicts in the middle of raping a woman–which occurred on the other side of a shared wall in a duplex where teenaged Jay was staying with his mother and younger sister. Was it difficult to get him to be so open about his troubled background?

IM: The first day or two, we were just hanging out and shooting, and he was talking about being a touring musician and selling records and what the business was like from his perspective. So we didn’t launch into the really heavy stuff right way. But Jay was definitely like, “I want to take you and show you stuff.”

AH: We had no idea that was coming. That was incredibly shocking to us. We had no idea what we were getting into. He had such energy when we were there. We were rarely probing or asking questions. We’d bring up one question, and it would be Jay going on and on. He was so entertaining. He was a storyteller. He had a way of engaging you.

IFC: Your film started out as a short called “Waiting For Something.” At what point did you realize that you had enough for a feature?

AH: At first they were like, “This is going to be like an EPK,” but Jay didn’t want a typical EPK. It started out as an eight to 10 minute piece, and then when we came back we said, “Holy shit, we don’t have a 10-minute short, we have a film here.”

IM: He kept bringing up this “warts and all” idea. He was like, “This has to be raw and rough.” He kept saying things like that, and it turned out like that because he wanted to unload his whole story. He just really unleashed. That’s the only word for it.

IFC: Obviously the nature of the project changed after Jay passed away. Did you begin seeking out his friends and family members immediately afterward?

AH: The moment we heard about his death, we weren’t thinking about the film. Two months later, his friends were doing a big tribute show for him at South By Southwest.

IM: To be honest, I felt like, I don’t know if I can handle looking at that stuff right now. It felt very dark at that point. And people were saying, you guys really have to be down here for this show. It kind of snuck up on us, like, “Okay, I guess we’re doing this now.” When we started doing it, you could just feel how palpable the emotion was coming off everybody. The wrong thing to do would be to wait a bunch of years, and then do something, when everybody’s feelings weren’t as strong. It seemed more in the spirit of what Jay did, being in the heat of the moment.

IFC: The sense you get at the end of the film is that Jay was in a good place in the months before his death, which makes his passing all the more sad. Was that your impression?

IM: He was stressing to us, I’m not a huge artist, I’m not making millions. But I’m doing what I like to do and doing well enough to live comfortably in Memphis, where I like to be. It felt to him that he had achieved some big goal. He knew that there was still work to be done — he wasn’t complacent — but it seemed like he was in a good place at the time.

AM: When we were with him, he had just come off from a long tour. So he had this little window of I think two weeks, where he was back in Memphis. Then it was, I think, back down to South America. You look at the tour dates, it was nuts. He was excited about all that. It was definitely a positive energy coming from him.

IFC: What do you want people to take from “Better Than Something”? Why does Jay Reatard’s music matter?

IM: His music is very pure. It’s very much an expression of where he was at and what he was thinking. He was obsessed with finding new sounds and finding new music that expressed what he felt. If there was an audience, there was an audience. And if there was not, I don’t know that Jay cared.

Leave your remembrances of Jay Reatard in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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