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DID YOU READ

“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu,” reviewed

“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu,” reviewed (photo)

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We perceive documentaries as records of truth; these things happened, the camera recorded them. “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” is a record of a lie. Yes, these things happened, and yes, the camera recorded them. But why did they happen and how? And what was going on when the camera wasn’t around? Because of its unusual structure, the film doesn’t say. But attentive viewers will realize this “autobiography” presents an incomplete view of history.

It comes from the perspective of Nicolae Ceausescu, Communist dictator of Romania from 1967 to 1989. A man with a taste for the spotlight, Ceausescu rarely missed an opportunity for a photo opportunity, and he filled his nation’s official archive with hundreds upon hundreds of hours of himself at work and play. The footage is extensive but not comprehensive: lots of speeches and meetings with foreign heads-of-state, occasional travels abroad or hunting expeditions, but no mentions of food shortages or public demonstrations against his regime. Director Andrei Ujica screened all of it and assembled this three-hour film. There is no voiceover and no interviews with experts or historians, just 180 minutes of a life lived inside this impenetrable bubble of peace, prosperity, and propaganda. If you had no outside knowledge of Romanian history, you might be taken by surprise when Ceausescu’s end comes, seemingly out of nowhere. From his insanely warped perspective, he was a great leader caught in a sort of modern day Greek tragedy. Near the end of “The Autobiography,” after Ceausescu’s been deposed, he responds to the allegations that he ordered the execution of protestors by insisting “What you’re saying is all lies, mystifications, provocations!” One of the most interesting things about “The Autobiography” is the fact that it suggests Ceausescu not only fabricated his own reality, he bought into his own self-inflating mythology as completely as anyone else. This guy didn’t just read his own press clippings, he shot footage of himself reading his own press clippings and smirking while a bunch of lackeys stood around applauding.

Of course, beyond the boundaries of Ujica’s frame were real tragedies which afflicted the people of Romania for decades. But Ceausescu’s Communist media machine didn’t record them, so they don’t appear in the film. Aside from one very vocal critic who pipes up to protest Ceausescu impending reelection in front of Congress and is quickly and aggressively shouted down, there isn’t a single voice of dissent in the entire movie. Instead, we watch the small cracks begin to form in the facade of Ceausescu’s carefully constructed fantasy world. The crowds for his public appearances start to thin out. They still applaud for him, but not so intensely. Some of the sequences are just surreal. On a visit to California, fabricated realities collide when Ceausescu tours the backlot at Universal Studios. He appears to be taking very careful mental notes.

Ujica’s film is a major accomplishment for historians and documentary scholars and it is a powerful indictment of politically manipulated media. At three hours it’s also really, really long. Occasionally, I grew a little weary of the endless parade of contextless footage of dignitaries and state functions. With my limited knowledge of Romanian history, and without a narration or intertitles to guide me, I’m sure a lot of Ujica’s subtler points went right over my head. I began to believe the director could have made his point just as powerfully in half the runtime. But upon further consideration, the size of the movie reflect the size of its subject’s ego. Both are a little bloated.

“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” opens today in New York City. If you see it, tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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.