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Idle Hands – Bryan Barber’s Small Screen Showpieces

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

IFC News

There is no art form as critically ignored as the music video. So expect plenty of terse parentheticals this weekend regarding Bryan Barber, the vid vet who directed the Prohibition-set, OutKast-starring musical “Idlewild” that opens this Friday. With the help of the cultural memorialists at YouTube, I’m going to sketch a (very) brief history of Barber’s work on the small screen to fill the gap.

Friends with the group since “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” came out in 1994, Barber’s been a key factor in the evolution of OutKast’s image from Dirty South stylists to the P-Funk retro-futurist look they promote today. Compare André Benjamin’s Atlanta Braves jersey in the now classic “Player’s Ball” (1994) to his glam carnival barker in Barber’s “The Whole World” (2001). Much of this change has to be attributed to Benjamin’s artistic mutation, as he embraces the performative excesses of Prince and George Clinton over, say, the Goodie Mob — but Barber’s ability to massage pop iconography with a loving wink melded perfectly with Outkast’s own entrance into the pop lexicon (peaking with “Hey Ya”).

Even before he perfected this style with “Roses,” Barber was experimenting with homage/satire of pop images. He helmed a number of videos accompanying films, from the mundane (Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble With Love Is” from “Love, Actually”) to the bizarre (OutKast hanger-on Sleepy Brown’s “I Can’t Wait,”, with André starring as “Chamelio Salamander”, from “Barbershop 2”). His first full-length culture riff was for Southern rapper Bubba Sparxxx and his single “Deliverance” in 2003 (watch the video). The template is the Coen brothers’ “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” For the most part it’s played straighter than its model, Bubba stalking through the dustbowl as an escapee from a chain gang (without Clooney’s mugging). The tune loops an acoustic guitar riff as Sparxxx hits the chorus: “I’ve been travelin’ for some time/With my fishin’ pole and my bottle of shine.” It’s a perfect fit of lyric and milieu, except Barber and Sparxxx replace the Coen’s parade of caricatures with a more rooted sense of place (while keeping the randy Sirens). “Can you recall a time people loved you unconditionally?/Toast in the new south, this one is for history” Sparxxx ends holed up in an old barn, and before the credits hit, he and his crew burst out in modern dress, drawing a direct line between the struggle to remain upright from the 30s to today.

A few months later — “Hey Ya” (watch the video) hit TV, and insinuated itself into every unwilling eardrum across the U.S. This time Barber takes a more playful attitude — adopting the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan performance as a showpiece for André Benjamin’s particular brand of charisma. It’s bright, over-caffeinated, and delightfully absurd (the three-man chorus dressed as jockeys are a personal favorite). The next single off “The Love Below” was “Roses” (watch the video) a sophomoric little ditty about being resentful of a popular girl’s distracted attentions. Not Dre’s finest work — but it’s certainly one of Barber’s. Borrowing from “Grease” and “West Side Story” this time, it’s set at a 50s era high-school talent show — with Andre, tight-pantsed and wearing a lettered jacket (more Olivia Newton-John than Travolta), leading his “Love Below” fellows in a tune. This is intercut with Big Boi leading a group of “Speakerboxxx” thugs (his side of the double-album) smashing mailboxes on the way to the show. They call each other out and rumble — while the girl everyone’s pining for runs out with a rich, fey interloper. It’s a clever play on the critical merits of both albums, and on the increasingly strained relationship between the two members, which has caused a flood of speculation on the future of the group — which will only increase with the release of “Idlewild,” the album, on which they co-wrote only four songs together.

Since those reputation making successes, Barber’s been busy: having Destiny’s Child watch themselves act in a fake “Sex and the City” episode for one of their final videos together in “Girl,” and dolling up Christina Aguilera like a flapper in this year’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” in which he seemed to borrow the speakeasy set (and cinematographer) from “Idlewild.” For those concerned about such things — it’s nominated four times at the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards.

“Idlewild” opens nationwide August 25th (official site).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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