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DID YOU READ

On DVD: “Street Fight,” “The Weeping Meadow”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Street Fight,” Red Envelope/Netflix, 2007]

We Americans have difficulty regarding elective politics as much more than a wrestling match between loudmouths, the citizenry’s needs, rights and welfare be damned — a situation that, if you cornered me on my darker days, I would suggest is a deliberately contrived state of affairs, and has been at least since Woodrow Wilson created the ingenuously labeled Office for Public Information in 1917. Marshall Curry’s unpretentious and absorbing video doc “Street Fight” doesn’t diagnose the disease so much as record its outrageous symptoms, documenting the 2002 mayoral race in Newark, a city terminally plagued with poverty, unemployment and racial tension. It has enough cultural crosscurrents to fill out a novel: the challenger Cory Booker is a young, studly, articulate, Yale-educated lawyer hollering for change; longtime incumbent Sharpe James, who in die-hard Republican fashion (both candidates are officially Democrats) has created his mini-empire by bleeding the poor for the profit of developers and business, bluntly maintains that he’s “the real deal.”

Neither talk about policy; both are African-American, a fact that comes into question in James’s version of Huey Long-style skullduggery. In fact, as his title suggests, Curry lucked into an old-school ratpit of electoral crookery and violence. James is apparently a compulsive liar, at various times asserting that Booker is white, Republican, gay, Jewish and a KKK benefactor. Curry’s camera is routinely assaulted by Newark police (who are caught on video performing other crimes), and the film’s reigning visual motif is a huge close-up of a lens-gripping palm. “I’m in over my head,” Curry narrates at one point after a cop breaks his camera “in broad daylight, in front of reporters,” warranting no reaction. The passing of a few years, an Oscar nomination last year and the outcome of 2006’s election (Booker won, finally) may all seem to take the edge off Curry’s film as a piece of reportage, but if you worry less about Newark and more about American politics in general, it’s a sobering experience.

And there’s politics by way of breathtaking mise-en-scene wizard Theo Angelopoulos, who’s been exploring the vast, bloody arena of Greek and Balkan social upheaval for more than 35 years, in a filmmaking style that takes Tarkovsky-Tarr traveling-shot poetry and ups the ante into the stratosphere. Maybe it’s a cultural thing: American movies favor control-crazy brevity, but for cineastes in Eastern Europe, where memory of the past weighs on life like cloud cover, the syntax of the long, spatially expressive tracking sequence is the way movie time should be constructed. For Russian long-take pioneer Mikhail Kalatozov, the whole world captured in a single motion meant our righteous empathies had nowhere else to look; for Hungarian master Miklos Jancso, breadth and length were ways to understand the canvas of war. Andrei Tarkovsky’s moody set-ups were metaphysical questions, growing less answerable the longer they became. For Angelopoulos, whose most recent film “The Weeping Meadow” is the first film in a projected trilogy, his stock-in-trade mega-shot is a translation of history into visual experience. Time grows gargantuan, landscapes change, masses of people engage in epochal social phenomena. It’s not a strategy dilettantes should entertain; Angelopoulos, one of Europe’s most demanding film artists, stands as the master of monumentalism.

The movie shares the awed sense of solemn apocalypse with Angelopoulos’s “The Travelling Players,” “Landscape in the Mist” and “Ulysses’ Gaze,” but it’s a lighter film than usual, more musical and folktale-ish, more indulgent of old-school melodrama. The story is never fed to us pre-chewed, but instead occurs continuously on- and off-camera, passing before us like the steam engines that incessantly interrupt scenes and divide characters. It’s 1919, and a crowd of émigré Greeks return from Odessa after the Bolshevik Revolution; among them, a family with one son brings with it a young orphan girl, Eleni. Years pass in an unceremonious cut; a near-comatose teenage Eleni is brought home after having given up illegitimate twins. Another cut and the young woman is fleeing her own wedding — married not to the grown son, who loves her and helps her escape, but her aging stepfather.

Literally trailing after these scrambling souls as they follow each other into the crossfire of the mid-century — world war, the revolution, the fascist junta, civil war — Angelopoulos’s massive real-time moviemaking keeps the mad tragic-Greek drama at a dreamy distance. Often, the director seems capable of coordinating entire landscapes, and weather, too — how did he manage to flood an entire plain, scores of square miles we’d already seen dry and supporting houses, for a single scene? (Sleight-of-hand F/X are not in Angelopoulos’s tool kit.) No less astonishing is an uncut, nine-minute sequence that begins with an impromptu beer-hall dance and climaxes with a death. The construction of emotional moments via editing and montage doesn’t interest this man — instead, he’ll do what it takes to move a mountain and make a vision or drama happen for real.

“Street Fight” will be available on DVD January 9th (Red Envelope/Netflix); “The Weeping Meadow” is now available on DVD (New Yorker).

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Give Back

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

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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.

via GIPHY

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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