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“The Films of Sergei Paradjanov,” “El Cid”

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By Michael Atkinson

A summoning of pagan energies if ever there were any in the era of television, the major features of Sergei Paradjanov have maintained a flabbergasting constancy in the Western filmhead cosmos — these prehistoric, narratively congealed Central Asian mutants have never been out of circulation in this country, as retro-able prints or video editions, and are now all available on DVD from Kino in newly restored versions, including, for the first time, his epochal international debut, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1964). It’s intensely odd, because Paradjanov is one of the most hermetic, arcane and completely original artists in cinema history, and his films do not resemble those made anywhere else, by anyone. Perhaps their sui generis freakiness is their saving grace — and thus a sign of hope for the survival of adventurous film culture in this country. It’s not too much to say that no effort at understanding the outer reaches of filmic sorcery can be complete without a confrontation with Paradjanov’s world — a timeless meta-past of living icons, bristling fairy tale tableaux, stylistic extremities and culture shock.

Paradjanov was Georgian-Armenian by birth, cursed by fate to make

films within a Soviet system that condemned him as a decadent and a

“surrealist.” He spent time in the gulag (released thanks to

international outcry in 1978), but the Politburo wasn’t wrong;

Paradjanov was nothing if not a catapulting folklorist, recreating the

primitive pre-Soviet era as it might’ve been dreamt of in the

opium-befogged skull of Omar Khayyám. There could hardly have been a

more oppositive reply to Socialist Realism. The films — “Shadows,” “The Color of Pomegranates” (1969), “The Legend of Suram Fortress” (1984) and “Ashik Kerib”

(1988) — are all based on folk tales and ancient history (Ukranian,

Armenian and Georgian), but only “Shadows” is centered on narrative.

It’s also the most visually dynamic; unfolding a tribal tale of

star-crossed love and familial vengeance in the Carpathian mountains,

the movie is one of the most restless and explosive pieces of

camerawork from the so-called Art Film era, shot in authentic outlands

with distorting lenses and superhuman capacity, and imbued with a

grainy, primal grit.

Utterly convincing as a manifestation of

pre-civilized will and superstition, “Shadows” was still only a

suggestion of the netherworlds Paradjanov would then call home. The

next three films, separated by years of censorship battling and

imprisonment, are barely narratives at all, but rather medieval art and

life conjured up as a lurid, iconic, wax museum image parade, bursting

with native art, doves, peacocks, Byzantine design, brass work,

hookahs, ancient ritual, cathedral filigree, symbolic surrealities, ad

infinitum. This is not a universe where quantities like acting and pace

are issues; Paradjanov’s vision can be read as the dynamiting of an

entire cultural store closet of things. “Pomegranates” traipses

through the life of 18th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, “Fortress”

revives an age-old Georgian war legend and “Ashik Kerib” adapts an

“Arabian Nights”-style tale retold by Mikhail Lermontov. Together, they

represent one of the most unique usages cinema has ever been put to,

employing the full range of native textures (scrambling Russian

traditionalism with Turkish, Arabic, Indian, Chinese and Rom) and

ending up, for all of their stasis and ornate compositions, with a

party-hearty-Marty celebration of traditional culture and life in the

unruly wilderness of Asian societies rarely if ever visible to American

filmgoers. The four DVDs come with an array of background/profile docs,

an impressionistic portrait comparing/contrasting Paradjanov with buddy

Andrei Tarkovsky, and, best of all, several rare Paradjanov shorts.



years away, medieval historicism in Hollywood gained substantial

gravity by 1961, when producer Samuel Bronston and director Anthony

Mann relocated what must’ve been a majority of Italian film laborers to

Spain to make “El Cid,” and struggled to give the monster a

sense of Old World veracity while so many Cinemascope epics of the day

settled for studio lot interiors. Appearing finally on DVD in a

nostalgic gift box equipped with lobby card and comic book reprints,

Mann’s film has long been the quixotic favorite of David Thomson and

Martin Scorsese, who provides an introductory essay. True enough —

despite its genre-monolithic stiffness and starchy period dialogue, “El

Cid” is a muscular, sometimes strangely disturbing historical launch,

fashioned by Hollywood’s greatest landscape painter into a menacing

examination of class struggle and honor-bound tragedy. The portrayal of

invading Muslim Moors and the ostensibly Christian Spanish royalty are

both equally venal, Charlton Heston does the axiomatic job only certain

movie stars can do (riding out, dead but strapped to his horse, along a

beach that foretells the climax of “Planet of the Apes,” seven years

later), Sophia Loren looks so impossibly beautiful that her face seems

on the verge of orchid blooming, and the crowds — all real, all

occupying Mann’s ancient Iberian horizons in a tangible way that

digital hordes cannot — march and rampage. But mostly the movie is an

essay on landscape’s colossal indifference to man, as are so many of

Mann’s films, an eloquent and impressive perspective with which heroic

sagas are rarely blessed.

“The Films of Sergei Paradjanov” (Kino Video) and “El Cid” (Miriam Collection) are both now available on DVD.

[Photo: “The Color of Pomegranates,” Kino Video; “El Cid,” Miriam Collection]

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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

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.


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…


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.


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).


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.


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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