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SXSW 2008: “Wild Blue Yonder”

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03112008_wildblueyonder.jpgCinéma-vérité and the first-person documentary go to war in “Wild Blue Yonder,” and vérité wins — this engrossing car wreck is an unintentional argument as to how difficult it is to successfully include yourself in your own nonfiction film. “Wild Blue Yonder” is about “a daughter’s search for her father,” as the filmmaker, Celia Maysles, puts it — that father is David Maysles, who with his brother Albert made seminal docs like “Grey Gardens” and “Gimme Shelter,” and who passed away in 1987, when Celia was 7. Judith Maysles, Celia’s mother and David’s widow, fought it out with Albert over the rights to the Maysles brothers’ films in an ugly court battle that ended in a settlement and the rights of all of the films, including “Blue Yonder,” the film David was working on at the time of his death, becoming solely Albert’s. The lawsuit pretty much ended communication between Maysles Films and Celia and Judith, until Celia decided to bridge the gap in the making of this, her own debut film.

“Wild Blue Yonder” is about David Maysles, but it is, as you might suspect, really about Celia, about how much she misses her father; her process in seeking him out in his friends, subject and notes; and her attempts to get outtake footage of him left over from “Grey Gardens” — footage Albert was mining for “The Beales of Grey Gardens.” Albert noted in an interview that “in the film, I come off as the bad guy,” refusing to allow Celia access due to concerns that their two films were going to cover too similar ground. And he is very much villainized, but Celia’s lack of perspective ends up making him the more sympathetic party. “Wild Blue Yonder” deals with what’s understandably an anguished and emotional topic, but as a filmmaker, Celia conveniently chooses not to distinguish between the personal and the business, between documented and undocumented life. She doesn’t just want access to the footage to see her father, which is what she weeps to Christo and Jeanne-Claude when she interviews them — she wants to use the footage in her film. She cuts Albert off when he tries to go into the lawsuit, saying she doesn’t want to talk about a time that was so painful for herself and her mother, and then lets her mother tell it from her side later. And unacknowledged is the fact that the film, by its very nature, is trading on the filmmaker’s pedigree — and that unseen footage from the “Grey Gardens” days, which Celia treats as only fair, as essential to her personal journey, also has marketable value attached to it, something Albert certainly knew when deciding to put together his own follow-up.

How to determine who owns the work of a life? Albert Maysles, for better or worse, was given control of everything David produced, even “Blue Yonder,” the film that was David’s own personal project, an attempt to separate himself from his sibling and, appropriately, a documentary look at their own father, who died when David was 13. But “Wild Blue Yonder” makes it a herculean task to feel any sympathy for Celia, who’s petulant, devoid of self-awareness, endlessly confesses to and cries on camera, and, as things grow worse between her and her uncle, tends to stride up to him and then ask if it’s okay that she’s already filming. The excavations of the Maysles brothers’ subjects, of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, of “Grey Garden”‘s charmingly eccentric Lois Wright, are far too brief and yet burn a thousand times brighter than Celia’s sharing of the details of her teenage eating disorder while holding the camera pointed at herself out at arm’s length. “Wild Blue Yonder” isn’t a successful in any sense of the word, but I must confess it’s one of the films I’ve talked about the most with fellow festival-goers — a maddening and marked example of documentary self-indulgence.

[Photo: “Wild Blue Yonder,” Corra Films, 2007]

+ “Wild Blue Yonder” (SXSW)
+ “Wild Blue Yonder” (Official site)

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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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