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On DVD: The Films of Chris Marker, “Boarding Gate”

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06102008_thelastbolshevik.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

I’m sorry, but if my choices are superheroes, Sarah Jessica Parker’s handbag materialism, Ashton Kutcher, learn-to-love-again indies and an Adam Sandler comedy that couldn’t even muster jokes enough for a two-minute trailer, then I’ll stay home and have a conversation with Chris Marker. I’ll at least be assured of having truthful contact with a real human consciousness, of having learned, of having been made aware of cultural connections no other artist would make and of bearing witness to first-hand history. An integral soldier in the French New Wave, Marker is famous here only for “La Jetée” (1962), the beloved all-stills time travel mega-short that was remade by Terry Gilliam as “12 Monkeys.” Though he’s remained a prolific manufacturer of cinema into his 80s, he’s never been a meta-acrobat like Godard and Resnais and Rivette, nor a romantic ironist like Truffaut or Rohmer or Demy, and it’s been virtually impossible to see his films, old or new, in the U.S. A few fictional tangents aside, Marker’s mode was always the personal documentary — a non-fictional amble between political fact and subjective, and often poetical, observation, and over the years, practically under the oblivious noses of the filmgoing world, it’s become one of the medium’s most insightful, humane and profound strategies.

Marker’s like Godard and Kiarostami in that filmmaking isn’t his career but his life, woven inextricably into his daily routines, ruminations, friendships and memories. Thus, his movies don’t have the mouth-feel of traditional entertainment or even of agenda-structured docs, but of personal correspondence, open-ended and imperative and exploratory. At long last, a slew of Marker films are available on DVD, including “The Last Bolshevik” (1993), a magisterial biopic of Soviet filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin, arranged by Marker as series of first-person “letters” to the late giant, who followed the Eisenstein-Vertov-Dovshenko-Pudovkin cataract and thereafter suffered whatever totalitarian crap was thrown his way just so he could make movies. A good deal of the celluloid Medvedkin shot was on the “film train,” a crazy, egalitarian form of movie production in which Medvedkin and a large crew drove a development-lab-equipped train around the USSR, shooting and printing films on the spot, showing them to the peasants they’d filmed, and then often discarding the celluloid thereafter. Marker was friends with Medvedkin (he had introduced the Russian’s forgotten work to the West in 1971), and saw him as a kind of last man standing of Soviet history, born at the beginning of the century and dead just a few years before the empire fell. And so amid the movie’s interviews with Russian film history luminaries and clips, there are intimate reminiscences, fond reconsiderations of the past and Marker’s distinctive detours, drawing parallels and tendril-like connections between images and occurrences that always appeared to be unrelated. While you watch “The Last Bolshevik,” it has the rhythm and vibe of an ordinary, if affectionate, documentary, but when it’s over, you take away the overwhelming sense of having lived a new history.

That accumulative awe is the feeling of having Marker’s sensibility sneakily come to bear upon you. Other Marker films also hitting the discs include “Remembrance of Things to Come” (2001), a lavish, dense and devil’s-food-rich memoriam to neglected photog Denise Bellon, who just happened to live through and record the ascent of the Surrealists, the 1937 World Fair, the birth of the Cinémathèque Française, the Popular Front, the Nazi occupation and so on, her shots forming a fascinating, and rather Markerian, mini-history of two decades of French life. (Typical is the matter of Henri Langlois’ famed bathtub full of film prints hidden from the Germans; some have since thought it an urban legend, but Bellon was there to photograph it.) Also, unforgettably, there’s Marker’s philosophical meditation on the post-9/11 world, “The Case of the Grinning Cat” (2004), which impulsively tracks the course of culture from a moment of traumatized empathy (even Marker is stunned by the headline on Le Monde: “We’re All Americans”), to a rising struggle between opportunistic state power and the uncontrollable will of the people, personified by graffiti of a mysterious smiling feline Marker finds all over Paris. The Icarus/First Run discs, which are currently only available from Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts’s online Chris Marker Store (they’ll be widely released in the fall), include a number of extra films, by Marker and by his subjects — Bellon’s short “Colette” (1950), and, happily, Medvedkin’s absurdist masterpiece, “Happiness” (1934).

06102008_boardinggate.jpgAs far as French filmmakers getting a sweaty grip on the post-9/11 landscape go, Olivier Assayas certainly brings his bargeload of obsessions to the table in “Boarding Gate” (2007) — this modern world is a global spider web of instant travel, menacing commerce, brutal narcissism, cold-blooded sex, urban lostness and ceaseless doping and smoking and tough-talking. Assayas also sometimes indulges an unexamined proclivity toward populating his films (that includes his script for André Téchiné’s “Alice and Martin,” “demonlover” and “Clean”) with young, slim, gorgeous, fashionably disheveled characters, and the effect can be unconvincing. Luckily, here Assayas has Asia Argento starring as an ex-hooker who gets tangled up bad (in her black underwear and pumps) with ex-boyfriend/sleaze magnate Michael Madsen, and who then is sent ricocheting toward Asia (the continent) and running from spoiled drug deals, murder plots and the like. The framing material of “Boarding Gate” may seem thin, but Argento, after more than 20 years flitting around the fringes of Euro-pulp and costume epics and the occasional Hollywood action flick, emerges here as a crystallized star. Unpretty but smuttily pugnacious and given to wildly unpredictable line readings, Argento is hypnotizing movie-stuff, as much the overpowering sexual core of this otherwise nutty and forgettable movie as Dietrich was of her Sternberg films, or Monica Vitti was of “The Red Desert,” or Sandrine Bonnaire was of “À Nos Amours.” She keeps getting compared to Brando in reviews, which accounts for Brando’s instinctive animalism if not his restless intelligence. But sometimes in movies, instinctive animalism is more than enough.

[Photos: “The Last Bolshevik,” Icarus Films, 1992; “Boarding Gate,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]

“The Last Bolshevik,” “Remembrance of Things to Come,” “The Cast of the Grinning Cat” (Icarus Films) and “Boarding Gate” (Magnolia Pictures) are now available on DVD.

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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.


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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