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Chris Smith, Todd Solondz and the question of intent.

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09042008_americanmovie.jpgChris Smith’s feature “The Pool” opened in New York yesterday, and today the Onion AV Club‘s Scott Tobias takes on his 1999 documentary “American Movie” as part of his “New Cult Canon” series, noting that “the main knock against the movie is that Smith is condescending to his subjects and carting them out exclusively so we can laugh at their ineptitude… At the risk of passing the blame, I’d say that any condescension brought to American Movie comes mostly from the viewer, not the filmmakers.”

I’d agree that Smith doesn’t seem to have made the film with mockery of his subjects in mind, but what made “American Movie” so worm its way into my brain is that the film’s a constant and uncomfortable reminder of one’s participation in its subject-filmmaker-audience set-up. Smith’s intentions don’t matter once the film is finished and put into the world — if mockery is what the average viewer draws from it, that is essentially what the film becomes. The second half of Todd Solondz’s “Storytelling” was a memorable reaction to that aspect of “American Movie” (one of the subjects, Mike Schank, had a small role), something Solondz discussed in an interview that also ran in the AV Club, back in 2001 when the film was hitting theaters.

I admire Chris Smith, I liked this film, and yet it raised certain troubling issues that connected to what I was doing. You couldn’t help bristling or feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the response this movie was soliciting. I mean, you have some hapless, somewhat naïve guys from Wisconsin fumbling through their filmmaking ambitions, and you have a kind of laughter that’s being generated at this center of hip, so to speak, here. You have to question, exactly, the nature of that laughter, and what that really means, and to what extent this is really respecting or connecting to Chris Smith’s intentions.

Aaron Hillis interviewed Smith for this week, and asked him in turn about his reactions to that section of “Storytelling.” He seemed unperturbed:

You’re right, I’ve never actually been asked that. I didn’t have a big opinion on it, to be honest. If that’s something he wanted to spend his time on, that seems fine. I wasn’t sure what exactly the point of the film was in regards to “American Movie,” but you could make assumptions. [Solondz] had written me a letter after “Storytelling” came out and said that he was frustrated with the reaction the audiences had towards [my] film. He felt that they misunderstood it, and I thought that was valid. I barely even remember “Storytelling,” but it wasn’t anything I spent a lot of time thinking about.

[Photo: “American Movie,” Sony Pictures Classics, 1999]

+ The New Cult Canon: American Movie (AV Club)
+ Todd Solondz (AV Club)
+ Interview: Chris Smith on “The Pool” (IFC)

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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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