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Michael Almereyda Finds “Paradise”

Michael Almereyda Finds “Paradise” (photo)

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The “Paradise” of Michael Almereyda’s new film is an earthly one, a collection of fragments from the filmmaker’s own experiences, shot over years and in different countries and with no more explicit explanation than the patterns that emerge as one segment glides into the next. A sales pitch in a Tehran rug store, a eulogy, a boozy party monologue on Napoleon, a roadside stop to photograph bison, a firework display over Los Angeles, a pause on the set of “The New World” — these moments reverberate off each other, teasing a profound sense of wonder out of the small-scale and the mundane. It’s perhaps the most personal and certainly the least traditional film from Almereyda, whose career has encompassed work as varied as a documentary about photographer William Eggleston, a postmodern New York City vampire tale and a contemporary take on “Hamlet,” with Ethan Hawke playing the brooding prince-as-corporate heir. “Paradise” opened this year’s Film Comment Selects series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and I exchanged emails with the filmmaker about YouTube, travel and the nature of “Paradise” as a self-portrait.

I’m sure I’m forcing this, but there seems something very of-the-moment to “Paradise,” perhaps because not necessarily neatly anecdotal slivers of life, documented in videos, photos and text, have become the basic currency of communication online, though there they rarely accumulate into anything larger. Was there any intention to evoke that with the film?

It’s a fair question, not forced at all. I wanted the movie to seem spontaneous, unsettling and of the moment. And I’ve been highly aware of the way it might mirror a kind of twittering cultural conversation — a language, really — flowing into and out of the Internet, where images, clips and quotes can be plucked at random. Beyond that, I’ve always liked André Malraux’s now-ancient idea of the “museum without walls.” Certain books, he wrote, are museums without walls and, by extension, art history in the age of mechanical reproduction is one vast museum without walls. Of course now, 60 years later, the Internet has flung open the doors and blasted the ceiling off of Malraux’s museum. We’re all like characters in the Godard film [“Band of Outsiders”] racing through the Louvre at breakneck speed. But just because we’re racing doesn’t mean we’re not seeing and thinking. There’s clutter and chaos, but also, for me at least, a heightened element of comprehension and play. Nearly everything in the museum can be revisited and reviewed at any moment, and it’s not necessarily a diminishment to find our sense of reality becoming so fluid, so fragmentary, so collage-like and layered.

But there’s a trick, in making this an index for a movie. As restless and uncentered as “Paradise” may seem, the film has been patiently shaped, each episode is part of a larger framework, planted very consciously so that it anchors or echoes surrounding segments, fits into a whole. YouTube may be, excitingly, a vast, ripe and rotting jungle. This film, however wild it seems, is a garden.

02252009_Paradise2.jpgHow many years does the footage in “Paradise” span?

Roughly ten years. I first got the camera for location scouting on “Hamlet,” in the fall of 1998. It might be worth mentioning that, with a few notable exceptions, the episodes are generally chronological, with the earliest footage at the front of the film.

When did you begin to conceive of knitting selections together into a feature? And how did the format evolve as you worked?

I worked hard, at first, to make the episodes self-contained, and I showed them as shorts. But certain ideas and motifs began to emerge, fairly organically. So the knitting, as you call it, seemed natural. Twin themes of innocence and experience declared themselves straightaway and are, I think, obvious, especially if you see the movie more than once or, as the case may be, if you talk to the director. Look out, too, for the recurrence of hats and head coverings, an ongoing indication, I guess, of the human need for protection and disguise. You might also take note of the fact that the film is divided into four sections, each ending with a dissolve. The first two sections end with images of flight; the third ends with a birth, and the fourth with a child — the former newborn baby, in fact — toddling around in a superhero outfit. These sections are framed, clearly enough, by images of automated walkways, and the coda is meant to gather multiple threads and give you a glimpse of some kind of collective, transcendent moment. Or maybe it’s an intimation of death.

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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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