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Lost in Found Footage

Lost in Found Footage (photo)

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A paradigmatic New York indie of the kind that cannot be accused of star-slumming or dependie bloat, Azazel Jacobs’ “Momma’s Man” tells an incremental tale of modern regression, and as such it is patient and stinging. Mikey (Matt Boren), a flabby thirtysomething man of undefined profession, gets laid over in New York and bunks in his aging parents’ loft instead of waiting at the airport. At least we’re told so — the next day Mikey invents a few more excuses to linger in the house in which he grew up instead of going home to his wife and child in California. The days pass, his enabling mother (Flo Jacobs, the director’s mother) caters to him sympathetically (her priceless first note left at the breakfast table tells him there’s cereal, there’s fruit, “put fruit in the cereal”), his distant father (Ken Jacobs, Azazel’s father) wonders silently what the hell’s going on, and Mikey slips semi-consciously off the grid, rummaging through his old toys and comics, erecting a battery of lies to all concerned so he can simply avoid returning to adult life. It’s a crafty variation on a pungent contemporary theme (only recently have filmmakers considered the middle-class husband/father surreptitiously on the run from his responsibilities, and they’re at it now with a vengeance). Jacobs adroitly connects the impulse to vanish with the desire to regress into youth, and Boren underplays the breakdown perfectly, knowing that Mikey is lying to himself every moment as well.

But there’s more to “Momma’s Man,” more ambivalence and context, than a plot summary suggests. Ken Jacobs, of course, is one of the founding figures of modern American experimental film, an influence on Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Ron Rice, Robert Nelson and many more, and remains, in his 70s, a prolific and restless visionary. He has, over the last 20 years or more, been exploring the meaning of images by subjecting found footage to his “Nervous System” shows, which involve a dueling pair of projectors manually controlled by the filmmaker. Likewise, the home featured in “Momma’s Man” is the real Jacobs homestead, a massive downtown labyrinthine warehouse packed with artstuff, effluvia, plywood partitions, endless boxed archives, old toys, film editing equipment, improvised electrical wiring, convex store mirrors and so on. You can only wonder what it was like to grow up in this gargantuan curiosity shop, and it’s no surprise that Jacobs fils realized his familial crib was in fact a giant, natural movie set, no less fecund and seductive than the basement of Xanadu and evoking all sorts of eccentric history.

In fact, it creates a bizarre particularity around Mikey’s unexpressed psychological balancing act — how has a childhood spent within the collection-obsession orbit of one of the greatest found-footage filmmakers shaped him? (In the movie, Jacobs pere essentially plays Ken Jacobs, and works on Jacobs’ projects.) Does Azazel Jacobs avoid this question (Mikey is conceived as a kind of schlubby everyman, while Azazel is a safety-pin-eared indie moviemaker), or does he simply consider his family and home to be unexceptional? The anxiety of influence is seeping up through the water table: Ken Jacobs’ father figure is a quiet, reticent observer to the film’s narrative crisis, but one look around that maniacal workshop-catacomb tells us he’s the family’s and the home’s defining force, and hardly a marginal player, like so many fathers who go away to work each morning and return only peripherally involved with what’s been going on at home all day. Certainly, theirs couldn’t have been an orthodox, placid father-son relationship.

05102009_Momma'sMan2.jpgWhat’s more, you get the sense that much of what Mikey does while skirting his bourgeois existence — read, doodle, daydream, try to make sense of the past, idly experiment with making stuff — is what Jacobs pere has in effect done his whole artistic life, albeit with driving ambition. (He certainly has avoided being a member of the bourgeoisie.) Mikey’s sole evidence of creativity is a song he wrote in high school after getting dumped (the chorus begins “Fuck Fuck You”), and when he gives it a go on his old guitar, Ken Jacobs pipes up from somewhere, “Please play quieter!” Whatever documentary anxiety we may sense in “Momma’s Man,” it’s obvious too that Azazel is a wise explorer of his own world — he dares to include on the DVD a new short by his father, “Capitalism: Child Labor” (2006), which optically prints-dissects-hyperventilates a short piece of early-century footage of children at work in a thread factory, and in 14 dazzling minutes puts most of last year’s features to shame.

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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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