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Lamentation for a Grand Romance

Lamentation for a Grand Romance (photo)

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For American cinephiles of a certain age (under 50 or so, babies during the ’60s if alive at all), the last year and a half has been a neo-Godardian lavishment — month after month, there came a new sterling DVDization, or a new rarity screening (like Light Industry‘s showing of “Far from Vietnam” in Manhattan), or a new biography or brace of incidental footage (The Believer‘s “JLG in USA”), or even, as in this past January, a full-fledged American release: 1966’s “Made in U.S.A.,” only shown at festivals in its day before getting stalled and closeted by the producer’s legal woes and messy rights trouble with the Donald Westlake novel it barely references. It’s one of the 15 essential rockets Godard launched that made the decade his and his alone, and if you don’t find it a privilege to be able to discover it in 2009, you don’t care about movies.

“Made in U.S.A.” fits perfectly into Godard’s evolutionary passage from metafilm messiah to Marxist didact, from the buoyant gamesmanship of “Alphaville,” “Pierrot le Fou” and “Masculin Féminin” to the narrative-fuckup radicalism of “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her” (also a new Criterion DVD), “La Chinoise” and “Week-End.” Riffing impishly on noir clichés, composing life as if it were a comic strip, fracturing his ersatz story into slivery mirror shards, lollygagging through dramatic confrontations, cutting in splats of audio and advertising and visual punctuation, tossing off movie-movie allusions, indulging in irrational jokes, lacerating Americanization and the crassness of modern culture — it’s all there, all stewed together into a feverish, mysterious brew that’s less a traditional masterpiece than an open-source exploration of the cinema-life interface. Godardians will recognize the reflexes and disjunctures, and will likely get most of the moviehead references (the names tossed off include Goodis, Widmark, Siegel, Mizoguchi and “Ruby Gentry”).

But what’s revelatory about the film begins and ends with the central figure of Anna Karina, and I’m not talking about her acting or even her celluloid image. The romance between Karina and Godard is one of the most impassioned on-screen cataracts of feeling that 20th century cinema produced, and “Made in U.S.A.” is its requiem. The couple were already divorced in 1966, and aside from a larky omnibus short — 1967’s “The Oldest Profession” — this would be their final film together. It shows: every inch of the movie is saturated with sorrow, bitterness and ambivalence.

07222009_madeinusa1.jpgPerhaps because Godard’s approach has always seemed to me to be less analytical than poetic, the relationship “Made in U.S.A.” has with its maker’s heart suggest the double-coded meanings in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” a roaring, secretive wail of modern existentialist despair that’s also, not incidentally, just as much about Eliot’s failed and crumbling union with his unbalanced wife Vivienne. Godard’s film has the same seething layers in it: on the surface, it’s all voguing nonsense, noir fun and bristling politics (the story is actually a contemplation of the disappearance/assassination of radical Medhi Ben Barka, which is just one contextual matter the Criterion’s supplements explicate beautifully). But underneath, we’re watching the art form’s most spellbinding love story crash and burn. Every close-up of Karina (who is lit flatly and often shot too close, as if to reveal her flaws) aches with woe, and almost all of the dialogue has second meanings. “Loneliness isn’t the cause of death,” Karina’s impromptu girl-detective says, interrogating a doctor while searching for her lost lover. “How can you not see the link between loneliness and illness?” he replies. “Why tell me stories?” she answers in what could be Godard’s growing aesthetic philosophy boiled down to a kernel. “I just want the truth.”

The crowning moment where the real meaning of “Made in U.S.A.” blossoms is in the first half, when Karina hangs out in a brasserie with her shady noirish pursuers. As they all evade each others’ eyes, Marianne Faithfull, as herself, sits in a booth and lets loose with a plaintive a cappella version of the Stones’ “As Tears Go By.” It’s the saddest scene in Godard’s oeuvre, and as precious as a real memory. Given the context of this film, Godard’s descent (if that’s not an unfair word to use) into icy political screed and anonymity with the Dziga Vertov Group wasn’t merely an ideological transformation but an escape from heartbreak.

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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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