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Back from the Grave

Back from the Grave (photo)

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One of the world’s great film culture apostates, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg is mostly notorious for the seven-hour-plus 1977 film “Our Hitler,” and for Susan Sontag’s rocket-to-Mars essay, ambitiously praising it to the heavens, and for being the most recalcitrant of the New German Cinema’s unholy four (with Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog).

Finally, two of his famous earlier films have been released on video to contextualize that later behemoth, “Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King” (1972) and “Karl May” (1974), the three of which supposedly comprise a “German trilogy.” Syberberg hardly seems disposed to ever make films about anything else, and it’s an unassailable career project, especially in light of the last decade or so of Holocaust movies produced in Germany and elsewhere, which have tried to straitjacket and even romanticize the horrifying mystery of German culture’s evolution.

Syberberg has always regarded it as a monstrous enigma, and his movies reflect his position in every frame. But the man does not make “movies” as we normally define them — Syberberg’s films are friezes, poised tableaux expressing German social anxiety with stockpiles of evidence. Syberberg makes movies the way Charles Foster Kane collected artwork. Forever roping in the poisoned spirit of Wagner and Nazism, the films are not dramatic but dissertative, dreamily and endlessly questioning and never daring to answer.

The two earlier films are not nearly as gigantic — “Ludwig” is, in fact, a solid hour-and-a-half shorter than Visconti’s “Ludwig,” and “Karl May” just pokes past three hours total. Still, neither is a breeze to confront — Syberberg comes at his historical inquisitions from an angle, and “Ludwig” dallies as much with the infamous monarch’s narcissistic biography as it does with Jarman-esque camp, Wagnerian kitsch, nude girls, 19th century graphics (projected as background sets), cabaret shtick, children with mustaches, stuffed swans, etc. — all of it assembled and explored on a proscenium stage that recalls Méliès in more ways than one. Fairly tongue-in-cheek, “Ludwig” is more like an epic carny sideshow orchestrated by a guilty Teutonic madman than a film, and stands as the definitive precedent of Syberberg’s exhausting Hitler film.

“Karl May” is different — its baroque warehouse-stage shenanigans are kept to a minimum, and instead, Syberberg ruminates on the legacy of the titular writer, a kind of hyper-popular, turn-of-the-century pulp mashup in Germany of Robert E. Howard and Jack London, who specialized in American Indian stories and pretended to have first-hand knowledge of primitive cultures. Inspired and emboldened by May his whole life, Hitler may’ve been the author’s biggest fan, and so May’s fate (here played out against and intertwined with a series of late-in-life lawsuits with which he struggled) appears permanently entangled with the fate of Germany as a whole.

10192009_KarlMay.jpgProbably the most conventional of Syberberg’s features, “Karl May” is almost an ordinary period film, shot in genuine locations. But there’s a dagger up its sleeve: the cast is almost entirely made up of German industry vets who worked on films for and under the Third Reich, including director Helmut Käutner (as May), “Caligari”‘s Lil Dagover, Kristina Söderbaum (star of, among other Nazi films, “Jud Süss”), Käthe Gold, Attila Hörbiger, Mady Rahl, et al. The movie plays out like an autumnal conference held between cigar-pumping codgers blessed with nothing but time, idly deciding on the cursed celebrity’s fate even as their own culpability in German history is ignored, but looms nonetheless.

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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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