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DID YOU READ

The Naughts: The Romantic Pair of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Romantic Pair of the ’00s (photo)

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    I knew what she looked like by heart this time.
    That scrap of newspaper she was on should
    have been worn ragged by now, the number of
    times I’d pulled it out and looked at it when I
    was alone in the place.

        — Cornell Woolrich, “The Black Angel”

It’s the fear as much as the tenderness. It’s the desperation in the way they clutch hands in a darkened theater, and the sensuousness in the way they caress each other in bed. It’s the contradiction of having found yourself by stepping into a mystery, and the cruelty of discovering that the heaven of love is a gossamer skein stretched over a black hole. “And the mysteries of love come clear,” is the way David Lynch put the paradox in the song he wrote for “Blue Velvet.” Those mysteries have never been as heartrending in Lynch’s work as they are in his 2002 dreamtime noir “Mulholland Dr.”

Love, for David Lynch, is convulsive or it’s nothing. Adolescents, and those capable of living with the adolescent’s self-dramatizing intensity, are the characters for whom he has the greatest affinity — think of Donna and James in “Twin Peaks”; Jeffrey and Sandy in “Blue Velvet.” If surrealism is the way Lynch naturally sees the world, then the kind of romance that makes you feel so alive you think your heart is going to stop, the kind lived out by Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in “Splendor in the Grass,” is the natural way Lynch thinks of love.

And because that kind of love doesn’t last, every pair of Lynch’s lovers is threatened. In their self-constructed world they’re like Moses’ burning bush, awash in flame and not consumed. They’re hunks-a, hunks-a burnin’ love, and yet it’s not Elvis’s voice we hear watching them, but a far quieter, more worried one, that of Gary Troxel, lead singer of the two-girls-and-a-boy trio The Fleetwoods. “Outside my window/You’re walkin’ by with someone new/Outside my window/The way I used to walk with you,” Troxel sang in 1960, a spectator doomed to seeing his perfect love unravel.

12092009_MulhollandDrive4.jpgThe heartbreak of “Mulholland Dr.”, the reason its romance is the decade’s most emblematic, is seeing a love that has already unraveled achieve the perfection of dreams. Naturalism and quirk seeped throughout indie film, studio love stories seemed to take place in an artificial alternate universe — but “Mulholland Dr.” spanned both while being neither.

Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring), Lynch’s most wounded, beautiful and endangered true hearts, are the transfigured phantoms of the romance turned deadly for Diane Selwyn (Watts), a failed actress who has had the added injury of seeing her lost love Camilla Rhodes (Harring) have all the success she hasn’t. Diane is hungry, and it’s Camilla’s world. Their interactions have the awful indignity of a dead love affair, desire being answered not by desire but by a feeling of responsibility.

And yet before we know any of that, we feel the stars have gone out of alignment for Betty and Rita. In most stories of doomed love, the young lovers face a world in which they, the eternal they of the outside world, don’t understand. Lynch’s lovers are against something cosmic and unidentifiable. In “Mulholland Dr.,” Betty and Rita are often framed against darkness so soft and velvety it’s like a hovering nimbus, ready to swallow them if they awake from the film’s dream. And when they are swallowed, when smoke fills the frame as if the sulfur of hell itself were obscuring our vision, we feel as if not just a romance has been broken, but the beauty of the world has been cursed.

“Have you ever done this before?” Diane asks Rita as, scarcely believing it, she finds herself in the arms of another woman. The insomniac Rita’s answer, “I don’t know,” is a sleek joke. But their sex doesn’t matter. Neither one of them has done this before, throwing themselves into the kind of love affair where every kiss feels as if the universe is opening before you. And yet the universe is closing down on them, too.

What’s beautiful and what’s threatening here is all of a piece. Noir is the most seductive of genres because the things we associate with it — darkness and shadow, rain-slicked streets, cigarette smoke, women at their most beautiful and desperate and treacherous — invite us to revel in the sensuousness of movies. You feel that here when Rita gazes on a poster of “Gilda”; when she and Betty sit in that rundown theater, the place seeming to emit the perfume of decay, listening to Rebekah Del Rio’s heart-stabbing version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”; when a sleek limo glides along dark canyon roads against a mournful wash of strings; when, working like diligent detectives to uncover the mystery opening up before them, Betty and Rita are alive with the glamour that only danger can confer.

12092009_MulhollandDrive7.jpgAnd because the fatalism of noir promises the terror (the thrill?) of seeing it all dashed, eroticism and dread are fused.

Betty and Rita aren’t just figures in Diane Selwyn’s dream but in our dream as well, the collective dream the movies encourage us to lose ourselves in, the dream of peril and romance and sex and mystery. In “Mulholland Dr.,” the movies have become so much a part of the air that they are literally the stuff of dreams, the place we’d rather live.

When I first saw “Mulholland Dr.,” I emerged into Times Square at night and nothing looked right to me. Corners weren’t squared, the lights and neon and traffic and crowds wouldn’t cohere into a visual pattern that I could make sense of. The world I’d just left seemed more real. In that dream of love and danger, Betty and Rita, the light angel and the dark angel, are the presiding spirits, two Nancy Drews become love’s keepers of the flame.

This feature is part of the Naughts Project.

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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 IFC.com

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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

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…