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The Anti-Blockbuster

The Anti-Blockbuster (photo)

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Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” has been the most discussed film of 2009, and so I’ll assume you’re fluent with its narrative’s yards of entwining taffy and with Christoph Waltz’s entrancing piece of supporting-perf gamesmanship, and so on, and move on toward simply saying it is the best American movie of the year, and an impossible-to-dislike rocket of fuming movie love. (The legions of teenagers who went expecting… whatever the Brad Pitt-heavy advertisements led them to expect, came out surprised and delighted.)

Still, I think it’s an only mildly understood movie, one that, in Tarantino’s obsessive way, entertains blithely as it subverts the conveniences American audiences ordinarily crave. You ask the average filmgoer what the movie’s about, and they won’t say The Movies (in Umberto Eco’s definition of “Casablanca”), which is the stone-cold truth, but Nazis or WWII, or a playground-fun alternate version of them, which isn’t far from the truth, either. They might not get most of Tarantino’s allusions, or grasp the larger meanings at hand, but they will have rocked out, and such is Tarantino’s genius.

Cut “Basterds” open, and you’ll find the Godard gland pulsing, secreting, hyper-charged. It is exactly this reality about the film, and about Tarantino and so much of the best modern movies, that goes unacknowledged in our culture; a paradigm shift is required that’s feared by the broader populace, not unlike the manner in which they fear learning anything substantial about public policy and choose their political alliances instead by way of “liking” Bush or Obama or Sarah Palin. Trying teaching “Breathless” to undergrads — they will not abandon the idea of a clean-cut diegetic “reality” within the film itself.

12152009_basterds9.jpgOf course, commercial culture is on their side, and never favors the Godardians, because hundreds of millions of dollars stand to be made with loud, distractive, digitized movies about giant robots or earthquakes or aliens. As with food production and environmental poisoning, commerce rolls happily forward the more we are oblivious to what’s really going on. Godard himself was terribly aware of this conflict, of course; he may have begun as a radical, but his four-dimensional mode of cinema through the ’60s pushed him inevitably toward full-on anti-narrative activism, whether or not the films in question were political at all.

What we’re talking about, simply, is redefining cinema away from an enveloping half-dream you have in the dark that encourages you to forget life, and toward a modern artwork that embraces life as it unwinds. It’s simple, really. Comatosity vs. wakefulness. Tarantino isn’t the only Godardian at play in the fields of movies today — Gerardo Naranjo’s “I’m Gonna Explode” and Hong Sang-soo’s “Night and Day” made 2009 a knockout bout of neo-JLG — but he is the most passionate, and the most guileless.

No other living director exudes such adolescent joy with what Orson Welles called “the biggest train set a boy ever had” as Tarantino, and his palpable élan behind the camera is part of the whole equation, as much as the actors’ enjoyment, the anarchic glee of narrative breaks, the intersection of “Basterds” with the living legacy of movies in dozens of different ways, the deliberately protracted bolero-like elongation of suspense sequences, what you had for lunch, the weather outside, and so on. Making himself, as the director, obtrusive to “the story” isn’t the point — Tarantino is the story, and so are we, because the story is about making and watching cinema, inside the movie and out, and therefore about real life experienced and observed, and the sooner we accept the fact that movies are not separate from our experiences but part of them, then we can be free.

Freedom is the question at hand — it’s no mistake that Tarantino’s filmography, like Godard’s, is filthy with parables of open rebellion and endearing chaos. These are not alternate realities we’re intended to “believe,” but conversations we have with the filmmakers, full of modesty, vanity, digressions, duplicity, self-destructing jokes and a context that’s big as history.

12152009_basterds8.jpgBut even as these perspective-rupturing statements are intrinsic to the thrust of “Basterds,” Tarantino also fashions the “normal” aspects of his film with an old-fashioned maturity that’s impossible to find in new films anymore. Can you think of an American filmmaker whose films are less visually like video games (the genre-borrowed martial arts of “Kill Bill” notwithstanding)? “Basterds” is in no hurry, trifles not with digital effects, contains rafts of long shots encompassing two or three characters at a time, never opts for overdesigned coolness over character or copious dialogue, respects its audience’s cognitive abilities, never exploits violence, rarely manipulates our reactions and never cuts or moves when it doesn’t need to.

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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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