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Martin Scorsese is not a “personal filmmaker.”

Martin Scorsese is not a “personal filmmaker.” (photo)

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My English professors always warned me against reading anything biographically. Pulling a meaning from a work based on knowledge of the writer’s life is always tempting and sometimes enlightening, but ultimately it’s a lazy route that closes alternate possibilities. That’s a good rule that more film writers should follow. “Shutter Island” is coming out tomorrow and already people are getting their hate on, with the key buzzword being “impersonal” and variants thereon. Leading the charge is Elbert Ventura over at Slate, who declares the film “silly and impersonal,” which somehow makes the word corollaries.

It’s telling that the most popular Scorsese films remain, after all these years, “Mean Streets,” “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” — the Italian-American trifecta, with “Taxi Driver” more respected than loved. That’s because mooky violence is an easier sell than, say, Edith Wharton or the temptations of Christ. And, armed with the information that Scorsese was an asthmatic child in a neighborhood full of belligerent Italian-American males, it’s easy to correlate his greatest successes with “personal filmmaking.”

The logic of this argument seems to be that “personal” films correspond to biographical information (except for “The Age of Innocence,” which Ventura deems “personal” without explaining why, which I take to mean he just likes it). This is why you see people refracting Polanski’s entire career through his time hiding in the Warsaw ghetto and his exile to Europe, and why Soderbergh haters always claim he’s making “cold,” “technical” experiments. He didn’t give them any meaningful biographical information! The jerk!

02182010_aviator.jpgYou did not see this kind of nonsensical criterion being raised 20 or 30 years ago, which speaks to the increasing luridness of full-disclosure writing permeating every last field, the blogospheric assumption of the importance of the “personal” that’s surely going to keep trickling down. And it’s careless thinking. You think “Mean Streets” is personal and “The Aviator” isn’t? Try again: “Mean Streets” is fantasy wish-fulfillment to make up for a sickly childhood, while “The Aviator” is a swooning love letter to the medium that dominates Scorsese’s life. I just made a “personal” argument. Are you convinced yet?

In short, if you intend to make movies, never tell anyone anything interesting about your life, or you will never hear the end of it.

[Photos: “Shutter Island,” Paramount, 2010; “The Aviator,” Miramax, 2004]

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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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