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Seven great movies that star architecture.

Seven great movies that star architecture. (photo)

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Alongside the almost-certainly-definitive restoration of “Metropolis,” this year’s Berlin International Film Festival saw the premiere of “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?,” a doc celebrating British architect Norman Foster — who, coincidentally, is working on a development in Abu Dhabi “with driverless trains and elevated walkways.”

“Films like ‘Metropolis’ are an architectural experience,” Foster says. “They truly are both inspirational and prophetic.” True enough. Here’s seven more movies that have productively grappled with architecture, both real and imaginary:

02172010_northbynorthwest2.jpg“North by Northwest” (1959)

For most people, “North By Northwest” is instantly associated with Mt. Rushmore or crop-dusters — but the house of James Mason’s villainous Vandamm is probably next up there if you think about it. In keeping with the film’s tony settings (the Plaza Hotel, the United Nations Building), Hitchcock had his design team create a Frank Lloyd Wright-esque abode that would scream luxury on par with Cary Grant’s usual proclivities (Wright’s rates were too high to have him design something for real). Hitchcock may have inadvertently created a link in audience’s minds between modern architecture and villainy — regardless, the film came out a little more than three months’ after Wright’s death, an inadvertent tribute to his influence.

02172010_ilposto1.jpg“Il Posto” (1961)

Ermanno Olmi’s first film to get major international attention, “Il Posto” presages Antonioni’s ’60s work and his general sense of youth in revolt through very simple means. Domenico (Sandro Panseri) commutes from the rural village of Meda to Milan to land a bureaucratic job everyone assures will have him living in stable, dependable, unexciting and modest comfort for the rest of his life. During the lunch break of his daylong interview, he and his instant crush Antonietta (Loredana Detto) wander around the city, with the glass-concrete-steel architecture already there, dominating the landscape materially and demonstrating to Domenico how close the world he knows is to irrevocable change and evaporation. Architecture as cultural change: this movie’s still ahead of everybody.

02172010_playtime1.jpg“Play Time” (1967)

“Play Time” is the infamous ultimate example of architectural extravagance onscreen, as Jacques Tati constructed his own “Tativille,” complete with a power plant — the cost of the whole enterprise kept him in debt for years. The architecture of Tati’s platonic modern city is both intimidatingly massive and strangely designed for, well, play; the “characters” (such as they are) respond accordingly, eventually exploring and having fun with the space. It’s the rare movie that responds to impersonal architecture with delight and curiosity rather than automatic suspicion.

02172010_thepassenger1.jpg“The Passenger” (1975)

Antonioni always paid a lot of attention to space — it could be more important than the people — but he introduced many to Antonio Gaudi with “The Passenger,” in which Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider have a memorable conversation on the roof of La Pedrera. Gaudi’s work has since come to be a lazy if always-delightful shorthand for Barcelona on-screen, in everything from “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s wordless, unblinking 1984 documentary simply named “Antonio Gaudi,” one of the few films devoted to simply examining the insides and outsides of one man’s work.

02172010_myarchitect1.jpg“My Architect” (2003)

Nathaniel Kahn’s quest to discover his oft-absent architect father Louis Kahn can be initially narcissistic and off-putting — he insists on his unique pain as the son of a neglectful dad, which isn’t actually all that unique — but it’s a surprisingly immersive, patient introduction to Kahn’s work, taking time to capture Kahn’s buildings in lovely, space-preserving shots. And he’s more than open to stopping the movie to let someone else talk uninterrupted — as below, say, when a man tearfully rhapsodizes over what Bangladesh’s finally-completed Parliamentary Building meant. He’s equally open to letting people insult the work on-camera, which is refreshing.

02172010_24city1.jpg“24 City” (2008)

The vast, brutal and impersonal architecture of Communism has been handily documented — I remember in particular the bizarre Soviet musical “Cheryomushki,” where people dance on planks held up by construction cranes and lyrics include “Where is the housing superintendent?” — but in “24 City,” Jia Zhangke captures the end of all that, following the destruction of a whole group of no-longer-needed industrial factories being knocked down to make way for condos. As in Jia’s”Still Life” (where the real destruction of buildings and walls is worked into the movie), seemingly impersonal structures take on the symbolic weight of the passing of an entire social experiment.

02172010_international1.jpg“The International” (2009)

In this moronic but eminently watchable flashback to ’70s paranoia, director Tom Tykwer nearly overcomes a ridiculous script by just focusing on the buildings — German parking lots and train stations, gleaming steel-and-metal constructions whose looming qualities make you distrust the (literal and figurative) transparency of the corporations inside. And of course there’s the much-beloved Guggenheim gunfight (whose spiral staircase was also used as an effective leaping point for Ophelia’s suicide in 2000’s updated “Hamlet”).

[Photos: “Metropolis,” Kino, 1927; “North by Northwest,” MGM, 1959; “Il Posto,” Janus Films, 1963; “Play Time,” Continental Distributing, 1973; “The Passenger,” MGM, 1975; “My Architect,” New Yorker Films, 2003; “24 City,” Cinema Guild, 2008; “The International,” Columbia Pictures, 2009]

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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…

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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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