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Detroit dies on screen.

Detroit dies on screen. (photo)

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Director Julien Temple isn’t unfamiliar with volatile situations. This is a man who made no less than three documentaries about the Sex Pistols. You’d think he’s the kind of person who’d have at least a nodding acquaintance with Detroit as America’s most emblematic representation of urban decay.

But, in a shockingly naive essay in the Guardian, Temple says that until he arrived in Detroit at another filmmaker’s invitation to make a documentary on the city (the forthcoming “Requiem For Detroit?”), he had no idea! “I knew it as the Motor City, one of the great epicentres of 20th-century music, and home of the American automobile,” he says. So he found Detroit a little surprising.

My producer, George Hencken, and I drove around recce-ing our film, getting out of the car and photographing extraordinary places to film with mad-dog enthusiasm – everywhere demands to be filmed – but were greeted with appalled concern by Bradley, our friendly manager, on our return to the hotel. “Never get out of the car in that area – people have been car-jacked and shot.”

It’s not like there’s a lack of representations of Detroit on screen as, essentially, a post-apocalyptic city. There are more depictions of Detroit as a mess than Detroit in its America’s-leading-light phase. 1973, for example, brought us “Detroit 9000,” which invited us to (per the tagline) “Visit the murder capital of the world — where the honkies are the minority!”

03112010_8mile.jpgIn recent years, Detroit has made a number of return visits associated with hopelessness. There was Eminem’s not-so-affectionate “8 Mile” (which, seeing as Temple is the UK’s leading musical documentarian, you’d really think he would have seen), but also the “Assault on Precinct 13” remake (which, tellingly, updated the location from the original’s South Central LA setting) and, of course, “Gran Torino” — a movie which, in its conflation of racial tensions about assimilation and despair over economic entropy seems more and more prescient about the atmosphere leading up to the Obama inauguration by the year.

Detroit isn’t necessarily the most violent city in America. Last year, the violent crime capital of the US was the little-loved Camden, NJ, which boasted 2,333 violent crimes for every 100,000 people. Until recently, Tampa, FL was also a dangerous place to be. But neither of those cities have the on-screen allure of Detroit, because they don’t have the implicit rise-and-fall narrative. Detroit is where American film goes to scourge itself; Camden’s just another tough town.

[Photos: “Gran Torino,” Warner Bros., 2008; “8 Mile,” Universal, 2002]

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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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