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Slumming it in the movies.

Slumming it in the movies. (photo)

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Back in 1996, Phillip Lopate had some complaints about Jim Jarmusch. Lopate was actually lamenting the intellectual decline of American film as a whole, but focused on Jarmusch (who was just about to release “Dead Man,” his first stab at overt intellectual ambition) as “a very gifted, intelligent filmmaker, who studied poetry at Columbia, yet he makes movie after movie about low-lifes who get smashed every night, make pilgrimages to Memphis where they are visited by Elvis’s ghost, shoot off guns and in general comport themselves in a somnambulistic, inarticulate, unconscious manner.” Oh dear.

The history of American indie film happens to be dominated by lowlifes and inarticulates. This is what happens when the godfathers of independent film are John Cassavetes and Melvin van Peebles, both attracted to working-class sparks. Complaining about intelligent guys wasting their talents on “low-lifes” smacks of snobbery, but it also ignores the fact that American indie film is and always has been primarily oriented towards the marginalized, who aren’t going to make movies about themselves, and certainly aren’t about to be the stars of mainstream films.

True Amerindie slumming comes in a different, weirder form. Take David Gordon Green, the prodigiously talented auteur who, in the last decade, leapt from the Malickian raptures of “George Washington” and “All The Real Girls” to “The Pineapple Express,” his painstakingly shoddy homage to crappy ’80s buddy movies. Green — a man fabulously supportive of the creative endeavors of his friends — also directed three episodes of the first season of “Eastbound and Down,” a show whose greatest creative ambition was humiliating Danny McBride and/or reveling in his endlessly profane vernacular. That and “Express” gave Green an outlet for the kind of crude comedy he couldn’t fit into his signature productions.

04052010_boarding.jpgIt seems like a lot of overtly intellectual filmmakers need release, though their lowbrow gestures are often misunderstood. For all the lip service paid by critics to the glories of B-movies and genre efficiency, some things are off bounds. Consider “Bad Santa,” Terry Zwigoff’s perfectly logical follow-up to “Crumb” and “Ghost World,” meditating as it does on what it means to be anti-social, the frequently demeaning nature of low-level jobs and crippling, overwhelming depression. But because it was marketed as just a broad comedy (and it is brilliantly crude), somehow most of the highbrows never noticed.

Olivier Assayas likes to dramatize the tension between highbrow aspiration and lowbrow attractions. Over and over, his movies show us smart people slumming: a former New Wave landmark making a trashy movie about thieving in “Irma Vep,” bright business-people working to promote feverishly lurid hentai porn in “demonlover,” and — finally — Assayas’ very own piece of trash, “Boarding Gate,” full of naked chicks and unmotivated violence.

Everyone gives in to the lure of the lowbrow eventually — rare is the person without any guilty pleasures, no matter how rigorous their field of interests or work. Today, though, it’s more common to see filmmakers occasionally indulging themselves — most of the time to general disinterest, but hey, at least it doesn’t hurt their credibility.

[Photos: “Eastbound and Down,” HBO, 2009-present; “Boarding Gate,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]

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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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