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“The Italian Straw Hat” and “La France” on DVD

“The Italian Straw Hat” and “La France” on DVD (photo)

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There was a day when to love movies meant a thirst for the full century’s worth of the form and loving all of its timeline’s eruptions equally. That a film was old and in black and white were never reasons to exclude it from the discourse. This was when silent films were still shown on public television, when film criticism freely compared Renoir and Ford to new directors, when grubby urban retro theaters could trot out a double bill of “Sherlock Jr.” and “The Cameraman” on badly beaten TV prints and there were still enough interested college students to half-pack the house.

Has this day finally passed, in spirit as well as lifestyle? I can’t decide — on one hand, the typhoon of new, fast, loud, sparkly distractions has never been more overwhelming, and often the very idea of paying attention to anything more than a few decades old seems openly scorned. On the other, silent cinema, for example, has never been more available to us, carefully restored and digitized for home use by the score every year, as well as streaming on YouTube (where a lot of young and not-so-cash-heavy inquirers I know go and dig into sequential swatches of Feuillade, von Stroheim, Gance, and Pabst). The numbers might be small, but they’re persistent and, apparently, tireless.

04062010_ItalianStrawHat2.jpgI dare to say that it’s foolish to call yourself a cinephile or movie lover, should you care to do so, if you don’t have the attention span required to watch silent cinema. But of course it’s just a matter of focus and perspective, not patience. Semi-forgotten beauties like René Clair’s “The Italian Straw Hat” (1927) require far less patience from me than contemporary romantic comedies or franchise blockbusters — for one thing, Clair’s farce is as subtle as the smell of the wrong woman on a shirt collar. And it’s that kind of late 19th-century farce we’re dealing with, although it seems that Clair’s movie, revamped from an 1800s stage play, is where the traditional comedy of manners morphed into screwball.

Famous but long unseen in the U.S. and only newly restored to its original length, “Straw Hat” takes place over a single wedding day, an occasion plagued from the beginning by portents of disaster — a pin lost down the back of the bride’s dress (she twitches for the rest of the film), a missing glove, a dress shoe that needs three men to jimmy on. But the real crisis begins when the groom’s carriage horse gets away from him en route, and half-eats a straw hat it finds in the bushes — which belongs to a married woman caught with her britches down (figuratively speaking) with a soldier in the brush. Soon enough, the dragoon and his hilariously swoony mistress find their way to the groom’s house and demand he replace that hat — without which she cannot go home.

04062010_ItalianStrawHat3.jpgAnd so the dominoes fall, as the groom worries about his townhouse being destroyed from the inside out by the impatient dragoon and tries to replace the rare hat even as the wedding proceeds through its own debacles. For all of its misunderstandings and brawls and head-butts, the story is almost an extended episode of “Seinfeld,” but what makes Clair’s film magical is how he shoots it, in simple master shots (unusual for the catapulting style fest that was the pre-talkie film scene in 1927-28), which may be the best vehicle for comedy ever invented. The full-body reactions of Albert Préjean’s distracted groom or Paul Ollivier’s stone-deaf uncle or Olga Tschechowa’s constantly fainting demimondaine need whole rooms and get them, and Clair’s touch is palpable in the performances, which are among the driest and deftest I’ve ever seen in a silent comedy.

The ensemble broadens out to dozens of characters, all of them preoccupied with their own narratives. Of course, there’s a steady drip of class satire aimed at the fin de siècle French bourgeoisie, with the same iconic sport made of pompous jerks in top hats that Clair would make in “À Nous la Liberté,” and absurd imagery that would also resurface a few years later in Buñuel’s Surrealist anthem-film “L’Âge d’Or” (which could be, in a few ways, considered a remake). Simply, it’s essential viewing if you’re devout about your movie love.

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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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