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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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Give Back

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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