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Slow cinema backlash.

Slow cinema backlash. (photo)

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It was inevitable that someone would get around to complaining that the dominant mode of the arthouse film had become super-languorous master takes. Over at “Sight & Sound,” Nick James has periodically used his front-of-the-magazine editorials to rail against what he sees as the excesses of “Slow Cinema.” Now the debate has shifted to passionate unpaid online writers: Harry Tuttle was peeved, and then Steven Shaviro did a frankly better job of articulating the anti-slow cinema case than James did. His argument is simple but eloquent: if contemporary slow cinema is descended from Antonioni, Akerman and so on, their rigorous long takes were adventurous provocations created by extremists. In the modern slow cinema, boundaries aren’t getting pushed: people are operating within a recognized, default artistic idiom. That suggests people are missing out on the chance to push the medium forward (wherever “forward” might be located).

Here’s the problem: there are masters, and then there are imitators. The problem isn’t “slow cinema” per se, any more than the problem with purely narrative, story-oriented film is that it can be practiced by both, say, David Mamet and Steven Spielberg as well as Steve “Paul Blart” Carr. That doesn’t mean narrative is dead; that means some people do it better than others. But with narrative movies, your average viewer can draw upon a wider sample selection of the effectual and ineffectual. The rigors of arthouse films require more cunning and self-motivation to track down.

05122010_lourdes.jpgSo when you get a small sample size of more rigorous-type films, you can get disillusioned a lot faster. But the names being brought up with monotonous regularity as premiere disciples of slow cinema — Bela Tarr, Carlos Reygadas, Tsai Ming-Liang — are pretty much indisputably the very best at what they do. You may not care for a five-minute sunrise, nor long tracking shots of the back of someone’s head. And that’s totally understandable. But these filmmakers are almost objectively the premiere practitioners.

The problem isn’t the masters. It’s the second-tier wave of films that premiere at Berlin and smaller festivals, rarely get picked up for distribution, and simply stagnate in their own self-righteous slowness. Outside the festival circuit few will ever see them. But those that do instantly understand why someone would wish a pox upon the whole movement. Earlier this year, a few American cities were treated to one such specimen: Jessica Hausner’s “Lourdes.” This is a movie that really does feel like it’s slow because it doesn’t know any better: shots go on but they’re not particularly complicated. There are no visual riches worth taking in slowly and the drama fails to rise. The whole thing just feels dull. I have no idea how this got distribution; the sheer star power of Sylvie Testud?

That’s really what James is objecting to: movies that show up expecting to be hailed for their high seriousness without earning it first. And that’s fair, because it complies with the golden rule of art: 99% of everything is garbage. The problem isn’t the mode, it’s the average product. The exceptions are always what matter.

[Photos: “Red Desert,” The Criterion Collection, 1964; “Lourdes,” Palisades Tartan, 2009.]

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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 IFC.com

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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

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…