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For directors, sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all.

For directors, sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all. (photo)

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At the end of his pan of Chuck Workman’s doc on American avant-garde “Visionaries” Tom McCormack drops a poignant observation about Jonas Mekas, the film’s main focus:

Somewhere between a warmer, polite Jean-Luc Godard and a more honest and forthright Werner Herzog, Mekas shares with both men a propensity for the over-emphatic aphorism. In talking about the demands that avant-garde cinema often puts on the viewer, Mekas says that the films are “like orange juice concentrate, you can add a glass of water and make orange juice.”

The more challenging your work, the more you risk giving ammunition to your detractors by saying anything concrete. That’s why many of the great filmmakers are obscure with their intentions. One of the most revered books about film ever — Robert Bresson’s “Notes on the Cinematographer” — has been described as sharing characteristics with Zen koans.

06032010_son.jpgGodard sometimes stuck aphorisms into the movies themselves, then covered those up with more aphorisms, at least partially in the name of getting you to read the authors he was name-checking.

But someone like Herzog is more prone to say things like “Iguanas look so amazingly absurd and stupid,” as he did in a recent interview in Sight & Sound that’s unfortunately not online. When asked if partnering with David Lynch on “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” was “like a summit of the bizarre,” he responded huffily “No, it was not a summit of the bizarre. It was a summit of those who are storytellers. […] I know how to tell a good story. And so does David Lynch.”

Really, what unites them is an insistence to describing their work in only the vaguest terms. Lynch famously refuses to provide interpretations; Herzog yells about “poetic truth.” Lynch proselytizes for technology he likes, Herzog tells good production stories.

Even the straightforward Noah Baumbach responded to a question about what “Greenberg” was “about” with “it takes me an hour and 46 minutes of film to say it.”

08212009_headlesswoman1.jpgA completely opaque director like Lucrecia Martel will cheerfully start diagramming her work, while the far more accessible John Ford was famous for insisting his movies didn’t really mean anything, weren’t art and so on.

But even when it’s frustrating, it’s hard not to sympathize with directors who — having worked hard to make the best film they felt capable of — are called upon to then explicate it all over again. It’s nice when they do, but the allure of the cryptic is understandable. Sometimes vagueness can spark more of an imaginative response anyway.

[Photos: “Visionaries: Jonas Mekas and the (Mostly) American Avant-Garde Cinema,” Chuck Workman, 2009; “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” Paper Street Films, 2009; “The Headless Woman,” Strand, 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

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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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