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Álex de la Iglesia Isn’t Clowning Around at Fantastic Fest

Álex de la Iglesia Isn’t Clowning Around at Fantastic Fest (photo)

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“I really hate clowns,” Álex de la Iglesia admitted mere moments into his introduction for “The Last Circus” (or “Balada Triste de Trompeta,” which translates to “Ballad of the Sad Trumpet”) his epic, darkly comic story of two clowns who fight for the love of an acrobat during the tumultuous era of fascism that followed the Spanish Civil War. Joined by Carolina Bang who plays the object of the clowns’ affection, de la Iglesia made the rare trip to the States for Fantastic Fest co-founder Harry Knowles, who geeked out while telling how he was first introduced to the director’s work when someone slipped him a sixth generation VHS copy of de la Iglesia’s “Day of the Beast.” He even added that de la Iglesia had an inadvertent hand in creating Fantastic Fest since it was after a screening of “800 Bullets” in Sitges that he and Tim League first discussed the idea of a genre festival in Austin.

Greeting Knowles with a hug, de la Iglesia was far less gracious when discussing clowns, to the delight of the audience. “My father took me to the circus in some dirty place. It always smelled bad,” de la Iglesia said. “[I would wonder] why are these guys so desperate? The red nose in the middle of the face? He’s a fucking alcoholic. The big shoes, why?” He went on to wonder aloud why there was always a sad clown — “why is he there if he’s not funny?”

09302010_AlexdelaIglesiaLastCircus.jpgIn “The Last Circus,” the sad clown Javier (Carlos Areces) has a purpose, assigned to his lot in life after coming from a long line of funny clowns that ends when his father explains to him that he’s seen too much tragedy in his life to be funny, only minutes before his execution at the hands of a general in Franco’s army. Next thing you know, it’s 1973 in Madrid and Javier is putting on bushy eyebrows and a single black teardrop down his face to perform in circus where he meets the beautiful and dangerous Natalia (Bang), who descends from the heavens twirling on a red ribbon and winds up being Javier’s one-way ticket to hell when the two strike up an easy friendship and her jealous, abusive boyfriend Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) turns out to be the funny clown to his sad one. Upon their introduction, Sergio tells Javier if he weren’t a clown, “I’d be a murderer.”

De la Iglesia has been down this road of violent one-upsmanship before with 1999’s “Dying of Laughter,” but in weaving in actual historical events like the assassination of Blanco during the counter-cultural revolution, “The Last Circus” is one of his broadest films to date, both in terms of scope and its humor, which pulls no punches in showing a nude Javier stripping the bones of a dead deer carcass clean while hiding from Sergio in the forest or basking in the grandeur of a war sequence involving circus performers that is usually reserved for a Spielberg-Hanks World War II miniseries. Fans of de la Iglesia will appreciate that his wild streak is back after the more serious-minded “The Oxford Murders,” and while some might not spark to his occasionally outrageous sensibilities and asides, I found “The Last Circus” benefitted from a second viewing where I wasn’t quite as caught up in his always clever visuals (he is shooting in and around a circus, after all), which allowed the story and political subtext to shine through.

“I don’t want to transplant my life onto my country’s experience,” said de la Iglesia, during the post-screening Q & A in a rare moment of seriousness. “But I believe everyone in Spain has some pain and we need to talk about it. That’s why I made the movie.”

09302010_AlexdelaIglesiaCarolinaBang.jpgThe mood was considerably lighter during his introduction to the film when he explained the inspiration for the story that pitted a sad clown against a funny one — “With age, I’ve learned one cannot laugh if somebody else is not suffering” — and subsequently put the onus on the audience: “The only way we can have fun here is if we know others are suffering.” (He plunged the dagger in when he added, “With the money that was spent making this movie, lives could’ve been saved.”)

Following the screening, Knowles pressed him on a variety of subjects and was joined by the audience in asking about his next project (“a small drama in Spain about a man who is immobilized by an accident and cannot be moved”), his and Knowles’ shared obsession with the death of Gwen Stacy in the “Spider-Man” comic books that served as a template for a scene in “The Last Circus” (“It is something that traumatized me my whole life,” said de la Iglesia) and his reaction to people who felt his English-language diversion “The Oxford Murders” was a departure from his previous work (“People say it’s not like you. Well, who am I?”).

Knowles wasted no time in asking de la Iglesia for a return visit to Austin for a career retrospective, to which the director was at least publicly noncommittal, but it was clearly a good night for de la Iglesia, who was only weeks removed from winning the Silver Lion and an Osella for best screenplay in Venice for the film. As he growled before the curtains raised on the film, “Let’s enjoy being bad.”

“The Last Circus” will be distributed next year in the U.S. by Magnolia Pictures.

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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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