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Disc Covering: “The Experiment,” a Pissing Contest Between Oscar Winners. Literally.

Disc Covering: “The Experiment,” a Pissing Contest Between Oscar Winners. Literally. (photo)

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How often do two Oscar winners star together in a film?

Doesn’t happen a lot.

How often does one Oscar winner piss on another Oscar winner on camera? I know there’s that one notorious deleted scene in “The Lion in Winter” but other than that, “The Experiment” starring Adrien Brody (the piss-ee) and Forest Whitaker (the pisser) is a cinematic first. What kind of a world do we live in where this sort of epochal moment in the history of motion pictures can’t get a theatrical release? Dark times, my friends. We live in dark times.

“The Experiment
Directed by Paul Scheuring

092102010_experiment2.jpgTagline: When an experiment goes wrong, one man gets pissed off. (NOTE: This may only be the film’s tagline in my mind. Don’t quote me on it.)

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: An American remake of “Das Experiment,” a fictionalized version of the Stanford Prison Experiment (

Salable Elements: Well-respected source material; a fascinating and infamous real life psychological experiment; two Academy Award winners facing off in a glorious scenery chewing contest.

Biggest Success: The Stanford Prison Experiment involved a bunch of people made to act like prisoners and guards in a jail. It was supposed to last for two weeks, but the people running it had to shut it down after just six days because all the participants basically lost their minds and started behaving like monsters. Which is a great jumping off point for a lurid movie about the evil that men do. And credit screenwriter and director Paul Scheuring for having the cojones not to pull his punches. Forest Whitaker’s Barris and the rest of the guards are almost cartoonishly despicable people. I’m sure at some point in the development process someone looked at Scheuring’s script and wanted more “explanation” for Barris’ swift transformation from meek churchgoer to brutal prison dictator. But it only took six days for real people to descend into chaos and madness, so Scheuring is only staying faithful to reality. Showing Barris pissing on the ringleader of the prisoners (Brody) might seem excessive. But the actual behavior of the Stanford subjects was excessive. Okay, maybe not pissing on each other excessive, but it’s a movie. It’s got to shock us somehow.

09212010_experiment4.jpgBiggest Failure: “The Experiment” kicks off with a really tired cliche, the montage of nature footage that showcases brutal animal behavior and then slowly gives way to documentary footage that showcases brutal human behavior. By this point, we all know the lesson we’re supposed to take away from scenes like this: that deep down, we are all like stock footage. Wait, that’s not right. Sorry, animals; we are all like animals. I’m not arguing that the theme doesn’t have bearing on the “The Experiment.” I just wish Scheuring had come up with a more creative way of introducing it.

Best Moment: Instead, Scheuring focused his creativity on coming up with outlandish ways to externalize Whitaker’s transformation. In the movie’s most memorable scene, Barris basks in the glory of quelling his first prisoner rebellion. Standing alone in the jailhouse bathroom he looks himself up and down in the mirror, reveling in his cruelty. At that moment, he notices something unexpected in his pants, and looks down to size it up: he has an erection.

Yes, threatening and intimidating innocent people gives this God-fearing man a murder boner, and though a couple of crotchways glances from Whitaker would have gotten the point across, Scheuring leaves nothing to the imagination and provides a helpful, hilarious closeup of Barris’ pitched tent.

Does the moment work in the film? Not quite, though it’s good for a laugh. But, again, putting it in in the first place requires some serious, erm, balls. And that I admire.

09212010_experiment3.jpgI Question: Scheuring’s decision not to show us the people running this experiment while it’s going on. In some ways, it makes sense to keep the camera away from Dr. Archaleta (Fisher Stevens) and the rest of the scientists. For one thing, it invites us to share in the inmates’ sense of claustrophobia. And it also enhances our identification with the guards, because they’ve been told they must keep the prisoners in line and respond to their outbursts with “commensurate punishment” without being provided any clear instructions what makes a punishment commensurate. Their only clue is a red light that will illuminate 30 minutes after prisoner misbehavior if said misbehavior hasn’t been adequately addressed. If the light goes on, the experiment is over and everyone involved forfeits the $14,000 owed to them for their participation. Never showing us Dr. Archaleta after the experiment begins feeds into our shared sense of anxiety over that red light and helps us understand, at least initially, the motivation of the guards.

But a movie that makes this many stabs at addressing the social and moral implications of this experiment — the animal stock footage, repeated conversations on the subject between Brody and his cellmate Nix (an underutilized Clifton Collins Jr.) — really ought to engage its who and why. Dr. Archaleta promises that the experiment will be terminated the instant any prisoner is injured, but that’s not ultimately how things work out. The audience can’t help but wonder why. “The Experiment” makes no attempt to explain.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release? Tough to say. On the one hand, this movie has several hallmarks of a good midnight movie: great actors giving big campy performances, tinges of horror and even torture porn; murder boners. On the other hand, “The Experiment”‘s pretensions — the “serious” investigation into the human condition, some better-than average cinematography and production design — wouldn’t do its any favors on the cult film circuit. What you’re left with is an entertaining but weird little movie that doesn’t really belong anywhere. Which is probably how a film starring two Oscar winners wound up going straight to DVD in the first place.

For Further Viewing: watch the trailer for the documentary about the real Stanford Prison Experiment, “Quiet Rage.”

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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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