I’m not sure how I manage to keep my simultaneous fascination with /repulsion for Lars von Trier in balance, but it’s back with a vengeance in Antichrist (Criterion), another provocation that is at once beautiful and perverse, personal and cynical, and filled with his sour vision of the emotional small-mindedness (small-heartedness?) of the human animal. This one, a portrait of marriage as a morass of anger, suspicion and power after she (Charlotte Gainsbourg) falls into a pit of suicidal depression and he (Willem Dafoe), a psychiatrist, takes personal charge of her treatment in a rural escape called Eden that von Trier twists into a diseased hell: paradise rotted.
It all turns on the death of their infant child, which crawls through an open window and falls to its death while the parents are occupied in a slow-motion ballet of aggressive, feral sex. Anthony Dod Mantle is back behind the camera delivering Von Trier’s now familiar art-house look of carefully composed and stunningly sculpted establishing shots and framing sequences (like the B&W prelude of sex and death in the whisper of falling snow) while handheld photography takes us through the cover art frame and into their psychodrama.
Yeah, von Trier is nothing if not provocative and he throws it all at us here: a coldly controlling husband who can’t seem to draw a line between treatment and experimental psychotherapy, a fragile wife who slips into darkness and latches onto his projections of her “cruelty” to embrace her inherent “evil,” a natural world mutated into a Bosch image. He is most comfortable when in control and passing judgment and she rebels by becoming the very force of evil that men have accused women of being (as witches and temptresses and demons) for centuries. I’m fascinated by his work but I rebel against his misanthropic vision of mankind and human relationships.
The Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release features commentary by von Trier and professor Murray Smith, who engages him to explain and explore his approach and intentions (who talks mostly about the physical aspects of production), plus video interviews with von Trier and actors Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, seven short production featurettes, a featurette on the Cannes premiere and press conference footage, plus a booklet.
The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)
HBO’s first original series to become a buzz show was not The Sopranos. The late-night show-biz satire The Larry Sanders Show, a scathingly funny sitcom on the channel’s late-night schedule, received fair ratings, great reviews and a rabid following in Hollywood, where it became the industry’s cult show during its six year run, from 1992 to 1998. For years it was the sole reason I had HBO and with the release of this set, I was able to retire almost a dozen rapidly-fading VHS tapes on which I archived the (nearly) complete run of the show.
Shandling had previously deconstructed America’s other favorite TV genre with his “stand-up sitcom” It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, a much gentler program that spoofed sitcom conventions as acknowledged the studio audience, the TV cameras and the space between the sets as the shows played out. (See my review of the series here and my interview with Garry Shandling here.) The self-reflexive quality of The Larry Sanders Show was of a different nature, bouncing between the drama behind the scenes (shot on film) and the “show” itself (shot on video in traditional TV talk show style), but it wasn’t about acknowledging the conventions so much as deconstructing the business. Shandling plays talk host Larry Sanders, the reflexively glib and eternally insecure late-night veteran on a fictional show in the exaggerated(?) world of the cutthroat Los Angeles entertainment industry. It’s all about insecurities, egos, vanity, and other show-biz ailments and Shandling (who writes or co-writes practically every episode) is ruthless with his characters’ ambitions and fragile self-images. That caustic comedy attracted an astounding array of guest stars, all happy to send up themselves and their image in increasingly clever appearances.
While Shandling is unquestionably the star of the show(s), the ensemble makes the series click, especially Jeffrey Tambour’s sharp-as-a-sponge sidekick Hank (perfectly played with blowhard vanity and oblivious babbling) and Rip Torn’s smiling wolf of a producer Artie: loyal, fiercely protective, a veteran schmoozer quick to smile and quicker to toss off a epithet laden insult. (He earned a well-deserved Emmy for his portrayal, one of the show’s rare wins despite 56 nominations in an era before cable shows were treated with the same respect as network series.) The show also helped launch/further the careers of cast members Penny Johnson, Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman and Mary Lynn Rajskub, and in later seasons brought in Bob Odenkirk as Larry’s new agent (modeled on the real-life Ari Emanuel, also the model for Piven’s character on Entourage) and “Kid in the Hall” Scott Thompson as the gay assistant to homophobic Hank, and the writing staff included Peter Tolan (co-creator of Rescue Me) and Judd Apatow. Smart, sharp, cutting, cynical, and buoyed by just enough sensitivity and sincerity and genuine kindness to keep you with the characters, it’s the best comedy ever made about show business and one of the funniest shows ever shown on America TV (yes, yes, I know, it’s not TV, it’s HBO).
Shout! Factory put together the excellent box set of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, in close collaboration with the Shandling. He was so happy with the result that he came back to them for this. Sony had previous released a first season collection and the anthology box set Not Just the Best Of The Larry Sanders Show, but this is the first release of the complete run: 89 episodes in a box set of 17 discs in 11 thinpak cases, plus extras. This is kind of show that benefits from supplements and the producers of this setâ€”working closely with creator/producer/star Garry Shandlingâ€”have filled this with commentaries, interviews and documentaries.
The excellent 70-minute “The Making of The Larry Sanders Show,” an in-depth look back at the development, production and evolution of the series, was originally produced for Sony’s 2007 box set, as were many of the commentary tracks (including the series debut and finale) and interviews (including a reunion featurette with Shandling, Torn and Tambor discussing working together on the show and “The Writer’s Process” with Shandling and Judd Apatow), while new commentary tracks and more interviews supplement the original collection. All told, there are commentary tracks on seven episodes, “Personal Visit” interviews with guest stars Carol Burnett, Alec Baldwin (in the boxing ring), Jerry Seinfeld, Sharon Stone, David Duchovny, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Petty and John Stewart, and interviews with series co-stars Jeremy Piven, Bob Odenkirk, Linda Doucett, Penny Johnson, Janeane Garofalo, Scott Thompson, Wallace Langham, Sarah Silverman and Mary Lynn Rajskub. The Linda Doucett interview in particular is amazing: uncomfortable, emotional and difficult, it allows the actress to confront the difficulties of being in the show while being in a romantic relationship with Shandling offscreen. She lays herself open and it is quite moving. New to this disc is the 42-minute “Garry Lectures at USC,” which is really more of a moderated Q&A at Howard Rosenberg’s 2010 Television Symposium Class, with Rosenberg beginning the discussion with questions and then opening it up to his class. There are also newly-added deleted scenes and outtakes and a 60-page booklet with essays and an episode guide.