You’ve seen the ad: “To save his planet, an alien must find a woman on Earth to have his baby. There’s just one problem.” The accompanying image features a man’s tunic-clad torso, with hands resting near each other below waist level and a bent tulip dangling from his fingers, head terminally down. It’s droll, allusive, absurd, and elegant at the same time — a promise of good comedic fun from cable-TV comedy legend Garry Shandling and ace director-satirist Mike Nichols.
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.
Earlier in 2009, Shout! Factory released one of the greatest TV comedies of all time. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was created for Showtime in 1986, back before pay cable had established a reputation for original programming. As such, it never really became well known to the general public but it’s reputation among TV writers and creators was huge. The self-aware sitcom lampooned the very conventions it both embraced and turned inside-out in, and its savvy understanding and creative play with the form echoes through such subsequent shows as Malcolm in the Middle, 30 Rock and his own brilliant follow-up, The Larry Sanders Show, which was HBO’s first original “must see” program. Rumor was that everyone in Hollywood tuned in to see that savagely funny satire of show business.
I interviewed Garry Shandling by phone in October of 2009, in advance of the DVD release of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (see my review of the set here), but our conversation wandered all through his career and even touched on his love of boxing. In fact, Shandling came to the phone interview directly from a sparring session in the ring.
Apart from the honor of interviewing such a creative mind and a funny man, I had the good fortune to make Shandling laugh a couple of times and I was so thrilled to have him say to me, “That’s funny,” that I left those moments in the interview. What I left out was all the times he made me laugh. That would simply have been repetitive and redundant.
This is Garry Shandling. Am I twenty-four minutes late?
I believe so.
I apologize. I have a good reason, which you’re welcome to write if you want. I just came in from boxing. I box three or four days a week, I actually go into the ring and spar and train, and we went a little long, and frankly, and hilariously, I got home just at about four o’clock, but I looked like a guy who’s just finished a fight and lost and needs about a gallon of water and so I was just trying to recover before I called you.