Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2017 5:15 pm 
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The rigorously autobiographical - meta - TV of Caveh Zahedi

This is ironic, because Caveh Zahedi, the Iranian-American writer-director who has made a series of painfully direct autobiographical films - A Little Stiff (1991) , I Am a Sex Addict (2005) and The Sheik and I (2012), just said the following in an interview with Eric Kohn of Indiewire: "The feature film format has not been kind to me, and I don’t think it was ever a natural fit. It was always me trying to force myself into that box. The demise of the feature film — and it is dying a very clear death — means that it’s hard for me to change, too. But I’m happy to leave it and embrace this other format. " So he moved to short TV episodes for BRIC TV, a non-profit in Brooklyn, called "The Show About the Show."

Why, then, are we reviewing a feature film? Well, it's just the seven episodes of "The Show About the Show," Zahedi's 2015-2016 TV series, presented in sequence. And, actually, it works this way too. After all, it's basically just binge-watching a TV show, which is what we do now. What we get in The Show About the Show (or "The Show About the Show" series) is, in either form, a quintessential Caveh Zahedi experience. He (and others) thinks so, anyway. We get something post-Woody Allen, very "meta," something so style-heavy and content-light you can pick it up and watch it at any point - but you can also binge-watch it sitting there. And talk about dying forms later, at your leisure.

In "The Show About the Show" in its slightly edited "theatrical version," which begins with pitching the show and getting a TV producer at Brooklyn's BRIC media organization to accept it, Zahedi gives up various show options - which got rejected for one reason or another - and winds up simply making a show about making a show. The structure is simple - though not so predictable: every episode is about the making of the previous episode - or things that happened to Zahedi in his personal life in the course of making the previous episode. It's not unlike the sexual daisy chain Zahedi proposed as a show idea early on that got rejected. But with "The Show About the Show," it's more like anything that happens in Caveh Zahedi's life, however personal, may have to turn up on the next episode. Andrew Bujalski, the once king of mumblecore and maker of the inimitable Computer Chess, has said something very nice: "Caveh is his own genre, and in his own mystical league--he's not the only filmmaker out there who thinks that navel-gazing solipsism will produce great art, but he's the only one who's right. 'The Show About the Show' is riveting and hilarious and I hope he keeps doing it forever."

Zahedi picks up people he knows, and stages little scenes about them, only mostly with actors playing them, and with the facts arranged to suit him. And one of the running jokes is that people hate how he's representing them (realistically, doing what they've actually just done), only they still wind up insisting on playing themselves, whether for control or out of egoism or, in the end, because Zahedi's stuff is fun to do. Always he's on the edge between embarrassment, truth, and humor. Part of what helps the sometimes awkward or embarrassing action go over smoother is the split-second editing, and Zahedi's rather giddy and cheerful delivery. But he is also obsessively, neurotically driven (see as an example his recent series on YouTube "The Show about Sundance"). For many, he is stimulatingly subversive. But reviewer Glenn Kenny, introducing this collected version of "The Show About the Show" to New York Times readers, finds his behavior troubling: "For all his candor," Kenny writes, " there’s something sinister about him. His refusal to acknowledge the plain implications of what honesty on his terms demands suggests someone whose evident disingenuousness masks something even worse." Is he disingenuous? No, rather, he is simply willing, to a potentially destructive extent, to sacrifice everything, including his marriage and family, to his rigorous honesty about his life.

Beginning Friday March 17, the hip new Metrograph Theater in lower Manhattan will present the exclusive one-week NY engagement of The Show About the Show with Caveh Zahedi as narrator, monloguist, participant, and punching bag and the willing and sometimes unwilling participation of Dustin Guy Defa (director of Person to Person, ND/NF 2017) , Amanda Field (Zahedi's wife), Eleanore Hendricks, Peter Rinaldi, Sam Stillman, jason Banker, Yeelen Cohen, Dana Eskelson, Alex Karpovsky, Alex Kaufman, Terence Nance, Jorge Torres-Torres, Onur Tukel, and many others of the Brooklyn indie scene who appear for seconds or minutes playing themselves or others.

The Show About the Show (2015-), theatrical version, 108 mins., comprises "Why Did We Greenlight This?" (Episode 1), "Paraplegic Threesome" (Episode 2), "The Truth Shall Set You Free" (Episode 3), "David Mark Chapman" (Episode 4), "Fan Mail" (Episode 5), "He Called Hydrangeas People" (Episode 6), and "The Break-Up" (Episode 7). The links are seamless and the rhythm is constant. From BRIC, 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn. Zahedi began screening this series with the first five episodes at the Gateway Film Center in Columbus six months ago. Debuting with seven episodes at Metrograph for one week starting Fri., 17 Mar. 2017.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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