Free time? Free movies!

If you find yourself with some free time during these strange days, why not settle down with some of these free films.

Free movie of the weekOh You Pretty Things
Filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his documentaries free worldwide during the global COVID-19 crisis. Each Tuesday we’ll be posting another film here. We hope you enjoy them, and please stay strong.

I’m a little annoyed I’ve missed Helvetica, but I’ve just watched and thoroughly enjoyed this documentary about Dieter Rams.

Rams Vimeo
“Rams” is the new documentary by filmmaker Gary Hustwit (Helvetica) about legendary designer Dieter Rams. For over fifty years, Rams has left an indelible mark on the field of product design with his iconic work at Braun and Vitsoe, and his influence on Apple. “Rams” is a design documentary, but it’s also a rumination on consumerism, materialism, and sustainability. Dieter’s philosophy is about more than just design, it’s about a way to live. The film also features an original score by pioneering musician Brian Eno.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous, here’s a collection of films of a different but equally charming kind. Yes I know it’s just directing you to YouTube, but I love the Netflixy interface.

Voleflix free movies
Cheaper than Netflix and Prime! Dozens of free public domain movies plus our Voleflix Originals. Includes films featuring Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Roger Corman, Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and more…

free-time-free-movies

Plenty to fill the time

Having to stay at home, with a lot of time on your hands?

The 33 best movies over 3 hours longVulture
Some of these long movies inflate the familiar three-act structure to epic proportions, while others use their expanded lengths to stretch out and wander into unexpected places. We wouldn’t necessarily suggest marathoning these films back-to-back, but watching them one at a time is an experience worth clearing your schedule for.

Pandemics: An essential reading listVulture
Just as the film Contagion has found a second life with news of the coronavirus outbreak, so too are novels about epidemics popping up on reading lists around the country. With stakes so high, it’s easy to see why novelists find outbreaks of disease so compelling. Here are 20 great fictional takes, ranging from the historical to the futuristic.

The 40 best horror movies on ShudderVulture
If you’re new to the service and wondering where to start, don’t fret: We’ve dug into Shudder’s increasingly impressive catalogue to find the best films worth your time, from classics like Halloween to newer entries like Mandy. Watch them all.

Or perhaps something more culturally uplifting.

On coronavirus lockdown? The top online museum and art tours to enjoy from homeThe Art Newspaper
As coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread and disrupt the daily lives of people across the globe, forcing many to self-quarantine, we are compiling the best online offerings from artists, museums and galleries. Whether you are staying at home or your local museums and galleries have closed, here are some of the best digital initiatives to satisfy your creative cravings.

No audiences, but concerts streamed to the world. This is a moment in classical music historyClassic FM
Last night, Bach Collegium Japan performed Bach’s St. John Passion at the Cologne Philharmonic. The performance was full of passion and the highest artistry. At the end of the final chorale, orchestra, choir, soloists and conductor turned and bowed, but very poignantly, there was no sound or ovation to be heard.

That’s because in the Spring of 2020, the world’s musicians are not playing to audiences, they are not showcasing their craft for the applause, or even rapt silence. They are simply playing to share music with a world that needs to hear it.

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closureMetropolitan Opera
“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Every night, we’ll be offering a different complete operatic gem from our collection of HD presentations from the past 14 years.”

I wish wish wish they’d show this one.

How an opera gets madeYouTube

The beginnings of linguistic inclusion?

Bong Joon Ho’s latest film Parasite has been doing quite well recently, subtitles notwithstanding.

Trump inexplicably complains about ‘Parasite’ Oscar winsThe Wrap
“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards? And the winner is a movie from South Korea,” said Trump. “What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give him the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know. Can we get ‘Gone With the Wind’ back please? ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ So many great movies, the winner is from South Korea. I thought it was best foreign film, right? Best foreign movie. No! Did this ever happen before?”

I loved this take on it from Language Log, a wonderfully anachronistic-looking blog from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Overcoming the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”: The Oscars and multilingualismLanguage Log
It is well known that multilingualism is the norm rather than the exception around the world … so monolingualism in countries like the USA is at least as unnatural as subtitles on a movie, if not more so.

In his speeches and interviews, director Bong Joon Ho consistently code-switches between English and Korean (e.g. here). This is another novelty. Code-switching is not commonly seen on American TV. I loved his half-apologetic, half-cheeky laugh when he said in perfect English: “I am a foreign language filmmaker so I need a translator here. Please understand.” The interpreter herself has been in the spotlight as well.

Cinematic video games

1917, with its ingenious camerawork and set design, is getting plenty of award attention. (I feel obliged, though, to remind everyone that it’s not really one continuous take, it just looks like that. Others have managed to do that properly. Surely Russian Ark is the one to beat on that score. But anyway!) Its director, Sam Mendes, unlike David Cronenberg still sees potential in the cinema of the spectacle.

1917 director Sam Mendes “optimistic” about future of theatersCollider
“I am optimistic, actually, but it’s in the hands of the filmmakers more than anything else,” Mendes said to The Hollywood Reporter backstage at the Golden Globes. “It’s up to filmmakers to make films that need to be seen on a big screen and make an audience feel like if they don’t see it on the big screen, they’ll miss out… I think what’s important is that filmmakers are ambitious and that they use the tools of cinema, surround sound, IMAX, and every fiber of their being to make big stories for big screens.”

Its dazzling, attention-grabbing camerawork has its critics, too.

1917 review: turning a nightmare war into a theme park showcaseThe Verge
1917 has a small cast, but there are more than a few faces you’d recognize. Colin Firth makes an appearance, as does Andrew Scott of Fleabag fame, and Mark Strong. You might miss them entirely, though, because the camera never really gets close to them. It never lingers, never engages with them on a level any deeper than the bare minimum for establishing the action. Close cuts are used to foster intimacy, and if a camera never truly gets close to anyone, then we aren’t likely to either. In 1917, the horror and spectacle of war are impressive but never felt.

It’s the visual language of video games, but video games pull it off because that distanced voyeurism also comes with something additive: interactivity. Eventually, you will become involved. That is not something a film can offer.

Others make more positive associations with video games.

‘1917’ is a movie that feels like a videogame—in a good wayWIRED
Perhaps that is why, at times, watching it feels like playing a first-person shooter in the vein of Call of Duty or Battlefield. Like the recently released Gears 5, Mendes’ film wants the audience to experience the trauma of war along with Schofield and Blake, not just learn about it like a history lesson.

If it’s video game cinema you’re after, these 8-Bit Cinema videos from CineFix will sort you out. The concept works especially well for movies that are practically video games to begin with.

Mad Max: Fury Road – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

The Matrix – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

But I think it works just as well for other kinds of movies too, that are perhaps like video games after all.

The Shawshank Redemption – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – 8 Bit CinemaYouTube

And what goes best with a little movie? A little popcorn.

PopcornVimeo

You have to be careful with video games, though. They can become quite expensive.

Austria′s former Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache ′addicted′ to gamingDW
The former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache spent between €2,000 and €3,000 ($2,200–3,300) a month playing the mobile phone game “Clash of Clans,” and charged the fees to his political party, according to a lawyer formerly close to him.

A long time ago, a logo far far away

The reviews for the upcoming Star Wars movie are now appearing, ahead of its general release tomorrow. Will it live up to the hype? Is ‘fan service’ a thing, now? Which spelling of cannon should I be using?

But never mind all that now. Let’s go back to the beginning, and take a look at the evolution of the franchise’s logo (though back in 1977, of course, they probably wouldn’t have used that word), with this wonderful collection of images, care of Alex Jay’s typography blog.

Anatomy of a logo: Star Wars
During the film’s pre-production, a decal was produced. … “It was done as a symbol for the film—to go on film cans and letters. George [Lucas] had had one for American Graffiti, and wanted one for Star Wars.”

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Lucas referred to the crawl used in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. … Dan Perri designed a logo, with a vanishing point, for the opening crawl, but it was not used. Instead, it appeared in print on posters and advertisements.

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Suzy Rice, who had just been hired as an art director, remembers the job well. She recalls that the design directive given by Lucas was that the logo should look “very fascist.”

“I’d been reading a book the night before the meeting with George Lucas,” she says, “a book about German type design and the historical origins of some of the popular typefaces used today—how they developed into what we see and use in the present.” After Lucas described the kind of visual element he was seeking, “I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most ‘fascist’ typeface I could think of: Helvetica Black.”

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Suzy Rice’s original logo was tweaked a little by another designer, Joe Johnston. You can see that both versions have accidentally made their way onto this book cover; Rice’s original on the back, Johnston’s on the front. (And Luke and Darth Vader are left-handed now?)

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Alex has gathered together a fantastic range of 70s and 80s publicity material, for the movies, books, games, comics, posters, calendars etc etc. You must check it all out.

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And when you’ve finished, check out what this strange tale would look like if it took place, not long ago in a galaxy far away, but in a 1980s high school.

The non-humans from a galaxy far, far away

The hype about the next and last (yeah, sure) Star Wars film is building up, ahead of its release 20 December, and Boing Boing have shared with us Max Gladstone’s very interesting theory about who we’ve been watching all this time.

There are no humans in Star Wars, so what are the creatures we are watching?BoingBoing
The title card tells us that the story takes place long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. So the characters aren’t actually human or even necessarily from a human-like society, they’re just played by human actors.

What can we learn about the creatures true nature from studying the first six movies?

Firstly, gender is wildly off-kilter. But so is family.

Star Wars: A long time ago, in a hive far far away?Max Gladstone
Family is a second important clue—or, rather, the absence of family. With one notable exception, people in the series don’t talk much about parentage. No non-Force sensitive male ever describes his family, if I recall correctly. Han, Lando, Wedge, Biggs, Tarkin, Dodonna, and so forth, all might as well have sprung from the brows of their ships. In six+hours of film about war, I would expect to see someone to drop at least a single reference to parents of some sort. The lack of strong family ties suggests that parenting relationships are much less close for most GFFA ‘humans’ than for Sol 3 humans—which in turn suggests large brood sizes, short gestation periods, young ages of maturity, or all of the above.

So we’re looking for an organism with large brood sizes, young ages of maturity, short gestation periods, and relatively few fertile females who naturally assume positions of social and organizational authority.

In a word—bugs.

Sounds good to me

Yes, it can get a little too loud for us oldies sometimes, but movie music — and cinematic sound more broadly — is such a fascinating area.

Making Waves: The art of cinematic sound
Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

An incredible amount of vital yet laborious work goes on behind the scenes.

A new documentary explores the underrated art of movie sound
Synchronised sound came in with “Don Juan” in 1926, and synchronised speech followed in 1927 with “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson. But sophisticated sound design wasn’t born until 1933, when Murray Spivack created the giant ape’s bellow in “King Kong” by mixing a lion’s roar with a tiger’s roar, and playing it backwards at half-speed. Cece Hall did something similar on “Top Gun” more than 50 years later. Actual fighter-plane engines “sounded kind of wimpy”, she recalls, so she concocted her own substitute from big-cat growls and monkey screeches. The producers nearly fired her for her pains, she says, but she went on to win an Oscar.

The documentary is the work of Midge Costin, a sound editor-turned-academic. It took some time to get off the ground, however — getting clearance for the samples of so many movie clips can be a costly affair.

Making Waves: behind a fascinating documentary about movie sound
The courts have since ruled that sampling footage will be acceptable so long as it’s done in the spirit of public edification, and just like that, Costin was off. Between the connections she’d made in the industry and favors called in from fellow sound people, she put together an all-star lineup of commentators. From her former student Ryan Coogler to Steven Spielberg, who named her the Kay Rose chair at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, the deep bench of experts dissect scenes classic and contemporary to illustrate the great quantities of work that go into creating and fine-tuning a soundscape. Spielberg, for example, goes into the subtly expressionistic quality of the shellshocking beach invasion that opens Saving Private Ryan.

The bizarre methods by which sound effects are captured often remains a mystery, but in this music video, it’s all on show.

A brilliant highly rhythmic music sample created from abandoned industrial equipment on the docks
Multimedia artist Daniel Gourski and DJ Jonas Appel have created “Docks”, a brilliant, highly rhythmic music sample made entirely from abandoned industry equipment. Gourski and Appel creatively banged, scraped and knocked at the waterside equipment with all sorts of objects.

Gourski & Appel – Docks

Affecting and infecting movie music

In this video from Vanity Fair, director Todd Phillips talks us through a few of the opening scenes from his new film, Joker.

Joker director breaks down the opening scene

At 3:40 or thereabouts, he’s talking about what really helps Joaquin Phoenix get into a scene.

And I think, if I remember it right, in this particular scene I was playing the score for him, in the room, because – we had Hildur Guðnadóttir, who was our composer, I had her write music before we shot the movie, which isn’t done very often, and she wrote it based on the screenplay – and I wanted that because I wanted the music to really affect and infect the set in a way, really, even the camera operators, the set dressers, wardrobe, everybody to feel this music.

(That’s a name to look out for in the future.) Todd Phillips is not the first director to use this technique, however.

Why Sergio Leone played music on set

It might be too much for some people, though.

Deafening cinema sound is ruining films, claims Hugh Grant
Joker, the sinister hit starring Joaquin Phoenix, is dividing film critics. Hailed as a masterpiece by some, it has left others balking at its violence. For the actor Hugh Grant, the experience of watching at his local London cinema last week was “unendurable”, but not because of Todd Phillips’s menacing vision as director.

Grant felt high noise levels in the auditorium had made his trip to see Joker at the Vue in Fulham “pointless”, he complained on Twitter, adding: “The joke was on us”. “Am I old or is the cinema MUCH TOO LOUD?” the film star asked.

Playing hardball

An interesting discussion with movie prop designers that just had to include this iconic figure.

The hardest props I ever made
It was very strange because I approached representatives of the company [Wilson Sporting Goods], and they were not interested at all. It just didn’t matter to them. I told them, “You know, we have Tom Hanks here. We have Robert Zemeckis, who did Back to the Future. We have this venue for this ball of yours that is incredible. And it’s named Wilson.” They were very polite, but not interested. I told them, “We’re depicting your product. It’s a wonderful character in this movie, and it saves this man’s life.”

At some point, I called back and got some kind of great sales rep. And she got it. She understood exactly what this was. She said, “Let me see what I can do.”

And the rest is history. So much so, that you can now buy your very own Wilson, as well as a variety of other movie-themed balls Tom Hanks might recognise.

load-of-balls

The thrill of seeing

We take so much for granted these days, screens are everywhere, moving images are all around us. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like before this deluge.

Our ideas about what early movies looked like are all wrong
During the first film screenings in the 1890s, viewers marvelled at moving images that had an unprecedented power to transport them to faraway places in an instant. At first, these shorts – which included glimpses of everything from Niagara Falls to elephants in India – had no narrative structure. Audiences flocked to theatres simply for the novel experience of seeing people and places, some familiar and others deeply strange, rendered lifelike and immediate before their eyes. And, as the film curator Dave Kehr explains in this video from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the images were hardly the grainy and frantically paced footage that has become synonymous with ‘old film’ today. Rather, viewed in their original form on large screens and prior to decades of degradation, these movies were vivid and realistic. In particular, early 68mm film, which was less practical than 35mm film and thus used less frequently, delivered startlingly lifelike impressions of distant realities to early moviegoers.

The IMAX of the 1890s – how to see the first movies

It’s quite arrogant of us to dismiss those early films as merely a stepping stone to our superior technologies today. You could argue that, given the quality of these new versions and the freshness of those first audiences, these movies made more of an impact than what we see today.

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And perhaps the same can apply to television a few decades later.

I love the idea of fake aerials. Of course, you can take a love of television too far.

Someone left old TVs outside 50 homes in Virginia while wearing a TV on his head. No one knows why.
“Everyone started coming out of their houses, walking around the neighborhood looking at the TVs there on the doorstep,” said Jeanne Brooksbank, one of the recipients, who lives in the Hampshire neighborhood. “It was very ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”

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More fun with fakes

More videos — from the sublime to the ridiculous.

There’s a scarily good ‘deepfakes’ YouTube channel that’s quietly growing – and it’s freaking everyone out
Russian researchers hit the headlines last week by reanimating oil-painted portraits and photos into talking heads using AI. Now, here’s another reminder that the tools to craft deepfakes are widely available for just about anyone with the right skills to use: the manipulated videos posted on YouTuber Ctrl Shift Face are particularly creepy.

Club Fight – Episode 2 [DeepFake]

The transitions are especially smooth in another clip, with a comedian dipping in and out of impressions of Al Pacino and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and there are now clips from Terminator with Stallone which look very peculiar.

Here’s that earlier article and video mentioned above, about reanimating oil paintings.

AI can now animate the Mona Lisa’s face or any other portrait you give it. We’re not sure we’re happy with this reality
There have been lots of similar projects so the idea isn’t particularly novel. But what’s intriguing in this paper, hosted by arXiv, is that the system doesn’t require tons of training examples and seems to work after seeing an image just once. That’s why it works with paintings like the Mona Lisa.

Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models

Jump to 4:18 to see their work with famous faces such as Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dalí (who’s already no stranger to AI), and to 5:08 to see the Mona Lisa as you’ve never seen her before.

A Bentley on the Fury Road

Like something out of Mad Max.

Russian mechanic adds giant tank treads to a Bentley Continental GT turning it into a badass ‘ultratank’
As Kosik added giant tank treads and made other adjustments to the Bentley, he carefully documented every step of the process in a series of progress videos until the final reveal on May 8, 2019.

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Bentley Ultratank. First Run. Eng Sub.

What an incredible project. Here’s Miller’s version, a little less immaculate.

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A first look at Mad Max: Fury Road’s killer vehicles: Peacemaker
In the mix-and-match world of classic Australian muscle, the 1971–78 Chrysler Valiant Charger is something of a companion to Ford’s XB Falcon that plays so prominently in the Mad Max mythology. So in Fury Road there are at least two Valiant Chargers featured. This one, called Peacemaker, isn’t so much a Chrysler of any sort as it is some classic sheetmetal stretched out over a U.S.-made Ripsaw light-tank chassis.

Dune. Done.

So. They’re remaking Dune.

7 things we know so far about the Dune remake (& 3 things fans are hoping for)
Dune has quickly become one of the most anticipated upcoming movies. With plenty of talent and a beloved source material already behind it, there were plenty of fans looking forward to this big screen adaptation. However, with big names being announced to the cast seeming every day, excitement for the film has skyrocketed.

I thought now would be a good time to read the book, to see what all the fuss is about. All I knew of it was from the David Lynch film. It didn’t make much of an impression, to be honest.

Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world
Every fantasy reflects the place and time that produced it. If The Lord of the Rings is about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war, and Game of Thrones, with its cynical realpolitik and cast of precarious, entrepreneurial characters is a fairytale of neoliberalism, then Dune is the paradigmatic fantasy of the Age of Aquarius. Its concerns – environmental stress, human potential, altered states of consciousness and the developing countries’ revolution against imperialism – are blended together into an era-defining vision of personal and cosmic transformation.

The book is over 50 years old. You can buy this collector’s edition from the Folio Society for £75, or the e-book together with its five sequels on Amazon for £1.99. I chose the latter.

Manny Rayner’s review of Dune
So that was the Dune we know and love, but the man who rewrote it now would get a rather different reception. Oh my God! These Fremen, who obviously speak Arabic, live on a desert planet which supplies the Universe with melange, a commodity essential to the Galactic economy, and in particular to transport. Not a very subtle way to say “oil”! They are tough, uncompromising fighters, who are quite happy to use suicide bombing as a tactic. They’re led by a charismatic former rich kid (OK, we get who you mean), who inspires them to rise up against the corrupt, degenerate… um, does he mean Westerners?

Dune has made a huge impact on many people, one that it failed to make on me, but then I watched this. My goodness, imagine if this had been made instead.

Jodorowsky’s Dune | Official Trailer HD (2014)

I knew Jodorowsky from watching the incredible, hypnotic Santa Sangre many years ago, and knew he had wanted to do something with Dune, but hadn’t really appreciated the full extent of his surrealist and psychedelic project until I watched that documentary. Goodness me.

And what an incredible legacy that film-that-never-was has left us. Dan O’Bannon and HR Giger’s work on Alien, for example. But also Dan O’Bannon’s collaboration with Moebius.

“The Long Tomorrow”: Discover Mœbius’ hard-boiled detective comic that inspired Blade Runner
Alejandro Jodorowsky may never have made his film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but plenty came out of the attempt — including, one might well argue, Blade Runner. Making that still hugely influential adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott and his collaborators looked to a few key visual sources, one of them a two-part short story in comic form called “The Long Tomorrow.”

The Long Tomorrow, by Moebius
As we were still in the stage of preparations and concepts, there was almost nothing to do and he was bored stiff. To kill time, he drew. Dan is best known as a script writer, but is an excellent cartoonist. If he had wished, he could have been a professional graphic artist. One day, he showed me what he was drawing. It was the story board of ‘The Long Tomorrow’. A classic police story, but situated in the future. I was enthusiastic. When Europeans try this kind of parody, it is never entirely satisfactory, the French are too French, the Italians are too Italian … so, under my nose was a pastiche that was more original than the originals.

dune-done

And from The Long Tomorrow to Blade Runner and back to Dune, with the news that Denis Villeneuve, the director of the Blade Runner remake, will direct this new Dune remake.

The first Fury Road

Someone on Quora joked about the differences between driving in the UK and US: “in the US you drive straight ahead, ridiculously slowly, on lanes three times as wide as your already huge automobile; whereas in the UK you drive microscopic cars with 25 manual gears along roads that are made for half a car’s width, and you will do it with courage, or be shot for cowardice at the next traffic light.”

It raised a smile and got me thinking of Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, and its leisurely introduction. The chase seems positively sedate by today’s standards, but it’s a thrillingly tense ride nonetheless. Don’t tell anyone, but you can watch the whole film on YouTube.

Duel (1971)

It’s a great film, but I appreciated it all the more after watching this documentary about it, listening to Steven Spielberg explain how he tackled minuscule production schedules, truck casting and makeup, and demanding studios.

Duel – A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – Part 1

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Duel – A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – Part 2

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Duel – A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – Part 3

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And here’s an interesting fan-made comparison of the film’s locations, then and now.

Duel / Duell by Steven Spielberg – then and now 2018 (Manfred Furtner)

The Luke Ascending

The Classic FM Hall of Fame 2019 was unveiled over the weekend, and Ralph Yawn Williams’s The Lark Ascending is in the top spot yet again. But don’t worry if, like me, you’re not a fan — here’s a much improved version.

The Star Wars theme combined with the Lark Ascending is unashamedly populist
Nobody saw this coming: Star Wars has never been so pastoral in this arrangement for keyboard.

The Luke Ascending – Star Wars/Vaughan Williams mashup

The image at the top of the post is a screenshot from one of the marvellous Auralnauts Star Wars Saga videos. I’m sure everyone’s seen these by now, but you must check them out if not.

Twenty years of bullet time

John Wick’s son Neo turns 20 this year. Kind of.

The Matrix at 20: how the sci-fi gamechanger remains influential
Yet objects tend to shift during flight, and in the year 2019, The Matrix has endured as both touchstone and Rorschach blot, a way for people of vastly different ideologies to make sense of the world around them. The effects are still a marvel, but the film’s ideas have taken root in a destabilized culture where conspiracy theories flourish and individuals are defining for themselves what is and isn’t real, and what constitutes freedom in a heavily monitored, highly synthetic technological space. Neo may “follow the white rabbit” into a Wonderland of personal discovery, but we’re citizens of Wonderland now, having made a second home for ourselves where the laws of gravity don’t apply. […]

Yet the idea of the world as changeable seems far closer to what the film’s creators, the Wachowskis, had in mind. In the time between then and now, the Wachowskis have both gender transitioned and The Matrix seems at least a subconscious reference to the evolution to come. Much has been written about the film as trans allegory, and the reading bears out in the possibility for humans to define themselves however they like, outside the fixed identities enforced by the machines. Whenever Agent Smith snarls “Mr Anderson”, it feels like a menacing taunt, his refusal to allow Neo to untether himself from the matrix and discover who he actually is. That goes beyond red-pilling, which is about the authoritarian business of telling someone how things really are, and grants them the latitude to figure it out on their own.

The trans narrative escaped me then, and escapes me still. It’s certainly a philosophical film, though.

15 facts about The Matrix on its 20th anniversary
7. The actors were asked to brush up on their knowledge of philosophy before production began.

The Wachowskis had all the lead actors read Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, and Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate in order to better understand the world of the movie. In the film, Neo actually hides his illegal computer files in a copy of Baudrillard’s book.

Not everyone’s a fan, however.

The Matrix’s male power fantasy has dated badly
It’s this attitude which now seems so antiquated – so glaringly late-20th Century. Anderson isn’t kept awake at night by war or climate change or the rise of fascism. He isn’t campaigning for equal rights – and he certainly isn’t doing any Kung-fu practice. He’s a white-collar worker whose most pressing problem is a slight dissatisfaction with ordinary office life. He is, fundamentally, a less witty brother of Chandler Bing from Friends. And they have plenty of other brothers. One is the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) of Fight Club. The other is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a disgruntled software programmer in Mike Judge’s cult comedy, Office Space. Both of those films came out in 1999, as The Matrix did. And as different as the three of them may appear, they all share a theme whose prevalence in 1990s pop culture culminated with the debut of the BBC2 sitcom The Office, in July 2001. The theme is that being a handsome, middle-class, thirtysomething professional is ultimately not very fulfilling. The Matrix may allude to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, to Jean Baudrillard and Jesus, but its central thesis is right there on the Office Space poster: “Work Sucks”.

Perhaps those confusing sequels were to blame for souring it a little.

The ending of The Matrix trilogy finally explained
One major theme that came to the fore as the series reached its conclusion had to do with the similarities between humans and machines. In the original, they couldn’t seem more different, but by Revolutions, programs in the Matrix are portrayed as being almost more human than our heroes, loving and happy individuals, as worthy of existence as any person. Further, characters from the first film who were firmly human or machine are portrayed in the sequels as having a little bit of both. […]

The humanizing of the Machines and the complimentary mechanization of Neo made for a storytelling turn that audiences weren’t really ready for. People who saw The Matrix couldn’t be faulted for expecting an ending that saw Neo winning by doing his Superman thing and eradicating humanity’s robot overlords. Instead, Neo triumphed by becoming a bridge between man and machine, sacrificing his own life for the sake of securing the future.

That’s better!

The next Marvel film is set in 1990s, and so is its promotional website.

Marvel launched a delightful, retro website to promote Captain Marvel
The result is absolutely delightful. The website taps into the nostalgia for the 1990s that we’ve seen in the film’s trailers, and features a ton of components that were mainstays of the web almost a quarter of a century ago: random animations, zany photo editing, HTML frames, brightly-colored fonts, and of course, a guestbook and hit counter.

Perfect! Now, all we need to do is switch the rest of the web back.

Should have posted this yesterday

A little late, but better late than never.

The spirit photographs of William Hope
Known as “spirit photographs”, they were taken by a controversial medium called William Hope. Born in 1863 in Crewe, Hope started his working life as a carpenter, but in 1905 became interested in spirit photography after capturing the supposed image of a ghost while photographing a friend. He went on to found and lead a group of six spirit photographers known as the Crewe Circle. Following World War I, support for the group, and demand for its services, grew as the grieving relatives of those lost to the war sought a means of contacting their loved ones.

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He was later exposed as a fraudster, but could count Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of his supporters, so there you go.

What can a linguist learn from a gravestone?
The key running theme of gravestone inscriptions is that they are for the living, and even for a more specific task: they reaffirm and reiterate membership in a group, and the beliefs that are part of the culture of that group. This does not necessarily mean that they are particularly informative about the life of the specific deceased, but they are full of useful, sometimes subtle cues about the community the deceased belonged to, and what they valued.

And what movies they liked?

The Mummy: the story of the world’s most expensive movie poster
Auction house Sotheby’s is currently accepting bids for one of three remaining original posters of 1932’s The Mummy. It is expected to sell for somewhere between $1-1.5m, making it the world’s most expensive movie poster. It’s a scary amount of money.

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I’m sure audiences at the time would have been terrified by that film, but could we say the same about this one, from Méliès? I don’t think so.

The Infernal Cauldron (1903)
Short film by Georges Méliès, released through his Star Film Company, featuring demons, flames, spectres, and a brilliant array of the film-maker’s usual arsenal of tricks. As Wikipdia sums up: “In a Renaissance chamber decorated with devilish faces and a warped coat of arms, a gleeful Satan throws three human victims into a cauldron, which spews out flames. The victims rise from the cauldron as nebulous ghosts, and then turn into fireballs. The fireballs multiply and pursue Satan around the chamber. Finally Satan himself leaps into the infernal cauldron, which gives off a final burst of flame.” Enjoy!

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And I can’t imagine this scaring anyone either. Sounds good, though.

Silly Symphony – the skeleton dance 1929 disney short

So let’s end with an exploration of that devil’s interval, and how it moved from the Classical and Romantic eras into the mainstream.

Spooky music
During the 19th century, composers like Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner cracked the code of creepiness. The sonic dread they pioneered involved two key ingredients that horror movies and metal bands still use today: a forbidden sequence of notes known as “Satan in music,” and a spooky little ditty that Gregorian monks sang about the apocalypse.

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Watching the time go by, together

I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first I’ve heard of this remarkable piece of video art. Christian Marclay’s The Clock, from 2010, is at Tate Modern till January.

The Clock review – ‘The longer you watch it, the more addictive it becomes’
When the screen says 8.23, I check my phone and find it’s telling the same time. A gaggle of clips from the 1950s and 60s signals that it’s time for the first cigarette of the day. Ashtrays full from the previous night are getting fresh ash tapped into them. Meanwhile, in a clip from the 1993 film Falling Down, Michael Douglas is in his car in a traffic jam, face tense and twitchy as he heads for a crazed rampage. And Richard Burton as a cockney gangster serves his mum breakfast in bed in a clip from – I think – the 1971 film Villain.

All these moments contain clocks – digital clocks, grandfather clocks, watches, alarm clocks or just the time on a TV newsflash – and that time is the same as the time your watch says. The Clock is a highly reliable clock. I am sure there is an art collector somewhere who owns a copy and projects it in the kitchen on a permanent loop to tell the time.

That last line reminded me of Raymond Dufayel from Amelie, aiming his video camera at the clock on the street outside, so that he doesn’t have to wind his own clocks. I’m sure that clip will be in there somewhere.

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I wonder how many people have watched the whole of Marclay’s video. Is it really 24 hours long? Does it really not have any repeated clips in it? Quite remarkable.

‘It’s impossible!’ – Christian Marclay and the 24-hour clock made of movie clips
It is a staggering, almost superhuman feat of research that has gained a cult following ever since it was unveiled at the White Cube gallery in London in 2010. The Clock’s easy-to-grasp governing principle coexists with the almost ungraspable fact that its creator, Christian Marclay, really has pulled it off, beguilingly combining the utter randomness of each individual clip with the strict form of his overarching idea, allowing everyone to meditate on time, how we’re obsessed with it, how there’s never enough of it.

There are quite a few clips on YouTube of snatches of The Clock (start watching this one at 10:15, or this one at 12:04, or this one at 2:18), but here’s a segment on it from the BBC’s Culture Show, with Alain de Botton.

Christian Marclay – The Clock

Wanting a copy of the full video? Don’t hold your breath for a DVD release, it might be a little… costly.

The Clock (2010 film): Release
Marclay made six editions of The Clock, plus two artist’s proofs. Five copies were designated to be sold to institutions for US$467,500 each under the condition that The Clock can’t be playyed in more than one location at the same time. The last copy was sold to hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen for an undisclosed amount. Within a day of premiering The Clock, White Cube received a host of offers from museums, some of which purchased copies jointly. The sale became one of the largest purchases of video art and one of the highest purchases to happen on the primary market.