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An AI Bourdain Speaks From the Grave

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2021

I have been trying not to read too much about Morgan Neville’s documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain before I have had a chance to watch it, but the few things I have read about it have given me some pause. From Helen Rosner’s piece about the film drawn from an interview with Neville:

There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “…and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.” In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

Per this GQ story, Neville got permission from Bourdain’s estate:

We fed more than ten hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model. The bigger the quantity, the better the result. We worked with four companies before settling on the best. We also had to figure out the best tone of Tony’s voice: His speaking voice versus his “narrator” voice, which itself changed dramatically of over the years. The narrator voice got very performative and sing-songy in the No Reservation years. I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that. And they were like, Tony would have been cool with that. I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.

As a post hoc ethics panel of one, I’m gonna say this doesn’t appeal to me, but I bet this sort of thing becomes common practice in the years to come, much like Errol Morris’s use of reenactment in The Thin Blue Line. A longer and more nuanced treatment of the issue can be found in Justin Hendrix’s interview of Sam Gregory, who is an “expert on synthetic media and ethics”.

There’s a set of norms that people are grappling with in regard to this statement from the director of the Bourdain documentary. They’re asking questions around consent, right? Who consents to someone taking your voice and using it? In this case, the voiceover of a private email. And what if that was something that, if the person was alive, they might not have wanted. You’ve seen that commentary online, and people saying, “This is the last thing Anthony Bourdain would have wanted for someone to do this with his voice.” So the consent issue is one of the things that is bubbling here. The second is a disclosure issue, which is, when do you know that something’s been manipulated? And again, here in this example, the director is saying, I didn’t tell people that I had created this voice saying the words and I perhaps would have not told people unless it had come up in the interview. So these are bubbling away here, these issues of consent and disclosure.

Update: From Anthony’s ex-wife Ottavia Bourdain about the statement that “Tony would have been cool with that”:

I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.

(via @drawnonglass)

Carl Sagan in 1978: Star Wars Is Too White

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

During a Tonight Show appearance in 1978, Johnny Carson asked Carl Sagan about the scientific accuracy of Star Wars. Sagan replied:

The 11-year-old in me loved them but they could have made a better effort to to do things right. A lot of different aspects of things — Star Wars starts out saying it’s on some other galaxy and then you see there’s people. Starting in scene one there’s a problem, because human beings are the result of a unique evolutionary sequence based upon so many individually unlikely random events on the Earth.

In fact, I think most evolutionary biologists would agree that if you started the Earth out again and just let those random factors operate you might wind up with beings that are as smart as us and as ethical and artistic and all the rest, but they would not be human beings. That’s for the Earth. So in another planet, different environment, very unlikely to have a human being. It’s extremely unlikely that there would be creatures as similar to us as as the dominant ones in Star Wars.

And a whole bunch of other things: they’re all white. The skin of all the humans in Star Wars, oddly enough, is like this. And not even the other colors represented on the Earth at present, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.

Carson pushes back slightly at this point: “They did have the scene of Star Wars with a lot of strange characters.” But Sagan persists:

Yeah, but none of them seem to be in charge of the galaxy. Everybody in charge of the galaxy seemed to look like us. And I thought it was a large amount of human chauvinism.

Sagan also complained about Han Solo’s boast of doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. According to the script, this was an “obvious” lie on Han’s part to make his ship sound impressive, so Sagan missed that. But then, post-Lucas, the Kessel Run was explained in Solo: A Star Wars Story as a distance shortcut and not an elapsed completion time, so…. (via digg)

Retro Modern Movie Posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2021

retro modern movie poster for Groundhog Day

retro modern movie poster for Star Wars

retro modern movie poster for Dunkirk

Check out these retro modern movie posters from Patrick Concepcion; the Groundhog Day one is simple perfection. You can check out Concepcion’s work on his website and Instagram or buy prints on Etsy.

Pig

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2021

Hermit Nicolas Cage goes on a crusade to find the person who kidnapped his truffle-hunting pig? Yes, please. (This is going to be terrible, right? Or fantastic? No in-between I’m guessing. Would make an interesting triple feature with The Truffle Hunters .)

Some Amazing Shots from the Last Decade of Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

ILM visual effects artist Todd Vaziri asked his Twitter followers to share their favorite shots from a movie made in the last decade. The replies are a visual feast (and heavy on blockbusters) — here are a few of my favorites.

character walking away from the camera in Blade Runner 2049

a man plays a flaming guitar, urging on a caravan of cars

a lone figure falls up into a cityscape

an alien ship hovers in a foggy valley

superhero Thor descends with his hammer raised onto a crowd of bad guys

From top to bottom: Blade Runner 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Widows, Arrival, and Thor: Ragnarok. There are probably several deserving scenes omitted from the thread (no Wes Anderson fans…the sushi scene from Isle of Dogs?), but that Blade Runner shot is probably my favorite from the decade. I would also have included a shot from Dunkirk (one of the expansive plane chase vistas that looked incredible in IMAX) , Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and the final scene in Carol — that look gives me chills just writing about it.

Update: A video compilation of some of the best shots of the decade.

(via @nielsmann)

Summer of Soul

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2021

Stevie Wonder. Mahalia Jackson. Nina Simone. Gladys Knight & the Pips. B.B. King. Sly and the Family Stone. Over six weeks in the summer of 1969, all of these legendary artists (and more!) performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival in NYC, drawing an estimated 300,000 people. The festival was filmed and broadcast on a local TV station, but the footage was never commercially released and so unlike that other 1969 festival, this event largely slipped from public memory.

Now, the Harlem Cultural Festival finally gets its due in the form of Summer of Soul, a forthcoming documentary directed by Questlove that uses that old footage to great effect. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this movie — it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Summer of Soul is out in theaters and on Hulu July 2.

Sourcing Design Objects Used in Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2021

Production designers working on science fiction movies and TV shows are part-time magicians because they routinely have to invent the future using things from the present. The site Star Trek + Design is collecting the futuristic design objects — chairs, cups, silverware, sofas — that designers used on the sets of Star Trek movies and TV shows to depict the future.

Being drawn to the aesthetics of Trek, especially of The Next Generation, made me curious about the specific objects that set designers used to create the visual embodiment of what living and working on a starship would look like in a technologically-advanced, post-scarcity future.

For instance, this is an RBT Chair by Teknion used in Star Trek: Discovery:

a chair used in Star Trek

Park Avenue glasses made by Anchor Hocking were used for barware in TNG:

a drinking glass used in Star Trek

Voyager used Arne Jacobsen’s AJ Flatware in several episodes (as did Kubrick’s 2001):

flatware used in Star Trek

Check out the site for many more sourced objects.

See also Film and Furniture, a Site About the Decor in Movies.

The Rashomon Effect

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2021

In Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon, the story of the murder of a samurai is told from several different viewpoints and each account of the event is different and even contradictory. In real life as in cinema, the Rashomon Effect describes how events can be recalled in contradictory ways by well-meaning but ultimately subjective witnesses. In this short TED-Ed video, the Rashomon Effect and its implications are explained and explored. (via open culture)

Who Are You, Charlie Brown?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2021

Who Are You, Charlie Brown? is a forthcoming feature-length documentary about the Peanuts comic strip and its creator, Charles Schulz.

Honoring the “everyman” creator, Charles “Sparky” Schulz, “Who Are You, Charlie Brown?” celebrates the significance and global multi-generational popularity of the comic strip and its timeless artistry and design to profile the man whose simple characters would touch the lives of millions through the decades and become beloved cultural icons. Featuring interviews with Jean Schulz, the widow of Charles Schulz, along with Drew Barrymore, Al Roker, Kevin Smith, Billie Jean King, Paul Feig, Ira Glass, Noah Schnapp, Miya Cech, Keith L. Williams, Chip Kidd, Lynn Johnston, Robb Armstrong and more, the documentary interweaves a new animated story that follows Charlie Brown on a quest to discover himself.

Narrated by Lupita Nyong’o, the film premieres on Apple TV+ on June 25.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Filmmaker Morgan Neville (who did the Fred Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) has directed a documentary about Anthony Bourdain called Roadrunner that opens in theaters on July 16.

It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind… Chef, writer, adventurer, provocateur: Anthony Bourdain lived his life unabashedly. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), this unflinching look at Bourdain reverberates with his presence, in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him.

This trailer makes me want to buy a movie ticket — and about 10 plane tickets. So looking forward to this. I need more unabashed living in my life.

Footsteps: How Movie Sounds Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

As I’ve said before many times, I will never stop being fascinated by the work of Foley artists, the folks who make the sounds you hear in movies and TV shows. In this short film, we meet three Foley artists who work at Footsteps Studios, a custom designed facility in rural Ontario that includes a massive warehouse of props that can make any sound you can dream of. This video is full of lovely little moments and details — recommended.

A Harsh Review, Revisited

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2021

This is pretty unusual. Years ago, NY Times film critic AO Scott panned Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic and Silverman, instead of reacting in a typical way, ultimately took his core criticism to heart and changed the way she thought about her comedy. The two of them recently linked up for a conversation about the “challenges both of doing comedy and of writing criticism”, namely that:

You’re supposed to be honest, and you’re supposed to tell the truth and not worry about giving offense. On the other hand, what you do, what I do has a risk of hurting people.

Here’s Silverman:

But the thing you wrote that kind of changed me on a molecular level, which is what, I think, you were kind of onto at the time was completely what I was abusing — and you saw that before anyone else, and you made me see it — which is I’m liberal, so I’m not racist, so I can say the N-word, because I’m illuminating racism.

My intentions were good but ignorant, and it’s funny that in that movie and in the subsequent series I did, my character was ignorant [and] arrogant, but what I didn’t realize was [that I] myself was arrogant [and] ignorant.

I couldn’t help thinking of Pixar’s Ratatouille here, in which the opposite thing happens: the artist changes the critic’s mind.

My Recent Media Diet, the Fully Vaccinated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since early February, accompanied by a mini review.

How To with John Wilson. What happens near the end of the risotto episode got all the attention, but I’m all about the bag of chips saga. (B+)

Black Art: In the Absence of Light. I can listen to artists and critics talk about art all day long. Also? Everyone in this has impeccable eyewear. (A)

Spirited Away. A masterpiece. (A)

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2). Possibly the best experience of the past 5 years. (A+++++)

Casino Royale. The best of the Daniel Craig Bonds IMO. (B+)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another marvelously constructed world with vibrant characters by Ferrante. (A)

Wandavision. A love letter to television. Watched this with the kids and we all loved it. (A)

Looper. This is perhaps my favorite type of movie: clever sci-fi with a creative director and good actors that give a shit. (A-)

Sonic the Hedgehog. Jim Carrey is the highlight here and not much else. (C+)

The Remains of the Day. One of my favorite movies. I’ve watched this every few years since 1993 and what I get out of it changes every time. Great book too. (A+)

Judas and the Black Messiah. Fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. (A)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Way too long and nearly pointless. This is what happens when you start treating the director of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole like an auteur. (B-)

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I recommend the audiobook version of this. You can really tell the bits of the book he cares about and the stuff he phones in a little bit more. The tone of his voice when he talks about Michelle — that love is real. (B+)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. I listened to this conversation with the poet David Whyte at the beginning of March and it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I must have listened to his short essay on Friendship about 5 times. (A)

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. About the invention of the wireless telegraph and the beginning of our abundantly connected world. (B+)

Still Processing - The N Word. The way that Morris and, particularly, Wortham use inclusive language is fascinating. They invite people into the conversation without any loss of insight or critical capability. A bracing rebuttal to the idea that using so-called “woke” language is hamstringing discourse in America. (A-)

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Read this aloud to the kids and was told my rendition was not nearly as good as Kate Winslet’s. (B+)

You’re Wrong About (The continuing OJ saga). This has become the show’s version of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, with entire episodes dedicated to explaining mere minutes of the trial. I am here for it. (A)

Godzilla vs. Kong. I watched this after eating an edible and I think that’s the perfect way to do it. Monsters, roar! (B)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of my favorite Trek movies. (A-)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less popular with me and the kids than Wandavision. Occasionally fun but also kind of a mess, especially when it comes to the “moral of the story”. (B)

The Talk Show with Craig Mod. Every single second of this 2.5-hour-long conversation between Craig Mod and John Gruber felt like it was created specifically for me. (A-)

Rough Translation - Liberté, Égalité, French Fries… And Couscous. A follow-up to a classic episode about a French McDonald’s that was commandeered by its employees. (B+)

Unstoppable. The perfect movie. I wouldn’t change a thing. (A)

Pac-Man 99. A nice update to this venerable game. The kids dismissed it as “too hectic”. (B+)

Fortnite. The perfect game for introverts — you can actually win by cleverly avoiding crowds and then dealing with a much more manageable 1-on-1 situation. But also I am old and there are too many buttons on this controller. (B+)

Croupier. Young Clive Owen, wow. (B+)

HazeOver. Recommended to me by Mike Davidson, this macOS app dims background windows to help you focus on your work. (B+)

Titanic. Had to rewatch after Evan Puschak’s video about it. Still an amazingly effective blockbuster movie. (A)

For All Mankind (Season One). So many people have recommended this to me over the past year and I finally got around to watching it. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes. (A)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Entertaining and stylistically interesting. (B+)

NYC. So much to say about this city and the resilience of the people who call it home. Still undefeated. (A)

Throughline — The Real Black Panthers. Great podcast on the political agenda and strategy of the Black Panther Party. A natural companion to Judas and The Black Messiah. (A)

Frick Madison. They have like 10% of the world’s Vermeers in just one room! (B+)

The Whitney. Great to be back here to see the work of Dawoud Bey and Julie Mehretu. (A)

The outdoor dining situation in NYC. The city has to keep this and the pandemic pedestrian areas reclaimed from cars. More room for people, less room for cars. (A)

Fairfax. This is the sister restaurant to my two favorite places in NYC, both of which closed permanently because of the pandemic, and the first restaurant I’ve been to since March 2020. We ate outside, I had too many cocktails, and it was perfect. (A+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Sparks Brothers

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2021

Edgar Wright has directed a documentary on a band called Sparks, which was formed by brothers Ron & Russell Mael in 1967 and the trailer (above) hails as “your favorite band’s favorite band”.

How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright’s debut documentary THE SPARKS BROTHERS, which features commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favorite band.

The Sparks Brothers will be in theaters on June 18.

The Otherworldly Sounds of Ice

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2021

The holes drilled into Arctic, Antarctic, and glacial ice to harvest ice cores can be up to 2 miles deep. One of my all-time favorite sounds is created by dropping ice down into one of these holes — it makes a super-cool pinging noise, as demonstrated in these two videos:

Ice makes similar sounds under other conditions, like if you skip rocks on a frozen lake:

Or skate on really thin ice (ok this might actually be my favorite sound, with apologies to the ice core holes):

Headphones are recommended for all of these videos. The explanation for this distinctive pinging sound, which sounds like a Star Wars blaster, has to do with how fast different sound frequencies move through the ice, as explained in this video:

(via the kid should see this)

Seth Rogen: Tales from the Nineties Bar Mitzvah Circuit

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

The New Yorker is running an excerpt from Seth Rogen’s new memoir, Yearbook (ebook), which will be out next week. When you’re reading this, remember to hear Rogen’s voice in your head; it makes it so much better.

The movie “Tombstone” came out in 1993, and, although it wasn’t a massive box-office or critical hit (the New York Times called it “morally ambiguous”), it made an impression on many, mostly owing to an amazing performance by Val Kilmer that was publicly praised by President Bill Clinton — which is the single most nineties sentence one could write. As 1994 rolled around, a young me was smitten with not only Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holliday but the entire Western aesthetic. The result? A fuckload of vests.

I could not own enough vests. I’d have bought more torsos just to wear them all if that were an option. A vest packed me in, gave me shape, and, most important, kind of made me feel like a cowboy who was dying of tuberculosis, which Kilmer had somehow made seem super-awesome. I also wore a pocket watch, which, in a truly impressive act of delusion, I’d convinced myself was cool.

It wasn’t.

Weekend after weekend, a slow song would come on, boys would ask girls to dance, girls would ask boys to dance, and I’d generally find myself standing off to the side, watching it all happen, spinning my pocket watch like some sort of nineteen-twenties Mafia snitch.

I’m a little older than Rogen — Tombstone hit when I was in college — and seeing the film didn’t make me want to wear vests, but that didn’t stop me and my friends from going around quoting the film at length, pretty much all of the time for months on end. One of our favorites — I can’t remember which of us originally came up with this — was reworking Doc Holliday’s line about his partner not wearing a bustle (seen at the beginning of this clip) into: “Kate, you’re not doing The Hustle. How doo doo doo doodoo doodoo doo doo…” That’s some prime middle school humor right there.

A Reevaluation of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

A new documentary film called Carterland and Jonathan Alter’s biography His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life (ebook) are among the recent media attempting to reconsider and recontextualize the presidency of Jimmy Carter. From Megan Mayhew Bergman in The Guardian:

“Here’s what people get wrong about Carter,” Will Pattiz, one of the film’s directors tells me. “He was not in over his head or ineffective, weak or indecisive — he was a visionary leader, decades ahead of his time trying to pull the country toward renewable energy, climate solutions, social justice for women and minorities, equitable treatment for all nations of the world. He faced nearly impossible economic problems — and at the end of the day came so very close to changing the trajectory of this nation.”

Will’s brother, Jim, agrees. “A question folks should be asking themselves is: what catastrophes would have befallen this country had anyone other than Jimmy Carter been at the helm during that critical time in the late 1970s?”

I’m gonna need a three-episode series about Carter on You’re Wrong About, stat. If there’s any justice in the world (wait, don’t answer that), in 50 years’ time Ronald Reagan’s presidency will be considered the disaster that is was and Carter’s will look better in comparison.

If you’re interested in seeing Carterland, it looks as though it’s not out widely quite yet — the only place I could even find a trailer is on this Atlanta Film Festival page (click “Play Trailer” at the bottom of the page).

Paddington in Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Reddit user JaytheChou is photoshopping Paddington Bear into one new movie scene every day — “until I forget” they say. So far, they’ve done Avengers, North By Northwest, Star Wars, and Blade Runner. In recognition of Citizen Kane’s rating recently getting knocked down below Paddington 2’s on Rotten Tomatoes, they did a Citizen Kane one. The Photoshop work could be better, but Paddington is such a perfect “quietly there” character that it doesn’t even matter.

Titanic: Melodrama Done Right

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

As an unapologetic fan of James Cameron’s Titanic, I really enjoyed Evan Puschak’s video love letter to the film and the genre it embodies: melodrama.

The term “melodrama” literally means drama accompanied by music, which is why film is maybe the best most natural medium for it — aside from opera. What’s important to note is that the moral core of melodrama doesn’t intellectualize the story; it adds to the emotion by giving it the flavor of virtue. You know that Rose and Jack should be together, so when they get together it feels right and righteous. And when Jack dies at the end, it’s a heartbreak that makes the whole universe seem wicked.

Miiight be time for a rewatch.

Amy Sherald: The Great American Fact

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

Amy Sherald painting

Amy Sherald painting

Painter Amy Sherald is displaying new work at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in LA through June 6: The Great American Fact. One thing I really notice in her art now, after watching the excellent documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light, is how at least one person in her paintings is looking directly at the viewer. Here’s Sherald talking about that in the documentary:

The eyes tell you what’s in the soul and, for me, the people that I paint, they’re no longer themselves in the painting. They are these archetypes that know they are present. These aren’t passive portraits — they’re maybe subversively confrontational, if you will — but it’s definitely a response to a lot of images I saw growing up where our gaze was always averted. Or thinking about the fact that you couldn’t look at a white person in the eye. So, this is my way of nodding my head at that narrative and empowering the image in a way. I like the paintings hung a little lower for that reason so when the viewer walks up, it’s a different conversation. You’re not looking up at it — it’s almost looking directly at you and I think that creates a different kind of sensation.

She also says of her subjects: “It’s important for me that they’re just Black people being Black” and I think that really comes through in this new work. (via colossal)

Make Everything Important

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

I enjoyed this interview with actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Q: Is there a life philosophy that you feel has carried you through your career?

A: My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important.

“All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” —Yoda, Empire Strikes Back. See also “I’ve Never Had a Goal”. (via @tadfriend)

The Outside Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

One of the fun things about having a website that’s been running continuously for more than 23 years is that you get to watch the people you featured early in their careers grow and change and do bigger and better things. I’ve been posting filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski’s work on kottke.org since 2009 and now, his first feature-length film, The Outside Story, is set to debut at the end of this month. A short synopsis:

After locking himself out of his apartment, an introverted, heartbroken editor finds himself on an epic journey up, down and around his block with life-altering ramifications.

From the looks of the trailer (embedded above), The Outside Story has the same energy, playfulness, and keen lens into the interplay between humans & their environments as Nozkowski’s shorter work, which is not surprising given how it was filmed and where the inspiration came from. He told me, via email:

This is an indie film in the truest sense. Shot in 16 days on the streets of Brooklyn. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done and I’m just trying to get the word out any way I can. It’s loosely inspired by my short doc, 70 Hester Street where I examined my own building and block after years of taking it for granted.

You can watch 70 Hester Street here and The Outside Story will be available for purchase on all the usual streaming services on April 30.

Carrie Fisher’s Screen Test for Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

Before her appearance in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher had only appeared in one film (Hal Ashby’s Shampoo) and for the role of Leia, she was going up against several other great actresses, including Karen Allen and Jodie Foster. In this footage of Fisher’s screen test from late 1975/early 1976, where she’s reading a scene with Harrison Ford about the Death Star plans, you get a tantalizing glimpse of why she ended up winning the part.

See also Mark Hamill’s screen test and several other Star Wars screen tests, including this one of Kurt Russell, who auditioned for the roles of Han and Luke.

The Green Knight

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

A24 and David Lowery have adapted the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for the screen. The film was scheduled to be released early last year, but the pandemic intervened; it’s now due out at the end of July.

An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. From visionary filmmaker David Lowery comes a fresh and bold spin on a classic tale from the knights of the round table.

I read this story (Simon Armitage’s translation) to my kids a year or two back and it wasn’t our absolute favorite (it paled in comparison to our previous read, Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey), so I’m curious to see how it works as a film.

Why Do Wes Anderson Movies Look Like That?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

Love it or hate it, we all know what Wes Anderson movies look like by now — the vibrant color palette, use of symmetry, lateral tracking shots, slow motion, etc. etc. In this video, Thomas Flight explores why Anderson uses these stylistic elements to tell affective and entertaining stories.

But what is at the core of those individual stylistic decisions? Why does Anderson choose those things? Why do all those things seem to form a very specific unified whole? And what function, if any, do they serve in telling the kinds of stories Wes wants to tell?

The sources for the video are listed in the description; one I particularly enjoyed was David Bordwell writing about planimetric composition. (via open culture)

Two Identical Strangers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

In 2018, Tim Wardle’s fantastic documentary Three Identical Strangers introduced us to a set of identical triplets who were separated at birth. The film goes deeper into the story (and into nature vs nurture) and I don’t want to spoil it too much, but after it was released, some people began to suspect that they might have identical siblings out there themselves. One of those people was Michele Mordkoff, who found she had a twin sister and got in touch with Wardle, who was there at their reunion and made this short film about it (major TIS spoilers in that first paragraph).

“She is a stranger to me, but she’s also a part of me-I mean, we shared a womb,” says Michele in the film after she meets her twin for the first time.

“I’ve been struck by how instinctive, magical, and moving genetic reunions can be,” Wardle told The Atlantic in a recent interview. “This isn’t to denigrate non-genetic/adoptive relationships, which can also be wonderful, but there’s something extraordinary and almost transcendent about observing the interaction between two people who have never met before but share the same DNA. It defies rational explanation.”

If you can’t get enough of twin reunions, here are a few more to watch.

A Supercut of Everything Brad Pitt Eats & Drinks in Ocean’s Eleven

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven more than once, you probably noticed that Brad Pitt’s character Rusty Ryan is eating or drinking something in almost every scene he’s in. cinemATTIC made a supercut of all of those food and beverage moments from the movie. And if you’re wondering why Rusty was always eating, according to Rolling Stone:

Pitt figured that since the Ocean gang was on such a tight schedule, his character would have to grab fast-food whenever he could. The constant snacking ended up showing Rusty’s unflappability.

Someday someone will release an action or heist movie with a relevant & entertaining 15-minute sequence where the protagonists have to find a bathroom. During a recent Avengers: Endgame viewing, my son asked, “Doesn’t anyone ever have to go to the bathroom in these movies?” Then we talked about how they hardly ever eat either, aside from the occasional shawarma. But now that I’m thinking about it, there’s quite a bit of eating and drinking in Endgame: Black Widow’s peanut butter sandwich, Hulk-delivered tacos, the diner scene, Thor’s drinking, and many more.1 Ocean’s reference or nah? (via @Remember_Sarah)

Update: These folks did a Snackalong of eating everything that Rusty ate while watching the movie.

  1. FYI, Endgame hits different when you watch it in the (hopefully) late stages of a devastating pandemic. Oof.

Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2021

Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World is the latest world-explaining documentary series from television journalist Adam Curtis. It’s available in the UK on BBC’s iPlayer and, unofficially as a fan upload, on YouTube; I’ve embedded the trailer and the first part above.

But what exactly is it about you might wonder, even after watching the trailer. Reading Sam Knight’s January 2021 profile of Curtis in the New Yorker might help you there:

For more than thirty years, Curtis has made hallucinatory, daring attempts to explain modern mass predicaments, such as the origins of postwar individualism, wars in the Middle East, and our relationship to reality itself. He describes his films as a combination of two sometimes contradictory elements: a stream of unusual, evocative images from the past, richly scored with pop music, that are overlaid with his own, plainly delivered, often unverifiable analysis. He seeks to summon “the complexity of the world.”

Lucy Mangan’s review for The Guardian was overwhelmingly positive:

The power dynamic, how it shifts, how it hides and how it is used to shape our world — the world in which we ordinary people must live — is Curtis’s great interest. He ranges from the literal rewriting of history by Chairman Mao’s formidable fourth wife, Jiang Qing, during the Cultural Revolution to the psychologists plumbing the depths of “the self” and trying to impose behaviours on drugged and electro-shocked subjects. He moves from the infiltration of the Black Panthers by undercover officers inciting and facilitating more violence than the movement had ever planned or been able to carry out alone, to the death of paternalism in industry and its replacement by official legislation drafted by those with hidden and vested interests. The idea that we are indeed living, as posited by various figures in the author’s landscape and (we infer from the whole) the author himself, in a world made up of strata of artifice laid down by those more or less malevolently in charge becomes increasingly persuasive.

Other reviews, particularly from those on the right, call his work incoherent and Curtis himself something of a propagandist. Admission: I haven’t seen any of Curtis’s work, save for the occasional clip here and there. I know some of you out there are big fans — should I start with this one, HyperNormalisation, Century of the Self, or….?

Tintype Portraits of the Cast of Little Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2021

Little Women tintype portrait

Little Women tintype portrait

Little Women tintype portrait

Photographer Wilson Webb made these great tintype portraits of the cast of Little Women. Invented in 1851, the collodion process would have been in use during the time the movie takes place. You can read about Webb’s process at PetaPixel.

To capture the actual portraits, Webb got his hands on a 130-year-old Dallmeyer lens that he strapped to a modern large format camera, and set up 25,000 Watt-seconds worth of flash to ensure he had enough light. That’s… a lot of light. So much that Webb says his subjects “can feel a wave of heat and they can also smell the ozone that’s created when the picture’s taken.”

But despite all of this light — which allowed him to capture a much faster “shutter speed” than traditional wet plates — he still had the cast pose in a traditional fashion: facing the camera, stoic expression, sitting still for 30 seconds at a time to capture each individual frame.

You can check out the whole series of portraits at My Modern Met.

Modern Trailers for Classic Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2021

In order to promote the classic films available on the streaming service, HBO Max has created a selection of modern-style movie trailers for them. The re-trailered flicks include Dog Day Afternoon, Boogie Nights, Alien, Casablanca, and The Exorcist.

BTW, because of its Turner Classic Movies section, HBO Max seems like the best big streaming service for watching good, classic movies. It’s become nearly impossible to find anything on Netflix made before 2000, but on HBO Max right now you can watch Rocky, A Clockwork Orange, The 400 Blows, Seven Samurai, THX 1138, Malcolm X, 8 1/2, Solaris, Citizen Kane, Grey Gardens, North By Northwest, Rashomon, Tokyo Story, and dozens of others. (via open culture)