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kottke.org posts about movies

The Handwritten First Draft of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Do The Right Thing first draft

Do The Right Thing first draft

Do The Right Thing first draft

Do The Right Thing first draft

In March 1988, Spike Lee wrote a first draft screenplay for his movie Do The Right Thing in just over 2 weeks. Four pages of this handwritten draft are pictured above. I wasn’t able to track down the entire screenplay, but the typed second draft can be found here. From a book companion to the film, here’s an excerpt from Lee’s journal from the day before he began writing:

Yesterday I began work on the script. Well, actually, I began the last work before the actual writing of the script. I put down all the ideas or scenes and dialogue on three-by-five index cards. TOMORROW, I’ll begin to write this motherfucker.

This morning I got up early to go to my corner store, T and T, to buy the paper. The young guys who work there had a Run-D.M.C. tape on. The owner, an old Italian guy, says, “What da fuck is dat? Turn that jungle music off. We’re not in Africa. It’s giving me a stomach ache.” Sooner or later it comes out. Okay, so you don’t like rap music. But why does it have to be about jungle music and Africa? I should have Sal say the same words to Radio Raheem in the movie.

And sure enough, on page 77 of the second draft:

SAL: Turn that JUNGLE MUSIC off. We ain’t in Africa.

BUGGIN’ OUT: Why it gotta be about jungle music and Africa?

SAL: It’s about turning that shit off and getting the fuck outta my pizzeria.

And on the day after finishing, he wrote:

Tuesday morning I finished the first draft of Do The Right Thing. It came in at roughly eighty-seven typed pages. It’s the fastest script I have ever written. In all, the actual writing of the first draft took fifteen days, but I have been taking notes since December.

(via criterion collection)

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Netflix has put When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s 4-episode mini-series about the Central Park Five, in front of their paywall for free viewing. Here’s the trailer:

The 2013 Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is available to watch on the PBS site and also on Amazon.

As previously noted, DuVernay’s 13th and Selma are also both available to watch online for free.

Now Streaming - Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

For 35 years, activist and archivist Marion Stokes recorded television news coverage on VHS tapes, amassing a collection of hundreds of thousands of hours of footage. Matt Wolf has produced a documentary about Stokes called Recorder: The Marian Stokes Project.

For over 30 years, Marion Stokes obsessively and privately recorded American television news twenty-four hours a day. A civil rights-era radical who became fabulously wealthy and reclusive later in life, her obsession started with the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 — at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 as the Sandy Hook massacre played on television while Marion passed away. In between, Marion filled 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows and commercials that show us how television shaped the world of today and in the process tell us who we were.

A mystery in the form of a time capsule, Recorder delves into the strange life of a woman for whom home taping was a form of activism to protect the truth (the public didn’t know it, but the networks had been disposing their archives for decades into the trashcan of history) and though her visionary and maddening project nearly tore her family apart, her extraordinary legacy is as priceless as her story is remarkable.

The trailer is above and you can watch the whole thing for free on PBS for a limited time.

White Noise, a Film About “the Seductive Power of Extremism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

The Atlantic is releasing their first feature-length documentary later this month.1 The film is called White Noise and it’s about the white nationalist movement in the US. Director Daniel Lombroso spent four years embedded in the “alt-right” movement to figure out how it works.

Progressives like to believe that racism is an opiate of the ignorant. But the alt-right’s leaders are educated and wealthy, groomed at some of America’s most prestigious institutions. The more time I spent documenting the movement, the more ubiquitous I realized it was. I bumped into one subject dancing in Bushwick with his Asian girlfriend, and another walking around DuPont Circle hitting a vape. Their racism is woven into the fabric of New York, Washington, D.C., and Paris, just as much as Birmingham, Alabama, or Little Rock, Arkansas.

During a visit to Richard Spencer’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, I began to understand how the alt-right works. Evan McLaren, a lawyer, wrote master plans on a whiteboard. A band of college kids poured whiskey for Spencer, adjusted his gold-framed Napoleon painting, and discussed the coming “Identitarian” revolution. Spencer offered a sense of historical purpose to his bored, middle-class followers. In his telling, they weren’t just “white Americans,” but descendants of the Greeks and Romans. “Myths are more powerful than rationality,” Spencer told me. “We make life worth living.”

White Noise is about the seductive power of extremism. Hatred feels good. But the fix is fleeting. As the film progresses, the subjects reveal the contradictions at the heart of their world. Southern advocates for traditional gender roles, but resents the misogyny and sexism of her peers. Cernovich warns that “diversity is code for white genocide,” but has an Iranian wife and biracial kids. Spencer swears he’ll lead the white-nationalist revolution — until it’s more comfortable for him to move home to live with his wealthy mother in Montana. For so many who feel lost or alone, these avatars of hate offer a promise: Follow us, and life will be better.

I mean, I’d roll my eyes if these assholes weren’t so effective and dangerous.

The film is premiering online at AFI on June 20. There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available (which seems odd) but I’ll update this post if one materializes.

  1. And probably last? The Atlantic laid off their entire video staff in mid-May, including the director and producer of this film.

Ava DuVernay’s Selma and 13th Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Last month, Netflix posted a number of their educational programs on YouTube for free, including Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary 13th on race, justice, and mass incarceration in America. Here’s the full-length film (discussion guide):

On Friday, Paramount Pictures started offering DuVernay’s Selma for free rental on a variety of platforms (Apple, Amazon, etc.). Selma is an historical drama about Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. If you haven’t seen it, it’s excellent — here’s a trailer:

As DuVernay said of the film on Twitter:

We’ve gotta understand where we’ve been to strategize where we’re going. History helps us create the blueprint.

In addition, legal drama Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan and Jaime Foxx is available online for free until the end of the month and The Criterion Channel is making movies that “focus on Black lives” available to non-subscribers. (via open culture)

Errol Morris’s Next Documentary Is About Psychedelic Guru Timothy Leary

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

The next documentary film from Errol Morris is about LSD advocate Timothy Leary and will debut on Showtime later in the year. The film is still untitled but is based on a memoir by Joanna Harcourt-Smith called Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story.

A FILM BY ERROL MORRIS (w/t) asks the question why Leary, the High Priest of LSD, became a narc in 1974 and seemingly abandoned the millions he urged to turn on, tune in and drop out. Was his “perfect love” Joanna Harcourt-Smith a government pawn, as suggested by Allen Ginsberg? Or was she simply a rich, beautiful, young woman out for the adventure of a lifetime? Morris and Harcourt-Smith will reexamine this chaotic period of her life and explore the mystery of the Leary saga: his period of exile, reimprisonment and subsequent cooperation with the authorities. Devotion or selfishness? Perfect love or outright betrayal? Destiny or manipulation?

This is Morris’s second foray into the topic of LSD — his 2017 Netflix series Wormwood explored the use of the drug by the CIA.

The Top 50 Sports Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

On the occasion of ESPN’s hit documentary The Last Dance finishing up, Axios’ Kendall Baker shared his list of the top 50 sports documentaries of all time.

It’s unsurprising that Hoop Dreams comes out on top — I need to make some time to watch that again. OJ: Made in America comes in at #2 and is indeed excellent, one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in recent years. But is it actually a sports documentary? It’s about a guy who used to play sports… The Last Dance finishes in third place; I haven’t seen it yet1 but my guess is that’s too high, especially considering Jordan had a lot of control over the finished product.

Loved seeing some of my other favorites on there too: Senna, When We Were Kings, Pumping Iron, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and Minding the Gap (which should have been way higher on the list). (via @mikeindustries)

  1. I don’t know if this is happening to you during all of this, but I have limited energy at the end of the day for any form of televisual entertainment that’s supposed to be “good”. So even though I was a massive Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fan in the 90s, I haven’t worked up the energy to tackle this yet. I guess part of me is also anxious about how invested I was in that story back then and what it might dredge up for me, feelings-wise.

Da 5 Bloods, a New Spike Lee Joint

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

Spike Lee’s newest film, Da 5 Bloods, is coming to Netflix on June 12 and the trailer, driven by the Chambers Brothers’ psychedelic rock anthem Time Has Come Today, is really compelling.

From Academy Award(R) Winner Spike Lee comes a New Joint: the story of four African-American Vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) — who return to Vietnam. Searching for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader (Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure, our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son (Jonathan Majors), battle forces of Man and Nature — while confronted by the lasting ravages of The Immorality of The Vietnam War.

Having recently been to Vietnam and done a bit of reading about US veterans retiring there, I’m interested to see how Lee handles that dynamic and portrays the country.

Chair Times: A History of Seating

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2020

Vitra Chair Times

For a limited time, you can view the feature length documentary Chair Times: A History of Seating online for free courtesy of Vitra, a Swiss design company. Here’s a trailer:

In the focus are 125 objects from the Collection of the Vitra Design Museum. Arranged according to their year of production, they illustrate development from 1807 to the very latest designs straight off the 3D printer, forming a timeline to modern seating design.

Accompanying the film is a book of the same name. (via moss & fog)

An Oral History of Mad Max: Fury Road

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2020

Fury Road

The endlessly rewatchable Mad Max: Fury Road has become one of my absolute favorite films, so I really enjoyed digging into this oral history of the movie (with contributions from director George Miller, editor Margaret Sixel, Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and many others). It is a miracle this thing got made and downright impossible that it was so good.

HARDY: Charlize arguably laid down the finest lead character in an action movie, and that credit is much deserved, in my opinion; both to her as a phenomenal talent and also to George for recognizing from the very start that it was time to pass Mel’s shoes onto Furiosa.

THERON: At first, Furiosa was this very ethereal character, with long hair and some African mud art on her face. It was a different costume designer back then, before Jenny Beavan, and the costume felt a little more Barbarella-y. I worried about it.

JENNY BEAVAN (costume designer): I am not into fashion, and I don’t particularly care what people look like — the clothes have to come out of the stories they tell. Since she travels long distances, Furiosa needed very practical clothing, and when I met with Charlize, that was one of the things we talked about. That, and what on earth would she do with her hair?

THERON: George was really incredible in just hearing me out. I called him and said, “I don’t know how she’s getting by in the mechanics’ room with all this hair. I think we need to shave my head, and she needs to be a more androgynous, grounded character.” You know, he trusted me so much that it kind of makes me emotional. In that sense, I feel like I let him down.

Sixel won an Oscar for her editing of Fury Road:

SIXEL: There was this constant thing from the studio: “How much shorter is it?” That’s all they wanted to know. I just got so sick of it. They were just obsessed with getting the film under 100 minutes, which I knew was impossible.

MILLER: When someone is directing a film, they’re thinking about it every waking hour, and even processing it in their dreams. The problem is, if you’re a studio executive, you tend to think about it for 10 minutes on a Wednesday.

SIXEL: It was an incredibly painful film to cut. I think the studio didn’t believe in it, so it was really difficult to keep going. Eventually George and I decided, “We’re just going to make the film we want to make, and if no one else likes it, that’s fine.” And that last four months is when the film really came together.

And it blew people away and was taken seriously when it came out, which surprised the filmmakers:

MILLER: In Japan, there was a critic who was telling me about the film, and I was astonished by the degree to which he read the subtext, all the stuff you hope is there. I said, “How many times did you see the film?” He said, “Only once. Can I show you something?” And he opened up his shirt, and he had the logo of the Immortan tattooed in red on his chest. So when you see things like that, you’re sort of humbled by it.

(thx, david)

Update: The author of the oral history shared some outtakes on Twitter.

The first time Charlize Theron saw FURY ROAD, it was a 3-and-a half hour cut, and she fell hard for it: “I felt like for the first time in my career, I was part of something where you could truly say, ‘This feels original.’”

And Theron herself posted some photos, videos, and memories of the filming, including this:

I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing my war rig for the first time and realizing holy shit, George is not f*cking around.

She also posted the photo at the top of this post. (via @thatneilguy)

Radiohead’s Rejected Spectre Theme Song Played Over the Film’s Opening Credits

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

My kids have been making their way through the Daniel Craig Bond movies so when I mentioned that our local theater was planning on showing drive-in movies on a screen in the parking lot, my son said, “ooh, maybe they’ll show the new Bond movie”.1 Then they began to speculate who would be singing the theme song in the new movie, and I piped in: it’s Billie Eilish and they’ve already released the song.

So we listened to it and, since they had just watched Spectre, I also played Radiohead’s rejected theme song, which I obviously prefer to Sam Smith’s bland Oscar-winning song. This morning, while trying to figure out who sang the official one, I ran across the video of Radiohead’s version played over the opening credits (embedded above). Gah, so much better. What a missed opportunity.

P.S. Funny story from my research: not only was Smith unaware that Radiohead had been asked to do the theme song before them, they were also apparently unaware of who Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke even was.

  1. We’ll have to wait until at least November for that, although I suspect that as the summer goes on and people don’t go back to movie theaters even if they reopen, the studios will have to start releasing films straight to digital/Blu-ray. The can’t delay everything for a year or two.

Becoming, a Film About Michelle Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

Based on her memoir of the same name and produced by the production company she created with her husband, Becoming is a film about Michelle Obama that premiered on Netflix today.

Becoming is an intimate look into the life of former First Lady Michelle Obama during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.

The trailer and a clip from the film are embedded above. The clip features Obama talking with a group of young black women on her book tour and one of them asks about getting her life “back on track” after her husband’s presidency. Obama’s answer is remarkably timely:

What I’ve learned is that…get back on what track? It’s a whole new track. It’s not going back — it’s just all different and it’s different forever. So it’s not getting back on track, it’s creating my next track.

I think many Americans and people across the world are struggling with accepting that idea in the midst of the pandemic.

Daniel Radcliffe Reads the First Chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

As part of the Wizarding World’s Harry Potter at Home initiative, they’re having an all-star cast read the first book in the series aloud on video. The first chapter was just released and it’s read by none other than Daniel Radcliffe himself. You can also listen on Spotify:

A new chapter with a different reader will be released each week — readers of future chapters include Stephen Fry, Dakota Fanning, and Eddie Redmayne.

Update: The next few chapters have been released: Noma Dumezweni’s chapter 2, Eddie Redmayne reads chapter 3, and Stephen Fry does chapter 4. The kids and I have been listening to this on Spotify in the car and we’re loving it. I liked Redmayne’s narration the best so far and Fry does an uncanny impression of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid voice.

My Recent Media Diet, The Pandemic Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

Well, it has been awhile. I have not done one of these since late December. First I was away for a few weeks and then, well, you know. I’m not even sure if anyone wants to read this sort of thing right now — I barely wanted to write it — but I know a lot of people are stuck at home, looking for stuff to watch, read, and listen to. Plus, keeping the media diet going feels normal, at least a little.

If you’re strapped for time/attention, my top recs are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Devs, Exhalation, Little Women, Unbelievable, Future Nostalgia, The Overstory, and You’re Wrong About.

Devs. Fantastic. I loved every minute of this gem. (A)

Unbelievable. Based on a true story. Excellent performances by Toni Collette and (especially) Merritt Wever. (A)

The Report. Also based on a true story. The Bush presidency still does not get the credit in terms of the harm it did, and continues to do, to America. (B+)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Killer collection of tech/science stories. (A)

Slow Burn (season 3). Not just about Biggie/Tupac, but about 90s hip-hop & the cultural reaction to it. (B+)

AirPods Pro. Wearing these feels a little like the future. (A)

Aeronauts. Perfectly fine. (B)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Straight-up masterpiece. (A)

Don’t F**k with Cats. How on Earth did I not hear anything about this case when it originally happened and why is it not more widely known? A media-obsessed wanna-be serial killer caught by online sleuths? It seems like fiction. (B+)

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. This maybe would have been better at half the length. (B+)

1917. Technically stunning but I never truly got involved in the story because I was trying to see where the cuts were. (B+)

Icarus. Almost unbelievable where the story goes in this. (A-)

Little Women. My choice for the best 2019 movie. (A)

My Brilliant Friend (season 2). The second part of the first season set a high bar to clear, but I’m loving this season so far. (A)

Jojo Rabbit. Like Inglourious Basterds directed by Wes Anderson. (A-)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Fittingly finished this on the plane to Vietnam. (B+)

Anthropocene. Typically excellent look at the impact of humans on the Earth by Edward Burtynsky. (A-)

Frances Ha. Baby Adam Driver! (B+)

Catch Me If You Can. Spielberg (and DiCaprio) at their most entertaining. (A-)

Edge of Tomorrow. Love this movie. An underrated gem. (A)

The Overstory by Richard Powers. A wonderful novel about trees and the natural world. (A)

Titanic. A masterclass of blockbuster filmmaking and storytelling. (A)

Good Place (season 4). Loved the ending to this. (A-)

Outbreak. Contagion. Deep Impact. 2012. The Core. I Am Legend. I have been watching all of the disaster movies. They are terrible and I love them. (A/C-)

The Aftermath. The ending of this felt random, a gotcha to the audience rather than the natural end to the story. (B)

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. I had medium hopes for this, but the Seth Rogan episode made me laugh harder than I have in months. (B+)

Watchmen. The first three episodes gave me this-is-gonna-end-like-Lost vibes and then they announced there wasn’t going to be second season, so I stopped watching. (B-)

The Farewell. Wonderful. (A-)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Started slow but finished strong. Keep your eyes peeled for all of the sci-fi references. (B+)

Birds of Prey. This was mindless. And not in a good way. (D)

McMillion$. My main takeaway was being aghast at how much time, energy, and money the FBI put into this case, which one of the lead investigators only pursued because it was fun. (B)

Star Trek: Picard. I would have voted against bringing this beloved character back (for fear they’d ruin it) but I enjoyed almost every second of this. (B+)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Another great book from Larson. The Battle of Britain is surprisingly relevant to these pandemic times. (A-)

Onward. Not my favorite Pixar, but solid as always. (B)

Future Nostalgia. Love this album, not a single weak song. (A)

The Mandalorian. It took me too long to realize that this was a western. I don’t care that much for westerns. (B)

Star Wars Episodes I II III. I needed some true garbage to watch about two weeks into my self-quarantine. These movies are mostly terrible. (C-)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but You’re Wrong About has become essential listening for me. The OJ and DC Sniper series are both great, and their episode Why Didn’t Anyone Go to Prison for the Financial Crisis was excellent and surprisingly didn’t really mention the actual crisis at all. (A)

Iron Man. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. The kids and I are rewatching all the MCU movies in release order. Some are better than others. (B)

Tiger King. I watched the first episode and…is this anything more than just gawping at yokels? Does this documentary have anything important to say about society or is it just reality TV? (C)

LBJ and the Great Society. A fascinating look at a brief moment in time when our government worked and how that happened. (A-)

The Case of the Missing Hit. You’ve likely heard this instant-classic episode of Reply All by now, but if you haven’t, it’s worth the hype. (A-)

Tempest in a Teacup. Outside/In talks to Charles Mann about a passage in 1491 about passenger pigeons, which suggested that their famous abundance was a relatively recent occurence caused by the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas by Europeans and their diseases. (B+)

The Living Room. The episode of Love + Radio that inspired the Oscar-winning The Neighbor’s Window. (A-)

Simulcast. Tycho’s instrumental companion album to Weather. (B+)

Minority Report. This was cheesier than I remembered it. Hasn’t aged well in some ways. (B)

Pelican Brief. So 90s. But I’d forgotten the star power of Denzel and Julia Roberts, even in a mediocre movie. (B)

Murder on the Orient Express. Rewatch. Branagh sure does chew the scenery, but it is fun to watch. (B+)

Gemini Man. Action. Sci fi. Mostly forgettable. (B-)

Yesterday. Cute flick. (B)

Monsters University. This was the only Pixar movie I had never seen. And now I have. (B)

Dark Phoenix. Slightly more entertaining than I was expecting. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Social Distancing As Demonstrated in Wes Anderson Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2020

Characters in Wes Anderson’s films are often misfits, outcasts, or are estranged from one another for various reasons. That apartness is often depicted cinematically using physical distance between individuals onscreen, with the aesthetic side effect of using all of that gorgeous 1.85:1 or even 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Luis Azevedo made a short supercut of moments in Anderson’s movies where the characters are practicing good social distancing techniques.

Blade Runner - The Lost Cut

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2020

Of the various cuts of Blade Runner done over the years, Blade Runner - The Lost Cut is perhaps the oddest. Billed by creator Leon Chase as “a radical re-envisioning of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic”, this cut boldly includes footage from other films like The French Connection, Star Wars, The Jerk, and The Blues Brothers. A few of the films whose footage was used, including the Coen brothers’ Fargo, were released well after Blade Runner came out.

Daring! But does this cut go too far? Or not too far enough?

Netflix Posts Dozens of Their Educational Programs on YouTube for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2020

In the Before Times, Netflix let teachers stream their programming in the classroom. With schools not in sessions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Netflix has decided to put some of their educational programming on YouTube for free (full playlist here). For instance, they’ve put all 8 episodes of David Attenborough’s nature series Our Planet online in their entirety. Here’s the first episode:

The Our Planet website also has tons of educational information for schools and kids.

13th is a feature-length documentary by Ava DuVernay about how racial inequality in America drives our high incarceration rates:

13th is currently rated 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and NY Times reviewer Manohla Dargis called it “powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming”. Here’s a discussion guide.

Eight full episodes of the first season of Abstract: The Art of Design are also available on YouTube (discussion guide). Here’s the episode featuring illustrator Christoph Niemann:

Several episodes of Vox’s series Explained are included, like this one on the racial wealth gap:

Also included are The White Helmets & Period. End of Sentence. (which each won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject) as well as Knock Down The House, the documentary on the 2018 Congressional campaigns of four women (including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). See the full list of included shows and the full playlist on YouTube.

The Implausible Covid-19 Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2020

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post interviewed Scott Z. Burns, who wrote the screenplay for Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s film about a bat-borne illness that starts a global pandemic. What’s most striking about the interview is how outlandish Burns finds certain aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, so ridiculous in fact that people would find them implausible if this were a fictional story.

I would have never imagined that the movie needed a “bad guy” beyond the virus itself. It seems pretty basic that the plot should be humans united against the virus. If you were writing it now, you would have to take into account the blunders of a dishonest president and the political party that supports him. But any good studio executive would have probably told us that such a character was unbelievable and made the script more of a dark comedy than a thriller.

On Twitter, director Sarah Polley recently had a similar take.

This is the worst movie I have ever seen.

Unsurprising that this movie doesn’t work — the screenplay was a dog’s breakfast.

So much heavy handed foreshadowing. The apocalyptic footage from Wuhan, the super villain American president, the whistleblower dying, the Russia/China border closed while people still claimed it was just a flu, the warnings unheeded. Insulting to the audience’s intelligence.

And then — that most annoying of horror/disaster movie tropes — the hapless idiots walking into disaster after disaster, all of which the audience can see coming from a mile away.

The over the top details of world leaders and their wives falling ill, the far fetched idea that industrialized countries wouldn’t have proper protective gear for front line workers and ventilators. Pleeeeaaase. This movie needed a script doctor.

It’s interesting that there are certain boundaries in fiction related to the audience’s suspension of disbelief that are are routinely ignored by reality. I’m also reminded of how Margaret Atwood approached The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, using only elements that have historical precedent:

The television series has respected one of the axioms of the novel: no event is allowed into it that does not have a precedent in human history.

And yet some critics consider the events from the novels and TV show to be too much, over-the-top.

Update: Ted Chiang from a recent interview:

While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there’s no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn’t be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what’s known as an “idiot plot,” a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren’t an idiot. What we’re living through is only partly a disaster novel; it’s also — and perhaps mostly — a grotesque political satire.

I am currently blazing through Exhalation (Kindle), Chiang’s collection of science & technology fables. (via @jasondh)

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2020

Directed by Halina Dyrschka, Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint is a new feature-length documentary on the groundbreaking abstract artist Hilma af Klint.

Before Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Klee made a name for abstraction in visual art, another artist had already beat them to their discovery. But until very recently, her name was absent from the history books. Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) painted her first abstract canvas in 1906, four years before Wassily Kandinsky, originally thought to be the movement’s pioneer. It would be more than a century before she would receive the same acknowledgment and acclaim as her male peers.

The film follows the recognition af Klint’s work received due to the 2018 show at the Guggenheim, which was one of my favorite exhibitions from the past few years.

The trailer is above and the film opens “in virtual theaters” in the US on April 17 through Kino Marqueecheck for your local theater here. (via colossal)

Bong Joon-ho’s Extensive Storyboards for Parasite

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2020

Parasite Storyboards

Before he begins filming any of his movies, director Bong Joon-ho draws out storyboards for every single shot of every single scene of the film. From an interview with Bong in 2017:

I’m always very nervous in my everyday life and if I don’t prepare everything beforehand, I go crazy. That’s why I work very meticulously on the storyboards. If I ever go to a psych ward or a psychiatric hospital, they’ll diagnose me as someone who has a mental problem and they’ll tell me to stop working, but I still want to work. I have to draw storyboards.

For his Oscar-winning Parasite, Bong has collected the storyboards into a 304-page graphic novel due out in mid-May: Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards.

Drawn by Bong Joon Ho himself before the filming of the Palme d’Or Award-winning, Golden Globe(R)-nominated film, these illustrations, accompanied by every line of dialog, depict the film in its entirety. Director Bong has also provided a foreword which takes the reader even deeper into the creative process which gave rise to the stunning cinematic achievement of Parasite.

The book has already been released in Korea, and Through the Viewfinder did a 5-minute video comparison of the storyboards with the filmed scenes for the peach fuzz montage scene (and another video of the flood scene).

Amazing. That’s a whole lotta film school packed into five minutes of video.

Sight & Sound: The Cinema of Walter Murch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2020

From Jon Lefkovitz, Sight & Sound is a feature-length documentary film about the legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who edited and did sound design for films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation.

This feature-length documentary, viewed and enjoyed by legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch himself (“The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now”), was culled by Jon Lefkovitz from over 50 hours of Murch’s lectures, interviews, and commentaries.

That’s the whole film embedded above, available online for free. Here’s the trailer in case you need some prodding. I haven’t watched the whole film yet, but I’m definitely going to tuck into it in the next few days.

See also Worldizing — How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film.

Stream Helvetica & Other Design Documentaries for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Thinking that some people might need high quality entertainment while shut inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his films online for free, one film per week. First up (from Mar 17-24) is Helvetica, his documentary on typography and graphic design. Here’s the trailer:

Click through to watch the whole film. (via daring fireball)

Remaking the Spider-Verse Trailer with Traditional Animation Techniques

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2020

Animator Pinot Ichwandardi, designer/illustrator Dita Ichwandardi, and their three young children decided to remake some of the iconic scenes from the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse trailer using traditional animation techniques. You can see some of the process and the impressive results in the video above. They drew the scenes by hand, built their own multiplane camera setup (a la Disney), and constructed a camera rig using Lego. You can read more about their process in these two Twitter threads: one, two.

After they were done, Sony Animation invited the family to visit their California campus to meet some of the team that worked on the movie, including producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

See also How Animators Created Spider-Verse.

A Military Historian’s Look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2020

In a six-part series on his blog, Roman military historian Bret Devereaux took a close look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King, the final movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Looking at the logistics of moving the Army of Mordor to Minas Tirith is actually a great way to introduce some of these problems in more depth. They say ‘amateurs talk tactics, but professionals study logistics.’ Well, pull up a chair at the Grown-Ups Table, and let’s study some logistics.

The army Sauron sends against Minas Tirith is absolutely vast — an army so vast that it cannot fit its entire force in the available frontage, so the army ends up stacking up in front of the city.

The books are vague on the total size of the orcish host (but we’ll come back to this), but interview material for the movies suggests that Peter Jackson’s CGI team assumed around 200,000 orcs. This army has to exit Minas Morgul — apparently as a single group — and then follow the road to the crossing at Osgiliath. Is this operational plan reasonable, from a transit perspective?

In a word: no. It’s not hard to run the math as to why. Looking at the image at the head of the previous section, we can see that the road the orcs are on allows them to march five abreast, meaning there are 40,000 such rows (plus additional space for trolls, etc). Giving each orc four feet of space on the march (a fairly conservative figure), that would mean the army alone stretches 30 miles down a single road. At that length, the tail end of the army would not even be able to leave camp before the front of the army had finished marching for the day. For comparison, an army doing a ‘forced march’ (marching at rapid speed under limited load — and often taking heat or fatigue casualties to do it) might manage 20 to 30 miles per day. Infantry on foot is more likely to average around 10 miles per day on decent roads.

I admit I did not have time to read this whole thing this morning, but posts like these are some of my favorite things online. See also Rome, Sweet Rome, A People’s History of Tattooine, and some of my logistical questions about Mad Max: Fury Road. (via studio d radiodurans)

How Miles Davis Made “Kind of Blue”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2020

From the feature-length documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool that’s debuting on PBS’s American Masters next week, this is a short clip about how Miles’ masterpiece, Kind of Blue, came together in the studio.

Miles Davis didn’t provide sheet music for his musicians during the recording of his iconic album “Kind of Blue.” He said that “I didn’t write out the music for ‘Kind of Blue.’ But brought in sketches ‘cause I wanted a lot of spontaneity in the playing.”

Here’s the trailer and a couple of other clips from the film. (via @tedgioia)

Deepfake Video of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in Back to the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

This deepfake video of Back to the Future that features Robert Downey Jr. & Tom Holland as Doc Brown & Marty McFly is so convincing that I almost want to see an actual remake with those actors. (Almost.)

They really should have deepfaked Zendaya into the video as Lorraine for the cherry on top. Here’s an earlier effort with Holland as Marty that’s not as good.

The Times of Bill Cunningham

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

In 1994, legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham gave a six-hour interview about his life and work. This interview was recently rediscovered and made into a documentary called The Times of Bill Cunningham. Here’s a trailer:

The movie is out in theaters, but the reviews so far are mixed, especially when compared to the rave reviews received by 2011’s Bill Cunningham New York. Still, Cunningham is a gem and I will watch this at some point soon. (via recs)

Inglourious Basterds’ Witty Slate Clapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

Geraldine Brezca has worked on several of director Quentin Tarantino’s movies,1 and for Inglourious Basterds, she was the slate operator — i.e. she clapped the clapper before each scene. And as this video shows, she was very entertaining and creative in her duties:

For each scene’s label, Brezca came up with something funny (A66F = “au revoir 66 fuckers”), ribald (29B = “29 blowjobs”), appropriate (39FE = “39 feet essential” on a scene featuring feet), respectful (4AK = “4 Akira Kurosawa”), or profane (79E = “79 fucking explosives”, which got quite a chuckle from Brad Pitt). See also Here’s Why Slate Operators Matter (And Why Quentin Tarantino’s is So Great).

  1. Brezca’s IMDB page shows that the last movie she worked on was Django Unchained in 2012. Not sure if she left the industry or passed away or what…

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Trailer ↑. Well, if you like Wes Anderson this looks terrific. And if you don’t, well, perhaps not. The French Dispatch is about a weekly literary magazine in the style of the New Yorker. From the actual New Yorker:

Wes Anderson’s new movie, “The French Dispatch,” which will open this summer, is about the doings of a fictional weekly magazine that looks an awful lot like — and was, in fact, inspired by — The New Yorker. The editor and writers of this fictional magazine, and the stories it publishes — three of which are dramatized in the film — are also loosely inspired by The New Yorker. Anderson has been a New Yorker devotee since he was a teen-ager, and has even amassed a vast collection of bound volumes of the magazine, going back to the nineteen-forties. That he has placed his fictional magazine in a made-up French metropolis (it’s called Ennui-sur-Blasé), at some point midway through the last century, only makes connecting the dots between “The French Dispatch” and The New Yorker that much more delightful.

Amazing…he basically made a movie about the New Yorker archives. And btw, writing “teen-ager” instead of “teenager” is the most New Yorker thing ever — but at least it wasn’t “teën-ager.”

Back to the movie, it’s got a cracking cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson all star and then the supporting cast includes Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Defoe, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, and even the Fonz, Henry Winkler. The poster is quite something as well:

French Dispatch Poster

Opens July 24…can’t wait!

The Booksellers

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

I’m very much here for this! “A behind-the-scenes look at the New York rare book world.” Includes interviews with Fran Lebowitz, Susan Orlean, Kevin Young and Gay Talese.

Antiquarian booksellers are part scholar, part detective and part businessperson, and their personalities and knowledge are as broad as the material they handle. They also play an underappreciated yet essential role in preserving history. THE BOOKSELLERS takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.

From the trailer:

The people that I see reading actual books in the subway are mostly in their twenties, it’s one of the few encouraging things you will ever see int he subway.