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My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Against Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling once published a rather unusual review of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In it, they write:

What a relief to resist what one can entirely respect and even admire! What a comfort it is to be not always defending oneself from vulgarity, or enlightened stupidity, or the masked cliché, or smallness of aim, but sometimes to stand out against the force of greatness.

Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is not Finnegans Wake, but it is a stunning technical achievement made by a filmmaker and producer at the top of their form. If I had seen it in my twenties, when I was obsessed with the Great War, with war in general, and with films that emphasized both the quotidian and the unthinkable nature of violence, I would have doubtlessly been very taken with it. But as I am today, given everything I’ve learned about cinema and the universe, I can’t help but refuse and reject this picture in the strongest possible terms. It is a brilliant film that is also, unfortunately, a total mistake.

I’m not interested in films that plunge themselves headlong into violence any more. I’m not interested in the manipulation of multitudinous evidence to tell a simple, linear story. I’m not interested in British soldiers fighting Germans on the Western Front, telling stories about their time in the trenches. I came to the film looking for a story I hadn’t seen or heard before, and those stories were nowhere to be found.

To be sure, the best parts of the film are about the everyday life of soldiers: what they ate, what they wore, the things they carried, how they kept themselves clean, how they occupied themselves in downtime, how they made tea using water heated by tank chassis and took a shit by sitting six abreast on a long pole. This is rich material.

The problem, however, is principally who gets to tell their story, and how their story is told. Peter Jackson took hundreds of hours of archival film footage, and later audio recordings of veterans made by the BBC, and artfully juxtaposes the two.

Despite the many voices, it is almost as if a single soldier is telling his story: he enlisted young because he felt a peculiarly British call of duty, and to alleviate boredom on the home front; he trained and drilled relentlessly until his body was whipped into shape; he was dispatched to fight and kill Germans in defense of France; he visited brothels and became a man; he was gassed and recovered, wounded and recovered; he dodged artillery shells launched by both the enemy and his own side; and he killed Germans in a heroic over-the-top charge across the no-man’s land that soon ended the war; he returned to ungrateful civilians who couldn’t possibly understand the horrors he’d seen, and how they’d forever changed him.

Any differences between these men, of class, of region, of age or experience, of height and weight, of rank or distinction achieved during the war, are completely washed away. They are simply young British infantrymen, made entirely generic and interchangeable. This is whose experience we’re getting in the film: not any particular men with individual stories, but a monolith.

Jackson can do this because he’s already selected these soldiers for their homogeneity. He tells us after the film that he’s discarded any footage that falls outside what really is a quite narrow view of the war and the people who fought it. He’s not interested in any of the other fronts of the war or the nations who fought in it. He has hours of footage of aircraft and pilots. He doesn’t use them. He has footage of women working as nurses and drivers and support staff, on and around the battlefield. He discards it. He has really quite stunning footage of women working in factories to produce the arms and gear that he so lovingly dotes on when they’re in his beloved soldiers’ possession. He throws it away. And, he tells us, he chose not to tell the story of the British colonial soldiers, men from all over the world, or their allies, including Chinese soldiers who fought on the Western front, or white or black Americans or anyone else.

He takes the “world” out of the first world war. And then, he tells us, unbelievably, that this extremely diluted, abstract take on the British soldier could stand in for any soldier who fought in the war. Whether they were German, Canadian, American, Polish, Turkish, or Russian, he thinks their experience of the war was likely very much the same as the British soldiers whose stories he smashes together.

Ask a black American soldier, fighting in a segregated regiment, whether his experience of the war was the same as the British soldiers he fought besides. Ask one of the Arab irregulars immortalized and distorted in Lawrence of Arabia what it was like to fight across German soldiers, who turned out to be really not so different after all, in trenches. Ask the African soldiers who fought and died in Europe. Ask what their equipment situation was, whether they got paid, or what their lives were like when the war ended. Ask the civilians whose lives were uprooted by these soldiers killing and destroying the countryside in their midst. Ask one of the women who cranked out artillery shells in the factory only to be turned away from her job at the war’s end whether or not anyone else could really understand her wartime experience.

Go ahead, ask them. I’ll wait.

Because Jackson didn’t have any footage of hand-to-hand combat, he chose instead to do a kind of Ken-Burns-effect dramatic pan over contemporary cartoons from war magazines. The trouble is that, as Jackson notes, these were racist propaganda magazines that he just happened (for some reason?) to have a complete personal collection of. But, he promises, he and his editors avoided the most egregiously racist images.

Jackson’s depiction of violence in this movie is jolting. One technique he loves is to pick a voice-over of a veteran describing the death of a friend that he witnessed, laying this audio over a zoom-in of a soldier smiling and laughing, then quick-cutting to a dead body lying in a heap, with blood and bodily matter everywhere. The blood isn’t the matted black stuff of reality that the men saw, but a sickly, B-movie red.

If you loved watching orcs get their heads split open in The Lord of the Rings, you will love this movie. If you loved Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, or any war movie that substituted blood and guts for gritty realism, you will love this movie. If however, you think, as I do, that these films, while works of a kind of genius, ultimately worked to manipulate our emotions and make us less feeling and less human, you will have huge problems with this movie.

Ultimately, at this point in my life, when movies like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk and Creed and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exist, I’m less interested in brutality for brutality’s sake, and much more interested in the possibility of love between fully realized, lovingly rendered human beings. I’m much less interested in white people’s stories, and the white man’s gaze, especially when they are stories we have heard so many times before, from a point of view that everyone is expected to pretend has no differences from their own.

You will learn nothing about love in They Shall Not Grow Old. You will learn nothing about World War 1 that you didn’t already know if you’d read a few Wilfred Owen poems and skimmed a high school history book. You honestly learn very little that you don’t learn from the trailer.

You get no sense of what the war was about, why it was fought, how it changed anything, or why it mattered, or even if it did matter. The world that it shows is seen through a peephole in a trench, made by a boy who fantasized about reliving his grandfather’s experiences.

That peephole is not a door that can take you anywhere. The shift from a narrow, small black and white screen to a full-screen 3D color experience is just a camera trick. You never left Kansas, not even for a minute.

In an ideal world, Jackson will return to all that footage he left behind, and make the film he should have made, telling the stories of the war that truly have not already been told. As it stands, though, this film is a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick. In trying to celebrate their heroism, it distorts and distends the memories of all those who died in the war, who didn’t return to tell their stories.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

A Short History of Computer-Generated Visual Effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

While it’s billed as “How Pixar Helped Win 27 of the Last 30 Oscars for Visual Effects”, this video from Wired works pretty well as a short history of computer-generated visual effects, from the Genesis visualization in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs to Pixar’s own Coco.

Die Hard, the Greatest Christmas Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

The tradition of fans recutting trailers and clips of movies and TV shows into different genres — like Toy Story as a horror film and The Shining as a romantic comedy — has been around almost as long as YouTube itself. But I think this trailer by 20th Century Fox is the first official effort I’ve seen. Die Hard has become an unlikely holiday favorite so I guess they figured, hey, let’s put out a trailer that explicitly recasts the it as a Christmas film. Merry Christmas Hans!

The Importance of Food in Howl’s Moving Castle

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Howl's Moving Castle - Food.jpg

Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorites if not my very favorite movie. I’ve written about it here before at some length. I use pictures from it as my Twitter background, as my login prompts on both of my computers, and my pinned tweet is a quote about the film and its simple-yet-allegorical applicability to understanding your own life and psyche.

One aspect of HMC I haven’t touched on here, but is essential to understanding the film and its appeal, is the importance of food in the film. Luckily, Sarah Welch-Larson at Bright Wall/Dark Room has you covered.

First, there’s this remarkably concise and comprehensive survey of food in the Miyazaki-verse:

In Studio Ghibli movies, food is a feast for the eyes. Nearly every one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films includes a memorable shot of food, some more extravagant than others. A monk stirring a pot of soup on a cold night in Princess Mononoke. A herring pie, golden and steaming, fresh from the oven, in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Ramen noodles piled with toppings in Ponyo. Piles of roasted meat and dumplings spilling across the counter of an enchanted restaurant in Spirited Away. Even the Miyazaki films that don’t focus so heavily on food still allow their characters a chance to pause and eat. Nausicaä stops for a moment to eat a small bag of nuts as the world falls apart around her. Porco Rosso eats spaghetti bolognese as he hides out from the Italian authorities. Extravagant or simple, quick or languorous, the shots of food in Miyazaki films all tempt the senses.

Then this close reading of food and its themes in Howl:

In Howl’s Moving Castle, food is more than just a necessity. It sustains life, in every sense of the phrase: it helps a body hold skin and sinew together, and acts as an expression of love and care. We get the sense that Howl is a good person from the way he prepares breakfast. He has a sure hand, and a light touch. He might be flighty, but he cares enough to put together a well-cooked breakfast big enough for everyone in the room, including Sophie the interloper.

Food is also an expression of identity. Howl’s cooking is simple and elegant, but feels like a feast. The bacon is thick and crackling, and the eggs are perfect, cooked sunny-side-up with not a single yolk broken. Sophie’s own choices of food are plain and practical, like her, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable than the more extravagant examples of food we see in other Miyazaki films. Her bread and cheese look just as tasty as Howl’s bacon and eggs, and they’re likely just as satisfying. Calcifer, too, needs to eat, despite being a supernatural creature. He stuffs logs into his mouth, one by one, every time he needs to move the castle. When he isn’t active, he’s still perpetually consuming wood, albeit at a slower pace; fire is a hungry creature, and will go out if it is not fed.

Hunger in Howl is twofold: it can be the desire to be sustained, and it can be the desire to possess. This second desire takes the form of gluttony, and it is a destructive force. While he’s out in his wanderings, Howl comes across battles between the two rival countries. He refuses to fight, but he can’t stay away; the war is encroaching. Other wizards who swore loyalty to the king take part in these battles, and on more than one occasion, Howl is chased through the skies by the “hack wizards” who turned themselves into monsters in service of the war. They’re horrible half-lizard, half-dragonfly things, all oily skin and gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, open as if ready to devour. Miyazaki’s war imagery tends toward images of devouring, but the action of eating here is neither life-giving nor sustaining. War is gluttony, a force that needs to mindlessly consume until there is nothing left.

And this remarkable conclusion:

The kitchen is said to be the heart of a home, and Howl’s kitchen was empty until Sophie talked her way in to clean it. Food and love are both life-sustaining forces, but only when held lightly, without thought of possession or ownership. Sophie saves Howl without a thought for her own happiness, and, in return, Howl loves her back of his own free will. Neither takes what the other is not willing to give. Their love is neither greedy nor ravenous, but rather a hunger for food that sustains and leaves the hungry satiated.

I’m convinced: food, and the overlapping and contradictory economies of food, are the keys to this movie! This puts it up with Babette’s Feast as my favorite movies about food, love, and community. Thank you, Sarah, for helping me appreciate this remarkable film in a whole new way.

(Thanks too to @nandelabra for pointing this my way.)

The 2018 Movie Trailer Mashup: One Big Trailer to Rule Them All

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Sleepy Skunk took audio and footage from dozens of trailers of movies that came out in 2018 and mashed them together into one mega movie trailer. And it’s actually coherent! Or at least as coherent as trailers for blockbuster movies typically are. I dunno, I’d watch this movie.

What Was Inside the Glowing Briefcase in Pulp Fiction?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Before I started making my own web pages, I spent a not-insignificant amount of my time on the Internet trawling the alt.fan.tarantino newsgroup for bits of knowledge about Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs. A big topic of discussion back then was speculation about the contents of the briefcase that Jules and Vincent were tasked to retrieve for Marsellus Wallace. Was it gold? Diamonds? Wallace’s soul? No one knew and Tarantino wasn’t telling. It was the most compelling MacGuffin since Hitchcock himself.

Now, after nearly 25 years, we finally learn what was in the briefcase:

Pulp Fiction Briefcase

If you’d like to make one of your own, just follow these instructions.

If you want a Bad Motherfucker wallet just like Jules’, here you go.

Into the Spider-Verse is One of the Five Best Superhero Movies Since Blade

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Spider-Verse.jpg

Since 2014, Abraham Riesman has kept a regularly updated list of the best superhero movies since Blade. This is partly an arbitrary starting point (would it really be so hard to rank the early Superman and Batman movies too?), and partly not: Blade moved away from the Superman and Batman top character mini-franchises, kicked off Marvel’s entry into modern superhero cinema, and started the pattern of every-other-year/no, every-year/wait-how-many-superhero-movies-are-out-this-year? sprawling multiverses we associate with the genre(s) today.

While there were a lot of superhero movies between 1998 and 2014, there have been, um, a lot more since. And some of the very best ones, too. “When I did the first edition of this list in the fall of 2014, I did not in any way predict that it would become my life’s work in the way it has,” Abe writes.

Today, a new entry cracks the top five. Abe rates the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring the former Ultimate Comics hero Miles Morales, fifth on his list, well ahead of the rest of the Spider-movies and just behind the highly revered The Dark Knight. Abe writes:

The unassuming and artistic Miles, a more recent addition to the comics’ Spider-canon, feels new and Zeitgeist-y in a way that Peter hasn’t in decades, and we want desperately for him to find his footing as he tries to be a hero. Luckily, he has the assistance of an array of other Spider-people from alternate dimensions — a gimmick common in comics, never before dared on the big screen, and here executed with deft and thrilling elegance. The story, performances, and jokes are all top-flight, but perhaps the greatest delight is the film’s awe-inspiring mastery of visual whizbang: Rather than try to ape reality, everyone is designed to evoke a feeling, be it the hulking intimidation of the inhumanly massive Kingpin or the proud wackiness of the stoutly cartoony Spider-Ham. It’s a damn shame that Lee and Ditko both died a matter of weeks and months before they could see the release of Into the Spider-Verse (though the famously reclusive Ditko wouldn’t have watched it, anyway), but their beloved baby is in good hands.

I love Miles Morales, and can’t wait to see him on screen. It’s been surprising that Marvel and DC haven’t done more with animation outside of television: cartoons are proven family-friendly money makers at the box office, and there’s a natural connection between comics and animation. Here’s hoping this spurs the superhero cabal to give more formats a try.

Miles is also in a new comic book series, written by Saladin Ahmed and drawn by Javier Garrón. Issue #1 comes out next Wednesday, December 12.

Time Lapse of the Sushi Scene in Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

My favorite scene in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the sushi-making scene. It’s a pure showcase of stop motion animation goodness and wordless storytelling.

Andy Biddle has posted a behind-the-scenes time lapse video of him and Anthony Farquhar-Smith animating that scene:

From the costume changes, it looks like that 40 seconds of video took about 29 days to complete, although obviously not full days in many cases.

You can see more of Biddle’s work here and Farquhar-Smith’s work here.

Update: Somehow I totally missed the days counter in the upper left corner of the video…the sequence took 32 days to do. (This is like the awareness test with the moonwalking bear.) (thx, all)

Update: Isle of Dogs’ head puppet master explains a bit more about what goes into making these stop motion scenes.

The Top 25 Films of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

My favorite end-of-the-year review of movies is always David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the top 25 best films. In this year’s review, I was surprised to see Annihilation on the list (I thought it was ok?) and also delighted by the high ranking of Paddington 2. Eighth Grade, The Favourite, and First Reformed all deservedly made the list, along with Mission: Impossible - Fallout, which I really liked. Would have liked to have seen Black Panther on there though.

Ehrlich shared the best moment from each of the 25 movies at Indiewire.

Learn About Tom Hanks, Star of Tuber & Hoonis

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

From Neil Cicierega, who you may remember from this hilarious recap of J.R.P.G. Torkelson’s Lorne of the Rings trilogy, comes this short guide to the film career of Tom Hanks, including his best-known works like Tuber & Hoonis, Sadness in the Saddle, and You’ll Get Soil. I woke up feeling a little blah this morning, but this cheered me right the hell up.

They Shall Not Grow Old

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2018

Earlier this year, I wrote that director Peter Jackson was working on a documentary about WWI that would feature film footage cleaned up and colorized with the same special effects technology used to produce massive Hollywood films like Jackson’s own LOTR movies.

The footage has been stabilized, the grain and scratches cleaned up, and the pace slowed down to from comedic to lifelike. Jackson’s also planning on using colorization to make the people in that old footage seem as contemporary as possible.

The brief glimpses of the cleaned and colorized footage in the initial trailer were tantalizing, but the newly released trailer above is just breathtaking or jaw-dropping or however you want to put it. I’ve watched it three times so far…some of those scenes are so vivid they could have happened yesterday! That what viewing early color photography and film does to you:

Until recently, the color palette of history was black and white. The lack of color is sometimes so overpowering that it’s difficult to imagine from Matthew Brady’s photos what the Civil War looked like in real life. Even into the 1970s, press photos documenting the war in Vietnam were in B&W and the New York Times delivered its news exclusively in B&W until the 90s, running the first color photograph on the front page in 1997.

Which is why when color photos from an event or era set firmly in our B&W history are uncovered, the effect can be jarring. Color adds depth, presence, and modernity to photography; it’s easier for us to identify with the people in the pictures and to imagine ourselves in their surroundings.

Jackson talked to the BBC about how the film was made:

Check out this post at Open Culture for more about the making of the film.

They Shall Not Grow Old just became my #1 most-anticipated movie for the rest of 2018. It’s only showing in the US on Dec 17 and Dec 27…I just got my ticket here.

The End of Space Travel?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2018

Remember Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity? A missile strike on a satellite causes a chain reaction, which ends up destroying almost everything in low Earth orbit. As this Kurzgesagt video explains, this scenario is actually something we need to worry about. In the past 60 years, we’ve launched so much stuff into space that there are millions of pieces of debris up there, hurtling around the Earth at 1000s of miles per hour. The stuff ranges in size from marbles to full-sized satellites. If two larger objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) collided with each other, the resulting debris field could trigger a chain reaction of collisions that would destroy everything currently in that orbit and possibly prevent any new launches. Goodbye ISS, goodbye weather satellites, goodbye GPS, etc. etc. etc. The Moon, Mars, and other destinations beyond LEO would be a lot harder to reach because you’d have to travel through the deadly debris field, particularly with crewed missions.

RIP, Pablo Ferro

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2018

Film & design legend Pablo Ferro died this weekend at the age of 83. Ferro was known for designing the iconic opening title sequences for Dr. Strangelove and Bullitt (among others).

He also designed what is probably my favorite movie trailer, for A Clockwork Orange:

I wrote about Ferro’s work with Stanley Kubrick in this post 10 years ago. From a piece by Steven Heller that I linked to in the post:

Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen.

The Art of the Title also interviewed Ferro about the Strangelove opening credits.

The titles for Strangelove were last-minute; I didn’t have much time to produce it. It came up because of a conversation between Stanley and I. Two weeks after I finished with everything, he and I were talking. He asked me what I thought about human beings. I said one thing about human beings is that everything that is mechanical, that is invented, is very sexual. We looked at each other and realized — the B-52, refueling in mid-air, of course, how much more sexual can you get?! He loved the idea. He wanted to shoot it with models we had, but I said let me take a look at the stock footage, I am sure that [the makers of those planes] are very proud of what they did and, sure enough, they had shot the plane from every possible angle.

Update: The Art of the Title also did a huge three-part interview with Ferro as a career retrospective. Great deep dive into a substantial career.

The Wes Anderson Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2018

Abbie Paulhus is selling copies of this great illustrated poster she made featuring a Wes Anderson alphabet on her Etsy shop.

Wes Anderson Alphabet

It features people, places, and objects from many of Anderson’s films (I didn’t see any Bottle Rocket references): B is for Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, N is for Ned Plimpton, and T is for Margot and Richie Tenenbaum.

Long-Delayed Documentary About Aretha Franklin Finally Set for Release

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

In January 1972, the Southern California Community Choir, a group of Atlantic Records musicians, and Aretha Franklin gathered at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles to record music for a live album. That album, Amazing Grace, went on to be Franklin’s best selling album and is still the top-selling gospel album of all time.

Director Sydney Pollack, who would later win a Best Director Oscar for Out of Africa, filmed the two-day recording for a documentary but wound up not being able to complete the film because the picture and sound couldn’t be synced — they hadn’t used a clapperboard before takes. So the footage, which includes the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts jamming out in the back of the church, was shelved. Before he died in 2008, Pollack entrusted the footage to Alan Elliott, who was able to sync the sound and make a 87-minute film out of it.

The film was going to be released a few times over the past decade, but Franklin successfully sued to keep it from the public, saying that her likeness was being used without her permission Even though she professed to liking the film, Franklin was strident about her finances. After Franklin’s death, Elliott screened it for her family and they approved its release. According to Variety, the film will screen at the DOC NYC film festival on November 12th and then later in NYC and LA to qualify for the Oscars.

The trailer for the film is embedded above. Elliott seems to have snuck it online without anyone noticing — as of now, it’s got fewer than 800 views on YouTube.

My Recent Media Diet for Fall 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Ok, two months in this case…it’s been awhile. There are a lot of movies on this installment of the list, but I’ve actually gotten some reading done as well. I’m still making my way through Making a Murderer’s second season, just started Small Fry, and am looking forward to seeing the Fantastic Beasts sequel with my kids in a couple of weeks. I’m trying to convince them to dress up when we go to the theater but no dice so far.

Origin Story by David Christian. This is a book based on Christian’s Big History concept, a story that weaves everything from quarks to water to dinosaurs to humans fighting entropy through greater energy & resource usage into one long history of the universe. (B+)

Slow Burn Season 2. Leon Neyfakh and his team are operating at a high level…this is one of the best podcasts out there. I had two major and conflicting thoughts while listening to this season: 1. Bill Clinton is not a good human being, should not have been President, and should not be embraced by contemporary progressives, and 2. The investigation of Clinton by the “independent” counsel was motivated entirely by partisan politics, was mostly bullshit, and shouldn’t have led to anything close to Clinton’s impeachment. (A+)

Three Identical Strangers. Fascinating entry in the nature vs nurture debate. This movie had at least two more gears than I expected. (A-)

Prohibition. Really interesting three-part documentary from Ken Burns & Lynn Novick about Prohibition in America. For instance, I didn’t know that the early temperance movement was led by women who were basically fed up with their husbands coming home and beating & raping them. Between this and some other stuff I’ve been thinking about, I’m convinced that while prohibition isn’t the answer, the US would be a better place to live if alcohol consumption were much lower. (A-)

Seeing White. What even to say about this? Fantastic and fascinating podcast series about the notion of “whiteness”, where racism comes from, and a lot of related topics. For instance, the synopsis for the second episode is “For much of human history, people viewed themselves as members of tribes or nations but had no notion of “race.” Today, science deems race biologically meaningless. Who invented race as we know it, and why?” Two episodes particularly stick out: the one about Native Americans and the one on white affirmative action, which was extraordinarily eye-opening. Top recommendation, a must-listen. (A+)

Smokey and the Bandit. This always seemed to be on TV when I was a kid. I gotta say, it’s still entertaining. But whoa, the casual overt racism that made it into movies in 1977. Oof. (B)

First Reformed. Ethan Hawke is terrific in this spare film. (B+)

Deadpool 2. I feel like I should feel bad for liking this so much. Probably did laugh until I cried. (A-)

A Beautiful Mind. I saw this when it came out and it seemed more straightforward than Oscar-winning this time around. Best Picture? I don’t see it. (B)

Mad Max: Fury Road. Fourth or fifth viewing? God, this movie is just so simple and devastatingly effective. It just *works*. (A)

Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June. Roxane Gay wrote of this book: “Sometimes, a book swells into something far lovelier than you assume it will be.” Exactly right. (B+)

Montreal bagels. Better than NYC bagels. And it’s not close. (A-)

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King. A bit uneven in spots, but there’s some really great stuff in here. Rogers really was an incredible person. (A-)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Getting ready for the sequel. (B+)

Maniac. I’ve watched the first four episodes of this. Good aesthetics and quirky but I’m wondering if I really need to finish the rest of it. (B)

Searching. Worth watching for the unique way the story is told. Solid & engaging plot too. (B+)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I’ve already forgotten what happens in this movie. (C)

Last Seen. No one knows who stole $500 million worth of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in 1990 nor has the art ever been recovered. This podcast details the major theories and suspects. (B)

Civilizations. This wannabe art history nerd loved this series. (A-)

Reply All: The Crime Machine. Fascinating story about how the NYPD got hooked on crime statistics, which helped them to clean up the city but then went wrong. (A-)

Schwartz’s Deli. The smoked meat sandwich somehow lives up to the hype. Don’t skip the pickle! (A-)

First Man. I noticed many of the things that Richard Brody did in his review but don’t consider the film a “right-wing fetish object”, Armstrong’s red baseball cap aside. It seemed to me that the arrested emotional development of Armstrong & his fellow astronauts was not played for heroic effect but actually seemed rather sad. If this was the great America we need to get back to, count me out. (B+)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Not as fun as the original. (B-)

Tomb Raider. This should have been better. (B-)

Bohemian Rhapsody. Pro tip: always go to fandom movies on opening night, even if you’re not particularly interested in the movie. I saw this with a packed theater of Queen fans. People were dressed up and they sang along to the songs. During We Will Rock You, the theater was actually shaking. Really fun. Like this guy, I also have a new appreciation on Queen’s music. Oh and if you’re bent about the liberties taken with the story, this take on the film by a Queen superfan is worth reading. (A-)

The TED Interview podcast w/ Elizabeth Gilbert. The second section, on the grief she left after her partner died earlier this year, in particularly worth a listen. (B+)

X-Men. Viewed during an 11-hour plane ride. Solid but shows its age with the action stuff, which was slow and inconsequential. I also watched the two sequels. (B)

Moneyball. I somehow hadn’t seen this before and really liked it. I think I need to read the book again. (A-)

Ocean’s Thirteen. Surprisingly fresh for the 13th movie in the series. Don’t @ me. (B+)

Volver. I need more Almodovar (and Penelope Cruz) in my life. (B+)

Farsighted by Steven Johnson. The advice on how you can make better long-term decisions is actually quite short, but Johnson’s explanation is typically well-informed and buoyed by keen storytelling. Favorite line: “The novel is an empathy machine.” (B+)

Conversations with Tyler w/ Paul Krugman. Tyler Cowen might have the best interview questions around. My favorite aspect of this episode is how many times Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner, says some version of “I don’t know” in reply to a question. (B+)

Conversations with Tyler w/ Malcolm Gladwell. Another thought-provoking episode. Gladwell answered every question. (B+)

Conversations with Tyler w/ Michael Pollan. Psychedelics seem increasingly promising. Time to read Pollan’s book on the subject perhaps. (B+)

Making a Murderer. The second season isn’t as compelling as the first (at least through the first 2/3s) but the show is still an intriguing examination of our legal system, class & wealth, the power of the human imagination, and all things Wisconsin. (A-)

I also covered a bunch of stuff I experienced in Berlin in this post so I won’t repeat myself. I plan on writing a similar post for Istanbul this week.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Art of Film Grain

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2018

Like Instagram filters and vinyl records, the use of film grain in movies is now a conscious choice on the part of media creators and consumers. In this video featuring the recent Nic Cage horror movie Mandy (which I hadn’t even been aware of), Evan Puschak discusses how film grain can function as an integral part of a film’s story & mood, not just as a “byproduct of chemical processing”. I found Steven Spielberg’s comment about film grain especially interesting:

The grain is always moving, it’s swimming, which means that even in a still life, let’s say a flower on a table, that flower is alive even if it’s not moving.

Koyaanisqatsi Made with Animated GIFs

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2018

Koyaanisqatsi is a 1982 experimental film by Godfrey Reggio with a soundtrack from Philip Glass. The movie has no dialogue or narrative and mainly features slow motion and time lapse footage of nature, technology, and cities.

Rico Monkeon has built a tool called Gifaanisqatsi that constructs the trailer for Koyaanisqatsi using a random assortment of slow motion and time lapse animated GIFs from Giphy. The trailer you get is different each time. You can compare it to the actual trailer.

I wondered how easy it would be to make an internet version using random Giphy ‘gifs’ which have been tagged as slow motion or time-lapse, playing them along with the Philip Glass soundtrack.

I *love* this and have watched at least 5 or 6 different trailers now…the slow motion cats and dogs are best. I recorded one of the trailers it generated for me:

I miiiiight just want to watch a feature-length version of this accompanied by the full soundtrack.

A Short History of Women Film Editors

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 02, 2018

For No Film School, Joanna Naugle breaks down the history of women editing film, a role women dominated in the silent and early sound era (when film editing was seen as 1) tedious and 2) like sewing), only to have men take over when the job became more visible and lucrative. Still, there’s a slew of famous and should-be-famous female editors, or rather, famous film edits that were usually made by a woman who’s better known in the industry than outside it. Special attention is given to Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates, and Dede Allen, among others.

Ultra-Impressionistic Portraits Made with Just a Few Thick Strokes of Paint

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2018

For his newest project IDENTITYCHRIST, Joseph Lee is pushing representational abstract painting to its limits.

Joseph Lee

Joseph Lee

I love how rough these are but you can still tell they’re people. Prints are available.

P.S. Lee is also an actor — you may have seen him playing the brother of the lead character in Searching, which is worth watching if only for the unique way the story is told. (via colossal)

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2018

After he retired from making feature length films in 2013, legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki started work on a short film using CGI animation techniques, which he had never worked with before. For two years, a film crew followed him and his progress, resulting in a feature-length documentary, Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki. You can watch the trailer above.

I’m a weak used-up old man. It’d be a ridiculous mistake to think I’ll ever regain my youth. But what do I do with the time I have left?

The documentary was shown on Japanese TV in 2016 but will make its American debut in December, showing on December 13 and 18.

Possible spoiler alert for the documentary: Miyazaki unretired last year and is turning that short film into a full-length feature.

Revisiting the Cursed Dreams of Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2018

For the most recent issue of the kottke.org weekly newsletter, Tim wrote about watching almost all of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki’s films, from Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind to The Wind Rises.

The unsurprising verdict: these movies are amazing works of art, each and every one. I was especially charmed by two movies I’ve always mentally skimmed over: Laputa — Castle in the Sky and Whisper of the Heart. They’re insanely different movies. Laputa is maybe as close as Miyazaki gets to a good guy vs. bad guy epic (although even the pirates who start the film as antagonists end up being comrades by the end of it), and Whisper of the Heart, despite a couple of fantasy sequences, is even closer to straight realism than Miyazaki’s last film, The Wind Rises.

Also probably unsurprising: for allaying anxiety, the movies are a mixed bag, to say the least. There’s an escapism factor to each of them, or rather, an absorption factor, that’s extremely welcome. But they’re also emotionally complex fables about self-destruction, the need for love, and the brutality of the future.

You can subscribe to the newsletter right here.

The quirky coif comedy of Wobble Palace

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 26, 2018

For fans of High Maintenance (don’t miss the original HM web series), Broad City (the final season starts in January), and Strangers (a remarkably good show somehow on Facebook): Wobble Palace is streaming now.

The filmmakers behind Wobble Palace, Eugene Kotlyarenko and Dasha Nekrasova, spoke about the esoteric reverse romantic comedy:

One of the influences on this fractured narrative was the 1956 Japanese novel The Key, by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. “It’s a book where a couple each keep different diaries and the chapters go back and forth between their diaries,” explains Kotlyarenko. “At a certain point, they realize that the other person is breaking into their drawer and reading their diary so they start writing performatively for the other person and it starts destabilizing what is reliable narrative.” Kotlyarenko and Nekrasova mention a few other works that offered some inspiration — La Bon Année (1973) by Claude LeLouch, they say, influenced their film’s ending and Immoral Tales (1973) influenced a masturbation scene.

Jet Li Turned Down The Matrix Because He Didn’t Want CGI Versions Of His Moves

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

Jet Li - Hero.jpg

In an interview with Chinese anchor Chen Luyu, actor and martial artist Jet Li revealed that he turned down the role of Seraph, guardian of the Oracle, in both sequels to The Matrix after the filmmakers made an unusual request.

“It was a commercial struggle for me,” Li said, “I realized the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine. And for six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library.”

He added, “By the end of the recording, the right to these moves would go to them.”

Li said back then, he was already worried that future technology would allow US filmmakers to digitally reproduce his moving body and superimpose the face of any actor onto it.

“I was thinking: I’ve been training my entire life. And we martial artists could only grow older. Yet they could own [my moves] as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that,” Li said.

Instead, Li made Hero, which was probably the right call. Still, I wonder whether who else has been in Li’s position, and how often we’ve seen one actor’s face in pantomime over another actor’s body? Or whether requests like these helped kill the short-lived boom in big budget martial arts movies we saw in the late 1990s/early 2000s?

The Library of Congress’s Collection of Early Films

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

National Screening Room, a project by the Library of Congress, is a collection of early films (from the late 19th to most of the 20th century), digitized by the LOC for public use and perusal. Sadly, it’s not made clear which of the films are clearly in the public domain, and so free to remix and reuse, but it’s still fun to browse the collection for a look at cultural and cinematic history.

There’s a bunch of early Thomas Edison kinetoscopes, including this kiss between actors May Irwin and John C. Rice that reportedly brought the house down in 1896:

Or these two 1906 documentaries of San Francisco, one from shortly before the earthquake, and another just after (the devastation is really remarkable, and the photography, oddly beautiful):

There’s a silent 1926 commercial for the first wave of electric refrigerators, promoted by the Electric League of Pittsburgh, promising an exhibition with free admission! (wow guys, thanks)

There’s also 33 newsreels made during the 40s and 50s by All-American News, the first newsreels aimed at a black audience. As you might guess by the name and the dates, it’s pretty rah-rah, patriotic, support-the-war-effort stuff, but also includes some slice-of-life stories and examples of economic cooperation among working-to-middle-class black families at the time.

I hope this is just the beginning, and we can get more and more of our cinematic patrimony back into the public commons where it belongs.

Take the Ball, Pass the Ball

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2018

In his four seasons as manager for FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola led the club to 14 trophies, including winning the Champions League twice and La Liga 3 times. Sure, he had players like Messi, Eto’o, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Alves, Henry, and Ibrahimović, but as the trailer says, he also knew exactly what to do with them. Take the Ball, Pass the Ball is an upcoming documentary about the Guardiola years at Barca. I’m excited for this…Pep’s first year was right around when I started watching the team in earnest.

The split-second choreography of a long one-shot

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 05, 2018

The Showtime series Kidding did something quite clever (really, two things): for a scene showing one of its characters’ transformation over the course of a year, it compressed multiple discordant events into a long, cut-free, panoramic photography shot of a single room. Outfits change, actors come and go, furniture, props, and lighting are moved in and out of the room, all without cuts.

Now, while the main camera shoots all around the increasingly unrecognizable room, a second camera, shooting from above the set, shows how they did it. A mix of body doubles, quick outfit changes, and grips and crew working furiously to move the entire set around just outside the camera’s field of vision.

It’s worth watching a couple of times. It’s a little like one of Penn and Teller’s bits where they show you how they pulled off the magic trick. You see everything they needed to do to do what they did, but you still don’t entirely believe they pulled it off.

Vice

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2018

The trailer for Adam McKay’s upcoming movie about Dick Cheney and the Bush administration just came out this morning. The movie promises an “untold story” and the casting is kind of amazing: Christian Bale as Cheney, Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld, Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney, and Sam Rockwell is pretty spot on as George W. Bush.

VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

I loved McKay’s The Big Short, so despite never wanting to think about any of those horrible men ever again, I am looking forward to watching this.

The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Isle Of Dogs Book

From a visual design standpoint, Isle of Dogs might be my favorite Wes Anderson movie yet. Each frame of the film is its own little work of art — I could have watched a good 20 minutes of this guy making sushi:

The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Anderson and his collaborators made the film.

Through the course of several in-depth interviews with film critic Lauren Wilford, writer and director Wes Anderson shares the story behind Isle of Dogs’s conception and production, and Anderson and his collaborators reveal entertaining anecdotes about the making of the film, their sources of inspiration, the ins and outs of stop-motion animation, and many other insights into their moviemaking process. Previously unpublished behind-the-scenes photographs, concept artwork, and hand-written notes and storyboards accompany the text.

The introduction is written by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou of the dearly missed Every Frame a Painting.

See also the other books in this series: The Wes Anderson Collection, The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Wes Anderson Collection: Bad Dads: Art Inspired by the Films of Wes Anderson.