Blade Runner’s Miniature Props Revealed in 142 Behind-the-Scenes Photos

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Blade Runner, unlike most science-fiction movies of the 1980s, improves with age — in fact, it seems to hold up more robustly with each passing year. Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? endures for many reasons, none of them quite so strong as the richness of its setting, a vision of 2019 Los Angeles replete with fire-belching smokestacks, towering corporate obelisks, 30-story geishas glowingly endorsing products on the sides of buildings, and crumbling “old” architecture retrofitted to inhabit this simultaneously glossy and ramshackle reality.

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The film’s production design pays close attention to those big things, but also to the small ones: the sidewalk noodle bar where we meet replicant-hunting detective Rick Deckard; the glowing handles of the umbrellas held by the countless passersby streaming past; the detailing of the firearm with which he cuts down his android prey one by one. And often, the big things are small things; at the top of the post, for instance, we see the hulking headquarters of the replicant-building Tyrell Corporation — and, for scale, a member of the design team working on it.

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Blade Runner, you see, represents perhaps the high water mark of the now seemingly lost art of miniature-based practical visual effects. Most everything in its slickly futuristic yet worn and often makeshift Los Angeles actually existed in reality, because, in that time before realistic CGI, everything had to take the form of a model (or, farther in the background, a matte painting) to get into the shot at all. You can take an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the blood, sweat, and tears involved in building all this in a gallery showcasing 142 photos taken in the Blade Runner model shop.

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“Take a look at the dystopian miniatures, each tiny car hand painted with future dirt from riding clouds stuffed with future smog,” writes io9’s Meredith Woerner. Partisans of these sorts of techniques argue that miniatures remain superior to digital constructions because of their perceptible physicality, and perhaps that very quality has helped keep the look and feel of Blade Runner relatively timeless. Plus, unlike CGI, it gives die-hard fans something to hope for. If you dream about owning a piece of the film for your very own, you theoretically can; just make sure to do your homework first by reading the threads at, a forum about — and only about — Blade Runner props.

Enter the photo gallery here.

via io9

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Grateful Dead’s Final Farewell Concerts Now Streaming Online

It’s easy to write off the Grateful Dead—and I’ll admit I did for years—as aging “hippies stuck in the Summer of Love,” as a recent Wired article puts it. But this reputation belies a musical depth due in part, as we pointed out yesterday, to the band’s lyrical sophistication. But it isn’t only their lyricism, or their self-sustaining subculture, that has consistently won them generations of devoted followers born long after Jerry Garcia and company got their start at Ken Kesey’s Acid Test parties. “Long before it became necessary (or cool) to do so,” writes Wired, “the band embraced a DIY ethos in everything from manufacturing its own gear to publishing its own music distribution system. The Dead’s obsession with technology was almost inseparable from the band’s psychedelic ambition and artistic independence.”

Not only has the Dead fostered what is surely the most widespread bootleg industry in existence, but they also “pioneered rock concert broadcasts,” starting with a Carousel Ballroom show in 1968. Thanks to the spread of the Grateful Dead gospel through channels both official and unofficial, we have access to quality recordings of Jerry Garcia’s last show with the Grateful Dead twenty years ago, and to their last shows as a band, played just this past week in a two-city, 50th anniversary “Fare Thee Well” series of concerts in Santa Clara and at Chicago’s Soldier’s Field. The final shows are now largely available online thanks to the efforts of an enterprising “taper,” as the diligent amateur recording engineers who capture each Dead show are called.

At the top, hear “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)”—the first song on the band’s 1967 debut album—taped at the July 4th farewell gig. (Head over to NYCtaper’s site to hear/download the complete show.) And above, hear “Passenger” from the previous night. (Get the complete 7/3/2015 show here). The final July 5th show is sure to come online soon.

Opinions on these final gigs have varied widely, but no matter how uneven some of the performances, as always—scattered amidst the ramshackle jams—the Dead conjure trance states of interlocking rhythms and harmonies that make all the listening worthwhile. We may never get the chance to see them sprawl out live on stage again, but thanks to the stalwart taper community, nearly every moment of the Dead’s 50 year career in rock and roll—from the confusingly noodly to the truly sublime—has been preserved for the ages. Thousands of concerts can be found at The Internet Archive, one of the best sanctioned Grateful Dead bootleg archives on the web. Don’t miss it.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Animated Introduction to Michel Foucault, “Philosopher of Power”

Do you still need a working knowledge of the ideas of Michel Foucault to hold your own on the cocktail party circuit? Probably not, but the ideas themselves, should you bring them up there, remain as fascinating as ever. But how, apart from entering (or re-entering) grad school, to get started learning about them? Just look above: Alain de Botton’s School of Life has produced a handy eight-minute primer on the life and thought of the controversial “20th-century French philosopher and historian who spent his career forensically criticizing the power of the modern bourgeois capitalist state.”

Perhaps that sounds like a parody of the activity of a French philosopher, but if you watch, you’ll find highlighted elements of Foucault’s grand intellectual project still relevant to us today. “His goal was nothing less than to figure out how power worked,” as de Botton puts it, “and then to change it in the direction of a Marxist-anarchist utopia.” Even if you have no interest in Marxist-anarchist utopias, you’ll find much to think about in Foucault’s criticisms, summed up in the video, of institutions of power having to do with medicine, mental health, criminal justice, and sexuality — under which we all, in some form or another, still live today.

Once the School of Life has got you briefed on this wealthy altar boy (!) turned widely-polarizing, sexually avant-garde intellectual, you can get into more depth on Foucault right here on Open Culture. We’ve got his UC Berkeley lectures (in English) on “Truth and Subjectivity” and “The Culture of the Self,;” an interview with him long thought lost; a 40-minute documentary on him, and the TIME article and fanzine that got his name spreading around America. You’ll find that, though Foucault himself passed away more than thirty years ago, his observations of modern society still have an impact — and they’ll surely raise an eyebrow or two at the next office party.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Books in the Films of Wes Anderson: A Supercut for Bibliophiles

There’s something about Wes Anderson films that prompts people to get creative — to start creating their own video essays and supercuts exploring themes in Anderson’s whimsical movies. You can find a list below.

The latest comes from Luís Azevedo, founder of The A to Z Review. “Bibliophilia – Books in the Films of Wes Anderson” (above) tells this story:

In the work of Wes Anderson, books and art in general have a strong connection with memory. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) begins with a homonymous book, as does Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) begins and ends with a book. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) ends with a painting of a place which no longer exists. These movies have a clear message: books preserve stories, for they exist within them and live on through them.

For a detailed explanation of the video, bibliography, filmography and more visit this page.

I would also encourage you to watch the book animation that Anderson himself created for Moonrise Kingdom, which sadly never made it into the film. Find it here.

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The Art of Restoring a 400-Year-Old Painting: A Five-Minute Primer

Looking to expand your capacity for art appreciation, without spending much in the way of time or money?

You could play Masterpiece, or check some Sister Wendy out of the library…

Or you could watch conservator Michael Gallagher tenderly ministering to 17th-century painter Charles Le Brun‘s Everhard Jabach and His Family, above.

Long considered lost, the life-size family portrait of the artist’s friend, a leading banker and art collector, was in sorry shape when the Metropolitan Museum acquired it from a private collection earlier last year.

Gallagher worked for ten months to counteract the various indignities it had suffered, including a re-stretching that left the original canvas severely creased, and a Gilded Age application of varnish that weathered poorly over time.

It’s a painstaking process, restoring such a work to its original glory, requiring countless Q-tips and a giant roller that allowed staffers to safely flip all 9 x 10.75 feet of the massive canvas. Gallagher identifies the last step, a sprayed-on coat of varnish necessary for teasing out the painting’s original luster, as the most nerve-wracking part of the odyssey.

Now that you know what went into it, you really should go visit it in person, if only to marvel at how the majority of visitors stream obliviously past, bound for the gift shop, the cafe, or other more name brand attractions.

(Certainly Le Brun, First Painter to Louis XIV, was a name brand in his day.)

Get even more out of your visit by boning up on some notable aspects of the work itself, such as the geometry of the subjects’ placement and the artist’s self-portrait, reflected in a mirror over his patron’s shoulder.

Gallagher and other Met staffers kept a detailed account of the restoration process on the Met’s Conservation blog. Read their posts here.

via Devour

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Every Grateful Dead Song Annotated in Hypertext: Web Project Reveals the Deep Literary Foundations of the Dead’s Lyrics

Dead Last Show Poster

Just about twenty years ago, on July 9, 1995, the Grateful Dead played their last show with Jerry Garcia. Neither the fans, nor the band knew this would be so, but anyone paying attention could have seen it coming. Garcia’s cocaine and heroin use had long dominated his life; despite interventions by his bandmates, a few stints in rehab, a diabetic coma, and the death of keyboardist Brent Mydland, the singer and guitarist continued to relapse. Exactly one month after that final concert, he died of a heart attack.

And what a poignant show it was. (See the tour poster above, hear the entire set below, and see a setlist here), opening with the band’s comeback hit “Touch of Grey” and closing with a fireworks display set to Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner.” Garcia sounds frail, his voice a bit thin and ragged, and the lyrics—penned by Robert Hunter—strike a painfully ironic note: “I will get by… I will survive.” Just last night, twenty years after that moment, fans once again said goodbye to the Dead, as they played their last of three final concerts without Jerry at Chicago’s Soldier’s Field, the same venue where Garcia last sang “Touch of Grey”‘s fateful words.

The Grateful Dead’s official output may have been uneven at times, marred by excess and tragedy, but the band’s words remained consistently inspired and inspiring, each song a poetic vignette filled with oblique references and witty, heartfelt turns of phrase. We mostly have Robert Hunter to thank for those hundreds of memorable verses. An accomplished poet and translator of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, Hunter served, writes Rolling Stone, as the band’s “primary in-house poet.” In a rare and moving interview with the magazine, the reclusive writer muses on his former role, and hedges on the meaning of his songs: “I’m open to questions about interpretation, but I generally skate around my answers because I don’t want to put those songs in a box.”

Hunter’s reluctance to interpret his lyrics hasn’t stopped fans and scholars of the Dead from doing so. There have been university exhibits and academic conferences devoted to the Grateful Dead. And true students of the band can study the many literary references and allusions in their songwriting with The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, an online project begun in 1995 by UC Santa Cruz Research Associate David Dodd, and turned into a book in 2005. The extensive hypertext version of the project includes editorial footnotes explaining each song’s references, with sources. Also included in these glosses are “notes from readers,” who weigh in with their own speculations and scholarly addenda.

If you have any doubt about just how steeped in poetic history the pre-eminent hippie band’s catalog is, see for example the annotated “Terrapin Station,” a song that reaches back to Homer and alludes to Lewis Carroll, William Blake, Plato, and T.S. Eliot. Or, so, at least, say Dodd and his readers, though some of their interpretations may seem a bit tenuous. Hunter himself told Rolling Stone, “people think I have a lot more intention at what I do because it sounds very focused and intentional. Sometimes I just write the next line that occurs to me, and then I stand back and look at it and say, ‘This looks like it works.'” But just because a poet isn’t consciously quoting Homer doesn’t mean he isn’t, especially a poet as densely allusive as Robert Hunter.

Take, for example, “Uncle John’s Band,” which contains the line “Ain’t no time to hate.” One reader, Aaron Bibb, points us toward these lines of Emily Dickinson:

I had no time to Hate—
The Grave would hinder Me—
And Life was not so
Ample I
Could finish—Enmity—

Woven throughout the song are references to American poetry and folk music—from Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice,” to the Gadsden Flag, to an Appalachian rag. Another of the band’s most popular songs, “Friend of the Devil,” cribs its title and chorus from American folk singer Bill Morrissey’s song “Car and Driver”—and also references Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Drawing as much on the Western literary canon as on the American songbook, Hunter’s writing situates the Dead’s Americana in a tradition stretching over centuries and continents, giving their music depth and complexity few other rock bands can claim.

The online annotated Grateful Dead also includes “Thematic Essays,” a bibliography and “bibliography of songbooks,” films and videos, and discographies for the band and each core member. There may be no more exhaustive a reference for the band’s output contained all in one place, though readers of this post may know of comparable guides in the vast sea of Grateful Dead commentary and compendiums online, in print, and on tape. The band may have played its last show twenty years ago, and again just last night without its beloved leader, but the proliferating, serious study of their songcraft and lyrical genius shows us that they will, indeed, survive.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” Played by Musicians Around the World

As the Grateful Dead gets ready to play its final show tonight, Playing for Change has released a lovely video featuring an international cast of musicians — some well-known, some not — playing “Ripple” (studio version here), a tune from the great 1970 album American Beauty. The new clip features appearances by Bill Kreutzmann, Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Enjoy….

h/t @stevesilberman

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Stravinsky’s “Illegal” Arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner” (1944)

In 1939, Igor Stravinsky emigrated to the United States, first arriving in New York City, before settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he delivered the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard during the 1939-40 academic year. While living in Boston, the composer conducted the Boston Symphony and, on one famous occasion, he decided to conduct his own arrangement of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which he made out a “desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country.” The date was January, 1944. And he was, of course, referring to America’s role in World War II.

As you might expect, Stravinsky’s version on “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t entirely conventional, seeing that it added a dominant seventh chord to the arrangement. And the Boston police, not exactly an organization with avant-garde sensibilities, issued Stravinsky a warning, claiming there was a law against tampering with the national anthem. (They were misreading the statute.) Grudgingly, Stravinsky pulled it from the bill.

You can hear Stravinsky’s “Star-Spangled Banner” above, apparently performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The Youtube video features an apocryphal mugshot of Stravinsky. Despite the mythology created around this event, Stravinsky was never arrested.

via 3QD/Timothy Judd Violin

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

The Declaration of Independence Read by Thespians: Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Renee Zellweger & More

Somewhere along the line today, take a break from the festivities and remind yourself what we’re actually celebrating here in America — the signing of America’s founding document 239 years ago. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence remains perhaps the best statement of our country’s aspirations. And after the Supreme Court’s recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision, many would say that the document — proclaiming that “all men are created equal” and have inalienable rights, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — feels more alive than it has for some time. But no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, it’s helpful to return to The Declaration and its core principles. You can read the opening lines below, and the full text here.

Above, we have some very recognizable Hollywood celebs (including eight Oscar winners) reading The Declaration. (Beneath it, we’ve included a grainier version that features a nice preface by Morgan Freeman). For the sake of making this worthwhile, pretend it isn’t the infamous Mel Gibson reading the very first lines.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

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A Day in the Life of Zen Monk Leonard Cohen: A 1996 Documentary

I don’t think anybody really knows why they’re doing anything. If you stop someone on the subway and say, “Where are you going – in the deepest sense of the word?” you can’t really expect an answer. I really don’t know why I’m here. It’s a matter of “What else would I be doing?” Do I want to be Frank Sinatra, who’s really great, and do I want to have great retrospectives of my work? I’m not really interested in being the oldest folksinger around. 

– Leonard Cohen, speaking to author Pico Iyer in April 1998


One need not have lived a rock n’ roll lifestyle to be familiar with its pleasures and pitfalls. That heady mix of drugs, sex, and public adulation isn’t sustainable. Some can’t survive it. Some retire to a more staid domestic scene while others are left chasing a spotlight that’s unlikely to favor them twice. But rarely do you find one who chooses to give it all up to become a Buddhist monk.

Well, not all.

As director Armelle Brusq’s 1996 documentary, above, shows, singer-songwriter—and yes—Zen monk Leonard Cohen’s routine at the Mount Baldy Zen Center outside Los Angeles extended beyond the usual mindfulness practice. His simple quarters were outfitted with a computer, printer, radio, and a Technics KN 3000 synthesizer. He sometimes doffed his robes to enter the recording studio or enjoy a bowl of soup at Canter’s Deli. Comparatively, his worldly attachments were few, divvied between the professionally necessary and the fond. Still, calling his daughter, Lorca, to pass along a veterinarian’s update, Cohen sounds every inch the doting Jewish dad.

Celebrity devotion to Kabbalah or various Eastern spiritual practices often stinks of the superficial, a passing fancy that won’t last more than a year or two. Cohen’s relation to Zen Buddhism is enduring, a gift from his longtime friend and teacher, Mount Baldy’s Roshi, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, who died last year at the age of 107.

One of Cohen’s responsibilities was helping Roshi with the myriad small details the elderly abbot would have had difficulty navigating on his own. Cohen seems entirely at peace in the roadie role, keeping track of luggage while on tour, and fetching cones for the entire party from a nearby ice cream truck.

The poem Cohen penned in honor of Roshi’s 89th birthday is of a piece with his most enduring work. Think Suzanne’s oranges were the only fruit? Not so:

His stomach’s very happy

The prunes are working well

There’s no one left in heaven

And there’s no one going to hell

Filmmaker Brusq is chiefly concerned with documenting Cohen’s spiritual reality, but she tosses in a few treats for those hungry for pop iconography, particularly the impromptu show-and-tell at the 25-minute mark, when the crew peeks into the legend’s memorabilia-filled LA office.

The soundtrack, too, is music to a Cohen fan’s ears, and lyrically inspired given the subject:

Waiting for The Miracle


A Thousand Kisses Deep 


The Future


Dance Me to the End of Love

Closing Time

Never Any Good

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Happy 18th birthday to her favorite formerly-17-year-old playwright! Follow her @AyunHalliday