Watch the Opening of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with the Original, Unused Score

How does a movie become a “classic”? Explanations, never less than utterly subjective, will vary from cinephile to cinephile, but I would submit that classic-film status, as traditionally understood, requires that all elements of the production work in at least near-perfect harmony: the cinematography, the casting, the editing, the design, the setting, the score. Outside first-year film studies seminars and deliberately contrarian culture columns, the label of classic, once attained, goes practically undisputed. Even those who actively dislike Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance, would surely agree that its every last audiovisual nuance serves its distinctive, bold vision — especially that opening use of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

But Kubrick didn’t always intend to use that piece, nor the other orchestral works we’ve come to closely associate with mankind’s ventures into realms beyond Earth and struggles with intelligence of its own invention. According to Kottke, Kubrick had commissioned an original score from A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf composer Alex North. At the top of the post, you can see 2001‘s opening with North’s music, and just above you can hear 38 minutes of his score on Rdio. As to the question of why Kubrick stuck instead with the temporary score of Strauss, Ligeti, and Khatchaturian he’d used in editing, Kottke quotes from Michel Ciment’s interview with the filmmaker:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? [ … ]  Although [North] and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that, a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film.

North didn’t find out about Kubrick’s choice until 2001‘s New York City premiere. Not an enviable situation, certainly, but not the worst thing that ever happened to a collaborator who failed to rise to the director’s expectations.
For more Kubrick and classical music, see our recent post: The Classical Music in Stanley Kubrick’s Films: Listen to a Free, 4 Hour Playlist

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Ayn Rand’s Reviews of Children’s Movies: From Bambi to Frozen

white rand

Warm and fuzzy, she wasn’t. But that’s partly why it’s fun to imagine the acerbic Ayn Rand taking a crack at reviewing children’s movies. And that’s why it’s fun to read Mallory Ortberg’s parody in The New Yorker, which features 17 Randian reviews of classic kids films, beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars.

Get the remaining movie reviews — and a few more laughs — right here.

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Download the John Lennon/Yoko Ono “War is Over (If You Want It)” Poster in 100+ Languages

war is over

Over on the ImaginePeace website, Yoko Ono invites you to download and share a poster declaring “War is Over (If You Want It)” in over 100 languages — everything from Arabic and Afrikaans to GermanHindiTibetan and Yiddish. Those words were first made famous, of course, by Lennon and Ono’s 1971 Christmas/Vietnam War protest song. And though we’re not really closer to achieving world peace four decades later, it’s something we can certainly aspire to.

All posters can be downloaded in various different sizes, with the largest being 3000 x 4000. (Also find small versions that can be loaded as wallpaper onto your smart phone.) Better yet, the posters are made available under a Creative Commons license. To get more of the backstory on John and Yoko’s peace initiatives, watch the clip below.

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Lou Reeds Sings “Blue Christmas” with Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright & Friends

Elvis Presley recorded “Blue Christmas” for his Christmas album in 1957 and made the song something of a holiday classic. In the years to come, “Blue Christmas” would be covered by Johnny Mathis, Johnny Cash, The Misfits, Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Bon Jovi and eventually Lou Reed too. Above, we have Lou performing the song at the Knitting Factory in December 2008. He’s joined on stage by Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, the McGarrigle sisters, his wife Laurie Anderson, Chaim Tannebaum, and Joel Zifkin. Below, find Lou providing the musical background for Sean Lennon and a host of musicians, who play a stirring version of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” Both clips appear on the DVD A Not So Silent Night.


F for Fake: Orson Welles’ Short Film & Trailer That Was Never Released in America

Ask Orson Welles enthusiasts to name the filmmaker’s masterpiece, and most will, of course, name Citizen Kane. While Welles’ very first feature film may lay credible claim to the title of not just the finest in his oeuvre but the finest film ever made, a growing minority of dissenters have, in recent years, plumped for his last: 1974’s F for Fake. Too truthful to call a fiction film and too filled with lies to call a documentary, it brings together such seemingly disparate themes as authorship, authenticity, art forgery, architecture, and girl-watching into what Welles himself thought of as “a new kind of film,” but which cinephiles might now consider an “essay film,” a form exemplified by the works of, to name a well-known proponent, La jetee and Sans soleil director Chris Marker.

Alas, Welles revealed F for Fake in 1974 to an unready world: audiences didn’t quite understand it, and what distributors showed interest in buying it didn’t quite offer enough money. The feature finally came out in America in 1976, and for the occasion Welles put together the nine-minute “trailer,” never actually screened in a theater, at the top of the post, a short essay film in and of itself possessed of a similar style to but consisting of no footage from the full-length F for Fake. As with the picture to which it ostensibly offers a preview, Welles made it in collaboration with B-movie cinematographer Gary Graver and his girlfriend Oja Kodar — the one you see posing with the tiger — hoping to tantalize with a suggestion of the dance of truth and falsity the film does around such storied figures as Pablo Picasso, Howard Hughes, and infamous art forger Elmyr de Hory.

In the clip after that, you can hear filmmaker (and something of a Boswell for Welles) Peter Bogdanovich briefly discuss the origin of F for Fake as well as the film’s sheer unusualness. “My favorite moment is when he talks about Chartres, this extraordinary cathedral of Chartres which nobody knows who designed, how its authorship is anonymous and he connects that to the whole idea of authorship and fakery.” That sequence from the full movie appears just above; just below, have another taste in the form of one of its passages on Picasso, featuring Kojar as the artist’s ostensible former mistress. Seem strange? Take Bogdanovich’s words to heart: “If you get on the film’s wavelength and listen to what he’s saying and what what he’s doing, it’s riveting. It takes you along through the rhythm of the cutting, and of Orson’s personality. If you fight it, and you expect it to be a linear kind of thing, then you’re not going to enjoy it.”

You can find more short films by Orson Welles in our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How William S. Burroughs Used the Cut-Up Technique to Shut Down London’s First Espresso Bar (1972)

As we’ve noted before, the English coffeehouse has served as a staging ground for radical, sometimes revolutionary social change. Certainly this was the case during the Enlightenment, as it was with the salons in France. And yet, by the early 20th century it seems, coffee shops in London had grown scarcer and more humdrum. That is until 1953 when the Moka Bar, the UK’s first Italian espresso bar, opened in Soho. On his blog The Great Wen, Peter Watts describes its arrival as “a momentous event”:

London’s first proper coffee shop—one equipped with a Gaggia coffee machine—opened at 29 Frith Street. This was a place where teenagers too young for pubs could come and gather, and it is said by some that the introduction of this coffee bar prompted the youth culture explosion that soon changed social life in Britain forever.

“By 1972,” Watts writes, “coffee bars were everywhere and the teenage revolution was firmly established.” Places like the Moka Bar might seem like the ideal place for countercultural maven William S. Burroughs—a London resident from the late sixties to early seventies—to hobnob with young dissidents and outsiders. Burroughs, who so approvingly refers the possibly apocryphal anarchist pirate colony of Libertatia in his Cities of the Red Night, would, one might think, appreciate the budding anarchism of British youth culture, which would flower into punk soon enough.


But rather than joining the coffee bar scene, the cantankerous Burroughs had taken to frequenting “plush gentlemen’s shops of the area, not to mention the ‘Dilly Boys,’ young male prostitutes who hustled for clients outside the Regent Palace Hotel.” And he had grown increasingly disillusioned with London, fuming, writes Ted Morgan in Burroughs biography Literary Outlaw, “at what he was paying for his hole-in-the-wall apartment with a closet for a kitchen” and at the rising price of utilities. “Burroughs,” Morgan tells us, “began to feel that he was in enemy territory.” And he thought the Moka coffee bar should pay the price for his indignities.

There, “on several occasions a snarling counterman had treated him with outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy, and served him poisonous cheesecake that made him sick.” Burroughs “decided to retaliate by putting a curse on the place.” He chose a means of attack that he’d earlier employed against the Church of Scientology, “turning up… every day,” writes Watts, “taking photographs and making sound recordings.” Then he would play them back a day or so later on the street outside the Moka. “The idea,” writes Morgan, “was to place the Moka Bar out of time. You played back a tape that had taken place two days ago and you superimposed it on what was happening now, which pulled them out of their time position.”

Burroughs also connected the method to the Watergate recordings, the Garden of Eden, and the theories of Alfred Korzybski. The trigger for the magical operation was, in his words, “playback.” In a very strange essay called “Feedback from Watergate to the Garden of Eden,” from his collection Electronic Revolution, Burroughs described his operation in detail, a disruption, he wrote, of a “control system.”

Now to apply the 3 tape recorder analogy to this simple operation. Tape recorder 1 is the Moka Bar itself it is pristine condition. Tape recorder 2 is my recordings of the Moka Bar vicinity. These recordings are access. Tape recorder 2 in the Garden of Eden was Eve made from Adam. So a recording made from the Moka Bar is a piece of the Moka Bar. The recording once made, this piece becomes autonomous and out of their control. Tape recorder 3 is playback. Adam experiences shame when his discraceful behavior is played back to him by tape recorder 3 which is God. By playing back my recordings to the Moka Bar when I want and with any changes I wish to make in the recordings, I become God for this local. I effect them. They cannot effect me.

The theory made perfect sense to Burroughs, who believed in a Magical Universe ruled by occult forces and who experimented heavily with Scientology, Crowley-an Magick, and the orgone energy of Wilhelm Reich. The attack on the Moka worked, or at least Burroughs believed it did. “They are seething in there,” he wrote, “I have them and they know it.” On October 30th, 1972  the establishment closed its doors—perhaps a consequence of those rising rents that so irked the Beat writer—and the location became the Queens Snack Bar.

The audio-visual cut-up technique Burroughs used in his attack against the Moka Bar was a method derived by Burroughs and Brion Gysin from their experiments with written “cut-ups,” and Burroughs applied it to film as well. At the top of the post, see an interpretive “meditation” based on Burroughs’ use of audio/visual “magical weapons” and incorporating his recordings. Above is “The Cut Ups,” a short film Burroughs himself made in 1966 with cinematographer Antony Balch, a disorienting illustration of the cut up technique.

Not limited to attacking annoying London coffeehouse owners, Burroughs’ supposedly magical interventions in reality were in fact the fullest expression of his creativity. As Ted Morgan writes, “the single most important thing about Burroughs was his belief in the magical universe. The same impulse that lead him to put out curses was, as he saw it, the source of his writing.” Read much more about Burroughs’ theory and practice in Matthew Levi Stevens’ essay “The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs,” and hear the author himself discourse on the paranormal, tape cut-ups, and much more in the lecture below from a writing class he gave in June, 1986.

via The Great Wen

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

Ideasthesia: An Animated Look at How Ideas Feel

Danko Nikolic, a researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, has come up with a theory called “ideasthesia,” which questions the reality of two philosophical dualities: 1.) the mind and body, and 2.) sense perception and ideas. Nikolic’s research suggests that these dualities may not exist at all, and particularly that sense perception and ideas are inextricably bound up in one another. If you want to better understand “ideasthesia,” I can’t recommend reading the term’s Wikipedia page. It’s tough sledding. But you can make it through Nikolic’s TED-Ed video released last month. It still requires you to wear a thinking cap. But if you’re reading this site, you’re probably willing to put one on for five minutes.

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Discover the Church of St. John Coltrane, Founded on the Divine Music of A Love Supreme

For some time now, people like poet Robert Graves and countercultural guru Timothy Leary have assumed that ancient religion and mysticism were the products of mind-altering drugs. But in the case of one modern religious experience—the inspiration behind John Coltrane’s holy four-part suite, A Love Supreme—it was the distinct absence of drugs that lit the flame. Like many recovering addicts, Coltrane found God in 1957, after having what he called in the album’s liner notes “a spiritual awakening.” Seven years later, he dedicated his masterpiece, “a humble, offering,” to the deity he credited with “a richer, fuller, more productive life.” No rote hymnal, chant, or psalter, A Love Supreme offers itself up to the listener as the product of intensely personal devotion. And like the ecstatic revelations of many a saint, Coltrane’s work has inspired its own devotional cult—The Church of St. Coltrane.

Presided over by Bishop Franzo King and his wife Reverend Mother Marina King, the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco reminds people, says Bishop King in the short documentary at the top of the post, “that God is never without a witness. St. John Coltrane is that witness for this time and this age.” Dig. The vibe of the Coltrane congregation is “a rapturous out-of-your-head-ness” writes Aeon magazine in their introduction to another short film about the church. And just above, you can meet more of the worshippers—of the music, its creator, and his god—in “The Saxophone Saint,” yet another profile of St. Coltrane’s prodigious religious influence. The congregation, NPR tells us, “mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes” and of course music, and A Love Supreme is “the cornerstone of the [Bishop King’s] 200-member church.”

King cites the titles of the suite’s four movements—“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm”—as the basis for his form of worship: “It’s like saying, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ It’s like saying Melody, harmony and rhythm.’ In other words, you have to acknowledge and then you resolve and then you pursue, and the manifestation of it is a love supreme.” The Kings founded the church in 1969, but their introduction to the power of Coltrane came four years earlier when they saw him perform at the San Francisco Jazz Workshop, an experience they describe on their website as a “sound baptism.” Since its inception, they tell us, the church “has grown beyond the confines of San Francisco to include the whole globe. Every Sunday, the congregation includes members and visitors from throughout the world.”

That diverse assembly recently filled the sanctuary of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral for a service in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme on Monday, December 8th. Just above you can see Bishop King open the service. His inspired delivery should convince you, as it did New York Times reporter Samuel Freedman, that “the Coltrane church is not a gimmick or a forced alloy of nightclub music and ethereal faith. Its message of deliverance through divine sound is actually quite consistent with Coltrane’s own experience and message.” Hear for yourself in the film below of Coltrane playing A Love Supreme live in Antibes, France, the only live performance of the piece he ever gave.

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

Noam Chomsky Almost Appeared on Saturday Night Live During the 90s


Image by jeanbaptisteparis

There are those guest hosts on Saturday Night Live who immediately become exemplary cast members they fit in so well. I’m thinking mostly of Alec Baldwin. Then there are those—certain pop stars and athletes—who are too awkward even to make for unintentional humor. Sometimes the show will choose a host for obvious cultural or political reasons, whether or not that person has any sense of humor whatsoever. Lorne Michaels even once considered asking notoriously stiff then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney to host in 2012, a prospect that excited no one except maybe Romney.

Given the show’s many questionable choices, it’s maybe not too surprising that it would consider asking an academic to host. Some extroverted public intellectuals, like Cornell West and Slavoj Zizeck, are natural entertainers. But that they would think of Noam Chomsky—known for his rumpled sweaters and incisive, unsparing geopolitical analysis, delivered in the driest monotone this side of Ben Stein’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off character—is, well, pretty odd.

It does make a little bit more sense considering that they only asked Professor Chomsky to play himself on the show, not deliver a monologue or do impersonations. According to his assistant Bev Stohl, the show called sometime in the late 90s and told her that the “writers had written a loose script for Noam. The only thing he needed to do was show up on the set and play it straight, answering the questions that were put to him. Sort of like, ‘I’m Noam Chomsky, and I play myself on TV.’” Mostly, writes Stohl on her blog, “I liked the idea of Noam appearing in mainstream media, something that was just beginning to happen in small ways in the 1990’s.”

And how did Chomsky himself feel about the request? It seems he was vaguely familiar with the show and open to the idea. His wife, on the other hand, was not. “After a brief exchange” with her, writes Critical Theory, “he informed Stohl that ‘Carol says no.’” We’ll never know if we were “robbed of either the greatest SNL skit ever” or spared “another terribly unfunny segment,” but the question of whether Chomsky can be funny is still an open one. Matthew Alford at The Guardian writes that during the Q&A after a lecture he attended, “Chomsky was successful not only at conveying his radical political message but also at raising belly laughs from the audience with dark-laced, insightful humour about his politics.” Alford says he measured “a laugh every couple of minutes—very high for a public intellectual but of course not close to the professional comic’s benchmark of one gag every 20 seconds.” He offers some typical Chomsky-an one-liners, such as:

“[The Bush administration’s] moral values are very explicit: shine the boots of the rich and powerful, kick everyone else in the face, and let your grandchildren pay for it.”

“If you’ve resisted the temptation to tell the teacher ‘you’re an asshole’ which maybe he or she is, and if you don’t say ‘that’s idiotic’ when you get a stupid assignment… you will end up at a good college and eventually with a good job.”

And “It’s to the point where Ronald Reagan could put on his cowboy boots and cowboy hat and declare a national emergency because the national security of the United States was in danger from the government of Nicaragua… whose troops were two days from Texas.”

Above, you can catch a glimpse of the lighter side of Chomsky.

via Critical Theory

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

John Cage Performs Water Walk on US Game Show I’ve Got a Secret (1960)

Back in 2011, we featured John Cage’s 1960 television performance of his piece Water WalkIts video quality may have left something to be desired, but now, thanks to the YouTube channel of Bard College’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, you can watch the entire ten-minute segment in much crisper quality than most surviving programs from that era. This unlikely happening occurred on I’ve Got a Secret, the long-running occupation-guessing game show whose guest roster also included chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, “fifth Beatle” Pete Best, and fried-chicken icon Colonel Harland Sanders. For this particular episode, wrote Dan Colman in our earlier post, “the TV show offered Cage something of a teachable moment, a chance to introduce the broader public to his brand of avant-garde music.”

For Water Walk, Cage rounded up a variety of “instruments” all to do with that liquid — a bathtub, a pitcher, ice cubes in a mixer — and the unconventional symphony they produce culminates in the Rube Goldbergian mixing of a drink, the sipping of which the composition dictates about two and a half minutes in. Naturally, Cage being Cage, the piece incorporates audience reaction noises; when host Gary Moore warns him that certain members of the studio audience will laugh, Cage responds, “I consider laughter better than tears.”

You can learn more about this intersection of far forward-thinking artistry and the midcentury televisual mainstream in Laura Paolini’s piece “John Cage’s Secret,” available at “At that moment in 1960, a rupture was being deepened,” Paolini writes. “High art and low were becoming more and more comfortable with one another over the airwaves. At this moment, as the screens glow their blue auras into the homes of North America, everyone sees something they haven’t seen before. And everyone has an opinion about it.” And those opinions, I like to think Cage would have said, only extend the art further.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.