Watch 99 Movies Free Online Courtesy of YouTube & MGM: Rocky, The Terminator, Four Weddings and a Funeral & More

We all have those major motion pictures we're sure we'll see one day, but somehow haven't seen yet. Usually they've had such a huge influence on popular culture, inspiring decades of references, homages, and jokes, that we feel like we've seen them anyway. Back in the days of yore when television reigned supreme, we might occasionally catch one of them (or most of one of them) while flipping channels at night, albeit in a form re-edited to remove sensitive content and fit the image onto a square screen. Given how dramatically those viewing practices have migrated to the internet in the 21st century, it only makes good sense that Youtube — that vast temple of modern-day channel-flipping — would strike a deal with a Hollywood studio to make more than a few of these movies available, free to view.

Just this month, MGM put nearly 100 of its films up on Youtube, some of the best known of which include The Terminator, the Rocky and Pink Panther movies, Legally Blonde, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Some of them you've almost certainly seen (and quite possibly want to see again), and others you've been meaning to see for ten, twenty, thirty, maybe even forty years.

Just like on television, the fact that you can watch them for free means that they come with ads, albeit ads less intrusive than traditional commercial breaks — unless you pay the monthly $9.99 USD for Youtube Premium, in which case they'll play ad-free. (And in any case, they're available at the moment only to viewers in the United States.) And also, as in the days of wee-hours channel-surfing, you'll find the acclaimed classics mixed in with lesser-known pictures, even oddities, that may hold even more cinematic fascination.

Some of the unexpected titles among MGM's free movies on Youtube include documentaries like Jiro Dreams of Sushi — the one about the most sternly and obsessively dedicated sushi chef in Tokyo, and probably the world, you may remember everyone talking about a few years ago — and With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, posted no doubt in tribute to the recently deceased comic book-industry legend. Cinematically-inclined readers who remember with amusement the internet and our perceptions of the internet back in the cable-TV days should take note that the free MGM collection on Youtube Movies also includes Hackers, Hollywood's most vivid depiction of the fear and optimism that swirled around computers and their connectedness in the mid-1990s. We had a fair few unrealistic expectations of the internet back then, which that movie and movies like it now reveal, but how many of us dared imagine that it would take over the role of the television?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“More Barn!” The Story of How Neil Young First Played Harvest for Graham Nash (1972)

Everyone knows the punchline “more cowbell” from SNL’s affectionate jab at the Blue Öyster Cult’s enthusiasm. But how many people know the true story of “more barn”?

Too precious few, I’d say.

It’s a classic from that icon of classic rock, Neil Young, a yarn—as told by Graham Nash—that defies parody, and beautifully illustrates the absurdity of Neil Young’s commitment to raw, rustic authenticity. For his dedicated fans, Neil’s ramshackle methods always yield worthy results. Even when he’s off, he’s so damned into it, it’s hard to ever fault him.

And when he’s on—in masterpieces like 1972’s Harvest—Neil does no wrong. His talents stretch beyond intensely impassioned songcraft and delivery to a holistic appreciation of sound in all its forms (and a loathing for technology that does sound an injustice).

In the interview above with NPR’s Terry Gross after the publication of his book Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Young’s erstwhile CSNY bandmate Nash recounts the day Young first played him Harvest:

The man is totally committed to the muse of music. And he'll do anything for good music. And sometimes it's very strange. I was at Neil's ranch one day just south of San Francisco, and he has a beautiful lake with red-wing blackbirds. And he asked me if I wanted to hear his new album, "Harvest." And I said sure, let's go into the studio and listen.

Oh, no. That's not what Neil had in mind. He said get into the rowboat.

I said get into the rowboat? He said, yeah, we're going to go out into the middle of the lake. Now, I think he's got a little cassette player with him or a little, you know, early digital format player. So I'm thinking I'm going to wear headphones and listen in the relative peace in the middle of Neil's lake.

Oh, no. He has his entire house as the left speaker and his entire barn as the right speaker. And I heard "Harvest" coming out of these two incredibly large loud speakers louder than hell. It was unbelievable. Elliot Mazer, who produced Neil, produced "Harvest," came down to the shore of the lake and he shouted out to Neil: How was that, Neil?

And I swear to god, Neil Young shouted back: More barn!

Now, whether or not that last bit is a Nash invention, it must forever remain the punchline of the story, which must always be referred to as “more barn.” But there’s no reason to think it didn’t happen just the way Nash tells it.

In the film at the top, Young listens to playback of Harvest through the barn, comments on the “natural echo” of its reverberations from yonder hillside, drinks a Coors, and lounges in the straw. (He also talks in earnest depth about the ethical and personal challenges of being a "rich hippie.")

I’ve heard this album countless times through headphones and stereo, surround, and car speakers, but until I can yell out “more barn!” I'm convinced I have not truly heard it at all.

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

How the Inca Used Intricately-Knotted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their Histories, Send Messages & Keep Records

Those of us who learned to write in a (mostly) phonetic language learned to take it for granted that writing should correspond (roughly) to sound. Then we learned of the pictographs, ideographs, and logograms of the Chinese alphabet, or of Ancient Egyptian or Mayan, or of other non-phonemic orthographies, and we were forced to revise earlier assumptions. Those who pursue the study of symbolic systems even further will eventually come to meet khipu, the Incan system of record-keeping that uses intricately knotted rope.

Khipu, long thought an abacus-like means of bookkeeping, has recently been acknowledged as much more than that, countering a scholarly view Daniel Cossins summarizes at New Scientist as the belief that the Incas, despite their technological and political “sophistication… never learned to write.” This European logocentrism (in the Derridean sense), persisted for centuries despite some evidence to the contrary four hundred years ago.

For example, the poet Garcilaso de la Vega, son of an Incan princess and Spanish conquistador, wrote in 1609 that the Incas “recorded on knots everything that could be counted, even mentioning battles and fights, all the embassies that had come to visit the Inca, and all the speeches and arguments they had uttered.” There may be some hyperbole here. In any case, the point “was moot,” notes Cossins, “because no one could read any of them."

Like mostly illiterate cultures in the West and East that relied on scribes for record-keeping, Incan civilization relied on khipumayuq, “or the keepers of the khipus, a specially trained caste who could tie and read the cords.” As explorer Alejandro Chu and Patricia Landa, Conservator of the Incahuasi Archeological Project, explain in the National Geographic video at the top, these specialists died, or were killed off, before they could pass their knowledge to the next generations.

But the linguistic code, it seems, may have been cracked—by an undergraduate freshman economics major at Harvard named Manny Medrano. As Atlas Obscura reported last year, Medrano, working under his professor of Pre-Columbian studies, Gary Urton, spent his spring break matching a set of six khipu against a colonial-era Spanish census document. He was able to confirm what scholars had long assumed, that khipu kept track of census and other administrative data.

Moreover, though, Medrano “noticed that the way each cord was tied onto the khipu seemed to correspond to the social status of the 132 people recorded in the census document. The colors of the strings also appeared to be related to the people’s first names.” (Now a senior, Medrano’s findings have been published in the journal Ethnohistory; he is first author on the paper, “indicating that he contributed the bulk of the research”).

This research shows how khipu can tell stories as well as record data sets. Medrano built upon decades of work done by Urton and other scholars, which Cossins summarizes in more detail. Other ethnographers like St. Andrews’ Sabine Hyland have had similar epiphanies. Hyland chanced upon a woman in Lima who pointed her to khipus in the village of San Juan de Collata. The villagers “believe them to be narrative epistles,” writes Cossins, “created by local chiefs during a rebellion against the Spanish in the late 18th century.”

After careful analysis, Hyland found that the khipus' pendant cords “came in 95 different combinations of colour, fibre type and direction of ply. That is within the range of symbols typically found in syllabic writing systems.” She has since hypothesized that khipu “contain a combination of phonetic symbols and ideographic ones, where a symbol represents a whole word.”

Hyland grants it's possible that later khipus made after contact with the Spanish may have absorbed an alphabet from Spanish writing. Nevertheless, these findings should make us wonder what other artifacts from around the world preserve a language Western scholars have never learned how to read.

Attempts to decipher khipus use all sorts of comparative methods, from comparing them with each other to comparing them with contemporary Spanish documents. But one innovative method at MIT began by comparing Incan khipu with student attempts to create their own rope language, in a 2007 course led by the “Khipu Research Group," a collection of scholars, including Urton, from archeology, electrical engineering, and computer science.

“To gain insight into this question” of how the code might work, the syllabus notes, “this class will explore how you would record language with knots in rope.” Maybe you’d rather skip the guesswork and learn how to make a khipu the way the Inca may have done? If so, see the series of six videos above by Harvard Ph.D. student in archeology, Jon Clindaniel. And to learn as much about khipu as you might ever hope to know, check out the Khipu Database Project at Harvard, whose goal is to collect “all known information about khipu into one centralized repository.”

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

Alan Watts Dispenses Wit & Wisdom on the Meaning of Life in Three Animated Videos

Since his death in 1973, the popular British philosopher, writer, speaker, and onetime-Episcopal-priest-turned-student-of-Zen-and-wildly-eclectic-countercultural-spiritual-thinker Alan Watts has become a cottage industry of sorts. And if you were unfamiliar with his work, you might think—given this description and the mention of the word “industry”—that Watts founded some sort of self-help seminar series, the kind in which people make a considerable investment of time and money.

In a sense, he did: the Alan Watts Organization (previously known as the Alan Watts Electronic University, the Alan Watts Center, or the Alan Watts Project) maintains Watts’ prolific audio and video archives. Founded in the last year of his life by Watts and his son Mark, the Organization charges for access to most of his work. The collections are pricey. Albums of talks on such subjects as Buddhism and Comparative Philosophy and Religion are extensive, but come at a cost.

Though the organization offers free content, you could find yourself spending several hundred dollars to hear the collected Watts lectures. It's money the Mark Watts suggests covers the “substantial undertaking” of digitizing hundreds of hours of recordings on lacquered disks and magnetic reels. These are noble and necessary efforts, but fans of Watts will know that hundreds of selections from his deeply engaging talks are also freely available on YouTube, many of them with nifty animations and musical accompaniment, like the videos here from After Skool.

Watts would likely have been pleased with this situation—he loved to give out wisdom widely and kept no esoteric trade secrets. But he was also, by his own admission, “a spiritual/philosophical entertainer,” who made a living telling people some of the most unsettling, counterintuitive metaphysical truths there are. He did it with humor, erudition and compassion, with intellectual clarity and rhetorical aplomb.

So what did he have to tell us? That we should join the church of Alan Watts? Attend his next lecture and buy his book? Shape our lives into an emulation of Alan Watts? Though he wore the trappings of a Western expositor of Eastern thought, and embraced all kinds of non-traditional beliefs and practices, Watts was too ironical and detached to be a guru. He couldn’t take himself seriously enough for that.

If there’s any one thread that runs through the incredibly broad range of subjects he covered, it’s that we should never take ourselves too seriously either. We buy into stories and ideas and think of them as concrete entities that form the boundaries of identity and existence: stories like thinking of life as a “journey” on the way to some specific denouement. Not so, as Watts says in the animated video at the top. Life is an art, a form of play: “the whole point of the dancing is the dance.”

But what about the meaning of life? Is Alan Watts going to reveal it in the last course of his ten-week session (payable in installments)? Will we discover it in a series of self-improvement packages? No. The meaning of life he says, is life. “The situation of life is optimal.” But how is anyone supposed to judge what's good without unchanging external standards? A classic Zen story about a Chinese farmer offers a concise illustration of why we may have no need—and no real ability—to make any judgments at all.

You’ll find many more free excerpts of Watts’ lectures—of varying lengths and with or without animations, on YouTube. To get a further taste of his spiritual and philosophical distillations, see the links below.

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

Watch Jeff Beck Smash His Guitar While Jimmy Page & the Yardbirds Jam By His Side: A Classic Scene from Antonioni’s Blowup (1966)

Art film and rock and roll have, since the 60s, been soulmates of a kind, with many an acclaimed director turning to musicians as actors, commissioning rock stars as soundtrack artists, and filming scenes with bands. Before Nicolas Roeg, Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and other rock-loving auteurs did all of the above, there was Michelangelo Antonioni, who barreled into the English-language market, under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with a trilogy of films steeped in the sights and sounds of sixties counterculture.

Blowup, the first and by far the best of these, though scored by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, prominently featured the Yardbirds—with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. In the memorable scene above, Beck smashes his guitar to bits after his amp goes on the fritz. The Italian director “envisioned a scene similar to that of Pete Townshend’s famous ritual of smashing his guitar on stage,” notes Guitarworld’s Jonathan Graham. “Antonioni had even asked The Who to appear in the film,” but they refused.

In stepped the Yardbirds, during a pivotal moment in their career. The year before, they released mega-hit “For Your Love,” and said goodbye to lead guitarist Eric Clapton. Beck, his replacement, heralded a much wilder, more experimental phase for the band. Jeff Beck, it seemed, could play anything, but what he didn’t do much of onstage is emote. Next to the guitar-smashing Townshend or the fire-setting Hendrix (see both below), he was a pretty reserved performer, though no less thrilling to watch for his virtuosity and style.

But as he tells it, Antonioni wouldn’t let the band do their “most exciting thing,” a cover of “Smokestack Lightning” that “had this incredible buildup in the middle which was just pow!” That moment would have been the natural pretext for a good guitar smashing.

Instead, the set piece with the broken amp gives the introverted Beck a reason to get agitated. As Graham describes it, he also played a guitar specially designated as a prop:

Due to issues over publishing, the Yardbirds classic “Train Kept A-Rollin',” was reworked as “Stroll On” for the performance, and as the scene involved the destruction of an instrument, Beck’s usual choice of his iconic Esquire or Les Paul was swapped for a cheap, hollow-body stand-in that he was directed to smash at the song’s conclusion.

The scene is more a tantrum than the orgiastic onstage freak-out Townshend would probably have delivered. Its chief virtue for Yardbird's fans lies not in the funny, out-of-character moment (which SF Gate film critic Mick LaSalle calls “one of the weirdest scenes in the movie”). Rather, it was “the chance,” as one fan tells LaSalle, “in the days before MTV and YouTube, to see the Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.” Antonioni had seized the moment. In addition to firing “the opening salvo of the emerging ‘film generation,’” as Roger Ebert wrote, he gave contemporary fans a reason (in addition to explicit sex and nudity), to go see Blowup again and again.

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

How Nicolas Roeg (RIP) Used David Bowie, Mick Jagger & Art Garfunkel in His Mind-Bending Films

Critics have applauded Bradley Cooper for the bold move of casting Lady Gaga in his new remake of A Star Is Born, and as its titular star at that. As much cinematic daring as it takes to cast a high-profile musician in their first starring role in the movies, the act has its precedents, thanks not least to filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, who died last week. Having started out at the bottom of the British film industry, serving tea at London's Marylebone Studios the year after World War II ended, he became a cinematographer (not least on David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia) and then a director in his own-right. That chapter of Roeg's career began with 1970's Performance, which he co-directed with Donald Cammell and in which he cast no less a rock star than Mick Jagger in his acting debut.

You can see Jagger in action in Performance's trailer, which describes the picture as "a film about madness... madness and sanity. A film about fantasy. This is a film about fantasy and reality... and sensuality. A film about death... and life. This is a film about vice... and versa."

Those words reflect something real about not just Performance itself — which crashes the end of the swinging 1960s into grim gangsterism in a manner that draws equally from Borges and Bergman — but Roeg's entire body of work, and also the struggle that marketers went through to sell it to the public. But you don't so much buy a ticket to see a Nicolas Roeg film as you buy a ticket to experience it, not least because of the particular performative qualities brought to the table by the music stars Roeg put onscreen.

In 1976 Roeg cast David Bowie as a space alien named Thomas Jerome Newton in the "shocking, mind-stretching experience in sight, in space, in sex" of The Man Who Fell to Earth, arguably the role he was born to play. "I thought of David Bowie when I first was trying to figure out who would be Mr. Newton, someone who was inside society and yet awkward in it," Roeg says in the documentary clip above. "David got more than into the character of Mr. Newton. I think he put much more of himself than we'd been able to get into the script. It was linked very much to his ideas in his music, and towards the end, I realized a big change had happened in his life." How much Bowie took from the role remains a matter for fans to discuss, though he himself admits to taking one thing in particular: the wardrobe. "I literally walked off with the clothes," he says, "and I used the same clothes on the Station to Station tour."

Even if stepping between the concert stage and the cinema screen looks natural in retrospect for the likes of Jagger and Bowie, can it work for a lower-key but nevertheless world-famous performer? Roeg's 1980 film Bad Timing cast, in the starring role of an American psychiatrist in Cold War Vienna who grows obsessed with a young American woman, Art Garfunkel of Simon and Garfunkel. (Playing the woman, incidentally, is Theresa Russell, who would later show up in Roeg's Insignificance in the role of Marilyn Monroe.) The clip above shows a bit of how Roeg uses the persona of Garfunkel, surely one of the least Dionysian among all 1960s musical icons, to infuse the character with a cerebral chill. In Roeg's New York Times obituary, Garfunkel remembers — fondly — that the director "brought me to the edge of madness." Roeg, for his part, had already paid his musician stars their compliments in that paper decades earlier: "The fact is that Jagger, Bowie and Garfunkel are all extremely bright, intelligent and well educated. A long way from the public stereotype." But will any director use performers like them in quite the same way again?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch David Bowie Take MTV to Task for Failing to Play Music Videos by Black Artists (1983)

The old vaudeville phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” has its roots in the late 19th century, specifically in Horatio Alger’s novel Five Hundred Dollars; Or Jacob Marlowe’s SecretLike all of the books Alger wrote extolling the virtues of thrift, study, grooming, industry, etc., this one articulates a middle American bootstraps philosophy and rags-to-riches mythology, while giving the entertainment industry a colorful way to sum up the small-town audiences who embraced Alger’s straight-laced ethic, and who needed to be pandered to or they wouldn’t get all those big city jokes and references.

Peoria has been many places in the U.S.—from Tulsa to Boise—but whatever the test market, the assumptions have always been the same: the American mainstream is insular, middle class or aspiring to it, culturally conservative, unfailingly white, and fearful of everyone who isn’t. Such demographic dogma has persisted for over a hundred years. Even when it is shown to be outmoded or plain wrong, broadcasters and journalists continue to play to Peoria, genuflecting to a static, populist version of the U.S. that ignores large, rapidly changing segments of the population.

In the early eighties it took an Englishman with a very high profile to interrogate this state of affairs on the air. You may have seen the interview making the rounds in 2016, after David Bowie passed away and social media began several months of mourning and memorializing. One thread that got a lot of attention involved the transcript of a 1983 interview Bowie gave the fledgling MTV, in which he “turns the tables on reporter Mark Goodman,” writes Takepart’s Jennifer Swann, “to grill him about the youth-oriented network’s lack of ethnic diversity.”

“It’s a solid enterprise, and it’s got a lot going for it,” says Bowie. “I’m just floored by the fact there’s so few black artists featured in it. Why is that?” On the spot, Goodman reaches for a marketing term, “narrowcasting,” to suggest that the network is deliberately targeting a niche. But when Bowie keeps pushing, Goodman admits that the “narrow” demographic is the very same supposed mass market that existed in Alger’s day, when the only representations of black entertainers most white audiences in Peoria (or wherever) saw were in blackface.

We have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angeles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or the Midwest. Pick some town in the Midwest that would be scared to death by Prince, which we’re playing, or a string of other black faces, or black music. We have to play music we think an entire country is going to like, and certainly we’re a rock and roll station.

What does the Isley brothers, asks Goodman, mean to a seventeen year old? To which Bowie replies, “I’ll tell you what the Isley Brothers means to a black seventeen year old, and surely he’s part of America as well.” To the defense that it’s just way things are, especially in radio, he gives a reply that might be derided by many in the readymade terms that routinely pop up in such discussions these days. Bowie, who successfully crossed over into playing for black audiences on Soul Train in the mid-seventies, would have sneered at phrases like "SJW." As he says in response to one young fan who ranted in a letter about "what he didn't want to see" on MTV: "Well that's his problem."

The Peoria effect, says Bowie, “does seem to be rampant through American media. Should it not be a challenge to make the media far more integrated, especially, if anything, in musical terms?” The “lines are beginning to blur,” Goodman admits. At the end of that year, Michael Jackson’s John Landis-directed “Thriller” video debuted and “changed music videos for ever,” breaking the primetime barriers for black artists on MTV, transforming the network “into a cultural behemoth,” as Swann writes, and giving the lie to the Peoria myth, one Bowie knew had little to do in actuality with the country’s culture or its tastes but with a narrow, archaic view of who the media should serve.

See Goodman's full interview with Bowie just above.

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

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