Why The Wire is One of the Most Brilliant TV Shows Ever

There were a lot of moments during my first view of The Wire when I realized I wasn’t watching the usual cop procedural. But the one that sticks in my head was when an obviously blitzed and blasted McNulty, the Irish-American detective that you *might* think is the hero of the show, leaves a bar, gets into his car and promptly totals it. In any other show this would have been the turning point for the character, either as a wake-up call, a reason for his boss to throw him off the case, or to gin up some suspense. But no. McNulty walks away from the accident and...it’s never really spoken about. The cops took care of their own.

Life does not follow the contours of a television drama, and neither did David Simon’s groundbreaking HBO series. Beloved characters get killed, or not, or they just transfer out of the show as in life. Nobody really gets what they want. Neither good nor evil wins.




As Simon told an audience at Loyola University, Baltimore in 2007: ““What we were trying to do was take the notion of Greek tragedy, of fated and doomed people, and instead of these Olympian gods, indifferent, venal, selfish, hurling lightning bolts and hitting people in the ass for no reason—instead of those guys whipping it on Oedipus or Achilles, it’s the postmodern institutions . . . those are the indifferent gods.”

The Wire still feels recent despite premiering in 2002 and in 4:3 ratio, no widescreen HD here. It feels recent because the problems depicted in the show still exist: corruption at all levels of city government and governance, institutionalized racism, failed schools, a collapsing fourth estate, a gutted economy, weakened unions, and a general nihilism and despondency. Simon may not have seen the Black Lives Matter movement coming, but the recipe for it, the warning of it, is there in the show.

So there’s definitely a reason to give it a re-watch to see how we’ve changed. The above essay from 2019 makes the case for The Wire as a subversion of the usual cop show, with Thomas Flight noting it “doesn’t try to grab and keep your attention. It requires it. And if you give it your attention it will reward you.”

It also reminds us of the literary giants in the writers’ room: crime novelists Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Richard Price were on the team, as was journalist Rafael Alvarez, and William F. Zorzi. That combined with David Simon’s years in journalism covering Baltimore and Ed Burns' experience on the police force meant the show feels right, and the writers did research and actual Baltimore extras were encouraged to speak up if something didn’t.

If that video essay intrigues you, there’s more in the series, though with many more spoilers, such as this one on Character and Theme.

Not long after The Wire finished its fifth and final season, there were plenty of books published on the show. And now we’re nearly two decades in from its premiere, The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill and The Ringer’s Van Lathan decided to spend quarantine kicking off a podcast where the two black cultural critics give the show a spirited re-watch. Does the show feature too much “copaganda” as my leftist critics now contend? Does it hold up like white liberals (its biggest fans, let’s be honest, despite President Obama’s shout out) think it does? The hosts just wrapped up Season Three, but if you’re ready to start the show again with commentary, here’s their first episode:

Related Content:

President Obama Chats with David Simon About Drugs, The Wire & Omar

Revisiting The Wire During 2020’s Black Lives Matter Movement
“The Wire” @ Harvard

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Blockbuster Courses on the U.S. Presidential Election Getting Started at Stanford Continuing Studies This Week


This fall, Stanford Continuing Studies presents 150+ courses in the Liberal Arts & Sciences, Creative Writing, and Professional Development, including two major courses on the U.S. presidential election. Taught by Pamela Karlan (Stanford law professor) and James Steyer (CEO, Common Sense Media), Election 2020: A Panoramic View of America's Decisive Election will feature a lineup of distinguished guest speakers--from Bill Clinton and Kara Swisher, to Steve Schmidt, David Plouffe and Andrew Yang. The other course focuses on Technology and the 2020 Election: How Silicon Valley Technologies Impact Our Elections and Shape Our Democracy. Taught by professor Rob Reich and Dutch politician Marietje Schaake, the course will feature visits from Roger McNamee, (author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe), Alex Stamos (Former Chief Security Officer, Facebook), Shoshana Zuboff, (Harvard author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism), Michael McFaul (former ambassador to Russia), and more.

These live online courses are open to adults. Although the courses aren't free, they're timely and bound to engage. Election 2020 starts today. Technology and the 2020 Election starts on Wednesday. Explore the entire Continuing Studies catalogue here.

Note: High school students can also enroll in both of these election courses. To explore that opportunity, follow these links:

Election 2020: A Panoramic View of America's Decisive Election

Technology and the 2020 Election: How Silicon Valley Technologies Impact Our Elections and Shape Our Democracy

If Werner Herzog Reviewed Trader Joe’s on Yelp: “Madness Reigns. The First Challenge Your Soul Must Endure Is the Parking Lot”

I like the Internet for various things, but it’s limited. I’m not on social media, but you will find me in the social media. There’s Facebook, there’s Twitters, but it’s all not me.

—Werner Herzog in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter

The night before his 2016 documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World premiered at Sundance, director Werner Herzog declared himself “still a liberated virgin” with regard to his reliance on the Internet:

I think we have to abandon this kind of false security that everything is settled now, that we have so much assistance by digital media and robots and artificial intelligence. At the same time, we overlook how vulnerable all this is, and how we are losing the essentials that make us human. That’s my advice … Cook a meal at least three times a week. Play a musical instrument. Read books and travel on foot.

That said, he’s not immune to the rejuvenating effects of random cat videos at the end of a tiring day, as he told Studio 360's Kurt Andersen during a promotional visit for 2018’s Meeting Gorbachev:

Perhaps guessing that Googling his own name is not one of Herzog’s preferred online activities, Anderson took the opportunity to hip his guest to comedian Paul F. Tompkins' Teutonic-inflected recitation of a notorious Yelp review of Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake.

To the untrained ear, Tompkins’ Herzog is pitch perfect.

The spoof's subject suggested that the accent could use improvement, but agreed that the text is “very funny.”

And it is, especially given the pedestrian tenor of the same Trader Joe’s other 5-star reviews:

This is the best Trader Joe's location I've been to! Been coming here since I was a kid! (I'm 25 now) I've moved out of this area but still come to this location just because it beats the rest of them. - Debbie G

TJ is the best!! I've been coming here for many years, and the food is great!! The employee's are awesome! Some of the many things I love to purchase here are: salmon balls, smoothies like the chia seed strawberry, protein almond butter drinks, coconut smoothie, cashew yogurt, south western salad that comes in a bag is BOMB.COM! - Raymond M

Tompkins tapped Herzog’s fascination with man's animal nature and the brutality of existence for another Yelp review, awarding three stars to San Francisco’s Hotel Majestic and attributing it to Werner H:

Tompkins clearly savors the opportunity to channel Herzog, logging 16 appearances for the character on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, including episodes wherein he discusses working with Tom Cruise and his desire to be cast as a clueless suburban husband in an appliance commercial. Find them all listed here.

Related Content:

The Dream-Driven Filmmaking of Werner Herzog: Watch the Video Essay, “The Inner Chronicle of What We Are: Understanding Werner Herzog”

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Werner Herzog Offers 24 Pieces of Filmmaking and Life Advice

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

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Favorite Opera Recordings (and Her First Appearance in an Opera)

U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has thrown an unbearably fraught political year into further disarray, a fact that has sadly overshadowed memorialization of her inspiring life and career. Ginsburg was a personal hero for millions of activists and students—from grade school to law school; an icon casually identified by her initials by those who felt like they knew her. “For many women, and many girls,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in a New York Times tribute, her loss is “deeply personal.”

How should we remember such a figure at such a time? If you happen to find the news numbing, full of enervating rancor and alarm…. If you want to bring the focus back to the person we have lost, might we suggest a soundtrack? The suggestions come from Ginsburg herself, from the art form—opera—closest to her heart. “She was our greatest advocate and our greatest spokesperson,” says Francesca Zambello, director of the Washington National Opera, “the ideal attendee… who knows everything but is open to interpretations.”




Ginsburg’s commitment to the opera spans decades. She and her husband Marty were in the audience when Leontyne Price made her debut at the Met in 1961. Forty-seven years later, the Justice had occasion to honor Pryce at a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts luncheon. Also in attendance: Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg’s notorious rival. The only thing the two may have agreed on was a passion for the opera. It formed the basis of a fragile peace, and the subject of its own opera, Scalia v. Ginsburg, that explores extreme judicial differences through “Verdi, Puccini, Christmas carols, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and jazz.”

Scalia v. Ginsberg composer Derrick Wang heard the grandiosity of opera when he read the fiercely opposing written opinions of the two justices. It’s safe to assume that both were listening to their favorite works while they composed. In 2012, Ginsburg gave her list of favorites to Alex Ross at The New Yorker, who points to other Ginsburg connections to the classical world like her son, James Ginsburg, “proprietor of Cedille Records, an independent classical label based in Chicago.” (Read their statement on Ginsburg’s passing here.)

There is far too much to say about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s judicial influence, and about the power vacuum left behind by her loss. But if we want to understand what mattered to her most as an individual, we should turn to the music she most loved. “Her life was about understanding people’s stories,” says Zambello. The kinds of cases “she made her career of are the stuff of opera.” At the top, see Ginsburg’s first appearance onstage, in a non-singing role as the Duchess of Krakenthorpe in the The Daughter of the Regiment at the Kennedy Center. Just below, see her list of favorite works, peppered with occasional commentary from the late, beloved R.B.G. herself. This list originally comes from The New Yorker. If you have a Spotify account, you can stream the music in this 30-hour playlist.

Verdi, “Aida”; Zinka Milanov, Jussi Björling, Leonard Warren, Fedora Barbieri, Boris Christoff, Jonel Perlea conducting the Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus (RCA).

Verdi, “Otello”; Plácido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes, James Levine conducting the National Philharmonic and Ambrosian Opera Chorus (RCA).

Dvořák, “Rusalka”; Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner, Dolora Zajick, Franz Hawlata, Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Philharmonic and Kühn Mixed Choir (Decca).

Handel, “Julius Caesar”; Norman Treigle, Beverly Sills, Maureen Forrester, Beverly Wolff, Julius Rudel conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra and Chorus (RCA).

Justice Ginsburg comments: “Listened to LP recording many times. Production was Julius Rudel’s triumph, opened in the State Theatre the year the Met moved to Lincoln Center. Met opened with the not at all triumphant production of Barber’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’ Next, my two best-loved operas.”

Mozart, “Don Giovanni”; Cesare Siepi, Fernando Corena, Suzanne Danco, Lisa Della Casa, Anton Dermota, Hilde Gueden, Walter Berry, Kurt Böhme, Josef Krips conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus (Decca).

Mozart, “The Marriage of Figaro”; Samuel Ramey, Lucia Popp, Thomas Allen, Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Kurt Moll, Robert Tear, Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic and London Opera Chorus (Decca).

Strauss, “Der Rosenkavalier”; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Teresa Stich-Randall, Otto Edelmann, Eberhard Wächter, Ljuba Welitsch, Nicolai Gedda, Herbert von Karajan conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus (EMI).

Tchaikovsky, “Eugene Onegin”; Thomas Allen, Mirella Freni, Neil Shicoff, Anne Sofie von Otter, James Levine conducting the Dresden Staatskapelle and Leipzig Radio Chorus (DG).

Puccini, “Tosca”; Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Victor de Sabata conducting the La Scala orchestra and chorus (EMI).

Menotti, “The Medium”; Joyce Castle, Patrice Michaels, Lawrence Rapchak conducting the Chicago Opera Theatre (Cedille).

Kurka, “The Good Soldier Schweik”; Jason Collins, Marc Embree, Kelli Harrington, Buffy Baggott, Alexander Platt conducting the Chicago Opera Theatre (Cedille).

Justice Ginsburg comments: “Glimmerglass Opera later mounted ‘Schweik’ with perfect-for-the-part Anthony Dean Griffey.”

Stravinsky, “The Rake’s Progress”; Philip Langridge, Samuel Ramey, Cathryn Pope, Stafford Dean, Sarah Walker, John Dobson, Astrid Varnay, Riccardo Chailly conducting the London Sinfonietta and Chorus (Decca).

Britten, “Billy Budd”; Nathan Gunn, Ian Bostridge, Gidon Saks, Daniel Harding conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Virgin Classics).

Justice Ginsburg comments: “Two Lieder recordings I now and then play when working at home: **Schubert, ‘An mein Herz,’ with Matthias Goerne; and songs by Brahms, with Angelika Kirchschlager.”

via The New Yorker

Related Content:

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

The Life, Work & Philosophy of Bill Murray: Happy 70th Birthday to an American Comedy Icon

Image by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

"Bill Murray is to me what calculators are to math," Jason Schwartzman once said of his esteemed colleague. "I never knew math before calculators, and I never knew life before Bill Murray." Having been born in the 1980s, a decade Murray entered already well-known after three early seasons of Saturday Night Live, I could say the same. Through characters like Nick the lounge singer and half a nerd couple with Gilda Radner, Murray established himself on that show as a goofball, but a goofball of a higher order. As the 80s got into full swing, Murray got into the movies, and ever more prominent roles in the likes of CaddyshackStripes, and Ghostbusters assured him a permanent place in the pantheon of American comedy.

For those who cared to look, there has long been evidence of concentrated thought and feeling behind the deadpan impulsiveness of Murray's onscreen persona: his supporting turn as Dustin Hoffman's lemon-eating playwright roommate in Tootsie, his passion-project adaptation of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, his post-Ghostbusters escape to the Sorbonne.




It was in Paris that Murray studied the work of the Greco-Armenian Sufi mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, who describes a path to enlightenment called "the way of the sly man," one who makes maximum use of "the world, the self, and the self that is observing everything." This concept, according to the Wisecrack video above, has become integral to Murray's distinctive way of not just acting, but being.

That counts as just one of the theories advanced over the decades to explain the curious phenomenon of Bill Murray. The man has also been called upon to explain it himself now and again, as when an interviewer at the Toronto International Film Festival asked what it feels like to be him. His response takes the audience into a guided meditation meant to make everyone listening understand how it feels to be themselves, right here, right now.




Maintaining this sense of the moment, as Murray later explained to Charlie Rose, is one of the goals of his own life — and presumably not an easy goal to achieve for someone who's been so famous for so long, a condition he addresses in the 1988 interview animated for Blank on Blank below. "I'm just an obnoxious guy who can make it appear charming," he says in summation of his appeal. "That's what they pay me to do."

That same year, they paid him $6 million for his role in Scrooged (playing, incidentally, the most obnoxious character of his career). He'd already been cautioned against the dangers of such rapidly acquired wealth and fame by the fate of his fellow Chicagoan and SNL alumnus John Belushi, who by that time had already been dead for five years. Murray had also, he says, undergone a "spiritual change" that showed him "there was some other life to live. It changed the way that I worked," giving everything "a different presence, a different tension." Onscreen, this change culminated in the roles he took on after putting broad comedies behind him beginning with 1999's Rushmore, the breakout feature by an up-and-coming director named Wes Anderson.

Casting Murray opposite the teenage Schwartzman, Rushmore showed that he could be more affecting — and indeed funnier — in minor emotional keys. A few years later, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation took him to Japan, where he drew an Academy Award nomination with his performance from the depths of cultural and personal disorientation. Today, on Murray's 70th birthday, his fans impatiently await his appearances in Anderson's The Paris Dispatch and Coppola's On the Rocks, both of which come out next month. Having long since become an institution (albeit an insistently unconventional and unpredictable one) unto himself, Murray can surely look to the heavens and say what, with uncharacteristic earnestness, he told his SNL audience he wanted to say 33 years ago: "Dad, I did it."

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Listen to Bill Murray Lead a Guided Meditation on How It Feels to Be Bill Murray

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Long, Guided Tour of New York City Captured in Original Color Film (1937)

So much classic black and white footage has been digitally colorized recently, it’s hard to remember that the Eastman Kodak Company's Kodachrome film debuted way back in 1935.

The above footage of New York City was shot by an unknown enthusiast in and around 1937.

Dick Hoefsloot, the Netherlands-based videographer who posted it to YouTube after tweaking it a bit for motion stabilization and speed-correction, is not averse to artificially coloring historic footage using modern software, but in this case, there was no need.

It was shot in color.




If things have a greenish cast, that’s owing to the film on which it was shot. Three-color film, which added blue to the red-green mix, was more expensive and more commonly used later on.

Hoefsloot’s best guess is that this film was shot by a member of a wealthy family. It's confidently made, but also seems to be a home movie of sorts, given the presence of an older woman who appears a half dozen times on this self-guided tour of New York sites.

There’s plenty here that remains familiar: the Woolworth Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Arttrussed up Christmas trees propped against makeshift sidewalk stands, the New York Public Library’s lions, Patience and Fortitude.

Other aspects are more a matter of nostalgia.

Over in Times Square, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back starring John Barrymore was playing at the Criterion (now the site of a Gap store), while the Paramount Theater, now a Hard Rock Cafe, played host to True Confession with Barrymore and Carol Lombard.

Oysters were still food for the masses, though records show that locally harvested ones had been deemed too polluted for human consumption for at least a decade.

A bag of peanuts cost 15¢. A new Oldsmobile went for about $914 plus city tax.

Laundry could be seen strung between buildings (still can be on occasion), but people dressed up carefully for shopping trips and other excursions around town. Heaven forbid they step outside without a hat.

Though the Statue of Liberty makes an appearance, the film doesn’t depict the neighborhoods where new and established immigrants were known to congregate. Had the camera traveled uptown to the Apollo—by 1937, the largest employer of black theatrical workers in the country and the sole venue in the city in which they were hired for backstage positions—the overall composition would have proved less white.

The film, which was uploaded a little over a year ago, has recently attracted a fresh volley of attention, leading Hoefsloot to reissue his request for viewers to “refrain from (posting) political, religious or racist-related comments.”

In this fraught election year, we hope you will pardon a New Yorker for pointing out the legion of commenters flouting this polite request, so eager are they to fan the fires of intolerance by expressing a preference for the "way things used to be."

With all due respect, there aren’t many people left who were present at the time, who can accurately recall and describe New York City in 1937. Our hunch is that those who can are not spending such time as remains rabble-rousing on YouTube.

So enjoy this historic window on the past, then take a deep breath and confront the present that’s revealing itself in the YouTube comments.

A chronological list of New York City sites and citizens appearing in this film circa 1937:

00:00 Lower Manhattan skyline seen from Brooklyn Heights Promenade

00:45 Staten Island steam ferry

01:05 RMS Carinthia

01:10 Old three-stack pass.ship, maybe USS Leviathan

01:28 One-stack pass.ship, name?

01:50 HAL SS Volendam or SS Veendam II

02:18 Westfield II steam ferry to Staten Island, built 1862?

02:30 Floyd Bennett Airfield, North Beach Air Service inc. hangar

02:43 Hoey Air Services hangar at  F.B. Airfield

02:55 Ladies board monoplane, Stinson S Junior, NC10883, built 1931

03:15 Flying over New York: Central Park & Rockefeller Center

03:19 Empire State Building (ESB)

03:22 Chrysler building in the distance

03:26 Statue of Liberty island

03:30 Aircraft, Waco ZQC-6, built 1936

03:47 Reg.no. NC16234 becomes readable

04:00 Arrival of the "Fly Eddie Lyons" aircraft

04:18 Dutch made Fokker 1, packed

04:23 Douglas DC3 "Dakota", also packed, new

04:28 Green mono- or tri-engine aircraft, type?

04:40 DC3 again. DC3's flew first on 17 Dec.1935

04:44 Back side of Woolworth Building

05:42 Broadway at Bowling Green

05:12 Brooklyn across East River, view from Pier 11

05:13 Water plane, Grumman G-21A Goose

05:38 Street with bus, Standard Oil Building (R)

05:40 Truck, model?

05:42 Broadway at Bowling Green

05:46 Old truck, "Engels", model?

05:48 Flag USA with 48 stars!

05:50 Broadway at Bowling Green, DeStoto Sunshine cab 1936

05:52 Truck, "Bier Mard Bros", model?

05:56 Ford Model AA truck 1930

05:58 Open truck, model?

06:05 Standard Oil Building

06:25 Bus 366 & Ford Model A 1930

06:33 South Street & Coenties Slip

06:35 See 07:19, Black car?

06:45 Cities Service Building at 70 Pine St. right. Left: see 07:12

06:48 Small vessels in the East River

06:50 Owned by Harry F. Reardon

07:05 Shack on Coenties Slip, Pier 5

07:12 City Bank-Farmers Trust Building, 20 Exchange Place

07:15 Oyster bar, near Coenties Slip

07:19 South Street, looking North towards the old Seaman’s Church Institute

07:31 Holland America Line, Volendam-I, built 1922

07:32 Chrysler Plymouth P2 De Luxe

07:34 Oyster vendor

08:05 Vendor shows oyster in pot

08:16 Wall st.; Many cars, models?

08:30 Looking down Wall st.

08:52 More cars, models?

09:00 Near the Erie Ferry, 1934/35 Ford s.48 De Luxe

09:02 Rows of Christmas tree sales, location?

09:15 Erie Railroad building, location? Quay 21? Taxi, model?

09:23 1934 Dodge DS

09:25 See 09:48

09:27 Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad

09:29 Clyde Mallory Lines

09:48  South end of West Side Highway

09:4910:0810:1110:45 Location?

10:25 Henry Hudson Parkway

11:30 George Washington Bridge without the Lower Level

12:07 Presbyterian Hospital, Washington Heights

12:15 Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research

12:49 New York Hospital at 68th St. & East River

13:14 ditto

13:35 ditto

13:42 Metropolitan Museum of Art

14:51 Rockefella Plaza & RCA building

16:33 Saint Patrick's Cathedral

16:50 Public Library

17:24 Panoramic view, from ESB

17:45 RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza

18:16 Original Penn Station

19:27 Movie True Confession, rel. 24 Dec.1937

19:30 Sloppy Joes

20:12 Neon lights & Xmas

26:34 Herald Square

29:48 Police Emergency Service (B&W)

31:00 SS Normandie, French Line, Pier 88

32:06 RMS Queen Mary, White Star Line, Pier 92

32:43 Departure Queen Mary

33:45 Italian Line, Pier 84, Terminal, dd.1935

34:00 SS Conte Di Savoia, Italian Line, Pier 84

34:25 Peanut seller, near the piers

34:35 Feeding the pidgeons

34:52 SS Normandie, exterior & on deck

35:30 View from Pier 88

35:59 Interior

37:06 From Pier 88

37:23 Northern, Eastern, Southern or Western Prince, built 1929

37:32 Tug, William C. Gaynor

38:20 Departure

38:38 Blue Riband!

39:15 Tugs push Normandie into fairway

39:50 Under own steam.

40:00 Statue of Liberty

40:15 SS Normandie leaves NYC

View more of Dick Hoefsloot’s historic uploads on his YouTube channel.

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A Trip Through New York City in 1911: Vintage Video of NYC Gets Colorized & Revived with Artificial Intelligence

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

Free Jazz Musicians Intentionally Play Terrible Music to Drown Out the Noise of a Danish Far-Right Politician

Art makes a way where politics fail. I don’t mean that in any mawkish sense. Sure, art brings people together, encourages empathy and common values. Those can be wonderful things. But they are not always necessarily social goods. Violent nationalism brings people together around common values. Psychopaths can feel empathy if they want to.

When faced with fascism, or neo-fascism, or whatever we want to call the 21st century equivalent of fascism, those who presume good faith in their opponents presume too much. Values like respect for human rights or rules of logical debate or use of force, for example, are not in play. Direct confrontation usually provokes more violence, and corresponding state repression against anti-fascists.




Creative thinkers have devised other kinds of tactics—methods for meeting spectacle with spectacle, disrupting and scattering concentrated fear and hate by use of what William S. Burroughs called “magical weapons.” Burroughs meant the phrase literally when he aimed his occult audio/visual magic at a gentrifying London coffee bar. But he used the very same ideas in his novels and manuals for overthrowing corrupt governments.

One might say something similar about the pioneers of free jazz, a product of Black Power politics expressed in music. Coltrane drew on Malcolm X when he divested himself of western musical constraints; Ornette Coleman established “harmolodic democracy” in place of Eurocentric structures. These were inherently revolutionary forms, responding to repressive times in new languages. They were not, as many people thought then, just jazz played badly.

But, as it turns out… free jazz deliberately played badly makes quite an effective rejoinder to fascism, too. So a group of Danish jazz musicians discovered when they began crashing the staged events of far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, founder of the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party. As Vice reports:

[Paludan] is notorious for organising “demonstrations” in neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations, where he burns, throws, and stomps on Qurans behind walls of police officers. A self-proclaimed “guardian of freedom” and “light of the Danes,” Paludan considers immigrants and Islam enemies of the Danish people, as well as the country’s values, traditions and general way of life.

Does one respectfully argue with such a person? Try to breach the line of cops and knock them out? Hear out their point of view as they inspire acts of violence? Or show up “armed with trumpets, bongo drums and saxophones” and play right in his face, or at least “loudly enough to drown out his voice or draw attention away from him”?

The collective “Free Jazz Against Paludan” takes the magical weapon of Situationist free jazz public and radicalizes harmolodic democracy (done very, very obnoxiously badly on purpose, we must emphasize) for street action. “We’re fighting noise with noise,” one saxophonist and self-described “old man turned activist” says. “I’m of the opinion that rhetoric like his should not be ignored. You have to protest against it, but in a way that is not destructive and violent.” Except that it is destructive—to Paludan’s weaponized ignorance. [Paludan was recently sentenced to jail on racism and defamation.] The revolving collective of activist musicians makes this plain, stating on their Facebook page, “Anyone can join, with the exception of just him. He cannot.”

What gives them the right to exclude him! one might cry indignantly. That’s the game Paludan wants to play. “What he wants is to get beaten up by some immigrants, get some close-ups of a soap eye or a broken arm—that’d be great for him,” says protestor Jørn Tolstrup. “So this is great, because here we have an idiot who won’t shut up, and now we’ve found a way to take his foot off the pedal.” It’s creative de-escalation and redirection. And, we might say, not so much a public “cancelling” as the free expression of opposing ideas.

via Vice

Related Content:

How Ornette Coleman Freed Jazz with His Theory of Harmolodics

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

William S. Burroughs’ Manifesto for Overthrowing a Corrupt Government with Fake News and Other Prophetic Methods: It’s Now Published for the First Time

How Music Unites Us All: Herbie Hancock & Kamasi Washington in Conversation

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

High-Resolution Walking Tours of Italy’s Most Historic Places: The Colosseum, Pompeii, St. Peter’s Basilica & More

The global tourism industry has seen better days than these. In regions like western Europe, to which travelers from all parts have long flocked and spent their money, the coronavirus' curtailment of world travel this year has surely come as a severe blow. This goes even more so for a country like Italy, whose stock of historic structures, both ruined and immaculately preserved, has long assured it touristic preeminence in its part of the world. So much the worse, then, when Italy became one of the countries hardest hit by the virus this past spring. But its recovery is well underway, as is Europe's reopening to travelers.

Or at least Europe is reopening to certain travelers: much of the continent has remained closed to those from certain afflicted countries, including but not limited to the United States of America. Of course, the U.S. has also banned entry to travelers who have recently been in many of those European countries, and however you look at it, this situation will take some time to untangle.




Until that happens, those of us who've had to indefinitely suspend our planned trips to Italy — or even those of us who'd never considered going before the option was removed from the table — can content ourselves with this set of high-resolution journeys on foot from the Youtube channel ProWalk Tours, all shot at length in real tourist spots amid visitors and locals alike.

Whether the Colosseum and Palatine Hill in Rome, St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, and the towns of Pompeii (in two parts) and Herculaneum both ruined and preserved by Mt. Vesuvius, ProWalk's videos show you all you'd see on an in-person waking tour. But they also include features like maps, marks in the timeline denoting each important site, and onscreen facts and explanations of the features of these historic places. Combine these with the immersive virtual museum tours previously featured here on Open Culture, as well as the recreations of ancient Rome in its prime and Pompeii on the day of Vesuvius eruption, and you'll have the kind of understanding you couldn't get in person — and with no danger of being whacked by your fellow tourists' selfie sticks.

Related Content:

A Virtual Tour of Ancient Rome, Circa 320 CE: Explore Stunning Recreations of The Forum, Colosseum and Other Monuments

An Animated Reconstruction of Ancient Rome: Take A 30-Minute Stroll Through the City’s Virtually-Recreated Streets

See the Expansive Ruins of Pompeii Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before: Through the Eyes of a Drone

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch Rare Footage of Jimi Hendrix Performing “Voodoo Child” in Maui, Plus a Trailer for a New Documentary on Jimi Hendrix’s Legendary Maui Performances (1970)

In June of 1969, the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, the band that introduced the sixties to its reigning guitar god, disbanded for good with the departure of Noel Redding following a messy Denver Pop Festival appearance. The story of that gig sounds so apocalyptic—involving heroin, riots, and tear gas—that it reads like cosmic foreshadowing of the tragedy to come: the decades' greatest psych-rockers go out in a haze of smoke. A little over one year later, Jimi is dead.

But if he seemed burned out in Denver, according to his bandmates, it was no indication at all of where his music was headed. Much of the tension in the band came from Hendrix’s readiness to embark on the next phase of his evolution. After Redding left, he was immediately replaced by Billy Cox, who played with Hendrix at Woodstock in the first incarnation of the Band of Gypsys, with whom Hendrix recorded “Machine Gun,” described by musicologist Andy Aledort as “the premiere example of his unparalleled genius as a rock guitarist.”




In wildly improvisatory performances, Hendrix strove to incorporate the radical moves of Coltrane. He had “transcended the medium of rock music,” writes Aledort, “and set an entirely new standard for the potential of electric guitar.” The drugs intervened, again, and after a disastrous gig at Madison Square Garden in January 1970, the Band of Gypsys broke up. Then, the Experience reformed, with Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums, and began recording and touring the U.S.

When Jimi wasn’t too high to play, he delivered some of the most blistering performances of his career, including two legendary sets in Hawaii in July, at the foot of Haleakala volcano, that would end up being his final concert appearances in the U.S. These sets were not, in fact, scheduled tour stops but over 50 minutes of performance for a semi-fictional psychedelic film called Rainbow Bridge, notorious for making little sense and for cutting almost all of the promised live footage of Hendrix’s performance, angering everyone who saw it.

The film’s promised soundtrack never materialized, and fans have long coveted these recordings, especially the second set, “a testing ground,” one fan writes, “for his new direction.” Now, they’re finally getting an official release, on CD, Blu-Ray, and LP on November 20th. (See a full tracklist of the two sets here.) This is no outtakes & rarities cash grab, but an essential document of Hendrix at the height of his powers, one year after the Experience seemed to crash and burn. See for yourself in the clip of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” at the top.

It’s too bad that this high point of Hendrix’s final year has been overshadowed by the dismal failure of the film that made it happen. But a new documentary, Music, Money, Madness… Jimi Hendrix in Maui aims to restore this episode of Hendrix history. Coming out on the same day as the live recordings, November 20th, the film (see trailer above) includes more live Hendrix footage than appeared in Rainbow Bridge, and tells the story of how a terrible movie got made around the greatest rock musician of the day. The performances that didn't make the cut tell another story—about how Hendrix was, again, doing things with the guitar that no one had ever done before.

via Boing Boing

Related Content:  

Hear the Last Time the Jimi Hendrix Experience Ever Played Together: The Riotous Denver Pop Festival of 1969

See a Full Jimi Hendrix Experience Concert on Restored Footage Thought Lost for 35 Years

Jimi Hendrix’s Final Interview on September 11, 1970: Listen to the Complete Audio

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

A Side-by-Side, Shot-by-Shot Comparison of Denis Villeneuve’s 2020 Dune and David Lynch’s 1984 Dune

As a longtime fan of all things Dune, there’s no living director I’d trust more to take over the “property" than Denis Villeneuve. But why remake Dune at all? Oh, I know, the original film—directed (in several cuts) by “Alan Smithee,” also known as David Lynch—is a disaster, so they say. Even Lynch says it. (Maybe the nicest thing he’s ever said about the movie is, “I started selling out on Dune.”) Critics hated, and largely still hate, it; the film’s marketing was a mess (Universal promoted it like a family-friendly Star Wars clone); and the studio felt it necessary to hand glossaries to early audiences to define terms like Kwisatz Haderach, gom jabber, and sardaukar.

But when I first saw David Lynch’s Dune, I did not know any of this. I hardly knew Lynch or his filmography and had yet to read Frank Herbert’s books. I was a young science fiction fan who saw in the movie exactly what Lynch said he intended: “I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world.” I did not know to be upset about his deviations from the books in the grotesque imagining of the Third Stage Guild Navigator or the decision to cover Baron Harkonnen in bloody, oozing pustules. The film's impenetrability seemed like a feature, not a bug. This was a world, totally alien and yet uncannily familiar.




In hindsight, I can see its many flaws, though not its total failure, but I still find it mesmerizing (and what a cast!). Villeneuve, I think, was in a very difficult position in updating such a divisive work of cinema. Should he appeal to fans of the books who hate Lynch’s film, or to fans of the classic film who love its imagery, or to the kinds of theatergoers Universal Studios feared would need a glossary to make it through the movie? Add to this the pressures of filmmaking during a pandemic, and you can imagine he might be feeling a little stressed.

But Villeneuve seems perfectly relaxed in a recent interview above for the Shanghai International Film Festival, and the trailer for the new film has so far passed muster with everyone who’s seen it, generating excitement among all of the above groups of potential viewers. As you can see in the video at the top, which matches shots from the preview with the same scenes from the 1984 film, the new Dune both does its own thing and references Lynch’s disputed classic in interesting ways.

No director should try to please everyone, but few adaptations come laden with more baggage than Dune. Maybe it’s a good idea to play it safe, anchoring the film to its troubled past while bringing it in line with the current size and scope of Hollywood blockbusters? Not if you ask the director of the Dune that never was. Alejandro Jodorowsky intended to bring audiences the most epic Dune of all time, and was relieved to find that Lynch’s adaptation was “a shitty picture.” By contrast, he pronounces the Villeneuve trailer “very well done” but also compromised by its "industrial" need to appeal to a mass audience. “The form is identical to what is done everywhere," he says, "The lighting, the acting, everything is predictable.”

Maybe this is inevitable with a story that filmgoers already know. Maybe Villeneuve’s movie has surprises even Jodorowsky won’t see coming. And maybe it’s impossible—and always has been—to make the Dune that the cult Chilean master wanted (though breaking it into two parts, as Villeneuve has done, is surely a wise choice). Herbert’s vision was vast; every Dune is a compromise—“Nobody can do it. It’s a legend,” says Jodorowsky. But every great director who tries leaves behind indelible images that burrow into the mind like shai-hulud.

Related Content:

The Glossary Universal Studios Gave Out to the First Audiences of David Lynch’s Dune (1984)

The Dune Coloring & Activity Books: When David Lynch’s 1984 Film Created Countless Hours of Peculiar Fun for Kids

Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

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





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