Video Essayist Kogonada Makes His Own Acclaimed Feature Film: Watch His Tributes to Its Inspirations Like Ozu, Linklater & Malick

We've featured the work of many cinema-loving video essayists (myself included) here on Open Culture, none of it more artistic than that of a man who goes by the name of Kogonada. Whether dealing with the films of auteurs like Stanley KubrickAndrei Tarkovsky, Alfred Hitchcock, or Wes Anderson, he finds new and striking ways — often free of traditional narration, and sometimes even free of spoken words altogether — to show us how their cinematic visions work, and in so doing to create new cinematic visions of his own. But when, we Kogonada fans have long wondered, would this mysterious fellow make a movie of his own?

The answer arrived at this year's Sundance Film Festival in the form of Columbus, Kogonada's feature directorial debut. "Columbus gets its title from the city where it’s set — Columbus, Indiana, home to a remarkable collection of renowned works of modern architecture," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody, one of the many critics to have already lavished praise on the newly released picture.




"Those buildings provide an extraordinary premise for the drama, which is a visionary transformation of a familiar genre: a young adult’s coming-of-age story. For once, that trope doesn’t involve a sexual awakening or a family revelation; it’s the tale of an intellectual blossoming, thanks to a new friendship that arises amid troubled circumstances."

Those troubled circumstances have to do with the parents of the two main characters: Casey, a recent high-school graduate who's stayed in town to care for a mother trying to kick a methamphetamine habit, and Jin, a fortysomething translator who's flown in from his home in Korea (birthplace of both the Midwest-raised Kogonada and the film's Los Angeles-raised star John Cho) to watch over his father, an architectural theorist plunged into a coma by a stroke. "These parallel lines meet when Casey offers to show the stranger her town," writes Rolling Stone's Peter Travers in his review. "'Meth and modernism are really big here,' she tells Jin, as he becomes increasingly intrigued by this girl who sees the art and the humanity in buildings."

Soon Jin and Casey take "baby steps toward a relationship, in a manner that recalls Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise." That film, and its successors Before Sunset and Before Midnight, figure heavily into Kogonada's video essay on Linklater, "On Cinema & Time." Other influences, cited by critics as well as Kogonada himself, include Terence Malick, whose way with the elemental he examined in "Fire & Water," and Yasujiro Ozu, whose films got him thinking about cinema in the first place. As he put it to Indiewire, he started by thinking he would "try to figure out what it is about his films that initially felt very unimpressive, but kept haunting me," to understand why Ozu "isn’t easy to just reduce to something — he certainly is not this sort of traditionalist, he’s certainly not a western modernist, he is something else and whatever he was exploring and offering felt so relevant, even today."

Kogonada's video essays "Way of Ozu" and "Passageways" reveal not just the Japanese master's use of architectural spaces, but Kogonada's interest in such spaces. Columbus brings the depth of that interest to the fore: "The director provokes awareness of the Modernist Columbus by treating it as one of the film’s characters," writes Architectural Record's Dante A. Ciampaglia. "It’s both protagonist and nemesis for Casey and Jin as they wander the city, explore its architectural bounty, and find it both reflecting inner struggles and inspiring epiphanies." As Kogonada himself puts it, "I think that’s the thing that interests me, the relationship between empty spaces and life itself." May he find many more opportunities to explore it onscreen.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Randy Newman’s Tour of Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, and You’ll Love L.A. Too

"The longer I live here," a Los Angeles-based friend recently said, "the more 'I Love L.A.' sounds like an unironic tribute to this city." That hit single by Randy Newman, a singer-songwriter not known for his simple earnestness, has produced a multiplicity of interpretations since it came out in 1983, the year before Los Angeles presented a sunny, colorful, forward-looking image to the world as the host of the Summer Olympic Games. Listeners still wonder now what they wondered back then: when Newman sings the praises — literally — of the likes of Imperial Highway, a "big nasty redhead," Century Boulevard, the Santa Ana winds, and bums on their knees, does he mean it?

"I Love L.A."'s both smirking and enthusiastic music video offers a view of Newman's 1980s Los Angeles, but fifteen years later, he starred in an episode of the public television series Great Streets that presents a slightly more up-to-date, and much more nuanced, picture of the city. In it, the native Angeleno looks at his birthplace through the lens of the 27-mile Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles' most famous street — or, in his own words, "one of those places the movies would've had to invent, if it didn't already exist."




Historian Leonard Pitt (who appears alongside figures like filmmaker Allison Anders, artist Ed Ruscha, and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek) describes Sunset as the one place along which you can see "every stratum of Los Angeles in the shortest period of time." Or as Newman puts it, "Like a lot of the people who live here, Sunset is humble and hard-working at the beginning," on its inland end. "Go further and it gets a little self-indulgent and outrageous" before it "straightens itself out and grows rich, fat, and respectable." At its coastal end "it gets real twisted, so there's nothing left to do but jump into the Pacific Ocean."

Newman's westward journey, made in an open-topped convertible (albeit not "I Love L.A."'s 1955 Buick) takes him from Union Station (America's last great railway terminal and the origin point of "L.A.'s long, long-anticipated subway system") to Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple, now-gentrified neighborhoods like Silver Lake then only in mid-gentrification, the humble studio where he laid tracks for some of his biggest records, the corner where D.W. Griffith built Intolerance's ancient Babylon set, the storied celebrity hideout of the Chateau Marmont, UCLA ("almost my alma mater"), the Lake Shrine Temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and finally to edge of the continent.

More recently, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne traveled the entirety of Sunset Boulevard again, but on foot and in the opposite direction. The east-to-west route, he writes, "offers a way to explore an intriguing notion: that the key to deciphering contemporary Los Angeles is to focus not on growth and expansion, those building blocks of 20th century Southern California, but instead on all the ways in which the city is doubling back on itself and getting denser." For so much of the city's history, "searching for a metaphor to define Sunset Boulevard, writers" — or musicians or filmmakers or any number of other creators besides — "have described it as a river running west and feeding into the Pacific. But the river flows the other direction now."

Los Angeles has indeed plunged into a thorough transformation since Newman first simultaneously celebrated and satirized it, but something of the distinctively breezy spirit into which he tapped will always remain. "There‘s some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I’m proud of. The open car and the redhead and the Beach Boys, the night just cooling off after a hot day, you got your arm around somebody," he said to the Los Angeles Weekly a few years after taping his Great Streets tour. ”That sounds really good to me. I can‘t think of anything a hell of a lot better than that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Take an Online Course on Design & Architecture with Frank Gehry, and Get Prepared by Watching a Documentary on His Creative Process

"Most of our cities are built with just faceless glass, only for economies and not for humanities." We've all heard many variations on that complaint from many different people, but seldom with the authority carried by the man making it this time: Frank Gehry, author of some of the most talked-about buildings of the past thirty years. You may love or hate his work, the body of which includes such striking, formally and materially unconventional buildings as Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum, Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture, but you can't remain indifferent to it, and that alone tells us how deeply Gehry understands the power of his craft.

And so when Gehry talks architecture, we should listen. Masterclass, the online education startup that has produced courses in various disciplines with such high-profile practitioner-teachers as David Mamet, Herbie Hancock, Jane Goodall, Steve Martin, and Werner Herzog, has readied a rich opportunity to do so in the fall: "Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture," whose trailer you can view above. The $90 course promises a look into the creative process, as well as into the "never-before-seen model archive," of this biggest of all "starchitects" whose "vision for what architecture could accomplish" has reshaped not just our skylines but "the imaginations of artists and designers around the world."




As with any educational experience, the more thoroughly you prepare in advance, the more you'll get out of it, and so, to that end, we suggest watching Sydney Pollack's documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry, recently made available online by the Louis Vuitton Foundation. "Pollack is not usually a documentarian, and Gehry has never been documented; they were friends, and Gehry suggested Pollack might want to 'do something,'" wrote Roger Ebert in his review. "Because Pollack has his own clout and is not merely a supplicant at Gehry's altar, he asks professional questions as his equal, sympathizes about big projects that seem to go wrong and offers insights."

Pollack also "has access to the architect's famous clients, like Michael Eisner," commissioner of the Disney Concert hall, "and Dennis Hopper, who lives in a Gehry home in Santa Monica" — just as Gehry himself does, in the house whose radical, quasi-industrial modification did much to make his name. Though he also brings in a few of the architect's many critics to provide balance, "Pollack's opinion is clear: Gehry is a genius." You may think so too, which would be a good a reason as any to take his Masterclass. Even if you think the opposite, the physical and cultural impact of Gehry's work, as well as his enduring relevance and industriousness — he continues to design today, in his late eighties, especially for his long-ago adopted hometown of Los Angeles — has something to teach us all.

Sketches of Frank Gehry will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Did the Romans Make Concrete That Lasts Longer Than Modern Concrete? The Mystery Finally Solved

An explosion in recent years of so-called “ruin porn” photography has sparked an inevitable backlash for its supposed fetishization of urban decay and economic devastation. Documenting, as theorist Brian McHale writes, the “ruin in the wake of the deindustrialization of North American ‘Rust Belt’ cities” like Detroit, “ruin porn” shows us a world that only a few decades ago, thrived in a post-war economic boom that seemed like it might go on forever. Our morbid fascination with images from the death of American manufacturing offers a rich field for sociological inquiry. But when scientists look over what has happened to so much of the architecture from the early to mid-twentieth century, they’ve mostly had one very pressing question:

What is going on with the concrete?

Or more specifically, why do structures built only a few years ago look like they’ve been weathering the elements for centuries, when buildings thousands of years old, like many parts of the Pantheon or Trajan’s Markets in Rome, look like they’re only a few years old? The concrete structures of the Roman Empire, writes Nicole Davis at The Guardian, “are still standing more than 1,500 years after the last centurion snuffed it.” Roman concrete was a phenomenal feat of ancient engineering that until recently had stumped scientists who studied its durability. The Romans themselves “were aware of the virtues of their concrete, with Pliny the Elder waxing lyrical in his Natural History that it is ‘impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.”




The mystery of the Roman concrete recipe has finally been revealed. Researchers at the University of Utah have just published a study in American Mineralogist showing how the compound of “volcanic ash, lime (calcium oxide), seawater and lumps of volcanic rock” actually did, as Pliny claimed, become stronger over time, through the very action of those waves. “Seawater that seeped through the concrete,” notes Davis, “dissolved the volcanic crystals and glasses, with aluminous tobermorite and phillipsite crystalizing in their place.” These new crystals reinforce the concrete, making it more impervious to the elements. Modern concrete, “by contrast… is not supposed to change after it hardens—meaning any reactions with the material cause damage.” (The short video above explains the process in brief.)

The recent study builds on previous work conducted by lead author, University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson. In 2014, Jackson, then at the University of California, recreated the Roman concrete recipe and discovered one of the minerals within it that makes it superior to the modern stuff. But it took a couple more years before she and her colleagues figured out the role of seawater on forming the rare crystals. Now, they are recommending that builders begin using Roman concrete in the near future for seawalls and other marine structures. The research “opens up a completely new perspective for how concrete can be made,” says Jackson. “What we consider corrosion processes can actually produce extremely beneficial mineral cement and lead to continued resilience, in fact, enhanced perhaps resilience over time.”

As we increasingly turn our postmodern gaze toward the failures of postwar industrialization–toward not only crumbling cities but crumbling dams and bridges–one secret for building infrastructure that can last for centuries comes to us not from an algorithm or an AI but from an ancient recipe combining the primeval forces of volcanoes and ocean waves.

via The Guardian

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

11,700 Free Photos from John Margolies’ Archive of Americana Architecture: Download, Use & Re-Mix

Many connoisseurs of architecture are enthralled by the modernist philosophy of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and I M Pei, who shared a belief that form follows function, or, as Wright had it, that form and function are one.

Others of us delight in gas stations shaped like teapots and restaurants shaped like fish or doughnuts. If there’s a philosophy behind these insistently playful visions, it likely has something to do with joy…and pulling in tourists.

Art historian John Margolies (1940-2016), responding to the beauty of such quirky visions, scrambled to preserve the evidence, transforming into a respected, self-taught photographer in the process. A Guggenheim Foundation grant and the financial support of architect Philip Johnson allowed him to log over four decades worth of trips on America’s blue highways, hoping to capture his quarry before it disappeared for good.

Despite Johnson’s patronage, and his own stints as an Architectural Record editor and Architectural League of New York program director, he seemed to welcome the ruffled minimalist feathers his enthusiasm for mini golf courses, theme motels, and eye-catching roadside attractions occasioned.




On the other hand, he resented when his passions were labelled as “kitsch,” a point that came across in a 1987 interview with the Canadian Globe and Mail:

People generally have thought that what’s important are the large, unique architectural monuments. They think Toronto’s City Hall is important, but not those wonderful gnome’s-castle gas stations in Toronto, a Detroit influence that crept across the border and polluted your wonderfully conservative environment.

As Margolies foresaw, the type of commercial vernacular architecture he’d loved since boyhood–the type that screams, “Look at me! Look at me”–has become very nearly extinct.

And that is a maximal shame.

Your children may not be able to visit an orange juice stand shaped like an orange or the Leaning Tower of Pizza, but thanks to the Library of Congress, these locales can be pitstops on any virtual family vacation you might undertake this July.

The library has selected the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive as its July “free to use and reuse” collection. So linger as long as you’d like and do with these 11,700+ images as you will–make postcards, t-shirts, souvenir placemats.

(Or eschew your computer entirely–go on a real road trip, and continue Margolies’ work!)

Whatever you decide to do with them, the archive’s homepage has tips for how to best search the 11,710 color slides contained therein. Library staffers have supplemented Margolies’ notes on each image with subject and geographical headings.

Begin your journey through the Library of Congress’ John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive here.

We’d love to see your vacation snaps upon your return.

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

“A Brief History of Goths”: From the Goths, to Gothic Literature, to Goth Music

The history of the word ‘Gothic,’” argues Dan Adams in the short, animated TED-Ed video above,” is embedded in thousands of years’ worth of countercultural movements.” It’s a provocative, if not entirely accurate, idea. We would hardly call an invading army of Germanic tribes a “counterculture.” In fact, when the Goths sacked Rome and deposed the Western Emperor, they did, at first, retain the dominant culture. But the Gothic has always referred to an oppositional force, a Dionysian counterweight to a rational, classical order.

We know the various versions: the Germanic instigators of the “Dark Ages,” early Christian architectural marvels, Romantic tales of terror and the supernatural, horror films, and gloomy, black-clad post punks and their moody teenage fans. Aside from obvious references like Bauhaus’ tongue-in-cheek ode, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the connective tissue between all the uses of Gothic isn't especially evident. “What do fans of atmospheric post-punk music,” asks Adams, “have in common with ancient barbarians?” The answer: not much. But the story that joins them involves some strange convergences, all of them having to do with the idea of “darkness.”




Two significant figures in the evolution of the Gothic as a consciously-defined aesthetic were both art historians. The first, Giorgio Vasari---considered the first art historian---wrote biographies of great Renaissance artists, and first used the term Gothic to refer to medieval cathedrals, which he saw as barbarous next to the neoclassical revival of the 14th-16th centuries. (Vasari was also the first to use the term “Renaissance” to describe his own period.) Two hundred years after Vasari’s Lives, art historian, antiquarian, and Whig politician Horace Walpole appropriated the term Gothic to describe The Castle of Otranto, his 1765 novel that started a literary trend.

Walpole also used the term to refer to art of the distant past, particularly the ruins of castles and cathedrals, with an eye toward the supposedly exotic, menacing aspects (for Protestant English readers at least) of the Catholic church and Continental European nobility. But for him, the associations were positive, and constituted a kitschy escape from Enlightenment rationalism. We have Walpole to thank, in some sense, for ersatz celebrations like Renaissance Fairs and Medieval Times restaurants, and for later Gothic novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the weird tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

We can see that it’s a rather short leap from classic horror stories and films to the dark makeup, teased hair, fog machines, and swirling atmospherics of The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux. In the history of the Gothic, especially between Vasari and Walpole, the word moves from a term of abuse---describing art thought to be “crude and inferior”---to one that describes art forms considered mysterious, and darkly Romantic. For another take on the subject, see Pitchfork's  music-focused, animated, and  "surprisingly light-hearted" short, "A Brief History of Goth," above, a presentation on the subculture's rise, fall, and undead rise again.

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

Watch Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future: Free for a Limited Time

A quick heads up. For the next few days (until January 27) you can watch Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, the latest installment from the PBS American Masters series. Here's the PBS blurb for the episode.

Best known for designing National Historic Landmarks such as St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch and the General Motors Technical Center, Saarinen also designed New York’s TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Yale University’s Ingalls Rink and Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, Virginia’s Dulles Airport, and modernist pedestal furniture like the Tulip chair.

In the film, Saarinen’s son, Eric Saarinen, "visits the sites of his father’s work on a cathartic journey, shot in 6K with the latest in drone technology that showcases the architect’s body of timeless work for the first time. The documentary also features rare archival interviews with Eero and his second wife, The New York Times art critic Aline Saarinen, as well as letters and quotations from Aline’s memoirs voiced respectively by Peter Franzén and Blythe Danner."

You can get more background on the film here. Copies of the film can be purchased online here.

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