10,000 Classic Movie Posters Getting Digitized & Put Online by the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin: Free to Browse & Download

Who hasn’t pinned one of Saul Bass’s elegant film posters on their wall—with either thumbtacks above the dormroom bed or in frame and glass in grown-up environs? Or maybe it’s 70s kitsch you prefer—the art of the grindhouse and sensationalist drive-in exploitation film? Or 20s silent avant-garde, the cool noir of the 30s and 40s, 50s B-grade sci-fi, 60s psychedelia and French new wave, or 80s popcorn flicks…? Whatever kind of cinema grabs your attention probably first grabbed your attention through the design of the movie poster, a genre that gets its due in novelty shops and specialist exhibitions, but often goes unheralded in popular conceptions of art.

Despite its utilitarian and unabashedly commercial function, the movie poster can just as well be a work of art as any other form. Failing that, movie posters are at least always essential archival artifacts, snapshots of the weird collective unconscious of mass culture: from Saul and Elaine Bass’s minimalist poster for West Side Story (1961), “with its bright orange-red background over the title with a silhouette of a fire escape with dancers” to more complex tableaux, like the baldly neo-imperialist Africa Texas Style! (1967), "which features a realistic image of the protagonist on a horse, lassoing a zebra in front of a stampede of wildebeest, elephants, and giraffes.”

These two descriptions only hint at the range of posters archived at the University of Texas Harry Ransom Center—upwards of 10,000 in all, “from when the film industry was just beginning to compete with vaudeville acts in the 1920s to the rise of the modern megaplex and drive-in theaters in the 1970s.” So writes Erin Willard in the Ransom Center’s announcement of the digitization of its massive collection, expected to reach completion in 2019. So far, around 4,000 posters have been photographed and are becoming available online, downloadable in “Large,” “Extra Large,” and “High-Quality” resolutions.

The bulk of the collection comes from the Interstate Theater Circuit—a chain that, at one time, “consisted of almost every movie theater in Texas”—and encompasses not only posters but film stills, lobby cards, and press books from “the 1940s through the 1970s with a particular strength in the films of the 1950s and 60s, including musicals, epics, westerns, sword and sandal, horror, and counter culture films.” Other individual collectors have made sizable donations of their posters to the center, and the result is a tour of the many spectacles available to the mid-century American mind: lurid, violent excesses, maudlin moralizing, bizarre erotic fantasies, dime-store adolescent adventures....

Some of the films are well-known examples from the period; most of them are not, and therein lies the thrill of browsing this online repository, discovering obscure oddities like the 1956 film Barefoot Battalion, in which “teen-age wolf packs become heroes in a nation’s fight for freedom!” The number of quirks and kinks on display offer us a prurient view of a decade too often flatly characterized by its penchant for grey flannel suits. The Mad Men era was a period of institutional repression and rampant sexual harassment, not unlike our own time. It was also a laboratory for a libidinous anarchy that threatened to unleash the pent-up energy and cultural anxiety of millions of frustrated teenagers onto the world at large, as would happen in the decades to come.

What we see in the marketing of films like Five Branded Women (1960) will vary widely depending on our orientations and political sensibilities. Is this cheap exploitation or an empowering precursor to Mad Max: Fury Road? Maybe both. For cultural theorists and film historians, these pulpy advertisements offer windows into the psyches of their audiences and the filmmakers and production companies who gave them what they supposedly wanted. For the ordinary film buff, the Ransom Center collection offers eye candy of all sorts, and if you happen to own a high-quality printer, the chance to hang posters on your wall that you probably won’t see anywhere else. Enter the online collection here.

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

Filmmaker Michel Gondry Brings Classic Album Covers to Life in a Visually-Packed Commercial: Purple Rain, Beggars Banquet, Nevermind & More

File this under “why didn’t I see this earlier?”

Here’s a too short but visually packed Michel Gondry-directed commercial for the Pandora app. Here, he indulges in all the things that make Gondry so beloved: large sets, in-camera effects, huge props, and a visual wit.

For the “Sounds Like You” campaign, Gondry has a short-haired young woman running through various rooms and landscapes, all of which reveal themselves to be album covers from the famous (Metallica’s Master of Puppets) to the more recent (Big Sean’s Moves). We even get a Bowie shout-out and it’s not what you’d expect. We’d say more, but hey it’s so short, why spoil the surprise. It does however feel like Gondry has been hired to do something he’s already done--somewhere before he got the call you can hear an ad exec saying “hey, who’s available, who can do a Gondry-like thing with this campaign?”




Indeed, it is very reminiscent of his reality-bending video for the Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be” (including the running woman):

And choreographing a series of tableaux is also similar to Gondry's “Lucas with the Lid Off” from 1994:

So, yes, in a world where a third of all music videos are biting from Gondry’s career, it’s good to see the best imitator of Gondry is the man himself.

(But if bringing album covers to life is your jam, have you watched "Dave" yet?)

Album covers referenced in the video include:

0:08 The Doors - Morrison Hotel (1970)

0:12 Prince - Purple Rain (1984)

0:17 The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (1968)

0:20 Metallica - Master of Puppets (1986)

0:26 The Weeknd - Starboy (2016)

0:28 Devo - Freedom of Choice (1980)

0:31 Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

0:38 Drake - Nothing Was the Same (2013)

0:39 The Cure ‎– A Forest (1980)

0:46 Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)

0:49 David Bowie ‎– ★ (Blackstar) (2016)

0:55 Big Sean - I Decided. (2017)

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

A Teaser Trailer for Fahrenheit 451: A New Film Adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Ever-Relevant Novel

From HBO comes a teaser trailer for an upcoming adaptation of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a film that went in today production a year before the 2016 election--that is, before things in America took a turn for the worse and the weird. That life has started to imitate Bradbury's art hasn't been lost on the film's director, Ramin Bahrani, who told critics at the Television Critics Association:

Politically things are going in a very strange direction in terms of what is real and what is not real... I think we’ve been going in that direction for a long time, it’s just now kind of being revealed to us more clearly. So I think from a high level, that’s a problem....

I don’t want to focus so much on [Trump] because I don’t want to excuse the 30, 40 years prior to that. He’s just an exaggeration of it now...

I don’t want us to forget what Bradbury said, that we asked for this... We are [also] electing again this thing [a smartphone] in my pocket . We are electing to give it all away to this.

Between the technological advancements in last 20 years and politics, I think Bradbury’s biggest concern about the erosion of culture is now… and the speed at which this is advancing is exponential.

Will we actually get ahead of the dam, or will it just be a flood and up to some other generation to bring back all of Bradbury’s heroes?

The new film starring Michael B. Jordan, and Michael Shannon will come out this spring. Stay tuned.

via Devour

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The Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde

To commemorate the centennial of Russia’s October Revolution (it seems like only yesterday, comrade!) Taschen has yet again delivered an impressive tome of a book, entitled Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde. Collector Susan Pack has put together this selection of 250 posters by 27 artists for films both well known and lost to history.

The book first came out in 1995, but this new edition is smaller and multilingual, like many of their new releases.

The style still impresses and influences today, with its combination of photo-realist faces and the jagged energy of constructivism.

Many of the artists never saw the films they were advertising, but plainly not a bad thing here. Artists like Aleksandr Rodchenko (who was also a designer and photographer) and the Stenberg Brothers (sculptors and set designers) mixed photos with lithographs, incorporated the film’s credits into the actual art, and worried not about selling the story beyond a basic excitement level. This was art designed to get people in the door, regardless of the film. And, if you think about it, it’s art that could not exist in this current era. Who would commission a film poster blindly? Nobody, my friend.

Still, it was in no way ideal for the artists. They often had less than a day to finish something, and the printing presses were pre-revolution vintage and in various stages of repair. And very few, we can assume, thought their posters would be saved and collected. Pack’s collection often contains the only surviving copies of a certain work.

Stalin stopped all this once he took power and insisted that only socialist realism be depicted in art. This style has its own collectors, for sure, but there’s always a tinge of kitsch to it all, because it reveals the lie that was the Stalin era. Whereas the dynamism of these early posters still maintain their aesthetic hold, springing from a time where hope, excitement, and revolution were pulsing through the country and its populace.

via Vice/Hyperallergic

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

David Bowie: The Last Five Years Is Now Airing/Streaming on HBO

FYI: David Bowie died two years ago today. And to commemorate the anniversary, HBO has just started airing David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a 90-minute BBC documentary that revisits Bowie's less public final years. If you don't already have HBO, you could always watch the doc by signing up for a free trial for HBO Now (HBO's streaming service). Here's a quick summary/overview of the film:

In the last years of his life, David Bowie ended nearly a decade of silence to engage in an extraordinary burst of activity, producing two groundbreaking albums and a musical. David Bowie: The Last Five Years explores this unexpected end to a remarkable career.

On the 2003-2004 “Reality” tour, David Bowie had a frightening brush with mortality, suffering a heart attack during what was to be his final full concert. He then disappeared from public view, only re-emerging in the last five years of his life to make some of the most important music of his career. Made with remarkable access, Francis Whately’s documentary is a revelatory follow-up to his acclaimed 2013 documentary David Bowie: Five Years, which chronicled Bowie’s golden ‘70s and early-‘80s period.

While illuminating iconic moments of his extraordinary and prolific career, David Bowie: The Last Five Years focuses on three major projects: the albums The Next Day and the jazz-infused Blackstar (released on Bowie’s 69th birthday, two days before his death in 2016), and the musical Lazarus, which was inspired by the character he played in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Dispelling the simplistic view that his career was simply predicated on change, the film includes revealing interviews with many of Bowie’s closest creative collaborators, including: Tony Visconti, Bowie’s long-time producer; musicians who contributed to The Next Day and Blackstar; Jonathan Barnbrook, the graphic designer of both albums; Robert Fox, producer of Lazarus, along with cast members from the show, providing a unique behind-the-scenes look at Bowie’s creative process; and Johan Renck, director of Bowie’s final music video, “Lazarus,” which was widely discussed as foreshadowing his death.

You can watch a trailer for the new film up above.

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A Supercut of Buster Keaton’s Most Amazing Stunts–and Keaton’s 5 Rules of Comic Storytelling

Joseph Frank Keaton was born into showbiz. His father was a comedian. His mother, a soubrette. He emerged into the world during a one night engagement in Kansas City. His father’s business partner, escape artist Harry Houdini, inadvertently renamed him Buster, approving of the way the rubbery little Keaton weathered an accidental tumble down a flight of stairs.

As Keaton recalls in the interview accompanying silent movie fan Don McHoull’s edit of some of his most amazing stunts, above:

My old man was an eccentric comic and as soon as I could take care of myself at all on my feet, he had slapped shoes on me and big baggy pants. And he'd just start doing gags with me and especially kickin' me clean across the stage or taking me by the back of the neck and throwing me. By the time I got up to around seven or eight years old, we were called The Roughest Act That Was Ever in the History of the Stage. 

By the time of his first film role in the 1917 Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle vehicle, The Butcher Boy, Keaton was a seasoned clown, with plenty of experience stringing physical gags into an entertaining narrative whole.




Like his silent peers, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, Keaton was an idea man, who saw no need for a script. Armed with a firm concept of how the film should begin and end, he rolled cameras without much idea of how the middle would turn out, fine tuning his physical set pieces on the fly, scrapping the ones that didn’t work and embracing the happy accidents.

Could such an approach work for today’s comedians? In later interviews, Keaton was generous toward other comedy professionals who got their laughs via methods he steered clear of, from Bob Hope’s wordiness to director Billy Wilder’s deft handling of Some Like It Hot’s farcical cross-dressing. His was never a one-size-fits-all philosophy.

Perhaps it's more helpful to think of his approach as an antidote to creative block and timidity. We’ve cobbled together some of his advice, below, in the hope that it might prove useful to storytellers of all stripes.

Buster Keaton’s 5 Rules of Comic Storytelling

Make a strong start - grab the audience with a dynamic, easy to grasp premise, like the one in 1920’s One Week, which finds a newlywed Buster struggling to assemble a house from a do-it-yourself kit.

Decide how you want things to finish up - for Keaton, this usually involved getting the girl, though he learned to keep a poker face after a preview audience booed the broad grin he tried out in one of Arbuckle’s shorts. Once you know where your story’s going, trust that the middle will take care of itself.

If it’s not working, cut it - Keaton may not have had a script, but he invested a lot of thought into the physical set pieces of his films. If it didn’t work as well as he hoped in execution, he cut it loose. If some serendipitous snafu turned out to be funnier than the intended gag, he put that in instead.

Play it like it matters to you. As many a beginning improv student finds out, if you let your own material crack you up, the audience is rarely inclined to laugh along. Why settle for low stakes and diffidence, when high stakes and commitment are so much funnier?

Action over words Whether dealing with dialogue or exposition, Keaton strove to minimize the intertitles in his silent work. Show, don’t tell.

Films excerpted at top:

Three Ages
Cops
Day Dreams
Sherlock Jr.
One Week
Hard Luck
Neighbors
The General
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Seven Chances
Our Hospitality
The Bell

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

The Movements of a Symphony Conductor Get Artistically Visualized in an Avant-Garde Motion Capture Animation

Some classical music enthusiasts are purists with regard to visual effects, listening with eyes firmly fixed on liner notes or the ceilings of grand concert halls.

Those open to a more avant-garde ocular experience may enjoy the short motion capture animation above.

Motivated by the London Symphony Orchestra’s desire for a hipper identity, the project hinged on recently appointed Musical Director Sir Simon Rattle’s willingness to conduct Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations with a specially modified baton, while 12 top-of-the-range Vicon Vantage cameras noted his every move at 120 frames per second.




Digital designer Tobias Gremmler, who’s previously used motion-capture animation as a lens through which to consider kung fu and Chinese Opera, stuck with musical metaphors in animating Sir Simon’s data with Cinema 4D software. The movements of conductor and baton morph into a “vortex of wood, brass, smoke and strings” and “wires reminiscent of the strings of the instruments themselves.” Elsewhere, he draws on the atmosphere and architecture of classic concert halls.

(The uninitiated may find themselves flashing on less rarified sources of inspiration, from lava lamps and fire dancing to the 80’s-era digital universe of Tron.)

via Atlas Obscura

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

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