Watch Ridley Scott’s Controversial Nissan Sports Car Ad That Aired Only Once, During the Super Bowl (1990)

Every commercial is a fantasy, but car commercials are more fantastical than most. Just look at the settings, with their roads, whether remote or urban, completely empty of not just other cars but obstacles of any kind: stop signs, street-crossers, speed traps. This leaves the heroic everyman behind the wheel free to take on the straightaways and curves alike just as he sees fit. But what the standard car commercial offers in driver wish fulfillment, it lacks in drama: how to tell a story, after all, about a featureless character who faces no obstacles, subject to no desires beyond those for comfort and speed? Commissioned to direct a commercial for Nissan’s 300ZX Turbo, Ridley Scott found a way.

“I’m in a Turbo Z,” says the narrator of the resulting spot “Turbo Dream,” first broadcast during Super Bowl XXIV in 1990. “These guys are after me, but they can’t catch me.” These mysterious pursuers first chase him on motorcycles, then in an F1 race car, and then in an experimental-looking jet. (We’re a long way indeed from Hovis bread.)

But “just as they’re about to catch me, the twin turbos kick in.” Those twin turbochargers constitute only one of the cornucopia of features available for the 300ZX, then the latest model of Nissan’s “Z-cars,” a series acclaimed for its combination of sports-car performance, luxury-car features, and high technology. The lineage goes all the way back to 1969, when the company introduced its Japanese Fairlady Z in the U.S. as the 240Z.

For most of the 1960s, “Japanese sports car” would have sounded like a contradiction in terms. But by the 1990s many once-loyal American drivers had been enticed to defect, not least by the promise of the Z-car. Taken by surprise, the colossal U.S. auto industry did not react charitably to its foreign competitors, and the 1980s wave of economic anti-Japanese sentiment swept America. Hollywood wasted no time capitalizing on these feelings: countless action movies began featuring corporate-raiding Japanese villains, and one of the least shoddy among them was Black Rain — directed by a certain Ridley Scott, who in Blade Runner had already realized one vision of a thoroughly Japanified America.

Black Rain had come out just four months before the broadcast of “Turbo Dream,” and anyone who’d seen the film would surely be reminded of its opening motorcycle race. The spot did draw a backlash, but the anger had nothing to do with Japan: “The commercial was protested by groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Governors’ Highway Safety Representatives and others,” writes Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky. “The issue was that the ad was thought to glorify speeding,” and the commercial never aired again. The 300ZX itself would go on for a few more years, until the American SUV trend and the rising yen-to-dollar ratio temporarily retired it in 1997. When they bring the newly unveiled Z Proto to market, Nissan could do worse than enlisting Scott to come up with another turbocharged fantasy.

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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.

The Scariest Film of All Time? A Vintage Look at the Hysteria Around The Exorcist in 1973

William Friedkin’s 1973 The Exorcist might feel wrapped in the historical glow of “elevated horror” now–serious filmmaking for discerning fans and critics–but that was very much *not* the case back in the year of its birth. Back in the grimy, Watergate years of the early ‘70s, The Exorcist was as much a side-show freakout as anything William Castle produced back in the day. It was an endurance test.

The above film from that time proves it, showing the long, around-the-block lines, the sold-out screenings, the repeat viewers, and the record-breaking opening weekend grosses ($2 million in just 24 theaters in December, before opening wide across the nation in 1974.) This event had more in common with your current comic book movie or Star Wars sequel, and all the while being an R-rated film based on Catholic dogma and featuring some of the most colorful profanity ever hurled at a man of the cloth (on screen at least).

Of course, it is the reactions of the viewers that make this footage worth it. The cinema workers talk about how even the biggest guys can’t hack the film and exit white as a sheet. Two young women say this is their second attempt to watch the film all the way through. Another guy say he wasn’t scared by the film but “I dunno, I just fainted.”

And we do in fact see some people faint in the lobby, just going down like a sack of bricks, and an usher tells the camera he has two kinds of smelling salts to choose from. One woman in line even tells the camera crew, “I wanna see if it’s gonna make me throw up.” In fact, at one point some theaters started handing out “barf bags” for nervous viewers (which probably increased their chances of vomiting). MAD Magazine even got in on the hype with an appropriate cover (“If the Devil Makes You Do It” reads the bag.)

All this was incredibly good for business, and incredibly good for the news media, who sent crews like this one down, along with a reporter to interview people bailing on the film halfway through. The demonic voice is what did it for people, provided by actress Mercedes McCambridge, who reportedly downed raw eggs, smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey to give her voice that raspy edge.

From this year’s vantage point it all looks quaint and fun–all these different people from various walks of life having a shared experience in a theater, everybody whipped up into a delightful and ultimately harmless frenzy.

Most of the documentary was shot at the National Theater in Westwood, Los Angeles. Only three years old at the time, the cinema was the last single-screen theater built in the United States. It was torn down in 2008, replaced by some tony apartments and a street-level sushi bar.

Below you can watch a doc on the Making-of Friedkin’s film.

via Mental Floss

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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.

Werner Herzog Lists All the Languages He Knows–and Why He Only Speaks French If (Literally) a Gun’s Pointed at His Head

If you’ve explored the filmography of Werner Herzog, you’ve heard him speak not just his signature Teutonically inflected English — often imitated in recent years, though never quite equaled — but German as well. What else does he speak? In the clip above, the Bavarian-born director of Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo responds thus to the question of exactly how many languages he has: “Not too many. I mean, Spanish, English, German… and then I spoke modern Greek better than English once. I made a film in modern Greek, but that’s because in school I learned Latin and ancient Greek.”

The list doesn’t end there. “I do speak some Italian. I do understand French, but I refuse to speak it. It’s the last thing I would ever do. You can only get some French out of me with a gun pointed at my head” — which is exactly what happened to him. “I was taken prisoner in Africa” by “drunk soldiers on a truck,” all of them “fifteen, sixteen years old, some of them eight, nine years old,” armed and taking dead aim at him. “That was very unpleasant,” not least due to the lead soldier’s insistence that “on nous parle français ici.” And so Herzog finally “had to say a few things in French. I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it.”

But speaking, in Herzog’s world, isn’t as important as reading. “I read in Spanish and I read in Latin and I read in ancient Greek and I read in, er, whatever,” he told the Guardian in a more recent interview. “But it doesn’t matter. It depends on the text. I mean, take, for instance, Hölderlin, the greatest of the German poets. You cannot touch him in translation. If you’re reading Hölderlin, you must learn German first.” This alongside an appreciation of “trash movies, trash TV. WrestleMania. The Kardashians. I’m fascinated by it. So I don’t say read Tolstoy and nothing else. Read everything. See everything. The poet must not avert his eyes.”

It you want to become like Werner Herzog — well, best of luck to you (though he has created a “rogue film school” and currently stars in a Masterclass). But if you want to follow his lead in this specifically linguistic respect, you can start from our collection of free online lessons in 48 languages. There you’ll find material to start on everything from Spanish to modern as well as ancient Greek. Also included is French, Herzog’s bête noire, as well as Latin, which in the Guardian interview he calls his third language. German, which also figures into our collection, turns out not to be Herzog’s native language: “My mother tongue is Bavarian. Which is not even German, it’s a dialect.” With his filmmaking activities curtailed by world events, perhaps he’d consider producing a series of lessons?

via Kottke

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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.

The David Lynch Retrospective: A Two Hour Video Essay on Lynch’s Complete Filmography, from Eraserhead to Inland Empire

If you were to watch David Lynch’s complete filmography from beginning to end, how would you see reality afterward? Video essayist Lewis Bond surely has some idea. As the creator of Channel Criswell, whose examinations of auteurs like Andrei TarkovskyFrancis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture, he once released a meditation on what makes a Lynch film “Lynchian.” Now, under the new banner of The Cinema Cartography (and in partnership with film streaming service MUBI), Bond not only returns to the well of the Lynchian, but plunges in deeply enough to come up with The David Lynch Retrospective.

In two hours, this video essay makes a journey through all the dark recesses of Lynch’s feature filmography — a filmography that, admittedly, can at times seem made up of nothing but dark recesses. It begins in 1977 with Eraserhead, Lynch’s first full-length picture as well as his least remitting. However harrowing its biomechanical strangeness, that debut drew the eye of Hollywood, resulting in Lynch’s hiring to direct The Elephant Man, a chiaroscuro vision of the life of deformed 19th-century Englishman Joseph Merrick. There follows the infamous Dune, which finds Lynch at the helm (at least nominally) of a $40-million adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic, an extravagant mismatch as was ever made between director and material.

Bond mentions that he considered excluding Dune from The David Lynch Retrospective, seeing as the director himself has disowned the picture. Still, no Lynch enthusiast can deny that it brought him to the artistically uncompromising positions that have made the rest of his body of work what it is. But what, exactly, is it? Bond draws some possibilities from Blue Velvet, Lynch’s return to the art house whose memorably oneiric fusion of idyllic small-town America with sadism and voyeurism also functions as a statement of philosophical and aesthetic intent. Not that Lynch is given to statements, per se: as Bond emphasizes in a variety of ways, none of these works admit of direct explication, and this holds as true for the ultra-pastiche road movie Wild at Heart as it does for the split-personality neo-noir Lost Highway.

Then comes 1999’s The Straight Story, a movie about an old man who drives a tractor across the American Midwest to visit his brother. Bond frames the latter as the most Lynchian choice the director could have made, its seemingly thorough mundanity shedding light on his perception of cinema and reality itself. It also lowers the Lynch-filmography binge-watcher’s psychological defenses for the simultaneous Hollywood fantasy and nightmare to come, Mulholland Drive. Though Bond describes it as “the zenith of all that’s Lynchian,” not every fan agrees that it’s Lynch’s masterpiece: some opt for the impenetrable three-hour dose of pure Lynchianism (and cryptic sitcom rabbits) that is Inland Empire. Bond describes Inland Empire, still Lynch’s most recent feature, as “a torturous film, and this should be seen only as complimentary.” There speaks a true Lynchian.

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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 Virtual Table Read of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Featuring Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Shia LaBeouf, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, John Legend & More

If you will forgive a gross oversimplification, there are two kinds of people in this world:

Those (like me) who, having seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High the night before the first day of their senior year of high school, made sure to pack carrots in their lunchboxes, and those who were too young to see it in its original release, possibly because they hadn’t been born yet.

For those of us in the first group, Feelin’ A-Live’s #FastTimesLive, a virtual table read of the script for Cameron Crowe’s 1982 semi-autobiographical teen sex romp, is a bit of a tough sell, even as a fundraiser for two good causes: the COVID-19 relief organization CORE and REFORM Alliance, which is dedicated to criminal justice reform and staunching COVID-19’s spread within the incarcerated population.

It’s kind of a mess.

Possibly we’re just crabby from all the Zoom performances we’ve watched and taken part in over the last 6+ months.

Were we supposed to be charmed that this live, unrehearsed performance featured A-list movie stars, bumbling through like regular Joes circa April 2020?

Ray Liotta, reprising the late Ray Walston’s authority figure, Mr. Hand, is hamstrung by his old school paper script, ensuring that most of his lines will be delivered with downcast eyes.

Julia Roberts, as 15-year-old heroine, Stacy, is winsomely fresh, but out of focus.

Is it this blurriness of the technical difficulties that caused the production, originally conceived of as a feature-length table read, to be re-packaged as a sort of highlights tribute?

(Roberts’ computer glitch appears to have been cleared up after organizer Dane Cook’s first interruption to encourage donations (currently standing at a $2,132, which is particularly disappointing given that the film took in $2,545,674 its opening weekend, in 1992.))

Jennifer Aniston, in the role originated by Seventeen model, Phoebe Cates, is predictably funny, and also brings professional quality make up and lighting to the proceedings, but it’s somehow unjust that her celebrity status excuses her face-obscuring hairdo. Actresses of her generation, lacking her star power, plying their trade on Zoom are invariably ordered to barrette up.

The technical problems were not enough to spare us from a reenactment of the film’s most notorious scene, in which Stacy’s older brother, originally played by Judge Reinhold, now brought to life by Anniston’s ex, Brad Pitt, fantasizes about Cates unclasping her bikini top, only to be barged in on enjoying an extremely private moment by the very object of those fantasies.

It’s at the 37 minute mark, FYI.

A fitting punishment for those of us who, remembering the tabloid headlines, eagerly focused on Aniston’s face as Pitt was being introduced.

It wouldn’t hold a candle to the now-problematic original, if Pitt weren’t blushing and Morgan Freeman weren’t reading the stage directions.

(“Do you want me to use my Lorne Greene sonorous voice or just read like I’m not here?”)

Many viewers picked up on the players’ seemingly cool reception of their castmate, Method actor, Shia LaBeouf, born four years after the original film’s release. In the role of surfin’ stoner, Jeff Spicoli, he was tasked with some very big shoes to fill.

It’s a tribute to original Spicoli, activist Sean Penn’s versatility that he wasn’t forever typecast as variants on his star making role. As the only member of the original cast in attendance (as well as the founder of one of the designated charities), he alone seems to be enjoying the hell out of LaBeouf’s scene stealing antics.

Writer Crowe and director Amy Heckerling dish on his audition at the end of the proceedings, and in so doing shed some light on LaBeouf’s eccentricities, and the others’ wariness.

Even though the story conflicts, somewhat, with the casting director’s recollection below, we’re willing to take it on faith that LaBeouf’s fellows’ failure to clap for him is as much a part of the joke as Pitt’s game use of iconic headgear.

Dane Cook hedged his bets in deference to those who may not have lived through the period parodied by the film:

One more thing, before we start, the big disclaimer with a capital D, a whole lot of beliefs and language have changed since this came out, so don’t @ us, unless it’s to donate. Remember, it was a certain time and place, and the sentiments in the script do not reflect the people reading it today. They do reflect the fictional characters from an imaginary school in a totally make believe story, got it?

We get it!

The recasting with actors the same age as Jennifer Jason Leigh (Stacy) and Phoebe Cates remains a bitter pill, but perhaps it spares us all comments fixating on the ravages of time. Instead, we get to hear about the “timeless” beauty of Anniston and Roberts.

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

Requiem for a Dream: The Cast & Crew Reunite 20 Years Later

Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art: “Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream has only grown in stature since its explosive debut in 2000. His harrowing and influential visual depiction of addiction and dependency across four characters in Brooklyn is a film that’s still whispered about in tones of reverence.” To celebrate 20th anniversary, Aronofsky and actors Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans reunited to reconsider the film and its impact on cinema and culture. This virtual conversation was moderated by Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film. If you become a MoMA member, you will gain access to more special events along these lines.

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Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton Go Toe to Toe (Almost) in a Hilarious Boxing Scene Mash Up from Their Classic Silent Films

Coke or Pepsi?

Boxers or briefs?

Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton?

A difficult choice that usually boils down to personal taste…

In the case of the two silent screen greats, they evinced different personalities, but both were possessed of physical grace, a tremendous work ethic, and the ability to make audiences root for the little guy.

Their enduring influence on physical comedy is evident in the boxing scene mash up above, which pulls from Keaton’s star turn in 1926’s Battling Butler and Chaplin’s widely celebrated City Lights from 1931.

Even cut up and spliced back together in alternating shots, it’s a master class on building anticipation, defying expectations, and the humor of repetition.

Both films’ plots hinge on a mild fellow going to extraordinary lengths to prove himself worthy of the girl he loves.

Chaplin, besotted with a blind flower-seller, is drawn into the ring by the prospect of prize money, which he would use to cover her unpaid rent.

His opponent is played by Hank Mann, the brains behind the Keystone Cops period who went on to work with Jerry Lewis.

The pas de trois between the ref and the two boxers represents the pinnacle of Chaplin’s long affinity for the sport, following 1914’s Keystone short, The Knockout and 1915’s The Champion.

Battling Butler is built on a case of deliberately mistaken identity, after Keaton’s milquetoast rich boy impresses his working class sweetheart’s family by allowing them to think he is a famous boxer whose name he incidentally shares.

The fight scenes were filmed in LA’s brand new Olympic Auditorium, aka the Punch Palace, which went on to serve as a location for the more recent boxing classics Rocky (1976) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).

The editor who thought to score this mashup to Mariachi Internacional’s cover of Zorba El Griego is certainly a contender in their own right, but readers, what we really want to know is in this championship round between Chaplin and Keaton, who would you declare the winner?

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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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