Johnny Knoxville Breaks Down Every Injury of His Career

My friend and I share most opinions on film and art, but on one topic we vehemently disagree: Jackass. He sees it as lowest-common-denominator garbage, the kind of show seen on the TV in Idiocracy. And I can see his point, especially in an America becoming more and more obviously sadistic.

But I would like to make a contrarian point: Jackass is the inheritor of silent movie slapstick. Johnny Knoxville is no Buster Keaton, but in an industry where so few actors perform their own stunts, and where action sequences are edited together from dozens of shots, Jackass and Knoxville’s other movie projects show its self-inflicted comic violence in single wide takes. It’s the only reason these films work: it really hurts to watch. These guys set up elaborate pranks, and suffer for our laughter, masochists for entertainment. And while Hollywood has nothing but invincible heroes, the Jackass crew excel in their failure.

This comes at a physical cost, as Knoxville recounts for this Vanity Fair video. Usually actors reminisce over their various roles. Here Knoxville details the various injuries he has sustained over his twenty year career.

And there have been some doozies. Broken bones? That’s nothing. How about having a motorbike land in your crotch causing you to pee blood? Or knocked out in a boxing match with Butterbean, sending you into a stroke-like seizure as your throat tries to swallow your tongue? When it’s Knoxville, even the injuries are strange.

The man himself takes us through his first (on screen) injury in 1998, where he was the guinea pig for self-defense tech, including pepper spray (“one of the most painful things I’ve endured in my life”) and a taser.

Apart from injuries, there’s also the near misses. Such as the rocket straight out of a Road Runner cartoon (another touchstone for comedy violence) which failed on the launch pad and instead sent a series of iron rods shooting out into the Jackass crew, nearly decapitating a few. There literally was a bunch of dumb luck on this show.

Knoxville’s most recent film was Action Point, based upon a real life amusement park known for its regulation-defying danger, but that film sunk without a trace. Maybe the Jackass era is done now, but stay for Knoxville’s eye injury story in this’s more enjoyable than the 2018 movie.

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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 and/or watch his films here.

What the First Movies Really Looked Like: Discover the IMAX Films of the 1890s

Cinematic legend has it that, back in the early days of motion pictures, audiences would see a train coming toward them on the screen and dive out of the way in a panic. "There turns out to be very little confirmation of that in the actual newspaper reports of the time," says critic and Museum of Modern Art film curator Dave Kehr in the video above, "but you can still sense the excitement in seeing these gigantic, incredibly sharp, lifelike images being projected." But aren't they only sharp and lifelike by the standards of the late-19th century dawn of cinema, an era we filmgoers of the 21st century, now used to 4K digital projection, imagine as one of unrelieved blurriness, graininess, and herky-jerkiness?

By no means. The footage showcased in this video, a MoMA production on "the IMAX of the 1890s," was shot on 68-millimeter film, a greater size and thus a higher definition than the 35-millimeter prints most of us have watched in theaters for most of our lives.

Only the most ambitious filmmakers, like Paul Thomas Anderson making The Master, have used such large-format films in recent years, but 120 years ago an outfit like the Biograph Company could, in Kehr's words, "send camera crews around the world, as the Lumière Company had," and what those crews captured would end up in movie theaters: "Suddenly the world was coming to you in ways that people just could not have imagined. That you could go to Europe, that you could meet the crowned heads, that you could go to see elephants in India..."

Thanks to the efforts of film archivists and preservationists, a few of whom appear in this video to show and explain just what degradation befalls these cinematic time capsules without the kind of work they do, much of this footage still looks and feels remarkably lifelike. "It's worth returning to these images to remind us that movies used to be analog," Kehr says. "They saw things in front of the camera in a one-on-one relationship. This was the world. It was an image you could trust. It was an image of physical substance, of reality. Nowadays we tend not to trust images, because we know how easily manipulated they are." We've gained an unfathomable amount of imagery, in terms of both quantity and quality, in our digital age. But as the sheer "ontological impact" of these old 68-millimeter clips reminds us, even when felt in streaming-video reproduction, our images have lost something as well.

via Aeon

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

Why Is Jackie Chan the King of Action Comedy? A Video Essay Masterfully Makes the Case

When’s the last time you gasped, while watching a movie, at a pure bit of physical comedy? Of a clever move, over a stunt that left you breathless, because you knew that no way was computer graphics or greenscreen involved? There are indeed some--that hallway fight in the first season of Daredevil, the endless apartment melee in Atomic Blonde, and, bear with me here, most of Jackass. But those are few and far between. During the Jackie Chan heyday, that gobsmacking disbelief happened every single film. We laughed, we winced, we cheered. For a moment, Jackie Chan was the king of action comedy.

Personally, I can’t believe we *haven’t* talked about this Tony Zhou YouTube essay, because I have shown it nearly every semester in my film production class. Part of me wants to turn the young’uns on to Jackie Chan (the HK films, not the Rush Hour series), and another part hopes that these future directors will go on to correct what Hollywood gets so so wrong these days.

Chan was compared early on to the giants of silent cinema like Buster Keaton, but as a young cinephile I couldn’t see past the obvious homages in films like Project A, which famously had Chan hanging off a clock tower like Harold Lloyd. It was only later that the true comparison became apparent, and Zhou lays it out for us in one of his best essays.

His main points are thus: 1) Chan starts at a disadvantage and must fight his way back to the top, which links him with Chaplin and Keaton, but not like action heroes at the time like Willis and Schwarzenegger, who come fully formed. 2) Chan uses any prop to fight, not just the usual guns and swords. 3) He fights in clearly lighted scenes, with costume design to make him stand out.

And here’s the main directoral point: Jackie Chan and his group of stuntmen can actually fight, and fight well. So the camera does not need to move a lot and the totality of the human body in space can be appreciated. This could only happen in a filmmaking scene like Hong Kong where productions took time and spent money to get absolutely perfect takes. Hollywood, on the other hand, does not hire actors who can fight or act physical--instead they film and edit around the actors’ lack of skill. When we applaud a clever stunt in a Jackie Chan film, 50 or more imperfect takes lay on the cutting room floor. (Zhou finds some good behind-the-scenes interviews explicitly laying this idea out.)

Zhou also blames Western editors for cutting too fast and cutting too much on every hit, ruining the rhythm. Most directors, editors, and stunt coordinators don’t know editing, says Chan. There’s a technique in Hong Kong editing where you show the impact twice that to an audience feels like one, strong impact.

One of the final points is that these Jackie Chan films focus on the pain of the protagonist. (Which, by the way, is why Jackass succeeds as comedy as well.) But so many Hollywood films skip this bit of reality, as our heroes tend to be invincible. There is a larger social-political critique to be made about the particular lies Hollywood tells itself, and you can have at it in the comments if you wish. But for now, queue up some classic Chan--my jumping off point all those years ago was Drunken Master II--and see how the master does it.

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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 and/or watch his films here.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin: Stream Online (for a Limited Time) a New Documentary Exploring the Life & Work of the Legendary Sci-Fi Writer

“There are a lot of dystopias around these days,” writes Kim Stanley Robinson in his recent essay “Dystopia Now.” This, of course, “makes sense, because we have a lot of fears about the future.” We also have a lot of fears about the present, which get mapped onto the future in dystopian fiction, a genre that has become “part of our all-encompassing hopelessness.”

Dystopias feel familiar, even comforting, in that no matter how bad things are, they are perhaps not quite as bad yet as the darkest visions of science fiction. We might still change course if we can finally heed the warnings. But literary and cinematic pessimism, either as grim escapism or a wake-up call, “has done its job,” Robinson argues, “it’s old news now, perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more.”

Another legendary sci-fi writer, Ursula K. Le Guin agreed. “We keep writing dystopias,” she remarked in a 2017 essay, “instead of envisioning a better world.” Le Guin, who passed away last year, wrote of “ambiguous,” “clearsighted,” and “troubled” utopias. And she practiced, over the course of her long career, what Robinson calls our current “task at hand”—“to imagine ways forward to that better place." We may not see much reason for optimism, but utopian thinking, "is realistic: things could be better."

An anarchist, feminist, and environmentalist, Le Guin might be called an “ideological” writer, but not in the derogatory sense the word implies. All artists have ideological frameworks, whether they’re aware of them or not, and Le Guin was very much aware of the lenses she used to see the world, what Robinson defines as “the imaginary relationship to our real conditions of existence.”

She consciously restructured her work to imagine new worlds in terms outside the oppressively hegemonic norms that govern ours, norms created by what she called the “yang” desire for absolute control.  “I had to rethink my entire approach to writing fiction,” she says above in Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a new PBS documentary directed by Arwen Curry, available free to stream for a limited time.

“It was important,” Le Guin goes on, “to think about privilege and power and domination in terms of gender, which is something science fiction and fantasy had not done.” In so doing, Le Guin showed her readers it was possible to imagine functional, believable, even attainable alternatives to stark realities that seem too deeply entrenched to ever change. She showed other sci-fi and fantasy writers that they could do the same.

The documentary features appearances from contemporaries and successors to Le Guin’s world-building brilliance, including Margaret Atwood, Samuel R. Delany, Analee Newitz, China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, and David Mitchell, all of whom cite her as an influence and inspiration. (“I read A Wizard of Earthsea,” says Mitchell, “and things rearranged in my head.”)

In a way, reading Le Guin for the first time feels like being given a pair of VR glasses through which to see what’s truly possible, if only we had the will to collectively imagine it into being. She did not think of utopianism as an eternal state of perfection or a thought experiment, but as a “process,”as Kelly Lynn Thomas writes at The Millions, of “reflection and adjustment, learning and growth… communication and respect, self-awareness and honesty.”

Though the word is typically deployed to describe dangerous naivete or pie-in-the-sky thinking, utopianism need not be a grasping after “rational human control of human life,” Le Guin wrote. Utopias always contain some measure of dystopia, she recognized. But she proposed that we find balance by imagining what she calls “yin utopias,” spaces that involve "acceptance of impermanence and imperfection, a patience with uncertainty and the makeshift, a friendship with water, darkness, and the earth.”

Such are the ideals that informed her vast imaginative output over the course of nearly 60 years, including 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, essay collections, children’s books, and poetry. In Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, we learn how she developed and refined her creative vision, and her critiques of totalizing “yang" utopianism and its despairing opposite. The film is available to stream in full online for a limited time. Watch it above or on PBS's American Masters page before it’s gone.

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

RIP D.A. Pennebaker: Watch Scenes from His Groundbreaking Bob Dylan Documentary Dont Look Back

Something happened to popular culture in the late 1960s, and we who seek to understand exactly what owe a debt of gratitude to the documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who died last week. That goes for those us who never experienced those heady times ourselves; those of us who did (and may have found the times a bit too heady to recall with any clarity); and even those of us not quite young enough to fathom what was going on at the time, such as those already in middle age by the Summer of Love. Pennebaker was himself a member of that generation, but the films that came out of his coverage of the Monterey Pop Festival — whose performers included Janis Joplin, Ravi Shankar, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix — reveal that he could see something big was happening.

Pennebaker's filmmaking also brought him into contact with the likes of John Lennon, David Bowie, Otis Redding, and Bob Dylan, the latter being the star of Pennebaker's first music film Dont Look Back [sic]Released in 1967 but shot in 1965, it observes the singer's tour of England that year as well as the events surrounding it, offering what Roger Ebert called, when the film first came out, "a fascinating exercise in self-revelation carried out by Bob Dylan and friends," a group that includes such generational icons as Joan Baez and Donovan.

Alas, "the portrait that emerges is not a pretty one," rendered as it is by the cinéma vérité style Pennebaker had been developing for more than a decade. That was made possible in part by the advent of synchronous-sound cameras that could capture real speech on location — "what people said to each other," in Pennebaker's words, as opposed to "what you thought up on a yellow pad.”

All this exposed Dylan, in Ebert's eyes, as "immature, petty, vindictive, lacking a sense of humor, overly impressed with his own importance and not very bright." In both his original review of Dont Look Back and his revisitation in 1998, when the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry, he highlights the scene of Dylan's interview with Time London correspondent Horace Freeland Judson. Then, as now, a performer who prefers to be publicized on his own terms, Dylan pushes back against any perceived attempt to define or explain him, especially by a relatively old-school institution like Time. In this young Bob Dylan we have an embodiment of the late-60s youth spirit: amusingly defiant and prolifically creative, if also irresponsible and arrogant. (As Ebert wrote in 1998, "Did we actually once take this twirp as our folk god?")

Pennebaker discusses Dylan and Dont Look Back in the clip at the top of the post, which comes from a longer interview available here. He also gets into 1966's Eat the Document, the never-officially-released follow-up to Dont Look Back previously featured here on Open Culture. In the Criterion Collection video just above, Patti Smith — somehow never the subject of a Pennebaker film herself — reflects on the role Dylan played in her life. "He was like my imaginary boyfriend," Smith says of the singer. "The first time I saw Dont Look Back, I had just come to New York to live." She describes the intersection of the move and the movie as "a pivotal moment, because it encompassed everything for me: it encompassed the hubris of youth, it encompassed art, poetry, the perfect sunglasses, everything." She saw the film so many times that she "knew all the dialogue" — dialogue that Pennebaker just happened to capture, but which has long since become part of the culture.

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

Why a Cat Always Lands on Its Feet: How a French Scientist Used Photography to Solve the Problem in 1894

In the era of the CATS trailer and #catsofinstagram, it’s easy to forget that scientific research is what originally convinced our feline friends to allow their images to be captured and disseminated.

An anonymous white French pussy took one for the team in 1894, when scientist/inventor Étienne-Jules Marey dropped it from an unspecified height in the Bois de Boulogne, filming its descent at 12 frames per second.

Ultimately, this brave and likely unsuspecting specimen furthered the cause of space exploration, though it took over 50 years for NASA-backed researchers T.R. Kane and M.P. Scher to publish their findings in a paper titled "A Dynamical Explanation of the Falling Cat Phenomenon."

As the Vox Darkroom episode above makes clear, Marey’s obsession was loftier than a fondness for Stupid Pet Tricks and the mischievous impulse to drop things off of tall buildings that motivated TV host David Letterman once upon a time.

Marey's preoccupation with the mechanics of organic locomotion extended to horses and humans. It prompted him to invent photographic techniques that prefigured cinematography, and, more darkly, to subject other, less-catlike creatures to deadfalls from similar heights.

(Children and animal rights activists, consider this your trigger warning.)

The white cat survived its ordeal by arching its back mid-air, effectively splitting its body in two to harness the inertia of its body weight, much like a figure skater controlling the velocity of her spin by the position of her arms.

Why waste a single one of your nine lives? Physics is your friend, especially when falling from a great height.

See one of Marey's pioneering falling cat chronophotographs below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Quentin Tarantino Steals from Other Movies: A Video Essay

"Good artists copy, great artists steal," goes a line we often attribute to Pablo Picasso — even those of us who know little of Picasso's work and nothing of the work from which he may or may not have stolen. Quentin Tarantino's version of the line adds another observation about great artists: "They don't do homages." The director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown may well have spoken those words in frustration, the frustration of having his every picture described as an "homage" to some element or other of cinema history. He puts it more bluntly: "I steal from every single movie ever made." A bold claim, to be sure, but if anyone is likely to have seen every film ever made, surely it's him.

"How Quentin Tarantino Steals from Other Movies," the INSIDER video essay above, surveys the range of his cinematic sources, from The Searchers to The WarriorsBand of Outsiders to City on FireMetropolis to The Flintstones.

In each of his ten features so far, Tarantino has bundled all this material into packages describable most succinctly with the adjective Tarantinoesque, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "characterized by graphic and stylized violence, non-linear storylines, cineliterate references, satirical themes, and sharp dialogue." Tarantino's latest film Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (subject of its own INSIDER video essay) exhibits all those qualities, and both critical and audience response so far suggests that we have yet to tire of the Tarantinoesque.

How has Tarantino's cinematic sensibility, practically textbook in its postmodernism, worn so well? As this video's narrator puts it, Tarantino "never steals from one source. He rather steals from multiple sources spanning decades, and then stitches them together to create something new," fortifying the process with his strong understanding of the source material (honed during his pre-fame days as a video-store clerk) and his "unique vision and writing." Roger Ebert once wrote of Lars Von Trier, another notable filmmaker of Tarantino's generation, that "he takes chances, and that's rare in a world where most films seem to have been banged together out of other films." But Tarantino takes his chances precisely by making films out of other films, and as even his detractors have to admit, it's paid off so far.

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

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