Watch the Trailers for Tolkien and Catch-22, Two New Literary Films

For decades, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings wondered if the books could ever become a film. The Beatles and John Boorman both tried to get adaptations off the ground in the 1960s and 70s, and animator Ralph Bakshi came up with his own cinematic interpretation, if only a partial one, in 1978. But now we live in a world rich with Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Rings-related material on film, thanks to the efforts of director Peter Jackson and his collaborators on not just the adaptations of The Fellowship of the RingThe Two Towers, and The Return of the King, but three whole feature films bringing the relatively brief tale The Hobbit to the screen.

What remains for the Tolkien-inspired filmmaker today? None, so far, have proven brave enough to take on the likes of The Silmarillion, the forbiddingly mythopoeic work published a few years after the writer's death. But the Finnish director Dome Karukoski, whose last picture told the story of male-erotica illustrator Tom of Finland, has found material in the writer's life.

Going by the trailer above, Tolkien deals not just with the writing of The Lord of the Rings, described by star Nicholas Hoult as "a story about journeys, the journeys we take to prove ourselves," about "adventures" and "potent magic, magic beyond anything anyone has ever felt before."

It's also, says Hoult-as-Tolkien, a story about "what it means to love, and to be loved." That fits with another apparent storyline of Tolkien itself, that of the man who dreamed up Middle-Earth's relationship with Edith Bratt, the girl he met as a teenager who would become his wife — not long after which he received the letter summoning him to France to fight in the First World War, where he managed to survive the Battle of the Somme. An equally skilled writer of another temperament might have produced an enduring novel of the war, but Tolkien, as his generations of readers know, went in another direction entirely. A generation later, Joseph Heller proved to be that skilled writer of a different temperament, and sixteen years after coming back from the Second World War, he produced Catch-22.

Heller's novel has also made it to the screen a few times: Mike Nichols directed a feature-film adaptation in 1970, the pilot for a television series aired three years later, and now we await a Catch-22 miniseries that will air on Hulu this May. Christopher Abbott stars as Captain John Yossarian, the hapless bombardier with no aim in the war but to stay out of harm's way, and George Clooney (also one of the series' directors) as Lieutenant Scheisskopf, one of the book's cast of highly memorable minor characters. The series' six episodes should accommodate more of that cast — and more of the forms Heller's elaborate satire takes in the novel — than a movie can. If, as a result, you need to consult Heller's large-format handwritten outline for the book, by all means do — and have a look at Tolkien's annotated map of Middle-Earth while you're at it.

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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 or on Facebook.

10 Tips on How to Write a Great Screenplay from Billy Wilder: Pearls of Wisdom from the Director of Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity & More

Image via Wikimedia Commons

There's an old story -- Orson Welles called it "the greatest Hollywood one-liner ever made" -- that when someone attending the 1958 funeral of Harry Cohn, the fearsome president of Columbia Pictures, asked how it was possible that such a huge crowd would show up for Cohn's funeral, Billy Wilder quipped: "Well, give the people what they want."

The story is almost certainly apocryphal. The line may have been spoken by someone else, at a different Hollywood mogul's funeral. But the fact that it is so often attributed to Wilder says something about his reputation as a man with a razor-sharp wit and a firm grasp of the imperatives of popular movie-making. In films like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, Double Indemnity and Sabrina, Wilder used his formidable craft as a director to tell stories in a clear and efficient way. It was an ethic he picked up as a screenwriter.

Wilder was born in Austria-Hungary and moved as a young man to Germany, where he worked as a newspaper reporter. In the late 1920s he began writing screenplays for the German film industry, but he fled the country soon after Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933. Wilder made his way to Hollywood, where he continued to write screenplays. He co-wrote a number of successful films in the 30s, including Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn and Ball of Fire. In the early 40s he got his first chance to direct a Hollywood movie, and a long string of hits followed. In 1960 he won three Academy Awards for producing, writing and directing The Apartment.

Wilder was 90 years old when the young director Cameron Crowe approached him in 1996 about playing a small role in Jerry Maguire. Wilder said no, but the two men formed a friendship. Over the next several years they talked extensively about filmmaking, and in 1999 Crowe published Conversations with Wilder. One of the book's highlights is a list of ten screenwriting tips by Wilder. "I know a lot of people that have already Xeroxed that list and put it by their typewriter," Crowe said in a 1999 NPR interview. "And, you know, there's no better film school really than listening to what Billy Wilder says."

Here are Wilder's ten rules of good filmmaking:

1: The audience is fickle.
2: Grab 'em by the throat and never let 'em go.
3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
4: Know where you're going.
5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They'll love you forever.
8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they're seeing.
9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then -- that's it. Don't hang around.

Note: Readers might also be interested in Wilder's 1996 Paris Review interview. It's called The Art of of Screenwriting.

An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in August 2013.

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Watch The Journey, the New Ridley Scott Short Film Teased During the Super Bowl

Established in 1933, Turkish Airlines celebrated its 85th anniversary last year with a higher profile than ever before. Born in 1937, Ridley Scott turned 81 last year and has shown no decline whatsoever in his enthusiasm for filmmaking. This year found those two institutions brought together by another, the Super Bowl, which offered the occasion to air a thirty-second teaser for The Journey, a six-minute film commissioned by Turkish Airlines and directed by Scott. (The same game also, Open Culture readers will have noticed, featured a Burger King commercial with Andy Warhol eating a Whopper.) The visually rich story of one woman pursuing another to and through Istanbul, the short marks the first commercial the AlienBlade Runner, and Gladiator director has made in well over a decade.

"I decided to go back and click into advertising," Scott says in the behind-the-scenes video below. "I love the chase and the speed of the job." And in this case the job was to show off the luxury of Turkish Airlines' first-class cabins and also the city of Istanbul itself, which Scott had never visited before.

But on his first trip there, Istanbul impressed him with its harbor, its mosques, and surely many other of the elements of which The Journey makes use, including the airport. "The Istanbul airport was modern and efficient, European, and what first struck me is how foreign it did not feel," writes American reporter Suzy Hansen in Notes on a Foreign Country of her own first visit to Istanbul, drawing a stark contrast with "the decrepit airport in New York I had just left."

And Hansen had flown into Istanbul's old airport, not the new one opened just last year and designed as the largest in the world. Whether The Journey will bring more business to Turkish Airlines' flights into and out of it (the final shot finds our heroine en route to Bali) remains to be seen, especially since the Super Bowl teaser seemed to cause confusion about what was being sold. It nevertheless fits nicely into Scott's acclaimed body of advertising work. In its early period came a 1974 bread commercial voted England's favorite advertisement of all time; in its middle period, of course, came the 1984 Super Bowl spot that introduced the Apple Macintosh to the world. Given the energy Scott's work in commercials and features still exudes, it feels somehow unsuitable to use the term "late period" at all.

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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 or on Facebook.

Watch 66 Oscar-Nominated-and-Award-Winning Animated Shorts Online, Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada

I recently heard someone quip that proposals to cut the Academy Awards are tantamount to suggesting that the NFL trim down the Super Bowl. Certainly for many who would rather watch the former any day of the week, even the play-by-play of technical categories repays attention. Yet people who think of the Oscars as a major sporting event with big stars and blockbusters going head-to-head can still appreciate the show as more than spectacle. How else, for example, would most of us learn about brilliant animated short films like the National Film Board of Canada’s Animal Behaviour, made by husband and wife team Alison Snowden and David Fine and nominated in this year’s Oscars? (See the trailer above.)

Snowden and Fine previously won an Oscar in 1995 for Bob’s Birthday, a hilarious short about an unhappy British dentist. Their latest film takes a charming, anthropomorphic route to the question Fine poses as, “Should what comes naturally to you be something that you seek to change to please others, or should others accept you as you are?”

Group therapy participants seeking acceptance include Lorraine, a leech with separation anxiety, Victor, an ape with anger issues, and Cheryl, a praying mantis, writes the National Film Board, “who can’t seem to keep a man.”

The NFB informs us that Animal Behaviour is their 75th Oscar-nomination in the category of Animated Short Film, and whether you’re inclined to watch this part of the awards or not, you can get caught up with their extensive playlist of 66 Oscar-winning and nominated films on YouTube. (Bob’s Birthday is not available, at least in the U.S., but you can watch it here.) See Snowden and Fine's first film, George and Rosemary, a story in which "two golden agers prove that passion isn't reserved for the very young."

Watch the very impressive stop-motion animation of 2007’s Madame Tutli-Putli, an “exhilarating existential journey” directed by Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski. See Chris Landreth’s 2013 Oscar-winning computer-animated short, Ryanabout a character “living every artist’s worst nightmare.”

And see the 2007 Oscar-winning existential animated short The Danish Poet, directed by Torill Kove and featuring narration by Liv Ullmann. The offerings are vast and varied, displaying the very best of Canadian animation, a national art that usually goes unseen and unacknowledged by audiences outside its borders. But after watching several of these films you might agree that NFB animation deserves its long history of recognition at the Oscars. See the complete playlist of films here.

Many of these films can be found in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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

Watch Black Panther For Free in Theaters, Starting This Friday

FYI. Earlier this week, Disney announced that the Academy Award-nominated film Black Panther "will return to the big screen to celebrate Black History Month for a one-week engagement, February 1–7, at 250 participating AMC Theatres locations. To ensure that the movie is accessible to all, tickets are free for everyone, and there will be two showings per day at each participating theater." To find a list of participating theaters, just click here.

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Scenes from Bohemian Rhapsody Compared to Real Life: A 21-Minute Compilation

Bohemian Rhapsody, the 2018 bio pic about the British rock band Queen, had its fair share of factual inaccuracies--all well documented by sites like The Wrap and ScreenCrush. But, here and there, the film paid attention to detail. Witness the scenes from Live Aid, and compare them to actual footage from 1985. Or simply start at the 9:20 mark of the lengthy compilation above, which dutifully juxtaposes scenes from the film with the real life events...

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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How Michel Legrand (RIP) Gave the French New Wave a Sound: Revisit the Influential Music He Composed for Jean-Luc Godard & Jacques Demy’s Films

When he died this past weekend, the prolific composer Michel Legrand left behind a large and varied body of work, one that won him not just five Grammy awards but, for the films he scored, three Oscars as well. Though he composed the music for more than 200 films and television shows, many cinephiles will remember him — and generations of cinephiles to come will know him — as the man who gave the French New Wave a sound. Having appeared on camera as a pianist in Agnès Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 in 1961, he went on to score The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the beloved 1964 musical (and a musical without any dialogue spoken at all, only sung) directed by Varda's husband Jacques Demy.

Legrand also composed the music for Demy's next film, the also-musical The Young Girls of Rochefort, in 1967. That same decade, without a doubt the headiest for La Nouvelle Vague, he worked with no less a cinematic rule-breaker than Jean-Luc Godard on 1962's Vivre sa vie and 1964's Bande à part (also known as Band of Outsiders).

"I can’t help wondering whether, since the music is dubbed in, so are the claps, foot-stamps, and finger-snaps," writes New Yorker film critic and Godard scholar Richard Brody of the well-known dance scene in the latter, "or whether, for the take used in the film, there was no music playing at all, and the trio" — none of them trained dancers — "did their dance to the time of music playing in their minds."

Brody names as "the greatest flourish in the sequence" the moment when "the music cuts out, and Godard speaks, in voice-over: 'Now it’s time to open a second parenthesis, and to describe the emotions of the characters.'" The way the director's words interrupt the motion of the visuals, and of Legrand's score, "distinguishes the scene from so many scenes in so many films where so many filmmakers are so concerned with bringing out their characters’ emotions solely by means of action," the reason for the dull fact that "many movies — and many wrongly hailed — give a sense of being constructed as illustrations of script elements, the connections of dots planted in just the right place to yield a particular portrait."

Legrand did, of course, compose for a few such less artistically adventurous films as well, but that just goes to show how wide a variety of cinematic visions his musical aesthetic could accommodate. He scored such memorable and even influential pictures as the original The Thomas Crown Affair and Summer of '42, as well as Orson Welles' decades-awaited The Other Side of the Wind, which came out just last year as what Brody calls a "belated masterpiece" and "one of the great last dramatic features by any director." Legrand's music could fairly be called romantic, even sentimental, but like few other composers working today, he knew exactly what it took — and exactly whom to work with — to keep those qualities from turning saccharine or banal.

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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 or on Facebook.

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