The Evocativeness of Decomposing Film: Watch the 1926 Hollywood Movie The Bells Become the Experimental 2004 Short Film, Light Is Calling

We think of movies as lasting forever. And since we can pull up videos of films from 50, 80, even 100 years ago, why shouldn't we? But as everyone who dives deep into this history of cinema knows, the further back in time you go, the more movies are "lost," wholly or partially. In the case of the latter, bits and pieces remain of film — actual, physical film — but often they've been poorly preserved and thus have badly degraded. Still, they have value, and not just to cinema scholars. The thirty-year-long career of filmmaker Bill Morrison, for instance, demonstrates just how evocatively film at the end of its life can be put to artistic use.

"Created using a decomposing 35mm print of the crime drama The Bells (1926), the experimental short Light Is Calling (2004) depicts a dreamy encounter between a soldier and a mysterious woman," says Aeon. "With images that reveal themselves only to distort and disappear into the decaying amber-tinted nitrate," Morrison "invites viewers to meditate on the fleeting nature of all things physical and emotional, while a minimalistic violin score suffuses the century-old images with a wistful, haunting beauty." Light Is Calling would have one kind of poignancy if The Bells were a lost film, but since you can watch it in full just below — and with a decently kept-up image, by the standards of mid-1920s movies — it has quite another.

Like many pictures of the silent era, The Bells was adapted from a stage play, in this case Alexandre Chatrian and Emile Erckmann's Le Juif Polonais. Originally written in 1867, the play was turned into an opera before it was turned into a film — which first happened in 1911 in Australia, then in 1913 and 1918 in America, then in 1928 in a British-Belgian co-production. This 1926 Hollywood version, which features such big names of the day as Boris Karloff and Lionel Barrymore, came as Le Juif Polonais' fifth film adaptation, but not its last: two more, made in Britain and Australia, would follow in the 1930s. The material of the story, altered and altered again through generations of use, feels suitable indeed for Light Is Calling, whose thoroughly damaged images make us imagine the intentions of the original, each in our own way.

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.

Studio Ghibli Producer Toshio Suzuki Teaches You How to Draw Totoro in Two Minutes

This is something you can do at home. Everyone, please draw pictures —Toshio Suzuki

There’s no shortage of online tutorials for fans who want to draw Totoro, the  enigmatic title character of Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated feature, My Neighbor Totoro:

There’s a two-minute, non-narrated, God's-Eye-view with shading...

A detailed geometry-based step-by-step

A ten-minute version for kids that utilizes a drinking glass and a bottle cap to get the proportions right prior to penciling, inking, and coloring...

But none has more heart than Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki’s simple demonstration, above.

The paper is oriented toward the artist, rather than the viewer.

His only instruction is that the eyes should be spaced very far apart.

His brush pen lends itself to a freer line than the tightly controlled outlines of Studio Ghibli’s carefully rendered 2-D character designs.

This is Totoro as Zen practice, offered as a gift to cooped-up Japanese children, whose schools, like so many worldwide, were abruptly shuttered in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch 36 Beastie Boys Videos Now Remastered in HD

The Beastie Boys are still the only group to have their music videos receive a Criterion Collection release, having delivered a steady stream of hilarious and fun promo spots since “She’s on It” in 1985. As the documentary Beastie Boys Story recently dropped on AppleTV, the remaining B-Boys and their record label remastered 36 of their videos, now re-uploaded to YouTube in HD. And now’s as good a time as any to restock and rethink their impact on the art form of music video.

The first videos are silly, cartoonish slapstick, with a fratboy sense of humor that played better then than now, especially with several references to faux-aphrodesiac Spanish Fly. But the sped up action and costume changes placed them in a lineage usually associated with British acts like The Beatles and Madness.

The Beasties always poked fun at themselves, which other American acts rarely did, especially in the very macho worlds of hip-hop and metal. Even in their final videos they were slapping on wigs and fake mustaches.

But if the Beastie Boys really had one main legacy it was the use of the fish-eye lens. Used first in the "Hold It Now Hit It" video (an afternoon’s filming intercut with shots from their Dionysian first world tour), it would return for 1989’s "Shake Your Rump", where the group have learned exactly how to work its distorting powers (MCA’s fingers feel like they’re going to reach through the screen). This style reaches its apex in “So What’cha Want” where the distortion is matched with a slowed motion (the band miming to a sped up version, then the video slowed to the correct speed). The music’s THC-laced grind is matched with decayed visuals. Rap videos ever since have used the immediacy of the direct-to-camera performance, and directors like Hype Williams made a career of turning a fisheye lens onto performers like Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot, with even more surreal results.

But the Beastie Boys really flourished when they teamed up with director Spike Jonze, who directed the Beastie Boys Story and would direct six of their videos. A rising photographer and director connected with the skateboarding scene, his first collaboration with the group was 1992’s “Time for Living,” a punk rock non-single from Check Your Head. But things really took off with “Sabotage,” one of the band’s best videos, a parody of 1970s cop shows. Watching the Beasties and their friends play dress-up, run rampant through the streets of Los Angeles, jump across rooftops, and toss a dummy off a bridge is like the platonic ideal of a home movie made with your best friends. Absolutely silly and hilarious, but life-affirming at the same time, a distillation of what made the band great.

You probably have your own favorites too, as there’s so many: the Godzilla tribute of “Intergalactic,” the parody of Diabolik for "Body Movin'", the psychedelic paint explosion of “Shadrach,” the homage to Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii with "Gratitude", the celebrity lovefest of "Make Some Noise", and the years-before-their-time ‘70s disco-and-polyester indulgence of "Hey Ladies” where Jean Cocteau and Dolemite share a cokespoon-ful of influences.

The playlist also features a number of non-album tracks done for the hell of it, some real rarities even for the fan. Good God y’all.

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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.

David Lynch Releases an Animated Film Online: Watch Fire (Pozar)

David Lynch began his artistic career as a painter. Before long his paintings became animations, of a kind, as exemplified by 1967's Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) and 1968's The Alphabet. By 1977, when the years-in-the-making Eraserhead finally saw the light of day, Lynch's transformation into a live-action filmmaker must have seemed complete. But his imagination has never accepted confinement to one medium: even while working on ever higher-profile projects — The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks — he continued to paint, to draw, to take photographs. Lynch's completely static comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World was a compelling fixture in the LA Reader during the 1980s, but apart from the online series Dumbland and the Interpol collaboration I Touch a Red Button Man, little Lynchian in the way of animation has appeared over the past few decades.

This past Monday, however, Lynch announced the release of one such rarity free to watch on Youtube. Like I Touch a Red Button Man, Fire (Pozar) is a joint effort between filmmaker and musician, in this case composer Marek Zebrowski. "The whole point of our experiment was that I would say nothing about my intentions and Marek would interpret the visuals in his own way,” said Lynch in a USC School of Music interview.

As collaborators, Lynch and Zebrowski go back to Inland Empire, the 2006 feature Lynch shot partially in Poland. This necessitated a translator, and the Polish-American Zebrowski stepped up to the job. In 2007 the two continued down that cultural avenue, recording an album called Polish Night MusicFire (Pozar)'s bilingual title also honors Zebrowski's ancestral homeland, though the film itself may lack any direct reference to Poland — or to any real place, for that matter.

Lynch is credited with having "written, drawn, and directed" the short (its animator, Noriko Miyakawa, was an editor on 2017's Twin Peaks: The Return), and on the visual level it plays out like a journey through what will feel, to many of us, like the familiar realm of the Lynchian imagination. The titular fire — or rather, pozar — starts early on. Then we're transported to a silhouette landscape that brings to mind David Foster Wallace's description of one of Lynch's painting's, "the sort of diagnostic House-Tree-Person drawing that gets a patient institutionalized in a hurry." But there are no people here, or at least no whole people: the first even faintly humanoid figure to emerge brings to mind the menacing baby in Eraserhead, and by the end the scene will have been overtaken by creatures neither properly animal nor man. Zebrowski's score gets thoroughly enough into this stark but frenetic spirit to make Lynch fans believe that further collaborations must surely be on the way.

This short film will be added to our 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, 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.

The Original Star Wars Trilogy Adapted into a 14-Hour Radio Drama by NPR (1981-1996)

When it opened in 1977, Star Wars revived the old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure film. Within a few years, National Public Radio made a bet that it could do the same for the radio drama. Though still well within living memory, the "golden age of radio" in America had ended decades earlier, and with it the shows that once filled the airwaves with stories of every kind. Radio dramas seemed extinct, but then, before George Lucas' space opera turned blockbuster, so had movie serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. The episodic nature of such source material resonated with the similarly episodic nature of classic radio drama, and that must have brought within the realm of possibility a bold and near-scandalous proposition: to re-make Star Wars for NPR.

The idea came from a student at the University of California, who suggested it to USC School of the Performing arts dean and radio-drama enthusiast Richard Toscan. There could have been no institution better-placed to take on such a project. Since Toscan had already produced dramas on the school's NPR-affiliated radio station KUSC, he made an ideal collaborator in the network's effort to breathe new life into its dramatic programming.

And as Lucas' alma mater, USC inspired in him a certain generosity: Lucas sold KUSC Star Wars' radio rights, along with use of the film's music and sound effects, for one dollar. Founded just a decade earlier, NPR still lacked the experience and resources to handle such an ambitious project itself, and so entered into a co-production deal with the BBC, which had never let radio drama go into eclipse.

When the Star Wars radio drama was first broadcast in the spring of 1981, fans of the movie would have heard a mixture of the familiar (including the voices of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO) and the unfamiliar. With science-fiction novelist Brian Daley brought on to add or restore scenes to the script of the original dialogue-light feature film, the story stretches out to thirteen episodes for a total runtime of six hours. The series thus stands as an early example of the expansion of the Star Wars universe that, in all kinds of media, has continued apace ever since. An Empire Strikes Back radio drama followed in 1983, with Return of the Jedi following, after prolonged development challenges, in 1996.

You can hear all fourteen hours of these original Star Wars trilogy radio dramas at the Internet Archive (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi), or on a Youtube playlist with fan edits combining the originally discrete episodes into continuous listening experiences. NPR's gamble on adapting a Hollywood hit paid off: the first Star Wars radio drama drew 750,000 new listeners, many from the youthful demographic the network had hoped to capture. It was the biggest science-fiction event on American radio since Orson Welles scared the country with his adaptation of H.G. Welles' The War of the Worlds more than 40 years earlier — a broadcast produced by John Houseman, who in his capacity as USC's artistic directory in the 1970s, encouraged Toscan to bring radio drama back. In recent years, NPR's audience has continued to age while the Star Wars franchise has in theaters, on television and elsewhere, gone from strength to strength. Has the time come for radio to use the Force once again?

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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.

David Lynch Creates Daily Weather Reports for Los Angeles: How the Filmmaker Passes Time in Quarantine

David Lynch hasn't directed a feature film in thirteen years, but that doesn't mean he's been idle. Quite the opposite, in fact: in addition to the acclaimed Showtime series Twin Peaks: The Return, he's recorded an album, written a memoir, taught a Masterclass, overseen the development of a Twin Peaks virtual reality game, and made a short film about ants devouring a piece of cheese. In his home studio, he's also continued the visual art practice he started before turning to filmmaker in the 1970s. We may know Lynch best as the man behind EraserheadBlue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, but he seems equally comfortable working in whichever form or medium is at hand. In this time of COVID-19 quarantine, which has suspended filmmaking, filmgoing, and other kinds of human activity, one such medium is the weather report.

"Here in L.A.... kind of cloudy... some fog this morning," says the respected filmmaker in his weather-report video for May 11, 2020. "64 degrees Fahrenheit; around seventeen Celsius. This all should burn off pretty soon, and we'll have sunshine and 70 degrees." All just what one would expect from the climate of Los Angeles, the southern Californian metropolis where Lynch lives and which he often praises — and which, it's recently been reported, will likely extend its stay-at-home order for at least three more months.

The sudden lack of movement in this famously mobile city has done wonders for the air quality, but so far that element hasn't figured explicitly into Lynch's reports. "We've got clouds and kind of foggy weather, with some blue shining through," he says on the morning of May 12th. But just as the day before, that fog "should burn off later, and we'll have sunshine." Longtime followers of Lynch's internet projects will recognize these as a sequel to the daily video weather reports he posted in 2008:

They'll also recognize most of the objects that surround Lynch in his office, from his set of drawers to his wall-mounted phone to his angular-handled black coffee cup. But the dramatic increase in the resolution of internet video over the past dozen years has made everything visible in a newly crisp detail, right down to the steam rising from Lynch's hot beverage of choice. More daily weather reports will presumably appear on the David Lynch Theater Youtube channel, each one colored by his signature (and, given the unrelentingly disturbing qualities of his best-known work, seemingly incongruous) optimism. "It’s going to be a different world on the other side," he told Vice last month. "It’s going to be a much more intelligent world. Solutions to these problems are going to come and life’s going to be very good. The movies will come back. Everything will spring back and in a much better way, probably."

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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.

Decoding Korean Cinema: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (ep. 43)

We're seeing a lot of Korean media in American popular culture nowadays, what with Parasite winning the Oscar for best picture and K-Pop and K-Dramas finding an increasing American cult following. This is not an accident: The Korean government has as an explicit goal the growth of "soft power" through exported cultural products. This Korean Wave (Hallyu) was aimed foremost at Asia but has reached us as well. Suzie Hyun-jung Oh joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to explore the context for this spread and figure out what exactly feels foreign to American audiences about Korean media.

This is our first attempt to get at the zeitgeist of another culture to better understand its media, and the primary focus of our immersion (the part of the wave that's not aimed at teens) was film: In addition to the work of Bong Joon-ho, we touch on The Handmaiden, A Train to Busan, The Burning, A Taxi Driver, Lucid Dreaming, Among the Gods, and others.

We also talk a little about Korean teen cultural products, family life and religion in Korea, the aesthetic of cuteness, M*A*S*H, and whether Americans will read subtitles.

Some articles and other resources that helped us:

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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