The Library of Congress Launches the National Screening Room, Putting Online Hundreds of Historic Films

Public domain fans, pull your noses out of those musty old books on Project Gutenberg, but keep your eyes glued to the screen!

The Library of Congress just cut the ribbon on the National Screening Room, an online trove of cinematic goodies, free for the streaming.

Given that the collection spans more than 100 years of cinema history, from 1890-1999, not all of the featured films are in the public domain, but most are, and those are free to download as well as watch.

Archivist Mike Mashon, who heads the Library’s Moving Image Section, identifies the project’s goal as providing the public with a “broad range of historical and cultural audio-visual materials that will enrich education, scholarship and lifelong learning.”




Can’t argue with that. Those seeking to become better versed in the art of consensual kissing whilst mustachioed will find several valuable takeaways in the above clip.

Personal experience, however, compels me to expand upon Mashon’s stated goal: artists, theatermakers, filmmakers—use those downloadable public domain films in your creative projects! (Properly attributed, of course.)

You can educate yourself about a particular clip’s rights and the general ins and outs of motion picture copyrights by scrolling past the clip’s call number to click on “Rights & Access.”

The Library does emphasize that rights assessment is the individual’s responsibility. Few artists conceive of this as the fun part, but do it, or risk the sort of creative heartbreak animator Nina Paley set herself up for when integrating inadequately checked out vintage recordings into her feature-length Sita Sings the Blues, having “decided (she) was just going to use this music, and let the chips fall where they may.”

A hypothetical example: Liza Minnelli's 2nd or 3rd birthday party at her godfather Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills estate?

It’s adorable to the point of irresistible, but alas “for educational purposes only,” a designation that applies to all the Gershwin home movies.

(Watch em, anyway! You never know when you may be called upon to throw an opulent 1940’s-style toddler party. Forewarned is forearmed! Instagram's gonna LOVE you.)

Copyright-wise, a good way to hedge your bets is to look for material filmed before 1922, like The Newlyweds, DW Griffith’s meet-cute silent short, starring America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford. Look to the leading ladies of that era, if you want to find some worthy tales (and footage) to shoehorn into your #metoo documentary.

Sounds like you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you, friend. But wait, there's more!

Recharge your batteries with a visit to Peking’s Forbidden City circa 1903.

Wouldn't that make a fine backdrop to your band’s next music video!

And dibs on the fabled diving horse of Coney Island, whose feats of derring-do were filmed by Thomas Edison.

I could watch that horse dive all day! And so could the audience of that 8-hour puppet opera I may wind up writing one of these days. It’s set in Coney Island….

Readers, have a rummage and report back. What’s your favorite find in the National Screening Room? Any plans for future use, real or imaginary? Let us know.

If you’re not immediately inspired, don’t despair. Just check back. New content will be uploaded monthly. There are also plans afoot to create educator lesson plans on historical and social topics documented in the collection. Teachers, imagine what your students might create with this classroom tool....

Begin your visit to the National Screening Room here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Learn Anatomy Through a Pictorial History of James Bond 007

Remember the scene in Tomorrow Never Dies when sexy double agent Wai Lin handcuffs James Bond to the shower and leaves him there?

Alternately, remember “Table 9” from anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus’ 1749 Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani?

Kriota Willberg, an educator, massage therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and author of Draw Stronger: Self-Care For Cartoonists and Other Visual Artists, is sufficiently steeped in both Bond and Albinus to identify striking visual similarities.

That shower scene is just one iconic moment that Willberg included in her mini-comic, Pictorial Anatomy of 007.

Agent Bond’s sartorial sense is a crucial aspect of his appeal, but Willberg, a Bond fan who’s seen every film in the canon at least five times, digs below that celebrated surface, peeling back skin to expose the structures that lie beneath.

Sean Connery’s Bond exhibits a veteran artist’s model's stillness waiting for the right time to make his move against Dr. No’s “eight-legged assassin.” Even before Willberg got involved, it was an excellent showcase for his pecs, delta, and sternocleitomastoid muscles.

Leaving her flayed Bonds in their cinematic settings are a way of paying tribute to the antique anatomical illustrations Willberg admires for their dynamism:

…sitting in a chair, taking a stroll, holding its skin or organs out of the way so that the reader can get a better look at deeper structures. Some of the cadavers are very flirty. The pictures remind us that we are the organs we see on the page. They do stuff! 

The New York Academy of Medicine selected Willberg as its first Artist in Residence, because of the way she explores the intersections between body sciences and artistic practices. (Other projects include an intricate needlepoint X-Ray of her own root canal and Stitchin’ Time!, a fictional encounter in which Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 CE), author of  De Medicina, and surgeon Aelius Galenus (129  – c. 200 CE) team up to repair a disemboweled gladiator.

Is there a squeamish bone in this artist's body?

All signs point to no.

Asked to pick a favorite Bond movie, she names Goldfinger for the mythology concerning the infamous scene wherein a beautiful woman is painted gold, but also 2006’s Casino Royale for keeping the torture scene from the book:

I didn’t think they’d have the balls! Sorry! Poor taste but I couldn’t resist. Although Timothy Dalton physically resembled Bond as described in the books, most of the movies make Bond out to be smarter than Fleming wrote him. I think Judy Dench called Daniel Craig, Casino Royale’s Bond, a “blunt instrument” which is pretty much how he’s written. He’s tough and lucky and that’s why he’s survived. Plus the machete fight is great. 

Sometimes people get too prissy about the body. I am meat and liver and sausage and so are you. Your body is inescapable while you live. You should get to know it. Think about it in different contexts. It’s fun!

When From Russia With Love’s Rosa Klebb punches master assassin, Red Grant, in the stomach, she is squishing a living liver through living abdominal muscles.

Hard copies of Kriota Willberg’s anatomy-based comics, including Pictorial Anatomy of 007, are available from Birdcage Bottom Books.

Listen to an hour-long interview with Comics Alternative in which Willberg discusses her New York Academy of Medicine residency, anatomical research, and the ways in which humor informs her approach here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest script, Fawnbook, is available in a digital edition from Indie Theater Now.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Noam Chomsky Talks About How Kids Acquire Language and Ideas in an Animated Video by Michel Gondry

These days Noam Chomsky is probably most famous for his consistent, outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy. Yet before the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, Chomsky became internationally famous for proposing a novel solution to an age-old question: what does a baby know?

Plato argued that infants retain memories of past lives and thus come into this world with a grasp of language. John Locke countered that a baby’s mind is a blank slate onto which the world etches its impression. After years of research, Chomsky proposed that newborns have a hard-wired ability to understand grammar. Language acquisition is as elemental to being human as, say, dam building is to a beaver. It’s just what we’re programmed to do. Chomsky’s theories revolutionized the way we understand linguistics and the mind.




A little while ago, film director and music video auteur Michel Gondry interviewed Chomsky and then turned the whole thing into an extended animated documentary called Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?.

Above is a clip from the film. In his thick French accent, Gondry asks if there is a correlation between language acquisition and early memories. For anyone who’s watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you know that memory is one of the director’s major obsessions. Over Gondry’s rough-hewn drawings, Chomsky expounds: “Children know quite a lot of a language, much more than you would expect, before they can exhibit that knowledge.” He goes on to talk about new techniques for teaching deaf-blind children and how a day-old infant interprets the world.

As the father of a toddler who is at the cusp of learning to form thoughts in words, I found the clip to be fascinating. Now, if only Chomsky can explain why my son has taken to shouting the word “bacon” over and over and over again.

To gain a deeper understanding of Chomsky's thoughts on linguistics, see our previous post:  The Ideas of Noam Chomsky: An Introduction to His Theories on Language & Knowledge (1977)

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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

“Lynchian,” “Kubrickian,” “Tarantinoesque” and 100+ Film Words Have Been Added to the Oxford English Dictionary

Image via Oxford English Dictionary

Get interested enough in anything, and you soon discover its language. Each subject, pursuit, and area of culture has its own slang, its own jargon, even its own grammar: that goes as well for physics and fishing as it does for cooking and cinema. Though quite specialized, the vast lexicon of that last has also contributed a great deal to English as generally used. The latest update to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary has added more than 100 of these terms, from already well-known expressions like "edge-of-your-seat," "not in Kansas anymore," and "blink and you'll miss it" to the less-common likes of kaiju (the Japanese battling-monster genre that gave us Godzilla), and Foley (the art of adding incidental sounds to movies in post-production), and gorehound (an enthusiast of the gorefest, a genre whose sensibility you can well imagine).

Many of the new entries have to do with particular directors and their styles. "The list runs through a range of genres and locations, from the wide landscapes of the American West evoked by Fordian to Swedish soul-searching with Bergmanesque," writes the OED's Craig Leyland. The oldest, Keatonesque, "dates from 1921, near the start of an extraordinary run of success for the comic actor and film-maker, and typically refers to Keaton’s famous deadpan expression and penchant for physical comedy. The most recent is Tarantinoesque, first seen in 1994 – the year Pulp Fiction appeared in cinemas," which refers to qualities like "graphic and stylized violence, cineliterate references, non-linear storylines, sharp dialogue, and more – and is a reminder of the impact these films had on cinema in the 1990s."




Other auteur-specific additions include Spielbergian ("fantastical or humanist themes or a sentimental feel"), Lynchian ("noted for juxtaposing surreal or sinister elements with mundane, everyday environments"), and of course Kubrickian ("meticulous perfectionism, mastery of the technical aspects of film-making, and atmospheric visual style in films across a range of genres"). Several terms denoting broader movements and styles have also made it in, including mumblecore, "a style of low-budget film typically characterized by naturalistic and (apparently) improvised performances and a reliance on dialogue rather than plot or action" which emerged about a decade ago, and Hammer, denoting the horror films made from the 1950s to the 70s by British production company of that name, "still famous and loved for their lurid, melodramatic style."

Master these words and you'll surely hold your own in casual cinephile conversation. But you can only get so deep into talking about movies if you can't confidently bring out terms like arc shotdiegetic, and mise-en-scène. As one of the most capacious art forms, cinema brings together a number of languages all at once, including the visual language as defined by directors like Soviet montage pioneer Sergei Eisenstein (he of Eisensteinian) and the language the screenplay gives its characters to speak (an especially distinctive element in the case of filmmakers like Tarantino). But those are essentially solitary pleasures, enjoyed in a darkened theater or living room. Isn't one of the most enduring joys of filmgoing talking about the movies with other people later — and to sound as expert as possible while doing so?

via OED/Indiewire

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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.

When Andy Warhol Made a Batman Superhero Movie (1964)

Each of us has a favorite Batman movie. My own allegiance still lies with the one Tim Burton directed in 1989, a prototype of the modern dark superhero blockbuster in which Jack Nicholson made quite an impact as the Joker. But Heath Ledger made an even bigger one in The Dark Knight, an especially beloved entry in Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Batman pictures of the 21st century. These days, with enough distance, some even admit to enjoying Joel Schumacher's ultra-campy takes on Batman from the late 1990s, or their spiritual predecessor Batman: The Movie from 1966, an extension of the self-parodying television series starring Adam West. But before all of them there was Batman Dracula, directed by no less a visionary — and no less a Batman fan — than Andy Warhol.

Starring Warhol's fellow experimental filmmaker Jack Smith in both title roles, Batman Dracula pits the Caped Crusader of comic-book fame against the vampiric Transylvanian count of legend, the millionaire vigilante who seems to fear nothing but bats against the immortal recluse who spends much of his time in the form of a bat.




Smith may bear a faint resemblance to Christian Bale, Nolan's Batman, but there all aesthetic resemblance to the "real" Batman movies ends. Shot in black and white on various rooftops around New York and Long Island as well as in Warhol's "Factory," Warhol's unauthorized approach to the material seems to get as abstract and spontaneous as most of the cinema put together by his coterie — or at least the surviving footage makes it look that way. Though Warhol did complete Batman Dracula, he only showed it at a few of his art shows before DC Comics called and demanded an immediate end to its screenings.

Nobody has found a complete print since, but you can watch a few minutes of the surviving footage cut to "The Nothing Song" by the Velvet Underground & Nico (a much more enduring product of the Factory) in the video at the top of the post. Below that we have the LowRes Wünderbred video essay "Deconstructing Andy Warhol's Batman Dracula," which provides more details on the making of Batman Dracula and its context in the careers of Warhol and his collaborators. The Film Histories video on Batman Dracula just above gets into how the movie opened up a "Pandora's box" of unauthorized Batman and Batman-like movies, including The Wild World of Batwoman and the Filipino Alyas Batman at Robin. So many Batman projects, official and otherwise, now exist, and so many more remain to be made. But will any of the material's future stewards push its artistic boundaries as much as Warhol did?

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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.

Jurassic Park Without Dinosaurs: Watch Humans Stare in Amazement at a World Stripped of CGI Creations

How many times have you encountered an otherwise perfect view spoiled by a newly erected high rise, a construction crane, or a CGI brachiosaurus?

Constantly, right?

Video editor William Hirsch makes light work of Jurassic Park’s primary attractions’ first appearance, literally erasing them from the scene.

Hirsch estimated that it took him about a week to get rid of those pesky ‘saurs using nothing fancier than After Effects’s built in tools, which include the motion tracking software Mocha.




It's equal parts ridiculous and lovely to see humans suddenly thunderstruck by the unspoiled landscape they’ve been driving through.

These days, of course, Laura Dern would have to glance up from her phone, not a paper map.

Though it's not such a stretch to imagine Jurassic Park's author's successor, the late Michael Crichton's literary heir, hard at work on a dystopian novel titled Park.

At the time of its release, Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs were a special effects game changer. Their numbers were supplemented by some non-computer-generated animatronic models, though no doubt Spielberg was apprehensive given the way his robotic sharks acted up on the set of Jaws. The human players may have had more screen time, but the dinosaurs’ 15 minutes of footage has resulted in a lasting fame, extending decades beyond the expected 15 minutes.

Unexpectedly, Hirsch’s dinosaurs, or rather, lack thereof, have generated the most excitement with regard to his project. But his attention to detail is also laudable. Above, he reveals how he tweaked the access badge dangling from the rear view mirror of the park's all-terrain vehicle.

Are we wrong to think that John Williams’ swelling original score feels more organic in this dinosaur-free context? Rivers, trees, and vast amounts of skies have been known to spur composers to such heights.

The potentially lethal prehistoric beasts are out of the way, but that line “We’re gonna make a fortune with this place” retains an air of ominous foreshadowing, given the plentiful natural resources on display. Sometimes humans can do more damage than dinosaurs.

If that feels too intense, you can also retreat to the escapist pleasures of the original, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 15 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests of Three Female Muses: Nico, Edie Sedgwick & Mary Woronov

Artist Andy Warhol shot over 500 silent, black-and-white screen-tests in his famous Factory between 1964 and 1966, documenting the beautiful youth who were drawn to the scene. Sometimes he would chat with the subject beforehand, offering suggestions to help them achieve the type of performance he was looking for. More frequently he took a passive role, to the point of leaving the room during the filming.

The opposite of a people person, he preferred to engage with his subjects by scrutinizing the finished screen tests, projecting them in slow motion to imbue them with an added element of glamour and amplify every nuance of expression. As Warhol wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

That screen magnetism is something secret. If you could figure out what it is and how you make it, you'd have a really good product to sell. But you can't even tell if someone has it until you actually see them up there on the screen. You have to give screen tests to find out.

The screen tests are less auditions for roles in Warhol films than pieces of an ongoing project. Warhol played with them, assembling and reassembling them into collections which he screened under such fluid titles as 13 Most Beautiful Women and 13 Most Wanted Men. Some of his test subjects went on to achieve real stardomLou Reed, Dennis Hopper, and Bob Dylan




Others’ fame is forever tied to the Factory.

Edie Sedgwick, above, one of his best known muses, was a troubled girl from a wealthy family. Unlike some of the moodier screen tests, Sedgwick’s is fully lit. She displays a genuine movie star’s poise, barely moving as the camera drinks her in. Her beauty appears untouched by the addictions and eating disorders that were already a driving force in her life.

Actress and painter Mary Woronov emerged unscathed from her time at the Factory. Like Sedgwick, she seemed comfortable with the idea of being observed doing nothing for an extended period. Recalling her screen test experience in an interview with Bizarre, she made it clear that the subjects were far from the center of attention:

Andy put you on a stool, then puts the camera in front of you. There are lots of people around usually. And then he turns the camera on, and he walks away, and all the people walk away too, but you're standing there in front of this camera.

I saw Salvador Dali do one, it was really funny. It's a very interesting film, because it's a way of cracking open your personality and showing what's underneath—only in a visual way, because there's no talking, nothing. You just look at the camera. Salvador made this gigantic pose with his moustache blaring and everything, and he couldn't hold the pose. Not for five minutes. And so at about minute four, he suddenly started looking very, very real.

The camera loves stillness, something model and singer Nico was unable to deliver in her screen test. Perhaps not such a problem when the director has plans to project in slow motion.

As he stated in POPism: The Warhol '60s:

What I liked was chunks of time all together, every real moment… I only wanted to find great people and let them be themselves… and I'd film them for a certain length of time and that would be the movie.

Factory regular/interior decorator/photographer Billy Name told punk historian Legs McNeil in an interview that the screen tests served another purposeto identify the fellow travelers from among the poor fits:

… it's always cool to meet other artists, you know, to see if it's somebody who's going to be a peer or a compatriot, who you can play with and hang around with or not. Andy was doing a series of screen tests for his films, and we wanted everybody to do one: Dylan, Nico, Dennis Hopper, Susan Sontag, Donovan—everyone famous that came up to the Factory. We'd just film 16mm black-and-white portraits of the person sitting there for a few minutes. So our purpose was to have Dylan come up and do a screen test, so he could be part of the series. That was enough for us. But Dylan didn't talk at all when we filmed him. I don't think he liked us, ha, ha, ha!

Revolver Gallery, devoted exclusively to Warhol, has a gallery of screen-tests on their YouTube channel.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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