Pixar & Khan Academy Offer a Free Online Course on Storytelling

in Animation, Film, K-12, Online Courses | February 20th, 2017

It doesn’t take much to spark a good story.

A tall man, a short woman, a setting that’s sterile to the point of soulless, and a couple dozen bananas…

It practically writes itself!

If you’re slow to recognize the potential in these extremely potent elements (culled from the above video’s opening shot), this free online course on storytelling, part of Khan Academy’s popular Pixar In A Box series, might help strengthen those slack storytelling muscles.

The lessons will hold immense appeal for young Pixar fans, but adults students stand to gain too. Children are naturally confident storytellers. Unfortunately, time can do a number on both fluency and one’s belief in one’s own ability to string together narratives that others will enjoy.

The Pixar directors and story artists drafted to serve as instructors for this course are as deft at encouragement as they are at their craft. They’ll help you move that rubber tree plant… for free.

Each short, example-packed video lesson is followed with an activity in which the viewer is asked to parse his or her favorite stories.

One of the most compelling aspects of the series is hearing about the stories that matter deeply to the teachers.

Mark Andrews, who wrote and directed Brave, recalls his visceral response to the injustice of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s Island of Misfit Toys.

Domee Shi who storyboarded Inside Out had to bail on The Lion King, she was so effected by Simba’s discovery of his dead father.

Ratatouille animator Sanjay Patel, whose observations consistently struck me as the most profound and out of the box, went with The Killing Fields, a title that’s probably not on the radar of those most squarely in Pixar’s demographic.

The first installment stresses the importance of providing a rich setting for well-developed characters to explore, though the teachers are divided on which should come first.

Director Pete Docter, whose daughter’s tweenage passage into the Reviving Ophelia-land inspired Inside Out, stresses “writing what you know” need not pin you to the narrow confines of your own backyard. He was well into production on Monsters, Inc. when he realized it wasn’t so much a tale of a monster whose job is scaring little kids as a story of his own journey to fatherhood.

As you may have guessed, examples from the Pixar canon abound.

Khan Academy will be taking the whole of 2017 to roll out Pixar in a Box’s five remaining Storytelling units

You can complete the first unit here, then revisit their previous course on making animations, while waiting for the rest of the curriculum to drop.

Find more free courses in our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker, whose new play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in less than two weeks. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Rarely Seen, Very Early Godard Film Surfaces on YouTube

in Film | February 20th, 2017

Jean-Luc Godard, that living embodiment of the nouvelle vague who did so much to tear down and rebuild the relationship between cinema and its viewers, has kept pushing the boundaries of his art form well into his eighties. But even he had to start somewhere, and up until very recently indeed, Godard enthusiasts looked to his first film Opération béton, a short 1955 documentary on the construction of a Swiss dam that we featured a few years ago, as the starting point of his career as a filmmaker. But most of them surely had more interest in Un Femme coquette, Godard’s second and no doubt more formative first fiction film, a nine-minute adaptation of a Maupassant story hardly ever seen until just last week.

Une Femme coquette is the most elusive rarity of the French New Wave, and possibly the most difficult-to-see film by a name filmmaker that isn’t believed to be irretrievably lost,” wrote A.V. Club critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in a 2014 piece on his search for it. And so, for decades, nearly everyone who wanted to see Un Femme coquette had to make do with mere descriptions. In his Godard biography Everything Is CinemaNew Yorker critic Richard Brody highlights not only how the filmmaker, in adapting this “tale about a woman who, seeing a prostitute beckon to passing men, decides to try the gesture herself [ … ] turns the necessity of filming cheaply and rapidly, without movie lights, into an aesthetic virtue,” but also how this “film about watching, about trying to live with what one has watched, and about the inherent dangers of doing so” evokes “the perilous path [Godard] was taking as he sought to enter the cinema and anticipates the moral dangers that awaited him there.”

The sudden appearance of Un Femme coquette on “the digital back channels frequented by obscure movie enthusiasts,” as Vishnevetsky puts it, and complete with English subtitles at that, would thrill even a casual Godard fan. As for the BreathlessAlphaville, and Weekend director’s die-hard exegetes, one can only imagine the feelings they, or at least the ones who’ve yet brought themselves to cast eyes upon this sacred text, have experienced while watching it. No matter our level of familiarity with Godard and his work, we can all feel the charge cinema history has given his shoestring-budgeted and at times rough-looking black-and-white short. But who, watching it at one of its sparse early screenings, could have imagined what an aesthetic revolutionary its director, screenwriter, and one-man crew would shortly become — who, that is, besides Jean-Luc Godard?

via AV Club

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Jean-Luc Godard’s Debut, Opération béton (1955) — a Construction Documentary

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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New Animated Film About Vincent Van Gogh Will Be Made Out of 65,000 Van Gogh-Style Paintings: Watch the Trailer and Making-Of Video

in Art, Film | February 16th, 2017

One of Akira Kurosawa’s last films, 1990’s Dreams, saw the Japanese master stretching out into more personal territory. A collection of short pieces based on the director’s dreams, one of these episodes, “Crows,” shows us a young Kurosawa surrogate who wanders from a gallery of Van Gogh’s paintings and into the French countryside Van Gogh painted. The addition of Martin Scorsese as a voluble, Brooklyn-accented Van Gogh adds a quirky touch, but there’s something a little disappointing about the move from the paintings to their referent. When people ask, after all, “what must it have been like to have seen the world through Vincent van Gogh’s eyes?” they seem to assume the painter saw reality in same the swirling, writhing, riotously-colored motion as his paintings.

It’s true the beleaguered Dutch artist had problems with his vision, due to lead poisoning and temporal lobe epilepsy. But what we really want to experience is seeing the world not as Van Gogh saw it but as he painted it. And as we shared last year, we’ll soon have a chance thanks to an incredible animated feature film project called Loving Vincent by Dorota Kobiela and High Welchman. “Every frame of Loving Vincent,” wrote our editor Dan Colman, “will be an oil painting on canvas, created with the same techniques Van Gogh used over a century ago.” The filmmakers have since released an official trailer for the film, which you can see at the top of the post, and a making-of short, which you can watch just above. The artists we see hard at work in studios in Greece made a total of 65,000 individual oil paintings for the film, in color and black-and-white, many of which you can see—and purchase—at the Loving Vincent website.

The painters drew their inspiration from live action performances by actors like Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, and Aidan Turner, which were then digitally enhanced with computer animated “elements such as birds, horses, clouds and blowing leaves.” The 125 “painting animators,” as the film’s site calls them, transformed “this reference material into Vincent van Gogh’s painting style,” then re-created “the movement of the shot through animating each brushstroke.” It’s a phenomenal achievement that painter Piotr Dominiak above says gave him “goosebumps” when he saw it. The handful of painters interviewed above—from all over Europe—are passionate about Van Gogh. Few of them are professional artists. Dominiak worked as a cook before joining the project. Sarah Campos worked as a Spanish teacher, and Waldek Wesolowski restored old cars.

From start to finish, Loving Vincent has—like its subject’s body of work—been a labor of love (watch a behind-the-scenes short above). But this one came together on the internet. The filmmakers began funding with a Kickstarter campaign several years ago, and most of the artists were recruited through their website. Given the incredible results in what we’ve seen so far, we can expect to enter Van Gogh’s creative vision in a way we could only dream about before. Learn much more about the project at the impressive Loving Vincent website.

Related Content:

Watch the Trailer for a “Fully Painted” Van Gogh Film: Features 12 Oil Paintings Per Second by 100+ Painters

Martin Scorsese Plays Vincent Van Gogh in a Short, Surreal Film by Akira Kurosawa

Vincent van Gogh Visits a Modern Museum & Gets to See His Artistic Legacy: A Touching Scene from Doctor Who

Download Hundreds of Van Gogh Paintings, Sketches & Letters in High Resolution

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

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Hayao Miyazaki Meets Akira Kurosawa: Watch the Titans of Japanese Film in Conversation (1993)

in Animation, Film, Television | February 16th, 2017

Note: Please scroll to the 6:52 mark where the conversation begins.

The name Miyazaki defines Japanese animation not just in its own country, but across the world. The name Kurosawa does the same for the rest of Japanese cinema. But given their differences of not just specific art form but of generation (Akira Kurosawa was born in 1910, Hayao Miyazaki in 1941), one might wonder whether the men themselves, were they to meet, would have much to talk about. Nippon TV put the idea to the test in 1993 by airing Miyazaki Meets Kurosawa, which sends the already renowned animator, whose sixth film Porco Rosso had come out the previous year, to the home of the long-reigning “Emperor” of Japanese film, whose thirtieth and final film Madadayo (a title translatable as Not Yet!) had come out the previous month. Their conversation starts at the 6:52 mark above.

After a bit of small talk, mostly about the magnificent view of Mount Fuji from Kurosawa’s front porch, the masters get down to shop talk. Kurosawa and Miyazaki discuss the difficulty of speaking about one’s own work, the sweet taste of sake at the end of a long shoot, the pain of sitting at a desk drawing day in and day out, what it took to build a sloping street for Madadayo or an entire castle for Ran (just to burn it down), how to visually and sonically evoke the various different eras of Japanese history, Miyazaki’s appreciation for Kurosawa’s storyboards, and Kurosawa’s appreciation for the cat bus in Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro — at which point the translated transcript at fan site indicates that “Miyazaki seems to be at a loss for words.” (You can read the transcript at the bottom of the post.)

Though Japanese tradition, to say nothing of the customs of one dedicated artist speaking to another, dictates that Miyazaki display a certain deference to Kurosawa (an attitude certainly visible in the segments of the broadcast available on Youtube), the two have plenty of insight to offer one another. And however different their films, they all emerged from the same spirit of painstaking dedication. “If you let things slide thinking ‘well, this won’t be in view of the camera,'” Kurosawa warns, “then there’s no end to how lazy you can get. You either give it your all, or don’t even bother.”

Miyazaki, who has since risen to a Kurosawa-like prominence of his own, offers this closing reflection on his first meeting with the director of the likes of RashomonSeven Samurai, and Ikiru: “Whether a work is a masterpiece or… something more modest, I realized that they all originate at the same place — an environment where people are constantly thinking and rethinking their own ideas,” rather than waiting around for inspiration. Instead, they adopt the attitude of, “‘Regardless of what they think… or whether or not they like the way I do things, I’m gonna do what has to be done!’ That’s what’s important.”

A big hat tip goes to Adrian.

Transcript, translated by Yuto Shinagawa.

KUROSAWA – One of the settings for our movie — the “Oichini [ah one two]” drug salesman scene — if you recall, is a rectangular room. What we’d do is use three cameras, all on one side of the room to film everything from start to finish. . . after which we’d move the them to another side of the room, switch out the lenses, and film the scene over. We’d do this three times. . .from all four directions. So in the end, there’d be 36 cuts that we had to look through during editing. . .just for one scene.

MIYAZAKI – That’s what boggles my mind. How do you pick which cuts to use?

KUROSAWA – Pretty much on a first come first serve basis for me.

MIYAZAKI – Is that so?

KUROSAWA – You just skim through them really quick. . .”toss. . .keep. . .toss,” so that all you have to do in the end is just string together what’s left. That’s all there is to it.

MIYAZAKI – Well yes, but. . .[Laughs]

KUROSAWA – So we might have one segment that seems like it’s going to be a big hassle. . .perhaps take days to film. . .but ends up taking only half a day — from morning to 3 o’clock later that day. The same goes with editing — we’d be expecting a big mess, when in fact, we’d be finished by 3 o’clock the same day, only to have everyone go, “what?!”

[Shows clip from Maadadayo]

KUROSAWA – Battle scenes too. When the cavalry makes a charge or something. . .we film it three times with three different cameras, each time with different lenses. So in the end, we’ll have 9 cuts, and all you have to do is string together the good ones. It’s not that hard. Aside from that. . .when someone falls off a horse. . .gets shot and falls of a horse. . . we’ll do a special take afterwards for those types of scenes. And all you have to do is throw that clip in at the right moment, and that’s it. [Pause] And. . .if you run out of cuts, just flip the film over. . .

[Takes a while to get it; Big Laugh]

KUROSAWA – Yeah, just flip it over and now the guy is running from that side to this side. Hey, you’ll never notice the difference.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughing] Even if they’re carrying their swords on the wrong side? [Usually, the left so they can draw it with their right hand]

KUROSAWA – No you won’t notice. . .because. . .it’s only when the guy falls off the horse. It’s really absurd if you’re paying close attention. . .with the sword on the wrong side and all. You should notice it, but. . .well. . .[Pause] you just don’t.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – You know how Mifune’s fight scenes are really intense. Well one time, we were editing one of those scenes and had to stop the reel because someone came in to ask a question. And that’s when I happened to look down at the film and notice that. . . he’s not visible on the film itself.

MIYAZAKI – Huh. . .

KUROSAWA – He’s nothing but a blur on each of those frames. . .and you can’t really see his face either. Only when you play back the film do you actually see Mifune in combat. That’s how fast he’s moving. That’s why those fight scenes are so intense. Also, when you spend a lot of time editing those scenes, you get the impression that it’s going to be very lengthy, but no. . .it’s really really short. I’d say the film itself is about 20 feet. . .no more than 20 feet. Even then, I feel as though I’ve seen plenty, and that’s because I’m so nervously focused onto the screen.

MIYAZAKI – [Say’s something about the audience’s perception, but I’m not sure what he meant]

KUROSAWA – Right, right.

[Shows clip from Tsubaki Sanjuro (1962)]

MIYAZAKI – Do you make these [storyboard] drawings after you finish writing the script?

KUROSAWA – Most of them, yes. . .but there are a few that I draw while I’m still writing the script. I’ll sometimes come across old sketches on the back of an envelope or something.

MIYAZAKI – [Looking at the drawings] Really good.


MIYAZAKI – You’re really good


MIYAZAKI – You are really good [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – Nawww, I really don’t think. . .

MIYAZAKI – You don’t think so? I. . .

KUROSAWA – Well the funny thing is. . . I was supposed to be an artist when I was young. My dream was Paris — to open my own art shop. Mr. Umehara would always walk up and compliment my drawings whenever I’d be painting outside. It was with his and Mr. Cardin’s support that I eventually got the chance to put some of my drawings on display at an art exhibition overseas. And to my surprise, I was later invited to give a talk at the Louvre Museum. “But sir, I’m not an artist!” was my response. So oddly enough. . .my dreams did come true.

MIYAZAKI – It sure did!

KUROSAWA – “Your style is really interesting,” is what Mr. Umehara used to always say, and we wondered why. Well, after much discussion, we figured out it’s because they [the paintings] aren’t intended to be very high quality paintings when I draw them. They’re just meant to give my staff a feeling for the scene, and nothing more, so they tend to be a little reckless in style. There might be some that are draw sensibly. It depends; I’ll draw with whatever I have on me at that moment.

MIYAZAKI – [Flipping through more drawings] From the sound of your stories, the live-action business sounds like a lot of fun.


MIYAZAKI – Live-action sounds like a lot of fun. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – It sure is. For example, if there’s going to be a film shoot the next day, I want to get out there as early as possible. Though, my assistants probably don’t like it when I come in early because they’d rather not have to deal with me. For them, a good day is one where I take my time coming into work. So a lot of the time, you’ll find me waiting impatiently at home.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – Everyone has a lot of fun, really. I always tell my people, “no matter how grueling things may be at first, you’ll eventually start to enjoy it if you just keep at it. Once you reach that state, you’ll be putting in a lot of effort without evening knowing it.” And it’s true. I might say “ok, that’s good enough,” but their response will be “just a second. . .one more thing” They’re that immersed in their work. Conversely, if you let things slide thinking “well, this won’t be in view of the camera,” then there’s no end to how lazy you can get. You either give it your all, or don’t even bother.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – And sometimes, ridiculous things happen because of it. If you recall Hachi-gatsu no Rapusodi [Rhapsody in August, 1991], there’s a field across the house. Well, long before any filming takes place, the first thing we do is ask the local farmers to plant the appropriate crops in each of the fields. You know, “pumpkin fields here. . .” and so forth. All this so that by the time we come back, all the crops will be fully grown. You just can’t plant these things at the last moment and expect them to look natural. Well one time, I look down on what was supposed to be a pumpkin patch and “wait a minute, these are gourds!”

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs] Mixed up the seeds did they?

KUROSAWA – “I told you, the gourd goes here on this shelf in the kitchen. The field out there is supposed to be pumpkin!” But in the end, we figured that it would all get covered with leaves, and that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway. People got the idea to claim their own gourd by writing their name on it, so they could take one home afterwards, and make them into ornaments or whatever. They all grew up to be pretty big. So yeah, we had a big laugh over that – “what kind of fool plants gourds in a field?”

MIYAZAKI – When you’re recruiting your staff for a movie, do you just announce it and have people flock to you?

KUROSAWA – No. . . in my case, most of my staff members are people that I’ve worked with for a very long time. When I announce a new movie, it’s the usual gang that rushes in to help. Otherwise, I don’t think it would go so smoothly. “Man, have you lost a lot of hair.” That’s how long I’ve known some of the people. Like Takao Saito, our cameraman who I just refer to as Taka-bou (little Taka). . .he’s already sixty. It’s just that I’ve known him from when he was that little, and the name stuck through all these years.

MIYAZAKI – And the cameraman’s assistant. . .Taka-bou-san gets to pick?

KUROSAWA – Yes, he makes those decisions. So everyone works their way up the ranks. In that sense, people will gather around if I holler. You know, “we’re gonna start filming in however many hours so have everything ready to go by then.” I’m pretty meticulous when it comes to planning and preparation, so I tend to spend more time than most. If the filming doesn’t go smoothly, it’s usually because you didn’t spend enough time getting everything ready. You do your homework, and everything goes smoothly.

MIYAZAKI – In the old days when movie studios were in much better shape, we could afford to put up a fight against movie companies. That is, even if we went over-budget. . .even if we didn’t get along at all, we could still manage to squeeze the funding out of them to make movies.

KUROSAWA – That was exactly what happened when we were working on Seven Samurai. It was taking a whole lot longer than it was supposed to. So much so that we were expecting them to cut us off at any moment. In fact, we hadn’t filmed a single scene from the last battle because of it. And just as we expected, we had a few visitors come in from Toho: “We’d like to see what you have so far.” “But sir, we haven’t filmed the most important part of the movie.” “I don’t care; just show us what you have.” “Sir, it’s already February. If it starts snowing now, we’ll be in big trouble when it comes to filming the rest of the movie. Are you sure about this?” “Yes, let’s see it.” So we spent an entire week editing what we had of the film so far. And we showed it to them, up towards the end, where Kikuchiyo runs up the roof where the flag is. . .you know, “ta ta ta tee ta ta ta. . .[flutter] [flutter]” right? “[Points] There they come there they come!” and then. . .blank, goes the screen.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughing]

KUROSAWA – “[With a confused and impatient look] so what happens next. . .?” “We told you, we don’t have a single scene filmed for the rest of the movie.” So they all gathered around. . .mumbled something and then came back to us and said “Go ahead, film whatever you need. . .please.”

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – And that’s when it started snowing. We all yelled, “Told you so! That’s what you get!” and then proceeded to have big binge back at my place later that night.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – As luck would have it, it snowed pretty heavily that night. We had to bring in the fire department and spend an entire week melting all that snow. Melting the snow over an area that used to be rice paddies to begin with. . . the muck was unbelievable. That might be part of the reason why those scenes were so dynamic.

MIYAZAKI – Indeed! [Laughs]

[Shows clip from Seven Samurai]

KUROSAWA – You know, I really liked that bus in Totoro.

MIYAZAKI – [Gleefully] Thank you.

[Miyazaki seems to be at a loss for words here]

KUROSAWA – Those are the kinds of things that people like me in this business can’t do, and that’s something I’m really envious about.

MIYAZAKI – The thing is, I grew up in the city. . . in a time right after the war. . .when my only perception of Japan was that it was an impoverished and pitifully hopeless country. [Laughs]. At least that’s what we were always told. It was only after I went overseas for the first time that I started appreciating Japan’s natural environment. That being the case, it’s funny that I keep wanting to make movies with a foreign [western/European] setting. I made Totoro because I felt the need to make a movie that takes place in Japan.

[Shows the Mei-bound Catbus scene from Tonari no Totoro (1988)]

MIYAZAKI – Lately, I’ve been wanting to make a Jidai-geki [period dramas]. Man is it hard! I don’t even know what to do!

KUROSAWA – What I think is really interesting about the Sengoku-era [1467-1567] is that. . .it’s perceived to be a time when, for example, one had to be loyal to his lord and obey similar moral and ethical codes. But in actuality, those only came into existence during the Tokugawa Shogunate [Edo-era; approximately 1603-1867] as an attempt to maintain some degree of order [and peace for the Tokugawa family]. The Sengoku-era, on the other hand, was quite the opposite — people had a lot of freedom then.

[The word KUROSAWA – uses next is ambiguous; “shujin” can either mean man of the house (husband) or landlord; below are two plausible translations based on these two different definitions]

KUROSAWA – (first translation): “This husband of mine. . .he’s no good.” If that’s what she thought, then she would’ve, you know. . . [walked out on him]. . .without so much as a second thought.

KUROSAWA – (second translation): “Our landlord. . .he’s no good.” If that’s what they thought, then they would’ve, you know. . .[revolted]. . .without so much as a second thought.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – And that’s the kind of environment that spawned people like Hideyoshi [1536-1598]. They’re free-thinkers. “You must be loyal to your husband” — that wasn’t the case then. If he wasn’t worthy, then you could just abandon him. That’s what it was like. I think it would be really interesting if you could portray that.

MIYAZAKI – Hmm. . .

KUROSAWA – Shakespeare might be uniquely British, but actually. . .Japan did have people like Macbeth during that era. You’d be surprised how easily you could make a Japanese story that parallels something out of Shakespeare. Yeah, why don’t you do a Japanese Shakespearean Jidai-geki? There are a lot of good stories.

MIYAZAKI – [Pause, perplexed laugh]


MIYAZAKI – Well, let’s start with what they ate. . .what they wore.

KUROSAWA – We do have records of those. . .like menus

MIYAZAKI – What about the Muromachi-era [encompasses the Sengoku-era, also known as the Ashikaga-era; 1333-1573]

KUROSAWA – Muromachi is. . .a good period.

MIYAZAKI – It gets a little fuzzy in the Nanboku-cho [early years; 1336-1392]. That and the Taiheiki [collection of war tales]. . .everything becomes a big mess.

KUROSAWA – Yeah, it gets more difficult the further back you go. If it’s the Tale of the Heike [Part of the Taiheiki], then we have good records of those.

MIYAZAKI – The utter devastation of Kyoto towards the end of the Heian-era [794-1185], as depicted in the Houjouki [Tale of the Ten-Foot Square Hut] — earthquakes, great fires, dead bodies everywhere. . .rushing back from Fukuhara [modern day Kobe area] only to find your estate in complete ruins. . .

KUROSAWA – You mean Rashomon’s time period. That’s interesting too.

MIYAZAKI – Watching it as a kid, I remember it being a really scary movie! [Laughs]. For me, the movies that stay on my mind aren’t the uplifting ones, but rather the ones that depict the realities of survival.

KUROSAWA – Akutagawa-san has a lot of novels [aside from Rashomon] that depict that time period. Remember that the Rashomon written by him is completely different from Yabu no Naka [from which the movie was originally adapted] — remember the old lady upstairs who’s stealing the hair from the corpse?

MIYAZAKI – Right, right.

MIYAZAKI – It seems as if movies these days don’t deal with as wide of a time frame as they used to.

KUROSAWA – Yes, and that’s because. . .well first of all, even if you wanted to make a movie of that era, you’d have a lot of trouble finding a good filming location.

MIYAZAKI – That’s very true. Power lines everywhere! [Laughs].

KUROSAWA – Places like the Ikaruga no Miya Palace [7th century] were built in the middle of a cedar forest. Those trees were huge [Gestures] and that’s why they could manage to build such a wooden structure. Nowadays, there’s not a single one left! That’s how much things have changed.

MIYAZAKI – [Nodding] Yes. . .yes.

KUROSAWA – For Maadadayo (1993), we had access to many of the clothes from that era [1940s]. . .like suites. But if you and I try to wear them, they won’t fit at all; we’ve gotten bigger.

MIYAZAKI – Oh I see.

KUROSAWA – But if you look at the armor from the Battle of Okehazama [1560], or something, they’re noticeably bigger. Clothes from the Sengoku-era are big.

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs] Are you saying that we got smaller during the Edo-era [1603-1867]?

KUROSAWA – [Nod] Our physique undoubtedly deteriorated during the 300 years under Tokugawa. At first, I didn’t think such a drastic change was reasonable, or even possible. But when you look at the clothes from the early Showa-era [pre WWII] and compare it to those of today. . .in just 40 years, look at how much we’ve changed. They just don’t fit!

MIYAZAKI – [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – So we had to find fabric that matched the original and tailor new ones based on that. It was a big hassle.

MIYAZAKI – When it comes to making a Jidai-geki, I just keep running in circles. . .and never actually come close to realizing that goal. People ask, “so what’s your next project?” to which I’ll respond, “Jidai-geki!” I’ve been saying that for the past 10 years! [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – In Seven Samurai, we were originally going to chronicle the everyday life of a particular samurai. And as you mentioned earlier. . .he’ll wake up in the morning, eat something for breakfast, perhaps go to the Edo Castle. . .but what exactly would he do there, and what would he do for lunch? We don’t know any of the details. There’s no way we can write a script like that.

MIYAZAKI – Right. . .right.

KUROSAWA – It’s actually easier to find earlier written records than it is to find those of the Edo-era. We did a lot of research, and that’s when we came across an account of a village hiring samurais to become the only village spared from rebel attacks. “Hey, let’s do this.” And that’s how it started. Of course, once we got to work on it, we just let our imagination run wild. Our producer asked, “what about the title?” and I said, “well, it’s about seven samurai. . .hey, that’s perfect!” “We’re going with this, no matter what!”

MIYAZAKI – That’s true! Movies that don’t have a fitting title are no good. [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – That’s very true. Although. . . we had a lot of trouble naming this one [Maadadayo].

MIYAZAKI – Oh really? [Laughs]

KUROSAWA – They were all too awkward sounding. Every day, I’d rack my brain over a title to the point where one day, I just blurted out “Maadadayo! [Not yet!]” My son said “hey, that works!” so we knew it was a keeper.

[Shows clip from Maadadayo]

[End chat]

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Martin Scorsese on How “Diversity Guarantees Our Cultural Survival,” in Film and Everything Else

in Film, Life | February 14th, 2017

Image by “Siebbi,” Wikimedia Commons

When Federico Fellini died in 1993, New York Times obituary writer Bruce Weber made a confession: “I never cared for his movies.” In a declaration of “raging middlebrow-ism” echoed by Dan Kois’ 2011 admission of his lack of interest in “eating my cultural vegetables,” Weber writes that “Last Year at Marienbad was such a bafflement years ago that I gave up on it and fell asleep in the theater, and chances are I’ll never go back and see it again. Among windy American novels I still prefer Lonesome Dove to Gravity’s Rainbow and, to extend the argument to non-narrative forms, as innovative as John Cage and Andy Warhol were, I still hear noise and see a soup can.”

This drew a response from no less accomplished a filmmaker — and no less omnivorous a film-lover – than Martin Scorsese. The director of Taxi DriverRaging Bull, and Goodfellas found distressing less Weber’s opinion than “the underlying attitude toward artistic expression that is different, difficult or demanding,” likening it to that of a then-recent Budweiser commercial associating “foreign films” (of which we’ve previously featured Scorsese’s list of 39 essentials) with “weakness, complexity, tedium. I like action-adventure films too. I also like movies that tell a story, but is the American way the only way of telling stories?”

The issue goes well beyond cinema and Scorsese knows it, framing it not just as a matter of “film theory” but as one of “cultural diversity and openness. Diversity guarantees our cultural survival. When the world is fragmenting into groups of intolerance, ignorance and hatred, film is a powerful tool to knowledge and understanding.” By the end of his response, Scorsese argues not against Weber but against the very mindset that “celebrates ignorance” (and “unfortunately confirms the worst fears of European filmmakers”) by, like that beer spot, asking questions such as “Why are foreign movies… so foreign?” only to conclude, “Why ask why?”

Scorsese, in turn, closes with a few questions of of his own:

Is this closed-mindedness something we want to pass along to future generations?

If you accept the answer in the commercial, why not take it to its natural progression:

Why don’t they make movies like ours?
Why don’t they tell stories as we do?
Why don’t they dress as we do?
Why don’t they eat as we do?
Why don’t they talk as we do?
Why don’t they think as we do?
Why don’t they worship as we do?
Why don’t they look like us?

Ultimately, who will decide who “we” are?

You can read Scorsese’s full response at Letters of Note.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Watch Tears In the Rain: A Blade Runner Short Film–A New, Unofficial Prequel to the Ridley Scott Film

in Film, Sci Fi | February 9th, 2017

Christopher Grant Harvey spent the better part of five years making Tears In The Rain: A Blade Runner Short Film. Unwilling to settle for something merely average, Harvey labored away, especially in post-production, “trying to get the perfect original visual effects and [a] fitting score to bring the story to life.” Set in the world of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and the motion picture Blade Runner (1982), Tears In The Rain is a loose prequel to Ridley Scott’s motion picture, and it’s also a “what if” story. It asks what “if a ‘Blade Runner’ retired a human by mistake, what happens then?”

Here’s more on the plot:

In a dystopian Los Angeles future, replicants or genetically engineered humanoids are created to work forced labour on off-world colonies. The latest generation, the Nexus 3 series, begins to display erratic and violent behaviour. Replicants were not designed to experience complex emotions or develop long-term memories. In the wake of corporate scandals of the previous decade, the Tyrell Corporation quietly attempts to remove Nexus 3 from circulation.

John Kampff (Sean Cameron Michael), a senior engineer, heads up the Tyrell Retirement Division. With the primary objectives, detect and remove Replicants, John has suspected Nexus 3 Andy Smith (Russel Savadier) firmly in his sights. As John soon learns, Replicant detection is nearly impossible without specialist equipment. The Voight-Kampff, a polygraph-like machine used by retirement engineers to help in the testing of an individual to learn if they are a replicant, is a distant thought in John Kampff’s mind.

The 11-minute film was made at a cost of $1500. Not too shabby. Find more information about Tears In The Rain here.

via Boing Boing

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The Filmmaking of Martin Scorsese Demystified in 6 Video Essays

in Film | February 2nd, 2017

Some filmmakers of the 1970s “New Hollywood” era have passed away, retired, or faded into relative obscurity, but each movie Martin Scorsese makes still meets with great interest from critics and moviegoers alike. His latest picture Silence, despite its outwardly dry subject matter of 17th-century Jesuit priests in Japan, has remained a subject of conversation and indeed debate since its release at the end of last year. Coincidentally, its title evokes one of the signature techniques that have kept his work engaging over the decades, no matter its story, setting, or theme: his unconventional and powerful use of moments without sound or music, explored in the Every Frame a Painting video essay “The Art of Silence” above.

One especially effective example of Scorsese’s silence comes from Goodfellas, quite possibly the most acclaimed of his gangster movies — and indeed, one of the most acclaimed works in his robust filmography.

The “film breakdown” from Film-Drunk Love above gets into what, exactly, has already solidified this quarter-century-old film into a classic, highlighting its use of freeze-frames to emphasize particularly significant moments in the life of its young mobster protagonist as well as the importance of that protagonist’s wife and other female characters in motivating or observing the events of this highly male-oriented story, one that fits well among those of Scorsese’s favorite subjects, a list that includes the police, boxers, investment bankers, Jesus Christ, and the Rolling Stones.

Scorsese’s movies may depict a man’s world, but as James Brown once sang, it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman — and this filmmaker certainly knows it. The Press Play video essay above examines the indispensable presence of women in his work, who offer ferocity, temptation, manipulation, judgment, and motivation, and often a combination of all of the above and more, but never friendship. “Men can’t be friends with women, Howard,” says Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn to Leonardo DiCaprio’s troubled mogul in The Aviator. “They must possess them or leave them be. It’s a primitive urge from caveman days. It’s all in Darwin: hunt the flesh, kill the flesh, eat the flesh. That’s the male sex all over.”

But Scorsese works in cinema, after all, and none of these elements would have a fraction of their impact if not delivered with the keen visual sense on display since his elementary-school days. We’ve previously featured the video essays of Antonios Papantoniou, which provide technical shot-by-shot breakdowns of how master filmmakers assemble their most memorable sequences. Scorsese’s filmography can sometimes seem made up of nothing other than memorable sequences, but Papantoniou picks one from Cape Fear where Scorsese’s wide-angle lenses, “constant motion,” “ultra quick shots,” and “unsettling angles and zooms,” the essay argues, put the viewer in the protagonist’s place “and project to us his private horror.”

Cape Fear came, of course, as a remake—starring Robert de Niro and Nick Nolte—of the eponymous 1962 psychological thriller with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. Scorsese, perhaps America’s first openly cinephilic big-name director, has made no secret of his knowledge of and enthusiasm for this history of his chosen medium. In the Goodfellas breakdown, for example, he describes that picture as an homage to the decades of gangster movies that preceded it. “Equipped with encyclopedic knowledge of the medium, he draws from its past to inform his work,” argues Steven Benedict in his video essay “The Journeys of Martin Scorsese,” a look at how that mastery of what has come before allows his own films to not just “explore the human experience” but to “expand cinema’s ability to express that experience.”

In 2015 we featured Scorsese’s list of 85 films every aspiring filmmaker needs to see (this in addition to his 39 essential foreign films for the young filmmaker), all of which he mentioned during a four-hour interview granted to Fast Company. The Flavorwire video essay above illustrates Scorsese’s words with clips from the movies he recommends, making a crash-course “Martin Scorsese film school” that encompasses everything from Jennifer Jones shooting Gregory Peck in The Duel in the Sun to the “self-consciousness” of Citizen Kane‘s style to the testament to “the power of movies to effect change in the world, to interact with life and fortify the soul” that is neorealism. From which cinematic tradition — or set of traditions — will Scorsese draw, and in the process expand and transform, next? No doubt this tireless auteur is just as excited to reveal it as we are to find out.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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T.S. Eliot’s Classic Poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Gets Adapted into a Hip Modern Film

in Film, Poetry | February 1st, 2017

T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” gives us a psychological portrait of a neurotic character who eloquently perseverates on the nature of his existence and the weakness of his will. The poem is a dream, but not an erotic one. Prufrock’s libido is too tied up in knots of self-doubt and self-consciousness for that. Though he moves through a high class brothel, he hardly ever seems to touch another person, asking himself repeatedly, “Do I dare?”

“I am no prophet,” muses Prufrock, his name conjuring a kind of gaunt Puritanical figure who fears that “the eternal Footman” and the women who come and go are laughing at him. Prufrock is pathetic and ridiculous, and he knows it. He escapes from the hell that is his life (the poem opens with an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno) with elaborate symbolist daydreams. He is a dandyish version of James Thurber’s Walter Mitty.

You may be forgiven for seeing few of these qualities in the central character of “A Lovesong,” a short film by director Laura Scrivano and starring Daniel Henshall (from the AMC series TURN: Washington’s Spies). They are not there. The project supposedly arose from Henshall’s own fascination with the poem. But in this adaptation of it, Prufrock—if we can call Henshall’s character by that name—seems to have no trouble with his libido.

Henshall’s solitary figure is pensive, brooding, and hip—a whiskey-sipping Brooklyn flâneur—moving between a seductive nighttime New York and a sleeping lover in bed, recalling perhaps Prufrock’s reference to “one-night cheap hotels.” The film is a unique interpretation of Eliot’s commentary on modern alienation, one perhaps suited to our moment. Yet, we would half-expect that any contemporary Prufrock would wander the streets lost in his smartphone, fretting over his lack of sufficient “likes.”

For contrast to this stylish reimaging of “Prufrock,” we can hear Eliot himself read from the poem just above.

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

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Meet Theda Bara, the First “Vamp” of Cinema, Who Revealed the Erotic Power of the Movies

in Film, History | January 27th, 2017

Readers of a certain generation, asked to envision a vampirically alluring lady of cinema, may find their imaginations going straight to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. But the tradition of the silver-screen “vamp” goes much deeper, reaching all the way back to the silent era. The term itself was first coined to refer to Theda Bara, not exactly a household name now, but then in a league with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. She was one of the most popular performers alive.

Bara revealed to a generation of moviegoers the sheer erotic power of cinema, an accomplishment you can glimpse in the clip above of 1915’s A Fool There Was, the picture that made her an icon. The minute she arrives on screen, writes The Guardian‘s Kira Cochrane, “it becomes obvious why she was so popular — why she went on to have songs written about her, children named after her, a perfume and even a sandwich (minced ham, mayonnaise, sliced pimento and sweet pickles on toast — served warm) created in her honour.” Her face, though it may not seem so notable at first, soon “comes into its own — so much so that when you learn that her character’s malevolence has led one man to jail, another to beggary, and her most recent victim to a very public suicide, you believe it.”

Frank Powell, director of A Fool There Was, “took a chance on a 29 year-old Theda (she lied and said she was 25)” by asking her to star, writes Messy Nessy’s Addison Nugent. “It’s the story of a devoted family man who, while on a ship to England, meets a beautiful stranger referred to only as ‘The Vampire Woman.’ This mysterious creature corrupts his soul, destroys his family, drains him of all of his money and dignity, and eventually causes his demise.”

And so the former Theodosia Goodman — with some assistance from Fox Studios’ PR team, who “planted false stories in the press and invented a fantasy backstory for her” — swiftly became a new kind of femme fatale for this new artistic and commercial medium. These dangerous young women, write the New York history podcasters the Bowery Boys, “were the spiritual children of the prior generation of newly empowered women who fought against the constraints of Victorian society. A few years later, as another vein of female power (the temperance movement) helped bring about Prohibition, these young women would be called flappers, carefree and fueled on the powers of jazz and illegal alcohol.”

During her dozen-year-long screen career, Bara made some forty films in total, most of them lost in the Fox vault fire of 1937, including the 1917 epic Cleopatra, a few fragments of which you can see in the video above. Her final appearance, in 1926’s Madame Mystery, both parodied the vamp image she could never quite shake and saw her bid farewell to the world of silent cinema. “Before pictures grew up and started to talk, we had to translate all our motion into pantomime,” said Bara herself in a later radio interview. “We had to express jealousy, hate, love, or devotion all in pantomime, and at the same time keep pace as the director guided us just as a metronome guides a pianist.”

The vamp, as Bara played and defined the figure, expressed all those emotions with a fearsome vividness, and she “became so synonymous with the term that she is now referred to as the original on-screen vamp,” writes Cochrane, “the woman who made performances such as that of Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction possible.” Or as the original vamp summed up her own legacy, “To be good is to be forgotten. I’m going to be so bad I’ll always be remembered.”

A Fool There Was 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 and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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George Orwell’s 1984 Is Now the #1 Bestselling Book on Amazon

in Film | January 24th, 2017

George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984, has suddenly surged to the very top of the Amazon’s bestseller list. Though first published in 1949, it’s back with a vengeance. And George only has the new administration to thank.

We’ll have more on Orwell’s 1984 tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy some great 1984 picks from our archive below:

Hear the Very First Adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 in a Radio Play Starring David Niven (1949)

George Orwell Explains in a Revealing 1944 Letter Why He’d Write 1984

A Complete Reading of George Orwell’s 1984: Aired on Pacifica Radio, 1975

Huxley to Orwell: My Hellish Vision of the Future is Better Than Yours (1949)

George Orwell’s Harrowing Race to Finish 1984 Before His Death

Note: You can download Orwell’s 1984 as a free audiobook (or two other books of your choice) if you sign up for’s free trial program.  Learn more about Audible’s free trial program here.

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