Watch a Surreal 1953 Animation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” Voted the 24th Best Cartoon of All Time

Animation studio UPA—United Productions of America—is best known these days as the studio that gave us Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing (which inspired a certain website). But the studio, originally created by three former Disney employees, wanted to broaden horizons back in the 1950s, and created this quite disturbing adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart,” narrated by the venerable James Mason.

Due to its adult subject matter, it was the first animated film to receive an “X” rating
(or "suitable for those aged 16 and over") in the UK. Though not intended for children, many undoubtedly saw the film as kids and were profoundly affected by it. The film, designed by Paul Julian, borrows both from Dali-esque surrealism and German expressionism.

And while it does feature some traditional cell animation, there’s a mix of techniques that keep the film in the realm of the dreamlike and avant-garde: sudden zooms, shadows that fade in and out, flattened perspectives, inventive use of chiaroscuro. In this film one can see both the future careers of Roger Corman and Dario Argento, both grabbing influences left and right.

In fact, though designer Paul Julian is best known for his background work at Warner Bros. animation studios (he also is known as the creator of the Road Runner’s beep-beep sound), he wound up providing director Roger Corman with artwork for movies like Dementia 13 and The Terror.

UPA continued to produce films with its modern and flat space-age aesthetic during the ‘50s, but it never really hit these adult heights again. The ‘60s however, would pick up from where UPA left off.

Julian's “The Tell Tale Heart” was voted the 24th greatest cartoon of all time, in a 1994 survey of 1,ooo animation professionals. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into disturbia. It will be added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

A New Theme Park Based on Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro Set to Open in 2020

Is a frame of reference necessary to appreciate Disney World? Can you enjoy a ride in a spinning teacup if you have no working knowledge of Alice in Wonderland? What sort of magic might the Magic Kingdom hold for those who’ve never heard of Cinderella or Peter Pan?

Now imagine if the theme park’s scope was narrowed to a single film.

You’ve got until 2020 to sneak in a viewing of the Hayao Miyazaki film, My Neighbor Totoro, before Ghibli Park, a 500-acre amusement park on the grounds of Japan's 2005 World’s Fair site, opens.

To date, Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has produced more than a dozen feature-length animated films. That’s a lot of raw material for attractions.

Porco Rosso’s 1930s seaplanes have ride written all over them, and think of the Haunted Mansion-esque thrills that could be wrung from Spirited Away’s bathhouse.

How about a Jungle Cruise-style ramble through the countryside in Howl's Moving Castle?

An underwater adventure with goldfish princess Ponyo?

Prepare for a very long wait if you’re joining the queue for those. It’s being reported that Ghibli Park will focus exclusively on a single film, 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro.

(Care to take a guess what its Mouse Ears will look like?)

The film’s theme of respect for the natural world is good news for the area’s existing flora. The governor of Japan's Aichi Prefecture, where Ghibli Park is to be situated, has announced that it will be laid out in such a way as to preserve the trees.

Presumably the film’s iconic cat bus and fast growing camphor tree, above, will be powered by the greenest of energies.

Preview the sort of wonders in store by touring the lifesize house of My Neighbor Totoro's human characters, Satsuki and Mei, below.

via NPR

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City in Paul David Young’s Faust 3, opening later this week. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Long Strange Trip, the New 4-Hour Documentary on the Grateful Dead, Is Now Streaming Free on Amazon Prime

FYI: Long Strange Trip, the first comprehensive documentary to tell the story of the Grateful Dead, is steaming free right now on Amazon Prime. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, and directed by Amir Bar-Lev, the four-hour film can be streamed right here if already have a Prime account. If you don't, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial, watch the doc, and then decide whether to remain a subscriber or not. It's your call. (Note: they also offer a similar deal for audiobooks from Audible.)

By the way, if you can watch the film with a good sound system, I'd recommend it!

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Relax with 8 Hours of Classical Space Music: From Richard Strauss & Haydn, to Brian Eno, Philip Glass & Beyond

If I had one piece of advice to pass on to a younger generation it would be this: listen to more space rock. The 60s/70s subgenre of progressive/psychedelic rock gets its name as much from its subject matter as from its loose, hypnotic, futuristic sonic character—“Third Stone from the Sun,” “Space Oddity,” “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Silver Machine”… you know…. It mellows you out, man, something everyone could use right now, and inspires visions of a groovier future, though not without the occasional dystopic edge.

Alternately, I would recommend that everyone acquire a collection of cosmic jazz, the Afrofuturist genre pioneered by Sun Ra and John and Alice Coltrane. But maybe you don’t like space rock or free jazz, yet you still dream about space? Maybe you prefer more classical, minimalist, or ambient fare? Never fear, we’ve got a soundtrack for you—one sure to mellow you out and inspire you, whoever you are.

Created to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 75th birthday this past January, the “Space-Themed Classical Music” Playlist below draws together pieces you’ll recognize from classic sci-fi films, like Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra; pieces written especially for such films—such as John Williams’ E.T. score and Jerry Goldsmith’s main title for Alien; and music inspired by space themes, such as Brian Eno’s “Under Stars” and Judith Lang Zaimont’s Jupiter’s Moons. The Spotify playlist contains a total of 75 tracks of space-themed or inspired classical works. (If you need Spotify's free software download it here.) The YouTube version at the top only has 62 of those tracks.

The compilation does give a little nod to space rock with the inclusion, at the very end, of Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” from The Division Bell. And the penultimate track nods to the very space-inspired genre of trip-hop, with John D. Boswell’s Carl Sagan- and Stephen Hawking-sampling “A Glorious Dawn.” I don’t know about you, but Sagan’s mellifluous voice—autotuned or no—never fails to brighten my mood and make me more curious about what’s out there.

Of course, apart from sci-fi soundtracks, there is a long tradition of composers writing space-inspired music, stretching back before scientists like Sagan and his Russian counterparts helped send astronauts and satellites into orbit. Classical station WQXR has put together a list of 11 such composers: from the 18th century Franz Joseph Haydn to the 20th century Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Then there’s Gustav Holst, who wrote a suite about all 8 planets between 1914 and 1916—before Pluto’s discovery (and later disqualification). I’ve always been partial to the bombastic “Jupiter,” above. Even if you haven’t heard it, Holst’s suite will sound very familiar, having inspired everything from video game music, to the Rugby World Cup theme, to the score for Braveheart. It has also—showing that classical space music is a bona fide subgenre in conversation with itself—directly influenced John Williams’ Star Wars music and the main theme of Battlestar Galactica. In whatever form it takes, I think we could all do with a lot more space music in our lives. Listen, for example, to the excerpt from Alan Silvestri's score for the 2014 Cosmos reboot, below, and tell me otherwise. For another flavor of a spaceman's soundtrack, check out's "Astronaut's Playlist" here.

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

Watch Matthew McConaughey’s Audition Tape for Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, the Indie Comedy That Made Him a Star

In 1992, Richard Linklater faced one of the most formidable challenges in the life of any successful filmmaker: following up on his breakthrough. The previous year he'd become an art-house star with Slacker, an examination of the various lives aimlessly but amusingly lived at the Generation-X periphery of Austin, Texas, a film whose deliberately wandering form perfectly matched its substance. That got him enough of a profile to command the relatively huge budget of $8 million (versus Slacker's $23,000) to make Dazed and Confused, the story of a bunch of Austin teenagers on the last day of high school in 1976. While the movie hardly turned blockbuster, it did help solidify Linklater's place among the American auteurs — and almost accidentally launched the career of one of today's biggest movie stars.

Matthew McConaughey stole Dazed and Confused's show, as many critics and fans saw it, as David Wooderson, an early-twentysomething who still prefers the company of high-schoolers. You can watch a piece of his original audition tape, made available by the Criterion Collection, at the top of the post. "He is a character we're all too familiar with in the movies," wrote the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten, "but McConaughey nails this guy without a hint of condescension or whimsy, claiming this character for all time as his own."

Some of the most memorable moments of his performance, which you can see in its final form in the clips just above and below, owe to its improvisatory nature: originally a small part with just a couple of lines, the character of Wooderson grew with every resonant on-set invention.

"Of the many great people I met in the process of casting this movie, you were selected because I had a gut impulse about you," wrote Linklater in the letter that accompanied the 1970s mixtape he sent out to inspire Dazed and Confused's cast. "Know your character so we can forget about it and build something new, something special, in its likeness. As I've said before, if the final movie is 100% word-for-word what's in the script, it will be a massive underachievement." And in a sense, McConaughey's casting itself, as he and casting director Don Phillips told it in a Texas Monthly oral history of the movie, happened improvisationally as well. It came as the result of a chance encounter at an Austin hotel, where Phillips spotted "this really good-looking girl at the end of the bar with this pretty cool-looking guy."

That cool-looking guy was, of course, McConaughey, who'd turned up for the drink discount from the bartender, his film-school buddy. “Hey, man, the guy down at the end of the bar is in town producing a film," said the bartender to the aspiring actor by way of a tip, and before they know it, in McConaughey's words, "We’re talking about life and women and some great golf hole he’s played." By the time of their ejection from the bar, they'd developed enough instant camaraderie for Phillips to offer McConaughey an audition: "Maybe we’ll put you on tape to see what you look like.” Though Linklater at first balked at his fellow Texan's excessive handsomeness, he eventually came to realize his suitability for the part, and the rest — up to and including McConaughey's reprisal as a fortysomething but otherwise unchanged Wooderson in the music video for The Black Widows' "Synthesizers" — is cinema history.

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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.

The Sounds of Blade Runner: How Music & Sound Effects Became Part of the DNA of Ridley Scott’s Futuristic World

Blade Runner, among its many other achievements, stands as quite possible the only 35-year-old science-fiction movie whose visual effects still hold up. Director Ridley Scott and his collaborators' thoroughly realized vision of 2019 Los Angeles rewards a seemingly infinite number of viewings, revealing something new to the viewer each and every time. Yet the sheer amount to look at can also distract from all there is to listen to. For a visual medium, movies stand or fall to a surprising extent on the quality and design of their sound, and if Blade Runner remains convincing and compelling, it does so in large part not because of what see when we watch it, but what we hear.

This in addition to all it makes us think about, some of which the video essayist Evan Puschak, better known as Nerdwriter, explained in "Blade Runner: The Other Side of Modernity." Apparently as big a fan of the film as we here at Open Culture, Puschak has also made another video essay focusing on the masterpiece's aural dimension, "Listening to Blade Runner."

As everyone interested in its making knows, Blade Runner wouldn't quite have been Blade Runner without its music by Vangelis, a composer who used synthesizers (especially the legendary Yahama CS80) in a way seldom if ever heard at that time. But as Puschak points out, "the score isn't laid on top of the visuals. It's not a guide or an addition" but "baked into the DNA of the movie itself."

Every piece of audio in Blade Runner, "including score, sound design, and dialogue," is tightly integrated: "each blurs into the others." Puschak shows us how, as in the scene above, the film keeps the audience unaware of "where the music ends and the world begins," by matching the qualities of the music to the qualities of the space and light, incorporating "faint computer-y noises," and applying still-new digital reverberation technology Vangelis uses on both the music and the dialogue to "fold separate audio sources into one master track," creating a "cohesive acoustic environment" that emphasizes different dimensions of sound at different times in different ways — in service, of course, to different elements of the story.

Though still active as a composer, Vangelis, alas, hasn't returned to do the score for Blade Runner 2049, Dennis Villeneuve's much-anticipated sequel coming out later this year. But the sonic world he created in 1982 has had a more recent tribute paid to it in the form of the unofficial so-called "Esper edition" of the Blade Runner soundtrack. The existing editions, say the two fans who assembled it, "never 'got it right' in terms of chronology‚ or thoroughness," so, "like taking pieces from a puzzle‚ we decided to simply 'cut and paste' from all the exciting releases...‚ 1982 video‚ 1992 directors cut... and construct something fresh." The nearly two-hour listening experience will underscore just how much putting in the right music and sound can do for a movie.

Conversely, watching the five minutes of Harrison Ford's now-excised voiceovers from the original theatrical release below will underscore how much taking out certain sounds can do for one as well:

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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.


Slavoj Žižek Names His 5 Favorite Films

Anyone who has read the prose of philosopher-provocateur Slavoj Žižek, a potent mixture of the academic and the psychedelic, has to wonder what material has influenced his way of thinking. Those who have seen his film-analyzing documentaries The Pervert's Guide to Cinema and The Pervert's Guide to Ideology might come to suspect that he's watched even more than he's read, and the interview clip above gives us a sense of which movies have done the most to shape his internal universe. Asked to name his five favorite films, he improvises the following list:

  • Melancholia (Lars von Trier), "because it's the end of the world, and I'm a pessimist. I think it's good if the world ends"
  • The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949), "ultracapitalist propaganda, but it's so ridiculous that I cannot but love it"
  • A Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929), "standard but I like it." It's free to watch online.
  • Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), because "Vertigo is still too romantic" and "after Psycho, everything goes down"
  • To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942), "madness, you cannot do a better comedy"

You can watch a part of Žižek's breakdown of Psycho, which he describes as "the perfect film for me," in the Pervert's Guide to Cinema clip just above. He views the house of Norman Bates, the titular psycho, as a reproduction of "the three levels of human subjectivity. The ground floor is ego: Norman behaves there as a normal son, whatever remains of his normal ego taking over. Up there it's the superego — maternal superego, because the dead mother is basically a figure of superego. Down in the cellar, it's the id, the reservoir of these illicit drives." Ultimately, "it's as if he is transposing her in his own mind as a psychic agency from superego to id." But given that Žižek's interpretive powers extend to the hermenutics of toilets and well beyond, he could probably see just about anything as a Freudian nightmare.

You can watch another of Žižek's five favorite films, Dziga Vertov's A Man with a Movie Camera, which we featured here on Open Culture a few years ago, just above. Whether or not you can tune into the right intellectual wavelength to enjoy Žižek's own work, the man can certainly put together a stimulating viewing list.

For more of his recommendations — and his distinctive justifications for those recommendations — have a look at his picks from the Criterion Collection and his explanation of the greatness of Andrei Tarkovsky. If university superstardom one day stops working out for him, he may well have a bright future as a revival-theater programmer.

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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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