The Music, Books & Films Liberated into the Public Domain in 2020: Rhapsody in Blue, The Magic Mountain, Sherlock, Jr., and More

"I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness." So said Porgy and Bess composer George Gershwin of Rhapsody in Blue, the orchestral piece he wrote back in 1924 and which has remained in the American canon ever since. It will surely become even more widely heard from this year on, since 1924 plus 95 — the term of a copyright under current United States law — equals 2020. Given that Rhapsody in Blue's entrance into the public domain means that creators can now freely do what they like with it, the piece will also, no doubt, undergo all manner of creative rearrangement and repurposing in order to reflect the America of the 2020s.

Copyright terms didn't always last nearly a century. Before the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act they lasted only 75 years, and for the additional two decades of waiting for works to enter the public domain we usually blame Disney. That entertainment giant did indeed do much of the lobbying for copyright extension, seeking to retain its rights to Mickey Mouse's 1928 debut Steamboat Willie.

But as Duke Law's Center for the Study of the Public Domain reports in a post on the works newly in public domain this year, "the Gershwin Family Trust also pushed for the extension, so that George and Ira Gershwin’s works from the 1920s and 1930s would remain under copyright." But now several been liberated from it: not just Rhapsody in Blue, but also standards (with lyrics penned by Gershwin's brother Ira) like "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good!"

2020's is a promising Public Domain Day indeed for fans of the Great American Songbook, what with the work of other composers like Irving Berlin (specifically the popular tune "Lazy," well known from Marilyn Monroe's performance in There's No Business Like Show Business.) But the list of literary works that have just gone public-domain is even more impressive, boasting internationally acclaimed books like Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, Edith Wharton's novella collection Old New York, and the pillar of modern dystopian literature that is Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (in English translation by Gregory Zilboorg). In many works of 1924, we can see the roots of the art we make and enjoy in 2020.

That holds especially true in the realm of film, which this year contributes to the public domain pictures from two masters of silent comedy: Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy and Hot Water, and Buster Keaton's The Navigator and Sherlock, JrThat last film has the honor of being preserved by the United States Library of Congress for its cultural significance, as well as of having been named by the American Film Institute one of the funniest motion pictures in American history. You can learn more about all that entered the public domain this year (and what might, but for changes in the law, have entered it) at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain and the Public Domain review. But even more important than what enters the increasingly kaleidoscopic melting pot of the public domain, of course, is what we do with it. Future George Gershwins, Thomas Manns, and Buster Keatons, take note.

via Hyperallergic

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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.

RIP Syd Mead: Revisit the Life and & Art of the Designer Behind Blade Runner, Alien & More

Has any year ever sounded more futuristic than 2020, the one we all live in as of today? 2019 came close, mostly because it was the year in which Blade Runner took place. Though initially a flop, Ridley Scott's cinematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? soon became a contender for the most influential vision of the future ever put on screen. This owes not just to the directorial skill of Scott himself, but also of the many collaborators who set their imaginations to the year 2019 — then nearly 40 years in the future — along with him. Among the most important was concept artist Syd Mead, who died this past Monday at the age of 86.

Mead credited as an inspiration for his own Blade Runner work Métal hurlant, the 1970s French comic book that brought attention to the even more deeply influential art of Moebius. But his own career as an illustrator and industrial designer, already far along by that time, had also prepared him thoroughly for the job. That career began in 1959 with Mead's recruitment to the Ford Motor Company's Advanced Styling Studio, where he spent two years thinking up the cars of the future. He then illustrated publications for other corporations before launching his own design firm in 1970, working with European clients including Philips and Intercontinental Hotels, and later nearly every Japanese corporation that mattered, from Sony, Bandai, and NHK to Minolta, Dentsu, and Honda.

That was in the early 1980s, when we all looked upon Japan as a vision of the future. To an extent we still do, not least because of the Japanified future envisioned in Blade Runner — as well as the one envisioned in its recent sequel Blade Runner 2046, also a beneficiary of Mead's contributions. No matter how much Japan fascinated Mead, Japan repaid that fascination tenfold, seeking him out for film and animation projects, putting on shows of his work, and even publishing a digital collection of his art as one of the very first CD-ROMs. (I myself first heard of Mead from Syd Mead's Terraforming, a Japanese-made video game for the Turbografx-CD that made use of his visuals.) This was perhaps an unexpected development in the life of a kid from Minnesota who spent his youth drawing in solitude, even one who grew up absorbing the sci-fi swashbuckling of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

But unlike those kitschy, dated worlds of flying cars, gleaming towers, rocketships, robots, Mead created credible, enduring worlds of flying cars, gleaming towers, rocketships, robots. That must owe in part to an instinct, developed through industrial design work, of rooting the fantastical in the possible. A look back at the full scope of his art — which you can glimpse in the trailer for the documentary Visual FuturistThe Life and Art of Syd Mead at the top of the post as well as in the montage video just above — reveals that Mead really believed in the futures he drew. And by having believed in them, he makes us believe in them. The real 2020 may not bring any of the sky-high buildings, impossibly sleek vehicles, or sublimely vast pieces of infrastructure that Mead could render so convincingly. But however the next year — or the next decade, or indeed the next century — does look, it will owe more than a little to the imagination of Syd Mead.

Related Content:

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“The Long Tomorrow”: Discover Mœbius’ Hard-Boiled Detective Comic That Inspired Blade Runner (1975)

The Giger Bar: Discover the 1980s Tokyo Bar Designed by H. R. Giger, the Same Artist Who Created the Nightmarish Monster in Ridley Scott’s Alien

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.

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, the Most Troubling Christmas Film Ever Made

Those in search of non-standard Christmas movies to watch this holiday season will have long since tired of hearing recommendations of Die Hard. While the cop-versus-terrorists hit that made Bruce Willis an action star does indeed feature an unusually high body count for a picture set at Christmastime, it adheres in other respects to the usual Hollywood contours. For serious Yuletide cinematic subversion you need the work of Stanley Kubrick, who made an entire career out of refusing to honor the expectations of genre. Specifically, you need the final work of Stanley Kubrick: Eyes Wide Shut, which adapts Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story, a novella of fin-de-siècle Vienna, into a vision of wealth, sex, and decadence — as well as secrecy and possible murder — in New York at the end of the millennium.

"The film was billed as an erotic thriller starring the two hottest — and, yes, married — actors, at the time," says Wisecrack's Jared Bauer in the video above. But since its release 20 years ago, "what was initially dismissed as a failed piece of erotica has proven, upon further inspection, to be something way deeper: an exploration of sociology, dreams, desire — and yes, sex — through the lens of New York City's elite."

It all begins when Tom Cruise's well-to-do doctor Bill Harford hears his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, confess a fantasy she once had about another man. This sends him into an all-night journey into the sexual underworld, one designed to be experienced by the viewer, as Nerdwriter Evan Pucschak has argued, like an immersive virtual-reality experience, and one whose central themes manifest in every single scene.

Kubrick fills Eyes Wide Shut with prostitution, of both the obvious fur-coat-on-the-street-corner variety and its many subtler instantiations at every level of society as well. "At its deeply cynical core," says Bauer, "the film asks the question: are we all somebody's whore?" The video's analysis draws heavily on "Introducing Sociology," Tim Kreider's analysis in Film Quarterly. Kreider writes that "almost everyone in this film prostitutes themselves, for various prices": true on the surface level of the women at the occult masked orgy at which the doctor finds himself in the middle of the night, but just as true on a deeper level of Mr. and Mrs. Harford themselves. "The real pornography in this film," according to Kreider, "is in its lingering depiction of the shameless, naked wealth of Millennial Manhattan, and of the obscene effect of that wealth on our society, and on the soul."

It is in a toy store that the film, with what Bauer calls its "metaphor of Christmas as an orgy of consumption," concludes. As their young daughter looks for things to buy, the Harfords discuss what to do about the revelatory experiences of the past two days. Kidman's famous final line suggests that the couple is "doomed to repeat the same petty jealousies again and again, while potentially spending beyond their means — you know, the American Dream." It also "connects to the title of the film, which evokes a sense of enlightened false consciousness. We may know that we're being screwed over and controlled by the wealthy and powerful, but at least it's Christmas and we can play with our toys, both commercial and sexual. So our eyes are firmly, deliberately shut, because that's the only way to tolerate this world." Kubrick has taken us a long way indeed from It's a Wonderful Life, but perhaps we can consider the ever-greater resonance and relevance of Eyes Wide Shut his final Christmas gift to us.

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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.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #24 Considers Holiday Viewing: What’s Canon?

Join Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt for a special "snake draft," where we take turns picking the holiday films and TV specials that we think are (or should be) part of America's yearly viewing traditions.

Were I to list all the shows and films we mention, that would give away our picks now, wouldn't it? Compare your intuitions about what is classic or seminal or over-rated with ours!

Here are some articles with most of the likely suspects to get you warmed up:

We did NOT beforehand actually look at IMDB's Top 25 Christmas Movies or their Greatest Christmas Specials list, but YOU certainly can. Neither did we look this ranking of the various versions of A Christmas Carol by Dave Trumbore. While we're at it, here are times where TV shows ripped off It's a Wonderful Life.

Other references and information: 

When does A Christmas Story take place? 1940; read trivia about that film. The Dare Daniel podcast has a brutal take-down of the little-seen 2012 sequel  that serves as a great substitute for actually viewing that pile of garbage.

You can watch the quick version of the very funny Rifftrax running commentary on the Star Wars Holiday Special on YouTube or buy the whole thing. Did George Lucas really want to smash all copies of it as Mark said?

Brian refers to this article, "Diagnosing the Home Alone Burglars' Injuries: A Professional Weighs In" by Lauren Hansen.

It's actually the Thanksgiving Charlie Brown special that has been blasted as racist, not the Xmas one. Here's an article about the history of Franklin being included in the strip.

Whenever discussing or watching It's a Wonderful Life, I can't help but think of the Saturday Night Live "lost ending" to the film.

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

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

Pretty Much Pop #22 Untangles Time-Travel Scenarios in the Terminator Franchise and Other Media

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Time-travel rules in The Terminator franchise are notoriously inconsistent. Is it possible for someone from the future to travel backwards to change events, given the paradox that with a changed future, the traveler wouldn't then have had the problem to try to come back and fix? Neither the closed-loop series of events in the first Terminator film nor the changed (postponed) future in the second make sense, and matters just get worse through the subsequent films.

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Brian's brother and co-author Ken Gerber to talk through the various time travel rulesets and plot scenarios (a good starter list is at, covering Dr. Who, Back to the Future, Looper, Dark (the German TV show), time loop films a la Groundhog Day (Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day), time-travel comedies (Future Man), historical tourism (Mr. Peabody and Sherman), Timecop's "The same matter cannot occupy the same space," using time-travel to sentimentalize (About Time) or clone yourself (see that Brak Show episode about avoiding homework), and freezing time (like in the old Twilight Zone).

Some articles we looked at included:

You can find the Brian and Ken short stories we talk about at Listen to them podcast together and read the science fiction stories they publish at The Partially Examined Life podcast episode Mark hosted where the dangers of AI are discussed is #108 with Nick Bostrom.

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

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

How Martin Scorsese Directs a Movie: The Techniques Behind Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and More

How does Martin Scorsese direct a movie? Younger filmmakers have been studying at his feet trying to figure that out for more than four decades. Now in his late 70s and boasting a name that has long since become a byword for the American auteur, Scorsese continues to direct a major feature (alongside almost equally numerous documentaries and shorts) at a much younger filmmaker's pace. This year saw the release of The Irishman, the latest chapter in Scorsese's collaboration with Robert De Niro that began back in 1973 with Mean Streets. This ambitious new film has prompted Scorsese fans to look back at the director's career, tracing the lines that run through his both vigorously entertaining and highly idiosyncratic body of work.

Studio Binder, whose primers on the directing styles of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson we've previously featured here on Open Culture, has produced a thorough breakdown of what makes a Martin Scorsese Picture — as their opening titles have announced since Raging Bull — a Martin Scorsese Picture.

In a breakdown of Scorsese's techniques, filmmaker SC Lannom highlights how he builds flawed characters, links camera movement to emotion, makes energetic editing decisions (in collaboration with his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker), uses character-driven camera placement, builds "authentic and educational worlds," composes movies to the music he has in mind, pairs montages with voiceovers, and makes use of "extreme sound design."

Of course, none of these descriptions convey the visceral impact of Scorsese's films at their best. You can get a taste of that in the Studio Binder "Director's Chair" video on Scorsese at the top of the post, which assembles examples of how he uses his roots in Italian New York, creates characters on the edge (Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle being perhaps the prototype), builds "authentic worlds," and keeps both the music and the edit in mind while directing. These methods are most clearly apparent in his hit "gangster movies" like GoodFellasCasino, and The Departed, but other milieux — the time and place of professional boxing, of Jesuit priests in 17th-century Japan, of crooked 1990s stockbrokers, of Jesus Christ — have also proven amenable to the Scorsese treatment.

Scorsese's faithfulness to the real world, or at least the real world as he sees and feels it, is exceeded only by his faithfulness to the world of cinema. While he usually deals with realistic subject matter, he does so with every trick in the stylistic book: not just musical montages but sequences of slow and fast motion, freeze-frames, and zooms all meant to bring you, the viewer, into the emotional experience of his characters. "Scorsese knows how he wants you to feel, and he is a 'dirty fighter' of cinema who will pull out all the tricks to get you feeling that way," writes Lannom. "The difference between him and say, Michael Bay, is that Scorsese’s stories, messages, and general approach is much more mature." Indeed, Scorsese can sometimes seem to be one of the last grown-ups in Hollywood, but one whose love of cinema burns as intensely as it did in childhood. For that reason, a new Scorsese movie — rather, a new Martin Scorsese Picture — will always be an event.

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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 Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Trick That Made Animation Realistic: Watch a Short History of Rotoscoping

Can we run a line of influence from the Incredible Hulk back through Superman all the way to...Koko the Clown? If we’re talking about rotoscoping we are.

Vox has returned with another fascinating mini-doc in their “Hollywouldn’t” series, exploring revolutionary film inventions created outside the main studio system.

If you don’t know rotoscoping as a word, you’ve no doubt seen it: essentially it is a way for animators to create more realistic movement by tracing over live action, one frame at a time.

The man who invented it was Max Fleischer, who also created Betty Boop and animated Segar’s Popeye and Superman. As the Vox doc shows, Fleischer saw that early animation was stiff and lacking in realism, and so he invented a device to project a live action frame of film onto the back of a glass drawing board so a figure could be traced. With his brother Dave dressed up and filmed as Koko the Clown, Fleischer was able to bring an uncanny realism to his “Out of the Inkwell” cartoons, as Koko moved just like a human (when he needed to do so), a feat that attracted the attention of the New York Times and others.

Fleischer was constantly pushing the technique. Not satisfied with realism, he used footage of singer/band leader Cab Calloway and turned him into a dancing walrus. Whatever the transformation, Calloway’s moonwalking, slinky gate is maintained, and the Betty Boop cartoon from which it hails, "Minnie the Moocher," along with its sequel "Snow White," are two of the weirdest, spookiest bits of animation out there still to this day.

You can see more rotoscoping in the subsequent color “Superman” cartoons and the realistic Gulliver’s Travels, which would go on to bankrupt the studio.

Disney would use rotoscoping in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and all subsequent Disney princesses of the classic era were animated in part from live action sources.

Experimental animators used rotoscoping to all different effects, not always wanting to attempt realism. Ralph Bakshi used some very odd rotoscoping in sections of his animated Lord of the Rings feature and American Pop, and strangely, as he got closer to realism, the faker and more lethargic it looked. Once computer graphics entered the picture, rotoscoping took a back seat, but motion capture is a three-dimensional version of the concept, essentially overlaying computer animation on a filmed actor.

However, a form of rotoscoping can be seen in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, where, assisted by computers to do most of the hard work, it was christened Rotoshop by animator and MIT scientist Bob Sabiston.

And to bring it all back home to your pocket, the video filters on your phone that can turn your face into a dog or a wizard or a glamor model...that all started just over a century ago by one plucky inventor and his brother, dressed as a clown.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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