How Marion Stokes, an Activist Librarian, Recorded 30 Years of TV News on 70,000 Video Tapes: It’s All Now Being Digitized and Put Online

“Nothing is more important than television,” said J.D. Salinger (as impersonated, that is, in an episode of Bojack Horseman). A passive, pacifying medium—“cool,” as Marshall McLuhan called it—TV has also long been an easy target for punditry, for many decades before the perpetrator du jour, video games. Television spread ignorance, was “the drug of the nation," said Michael Franti, peddled fake heroes on “channel zero,” said Public Enemy, and would lead to an “electrical re-tribalization of the West,” McLuhan predicted (and further explained in this interview).

Marion Stokes set out to do more than any of the men above who made pronouncements about television. She dedicated her life to preserving the evidence, taping television news for over 33 years, from 1979 “until the day she died,” writes the Internet Archive, who now hold Stokes’ “unique 71k+ video cassette collection” and intend to digitize all of it. Stokes “was a fiercely private African American social justice champion, librarian, political radical, TV producer, feminist, Apple Computer super-fan and collector like few others.”

She “questioned the media’s motivations and recognized the insidious intentional spread of disinformation…. Ms. Stokes was alarmed. In a private herculean effort, she took on the challenge of independently preserving the news record of her times in its most pervasive and persuasive form—TV.” She also preserved three decades of televised critiques of television. She began making her archive at the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis on November 14, 1979. “She hit record and never stopped,” her son Michael Metelits says in Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, “a newly released documentary,” reports Atlas Obscura, “about [Stokes] and the archival project that became her life’s work.”

In one remarkable example of TV critique, at the top, we see William Davidon, professor of Physics at Haverford College, decrying television for spreading ignorance, social irresponsibility, and passive consumption, making people unable to participate in the political process. The roundtable discussion took place on a 1968 episode of Input. A little over a year later, writes the Internet Archive, Davidon “would take an action of great social consequence,” breaking into an FBI field office with seven others and stealing the evidence that “revealed COINTELPRO.” (They were never caught, and Davidon’s role only came out posthumously.)

Then known as Marion Metelits, Stokes co-produced Input, a local Philadelphia Sunday morning talk show, with her future husband John S. Stokes Jr., and both of them appear on the program above (both credited as representing the Wellsprings Ecumenical Center). The conversation ranges widely, with Ms. Metelits and Davidon spiritedly defending “human potential” against too-rigid systems of classification and manipulation. There are a few dozen more episodes of Input currently at the Internet Archive, with panels featuring academics, activists, and clergy (such as the episode explaining, sort of, the “Wellsprings Ecumenical Center.”)

It’s a hard-hitting, controversial show for a local broadcast, and it gives us a detailed view of a range of both popular and radical positions of the time, including Stokes’, which we can learn more about in the journals, notes, lists, newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, leaflets, handbills, and more she collected since 1960, many of which have also been digitized at the Internet Archive. Stokes backed her views with action. She was “surveilled by the government for her early political activism,” Atlas Obscura writes, and “attempted to defect to Cuba” with her first husband Melvin Metelits. She kept her recording project private, “eschewed Tivo” and “never sent an email in her life.”

She also made a small fortune in Apple stock, which funded her project and “the massive storage space she required as the sole force behind it.” Stokes left us no doubt as to why she documented thirty years of TV news. But those documents get to speak for themselves—or they will, at least. Stokes recorded far more than her own program, three decades more. And the Internet Archive is currently “endeavoring to help make sure” the entire collection “is digitized and made available online to everyone, forever, for free.”

If television had, and maybe still has, the power ascribed to it by its many astute critics, then Marion Stokes’ painstaking archive offers an invaluable means of understanding how we got to where we are, if not how to change course. Stokes’ collection, and the documentary about her life, show "how the news was going to evolve into an addiction,” as Owen Gleiberman writes at Variety. The project took over her life and fractured her relationships. “Even if you’re obsessed with the inaccuracy of TV news, it has still entrapped you, like a two-way mirror that won’t let you see the other side.” If the medium is the message, the other side might always be more television.

via Atlas Obscura

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

Ray Harryhausen’s Creepy War of the Worlds Sketches and Stop-Motion Test Footage

Most of us know The War of the Worlds because of Orson Welles' slightly-too-realistic radio adaptation, first broadcast on Halloween 1938. But its source material, H.G. Wells' 1898 science-fiction novel, still fires up the imagination. Its many adaptations since have taken the form of comic books, video games, television series, and more besides. Several films have used The War of the Worlds as their basis, including a high-profile one in 2005 directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, and more than half a century before that, George Pal's first 1953 adaptation in all its Technicolor glory.

In recent years materials have surfaced showing us the midcentury War of the Worlds picture that could have been, one featuring the stop-motion creature-creation of Ray Harryhausen.

"Well before CGI technology beamed extraterrestrials onto the big screen, stop-motion animation master Harryhausen brought to life Wells’ vision of a slimy Martian with enormous bulging eyes, a slobbering beaked mouth and 'Gorgon groups of tentacles' in a 16 mm test reel," writes Den of Geek's Elizabeth Rayne.

"The result is something that looks like a twisted mashup of a Muppet and an octopus." Harryhausen had long dreamed of bringing The War of the Worlds to the big screen, and anyone who has seen Harryhausen's work of the 1950s and 60s, as it appears in such films as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, knows that he was surely the man for this job. He certainly had the right spirit: as his own words put it at the beginning of the test-footage clip, "ANY imaginative creature or thing can be built and animated convincingly."

"I actually built a Martian based on H.G. Wells description," Harryhausen says in the interview clip above. "He described the creature that came from the space ship a sort of an octopus-like type of creature." Harryhausen's also presented his vision with included sketches of the tripod invaders laying waste to America both urban and rural. "I took it all around Hollywood," he says, but alas, it never quite convinced those who kept the gates of the Industry in the 1940s.

"We couldn't raise money. People weren't that interested in science fiction at that time." Times have changed; the public has long since developed an unquenchable appetite for stories of human beings and advanced, hostile space invaders locked in mortal combat. But now such a spectacle would almost certainly be realized with the intensive use of computer-generated imagery, a technology impressive in its own way, but one that may never equal the personality, physicality, and sheer creepiness of the creatures that Ray Harryhausen brought painstakingly to life, one frame at a time, all by hand.

via @41Strange

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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.

Werner Herzog Narrates the Existential Journey of a Plastic Bag: Watch a Short Film by Acclaimed Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani

"It's not what a movie is about," Roger Ebert famously wrote, "it's how it is about it." Subject matter, we might say, separates the weak filmmakers from the strong: those who require a striking "high concept" (killer doll, body switch, Snakes on a Plane) fall into the former group, while those who can make a film about absolutely anything fall into the latter. It's safe to say that not everyone is moved by the scene in American Beauty where the camcorder-toting teenager waxes poetic about his footage of a plastic bag in the wind. But what would similar material look like in the hands of a more assured director?

For an example, have a look at Plastic Bag, the eighteen-minute short above. Every cinephile with an interest in American film knows the name of Plastic Bag's director, Ramin Bahrani. Over the past decade and a half he has emerged as the maker of unusually powerful and realistic glimpses of life in his homeland, focusing on characters like a Pakistani immigrant running a New York bagel cart, an orphan working at a chop shop, and a Senegalese cab driver in North Carolina.


In its own way, the protagonist and title character of Plastic Bag is also at once an outsider to American life and a figure inseparable from it — and voiced by an insider-outsider of another kind, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog. (Their collaboration has continued: you may remember Herzog's appearance in a Bahrani-directed episode of Morgan Spurlock's series We the Economy about a lemonade stand.)

Beginning his journey at a grocery-store checkout counter, he spends his first few happy days at the home of his purchaser. But not long after this idyll of service — carrying tennis balls, being filled with ice to numb a sprain — comes to its inevitable end, he finds himself deposited into a landfill. But the wind comes to his rescue, carrying him across a series of suburban, post-industrial, and finally rural landscapes as he looks desperately for his owner.

Ultimately the bag makes it into places seldom seen by human eyes, with a combination of gravitas and wonder imbued by both Herzog's diction and the music of Sigur Rós' Kjartan Sveinsson. Watched today, Plastic Bag feels more elegiac than it did when it debuted a decade ago, since which time plastic-bag bans have continued to spread unabated across the world. How long before not just the hero of Bahrani's film, but all his polyethylene kind fade from existence — forgotten, if not quite decomposed?

Plastic Bag has been added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #8 Discusses Spider-Man: Far From Home and the Function of Super-Hero Films

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt finally cover a current film, and of course use it as an entry point in discussing the social function of super-hero films more generally, how much realism or grittiness is needed in such stories, whether to repeat or bypass the origin story, everlasting franchises, the use of multi-verses as a storytelling device, exaggerating the potential in a story of new technologies that the audience doesn’t really understand, and more.

We touch on other bits of the Marvel Universe and the other Spider-Man films, the original Amazing Spider-Man #13 comic that introduced Mysterio, The Lion KingWatchmenThe BoysStar TrekElectric Dreams, the Rob Lowe “John Smith’s Bachelor Party” scene in Austin Powersthe recurring henchman in Spider-Man (actually Peter Billingsley, i.e. Ralphie in A Christmas Story), and the Exiles comic (a Marvel team that travels between multi-verses).

Some articles we looked at for this episode include:

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

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

Nigerian Teenagers Are Making Slick Sci Fi Films With Their Smartphones

Someone should really snap up the rights for a movie about The Critics, a collective of self-taught teenage filmmakers from northwestern Nigeria.

The boys’ dedication, ambition, and no-budget inventiveness calls to mind other filmmaking fanatics, from the sequestered, homeschooled brothers of The Wolfpack to the fictional Sweding specialists of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Be Kind, Rewind.

While smartphones and free editing apps have definitely made it easier for aspiring filmmakers to bring their fantasies to fruition, it's worth noting that The Critics saved for a month to buy the green fabric for their chroma key effects.

Their productions are also plagued with the internet and power outages that are a frequent occurrence in their home base of Kaduna, slowing everything from the rendering process to the Youtube visual effects tutorials that have advanced their craft.

To date they’ve filmed 20 shorts on a smart phone with a smashed screen, mounted to a broken microphone stand that's found new life as a homemade tripod.

Their simple set up will be coming in for an upgrade, however, now that Nollywood director Kemi Adetiba has brought their efforts to the attention of a much wider audience, who donated $5,800 in a fundraising campaign.

It’s easy to imagine the young male demographic flocking to a feature-length, big-budget expansion of Z: The Beginning. It's possible even the art house crowd could be lured to a summer blockbuster whose setting is Nigeria, thirty years into the future, a novelty for those of us unversed in Nollywood's prodigious output.

The post-apocalyptic short, above, took the crew 7 months to film and edit. The stars also inhabited a number of offscreen roles: stunt coordinator, gaffer, prop master, composer, continuity…

What’s next? Earlier this month, Africa News revealed that the boys are busy with a new film whose plot they aren’t at liberty to reveal. We're guessing a sequel, to go by a not so subtle hint following Z's final credits and a moving dedication to “the ones we’ve lost.”

“Horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, we do all,” The Critics’ proclaim on their Youtube channel, carefully categorizing their work as “films not skits.” (Their films’ length has thus far been dictated by the unpredictability of their wifi situation—Chase, below, is five minutes long and took two days to render.

“One of the targets we aim for in the years to come is to make the biggest film in Nigeria and probably beyond,” Godwin JosiahZ’s 19-year-old writer-director told Channels Television, Lagos' 24-hour news channel:

We want to do something crazy, we want to do something great, something that has not been done before, and from what has been going on now, we believe quite well that it is going to happen soon enough.

Watch The Critics’ films and making-ofs on their Youtube channel.

Support their work with a pledge to their recently launched Patreon.

via Kottke/Africa News

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Marilyn Monroe Recounts Her Harrowing Experience in a Psychiatric Ward (1961)

By the end of 1960, Marilyn Monroe was coming apart.

She spent much of that year shooting what would be her final completed movie – The Misfits (see a still from the trailer above). Arthur Miller penned the film, which is about a beautiful, fragile woman who falls in love with a much older man. The script was pretty clearly based on his own troubled marriage with Monroe. The production was by all accounts spectacularly punishing. Shot in the deserts of Nevada, the temperature on set would regularly climb north of 100 degrees. Director John Huston spent much of the shoot ragingly drunk. Star Clark Gable dropped dead from a heart attack less than a week after production wrapped. And Monroe watched as her husband, who was on set, fell in love with photographer Inge Morath. Never one blessed with confidence or a thick skin, Monroe retreated into a daze of prescription drugs. Monroe and Miller announced their divorce on November 11, 1960.

A few months later, the emotionally exhausted movie star was committed by her psychoanalyst Dr. Marianne Kris to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. Monroe thought she was going in for a rest cure. Instead, she was escorted to a padded cell. The four days she spent in the psych ward proved to be among the most distressing of her life.

In a riveting 6-page letter to her other shrink, Dr. Ralph Greenson, written soon after her release, she detailed her terrifying experience.

There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney -- it had a very bad effect -- they asked me after putting me in a "cell" (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn't committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic. They asked me why I wasn't happy there (everything was under lock and key; things like electric lights, dresser drawers, bathrooms, closets, bars concealed on the windows -- the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients). I answered: "Well, I'd have to be nuts if I like it here.”

Monroe quickly became desperate.

I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation what would I do. So I figured, it's a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called "Don't Bother to Knock". I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had never broken anything in my life -- against the glass intentionally. It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass - so I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in. They did, and I said to them "If you are going to treat me like a nut I'll act like a nut". I admit the next thing is corny but I really did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. I indicated if they didn't let me out I would harm myself -- the furthest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr. Greenson I'm an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself. I'm just that vain.

During her four days there, she was subjected to forced baths and a complete loss of privacy and personal freedom. The more she sobbed and resisted, the more the doctors there thought she might actually be psychotic. Monroe’s second husband, Joe DiMaggio, rescued her by getting her released early, over the objections of the staff.

You can read the full letter (where she also talks about reading the letters of Sigmund Freud) over at Letters of Note. And while there, make sure you pick up a copy of the very elegant Letters of Note book.

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

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

Where Zombies Come From: A Video Essay on the Origin of the Horrifying, Satirical Monsters

Will zombies ever die? To zombie enthusiasts, of course, that question makes no sense: zombies are already dead, drained of life and reanimated by some magical, biological, or even technological force. Most of us have never known a world without zombies, in the sense of zombies as a presence in film, television, literature, and video games. In the video essay "Where Zombies Come From," video essayist Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, goes back to the dawn of these dead figures to pinpoint the origin of this robust "modern myth."

The first mention of zombies appears in 1929's The Magic Island, a book on Haiti by "journalist, occultist, and generally eccentric minor celebrity" William Seabrook. "The zombie, they say, is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life — it is a dead body which is made to walk and act and move as if it were alive."

That 90-year-old description may sound more or less like the zombies that continue to scare and amuse us today, but the modern image of the zombie didn't emerge fully formed; 1932's Bela Lugosi-starring White Zombie, the very first zombie film, may not strike us today as fully representative of the genre it founded.

But "in 1968 everything changed." That year, the young filmmaker George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (watch it online) laid down the rules for zombies: they "devour living human beings. They hobble forward awkwardly but relentlessly. They're dumb, able to use objects as blunt-force instruments but nothing else. They can only be killed by being shot in the head or burned, and if one bites or scratches you, you'll die not long after, then transform into one and pursue whomever is nearby, family or not." To Puschak's mind, the film holds up not just as a zombie movie, but as a movie: "In its neorealist, black-and-white style, it is a smart, tightly crafted story made on a shoestring budget with a third act that is absolutely brutal and punishing even now, 50 years later."

Night of the Living Dead didn't call its zombies zombies, but its sequel, 1978's Dawn of the Dead, put the label of zombie on not just them but us: "The film, which takes place almost entirely in a mall, uses zombies to critique consumerism: as the zombies lumber through this familiar place, we see our own behavior as a grotesque reflection. A zombie's thoughtlessness, Romero understood, is the perfect mirror for our own." Dawn of the Dead bolstered the potential of zombies not just as as "creative, primal monsters," but as satirical devices, and the finest zombie movies know how to use them as both at once. (So far I've seen that balance no more impressively struck than in a Korean zombie movie, Yeon Sang-ho's Train to Busan.)

Over the past half-century, post-Night of the Living Dead zombie stories have made all manner of tweaks on and variations to the standard zombie formula. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, for example, popularized the fast-moving zombie, and Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead pioneered the full-on zombie comedy. Most recently, no less astute an observer of American culture and re-animator of seemingly dead cinematic tropes than Jim Jarmusch has offered us his own entry into the zombie canon, The Dead Don't Die. Jarmuschian zombies shamble compulsively toward that which they desired in life: coffee, wi-fi, chardonnay, Xanax. As long as we can still see these ourselves in these both funny and terrifying creatures, the zombie apocalypse will always seem dead ahead.

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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.

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