How to Film Thought: A Close Look at the Masterful Editing of Sherlock, Starring Benedict Cumberbatch

What has drawn Sherlock, the BBC television series starring a modern-day version of Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved consulting detective, such great acclaim? Some of it, of course, has to do with the formidable acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. But if you believe Evan Puschak, better known as the video essayist the Nerdwriter, much of the genius of this "intoxicatingly inventive TV show" lies in the editing.

The plot of each episode runs on how Sherlock "gets from point A to point B, from problem to solution, mystery to clarity," and just as Cumberbatch must convincingly portray the figuring-out process with his performance, so must the editors with their cuts. Puschak illustrates Sherlock's creative, idea-dense way of doing this with just one sequence of three minutes and 42 seconds. It comes triggered by a bout of withdrawal from cocaine, a choice that stays true to the nature of the character Conan Doyle created, brilliant but also a drug addict.

During this sequence, Sherlock arrives at just what every good detective story needs: a revelation, a moment when both he and we see the pieces of information the story has previously presented from a new angle, in a way that reveals the crucial relationship between them. And as essentially a cinematic work, Sherlock literally shows it from not just one but many new angles, even from perspectives impossible in real life. As with any well-crafted piece of editing, you can only feel this sequence's power when you watch it, not when you read it described. Puschak takes full advantage of his own form, the video essay, to not just show it to us but break it down to its constituent elements.

Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories won their wide and avid readership by offering a glimpse into the workings of an unusual mind, making them legible in text. Sherlock goes a dimension further by making them legible in image and sound. The relationship between the two parallels the relationship between the traditional essay and the video essay: the latter, in this case, allows us to follow the process of Puschak's thoughts about Sherlock not just textually but audiovisually as well. And with his channel's just having passed one million subscribers, he seems well on the way to achieving a Sherlockian level of popularity himself.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

David Lynch Made a Disturbing Web Sitcom Called “Rabbits”: It’s Now Used by Psychologists to Induce a Sense of Existential Crisis in Research Subjects

David Lynch has stayed productive in recent years — putting out an album and reviving Twin Peaks, to name just two projects — but more than a decade has gone by since his last feature film. Still, images from that one, 2006's Inland Empire, may well linger in the heads of its viewers to this day. Some of the most haunting sequences that compose its three hours include clips of Rabbits, a television show about those very creatures. Or rather, a television show about humanoid rabbits who exchange lines of cryptic dialogue in a shadowy living room located, as the show puts it, "in a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain" where they live "with a fearful mystery."

So far, so Lynchian. Part of the director's signature atmosphere arises, of course, from the menacingly presented 1950s domesticity and the bizarre appearance of human actors wearing expressionless rabbit heads. But just as much has to do with sound: along with an ominous score by frequent Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti we hear that constant deluge of rain, with occasional sonic punctuation from an inexplicably timed laugh track. You can binge-watch Rabbits' episodes on YouTube, an experience which will give you a fuller sense of why University of British Columbia psychologists used it to induce a sense of existential crisis in research subjects.

Lynch shot Rabbits in 2002 on digital video, a medium whose freedom, compared to traditional film, he had recently discovered. (When he went on to use it for the whole of Inland Empire, the choice seemed as cinematically startling, at the time, as any he'd ever made.) The shoots happened at night, on a set built in his backyard. Its principal cast of Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Scott Coffey had all appeared the previous year in Lynch's critically acclaimed Mulholland Drive, which itself began as a prospective television series. (Even the singer Rebekah del Rio, star of Club Silencio, turns up in one episode.) Lynch first "aired" the series on his web site, which must place him among not just the artistic but technical pioneers of the web series form.

But why, exactly, did he make it in the first place? "Rabbits is a sitcom," writes a contributor called Peek 824545301 at The Artifice. "It is not merely parody or satire; it exists as perhaps the most bizarre and arguably literal sitcom imaginable, though still an opposing force that challenges and defamiliarizes basic concepts." Abstracting the basic elements of the sitcom form while stripping them of narrative, the show also signals comedy on one level and darkness on another, putting itself "simultaneously in alignment with situation comedies in its essence while also serving as a destructive criticism." In this view, Lynch moves from medium to medium not just as a singular kind of creator but — with his imagination that has somehow come up with even stranger things than this rabbit sitcom — a singular kind of critic as well.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Buckminster Fuller Appears on the Los Angeles New Age Cable TV Shows, Psychic Phenomena and Quest Four (1979-82)

Has the world ever known a more compellingly eccentric cultural outlet than the fringes of Los Angeles television in the 1970s and 80s? For the most part a realm of false prophets, unhinged crackpots, desperate pitchmen, and Cal Worthington, its airwaves also occasionally carried the thoughts of important minds. Take, for instance, the appearances on the public-access cable programs Psychic Phenomena: The World Beyond and Quest Four: The Fourth Dimension of none other than prolific architect-theorist-inventor Buckminster Fuller. You can watch both together, and thereby get an overview of the then already octogenarian Fuller's life and ideas in a fairly unusual context, in the videos of the Youtube playlist above.

On both programs, the first of which aired in 1979 and the second in 1983, Fuller sits across from Damien Simpson. The founder of an organization called the Universal Mind Science Church, Simpson seems to have spent his life as something of a seeker. After time in the seminary, he lived for a period in a monastery under a vow of silence.

In the years after starting his own church, he hosted new-age television and radio programs whose guest lists included, according to his bio, everyone from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to Dennis Weaver. But Simpson clearly considered Fuller the catch to beat them all, more than once likening himself to "a kid in a candy store" as he revels in his chance to converse with the man who thought up the geodesic dome and much else besides.

Born in the 19th century, usually dressed in a suit and tie, and constantly working on the development and application of ultra-practical ideas, Fuller hardly projected the image of a 70s new-ager. Yet he and the audiences of shows like Psychic Phenomena and Quest Four shared more than a few habits of mind. Fuller, for instance, insisted on always considering the world as not a collection of nations but one whole system (one he memorably labeled "Spaceship Earth"), an example of "holistic thinking" in the truest sense. He also believed, as he spells out in these interviews, that humanity faces an existential "final examination," a test of our collective intellect and will to determine whether we can bring about an era — quite literally, a new age — of peace. It will demand much of us, he tells Simpson and and his viewers all across Los Angeles, not least our naiveté: "Dare to be naive. That's the only way you'll ever learn anything."

via Ubuweb

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Muhammad Ali & Sly Stone Get Into a Heated Debate on Racism & Reparations on The Mike Douglas Show (1974)

Ah, the 70s… an American president was impeached for criminal activity; a congressman, Wayne Hays, resigned for sleeping with his secretary, after divorcing his wife to marry a different secretary; another congressman, Bud Shuster—who described Hays as “the meanest man in the house”—called for an investigation of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, after Cox was fired by the soon-to-be impeached president… ‘twas a different time, children, a simpler time….

Well, at any rate, they sure wore funny suits back then, eh? Those lapels…. But just like today, politics mixed freely with sports and entertainment in controversial and televisual ways. Boxers got ratings, singers got ratings, politicians like “meanest man in the house” Wayne Hays got ratings, even before his sex scandal, when he appeared on TV with boxers and singers—appeared, that is, on The Mike Douglas Show in 1974 with Muhammad Ali and Sly Stone. Actor and activist Theodore Bikel was there too, though you might blink and miss him in the fracas just above.

First, Hays offers some banal opinions on the subject of campaign financing, another one of those bygone 70s issues. But when Douglas poses the question to Ali of whether or not he’d ever run for office, things pick up, to say the least. Ali refuses to play the entertainer. He launches flurry after flurry of jabs at white America, and at Hays, who does his best to stay upright under the onslaught. “Ali is unyielding,” writes Dangerous Minds, “intense and brilliant.”

Ali takes on a serious question facing Black nationalists of the 60s and 70s, from the Panthers to the Nation of Islam, whose views Ali embraced at the time, along with, perhaps, some of their ugly anti-Semitism. (The following year he converted to Sunni Islam, and later became a Sufi.) Should Black activists participate in the oppressive systems of the U.S. government? Can anyone do good from inside the halls of imperialist power?

Hays makes an integrationist case, and champions Black leaders like congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Ali is relentlessly combative, calling for reparations. Sly slides in to clarify and pacify, playing mediator and referee. Douglas gets off the applause line, “isn’t it time we all tried to live together.” Ali refuses to gloss over racism and economic inequality. No peace, he says in effect, without justice. Aren’t we glad, forty-four years later, that we’ve ironed all this out? See the full show above for much more heavyweight commentary from Ali and sometimes fuzzy counterpoint from Sly. They go back and forth with Douglas for ten minutes before Hays and Bikel join.

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

How the Sounds You Hear in Movies Are Really Made: Discover the Magic of “Foley Artists”

Have you ever worked as an "extra" on a film or television shoot, one of the anonymous many somewhere in the background while the main characters advance the story up front? If so, you know that to be seen but not heard onscreen requires doing exactly that. Even though a crowded party scene, for instance, really does sound like a crowded party scene in the final product, the shoot happens in something close to silence. Only the stars speak, and indeed make any sound at all; everyone else just mimes their lively conversations. Sound designers add the crowd noise later, after the shoot, just like they add music, footsteps, doors opening and closing, crackling of fires and the whipping of winds, and pretty much every other sound you hear besides speech.

"The Magic of Making Sound," the Great Big Story video above, reveals the work of Foley artists, some of the most little-known craftsmen in the entertainment industry. We usually think of realism as a primarily visual quality, praising something that "looks real" almost as often as we complain about what "looks fake," but much of what makes dramatic action onscreen feel real happens on a completely unseen level.

Foley artists (named for early sound-effects designer Jack Foley) create all the incidental sounds you'd expect to hear in real life, so if and only if they do their work well, nobody in the audience will notice it. (Minimal Foley work, combined with dialogue dubbed in a studio instead of recorded during the shoot, contributes greatly to the "dreamlike" quality of some older films, especially from Europe and Asia.)

The Great Big Story video, along with the short profile of veteran Hollywood Foley artist Gary Hecker just above, show masters of the trade employing a variety of its tools: bags of corn starch for snow, gloves with paperclips taped to the fingertips for dog paws, and for that inevitable (if implausible) schwing of a sword being unsheathed, a kitchen spatula. Just like visuals, sound requires a certain degree of not just imagination but exaggeration to achieve that "larger than life" feeling. Still, the Foley craft has its origins in nothing more grand than the sounds made by hand to accompany radio dramas in the 1920s. The profession may have moved on from the coconut-shell horse hooves of nearly a century ago — these videos show the current industry standard, a jerry-rigged looking device made of plunger cups — but most of its equipment has remained reliably unchanged. How many other kinds of film-and-television technicians can say the same?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Mister Rogers Accepts a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Helps You Thank Everyone Who Has Made a Difference in Your Life

Television host and children’s advocate Fred Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister, for whom spiritual reflection was as natural and necessary a part of daily life as his vegetarianism and morning swims.

His quiet personal practice could take a turn for the public and interactive, as he demonstrated from the podium at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997, above.

Accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award, he refrained from running through the standard laundry list of thanks. Instead he invited the audience to join him in spending 10 seconds thinking of the people who “have loved us into being.”

He then turned his attention to his wristwatch as hundreds of glamorously attired talk show hosts and soap stars thought of the teachers, relatives, and other influential adults whose tender care, and perhaps rigorous expectations, helped shape them.

(Play along from home at the 2:15 mark.)

Ten seconds may not seem like much, but consider how often we deploy emojis and “likes” in place of sitting with others’ feelings and our own.

Of all the things Fred Rogers was celebrated for, the time he allotted to making others feel heard and appreciated may be the greatest.

Fifteen years after his death, the Internet ensures that he will continue to inspire us to be kinder, try harder, listen better.

That effect should quadruple when Morgan Neville's Mister Rogers documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? is released next month.

Another sweet Emmy moment comes at the top, when the honoree smooches his wife, Joanne Rogers, before heading off to join presenter Tim Robbins at the podium. Described in Esquire as “hearty and almost whooping in (her) forthrightness,” the stalwart Mrs. Rogers appeared in a handful of episodes, but never played the sort of highly visible role Mrs. Claus inhabited within her husband’s public realm.

The full text of Mister Rogers’ Lifetime Achievement Award award speech is below:

So many people have helped me to come here to this night.  Some of you are here, some are far away and some are even in Heaven.  All of us have special ones who loved us into being.  Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life.  10 seconds, I'll watch the time. Whomever you've been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they have made.  You know they're kind of people television does well to offer our world.  Special thanks to my family, my friends, and my co-workers in Public Broadcasting and Family Communications, and to this Academy for encouraging me, allowing me, all these years to be your neighbor.  May God be with you.  Thank you very much.

via Mental Floss

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this Wednesday, May 16, for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Listen to an Archive of Recordings by Delia Derbyshire, the Electronic Music Pioneer & Composer of the Dr. Who Theme Song

Delia Derbyshire, composer of the Dr. Who theme song and musical pioneer, has not quite become a household name, but readers of this site surely know who she is, as well should every student of avant garde, electronic, and experimental pop music. Along with other often unsung female electronic composers of the 60s and beyond—like fellow BBC Radiophonic Workshop doyenne, Daphne Oram—Derbyshire brought the early electronic techniques of musique concrete and tape manipulation to a wider audience, who mostly had no idea where the sounds they heard came from.

As part of the unit responsible for creating the sounds of British television, Derbyshire’s unusual instincts took her to places no composer had ever ventured before. In her sound work for a documentary called The World About Us, on the Tuareg people of the Sahara, she “used her voice for the sound of the [camels'] hooves,” writes her onetime colleague Brian Hodgson at The Guardian, “cut up into an obbligato rhythm. And she added a thin, high electronic sound using virtually all the filters and oscillators in the workshop.” As Derbyshire recalls it:

My most beautiful sound at the time was a tatty BBC lampshade. It was the wrong colour, but it had a beautiful ringing sound to it. I hit the lampshade, recorded that, faded it up into the ringing part without the percussive start. I… reconstructed the sound of the workshop’s famous 12 oscillators to give it a whooshing sound. So the camels rode off into the sunset with my voice in their hooves and a green lampshade on their backs.

What the color of the lampshade had to do with the sound, only Derbyshire could know for sure. But it clearly had a psychological impact on the way she heard it. “I suppose in a way,” she said, “I was experimenting in psycho-acoustics.”

This was an immersive experience for her, and for everyone who heard the results, no matter whether they could identify what it was they were hearing. Derbyshire’s sound design revolutionized the industry, but we cannot overlook her extracurricular work—experimental sound collages and musical pieces made with several close collaborators, including Hodgson, which sound remarkably ahead of their time.

In 1964, Derbyshire collaborated with poet and dramatist Barry Bermange on The Dreams, a work that showed her, Hodgson writes, “at her elegant best.” The two put together a collage, with people describing their dreams in snippets of cut-up monologues, backed by a pulsing, throbbing, buzzing, humming ominous score. (Listen to “Running” further up.) In 1966, she worked with David Bowie’s favorite performer Anthony Newley on “Moogles Bloogles,” above, which Ubuweb calls “an unreleased perv-pop classic in the 1966 novelty vein.” She was not privy to what the song would become. “I’d written this beautiful innocent tune,” she said, “all sensitive love and innocence, and he made it into a dirty old raincoat song. But he was really chuffed!”

In the late sixties, Derbyshire joined Hodgson and bass player David Vorhaus to form White Noise, an experimental electronic pop project whose “Love Without Sound” you can hear at the top of the post (behind scenes from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée.) In 1972, Derbyshire teamed with Hodgson and Don Harper, all “moonlighting from day jobs” at the BBC, for an album called Electrosonic, a “haunting batch of spare electronic tracks.” Just above, hear “Liquid Energy (Bubbling Rhythm)” from that collection.

These tracks represent just a fraction of the Derbyshire music available at Ubuweb’s Delia Derbyshire library, including a compilation of Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack pieces like “Environmental Studies,” above, from 1969, as well as an audio documentary on her work made in 2010. Soon after her early 70s musical experiments, Derbyshire retired from music to work as a radio operator and in an art gallery and bookshop, disgusted with the state of contemporary sound. But in her last few years, she had the pleasure of watching a new generation discover her work. As Hodgson writes in his touching eulogy, “the technology she had left behind was finally catching up to her vision.”

Hear more recording at Ubuweb’s Delia Derbyshire library.

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

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