David Fincher’s Five Finest Music Videos: From Madonna to Aerosmith

fincher videos madonna

A whole generation of filmmakers who came to prominence in the late 90s and early 00s got their start in music videos. Spike Jonze, for instance, went from making the Beastie Boys’ best video, “Sabotage,” to making Being John Malkovich, the greatest film ever about being John Malkovich. Simon West has the dubious distinction of making Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” making him the handmaiden to that loathsome of internet meme’s, rickrolling. He then went on to make the overstuffed spectacle Con Air, making him the handmaiden of Nicolas Cage’s dreadful action career. And Michael Bay, Mr. Death-Of-Cinema himself, made slick videos for the Divinyls before branching off into explosion porn with the Transformers franchise.

Yet the most celebrated filmmaker to come out of music videos is David Fincher. Even before he made his green-tinted feel-bad masterpieces like Zodiac and The Social Network, he already made a deep impact on American popular consciousness – especially if you were watching a lot of MTV during the waning days of the Cold War. Here are five of his most famous and finely-crafted vids.

Vogue,” Madonna (1990)

Shot in gorgeous black and white, Fincher makes Madonna look like a Hollywood icon of yore while spinning one dazzling image after another of well-appointed, and remarkably limber, men voguing. The video was reportedly shot at a breakneck pace, just 16 hours, to accommodate Madonna’s tour schedule.

Straight Up,” Paula Abdul (1989)

Fincher captures Paula Abdul’s sass and her considerable dancing prowess in this stark, graphic video that is almost completely devoid of grey.

Freedom! ’90,” George Michael (1990)

George Michael refused to participate in the shoot for this video. So Fincher did what I wish I could do — call up a bunch of supermodels including Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford and get them to help out. The result feels like a Victoria’s Secret catalogue come to life.

Janie’s Got a Gun,” Aerosmith (1989)

The song might be catchy but the lyrics are about murder and child abuse. Fincher shoots Aerosmith’s likely arena rock anthem as a crime story, complete with lush colors and moody, expressionistic depictions of the deeds. The video proved to be great training for his subsequent films.

Express Yourself,” Madonna (1989)

Madonna’s “Express Yourself” was the most expensive music video made up to that point, costing $5 million. A riff off the German Expressionist masterpiece, Metropolis, this work features far more corsets, naked men and crotch grabs than Fritz Lang’s film. Madonna had a great deal of say over the final product. “I oversaw everything — the building of the sets, everyone’s costumes, I had meetings with make-up and hair and the cinematographer, everybody,” she told Rolling Stone magazine. “Casting, finding the right cat — just every aspect.” The success of this video landed Fincher his first feature film, the troubled Alien3.

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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 badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Disney’s 12 Timeless Principles of Animation Demonstrated in 12 Animated Primers

Last year, we featured Disney’s twelve timeless principles of animation, which Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston first laid out in their 1981 book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. Even if you’ve never heard of the principles of “squash and stretch,” “follow-through,” and “solid drawing” before, you’ll surely recognize their application — in Disney cartoons and most others besides — as soon as you read their explanations in that post. Not for nothing has Thomas and Johnson’s book attained near-Biblical status among animators.

These 12 principles give animation the clarity of composition and richness of motion Disney’s standards have us expecting. But how to actually execute these 12 principles in your own work? Alan Becker Tutorials breaks it down in a series of 12 videos focused on each principle, clearly illustrating how each looks in practice and succinctly explaining what it takes to do it right — and showing what happens when you don’t.

Because most of us grew up watching cartoons, and more than a few of us have taken the interest with us into adulthood, we know good animation when we see it. After watching these brief tutorials, even if you have no professional interest in bringing drawings to life, you’ll find out how much quality animation has to do with adherence to the 12 principles. You can learn about all of them on the series’ Youtube playlist, a viewing experience that will enrich your memories of the best cartoons you watched in childhood with an understanding of what made them the best — and an understanding of what made all the others seem so cheap. I’m looking at you, Grape Ape.

via Devour

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The World Record for the Shortest Math Article: 2 Words

shortest math paper

On Monday, on a lark, we posted what we thought was The Shortest-Known Paper Published in a Serious Math Journal. Two succinct sentences.

But then today, an OC reader gave us a heads-up on a more extreme display of brevity. In 2004, John Conway and Alexander Soifer, both working on mathematics at Princeton University, submitted to the American Mathematical Monthly what they believed was “a new world record in the number of words in a [math] paper.”

Soifer explains: “On April 28, 2004 … I submitted our paper that included just two words, ‘n2 + 2 can’ and our two drawings. [See one of them above.]” The story then continues: “The American Mathematical Monthly was surprised, and did not know what to do about our new world record of a 2-word article. Two days later, on April 30, 2004, the Editorial Assistant Mrs. Margaret Combs acknowledged the receipt of the paper”:

The Monthly publishes exposition of mathematics at many levels, and it contains articles both long and short. Your article, however, is a bit too short to be a good Monthly article. . . A line or two of explanation would really help.

Soifer writers: “The same day at the coffee hour I asked John [Conway], ‘What do you think?’ His answer was concise, ‘Do not give up too easily.’ Accordingly, I replied [to] The Monthly the same day”:

I respectfully disagree that a short paper in general—and this paper in particular—merely due to its size must be “a bit too short to be a good Monthly article.” Is there a connection between quantity and quality?. . . We have posed a fine (in our opinion) open problem and reported two distinct “behold-style” proofs of our advance on this problem. What else is there to explain?

Soifer adds: “The Monthly, apparently felt outgunned, for on May 4, 2004, the reply came from The Monthly’s top gun, Editor-in-Chief Bruce Palka”:

The Monthly publishes two types of papers: “articles,” which are substantive expository papers ranging in length from about six to twenty-five pages, and “notes,” which are shorter, frequently somewhat more technical pieces (typically in the one-to-five page range). I can send your paper to the notes editor if you wish, but I expect that he’ll not be interested in it either because of its length and lack of any substantial accompanying text. The standard way in which we use such short papers these days is as “boxed filler” on pages that would otherwise contain a lot of the blank space that publishers abhor. If you’d allow us to use your paper in that way, I’d be happy to publish it.

Soifer concludes: “John Conway and I accepted the ‘filler’, and in the January 2005 issue our paper was published.” Victory!

Get more of the backstory here.

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Watch The Hitch: An Indie-Documentary on The Life & Times of Christopher Hitchens

A quick note: Kristoffer Seland Hellesmark was looking for a documentary on Christopher Hitchens to watch, but could never find one. So, after waiting a while, he said to himself, “Why don’t I just make one?” The result is the 80-minute documentary about Hitchens, lovingly entitled The Hitch, which features clips from his speeches and interviews. We’ve added it to our collection of 200+ Free Documentaries, a subset of our larger collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Mike Leigh’s Five-Minute Films: A Revealing Look at the Director’s Early Cinematic Work (1975)

Mike Leigh works like few other directors. While most movies start with the script, Leigh develops a story and characters with his actors during long rehearsals. Leigh then assembles these exercises into a script. He will shoot some of that script and then rehearse some more. The result of this unusual style is that the actors know their characters down to the marrow. The film feels alive.

Back in 1975, just as Leigh was beginning to develop his famed method, the BBC commissioned him to make a series of five-minute movies. Leigh described the concept of the assignment to writer Sean O’Sullivan:

I thought it was a cracking idea, and I would have done forty of them or fifty – so you’d see them all the time, and sometimes you might see a character you never saw again, sometimes you might see somebody popping up for a moment and then be a main character in another one, or there’d be a couple of ones that would run on to a narrative. It would be a whole microcosm of the world. There was debate about whether they should be shown at the same time or they should be dotted around the channel, like currants in the pudding, as Tony Garnett, the producer, called it.

The project, sadly, was canceled before it even aired and only five movies were made. Those five were not broadcast until 1982 when Leigh had already become a big name in British television.

In some of his best works like Life is Sweet and Naked, Leigh focused on the small dramas of working class life, mining the unarticulated sadness and anger simmering just beneath the surface of modern Britain. His Five-Minute Films show early glimmers of his later greatness.

The plot of the first film, The Birth of the Goalie of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final, is simple to an extreme. The short, which consists of ten vignettes spanning a half-dozen years, is about a couple deciding whether or not to have a baby. The nameless bloke repeatedly asks his reluctant partner, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a kid?” At the end of the movie, he’s kicking the ball around with his young son. The end. It is almost as if Leigh wanted to see how little backstory and character psychology he could get away with.

The second film, Old Chums, is the diametrical opposite to the first – it’s all about character. The story, which unfolds in real-time, shows Brian, who is disabled and in crutches, walking to the car as he parries the conversational onslaught of a boorish ex-schoolmate, Terry. The movie buries you in names and long past events that have little bearing on the story, but leaves central questions like “what does Terry actually want?” tantalizingly vague.

A third film, Probation, appears above. You can watch the remainder of Leigh’s Five-Minute Shorts here. We’ll also add them to our collection of 700 Free Movies Online.

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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 badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Brian May Shows You How to Play Licks & Solos from 18 Queen Songs, and Reveals the Joy of the Guitar Riff

In the world of rock guitar, gear is king. And technique, one might say, is queen. Both rule, but the equipment can receive an unfair share of royal treatment. There is good reason for this. Electrified instruments playing electric music require heaps of wires, circuits, specialized effects, and amplifiers to make the sounds we’ve come to associate with hard rock and heavy metal. But those sounds didn’t come about by accident. They were designed at particular times by particular guitarists and engineers—serious gearheads. Perhaps the most obsessive of them all is Brian May, whose flashy but tasteful playing with Queen set the bar for pyrotechnics artists and fellow gearheads like Eddie Van Halen. Maybe it’s his work as an astrophysicist (no, really!) that inspired his scientific approach to making music. Wherever it comes from, no one plays, and sounds, quite like Brian May.

In the video above from 1984, May gives lessons on how to play his famous licks and solos from eighteen Queen songs. But first, he gets into the technical specs of his amplifiers, effects, and his guitar, “Red Special,” an instrument of his own design and build that functioned like no other at the time. Even today, no guitar but a Brian May signature guitar—now mass-produced—sounds like a Brian May guitar. At one point, May says, “I’ve had this guitar for 20 years, and it’s pretty much the only thing I can play to get the right sound.” He still feels the same way, as you can see in his much more recent “Rig Rundown,” that periodic delight of guitar geeks everywhere in which famous guitarists showcase the gear that gets them “the right sound.”

May’s full immersion in the technical details of electric guitars and amplifiers is rivaled only by his complex and intricate guitar lines. If you can keep up with him in the instructional video at the top, you might just learn a thing or two about the so-called “lick.” Just above, however, May helps guide us through an exploration of a much more direct and primitive means of expression—the riff. The BBC special also features such masters of this repetitive, rhythmic motif as Joan Jett, Wayne Kramer, Nile Rodgers, Tony Iommi, and Dave Davies, as well as—in archival footage—riff pioneers Chuck Berry and Link Wray, each of them demonstrating the earworms they’re known for. Brian May’s riffs—in “Bohemian Rhapsody” for example—may be more classical than most, but they’re no less memorable. And after watching his extended lesson, you now know exactly how he built them, piece by piece.

via Mental Floss

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

The Modernist Gas Stations of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe


Just a few miles from where I live on Los Angeles’ Olympic Boulevard stands the Helios House, which, the name notwithstanding, is a gas station — and quite a striking one. Made of stainless steel triangles, it looks like a piece of very early computer-generated imagery brought into the modern physical world. The Helios House introduced me to the concept of the architecturally forward gas station, but, built in 2007, it actually came late to the game: witness, for instance, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1956 R.W. Lindholm Service Station in Cloquet, Minnesota (above and below).


“In the early 1930s, Wright began developing concepts for Broadacre City, a city spread out to the point where it would be ‘everywhere and nowhere,’” wrote Dan Colman when we first posted about the building in 2011. “The design for the Lindholm gas station came directly from this conceptual project.” Alas, writes The Atlantic‘s Daniel Fromson, Wright’s ambitious design didn’t catch on: “Certain elements, such as gas pumps hanging from an overhead canopy—intended to boost efficiency and save space—were prohibited by Cloquet fire bylaws (although, coincidentally, hanging pumps eventually became popular in Japan). The unorthodox station was also estimated by one trade publication to have cost two to three times as much as a standard design.”


But Wright doesn’t stand alone among the modernist masters in having done gas-station work. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another architect with a penchant for reimagining the elements of the city, put his hand (or at least those of someone in his office ) to the task in 1969, coming up with the characteristically stripped-down Nuns’ Island gas station in the middle of Montreal’s Saint Lawrence River. Unlike the Lindholm Service Station, it no longer performs its intended function, but it does have a repurposed future as a community center. His other gas station, put up at the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology where he headed the department of architecture, hasn’t survived at all.

Nuns Island

But Oobject includes it in their list of the top fifteen modernist gas stations, which features buildings by Norman Foster and Arne Jacobsen and should make fine further reading if you’ve enjoyed this post. See also Flavorwire’s list of the world’s most beautiful gas stations, which names not only Wright and Mies van der Rohe’s work, but the Helios House, a few pieces of swooping midcentury glory in Los Angeles and Scandinavia, and a “Teapot Dome Service Station” shaped like exactly that. If you’re going to pay today’s gas prices, after all, you might as well fill up under an aesthetically notable structure.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Contributions of Women Philosophers Recovered by the New Project Vox Website

project vox

“If I am condemned, I shall be annihilated to nothing: but my ambition is such, as I would either be a world, or nothing.” – Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673)

A philosophy candidate or feminist scholar venturing into Duke University’s new Project Vox website may experience a sensation akin to discovering King Tut’s tomb.

Such treasures! Not just a scrap here and a morsel there, but a serious trove of information about philosophy writ by females!

Lady Damaris Masham (1658-1708), Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), Viscountess Anne Conway (1631-1679), and Émilie Du Châtelet were highly thought of in their day, and praised by male contemporaries including John Locke.

Project Vox seeks to resurrect their overlooked-to-the-point-of-undiscovered contributions by publishing their long out of print texts, some translated into English for the first time. Biographical information and secondary resources will provide a sense of each philosopher as well as her philosophy.

Eventually, the site will include a forum where teachers can share lesson plans and articles. Male philosophy doctorates currently outnumber their female counterparts by an overwhelming number, but that may change as young women begin to see themselves reflected in the curriculum.

Educators! Educate thyselves! Project Vox is the Guerrilla Girl of early modern philosophy!

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

The Shortest-Known Paper Published in a Serious Math Journal: Two Succinct Sentences

shortest math paper

Euler’s conjecture, a theory proposed by Leonhard Euler in 1769, hung in there for 200 years. Then L.J. Lander and T.R. Parkin came along in 1966, and debunked the conjecture in two swift sentences. Their article — which is now open access and can be downloaded here — appeared in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. If you’re wondering what the conjecture and its refutation are all about, you might want to ask Cliff Pickover, the author of 45 books on math and science. He brought this curious document to the web last week.

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Stephen Hawking Sings Monty Python’s “Galaxy Song”: Hear the Newly-Released Single

The “Galaxy Song” first appeared in the 1983 film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, and it has been revived in later years — on Monty Python albums, and in Monty Python stage plays. Now the song originally written by Eric Idle has been re-recorded, this time with the lyrics sung by the world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking. The lyrics include a lot of astronomical facts, some now considered outdated by scholars. But that doesn’t take the fun out of the recording.

The song will be available for download on iTunes. (If you live in the UK, find it here.) And it will also be released as a 7″ single. But you can stream it online for free above. Enjoy.

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