Talking Heads’ First TV Appearance Was on American Bandstand, and It Was Pretty Awkward (1979)

“I guess he’s…organically shy.”–Tina Weymouth

As Talking Heads went from CBGBs (see some vintage video) to college radio to a European tour opening for The Ramones in 1977, the band was slowly making its way out of New York City poverty while their art school rock was seeping into American culture at large. When “Take Me To the River,” their airy, nervous but still funky Eno-produced cover of the Al Green song became their first Billboard Top 30 hit, the band took a step towards national recognition.

And that leads us to this awkward March 17, 1979 appearance of the band on ABC’s American Bandstand, their first on American TV. Longtime host Dick Clark was pretty square–rock critic Nik Cohn described him as “a disc jockey who looked like an all-American choirboy”–but American Bandstand was a prime opportunity. In 1979, the New Wave and Post-Punk scenes were raging at the show’s doors. Talking Heads were one of the few acts that year from NYC’s creative cauldron of a music scene, apart from Blondie and Grace Jones, to make it onto Bandstand.

In the above clip, Clark apologizes for getting Tina Weymouth’s name wrong, then jumps in to interview David Byrne, who responds to Clark’s questions by shutting them down with embarrassed looks and matter-of-fact answers. Clark then turns back to Tina for some psychoanalytic help. “Is he always this enthusiastic?” he asks. It crumbles from there.
Weymouth remembered it slightly differently in this recent (2014) interview in New York Magazine:

I couldn’t explain to the record-label people why David’s behavior could be so incredibly odd. He had a freak-out on our first television appearance, on Dick Clark, on American Bandstand. David sort of froze, and Dick Clark sort of whirled around, and hands the microphone to me. And there were other things going on, too. I don’t think any person is one thing, or defined by a condition that they might have.

It’s not exactly freezing, but it is odd…for rock frontmen. And asking Byrne “Do you flog yourself into this?” tells you a bit more about Clark’s state of mind than anything else.

You can see the mimed performance of their hit here:

The other song they performed on the broadcast “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” has not popped up on YouTube…yet.

Parting note: The other guest that night on Bandstand was twee, blue-eyed disco act Brooklyn Dreams with their single Make It Last.

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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 and/or watch his films here.

Quentin Tarantino Lists His 20 Favorite Spaghetti Westerns, Starting with The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Like many film fans, I grew up familiar with the term “Spaghetti western,” but I’d nearly reached adulthood before figuring out what, exactly, America’s most popular Italian dish had to do with America’s once-most popular movie genre. But even if they don’t know the specific definition of a Spaghetti western, those who enjoy them know a Spaghetti western when they see one. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Sergio Corbucci’s Minnesota Clay and Django; Enzo Barboni’s They Call Me Trinity and Trinity Is Still My Name — if a picture belongs in that company, nobody doubts it.

You’ll notice that all those directors have Italian names, and indeed, western all’italiana, the Italian equivalent of “Spaghetti western,” simply means “Italian-style western.” These Italian-produced tales of the lawless 19th-century American west, sometimes featuring fading or rising Hollywood stars (as with the young Clint Eastwood, who would become identified with Leone’s “Man with No Name”), and often shot in the Spanish desert, rode high from the mid-1960s to the early 70s, bringing a fresh sensibility and visceral impact which had for the most part drained out of the homegrown variety.

Trust a genre-loving auteur like Quentin Tarantino (and one who made his very own Django a few years back) to know Spaghetti westerns inside and out. While even those of us who never turn down the chance to enjoy a good Spaghetti western might struggle to name ten of them, Tarantino can easily run down his personal top twenty:

  1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
  2. For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965)
  3. Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
  4. The Mercenary (Sergio Corbucci, 1966)
  5. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)
  6. A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)
  7. Day of Anger (Tonino Valerii, 1967)
  8. Death Rides a Horse (Giulio Petroni, 1967)
  9. Navajo Joe (Sergio Corbucci,1966)
  10. The Return of Ringo (Duccio Tessar, 1965)
  11. The Big Gundown (Sergio Sollima, 1966)
  12. A Pistol for Ringo (Duccio Tessari, 1965)
  13. The Dirty Outlaws (Franco Rossetti, 1967)
  14. The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968)
  15. The Grand Duel (Giancarlo Santi, 1972)
  16. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead (Giuseppe Vari, 1971)
  17. Tepepa (Giulio Petroni, 1968)
  18. The Ugly Ones (Eugenio Martin, 1966)
  19. Viva Django! (Ferdinando Baldi, 1967)
  20. Machine Gun Killers (Paolo Bianchini, 1968)

You can watch all the trailers of these Spaghetti western masterpieces in the playlist above, created by The Spaghetti Western Database. Some may now strike you as disarmingly straightforward about ballyhooing the excitement promised by the feature they advertise, and you may find others surprisingly funny and more self-aware. While I defy anyone to watch the entire playlist of trailers without wanting to dive into this surprisingly little-explored tradition, nothing gets me quite as excited about watching a movie — old or new, subtle or schlocky, genre or otherwise — as Tarantino’s contagious cinephilia.

via The Spaghetti Western Database

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Animated: The Inspirational Story of Jane Goodall, and Why She Believes in Bigfoot

Now out. The second video in The Experimenters, a short series of animations highlighting three “icons of science” and “what spurred their creativity.” Episode 1 brought us into “the Geodesic Life” of Buckminster Fuller. This new installment gives us an animated look at Jane Goodall, the primatologist who has done such inspirational work with chimpanzees. (Don’t miss last week’s feature on her in The Times.) Drawing on a 2002 interview that aired on NPR’s Science Friday, this clip features Goodall recounting her life story — including how she got a PhD at Cambridge before getting an undergraduate degree — and it also veers into some fun terrain. Does Goodall believe in Bigfoot? You bet she does.

The next video in The Experimenters series will focus on Richard Feynman. Stay tuned.

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Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

 

Puppets of Dostoevsky, Dickens & Poe Star in 1950s Frank Capra Educational Film

Produced between 1956 and 1964 by AT&T, the Bell Telephone Science Hour TV specials anticipate the literary zaniness of The Muppet Show and the scientific enthusiasm of Cosmos. The “ship of the imagination” in Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos reboot may in fact owe something to the episode above, one of nine, directed by none other than It’s A Wonderful Life’s Frank Capra. “Strap on your wits and hop on your magic carpet,” begins the special, “You’ve got one, you know: Your imagination.” As a guide for our imagination, The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays enlists the humanities—specifically three puppets representing Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and, somewhat incongruously for its detective theme, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who plays the foil as an incurious spoilsport. The show’s host, Frank Baxter (“Dr. Research”) was actually a professor of English at UCLA and appears here with Richard Carlson, explaining scientific concepts with confidence.

The one-hour films became very popular as tools of science education, but there are good reasons—other than their datedness or Dr. Baxter’s expertise—to approach them critically. At times, the degree of speculation indulged by Baxter and the writers strains credulity. For example, writes Geoff Alexander in Academic Films for the Classroom: A History, 1958’s The Unchained Goddess (above) “introduces the viewer to bizarre concepts such as the possibility of ‘steering’ hurricanes away from land by creating bio-hazards such as ocean borne oil-slicks and introducing oil-based ocean fires.” These grim, fossil fuel industry-friendly scenarios nonetheless openly acknowledged the possibility of man-made climate change and looked forward to solar energy.

Along with some dystopian weirdness, the series also contains a good deal of explicit Christian proselytizing, thanks to Capra. As a condition for taking the job, “the renowned director would be allowed to embed religious messages in the films.” As Capra himself said to AT&T president Cleo F. Craig:

If I make a science film, I will have to say that scientific research is just another expression of the Holy Spirit… I will say that science, in essence, is just another facet of man’s quest for God.

At times, writes Alexander, “the religious perspective is taken to extremes,” as in the first episode, Our Mr. Sun, which begins with a quotation from Psalms and admonishes “viewers who would dare to question the causal relationship between solar energy and the divinity.” The Unchained Goddess, above, is the fourth in the series, and Capra’s last.

Afterward, a director named Owen Crump took over duties on the next four episodes. His films, writes Alexander, “did not overtly proselytize” and “relied less on animated characters interacting with Dr. Baxter.” (Watch the Crump-directed Gateways to the Mind above, a more sober-minded, yet still strangely off-kilter, inquiry into the five senses.) The last film, The Restless Sea (unavailable online) was produced by Walt Disney and directed by Les Clark, and starred Disney himself and Baxter’s replacement, Sterling Holloway.  The Capra productions will be added to our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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

Play the Twin Peaks Video Game: Retro Fun for David Lynch Fans

blacklodge2600-ataricatalog

They made a video game out of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, so why not Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks is, of course, a seminal cult TV series, a surrealist soap opera spun out of the mind of David Lynch. When it came out in the late 80s, America was seized with the show’s central mystery – who killed Laura Palmer? A tortured blonde beauty queen who wound up dead, wrapped in plastic. Its first season (US viewers can watch it on Hulu) was easily one of the best ever on television with great characters, inside jokes and just enough Lynchian weirdness to unnerve a mainstream audience without totally freaking them out. Too bad, then, that the quality of the show’s second season went off a cliff.

You would expect a video game about the series to be about the search for Laura Palmer’s killer, but no. Instead, the game, an Atari 2600-style work called Black Lodge 2600, is a riff on the show’s final angry episode. In that episode, FBI agent Dale Cooper delves into the otherworldly Black Lodge, which, in spite of its name, is decorated primarily in red curtains. There, Cooper is confronted by his doppelganger. Lynch’s Jungian obsessions have never been as bald as in that episode.

Basically, if you felt like your well-worn copy of Pitfall was strangely lacking in busts of Venus De Milo and a pervading sense of the Unheimliche, then this video game might be for you. The game’s manual, which has way too many exclamation points, sets the stage:

A day in the FBI was never like this before! You are Special Agent Dale Cooper and you’ve found yourself trapped inside the Black Lodge, a surreal and dangerous place between worlds. Try as you might, you can’t seem to find anything but the same room and hallway no matter which way you turn. Worse yet, your doppelganger is in hot pursuit! You have no choice but to keep running through the room and hallway (or is it more than one?) and above all else, don’t let your doppelganger touch you!

[…]

You’ll find quickly that you’re not alone in the Black Lodge, though your friends are few and far between. Not only that, the Lodge itself seems to be actively trying to trip you up at all times! You’ll be dodging chairs and crazed Lodge residents all while trying to keep your own sanity. How long can this go on?

Based on this description, I can’t tell if this game is compelling or if it will merely evoke the same feeling of existential futility I feel every time I call Time Warner Cable. Watch a video of the game below and judge for yourself. Or start downloading the game and the manual here.

Note: If you have problems getting the game going on a Mac, then follow these Black Lodge troubleshooting instructions: Go to “System Preferences”, open “Security & Privacy”, click the padlock to allow changes, then click the “Anywhere” option under “Allow applications downloaded from.”

via Welcome to Twin Peaks

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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.

Watch a New Star Wars Animation, Drawn in a Classic 80s Japanese Anime Style

tie_fighter_poster_by_mightyotaking-d8mwlrt

It didn’t take long for Star Wars (1977) to start spinning off fan films. Just a year after the space opera hit American cinemas, Jonathan Crow tells us, “San Francisco filmmaker Ernie Fosselius had the brainwave to make a spoof.” And, as it turns out, the 13-minute film, made for $8,000, “became a pre-internet viral hit and a staple on the festival circuit, ultimately earning over $1,000,000 – an unheard of haul for a short film.” It’s called Hardware Wars, and you can find it in our archive.

Star Wars fan films have kept coming ever since. Right through today. The latest is TIE Fighter (above). Drawn by Paul Johnson over a four-year period, the video adopts an anime style, made famous by the Japanese during the 1980s, and it tells the Star Wars story (or at least part of it), from the perspective of the Empire. A PDF of the story can be read online here. Find the official poster here.

via Boing Boing

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How Akira Kurosawa Used Movement to Tell His Stories: A Video Essay

The history books say that there were three Japanese filmmakers to emerge in the 1950s – Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. Never mind that Mizoguchi and Ozu made many of their best movies in the 1930s. Never mind that masterful, innovative directors like Mikio Naruse and Keisuke Kinoshita have been unfairly overshadowed by the brilliance of these three greats.

Mizoguchi was an early modernist who by the end of his career made meditative movies about how women suffer at the hands of men. His masterpieces like Ugetsu and Sansho Dayu feel like Buddhist scroll paintings come to life. Ozu, “the most Japanese” of all filmmakers, made quietly moving dramas about families, like Tokyo Story, but did so in a way that discarded such Hollywood principles as continuity editing and the 180 degree rule. Ozu was a quiet radical.

Compared to Ozu and Mizoguchi, Kurosawa’s movies are noisy, masculine and vital. Unlike Ozu, he didn’t challenge Hollywood film form but improved on it. Born roughly a decade after the other two filmmakers, Kurosawa spent his youth watching Western movies, absorbing the lessons of his cinematic heroes like John Ford, Howard Hawks and Frank Capra. At his creative height, in the 1950s and 60s, Kurosawa produced masterpiece after masterpiece. Hollywood would remake or reference Kurosawa constantly in the years that followed but few of those films had Kurosawa’s inventiveness.

Tony Zhou, who has made a career of dissecting movies in his excellent video series Every Frame a Picture, argues that the key to Kurosawa is movement. “A Kurosawa movie moves like no one else’s,” Zhou notes in his video. “Each one is a master class in different types of motion and also ways to combine them.”

Kurosawa had an innate understanding that there is inherent drama in the wind blowing in the trees. Like Andrei Tarkovsky and later Terrence Malick, he liked to place human drama squarely in the realm of nature. The rain falls, a fire rages and that movement makes an image compelling. He understood that graphic considerations outweighed psychological ones – he simplified and exaggerated a character’s movement with the frame to make character traits and emotions easy to register for the audience. His camera movements were clear, motivated and fluid. Zhou compares Seven Samurai with The Avengers. You might have thought that The Avengers was uninspired and soulless but after watching Zhou’s video, you’ll understand why – aside from the silly plot and characters – the movie was uninspired and soulless. The piece should be required viewing for filmmakers everywhere. You can watch it above.

And below you can see another video Zhou did on Kurosawa, focusing on his 1960 movie The Bad Sleep Well.

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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.

The Psychology of Blame: Another Animated Lesson That Can Make You a Better Person

The last time we checked in with Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, we learned all about the difference between sympathy and empathy, and why empathy is much more meaningful in the end. Now, in a sequel to that first video, we discover an important barrier to empathy — blame. Can you relate? Both videos come from RSA (the Royal Society of the Arts), the same cultural organization that brought us those whiteboard animations illustrating lectures by Slavoj Zizek, Steven PinkerBarbara Ehrenreich, and others. You can watch Brown’s complete (unanimated) lecture here.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

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The History & Legacy of Magna Carta Explained in Animated Videos by Monty Python’s Terry Jones

Even those who paid next to no attention to their history teachers know about Magna Carta — or at least they know it first came about in 1215. To deliver all the other relevant details, we now have a new teacher in the form of Monty Python‘s Terry Jones, who, on the occasion of this great charter’s 800th anniversary, provides the narration for these two short animations, “Magna Carta: Medieval” and “Magna Carta: Legacy,” that tell the rest of its story.

These videos come as part of a whole web site put together by the British Library meant to help us all “discover the history and legacy of one of the world’s most celebrated documents.” To this end, they’ve put up an introduction to Magna Carta by Claire Breay and Julian Harrison, which summarizes both its origins and its relevance today:

Originally issued by King John of England (r.1199-1216) as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215, Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law.

[ … ]

Three clauses of the 1225 Magna Carta remain on the statute book today. Although most of the clauses of Magna Carta have now been repealed, the many divergent uses that have been made of it since the Middle Ages have shaped its meaning in the modern era, and it has become a potent, international rallying cry against the arbitrary use of power.

These animations, of course, add a great deal of visual, narrative, and comedic vividness to this important piece of Western political history, following it from the reign of King John (“one of the worst kings in history”), through civil war, the creation of the United States of America, struggles for voting rights and the freedom of the press, right up to the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in a sense Magna Carta’s modern descendant. “Although very few of Magna Carta’s original clauses remain valid in English law,” says Jones, “it continues to inspire people worldwide. Not a bad legacy for an 800-year-old document.”

via Devour

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The (Urban) Legend of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story: “For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.”

hemingway list free

A piercingly dark piece of writing, taking the heart of a Dickens or Dostoevsky novel and carving away all the rest, Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story—fabled forerunner of flash- and twitter-fiction—is shorter than many a story’s title:

For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.

The extreme terseness in this elliptical tragedy has made it a favorite example of writing teachers over the past several decades, a display of the power of literary compression in which, writes a querent to the site Quote Investigator, “the reader must cooperate in the construction of the larger narrative that is obliquely limned by these words.” Supposedly composed sometime in the ’20s at The Algonquin (or perhaps Luchow’s, depending on whom you ask), the six-word story, it’s said, came from a ten-dollar bet Hemingway made at a lunch with some other writers that he could write a novel in six words. After penning the famous line on a napkin, he passed it around the table, and collected his winnings. That’s the popular lore, anyway. But the truth is much less colorful.

In fact, it seems that versions of the six-word story appeared long before Hemingway even began to write, at least as early as 1906, when he was only 7, in a newspaper classified section called “Terse Tales of the Town,” which published an item that read, “For sale, baby carriage, never been used. Apply at this office.” Another, very similar, version appeared in 1910, then another, suggested as the title for a story about “a wife who has lost her baby,” in a 1917 essay by William R. Kane, who thought up “Little Shoes, Never Worn.” Then again in 1920, writes David Haglund in Slate, the supposed Hemingway line appears in a “1921 newspaper column by Roy K. Moulton, who ‘printed a brief note that he attributed to someone named Jerry,'”:

There was an ad in the Brooklyn “Home Talk” which read, “Baby carriage for sale, never used.” Would that make a wonderful plot for the movies?

Many more examples of the narrative device abound, including a 1927 comic strip describing a seven-word version—“For Sale, A Baby Carriage; Never Used!”—as “the greatest short story in the world.” The more that Haglund and Quote Investigator’s Garson O’Toole looked into the matter, the harder they found it to “believe that Hemingway had anything to do with the tale.”

It is possible Hemingway, wittingly or not, stole the story from the classifieds or elsewhere. He was a newspaperman after all, perhaps guaranteed to have come into contact with some version of it. But there’s no evidence that he wrote or talked about the six-word story, or that the lunch bet at The Algonquin ever took place. Instead, it appears that a literary agent, Peter Miller, made up the story whole cloth in 1974 and later published it in his 1991 book, Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing.

The legend of the bet and the six-word story grew: Arthur C. Clarke repeated it in a 1998 Reader’s Digest essay, and Miller mentioned it again in a 2006 book. Meanwhile, suspicions arose, and the final debunking occurred in a 2012 scholarly article in The Journal of Popular Culture by Frederick A. Wright, who concluded that no evidence links the six-word story to Hemingway.

So should we blame Miller for ostensibly creating an urban legend, or thank him for giving competitive minimalists something to beat, and inspiring the entire genre of the “six-word memoir”? That depends, I suppose, on what you think of competitive minimalists and six-word memoirs. Perhaps the moral of the story, fitting in the Twitter age, is that the great man theory of authorship so often gets it wrong; the most memorable stories and ideas can arise spontaneously, anonymously, from anywhere.

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


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