Moviedrome: Filmmaker Alex Cox Provides Video Introductions to 100+ Classic Cult Films

If you happened to pass the 1990s in Britain as a certain sort of alternative and/or obscurantist cinephile, you know BBC2’s Moviedrome, which, albeit belonging to the proud old tradition of the television movie show, showed primarily cult films. But what makes for a cult film, anyway? A cult film “has a passionate following, but does not appeal to everyone.” Yet cult film status “does not automatically guarantee quality,” nor does the box office money a picture either made or failed to make. But we can categorize all cult films under certain genres, and often more than one, given their “tendency to slosh over from one genre into another, so that a science fiction film might also be a detective movie, or vice versa,” all sharing the common themes of “love, murder and greed.”

Those words come straight from Repo ManWalker, and Sid & Nancy director Alex Cox, a cult filmmaker of no small renown. He also hosted Moviedrome, providing much more than the standard movie-show framing of and introduction to the night’s feature. At the top of the post, we have his opening segment for Edward G. Ulmer’s cheap but astonishingly enduring 1945 film noir Detour, which you can chase with the film itself just above. You may also remember Carnival of Souls, which we featured in full as one of Time Out London‘s 1oo best horror films — well, Cox ably gave Moviedrome primer on that one as well, describing it as one of the most influential cult movies of its kind ever made.

But Cox talked about a lot more than filmmakers some might describe as schlocky and exploitative; he also talked about the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, who took schlock and exploitation to its highest point of cinematic artistry. Last year, we featured an examination of Hitchcock’s sleight-of-hand in the making of Rope, the suspense master’s supposedly cut-free tale of killing and deception. Just above, in Cox’s intro for the film, you can hear more about why this film made the cut, as it were, into Moviedrome‘s league of “cult and weirdo type movies.” You can learn about many more such disreputable-yet-reputable pictures through Cox’s many segments posted to Youtube, as well as in the full text of his Moviedrome Guide available on his “free stuff” page. The Moviedrome faithful might also consider having a look at this gallery of films from the show’s Alex Cox years, and the exegetic Tumblr blog Moviedromer.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture 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.

Susan Sontag’s List of 10 Parenting Rules

Parenting is difficult. I don’t need to tell you this—those of you who face the challenge daily and hourly. Those of you who don’t have heard your friends—and your own parents—do enough complaining that you know, in theory at least, how raising humans is rough business all around. Paradoxically, there is no rulebook for parenting and there are hundreds of rulebooks for parenting, seemingly a new one published every day. In my admittedly limited experience as the parent of a young child, most such guides have diminishing returns next to the direct lessons learned in the fray, so to speak, through trial after trial and no small amount of error.

But we do benefit from the wisdom of others, especially those who record their experiments in child-rearing with the precision and thoughtfulness of Susan Sontag. In the list below, made by a 26-year-old Sontag in 1959, we see how the young mother of a then 7-year-old David Rieff approached the job. The son of Sontag and sociologist Philip Rieff (“pop,” below), whom Sontag married at 17 then divorced in 1958, David has written a memoir of Sontag’s painful final days. He also edited her journals and notebooks, which contained the following rules.

  1. Be consistent.
  2. Don’t speak about him to others (e.g. tell funny things) in his presence. (Don’t make him self-conscious.)
  3. Don’t praise him for something I wouldn’t always accept as good.
  4. Don’t reprimand him harshly for something he’s been allowed to do.
  5. Daily routine: eating, homework, bath, teeth, room, story, bed.
  6. Don’t allow him to monopolize me when I am with other people.
  7. Always speak well of his pop. (No faces, sighs, impatience, etc.)
  8. Do not discourage childish fantasies.
  9. Make him aware that there is a grown-up world that’s none of his business.
  10. Don’t assume that what I don’t like to do (bath, hairwash) he won’t like either.

While Rieff has described his relationship with Sontag as “strained and at times very difficult,” it seems to me that a parent who adhered to these rules would create the kind of supportive structure children need to thrive. The remainder of Sontag’s journal entries show us a deeply introspective, self-conscious writer, and yet, writes Emily Greenhouse at The New Yorker, her work as a whole offers “surprisingly little of her own direct experience” and she never undertook an autobiography. Yet, this short list of parenting rules gives us a great deal of insight into the perspicacity and compassion she brought to her role as a mother, qualities most of us could use a bit more of in our daily parenting struggles.

The list above appears in the new book Lists of Note, the follow up to Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note, both compilations of his extensive online archives of personal notes and correspondence from famous and interesting people. Download a preview of the book and purchase a hardcover copy, just in time for Christmas, at Waterstones.com (if you live in the UK).

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

Alfred Hitchcock Conducts a Politically Incorrect Sound Test on the Set of Blackmail (1929)

Above we have a young Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Blackmail (1929), conducting a rather naughty sound test with actress Anny Ondra (1929).

In case you don’t know the backstory, Blackmail was originally meant to be a silent film. However, with talkies becoming the rage, Hitchcock decided mid-stream to make the film a talkie. That decision didn’t come without its own problems. Anny Ondra, a Czech actress, spoke English with a heavy accent and couldn’t pass as a Londoner in the film. So Hitchcock performed some cinema magic and had English actress Joan Barry dub Ondra’s lines. In those days, dubbing couldn’t take place in post-production. It all had to happen in real-time. Thus, as the camera rolled, Barry stood outside the frame and spoke the dialogue into a microphone, while Ondra pantomimed the words. Throughout, Hitchcock directed Ondra while listening to Barry through a pair of headphones.

hitch with hair

You can watch Blackmail (Britain’s first talkie feature film) online here or find it in our collection of 23 Free Hitchcock Films Online.

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Animated Louis CK Shows Demonstrates How “Animation Lets You Do Anything”

Fatherhood is a fertile subject for comedian Louis C.K.

Kids do say the darnedest things, but Louis’ observations reveal the depth of his investment.

He lit out after standardized testing and the Common Core on Twitter.

He made a passionate case against giving kids smartphones to Conan O’Brien.

Is it any wonder that the “dumber, funnier” version of himself he created for his TV show is preoccupied and often thwarted by his responsibilities as the single dad of two young daughters?

(Real life may provide inspiration, but the writer and star displays appropriate boundaries when he says that his actual daughters are markedly different characters than their TV counterparts.)

But the knife of fatherhood cuts both ways. Louis’ troubled relationship with his own dad gets less attention than the father-daughter bond, but it’s there in his work. The prospect of spending time with his estranged father causes the fictional Louis to vomit at the dinner table in season three.

The animated approach seen above, gives Louis more control over the situation. Animation, like reading, makes possible flights of fancy wherein children—including grown ones like Louis—can do “absolutely anything.” Flying and using a rainbow as a slide are among the fantastical activities the 2-D Louis samples. Meanwhile, the quality of his narration conveys an underlying distaste for the sort of canned “imaginative” suggestions foisted on children by well-meaning educational programmers.

Left to their own devices, most kids will come up with scenarios and powers far weirder than anything peddled to them by an adult. Why “swim through the ocean like a fish” when you can anthropomorphize your elderly father as a malevolent spider, lodged in your chest, pooping out regular little “infestations of hate”?

Animation lets you go all the way, and C.K. certainly does, lopping off heads, and (SPOILER!) inadvertently Bonnie and Clyding himself from within.

Someone’s made a lot of progress since the 90’s, when he used his time on Dr. Katz’s animated couch to discuss K-Mart and Chips Ahoy.

For a less packaged, non-animated take on Louis’ dad, check out the interview he did with Howard Stern, below.

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

Watch Carl Sagan & Richard Dawkins Present the Royal Institution’s Famous Christmas Lectures

If only someone could have invented the internet by 1825. Not only would we have reached unimagined realms of communication by now, but we would have a full 189 years of Christmas lectures to stream online at our leisure. A production of the Royal Institution in the United Kingdom, the Christmas lectures began with the educational endeavors of electromagnetism and electrochemistry pioneer Michael Faraday. Between 1827 and 1860, Faraday gave the first Christmas lectures on the London grounds of the Royal Institution, holding forth on subjects like chemistry, electricity, and matter in an effort to get the general public excited about science. According to one of his soundest principles of lecturing, “a flame should be lighted at the commencement and kept alive with unremitting splendour to the end.” Generations of scientific lecturers have stepped forward to light and keep that splendid flame to this day.

At the top of the post, we have the first of Carl Sagan’s six Christmas lectures on Earth, Mars, and our solar system from 1977. Just above, you can watch the first of Richard Dawkins’ 1991 Christmas lecture series entitled Growing Up in the Universe. Though Sagan and Dawkins ostensibly geared their lectures toward kids — just as Faraday intended his scientific spectacles for a “juvenile audience” — don’t let that turn you off if you’ve already reached adulthood. In fact, grown-ups may stand to gain more than kids, given our tendency to binge-watch. Why not give yourself an educational holiday treat by plowing through the past several years of Christmas lectures archived at the Royal Institution’s web site? This Christmas, they’ve got professor Danielle George on “how the spark of your imagination and some twenty first century tinkering can change the world” — so get ready to gather ’round with all the future world-changers you know, young or old.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture 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.

O Frabjous Day! Neil Gaiman Recites Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” from Memory

When the young Neil Gaiman was learning Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” by heart, he surely had no inkling that years later he’d be called upon to recite it for legions of adoring fans…particularly on the Internet, a phenomenon the budding author may well have imagined, if not technically implemented.

Worldbuilders, a fundraising portal that rewards donors not with tote bags or umbrellas, but rather with celebrity challenges of a non-ice bucket variety, scored big when Gaiman agreed to participate.

Earlier this year, a rumpled looking Gaiman read Dr. Seuss’s “rather wonderful” Green Eggs and Ham into his webcam.

This month, with donations to Heifer International exceeding $600,000, he found himself on the hook to read another piece of the donors’ choosing. Carroll’s nonsensical poem won out over Goodnight Moon, Fox in Socks, and Where the Wild Things Are

Like fellow author, Lynda Barry, Gaiman is not one to underestimate the value of memorization.

The videography may be casual, but his off-book performance in an undisclosed tulgey wood is the stuff of high drama.

Callooh!

Callay!

Is that a memory lapse at the one minute mark? Another interpreter might have called for a retake, but Gaiman rides out a four second pause cooly, his eyes the only indicator that something may be amiss. Perhaps he’s just taking precautions, listening for telltale whiffling and burbling.

If you’re on the prowl to make some year end charitable donations, recreational mathemusician Vi Hart and author John Green are among those Worldbuilders has in the pipeline to perform stunts for successfully funded campaigns.

Jabberwocky is a poem that appears in Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, the 1871 sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). You can find both in our collection, 700 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

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

Watch Bob Dylan Play a Private Concert for One Lucky Fan

On November 23rd, Bob Dylan played a live concert for one awed fan. As Rolling Stone described it, “Fredrik Wikingsson walked into Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, took a seat in the [sixth] row and prepared to watch his hero play a concert just for him.” “At this point,” Wikingsson said, “I still thought I was about to get Punk’d.” “I thought some asshole would walk onstage and just laugh at me. I just couldn’t fathom that Dylan would actually do this.”

But it wasn’t a joke. Dylan treated the superfan to a personal concert, playing covers of songs from the early days of American rock n roll. And it was all filmed for a Swedish TV series called Experiment Ensam (Experiment Alone), where individuals take part, alone, in activities usually meant for groups. The video of the experimental concert went online yesterday. You can watch it above.

For more news bringing together Bob Dylan and Sweden, see our recent post: Swedish Scientists Sneak Bob Dylan Lyrics Into Their Academic Publications For Last 17 Years.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus 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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Lou Reed Reads Delmore Schwartz’s Famous Story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”

Schwartz_Reed

 

In a galloping vignette in Tablet, writer Lee Smith manages to evoke the essences of both sentimental tough guy Lou Reed and his literary mentor and hero, “Brooklyn Jewish Troubadour” Delmore Schwartz. Although Schwartz’s “poetry is his real legacy,” Smith writes, that rich body of work is often obscured by the fact that “his most famous work is a short story,” the much-anthologized “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” (1935) It’s a story written in prose as lyrical as can be—with sentences one wants to pause and linger over, reading again and again, out loud if possible. It’s also a story in which we see “a direct line… between Schwartz and Reed,” whose song “Perfect Day” performs similar kind of magical cataloguing of urban impermanence. For Reed, onetime student of Schwartz at Syracuse University, “Delmore Schwartz is everything.”

Reed dedicated the last song, “European Son,” on the first Velvet Underground album to Schwartz, and wrote an eloquent forward to a reissue of Schwartz’s first collection of stories and poems, also titled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. And just above, you can hear Reed himself read the story aloud, savoring those lyrical sentences in his Brooklyn deadpan. It’s easy to imagine Reed writing many of these sentences, such was Schwartz’s influence on him. They shared not only common origins, but also a common sensibility; in Reed’s songs we hear the echo of Schwartz’s voice, the satirical world-weariness and the lyricism and longing. In the biographical documentary Rock and Roll Heart, Reed says that Schwartz showed him how, “with the simplest language imaginable, and very short, you can accomplish the most astonishing heights.” Reading, and listening to Schwartz’s astonishing “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” may help you understand just what he meant.

This reading has been added to our collection, 550 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

Eastern Philosophy Explained with Three Animated Videos by Alain de Botton’s School of Life

“Among the founders of religions,” writes Walpola Rahula in his book What the Buddha Taught, “the Buddha…was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. […] He attributed all his realization, attainment and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence.” Rahula’s interpretation of Buddhism is only one of a great many, of course. In some traditions, the Buddha is miraculous and more or less divine. But this quote sums up why the generally non-theistic system of Eastern thought is often called a psychology or philosophy rather than a religion. With the video above, Alain de Botton—whose School of Life has recently brought us a survey of Western philosophers—begins his introduction to Eastern thought with Buddhism. The Buddha’s story, de Botton says, “is a story about confronting suffering.”

Born the son of a wealthy Indian king and destined for greatness by a prophecy—or so the story goes—Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, discovered human suffering during brief excursions from his palace. Appalled and disturbed by sickness, aging, and death, the Buddha left his luxurious life (and his wife and son) and practiced many rituals and austerities before finding his own path to enlightenment and Nirvana—the extinguishing of desire. One fruit of his realization is the doctrine of “the Middle Way,” a mediation between extremes that one source compares to Aristotle’s golden mean, “whereby ‘every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice.’” The Buddha’s enlightened understanding of the essential continuity of life gave him compassion for all living beings; of the thousands of sutras, or sayings, attributed to him, his teaching can be concisely summed up in what he called “the Four Noble Truths,” the acknowledgement, cause, and remedy of inevitable pain and discontent.

Most of what de Botton does in his introduction to the Buddha will be familiar to anyone who has taken a comparative religions class. But true to his task of approaching Buddhism philosophically, he avoids Buddhist metaphysics, cosmology, and questions of rebirth, instead interpreting the Buddha’s teachings as a kind of Eastern Aristotelian ethics: “We must change our outlook (not our circumstances). We are unhappy not because we don’t have enough money, love, or status, but because we’re greedy, vain, and insecure. By reorienting our minds we can become content. By reorienting our behavior, and adopting what we now term a ‘mindful’ attitude, we can also become better people.”

While Buddhist scholars and sages would argue that enlightenment entails a great deal more than self-improvement, the summation suits the purposes of de Botton’s School of Life—to help people “live wisely and well.” These videos—like his others, animated by Mad Adam films with Monty Pythonesque whimsy—distill Eastern thought into fun, bite-sized nuggets. Just above, we have a short introduction to the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, purported author of the Tao Te Ching, the founding text of Daoism. Whereas de Botton seems to take the Buddha’s story more or less for granted, he admits above that Lao Tzu may well be a mythical character, “like Homer,” and that the Tao is likely the work “of many authors over time.”

Daoism is often intertwined with Buddhism and Confucianism, but its own particular philosophy is distinct from either tradition. At the heart of Daoism is wu wei, which translates to “non-action” or “non-doing,” a mode of being that seeks harmony with the rhythms of nature and a ceasing of preoccupation and ambition. Another “key point” of Lao Tzu’s instructions for realizing the “Tao,” or “the way,” is getting “in touch with our real selves,” something we can only accomplish through receptivity to nature—our own and that outside us—and through freedom from distraction, a most difficult demand for technology-obsessed 21st century people.

The third video in de Botton’s series surveys a Japanese Zen Buddhist sage and contrasts him with Western philosophers, who generally write long, obscure books and cloister themselves in lecture halls and offices. In the Zen tradition, de Botton says, “philosophers write poems, rake gravel, go on pilgrimages, practice archery, write aphorisms on scrolls, chant, and in the case of one of the very greatest Zen thinkers, Sen no Rikyu, teach people how to drink tea in consoling and therapeutic ways.” Born in 1522 near Osaka, Rikyu reformed and refined the chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, into a rigorous but elegant meditative practice. Rikyu coined the term wabi-sabi, a compound of words for “satisfaction with simplicity and austerity” and “appreciation for the imperfect.” Wabi-sabi offers not only the foundation for a way of life, but also for a way of design and architecture, and its practice informs a great deal of traditional Japanese aesthetics.

Like Lao Tzu, Rikyu intended his practices to help people reconnect with the simplicity and harmony of nature, as well as with each other, inspiring mutual respect free of status-consciousness and competition. Rikyu’s wabi-sabi philosophy is premised on Zen’s understanding of the impermanence, imperfection, and incompleteness of everything. Therefore he eschewed the trappings of luxury and preferred worn and humble objects in his ceremonial instructions. Whether we call Rikyu’s practices religious or philosophical seems to make little difference. In the case of the three thinkers profiled here, the distinction may be meaningless and introduce Western conceptual divisions that only obscure the meaning of Buddhism, Daoism, and Japanese Zen. When it comes to the latter, another Western interpreter, Alan Watts, once delivered an excellent talk called “The Religion of No Religion” that helps to explain practices like Rikyu’s chanoyu.

All of the videos here are part of the School of Life’s “Curriculum.” Visit de Botton’s Youtube channel for more, and for short videos offering advice on everything from anxiety to relationships to “the dangers of the internet.”

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

Wittgenstein and Hitler Attended the Same School in Austria, at the Same Time (1904)

hitler wittgenstein 2

One thing is for sure: Before Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolf Hitler took very different paths in life, they were, as young teenagers, students at the same school — the Realschule in Linz, Austria. According to the Historical Dictionary of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, the young philosopher and dictator crossed over at the Realschule in 1904. (The overlap is also cited in Brian McGuinness’ 2005 biography, Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein’s Life, 1889-1921. Ditto A.C. Grayling’s short bio of the philosopher.) Although born only six days apart, Wittgenstein and Hitler weren’t in the same grade. Wittgenstein was already academically a year ahead of other students his age, and Hitler, a year behind. As for whether they knew one another, opinions vary. In a controversial 1998 book, The Jew of Linz, Kimberley Cornish argues that Hitler got into a schoolboy spat with Wittgenstein (whose ancestry was 3/4 Jewish), and somehow that spat proved to be a defining moment in the development of Hitler’s anti-semitism. Scholars like University of Michigan’s Laurence Goldstein have put a certain amount of stock in Cornish’s argument. However, Ray Monk, author of Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, discredits it, saying there’s no proof the two ever crossed paths. And Monk is the most knowledgeable and credible authority in this area.

Then there’s the photo above. Some say it shows Wittgenstein and Hitler separated by just one student. A tantalizing thought, to be sure. But the historical record casts that into doubt. If you head over to the German Federal Archives, then type “Hitler” and “1901” and “1902” into the search boxes, you will see that the image was taken in 1901 — two years before Wittgenstein first started attending the school. Wikipedia has more on the photo. A copy of the complete school picture appears here.

So where does this leave us? It looks like Wittgenstein and Hitler did indeed walk the same halls for a year (circa 1904), but most likely without ever taking real notice of one another, or posing in the same photograph. Ultimately it’s not a sensational historical factoid, but still intriguing enough.

Addendum: I did some additional research and it appears that Hitler attended the Realschule in Linz from 1901 through the end of the school year in 1904. The troubled student was then expelled. Meanwhile, scholars consistently put Wittgenstein’s time at the school from 1903-1906. If there’s a crossover year, it looks to me like it was the academic year 1903-1904.

via Leiter Reports

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