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An Animated David Lynch Explains Where He Gets His Ideas

in Film, Psychology | September 22nd, 2016

“Where do you get your ideas?” Every artist dreads having to answer that most common of all questions. Well, every artist with the exception of David Lynch. The director of such modern cinematic quasi-nightmares as EraserheadBlue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive will gladly explain exactly where he gets his ideas: from his own consciousness, “the TV in your mind.”

He’ll also gladly explain how he gets them by, not to mix the metaphor too much, using the folksy terms of fishing: “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” And to bait the hook with? Why, bits of other ideas. Those words come from his 2006 book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, a slim volume on this and that which gets into some detail about his use of Transcendental Meditation as a kind of fishing pole to reel those especially compelling ideas in from one’s consciousness. 

A couple of years after that, Lynch sat down with The Atlantic to talk about his special brand of creativity (as distinct from his special brand of coffee, no doubt also a fuel for thought). They’ve just recently animated his remarks to make the short video above, a visualization of his idea-getting processes, including daydreaming, traveling, and looking into a puddle in the gutter.

“I always say it’s like there’s a man in another room with the whole film together, but they’re in puzzle parts,” says Lynch as hands chop a fish into frames of celluloid. “He’s flipping one piece at a time into me. At first it’s very abstract; I don’t have a clue. More pieces come, more ideas are caught. It starts forming a thing. And then one day, there it is. In a way, there’s no original ideas. It’s just the ideas that you caught.”

The ideas Lynch has caught have become, among other things, some of the most memorable films of the late 20th century — and, according to last month’s BBC poll, the best film of the 21st century so far. What’s more, he claims not to have suffered for them, illustrating his argument of suffering as antithetical to creativity with an imaginary scenario of a diarrhea-afflicted Van Gogh. As for what part of his consciousness he fished that image out of, perhaps we’d rather not know.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Build Your Own Miniature Sets from Hayao Miyazaki’s Beloved Films: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service & More

in Creativity, Film | September 22nd, 2016

In the Shintoism from which Hayao Miyazaki’s films liberally draw, the worlds of nature and spirit are not mutually exclusive. “Shrine Shinto,” write James Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura at The Journal of Religion and Film, “understands the whole of life, including both humans and nature, as creative and life giving. A generative, immanent force harmoniously pervades the whole phenomenal world.” But to experience this power “requires an aesthetically pure and cheerful heart/mind, an emotional, mental and volitional condition that is not easily attained.” In My Neighbor Totoro, for example, Miyazaki helps to induce this state in us with long slice-of-life passages that move like gentle breezes through tall grasses and trees. In the apocalyptic sci-fi Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the title character herself takes on the task of harmoniously reconciling man, nature, and mutant insect.

I would argue that Miyazaki’s films are not solely entertainments, but means by which we can experience “an aesthetically pure and cheerful” heart and mind. And although he has retired, we can relive those films “over and over again,” as The Creator’s Project writes, not only by watching them, but by building miniature sets from them, as you see represented here. See My Neighbor Totoro’s old, rustic house in the forest—where Satsuki and Mei come to terms with their mother’s illness while befriending the local nature spirits—get assembled at the top of the post. And just above, see the town of Koriko from Kiki’s Delivery Service take shape, a place that becomes transformed by magic, just as Kiki does by her sorties into the forest.

These kits, made by the Japanese paper craft company Sankei, are “ready to be assembled and glued together, creating your own mini movie set,” The Creator’s Project notes. Previous models include Totoro and his two small companions, above, and the bakery from Kiki; another kit recreates the deserted magical town Chihiro and her parents stumble upon in Spirited Away. The kits don’t come cheap—each one costs around $100—and they take time and skill to assemble, as you see in these videos. But like so many of the important acts in Miyazaki’s films—and like the act of watching those films themselves—we might think of assembling these models as rituals of patience and devotion to aesthetic habits of mind that slow us down and gently nudge us to seek harmony and connection.

via The Creator’s Project

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

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“Evil Mickey Mouse” Invades Japan in a 1934 Japanese Anime Propaganda Film

in Film | September 22nd, 2016

Before the Japanese fell completely, one-hundred percent in love with anything and everything Disney (I mean, seriously, they love it), Mickey Mouse represented something completely different: Pure American imperialist evil.

At least he does in this 1934 animated propaganda cartoon Omochabako series dai san wa: Ehon senkya-hyakusanja-rokunen (Toybox Series 3: Picture Book 1936) by Komatsuzawa Hajime. It’s a convoluted title, but pretty simple in plot. An island of cute critters (including one Felix the Cat clone) is attacked from the air by an army of Mickey Mouses (Mickey Mice?) riding bats and assisted by crocodiles and snakes that act like machine guns. The frightened creatures call on the heroes of Japanese storybooks and folk legends to help them, from Momotaro (“Peach Boy”) and Kintaro (“Golden Boy”) to Issun-boshi (“One Inch Boy”) and Benkei, a warrior monk, to send Mickey packing. The not-so-subtle message: Mickey Mouse may be your hero, America, but our characters are older, more numerous, and way more beloved. Our pop culture is older than yours!

Ironically, the film is animated in the style of American masters Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, and Max Fleischer, with its bouncy character loops and elastic metamorphoses.

Though made in 1934, it is set in 1936, which might tie (according to this site) into the expiration of a naval treaty between the United States and Japan on that date. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a full seven years off, but clearly tensions were running high even then, as both the West and Japan had their eyes on Asia and the South Pacific.

Also of note is the trope of characters coming alive from a storybook, as this was a favorite subject in several Warner Bros. cartoons that would come out a few years later (and which we’ve covered.)

And finally to clarify Mickey’s fate at the end of the film: the old man with the box is a Rip Van Winkle character, and in Japanese folklore he is made old by the contents of a box he’s been told not to open. Violence is not vanquished with violence at the end of this cartoon, but with magic and derisive laughter followed by a song. In the real world, things would not end so easily.

Related Content:

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“The Ducktators”: Loony Tunes Turns Animation into Wartime Propaganda (1942)


Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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Watch the Surrealist Glass Harmonica, the Only Animated Film Ever Banned by Soviet Censors, (1968)

in Animation, Art, Film | September 21st, 2016

The Soviet Union’s repressive state censorship went to absurd lengths to control what its citizens read, viewed, and listened to, such as the almost comical removal of purged former comrades from photographs during Stalin’s reign. When it came to aesthetics, Stalinism mostly purged more avant-garde tendencies from the arts and literature in favor of didactic Socialist Realism. Even during the relatively loose period of the Khrushchev/Brezhnev Thaw in the 60s, several artists were subject to “severe censorship” by the Party, writes Keti Chukhrov at Red Thread, for their “’abuse’ of modernist, abstract and formalist methods.”

But one oft-experimental art form thrived throughout the existence of the Soviet Union and its varying degrees of state control: animation. “Despite censorship and pressure from the Communist government to adhere to certain Socialist ideals,” writes Polly Dela Rosa in a short history, “Russian animation is incredibly diverse and eloquent.”

Many animated Soviet films were expressly made for propaganda purposes—such as the very first Soviet animation, Dziga Vertov’s Soviet Toys, below, from 1924. But even these display a range of technical virtuosity combined with daring stylistic experiments, as you can see in this io9 compilation. Animated films also served “as a powerful tool for entertainment,” notes film scholar Birgit Beumers, with animators, “largely trained as designers and illustrators… drawn upon to compete with the Disney output.” 

Throughout the 20th century, a wide range of films made it past the censors and reached large audiences on cinema and television screens, including many based on Western literature. All of them did so, in fact, but one, the only animated film in Soviet history to face a ban: Andrei Khrzhanovsky’s The Glass Harmonica, at the top, a 1968 “satire on bureaucracy.” At the time of its release, the Thaw had encouraged “a creative renaissance” in Russian animation, writes Dangerous Minds, and the film’s surrealist aesthetic—drawn from the paintings of De Chirico, Magritte, Grosz, Bruegel, and Bosch (and reaching “proto-Python-esque heights towards the end”)—testifies to that.

At first glance, one would think The Glass Harmonica would fit right into the long tradition of Soviet propaganda films begun by Vertov. As the opening titles state, it aims to show the “boundless greed, police terror, [and] the isolation and brutalization of humans in modern bourgeois society.” And yet, the film offended censors due to what the European Film Philharmonic Institute calls “its controversial portrayal of the relationship between governmental authority and the artist.” There’s more than a little irony in the fact that the only fully censored Soviet animation is a film itself about censorship.

The central character is a musician who incurs the displeasure of an expressionless man in black, ruler of the cold, gray world of the film. In addition to its “collage of various styles and a tribute to European painting”—which itself may have irked censors—the score by Alfred Schnittke “pushes sound to disturbing limits, demanding extreme range and technique from the instruments.” (Fans of surrealist animation may be reminded of 1973’s French sci-fi film, Fantastic Planet.) Although Khrzhanovsky’s film represents the effective beginning and end of surrealist animation in the Soviet Union, only released after perestroika, it stands, as you’ll see above, as a brilliantly realized example of the form.

The Glass Harmonica will be added to our list of Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Related Content:

Soviet Animations of Ray Bradbury Stories: ‘Here There Be Tygers’ & ‘There Will Come Soft Rain’

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The Bizarre, Surviving Scene from the 1933 Soviet Animation Based on a Pushkin Tale and a Shostakovich Score

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

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Ukulele Orchestra Performs Ennio Morricone’s Iconic Western Theme Song, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” And It’s Pretty Brilliant.

in Film, Music | September 21st, 2016

Last week, Josh Jones highlighted for you a free five-hour playlist featuring Ennio Morricone’s Scores for Classic Western Films. Even if you’re not deeply familiar with Morricone’s body of work, you’ve almost certainly heard the theme to The Good, the Bad & the Ugly–the iconic 1966 Spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone. Opening with the immediately recognizable two-note melody that sounds like “the howl of a coyote,” the theme was originally recorded with the help of the Unione Musicisti di Roma orchestra.

Above, you can watch another orchestra, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, pay homage to Morricone’s classic theme. Described by The Guardian as “a cultish British institution” known for its expertly played covers of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the Ukulele Orchestra group scored its biggest hit with this performance. It’s an outtake from the DVD Anarchy in the Ukulele, which you can purchase through The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s website. Enjoy.

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