Martin Scorsese Plays Vincent Van Gogh in a Short, Surreal Film by Akira Kurosawa

The idea of the auteur direc­tor has been a con­tro­ver­sial one at times giv­en the sheer num­ber of peo­ple required at every stage to pro­duce a film. But it hangs togeth­er for me when you look at the films of say, Mar­tin Scors­ese or Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, both direc­tors with very dis­tinc­tive visu­al lan­guages and ways of mov­ing the cam­era. Grant­ed, nei­ther direc­tor would be who he is with­out their crack teams of actors, writ­ers, com­posers, cin­e­matog­ra­phers, etc. But it is part of their genius to con­sis­tent­ly pull those teams togeth­er to real­ize visions that none of the indi­vid­u­als involved could ful­ly see on their own. Though the final prod­uct may be the result of mil­lions of dol­lars and thou­sands of hours of work by hun­dreds of peo­ple, the films of an auteur take shape fore­most in the direc­tors’ mind’s eye (and paint­ings and sto­ry­boards) rather than the writer’s script or pro­duc­er’s con­fer­ence room.

These direc­tors are dri­ven, like painters, to real­ize their visions, and in Kuro­sawa’s case, that dri­ve last­ed right up until the end of his life. (It was his wish to die on set, though an acci­dent left him unable to walk and put an end to his direct­ing career three years before the end of his life.) A painter him­self, his films have always been col­or­ful and painter­ly, and his final few projects were intense­ly so. One of those last films, 1990’s Dreams, the first of his films for which he alone wrote the screen­play, not only orig­i­nat­ed ful­ly in Kuro­sawa’s mind, but in his uncon­scious. A depar­ture from his typ­i­cal­ly epic nar­ra­tives, the film fol­lows var­i­ous Kuro­sawa sur­ro­gates through eight vignettes, based on eight recur­ring dreams, each one unfold­ing with a sur­re­al log­ic all of its own. In the fifth short episode, “Crows,” Kuro­sawa casts Scors­ese, his fel­low auteur and his equal as a visu­al styl­ist, as Vin­cent Van Gogh.

The cam­era begins in a gallery, mov­ing rest­less­ly before sev­er­al Van Gogh paint­ings and behind an art student—identifiable as a Kuro­sawa stand-in by the flop­py white hat he puts on in the next scene, when he wan­ders into the French coun­try­side of the paint­ings. The fields, bridge, and barns are ren­dered in Van Gogh’s bril­liant col­ors and skewed lines—and the stu­dent jour­neys fur­ther in to meet the artist him­self: Scors­ese in red beard and ban­daged ear. This is the only episode in the film not in Japan­ese; the stu­dent speaks French to a group of women, and Van Gogh speaks Scors­ese’s New York-accent­ed Eng­lish, giv­ing a les­son on “nat­ur­al beau­ty” (the video above adds Span­ish sub­ti­tles). It is not the most con­vinc­ing per­for­mance from Scors­ese, but that hard­ly seems to be the point. This is not so much Scors­ese as Van Gogh, but rather Van Gogh as Scors­ese, and Kuro­sawa dreams him­self as a younger acolyte of his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part.

“Crows,” writes Vin­cent Can­by, is the “least char­ac­ter­is­tic seg­ment ” of Dreams—the oth­ers man­i­fest much more famil­iar, more Japan­ese, scenes and themes. But it is for that rea­son that “Crows” is per­haps the most reveal­ing of Kuro­sawa’s state­ments on his sta­tus as an auteur and his rela­tion­ship with his peers. He approach­es Van Gogh/Scorsese not as a rival or even an equal, but as a stu­dent, filled with ques­tions and a desire to under­stand the artist’s meth­ods and motives. The short seg­ment speaks to the way Kuro­sawa eager­ly learned much from West­ern artists even as he mas­tered his own cin­e­mat­ic lan­guage with dis­tinct­ly Japan­ese sto­ries. In this way, he man­i­fest­ed yet anoth­er qual­i­ty of the auteur: a tru­ly inter­na­tion­al approach to film that tran­scends bar­ri­ers of lan­guage and cul­ture.

You can pur­chase a copy of Kuro­sawa’s com­plete film here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Paint­ings of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa

Revis­it Mar­tin Scorsese’s Hand-Drawn Sto­ry­boards for Taxi Dri­ver

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

Oscar-Winning Director Frank Capra Made an Educational Science Film Warning of Climate Change in 1958

In 2015, we high­light­ed for you The Strange Case of the Cos­mic Rays, a large­ly-for­got­ten 1957 edu­ca­tion­al sci­ence film. The pro­duc­tion is notable part­ly because it was shot by Frank Capra, the influ­en­tial direc­tor who had won not one, not two, but three Oscars for best direc­tor. And also because the film fea­tured pup­pets of Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky, Charles Dick­ens & Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t believe me? Then watch here.

But the sub­ject of today’s post is not The Strange Case of the Cos­mic Rays. It’s anoth­er of the four films that Capra cre­at­ed for “The Bell Lab­o­ra­to­ry Sci­ence Series.” It’s called The Unchained God­dess, and it has its own rea­sons for get­ting high­light­ed here.

Shown on Amer­i­can TV and lat­er in US class­rooms, The Unchained God­dess explains what weath­er is, and how weath­er works. And, real­ly quite pre­scient­ly, it talks about the risk of man-made cli­mate change … in 1958. One of the nar­ra­tors declares:

Even now, man may be unwit­ting­ly chang­ing the world’s cli­mate through the waste prod­ucts of its civ­i­liza­tion. Due to our releas­es in fac­to­ries and auto­mo­biles every year of more than six bil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide, which helps the air absorb heat from the sun, our atmos­phere may be get­ting warmer.

And is that bad, the ques­tion gets asked?:

Well, it’s been cal­cu­lat­ed a few degrees rise in the Earth’s tem­per­a­ture would melt the polar ice caps. And if this hap­pens, an inland sea would fill a good por­tion of the Mis­sis­sip­pi val­ley. Tourists in glass bot­tom boats would be view­ing the drowned tow­ers of Mia­mi through 150 feet of trop­i­cal water. For in weath­er, we’re not only deal­ing with forces of a far greater vari­ety than even the atom­ic physi­cist encoun­ters, but with life itself.

Inter­est­ing dia­logue, to be sure. But what makes it all the more intrigu­ing is this: Frank Capra co-wrote the script for the film, and he was no lib­er­al. He was a con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can, who strong­ly opposed F.D.R. and cel­e­brat­ed Amer­i­can indi­vid­u­al­ism. But Capra stud­ied chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing at Cal­tech and put stock in sci­en­tif­ic research — before it became ide­o­log­i­cal­ly anath­e­ma to do so.

You can watch the key cli­mate change scene from The Unchained God­dess up top, and the full film below. It’s also added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

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

Open Plan­et Lets You Down­load & Use 4,500 Free Videos That Doc­u­ment Nature & Cli­mate Change

 

Eno: The New “Generative Documentary” on Brian Eno That’s Never the Same Movie Twice

Bri­an Eno once wrote that “it’s pos­si­ble that our grand­chil­dren will look at us in won­der and say, ‘You mean you used to lis­ten to to exact­ly the same thing over and over again?’ ” That spec­u­la­tion comes from an essay on what he calls “gen­er­a­tive music,” which is auto­mat­i­cal­ly pro­duced by dig­i­tal sys­tems in accor­dance with human-set rules and pref­er­ences: “like live music, it is always dif­fer­ent. Like record­ed music, it is free of time-and-place lim­i­ta­tions.” These words were first pub­lished near­ly 30 years ago, in his book A Year with Swollen Appen­dices. Today, he has at least one grand­child, whose hand­writ­ing fig­ures in one of the music videos from his lat­est solo album. That par­tic­u­lar work may be non-gen­er­a­tive, but his inter­est in the con­cept of the gen­er­a­tive in art endures.

This year, Eno even stars in a gen­er­a­tive doc­u­men­tary about his life as an artist, music pro­duc­er, and “son­ic land­scap­er” direct­ed by Gary Hus­twit, best known for Hel­veti­ca and oth­er non-fic­tion films on design. The New York Times’ Rob Tan­nen­baum writes that Eno “is unlike any oth­er por­trait of a musi­cian. It’s not even a por­trait, because it isn’t fixed or sta­t­ic. Instead, Hus­twit used a pro­pri­etary soft­ware pro­gram that recon­fig­ures the length, struc­ture and con­tents of the movie.” This suit­ed both Eno’s pro­fes­sion­al phi­los­o­phy and his antipa­thy to the con­ven­tion­al doc­u­men­tary form. “Our lives are sto­ries we write and rewrite,” Tan­nen­baum quotes him as writ­ing in an e‑mail. ‘There is no sin­gle reli­able nar­ra­tive of a life.”

In fact, there are about 52 quin­til­lion dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives, to go by the esti­mate of pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tions of Eno Hus­twit has giv­en in inter­views. “We could make a 10-hour series about Bri­an, and we still wouldn’t be scratch­ing the sur­face of every­thing he’s done,” he told The Verge. “I just added a bunch of footage this past week that’s going into the Film Forum week two runs, which has nev­er been in the sys­tem before.” Not only do “we get to keep dig­ging into the footage and bring­ing new things into it, but we also get to keep chang­ing the soft­ware. And I don’t know, in a year from now, what the film will look like or what the stream­ing ver­sions of it will be.”

What Eno did­n’t have to clar­i­fy in 1996, but Hus­twit has to clar­i­fy in 2024, is that this kind of gen­er­a­tive film isn’t gen­er­at­ed by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Empha­siz­ing that “the data set is all our mate­r­i­al,” includ­ing 30 hours of inter­views and 500 hours of con­ven­tion­al­ly shot film, Hus­twit frames his enter­prise’s cus­tom soft­ware, acronymi­cal­ly called Brain One, “as more like gar­den­ing.” That metaphor could have come straight from Eno him­self, who’s spo­ken about “chang­ing the idea of the com­pos­er from some­body who stood at the top of a process and dic­tat­ed pre­cise­ly how it was car­ried out, to some­body who stood at the bot­tom of a process who care­ful­ly plant­ed some rather well-select­ed seeds.” Even­tu­al­ly, “you stop think­ing of your­self as me, the con­troller, you the audi­ence, and you start think­ing of all of us as the audi­ence, all of us as peo­ple enjoy­ing the gar­den togeth­er.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Eno: A 1973 Mini-Doc Shows Bri­an Eno at the Begin­ning of His Solo Career

Watch Bri­an Eno’s “Video Paint­ings,” Where 1980s TV Tech­nol­o­gy Meets Visu­al Art

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

How David Byrne and Bri­an Eno Make Music Togeth­er: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

Watch Anoth­er Green World, a Hyp­not­ic Por­trait of Bri­an Eno (2010)

Watch Bri­an Eno’s Exper­i­men­tal Film “The Ship,” Made with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Choose Your Own Adventure Books Became Beloved Among Generations of Readers

We’ve all read plen­ty of lit­er­a­ture writ­ten in the first per­son, and plen­ty of lit­er­a­ture writ­ten in the third per­son. The sec­ond per­son, with its main sub­ject of nei­ther “I” nor “he” or “she” but “you,” is con­sid­er­ably hard­er to come by, and the writ­ers who take it up tend to be exper­i­menters (like B. S. John­son or Georges Perec) or brazen in some oth­er sense (like the Jay McIn­er­ney of Bright Lights, Big City). But if you grew up in the Amer­i­ca of the nine­teen-eight­ies or nineties, there’s a decent chance you absorbed a mega-dose of sec­ond-per­son nar­ra­tive with­out even real­iz­ing it. It would have come in the form of Choose Your Own Adven­ture books, with that tan­ta­liz­ing promise on their cov­ers: “YOU’RE THE STAR OF THE STORY!”

You can hear the sto­ry of Choose Your Own Adven­ture books them­selves told in the Galaxy Media Video at the top of the post — or, with greater homage paid to the branch­ing-text form, in this recent New York­er piece by Leslie Jami­son. Read­ing a “Choose book,” she writes, “you got to imag­ine that you were get­ting into trou­ble in out­er space, or in the future, or under the sea. You got to make choic­es every few pages: Do you ask the ghost about her inten­tions, or run away? Do you rebel against the alien over­lords, or blind­ly obey them?”

The sec­ond-per­son voice gave these books a brac­ing imme­di­a­cy, but their real appeal lay, of course, in the choic­es they offered, and even more so in the con­se­quences: some­times glo­ry, some­times death, and more often a fate unset­tling­ly in between.

The con­cept from which Choose Your Own Adven­ture books evolved was first con­ceived in the sev­en­ties by Edward Packard, a lawyer with a habit of con­sult­ing his chil­dren about what should hap­pen next in their bed­time sto­ries. His name will sound famil­iar indeed to any­one who lived a Choose books-laden child­hood. He wrote the very first vol­ume, The Cave of Time from 1979, as well as many that fol­lowed, includ­ing such mem­o­rably fright­en­ing or bizarre ear­ly issues as The Mys­tery of Chim­ney Rock, with its per­ilous haunt­ed house, and Inside UFO 54–40, which offered a glimpse of par­adise only to read­ers who “cheat­ed” by ignor­ing its fixed deci­sion paths.

Back in the ear­ly nineties, when I was comb­ing sec­ond-hand shops for Choose Your Own Adven­ture books, I quick­ly came to pre­fer the vol­umes from the late sev­en­ties and ear­ly eight­ies, with their exot­i­cal­ly passé aes­thet­ics and their rel­a­tive­ly unsan­i­tized con­tent. In the video just above, writer-Youtu­ber Jason Arnopp looks at The Mys­tery of Chim­ney Rock and the lat­er The Hor­ror of High Ridge, whose illus­tra­tions of mur­der­ous Old West appari­tions (none of whom have any regard for the lives of the whole­some-look­ing, sweater-clad teens at the cen­ter of the sto­ry) have stuck with me to this day. Adult­hood has turned out to involve no con­fronta­tions with blood­thirsty ghosts wield­ing tom­a­hawks and hot pok­ers. Nev­er­the­less, Choose Your Own Adven­ture books taught gen­er­a­tions of us the impor­tant les­son that there’s no such thing as a clear-cut deci­sion; you’ve just got to turn the page and hope for the best.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The 100 Great­est Children’s Books of All Time, Accord­ing to 177 Books Experts from 56 Coun­tries

Dig­i­tal Archives Give You Free Access to Thou­sands of His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books

Enter an Archive of 7,000 His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books, All Dig­i­tized & Free to Read Online

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Dou­glas Adams in 1984

Star­ship Titan­ic: The Video Game Cre­at­ed by Dou­glas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with Help from John Cleese & Ter­ry Jones

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

You Can Buy Historic Italian Houses for €1 — But What’s the Catch?

From Abruz­zo to Verge­moli, small Ital­ian towns and vil­lages have recent­ly been mak­ing their his­toric homes avail­able for pur­chase for as low as €1. Giv­en the pic­turesque nature of many of these places, such offers have proven prac­ti­cal­ly irre­sistible to for­eign buy­ers who’ve made their mon­ey and are look­ing to escape the big-city rat race, or even those sim­ply prone to Under the Tus­can Sun-type fan­tasies. But this is, of course, more than just a mat­ter of wiring a sin­gle Euro and jet­ting off to a life of rus­tic beau­ty and sim­plic­i­ty. As shown in these videos from Explained with Dom and Insid­er News, you’ve got to put much more mon­ey into the acqui­si­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of these hous­es, not to men­tion the sweat equi­ty involved.

“As young Ital­ians increas­ing­ly migrate to the city” — if not to oth­er coun­tries entire­ly — “and choose cos­mopoli­tan jobs over rur­al and com­mu­ni­ty voca­tions, many of Italy’s pret­ti­est remote vil­lages are becom­ing aban­doned, with tiny, age­ing pop­u­la­tions that are begin­ning to die off,” write the Inde­pen­dent’s Lucy Thack­ray.

“Some elder­ly Ital­ians have found them­selves with no one to leave their house to, bequeath­ing it instead to the local author­i­ties, who have to decide what to do with it, while some younger cit­i­zens have inher­it­ed prop­er­ties in areas they have no inten­tion of mov­ing to.” And so “around 25 Ital­ian munic­i­pal­i­ties are mak­ing prospec­tive home­own­ers an offer they can’t refuse,” though cer­tain con­di­tions do apply.

Old and less than immac­u­late­ly main­tained on the whole, these hous­es tend to require ren­o­va­tions “in the region of €20,000–50,000 depend­ing on the size of the prop­er­ty.” And the author­i­ties do make sure you’ll actu­al­ly per­form the work: “new own­ers are required to sub­mit details of a ren­o­va­tion project with­in two to 12 months of pur­chase (depend­ing on the loca­tion), start work with­in one year, and com­plete it with­in the next three.” Add on all the addi­tion­al (and often unex­pect­ed) fees, and even a best-case sce­nario starts to look pricey. Still, if you’re total­ly com­mit­ted to reha­bil­i­tat­ing a ven­er­a­ble Ital­ian home — and not just to rent it out to vaca­tion­ers, which some areas explic­it­ly pro­hib­it — it might sound like a fair enough deal.

One thing is cer­tain: any­one look­ing to buy into one of Italy’s cheap-house schemes (at a price of €1 or oth­er­wise) should go in with not just suf­fi­cient knowl­edge of domes­tic archi­tec­ture and remod­el­ing, but also a famil­iar­i­ty with Ital­ian ways of doing busi­ness — which have done their part to con­tribute to the so-called “Ital­ian dis­ease” that has sad­dled the coun­try with decades of eco­nom­ic stag­na­tion, but aren’t like­ly to change any time soon. And above all, it should go with­out say­ing that the first step of act­ing on a desire to play a part in bring­ing one of Italy’s “ghost towns” back to life is learn­ing the Ital­ian lan­guage — a task you can start right here on Open Cul­ture. Buona for­tu­na to you.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Explor­ing the Great­est of Italy’s 6,000 Ghost Towns: Take a Tour of Cra­co, Italy

Dis­cov­er the Ghost Towns of Japan — Where Scare­crows Replace Peo­ple, and a Man Lives in an Aban­doned Ele­men­tary School Gym

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes–As They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

Free Ital­ian Lessons

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Jimi Hendrix Unplugged: Two Great Recordings of Hendrix Playing Acoustic Guitar

As a young gui­tar play­er, per­haps no one inspired me as much as Jimi Hen­drix, though I nev­er dreamed I’d attain even a frac­tion of his skill. But what attract­ed me to him was his near-total lack of formality—he didn’t read music, wasn’t trained in any clas­si­cal sense, played an upside-down right-hand­ed gui­tar as a lefty, and ful­ly engaged his head and heart in every note, nev­er paus­ing for an instant (so it seemed) to sec­ond-guess whether it was the right one. I knew his raw emo­tive play­ing was firm­ly root­ed in the Delta blues, but it wasn’t until lat­er in my musi­cal jour­ney that I dis­cov­ered his return to more tra­di­tion­al form after he dis­band­ed The Expe­ri­ence and formed Band of Gyp­sys with Bil­ly Cox and Bud­dy Miles. While most of the record­ings he made with them didn’t see offi­cial release, they’ve appeared since his death in com­pi­la­tion after boxset after com­pi­la­tion, includ­ing one of the most beloved of Hendrix’s blues songs, “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

Orig­i­nal­ly titled “Get My Heart Back Togeth­er” when he played it at Wood­stock in 1969, the song is pure roots, with lyrics that bespeak of both Hendrix’s lone­li­ness and his play­ful dreams of great­ness. (“I’m gonna buy this town / And put it all in my shoe.”) Sev­er­al ver­sions of the song float around on var­i­ous posthu­mous releases—both live and as stu­dio out­takes (includ­ing two dif­fer­ent takes on the excel­lent 1994 Blues).

But we have the rare treat, above, of see­ing Hen­drix play the song on a twelve-string acoustic gui­tar, Lead Belly’s instru­ment of choice. The footage comes from the 1973 doc­u­men­tary film Jimi Hen­drix (which you can watch on YouTube for $2.99). Hen­drix first plays the intro, seat­ed alone in an all-white stu­dio, play­ing folk-style with the fin­gers of his left hand. It is, of course, flaw­less, yet still he stops and asks the film­mak­ers for a redo. “I was scared to death,” he says, betray­ing the shy­ness and self-doubt that lurked beneath his mind-blow­ing abil­i­ty and flam­boy­ant per­sona. His play­ing is no less per­fect when he picks up the tune again and plays it through.

Solo acoustic record­ings of Hendrix—film and audio—are incred­i­bly rare. If like me you’re a fan of Hen­drix, acoustic blues, or both, this video will make you hunger for more Jimi unplugged. While Hen­drix did more than any­one before him to turn gui­tar amps into instru­ments with his squalls of elec­tric feed­back and dis­tort­ed wah-wah squeals, when you strip his play­ing down to basics, he’s still pret­ty much as good as it gets.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jimi Hen­drix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band” Days After the Song Was Released (1967)

Jimi Hen­drix Opens for The Mon­kees on a 1967 Tour; Then After 8 Shows, Flips Off the Crowd and Quits

Behold Moe­bius’ Many Psy­che­del­ic Illus­tra­tions of Jimi Hen­drix

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

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Watch Hardware Wars, the Original Star Wars Parody, in HD (1978)

This past May, YouTu­ber Jen­ny Nichol­son set off waves of social-media dis­course with “The Spec­tac­u­lar Fail­ure of the Star Wars Hotel,” a four-hour-long video cri­tique of Dis­ney’s huge­ly expen­sive, now-shut­tered Star Wars: Galac­tic Star­cruis­er in Orlan­do, Flori­da. Hav­ing gone viral enough to rack up over nine mil­lion views in less than two months, it’s arguably become more of a suc­cess than some recent Star Wars movies. In part, that owes to Nichol­son’s hav­ing tapped into a grow­ing dis­com­fort, felt even among die-hard fans, with the trans­for­ma­tion of an escapist space opera into an ever-vaster and less account­able busi­ness empire. The time has come, many seem to feel, to pop the Star Wars bub­ble.

Some, of course, have felt that way for a long time. “I duti­ful­ly thrilled to the ear­li­er films, to their con­trast of black-vel­vet skies and blind­ing white sands, but I was a lit­tle too old to wor­ship them or study their var­i­o­rum edi­tions,” writes New York­er film crit­ic Antho­ny Lane in his review of The Phan­tom Men­ace, from 1999.

“Even in the late sev­en­ties, we had a sus­pi­cion that Star Wars was nerd ter­ri­to­ry.” That sus­pi­cion inspired such works as the Hard­ware Wars, the very first Star Wars par­o­dy. Released in 1978, this micro-bud­get pro­duc­tion shot on Super 8 film spoofs the ram­shackle bom­bast of the orig­i­nal Star Wars, then still play­ing in the­aters, in the form of a thir­teen-minute-long fic­tion­al trail­er.

“Steam irons and toast­ers sus­pend­ed by clear­ly vis­i­ble strings were the space­ships, a bas­ket­ball was a plan­et on the brink of destruc­tion, and the robot Artie Decko was a defunct vac­u­um clean­er,” writes Salon’s Bob Cal­houn. But “from its card­board sets to the cos­tumes, Hard­ware Wars is an amaz­ing fac­sim­i­le of its source mate­r­i­al, despite obvi­ous bud­get and time con­straints.” The goal of its cre­ators Ernie Fos­selius and Michael Wiese had been to meet Star Wars cre­ator George Lucas, who lat­er called it his favorite Star Wars par­o­dy. And indeed, its humor holds up these 46 years lat­er, though younger view­ers may need some help under­stand­ing the joke in a name like Augie Ben-Dog­gie, to say noth­ing of the final line, deliv­ered by famed voice actor Paul Frees: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss three bucks good­bye.” Above, you can watch Hard­ware Wars in a brand new HD trans­fer.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Com­plete Star Wars “Fil­mu­men­tary”: A 6‑Hour, Fan-Made Star Wars Doc­u­men­tary, with Behind-the-Scenes Footage & Com­men­tary

Watch the Very First Trail­ers for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi (1976–83)

Fans Recon­struct Authen­tic Ver­sion of Star Wars, As It Was Shown in The­aters in 1977

The Mak­ing of Star Wars as Told by C‑3PO & R2-D2: The First-Ever Doc­u­men­tary on the Film (1977)

A Star Wars Film Made in a Wes Ander­son Aes­thet­ic

NASA Cre­ates Movie Par­o­dy Posters for Its Expe­di­tion Flights: Down­load Par­o­dies of Metrop­o­lis, The Matrix, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Honoré de Balzac Writes About “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” and His Epic Coffee Addiction

174 years after his death, Hon­oré de Balzac remains an extreme­ly mod­ern-sound­ing wag. Were he alive today, he’d no doubt be pound­ing out his provoca­tive obser­va­tions in a cof­fice, a café whose free wifi, lenient staff, and abun­dant elec­tri­cal out­lets make it a mag­net for writ­ers.

One has a hunch Star­bucks would not suf­fice…

Judg­ing by his humor­ous essay, “The Plea­sures and Pains of Cof­fee,” Balzac would seek out a place that stays open past mid­night, and the strongest, most arcane brew­ing meth­ods. The Buck­et of Black Snakes was his Green Fairy. He was that most cun­ning of addicts, some­times imbib­ing up to 50 cups of cof­fee a day, care­ful­ly hus­band­ing his binges, know­ing just when to pull back from the edge in order to pro­long his vice.

Cof­fee — he called it a “great pow­er in [his] life” — made pos­si­ble a gru­el­ing writ­ing sched­ule that had him going to bed at six, ris­ing at 1am to work until eight in the morn­ing, then grab­bing forty winks before putting in anoth­er sev­en hours.

It takes more than a cou­ple of cap­puc­ci­nos to main­tain that kind of pace. When­ev­er a rea­son­able human dose failed to stim­u­late, Balzac would begin eat­ing cof­fee pow­der on an emp­ty stom­ach, a “hor­ri­ble, rather bru­tal method” that he rec­om­mend­ed “only to men of exces­sive vig­or, men with thick black hair and skin cov­ered with liv­er spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowl­ing pins.”

Appar­ent­ly it got the job done. He cranked out eighty-five nov­els in twen­ty years and died at 51. The cause? Too much work and caf­feine, they like to say. Oth­er spec­u­lat­ed caus­es of death include hyper­ten­sion, ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, and even syphilis.

Above, watch actor Paul Gia­mat­ti play Balzac all hopped up on cof­fee. And here you can behold The Cof­fee Pot That Fueled Hon­oré de Balzac’s Cof­fee Addic­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Paul Gia­mat­ti Plays Hon­oré de Balzac, Hopped Up on 50 Cof­fees Per Day

Philoso­phers Drink­ing Cof­fee: The Exces­sive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard

How Caf­feine Fueled the Enlight­en­ment, Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion & the Mod­ern World: An Intro­duc­tion by Michael Pol­lan

“The Virtues of Cof­fee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethar­gy, Scurvy, Drop­sy, Gout & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day has­n’t touched the stuff for two whole weeks. Fol­low her @AyunHallliday

Andy Warhol Hosts Frank Zappa on His Cable TV Show, and Later Recalls, “I Hated Him More Than Ever” After the Show

Had Andy Warhol lived to see the internet–especially social networking–he would have loved it, though it may not have loved him. Though Warhol did see the very begin­nings of the PC rev­o­lu­tion, and made com­put­er art near the end of his life on a Com­modore Ami­ga 1000, he was most­ly enam­ored, unsur­pris­ing­ly, of TV. “I love tele­vi­sion,” he once remarked, “It is the medi­um I’d most like to shine in. I’m real­ly jeal­ous of every­body who’s got their own show on tele­vi­sion. I want a show of my own.”

Warhol real­ized his dream in 1979, though in a venue that may not have lived up to his fan­tasies: a New York pub­lic-access chan­nel called Man­hat­tan Cable, “which showed local sports match­es and agreed to sell 30-minute slots to Warhol for around $75 a pop,” notes The Tele­graph. Warhol made a total of 42 episodes of his odd inter­view show. The pop art impre­sario “wasn’t exact­ly a nat­ur­al… when it came to the del­i­cate art of chat-show host­ing,” but “he didn’t let that stop him.” By 1983, one might have thought he’d have got­ten the hang of it, yet he seems espe­cial­ly awk­ward when cranky prog genius Frank Zap­pa appeared on his show that year.

Luck­i­ly for Warhol, he is joined by Zap­pa fan Richard Berlin, who serves as a buffer between the two super­stars. (Berlin is prob­a­bly the son of William Ran­dolph Hearst’s hand­picked suc­ces­sor, whose daugh­ter, Brigid, was one of Warhol’s film stars.) At least in the excerpt above, Berlin does all of the work while Warhol looks on, seem­ing­ly stu­pe­fied. But the truth is that Warhol hat­ed Zap­pa, and after the inter­view, he wrote in his Diaries, “I hat­ed Zap­pa even more than when it start­ed.” Part of what the show’s osten­si­ble host found so objec­tion­able was Zappa’s ego­ma­ni­a­cal per­son­al­i­ty. Though Warhol, like Zap­pa, con­trolled his own small inde­pen­dent empire, in tem­pera­ment, the two couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent.

But there was also some per­son­al his­to­ry between them that went back to the ear­li­est days of the Vel­vet Under­ground. “I remem­ber,” Warhol goes on, “when he was so mean to us when the Moth­ers of Inven­tion played with the Vel­vet Underground—I think both at the trip, in L.A., and at the Fill­more in San Fran­cis­co. I hat­ed him then and I still don’t like him.” Zap­pa wasn’t sim­ply rude, how­ev­er; at a 1967 show in New York, he turned his tal­ent for ridicule into what Kalei­do­scope mag­a­zine writer Chris Dar­row called “one of the great­est pieces of rock’n roll the­ater that I have ever seen.”

The open­ing night was very crowd­ed and Zap­pa and mem­bers of the Moth­ers of Inven­tion showed up to show their sup­port. (…) Nico’s deliv­ery of her mate­r­i­al was very flat, dead­pan, and expres­sion­less, and she played as though all of her songs were dirges. She seemed as though she was try­ing to res­ur­rect the ennui and deca­dence of Weimar, pre-Hitler Ger­many. Her icy, Nordic image also added to the detach­ment of her deliv­ery. (…) The audi­ence was on her side, as she was in her ele­ment and the Warhol con­tin­gent was very promi­nent that night. How­ev­er, what hap­pened next is what sticks in my mind the most from that night. In between sets, Frank Zap­pa got up from his seat and walked up on the stage and sat behind the key­board of Nico’s B‑3 organ. He pro­ceed­ed to place his hands indis­crim­i­nate­ly on the key­board in a total, aton­al fash­ion and screamed at the top of his lungs, doing a car­i­ca­ture of Nico’s set, the one he had just seen. The words to his impromp­tu song were the names of veg­eta­bles like broc­coli, cab­bage, aspara­gus… This “song” kept going for about a minute or so and then sud­den­ly stopped. He walked off the stage and the show moved on.

What Warhol took per­son­al­ly may have just been the irre­press­ible out­growth of Zappa’s dis­dain for vir­tu­al­ly every­thing, which he express­es to Berlin in the inter­view. Orig­i­nal Moth­ers of Inven­tion drum­mer Jim­my Carl Black spec­u­lat­ed that he may have hat­ed the Vel­vet Under­ground because “they were junkies and Frank just couldn’t tol­er­ate any kind of drugs.” The two bands were also, briefly, com­peti­tors at MGM.

But per­haps Zap­pa just couldn’t tol­er­ate any­one else tak­ing the spot­light, espe­cial­ly a tal­ent­ed female per­former. Warhol remem­bers Zap­pa’s response to a com­pli­ment about his daugh­ter, Moon. “Lis­ten,” he sup­pos­ed­ly told Warhol, “I cre­at­ed her. I invent­ed her.… She’s noth­ing. It’s all me.” In con­trast to the “pecu­liar” reply, Warhol writes “if it were my daugh­ter I would be say­ing ‘Gee, she’s so smart,’ but he’s tak­ing all the cred­it.” Zap­pa may have been a musi­cal genius with a spe­cial entre­pre­neur­ial flair and inci­sive crit­i­cal wit, but the “sex­ist auto­crat… with a scabrous atti­tude,” as Car­lo Wolff describes him, “was not a like­able man.” Cer­tain­ly the mild-man­nered Warhol didn’t think so.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Andy Warhol Dig­i­tal­ly Paints Deb­bie Har­ry with the Ami­ga 1000 Com­put­er (1985)

Frank Zappa’s 1980s Appear­ances on The David Let­ter­man Show

When Andy Warhol Guest-Starred on The Love Boat (1985)

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

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Behold Gustave Doré’s Dramatic Illustrations of the Bible (1866)

One occa­sion­al­ly hears it said that, thanks to the inter­net, all the books tru­ly worth read­ing are free: Shake­speare, Don Quixote, the sto­ries of Edgar Allan Poe, the Divine Com­e­dy, the Bible. Can it be a coin­ci­dence that all of these works inspired illus­tra­tions by Gus­tave Doré? When he was active in mid-nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry France, he worked in a vari­ety of forms, includ­ing paint­ing, sculp­ture, and even comics and car­i­ca­tures. But he lives on through noth­ing so much as his wood­block-print illus­tra­tions of what we now con­sid­er clas­sics of West­ern lit­er­a­ture — and, in the case of La Grande Bible de Tours, a text we could describe as “super-canon­i­cal.”

Doré took on the task of design­ing 241 engrav­ings for a lux­u­ri­ous new French-lan­guage edi­tion of the Vul­gate Bible in the mid-eigh­teen-six­ties. The project “offered him an almost end­less series of intense­ly dra­mat­ic events,” writes biog­ra­ph­er Joan­na Richard­son: “the loom­ing tow­er of Babel, the plague of dark­ness in Egypt, the death of Sam­son, Isa­iah’s vision of the destruc­tion of Baby­lon.”

All pro­vid­ed prac­ti­cal­ly ide­al show­cas­es for the ele­ments of Doré’s intense­ly Roman­tic style: “the moun­tain scenes, the lurid skies, the com­pli­cat­ed bat­tles, the almost unremit­ting bru­tal­ism.” But along with the Old Tes­ta­ment “mas­sacres and mur­ders, decap­i­ta­tions and aveng­ing angels” come Vic­to­ri­an angels, Vic­to­ri­an women, and Vic­to­ri­an chil­dren, “sen­ti­men­tal or wise beyond their years.”

Those choic­es may have been moti­vat­ed by the simul­ta­ne­ous pub­li­ca­tion of La Grande Bible de Tours in both France and the Unit­ed King­dom. In any event, the edi­tion proved suc­cess­ful enough on both sides of the Chan­nel that a major exhi­bi­tion of Doré’s work opened in Lon­don the very next year.

Though vis­i­bly root­ed in their time and place — as well as in the artist’s per­son­al sen­si­bil­i­ties and the aes­thet­ic cur­rents in which he was caught up — Doré’s visions of the Bible still make an impact with their rich and imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able chiaroscuro por­tray­als of scenes that have long res­onat­ed through the whole of West­ern cul­ture. You can see the whole series on Wikipedia, or as col­lect­ed in The Doré Gallery of Bible Illus­tra­tions at Project Guten­berg — all, of course, for no charge.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Gus­tave Doré’s Dra­mat­ic Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

Gus­tave Doré’s Exquis­ite Engrav­ings of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote

Gus­tave Doré’s Macabre Illus­tra­tions of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

Behold Gus­tave Doré’s Illus­tra­tions for Rabelais’ Grotesque Satir­i­cal Mas­ter­piece Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el

The Adven­tures of Famed Illus­tra­tor Gus­tave Doré Pre­sent­ed in a Fantasic(al) Cutout Ani­ma­tion

Sal­vador Dalí’s Illus­tra­tions for the Bible (1963)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Watch Tom Waits For No One, the Pioneering Animated Music Video from 1979

Tom Waits For No One, above, is sure­ly the only film in his­to­ry to have won an Oscar for Sci­en­tif­ic and Tech­ni­cal Achieve­ment for its cre­ator and a first place award at the Hol­ly­wood Erot­ic Film and Video Fes­ti­val.

Direc­tor John Lamb and his part­ner, Bruce Lyon also deserve recog­ni­tion for their taste in source mate­r­i­al. Singer Tom Waits’ “The One That Got Away” is about as cool as it gets, and the ani­mat­ed Waits is a dead ringer for his then-28-year-old coun­ter­part, with eyes and chop­pers slight­ly exag­ger­at­ed for max­i­mum effect.

The short was con­ceived as a demo mod­el. Lyon and Lamb hoped to con­vince Ralph Bak­shi, direc­tor of the fea­ture-length, X‑rated, car­toon adap­ta­tion of R Crumb’s Fritz the Cat, to use their new­ly patent­ed “pen­cil pre­view” tech­nique on an upcom­ing project. The result is def­i­nite­ly more provoca­tive than the non-nar­ra­tive bounc­ing ball videos devel­op­ers would use to show off fledg­ling CGI tech­niques a decade or so lat­er.

A por­tion of raw footage shows Waits and exot­ic dancer Don­na Gordon—who had pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in John Cas­savetes’ The Killing of a Chi­nese Book­ie—slink­ing around a large­ly bare sound­stage. The crew amassed 13 hours of video that were whit­tled down to 5,500 Roto­scoped frames. These were indi­vid­u­al­ly re-drawn, inked, and hand-paint­ed onto cel­lu­loid acetate.

Gor­don, whose ani­mat­ed look appears to have exert­ed quite an influ­ence on the fol­low­ing decade’s car­toon femme fatale, Jes­si­ca Rab­bit, rec­ol­lect­ed that her co-star was “very nice, shy and qui­et” and that he smelled strong­ly of cig­a­rettes and booze.

Just as Gordon’s fan­ta­sy strip­per elud­ed the ani­mat­ed Waits, this inno­v­a­tive film failed to find dis­tri­b­u­tion, and with­out com­mer­cial release, it sank into obscu­ri­ty.

(I invite Waits fans to join me in imag­in­ing an alter­nate uni­verse, in which it becomes the great­est Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toon ever, pro­vid­ing morn­ing-after com­fort to a very par­tic­u­lar breed of hun­gover ear­ly-80s nighthawks.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Fan-Made Film Recon­structs an Entire Tom Waits Con­cert from His “Glit­ter and Doom Tour” (2008)

Tom Waits’ Many Appear­ances on David Let­ter­man, From 1983 to 2015

Tom Waits Names 14 of His Favorite Art Films

Tom Waits Makes a List of His Top 20 Favorite Albums of All Time

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


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