Orson Welles Narrates Plato’s Cave Allegory, Kafka’s Parable, and Freedom River

Orson Welles. A brilliant director. A talented actor. And not a bad narrator of animated films. We know one thing. The whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. So, today, we’re serving up three animated films narrated by Welles, plus some classic radio broadcasts.

We start with an animated version of Plato’s Cave Allegory from 1973. The allegory is the most well known part of The Republic (Download – Kindle), and Welles reads the famous lines delivered by Socrates. Perfect casting. This is hardly the first animation of the cave allegory. Partially Examined Life has a roundup of 20 animations, but we’re always partial to this brilliant version done with claymation.

In 1962, Orson Welles directed The Trial, a film based on Franz Kafka’s last and arguably best-known novel. The film begins auspiciously with Welles narrating an animated version of “Before the Law,” a parable from The Trial. And then the dramatic film unfolds. Later in his life, Welles told the BBC, “Say what you will, but The Trial is the best film I have ever made. I have never been so happy as when I made that film.”

The backstory behind this short animated film, Freedom River, deserves a little mention. According to Joseph Cavella, a writer for the film:

For several years, Bosustow Productions had asked Orson Welles, then living in Paris, to narrate one of their films. He never responded. When I finished the Freedom River script, we sent it to him together with a portable reel to reel tape recorder and a sizable check and crossed our fingers. He was either desperate for money or (I would rather believe) something in it touched him because two weeks later we got the reel back with the narration word for word and we were on our way.

Filmed 40 years ago, Freedom River offers some strong commentary on America, some of which will still resonate today.

Finally, if you can’t get enough of Orson’s voice, don’t miss The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Welles’ radio program that brought theatrical productions to the American airwaves from 1938 to 1941. You can still find the broadcasts online, including the legendary War of the Worlds program from 1938 (listen), and dramatized versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (listen) and Around the World in 80 Days (click the first item in playlist).

The short films mentioned above appear in our collection of Free Movies Online, where you will also find some longer films by Welles.

David Lynch in Four Movements: A Video Tribute

Last year, Richard Vezina created a popular video tribute to Stanley Kubrick (A Stanley Kubrick Odyssey). Now he returns with David Lynch in Four Movements. Accompanied by musical pieces from Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch, each movement revolves around a distinctive theme or visual trend in Lynch’s works. Here’s how the 20 minute video unfolds:

  • First Movement: Melancholy and Sadness – Questions In A World Of Blue
  • Second Movement: Action, Violence, and Sex – The Pink Room
  • Third Movement: Dreams and Nightmares – Into The Night
  • Fourth Movement: Love and Hope – Mysteries of Love

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Bono, Glen Hansard & Friends Busk For Charity on Grafton Street

Shoppers on Grafton Street in Dublin were treated to a rare street performance on Christmas Eve by some of Ireland’s most illustrious pop musicians. U2 frontman Bono, oscar-winning singer/songwriter Glen Hansard, Liam O’ Maonlai of Hothouse Flowers, Mundy, and Declan O’Rourke gathered on the famous shopping street to spread holiday cheer and raise money for the homeless.

It was the third straight year of Christmas Eve busking for Bono and Hansard. A large group of fans showed up in anticipation, having been tipped off the day before by Hansard. “Busking with some friends tomorrow on Grafton St.,” he wrote on Twitter. “Come and throw a coin in the box for Simon Community and the Peter McVerry trust.” The crowd grew so big that the police moved the performance to the gate of St. Stephen’s Green, at the end of the street.

The group performed a rousing, sing-along version of the Mic Christopher song “Heyday” (above), and some holiday favorites, including the 1960s hit “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which can be seen on YouTube here and here.

The Short Films That Saved Pixar

When Steve Jobs became the majority investor in Pixar in January 1986, the company looked nothing like it does today. Back then, Pixar was mainly a technology play. It sold expensive Image Computers to government agencies and medical institutions along with rendering software. That strategy didn’t pay off particularly well. The company hemorrhaged cash; layoffs ensued; and things were generally looking bleak for the young company.

Pixar’s fortunes changed, however, when it tapped into the talents of a young animator named John Lasseter. During Pixar’s early days, Steve Jobs and co-founder Ed Catmull asked Lasseter to develop a short animated film to help show off the capabilities of Pixar’s hardware and software. He came up with Luxo Jr. (above), which turned two lovable lamps into movie stars. The short film won first prize at SIGGRAPH, the annual computer graphics conference held in 1986. Later Luxo Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award.

In 1988, Pixar was still hanging on by a thread. But Jobs continued to nurture Lasseter’s work and directed precious resources towards another short film. When giving Lasseter funds ($300,000), Jobs said to the animator, “All I ask of you, John, is to make it great.” And that he did. The result, Tin Toy (above), won the ’88 Academy Award for animated short film, the first computer-generated film to win the award.

Tin Toy caught Disney’s attention, and they began to pursue Lasseter. But Lasseter stayed loyal to Pixar, and before too long, Pixar and Disney decided to partner on the production of Toy Story, which netted a profit of $330 million. Pixar dumped its hardware/software business and focused on making animated films from then on, before Disney eventually purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006.

If you’re looking for a little more animation, don’t miss The Adventures of André and Wally B., the 1984 short film made by Lasseter at the Graphics Group, the unit within LucasFilm that was eventually spun into Pixar. Also here we have the First 3D Digital Film, which happened to be created by Ed Catmull (1970). He co-founded Pixar and is now president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.

You can find all films listed above in our collection of Free Movies Online.

Source for this post: Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Find out how to snag a free audio copy here.

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Wanna Achieve Linguistic Immortality? Not So Fast Cautions Animated NPR Video

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a word? NPR’s Adam Cole has, and he’s written a song about the immortality that comes from having your name turned into a noun. But as his colleague Robert Krulwich points out, many of the people whose names are now in dictionaries would be horrified. Joseph Guillotine, for example, hated the death penalty. And James Thomas Brudenell, seventh earl of Cardigan, must be turning over in his grave: “Here’s a brave cavalry officer, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, watched his men cut down, butchered by the enemy, a man of action, a soldier, and what do we remember him for,” writes Krulwich on his blog? “Yup, by some trick of fate, he is now a sweater with buttons down the front. I mean, really…”

60+ Free Charlie Chaplin Films Online

A few things to know about Charlie Chaplin. He starred in over 80 films, reeling off most during the silent film era. In 1914 alone, he acted in 40 films, then another 15 in 1915. By the 1920s, Chaplin had emerged as the first larger-than-life movie star and director, if not the most recognizable person in the world.

The film icon died on Christmas Day in 1977, and we’re commemorating this just-passed anniversary by highlighting 65 Chaplin films available on the web. Above, you will find a Chaplin mini-film festival that brings together four movies shot in 1917: The Adventurer, The Cure, Easy Street and The Immigrant. And then below you’ll find 60+ other films arranged in a neat list. Many can be otherwise found in our collection of 700 Free Movies Collection.

  • A Burlesque On Carmen – Free – Original two-reel parody of Bizet’s Carmen by Charlie Chaplin. Also stars Leo White & Edna Purviance. (1915)
  • A Busy DayFree – Chaplin plays a wife jealous of her husband’s interest in another woman, played by Phyllis Allen. On her way to attack the couple, the wife interrupts the set of a film, knocking over a film director, played by Mack Sennett, and a policeman, played by Billy Gilbert. (1914)
  • A Day’s PleasureFree – “Chaplin’s fourth film for First National Films. It was created at the Chaplin Studio. It was a quickly made two-reeler to help fill a gap while working on his first feature The Kid. It is about a day outing with his wife and the kids and things don’t go smoothly.” (1919)

  • A Dog’s Life – Free – This endearing short Chaplin film tells the story of underdogs, human and canine, succeeding despite the odds. (1918)
  • A Fair ExchangeFree – Originally released as Getting Acquainted, the film’s plot has been summarized as follows: “Charlie and his wife are walking in the park when they encounter Ambrose and his wife. The partners become fond of their counterparts and begin chasing each other around. A policeman looking for a professional Don Juan becomes involved, as does a Turk.” (1914)
  • A Film Johnnie Free – Charlie goes to the movie and falls in love with a girl on the screen. (1914)
  • A Night in the ShowFree – Chaplin played two roles: one as Mr. Pest and one as Mr. Rowdy. The film was created from Chaplin’s stage work from a play called Mumming Birds. (1915)
  • A Night OutFree – “After a visit to a pub, Charlie and Ben cause a ruckus at a posh restaurant. Charlie later finds himself in a compromising position at a hotel with the head waiter’s wife.” (1915)
  • A WomanFree – This Chaplin film starts with Charlie meeting Edna (Edna Purviance) and her parents in a park; the mother is played by Marta Golden and the father by Charles Insley. (1915)
  • Behind the Screen – Free – A short film written and directed by Chaplin, the film is long on slapstick, but it also gets into themes dealing with gender bending and homosexuality. (1916)
  • Between Showers Free – A short Keystone film from 1914 starring Charlie Chaplin, Ford Sterling, and Emma Bell Clifton.
  • By the SeaFree – “It is windy at a bathing resort. After fighting with one of the two husbands, Charlie approaches Edna while the two husbands themselves fight over ice cream. Driven away by her husband, Charlie turns to the other’s wife.” (1915)
  • Caught in a CabaretFree –  Charlie is a clumsy waiter in a cheap cabaret, suffering the strict orders from his boss. He’ll meet a pretty girl in the park, pretending to be a fancy ambassador, despite the jealousy of her fiancée. (1914)
  • Charlie Shanghaied – Free – Charlie Chaplin and his Tramp character gets shanghaied by crooks. (1915)
  • Charlie’s RecreationFree – Out of costume, Charlie is a clean-shaven dandy who, somewhat drunk, visits a dance hall. There the wardrobe girl has three rival admirers: the band leader, one of the musicians, and now Charlie. (1914)Charlotte et Le Mannequin
  • Charlotte et Le MannequinFree – Also known as Mabel’s Married Life, the film’s plot is summarized as follows: “Accosted by a masher in the park and unable to motivate husband Charlie into taking action, Mabel gets him a boxing mannequin to sharpen his fighting skills.” (1914)
  • Cruel Cruel Love Free – Chaplin plays a rich, upper-class gentleman whose romance is endangered when his girlfriend oversees him being embraced by a maid. (1914)
  • Face on a Barroom FloorFree – “The plot is a satire derived from Hugh Antoine D’Arcy’s poem of the same title. The painter courts Madeleine but loses to the wealthy client who sits for his portrait. The despairing artist draws the girl’s portrait on the barroom floor and gets tossed out. Years later he sees her, her husband and their horde of children. Unrecognized by her, Charlie shakes off his troubles and walks off into the future.” (1914)
  • Gentlemen of NerveFree – “Mabel and her beau go to an auto race and are joined by Charlie and his friend. As Charlie’s friend is attempting to enter the raceway through a hole, the friend gets stuck and a policeman shows up. Charlie sprays the policeman with soda until he friends makes it through the hole. In the grandstand, Mabel abandons her beau for Charlie. Both Charlie’s friend and Mabel’s are arrested and hauled away.” (1914)
  • His Favorite PastimeFree – Charlie gets drunk in the bar. He steps outside, meets a pretty woman, tries to flirt with her, only to retreat after the woman’s father returns. (1914)
  • His New JobFree – “Charlie is trying to get a job in a movie. After causing difficulty on the set he is told to help the carpenter. When one of the actors doesn’t show, Charlie is given a chance to act but instead enters a dice game. When he does finally act he ruins the scene, wrecks the set and tears the skirt from the star.” (1915
  • His Prehistoric PastFree – “Charlie dreams he is in the stone age. There King Low-Brow rules a harem of wives. Charlie, in skins and a bowler, falls in love with the king’s favorite wife, Sum-Babee. During a hunting trip the king is pushed over a cliff. Charlie proclaims himself king, but Ku-Ku discovers the real king alive. They return to find Charlie and Sum- Babee together.” (1914)
  • His Trysting PlaceFree – “Charlie’s wife sends him to the store for a baby bottle with milk. Elsewhere, Ambrose offers to post a love letter for a woman in his boarding house. The two men meet at a restaurant and each takes the other’s coat by mistake. Charlie’s wife thinks he has a lover; Ambrose’s believes he has an illegitimate child.” (1914)
  • In the ParkFree – “A tramp steals a girl’s handbag, but when he tries to pick Charlie’s pocket loses his cigarettes and matches. He rescues a hot dog man from a thug, but takes a few with his walking stick. When the thief tries to take some of Charlie’s sausages, Charlie gets the handbag. The handbag makes its way from person to person to its owner, who is angry with her boyfriend who didn’t protect her in the first place. The boyfriend decides to throw himself in the lake in despair, so Charlie helps him out.” (1915)
  • Kid Auto Races at Venice – Free – It’s the first film in which Charlie Chaplin’s iconic “Little Tramp” character makes his appearance. (1914)
  • Laughing Gas Free – Film starring Chaplin is sometimes known as “Busy Little Dentist”, “Down and Out”, “Laffing Gas”, “The Dentist”, and “Tuning His Ivories”.
  • Mabel’s Busy DayFree – “A hotdog girl gives one to a policeman who then allows her into a race track. While other customers swipe her hotdogs, Charlie runs off with the whole box, pretending to sell them while actually giving them away. She calls her policeman who battles Charlie.” (1914)
  • Mabel’s Strange PredicamentFree – Watch lots of lots of high jinks go down in a hotel. (1914)
  • Making a Living – Free – Premiering on February 2, 1914, Making a Living marks the first film appearance by Charlie Chaplin.
  • Musical TrampsFree – “Charlie and his partner are to deliver a piano to 666 Prospect St. and repossess one from 999 Prospect St. They confuse the addresses. The difficulties of delivering the piano by mule cart, and most of the specific gags, appeared later in Laurel and Hardy’s ‘The Music Box’.” (1914)
  • One A.M.Free – The first silent film Charlie Chaplin starred in alone. (1916)
  • PoliceFree – “Police was Charlie Chaplin’s 14th released film from Essanay. It was made at the Majestic Studio in Los Angeles. Charlie playing an ex-convict finds life on the outside not to his liking and leads him to breaking into a home with another thief (Wesley Ruggles). Edna Purviance plays the girl living in the home who tries to change him.” (1916)
  • Shoulder ArmsFree – Charlie is a boot camp private who has a dream of being a hero who goes on a daring mission behind enemy lines. (1918)
  • SunnysideFree – “Charlie works on a farm from 4am to late at night. He gets his food on the run (milking a cow into his coffee, holding an chicken over the frying pan to get fried eggs). He loves the neighbor’s daughter Edna but is disliked by her father. He rides a cow into a stream and is kicked off. Unconscious, he dreams of a nymph dance. Back in reality a city slicker is hurt in a car crash and is being cared for by Edna. When Charlie is rejected after attempting to imitate the slicker, the result is ambiguous–either tragic or a happy ending. Critics have long argued as to whether the final scene is real or a dream.” (1919)
  • The BankFree – “Charlie does everything but an efficient job as janitor. Edna buys her fiance, the cashier, a birthday present. Charlie thinks “To Charles with Love” is for him. He presents her a rose which she throws in the garbage. Depressed, Charlie dreams of a bank robbery and his heroic role in saving he manager and Edna … but it is only a dream.”
  • The BondFree – A propaganda film created and funded by Chaplin for theatrical release to help sell U.S. Liberty Bonds during World War I. (1918)
  • The Champion – Free – “Walking along with his bulldog, Charlie finds a “good luck” horseshoe just as he passes a training camp advertising for a boxing partner “who can take a beating.” After watching others lose, Charlie puts the horseshoe in his glove and wins. The trainer prepares Charlie to fight the world champion. A gambler wants Charlie to throw the fight. He and the trainer’s daughter fall in love.” (1915)
  • The CountFree – The Count was Charlie Chaplin’s 5th film for Mutual Films. Co-starring Eric Campbell and Edna Purviance, it is a story about Charlie and his boss finding an invitation to a party from a real Count. (1916)
  • The Fatal MalletFree – Three man will fight for the love of a charming girl. Charlie will play dirty, throwing bricks to his contender, and using a huge hammer to hurt one of them. But a precocious kid will be the fourth suitor in discord. (1914)
  • The FiremanFree – Charlie Chaplin’s second short for Mutual continued his focus on gags and situations—as the title suggests, Chaplin plays the role of an inept firefighter. (1916)
  • The FloorwalkerFree – “The Floorwalker was Charlie Chaplin’s first Mutual Film Company made in 1916. It starred Chaplin as a customer in a department store who finds out the manager is stealing money from the store. It was noted for the first ‘running staircase’ used in films.” (1916)
  • The Gold Rush – Free – Charlie Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in The Gold Rush. Chaplin repeatedly said that this is the film he most wanted to be remembered for. (1925)
  • The Good for Nothing – Free – Made at the Keystone Studios, the film involves Chaplin taking care of a man in a wheelchair. (1914)
  • The ImmigrantFree – Chaplin, in the role of the Tramp character, plays an immigrant coming to the United States. He gets accused of theft while on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. (1917)
  • The KnockoutFree –  Charlie Chaplin’s seventeenth film for Keystone Studios. Chaplin only has a small role, and Fatty Arbuckle takes up the main role. (1914)
  • The Landlady’s PetFree – Otherwise known as The Star Boarder, the film turns around this theme: A brat’s magic lantern show exposes an indiscreet moment between a landlady and her star boarder. (1914)
  • The MasqueraderFree – “Charlie is an actor in a film studio. He messes up several scenes and is tossed out. Returning dressed as a lady, he charms the director. Even so, Charlie never makes it into film, winding up at the bottom of a well.” (1914)
  • The New JanitorFree – “Charlie is janitor for a firm the manager of which receives a threatening note about his gambling debts. He throws a bucket of water out the window which lands on his boss and costs him his job. The boss, attempting to steal the money heeds from the office safe, is caught by his secretary and Charlie comes to save her and the money. He is briefly accused of being the thief but ultimately triumphs.” (1914)
  • The Pawnshop – Free – Rich in slapstick, The Pawnshop was one of Chaplin’s more popular movies for Mutual Film, the producer of many fine Chaplin comedies. (1916)
  • The Property ManFree – “Charlie has trouble with actors’ luggage and conflicts over who gets the star’s dressing room. There are further difficulties with frequent scene changes, wrong entries and a fireman’s hose. At one point he juggles an athlete’s supposed weights. The humor is still rough: he kicks an older assistant in the face and allows him to be run over by a truck.” (1914)
  • The Rink – FreeThe Rink, Chaplin’s 8th film for Mutual Films, showcases the actor’s roller skating abilities. (1916)
  • The Rival Mashers – Free – “Charlie and a rival vie for the favors of their landlady. In the park they each fall different girls, though Charlie’s has a male friend already. Charlie considers suicide, is talked out of it by a policeman, and later throws his girl’s friend into the lake. Frightened, the girls go off to a movie. Charlie shows up there and flirts with them. Later both rivals substitute themselves for the girls and attack the unwitting Charlie. In an audience-wide fight, Charlie is tossed from the screen.” (1914)
  • The RoundersFree – Writes IMDB: “Two drunks live in the same hotel. One beats his wife, the other is beaten by his. They go off and get drunk together. They try to sleep in a restaurant using tables as beds and are thrown out. They lie down in a row boat which fills with water, drowning them (a fate apparently better than going home to their wives).” (1914)
  • The Tramp Free – The film made Chaplin’s great Tramp character famous. (1915)
  • The VagabondFree – A silent film by Charlie Chaplin that co-starred Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Leo White and Lloyd Bacon, with Chaplin appearing as The Tramp. The British Film Institute calls it the “pivotal work” of his Mutual period – “and his most touching.” (1916)
  • Tillie’s Punctured Romance – Free – Among other things, the film is notable for being the last film that Chaplin didn’t write or direct by himself. (1914)
  • Triple TroubleFree – “As Colonel Nutt is experimenting with explosives, a new janitor is joining his household. The inept janitor proceeds to make life difficult for the rest of staff. Meanwhile, a foreign agent arrives at the house in hopes of getting Col. Nutt’s latest invention. The inventor throws him out, so the agent then employs a thug to get the formula. When police head to the Nutt home to start an investigation, a complicated fracas ensues.” (1918)
  • Twenty Minutes of LoveFree – IMDB summarizes thusly: “Charlie is hanging around in the park, finding problems with a jealous suitor, a man who thinks that Charlie has robbed him a watch, a policeman and even a little boy, all because our friend can’t stop snooping.” (1914)
  • WorkFree – “Charlie and his boss have difficulties just getting to the house they are going to wallpaper. The householder is angry because he can’t get breakfast and his wife is screaming at the maid as they arrive. The kitchen gas stove explodes, and Charlie offers to fix it. The wife’s secret lover arrives and is passed off as the workers’ supervisor, but the husband doesn’t buy this and fires shots. The stove explodes violently, destroying the house.” (1915)

Most of the quoted summaries above were written by Ed Stephan on IMDB.

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Christopher Hitchens Gets Contrarian on Christmas from the Grave (Plus Some Tom Lehrer)

Back in 1959, Tom Lehrer, the Harvard lecturer and satirist, recorded “A Christmas Carol” before a live audience at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass. The song, offering an early commentary on the commercialism of Christmas, provides the jumping off point for Christopher Hitchens’ article “Forced Merriment: The True Spirit of Christmas,” which has been published posthumously in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Even from the grave, Hitchens goes on being Hitch: blunt, bound to make the majority bristle, but also brimming with some contrarian insights…

But the thing about the annual culture war that would probably most surprise those who want to “keep the Christ in Christmas” is this: The original Puritan Protestants regarded the whole enterprise as blasphemous. Under the rule of Oliver Cromwell in England, Christmas festivities were banned outright. The same was true in some of the early Pilgrim settlements in North America.

Last year I read a recent interview with the priest of one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in New York, located downtown and near Wall Street. Taking a stand in favor of Imam Rauf’s “Ground Zero” project, he pointed to some parish records showing hostile picketing of his church in the 18th century. The pious protestors had been voicing their suspicion that a profane and Popish ceremonial of “Christ Mass” was being conducted within.

and some humor….

In their already discrepant accounts of the miraculous birth, the four gospels give us no clue as to what time of year—or even what year—it is supposed to have taken place. And thus the iconography of Christmas is ridiculously mixed in with reindeer, holly, snow scenes and other phenomena peculiar to northern European myth. (Three words for those who want to put the Christ back in Christmas: Jingle Bell Rock.) There used to be an urban legend about a Japanese department store that tried too hard to symbolize the Christmas spirit, and to show itself accessible to Western visitors, by mounting a display of a Santa Claus figure nailed to a cross. Unfounded as it turned out, this wouldn’t have been off by much.

You can read Hitchens’ unabridged piece in WSJ here. H/T goes to @opedr

Impressionist Reads ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas in Celebrity Voices

Earlier this year, actor and impressionist Jim Meskimen produced a viral video that featured him reading a famous monologue from Shakespeare’s Richard III, all while using the voices of 25 famous figures. (Watch here.) Now, he’s back and reading Clement C. Moore’s ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, this time with impersonations of Woody Allen, John F. Kennedy, John Wayne and Samuel L. Jackson. Have fun with it.  h/t @MatthiasRascher

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.