Kim Jong-il’s Godzilla Movie & His Free Writings on Film Theory

Ding, dong, Kim Jong-il is dead. Read­ing The New York Times obit, one lit­tle piece of the dic­ta­tor’s insane world stood out for us:

Short and round, he wore ele­va­tor shoes, over­size sun­glass­es and a bouf­fant hair­do — a Hol­ly­wood stereo­type of the wacky post-cold-war dic­ta­tor. Mr. Kim him­self was fas­ci­nat­ed by film. He orches­trat­ed the kid­nap­ping of an actress and a direc­tor, both of them South Kore­ans, in an effort to build a domes­tic movie indus­try.

Let’s give you more on this sto­ry: In 1978, Shin Sang-ok, South Kore­a’s famous direc­tor, went to Hong Kong to fig­ure out why his ex-wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, went miss­ing. When he arrived, North Kore­an agents pulled him into a car, threw a bag over his head, then shipped him to Pyongyang wrapped in plas­tic. (The BBC has more on this.) And so began his eight year impris­on­ment in North Korea, where the film­mak­er had to sat­is­fy the whims of Kim Jong-il, then a young “cinephile” who wrote On the Art of the Cin­e­ma in 1973, and The Cin­e­ma and Direct­ing in 1987 (read the free PDF here). Shin shot eight films dur­ing his “NK peri­od,” the best-known being Pul­gasari, a 1985 Godzil­la-style movie that played to the tastes of the lit­tle dic­ta­tor. We’re adding it to the Hor­ror sec­tion of our big col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

In case you’re won­der­ing, Shin and his wife (they remar­ried while impris­oned) even­tu­al­ly escaped from North Korea in 1986, dur­ing a trip to Vien­na. Despite that, Kim Jong-il’s love of cin­e­ma did­n’t wane. Film­mak­ing still plays a big role in the man­u­fac­tur­ing of North Kore­an ide­ol­o­gy, and below we’re bring­ing back Al Jazeer­a’s look at the con­tem­po­rary North Korea film­mak­ing scene:

via i09

Ingmar Bergman’s 1950s Soap Commercials Wash Away the Existential Despair

Ing­mar Bergman is usu­al­ly remem­bered for the intense­ly seri­ous nature of his films. Death, anguish, the absence of God–his themes can be pret­ty gloomy. So it might come as a sur­prise to learn that Bergman once direct­ed a series of rather sil­ly soap com­mer­cials.

The year was 1951. Bergman was 33 years old. The Swedish film indus­try, his main source of income, had just gone on strike to protest high gov­ern­ment tax­es on enter­tain­ment. With two ex-wives, five chil­dren, a new wife and a sixth child on the way, Bergman need­ed to find anoth­er way to make mon­ey.

A solu­tion pre­sent­ed itself when he was asked to cre­ate a series of com­mer­cials for a new anti-bac­te­r­i­al soap called Bris (“Breeze,” in Eng­lish). Bergman threw him­self into the project. He lat­er recalled:

Orig­i­nal­ly, I accept­ed the Bris com­mer­cials in order to save the lives of my self and my fam­i­lies. But that was real­ly sec­ondary. The pri­ma­ry rea­son I want­ed to make the com­mer­cials was that I was giv­en free rein with mon­ey and I could do exact­ly what I want­ed with the pro­duc­t’s mes­sage. Any­how, I have always found it dif­fi­cult to feel resent­ment when indus­try comes rush­ing toward cul­ture, check in hand.

Bergman enlist­ed his favorite cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er at that time, Gun­nar Fis­ch­er, and togeth­er they made nine minia­ture films, each a lit­tle more than one minute long, to be screened in movie the­aters over the next three years. Bergman used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to exper­i­ment with visu­al and nar­ra­tive form.

Many of the styl­is­tic devices and motifs that would even­tu­al­ly fig­ure into his mas­ter­pieces can be spot­ted in the com­mer­cials: mir­rors, dou­bles, the tele­scop­ing in or out of a sto­ry-with­in-a-sto­ry. You don’t need to under­stand Swedish to rec­og­nize the mark of the mas­ter.

In the win­dow above we fea­ture Episode 1, “Bris Soap,” which is per­haps the most basic of the com­mer­cials. They become pro­gres­sive­ly more imag­i­na­tive as the series moves along:

  • Episode 2, Ten­nis Girl: An inno­cent game of ten­nis sets the stage for an epic bat­tle between good (Bris soap) and evil (bac­te­ria). Can you guess which side wins?
  • Episode 3, Gus­ta­vian: Bad hygiene in the 17th cen­tu­ry court of King Gus­tav III. Plen­ty of fop­pish­ness, but no Bris.
  • Episode 4, Oper­a­tion: “Per­haps the most intrigu­ing of the com­mer­cials,” writes Swedish film schol­ar Fredrik Gustafs­son. “In this one Bergman is decon­struct­ing the whole busi­ness of film­mak­ing, using all the tricks of his dis­pos­al to trick and treat us.”
  • Episode 5, The Mag­ic Show: Anoth­er bat­tle between good and evil, this time in minia­ture.
  • Episode 6, The Inven­tor: A man hero­ical­ly invents anti-bac­te­r­i­al soap, only to awak­en and real­ize it was all a dream. (And any­way, the mak­ers of Bris had already done it.)
  • Episode 7, The Rebus: Bergman uses mon­tage to cre­ate a game of “rebus,” a heraldic rid­dle (non ver­bis, sed rebus: “not by words but by things”), to piece togeth­er the slo­gan, “Bris kills the bacteria–no bac­te­ria, no smell.”
  • Episode 8, Three-Dimen­sion­al: Bergman thought 3‑D films were “ridicu­lous­ly stu­pid,” and in this episode he takes a few play­ful jabs.
  • Episode 9, The Princess and the Swine­herd: In this rein­ven­tion of Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­son­’s “The Swine­herd,” a 15-year-old Bibi Ander­s­son, who went on to star in many of Bergman’s great­est films, makes her screen debut as a beau­ti­ful princess who promis­es a swine­herd 100 kiss­es in exchange for a bar of soap. Not a bad deal for the swine­herd.

To learn more about Bergman’s soap com­mer­cials you can watch a 2009 report by Slate film crit­ic Dana Stevens here. (Note the video requires a flash play­er.)

Note: This post first appeared on our site in 2011. It’s one of our favorites. So we’re bring­ing it back.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mir­rors of Ing­mar Bergman, Nar­rat­ed with the Poet­ry of Sylvia Plath

Ing­mar Bergman Vis­its The Dick Cavett Show, 1971

Fellini’s Fan­tas­tic TV Com­mer­cials

MIT to Offer Certificates to Students Taking Free Courses on the Web

It hap­pens at least a few times a day. Stu­dents look through our list of 400 Free Online Cours­es, and ask us whether they can get a cer­tifi­cate for tak­ing a class. And, unfor­tu­nate­ly, our answer has been no — no, you can’t. But that may be about to change.

Ear­li­er this fall, Stan­ford launched a high­ly-pub­li­cized series of free cours­es that offer stu­dents some­thing nov­el: the abil­i­ty to take tests and receive a “state­ment of accom­plish­ment” from the instruc­tor — though not the school itself — if they pass the class. (Stan­ford will launch 14 more cours­es start­ing in Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary. Click link for details.)

Now, MIT wants to up the ante on the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of free cours­es. Start­ing next spring, the uni­ver­si­ty, already famous for its Open­Course­Ware project, will launch MITx, an e‑learning ini­tia­tive that will offer cer­tifi­cates to stu­dents demon­strat­ing mas­tery of free MIT cours­es. Accord­ing to a new set of FAQs, the cer­tifi­cates won’t bear MIT’s name. Rather, “MIT plans to cre­ate a not-for-prof­it body with­in [MITx] that will offer cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for online learn­ers of MIT course­work. That body will car­ry a dis­tinct name to avoid con­fu­sion.” The cours­es will be free; the cer­tifi­cates will cost just a “mod­est” sum. It’s all a big step in the right direc­tion.

UPDATE: You can find a list of free cours­es offer­ing cer­tifi­cates from great uni­ver­si­ties here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

MIT Intro­duces Com­plete Cours­es to Open­Course­Ware Project

Down­load The Edupunks’ Guide to a DIY Cre­den­tial (Free eBook)

Pickin’ & Trimmin’ in a Down-Home North Carolina Barbershop: Award-Winning Short Film

Pickin’ & Trim­min’ is a doc­u­men­tary short film from 2008 pro­fil­ing “The Bar­ber­shop” in Drex­el, North Car­oli­na, where Lawrence Antho­ny and David Shirley have bar­bered for decades, and where blue­grass musi­cians have jammed in the back room every week­end. Direct­ed by Matt Mor­ris, the award-win­ning film show­cas­es the peo­ple and atmos­phere of a small com­mu­ni­ty in rur­al Amer­i­ca, per­haps bet­ter than any­thing you’ve seen before. And the music played in the back room is sim­ply won­der­ful.

You can find pho­tos tak­en at The Bar­ber­shop on Flickr here. The film itself has been added to the Doc­u­men­tary sec­tion of our Free Movies col­lec­tion.

Update: Lawrence Antho­ny, the head bar­ber por­trayed in this film, passed away in 2009. His son con­tin­ues to run The Bar­ber­shop, but severe water dam­age has left the shop in need of repair. Here is a video show­ing the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

Free Audio: Download the Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Before the days of Har­ry Pot­ter, gen­er­a­tions of young read­ers let their imag­i­na­tions take flight with The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia, a series of sev­en fan­ta­sy nov­els writ­ten by C. S. Lewis. Like his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis served on the Eng­lish fac­ul­ty at Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty and took part in the Inklings, an Oxford lit­er­ary group ded­i­cat­ed to fic­tion and fan­ta­sy.

Pub­lished between 1950 and 1956, The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia has sold over 100 mil­lion copies in 47 lan­guages, delight­ing younger and old­er read­ers world­wide. The sev­en vol­umes in the series include:

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Prince Caspi­an: The Return to Nar­nia
  • The Voy­age of the Dawn Tread­er
  • The Sil­ver Chair
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • The Magi­cian’s Nephew
  • The Last Bat­tle

Now, with the appar­ent bless­ing of the C.S. Lewis estate, the sev­en vol­ume series is avail­able in a free audio for­mat. There are 101 audio record­ings in total, each aver­ag­ing 30 min­utes and read by Chris­si Hart. Down­load the com­plete audio via the web or RSS Feed. Or start lis­ten­ing to the open­ing chap­ters of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe right below.

We have added The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia record­ings to our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books, where you will find many oth­er great clas­sics. h/t metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: Down­load Copy of New Steve Jobs Biog­ra­phy

Free Audio: Down­load George Orwell’s 1984 and Ani­mal Farm for Free

Down­load 20 Pop­u­lar High School Books Avail­able as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Tuileries: A Short, Slightly Twisted Film by Joel and Ethan Coen

They call Paris the City of Love. It’s also the birth­place of the Mar­quis de Sade. Behind the roman­tic post­card facade, there’s some­thing a bit more com­pli­cat­ed going on. In Tui­leries, a short film by Joel and Ethan Coen from the 2006 anthol­o­gy, Paris Je T’Aime, Steve Busce­mi plays a mild-man­nered tourist caught com­plete­ly out of his ele­ment. What tran­spires is a rather bizarre five-minute cul­tur­al les­son they won’t teach you at Berlitz. It’s now added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Fol­low us on Face­bookTwit­ter and now Google Plus.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Tur­tur­ro Reads Ita­lo Calvino’s Ani­mat­ed Fairy Tale

World Cin­e­ma: Joel and Ethan Coen’s Play­ful Homage to Cin­e­ma His­to­ry

 

RIP Christopher Hitchens: Stephen Fry Pays Tribute, Hitch Rejects the Deathbed Conversion

18 months after being diag­nosed with oesophageal can­cer, the polem­i­cal writer Christo­pher Hitchens has died at the age of 62. His fans began to fear the worst last month when Hitchens, sud­den­ly hos­pi­tal­ized with pneu­mo­nia, could­n’t attend a wide­ly-pub­li­cized debate in Lon­don. The pro­mot­ers of the event, Intel­li­gence², quick­ly turned the debate into a cel­e­bra­tion of Hitchens’ life. Stephen Fry played host, and Richard Dawkins, Christo­pher Buck­ley, Salman Rushdie, Lewis Lapham, Mar­tin Amis, James Fen­ton and Sean Penn all paid trib­ute. Above, we’re high­light­ing the poignant video once again.

Also fit­ting­ly, we’re bring­ing back anoth­er clip that fea­tures Hitchens dis­cussing how his strug­gle with can­cer affect­ed his views on the ques­tion of an after­life. “I would say it frac­tion­al­ly increas­es my con­tempt for the false con­so­la­tion ele­ment of reli­gion and my dis­like for the dic­ta­to­r­i­al and total­i­tar­i­an part of it,” he respond­ed. “It’s con­sid­ered per­fect­ly nor­mal in this soci­ety to approach dying peo­ple who you don’t know but who are unbe­liev­ers and say, ‘Now are you gonna change your mind?’ That is con­sid­ered almost a polite ques­tion.” Dur­ing the event taped last Feb­ru­ary (watch the full pro­gram here), Hitchens made his views pret­ty clear: No deathbed con­ver­sion for me, thanks, but it was good of you to ask.

And final­ly we cap things off with a mon­tage of 22 com­ments from Christo­pher Hitchens. When you add them all up, you get some vin­tage Hitchens — every­thing that made him some­times loved, some­times hat­ed but always respect­ed.

If you have nev­er spent time read­ing Hitch, we’re going to rec­om­mend his last piece for Van­i­ty Fair — his reflec­tion on Niet­zsche’s famous line “What­ev­er doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” It was pub­lished last week, and it’s quite the coda.

Helen Mirren Tells Us Why Wassily Kandinsky Is Her Favorite Artist (And What Acting & Modern Art Have in Common)

Russ­ian abstract painter and art the­o­rist Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky was born in Moscow on Decem­ber 16, 1866 (Decem­ber 4 on the Julian cal­en­dar), and raised in Odessa, where he took an ear­ly inter­est in music. As a young man he stud­ied eco­nom­ics and law, but in 1895 his life was for­ev­er changed when he attend­ed a Moscow exhi­bi­tion of paint­ings by the French Impres­sion­ists. Kandin­sky was deeply struck by one of Mon­et’s paint­ings from the series Haystacks at Giverny. He lat­er recalled his epiphany:

That it was a haystack the cat­a­logue informed me. I could not rec­og­nize it. This non-recog­ni­tion was painful to me. I con­sid­ered that the painter had no right to paint indis­tinct­ly. I dul­ly felt that the object of the paint­ing was miss­ing. And I noticed with sur­prise and con­fu­sion that the pic­ture not only gripped me, but impressed itself inerad­i­ca­bly on my mem­o­ry. Paint­ing took on a fairy-tale pow­er and splen­dor.

Kandin­sky quit his job as a law pro­fes­sor and ded­i­cat­ed him­self to paint­ing. He emi­grat­ed, first to France and then to Ger­many, where he moved fur­ther and fur­ther away from fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing. He was among the first to cre­ate works that were com­plete­ly abstract, or non-objec­tive. In his 1910 trea­tise, Con­cern­ing the Spir­i­tu­al in Art, Kandin­sky declares that the ele­ments with­in a paint­ing should not cor­re­spond to any out­er object, but only to the artist’s “inner need.”

In obser­vance of the artist’s 145th birth­day, we present two videos with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on his work. Above, actress Helen Mir­ren talks with the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art about what Kandin­sky, and art, mean to her. Below, a trio of scholars–Beth Har­ris, Juliana Kreinik and Steven Zucker–discuss Kandin­sky’s 1913 mas­ter­piece, “Com­po­si­tion VII,” for the Khan Acad­e­my’s Smarthis­to­ry series. “Com­po­si­tion VII” was paint­ed by Kandin­sky in Munich over a peri­od of four days–but only after he had made more than 30 prepara­to­ry sketch­es, water­col­ors and oil stud­ies.

Relat­ed Con­tent

MoMA Puts Pol­lock, Rothko & de Koon­ing on Your iPad

Jack­son Pol­lock: Lights, Cam­era, Paint! (1951)

John Berger’s Ways of See­ing: The TV Series

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.