Great Cinema Discussed Director By Director on The Auteurcast

Few propositions in film scholarship inspire as much controversy as the so-called “auteur theory,” which holds that a film’s director imbues the work with its strongest and most identifiable creative influence. Some consider this notion laughably implausible; others consider it untouchably self-evident. But even if you don’t fully buy into this auteur-centrism — and it can’t hurt to throw down a fistful of salt before the entire edifice of film theory — you can still use it as a helpful tool to navigate the realm of cinema, especially if most of it remains terra incoginta to you. Say you happen onto a movie you enjoy — Full Metal Jacket, for instance — and find out it was directed by a certain Stanley Kubrick. You could then do much worse for additional viewing material than to watch everything else the man ever directed.

As for accompaniment in this cultural journey, you could do much worse than Rudie Obias and West Anthony, hosts of The Auteurcast. Taking one filmmaker at a time, they watch and discuss every movie that filmmaker has made. Of course they’ve covered Stanley Kubrick: you can listen to their conversation on Full Metal Jacket right above, and I myself joined them as a guest when they talked about A Clockwork Orange. Having put out 136 episodes so far, Obias and Anthony have recently made their way to two auteurs as seemingly on the opposite ends of a spectrum (though exactly what spectrum, I can’t say for sure) as James Cameron, he of Titanic and Avatar, and Paul Thomas Anderson, he of Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and (to be discussed in an upcoming episode) The Master. To catch up on The Auteurcast as you catch up on cinema itself, you can download all of their past episodes as a torrent, then subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek Interprets Hitchcock’s Vertigo in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006)

Philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek is a polarizing figure, in and out of the Academy. He has been accused of misogyny and opportunism, and a Guardian columnist once wondered if he is “the Borat of philosophy.” The latter epithet might be as much a reference to his occasional boorishness as to his Slovenian-accented English. Despite (or because of) these qualities, Zizek has become a fascinating public intellectual, in part because all of his work is shot through with pop culture references as diffuse as the most studied of fanboys. And even though Zizek, a student of the Freudian theorist Jacques Lacan, can get deeply obscure with the best of his peers, his enthusiasm and rapid-fire free-associations mark him as a true fan of everything he surveys.

The Zizek I just described is fully in evidence in the short clip above from the three-part documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Joseph and Ralph), The Pervert’s Guide places Zizek in original locations and replica sets of several classic films—David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, to name just a few. Zizek’s scenes of commentary are edited with scenes from the films to give the impression that he is speaking from within the films themselves. It’s a novel approach and works particularly well in the video above, where Zizek gives us his take on Vertigo. As he says of Hitchcock’s film—which could apply to the one he is in as well—“often things begin as a fake, inauthentic, artificial, but you get caught in your own game.” Viewers of The Pervert’s Guide get caught in Zizek’s interpretive game; it’s a fascinating, ridiculous, and unsettling one.

In the clip, through a series of close analyses of plot points and camera angles, Zizek concludes that Vertigo is the realization of a male fantasy, which necessarily involves violence and nightmarish transformations. In the “male libidinal economy,” he says, in the jargon-y psychoanalytic speak of his trade, women must be “mortified” before they are acceptable sexual partners. Slipping out of academic argot, he clarifies: “to paraphrase an old saying, the only good woman is a dead woman.” It’s this kind of blunt and utterly unsentimental way of speaking that raises the hackles of some of Zizek’s critics. But I’m not here to defend him. Watching (and reading) him for me is a game of edge-of-your seat “what outrageous or incomprehensible thing is he going to say next?” and I’ll admit, I enjoy it. So I’ll leave you with a final Zizek-ism. Perhaps it will scare you off for good, or perhaps you’re game for a few more rounds of “perversion” with this encyclopedic critic of the self, the social, and the sexual:

“A subject,” says Zizek, “is a partial something, a face, something we see. Behind it, there is a void, a nothingness. And of course, we spontaneously tend to fill in that nothingness with our fantasies about the wealth of human personality and so on, and so on. To see what is lacking in reality, to see it as that, there you see subjectivity. To confront subjectivity means to confront femininity. Woman is the subject. Masculinity is a fake.”

You can watch the film in its entirety here.

via Biblioklept

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Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Regina Spektor Live in L.A. — A Free 30 Minute Set with Songs from Her New Album

Regina Spektor’s sixth studio album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, is out. That means we’re hearing a lot more from the singer-songwriter whose music took form in the East Village of New York City. Several weeks back, Spektor gave a thoughtful interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, where, among other things, she recalled the discrimination her family faced in the Soviet Union and her childhood immigration to the United States. Now, we’re catching up with her in Southern California — at Apogee’s Berkeley St. Studios in L.A., to be precise — where Spektor played an intimate concert featuring songs from the new album. Catch one song, “The Party,” right above, and the complete 30-minute session here. If you have a decent internet connection, I’d skip to the HD version and enjoy. Kudos to KCRW for making this available.

h/t @opedr

Reef View: Google Gives Us Stunning Underwater Shots of Great Coral Reefs

Most of us have looked up our own addresses using Google Street View. But have you ever wished you could virtually dive right into the ocean, lake or river near your home?

It may not be long until you can. Google has taken its Street View model, complete with directional arrows and swipe-controlled scaling, and plunged into the watery universe.

In a collaboration with a major scientific study of the ocean, Street View now includes panoramic views of six of the world’s living coral reefs. These images, shot using a special camera, allow us to zoom in and see schools of fish and sea turtles make their way over the sea floor off the coast of Australia’s Heron Island. Check out the shape and texture of this ancient volcanic rock near Apo Island in the Philippines.

Above the Molokini Crater near Maui you might be surprised to stumble upon some other snorklers.

Scooting along is amazingly fun and the photographic clarity is incredible. Take a cool swim with a manta ray and an underwater photographer off the Great Barrier Reef. It really does feel like you’re there—only you’re not (and the Google watermarks bring you back to reality ).

View Larger Map

Photos come courtesy of the Catlin Seaview Survey, an international study of the oceans. Researchers use a continual 360 degree panoramic camera to capture underwater images. In deeper trenches, they send the camera down on robots.

Scientists with the study say that some 95 percent of the ocean still hasn’t been seen by the human eye. Short of traveling to all these spots ourselves, this may be our best chance to bring that number down.

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Kate Rix is an Oakland-based freelance writer. See more of her work at .

F. Scott Fitzgerald Reads From Shakespeare’s Othello (c.1940)

When F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, his New York Times obituary claimed, “the promise of his brilliant career was never fulfilled.” This is a sentence that may puzzle modern-day lovers of Fitzgerald’s enduringly-relevant fiction, but it was the judgment of the time on the exhausted, alcoholic writer’s career. And it was a judgment he often applied to himself, as he demonstrated publicly in his 1936 essay “The Crack-Up,” about his depression. Reduced at the end of his life to writing film scripts for money, a task he found degrading for a “successful literary man” such as himself, Fitzgerald also, at some time near his final year, made recordings of himself reading the work of Shakespeare, Keats, and others, presumably also for money, though it’s not exactly clear who produced the recordings or why.

In the first video (above), listen to Fitzgerald deliver a dignified reading of Othello’s speech to the Venetian Senators from Act 1, Scene 3 of Othello. Fitzgerald stumbles and slurs occasionally, and the speech may in fact be composed of several different takes edited together, suggesting that he may have had difficulty making it through. Nonetheless, his voice is seductive and sonorous; he reads the speech as a literary monologue, rather than a declaration. Hear more of him below, reading an edited version of John Masefield’s “On Growing Old,” a poem which may have had particular poignancy to the man who wrote in 1936, “of course all life is in a process of breaking down.” But even in decline, Fitzgerald was worth listening to. You can find major works by F. Scott Fitzgerald in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

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Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music

Johnny Cash once called 1968 the happiest year of his life. It was the year his masterpiece At Folsom Prison came out, the year he was named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year, and the year he married the love of his life, June Carter. So it was a fortunate time for a young filmmaker named Robert Elfstrom to meet up with Cash for the making of a documentary.

Elfstrom traveled with Cash for several months in late 1968 and early 1969. The resulting film, Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music, is a revealing look at Cash, his creative process and his ties to family. Elfstrom followed along on a tour that took Cash and his group (including, at different times, Chet Atkins and the Carter Family singers) to a wide range of places, including a prison, an Indian reservation and Cash’s own native soil in the American South. Cash and Carter visit his parents and other family members, and in one moving scene Cash returns to his abandoned childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas, a cotton farming town that was created under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program in the 1930s to give poor families a chance to start over.

The film gives some sense of the complexity of Cash’s personality. There is one scene near the beginning, for example, in which Cash goes hunting and wounds a crow. He then cradles the injured bird in his hands and talks friendly to it. “That scene, to me, says a lot about who Johnny Cash is,” Elfstrom told PBS in a 2008 interview. “John was not always warm and fuzzy like a panda bear all the time. He’s like that part of the time, but he also has a sharp edge and steeliness to him.” Elfstrom went on to describe the situation:

One day, we were hanging out in his house, and he said, “I want to go hunting.” He grabbed his shotgun and was walking through the land around his house when he spied a crow and whipped off a shot. John was a dead shot, so he wounded the crow, and the bird hit the ground. When he picked up the crow, you could feel that something was going through John’s head; he’d almost killed something that maybe he shouldn’t have, and he felt badly about it, but that instinct to hunt and wound was a part of him too. So John carried the crow and sat down in the shade, and I could see he was kind of pissed off at himself. I kept some distance from him, and the next thing I knew, he was writing a song to the crow.

One of the most striking things about Elfstrom’s film is the way it manages, despite the constraints of the cinéma vérité form, to connect the events of Cash’s life to his music. For example, at one point Cash is walking through the barren village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, listening to the story of the massacre of 1890 from one of the descendants of the victims, and in the next scene he is singing “Big Foot,” his song about the tragedy. The film shows Cash’s generosity toward unknown musicians. It also offers a glimpse of his close friendship with the young Bob Dylan. When Cash and Dylan got together in February of 1969 for a recording session in Nashville, Elfstrom was there. He documented the scene as the two men recorded Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings.”  Elfstrom told PBS:

John and Bob had gotten close at that point. John was saying, “Gee, I wish Bob would move down here to Tennessee. I’ve got a lot of land, and we could be neighbors!” So that was fascinating. We recorded the two of them very late at night, and they were doing a duet of one of Dylan’s songs. In the middle of the song, both John and Bob forgot the lyrics. So the recording session stopped while people scampered around the Columbia Records building trying to find the lyrics to a Bob Dylan song. When the lyrics were finally found, the two of them got together again and did some great recording. It was really an amusing session because John and Bob were teasing each other all the time.

The film was originally named Cash, and was slightly longer than the version above. In 2008 it was re-edited and renamed Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music for broadcast on PBS. It’s a revealing portrait of the country music legend, but Elfstrom allowed his subject certain areas of privacy. In particular he avoided documenting Cash’s well-known addiction to drugs. “Even back then, the powers-that-be wanted me to emphasize the substance abuse stuff, and I had to fight the entire time to stay clear of that,” said Elfstrom. “I didn’t want that pollution to confuse the message of what John was doing. I was totally willing to take John at face value, and I think he himself recognized that early on and trusted me. He was a man struggling through life like all of us, doing his best, trying to come out on top.”

Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music will be added to our collection of 500 Free Movies Online.

The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.

Matthew Might, a computer science professor at the University of Utah, writes: “Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is. It’s hard to describe it in words. So, I use pictures.” It’s September 26. That means fall is here again, and it’s time to bring you an encore presentation of Matt’s Illustrated Guide to the PhD. Have a look, and you’ll see the whole undertaking in a less hubristic way:

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:

A master’s degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don’t forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing.

You can find Matt’s Illustrated Guide hosted on his web site. This guide/reality check is published under a Creative Commons License. You can also buy a print version for $6.50. (The money goes to charity.) Matt offers more insights for Ph.D. students here.

Federico Fellini Introduces Himself to America in Experimental 1969 Documentary

Today, if you want an introduction to a filmmaker like Federico Fellini, you’ll most likely just look him up on Wikipedia. In 1969, you wouldn’t have had quite so convenient an option, though were you an NBC-watching American, you might have caught a broadcast of Fellini: A Director’s Notebook. Directed by Fellini himself at the behest of NBC producer Peter Goldfarb, the fifty-minute documentary (now added to our collection of 500 Free Movies Online) follows the Italian auteur as he peripatetically seeks out inspiration for his current and future projects. Among these, we hear about Satyricon, one of his immortal works, and about The Voyage of G. Mastoma, which stalled before it even reached mortality. Consorting with hippies in a field, taking a spirit medium down into the “catacombs” of the Rome Metro, dropping in on favorite actor/counterpart Marcello Mastroianni, and receiving a stream of visiting eccentrics in his office, Fellini narrates his own thoughts about his directorial process. It seems to come down to searching for the right atmospheres — the obscure, the foreign, the desperate, the bizarre — and taking them in.

Fellini: A Director’s Notebook provides what Fellini called a “semihumorous introduction” to the director, his work, and the environment of frowning absurdism that seemed to encircle him wherever he went. But with its frequent language-shifting, its often dark and vaguely troubling imagery, its air of simultaneous asexuality and indiscriminate louchness, and its obviously deliberate craft, the film would seem to fall into the territory between forms. But if it feels too elaborate, artificial, and studded with half-glimpsed grotesques to count as a straightforward portrait of an artist, Fellini’s films set themselves apart to this day with their thorough possession of those same qualities. Cultural history has not recorded in much detail how the average American home viewer of 1969 handled this plunge into the viscous essence of Fellini. But I’ll bet every single one who enjoyed it immediately marked their calendars, if surreptitiously, to go check out the man’s interpretation of Petronius.

via @coudal

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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