Hand Lettering Bob Dylan’s Lyrics to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

If you’ve ever seen D.A. Pen­nebak­er’s clas­sic 1967 doc­u­men­tary Don’t Look Back (or even if you haven’t), you know the famous scene — Bob Dylan flip­ing through cue cards as the dizzy­ing lyrics of “Sub­ter­ranean Home­sick Blues” flow by, all while poet Allen Gins­berg and singer Bob Neuwirth make cameo appear­ances in the back­ground. (Watch it below.) This inno­v­a­tive clip has since inspired count­less trib­ute videos by the likes of Steve Ear­le, the rap­per Evi­dence“Weird Al” Yankovic, Google, and the 1992 film Bob Roberts. Now comes the lat­est riff on the icon­ic footage by designer/illustrator Lean­dro Sen­na. He gives us “Bob Dylan’s Hand Let­ter­ing Expe­ri­ence,” a video that stitch­es togeth­er 66 hand-designed cards, each made with only pen­cil, black tint pens and brush­es. No tech­no­log­i­cal enhance­ments or retouch­ing were allowed. On Sen­na’s web site, you can see each and every card in a larg­er for­mat.

via Boing­Bo­ing

The Big Ernest Hemingway Photo Gallery: The Novelist in Cuba, Spain, Africa and Beyond

We asso­ciate Ernest Hem­ing­way with for­eign locales: Spain, Italy, Paris, Africa and Cuba. He may be the defin­i­tive peri­patet­ic writer, famous­ly haul­ing his man­u­scripts-in-progress around the world while soak­ing in enough mate­r­i­al for the next book.

Lucky for us Hem­ing­way may also be one of the most pho­tographed writ­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. The pho­tographs in the Ernest Hem­ing­way Col­lec­tion take us into a mid-cen­tu­ry world where writ­ers, actors, polit­i­cal lead­ers and beau­ti­ful jet-set­ters min­gled on patios and yachts at ease before the cam­era. These were the days before paparazzi start­ed hid­ing in bush­es.

The col­lec­tion is avail­able to us with a typ­i­cal Her­ming­way-esque sto­ry attached. When he died in 1961 in Ida­ho, most of his per­son­al effects were still in Cuba. Hem­inway lived for 20 years in the Fin­ca Vigia, a home he bought with the roy­al­ties from For Whom the Bell Tolls. It was at Fin­ca Vigia that he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. Rather than writ­ing in the work­shop that his wife Mary had built for him there, he used the bed­room, leav­ing the new room for his numer­ous pet cats to use.

At the time of his death, Amer­i­can trav­el into Cuba was banned. How­ev­er Pres­i­dent Kennedy made spe­cial arrange­ments for Hemingway’s wid­ow Mary to return to Fin­ca Vigia and retrieve his per­son­al belong­ings. Years lat­er, the John F. Kennedy Pres­i­den­tial Library and Muse­um received the mate­ri­als, includ­ing more than 10,000 pho­tographs, books from Hemingway’s pri­vate library (includ­ing A Draft of XVI Can­tos signed by Ezra Pound) and the hand-writ­ten sail­ing log Hem­ing­way kept of his trav­els aboard Pilar. The pho­tographs are now orga­nized chrono­log­i­cal­ly and geo­graph­i­cal­ly: Ear­ly Years 1899–21; Paris Years 1922–1930; Wars 1917–1945; Key West Years 1928–1939; Ida­ho Years 1939–1960; Africa 1933–1934 and Africa 1953–1954; Europe 1948–1959; Cuba Years 1939–1960; and Spain 1953–1960.

Hem­ing­way was in Paris when he sat for this por­trait in March, 1928. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Helen Pierce Break­er, was a friend and had been a brides­maid in Hemingway’s wed­ding to his first wife, Hadley.


By the ear­ly 1950s, Hem­ing­way was liv­ing in Cuba. The paint­ing behind him here at Fin­ca Vigia is a por­trait of him­self by Wal­do Peirce titled Kid Balzac.

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

Allen Ginsberg Recordings Brought to the Digital Age. Listen to Eight Full Tracks for Free

Today marks the release of the final vol­ume in the Allen Gins­berg box set Holy Soul Jel­ly Roll: Poems & Songs 1949–1993, a col­lec­tion of pre­vi­ous­ly released and unre­leased record­ings. For what­ev­er rea­son, Gins­berg Record­ings decid­ed to stag­ger the dig­i­tal release of the set over the month of Sep­tem­ber, begin­ning with Vol­ume Four (Ash­es & Blues), fol­lowed by Three (Ah!), Two (Caw! Caw!), and final­ly, today, Vol­ume One (Moloch!). The last vol­ume “con­tains the stun­ning 1956 Berke­ley Town Hall read­ing of Ginsberg’s sem­i­nal poem ‘Howl,’ as well as oth­er impor­tant his­toric ear­ly poems.” You can pre­view and buy all four vol­umes on iTunes, but you needn’t pay to hear some full tracks: Gins­berg Record­ings made the “8 song sam­pler” avail­able on Sound­cloud for us. Here is the track list­ing:

1. A Super­mar­ket In Cal­i­for­nia
2. Green Valen­tine Blues
3. Kral Majales (King Of May)
4. CIA Dope Calyp­so
5. Laugh­ing Song
6. First Par­ty at Ken Kesey’s With Hel­l’s Angels
7. Vom­it Express

Lis­ten­ing to these poems brings a cou­ple things to mind. One, the real­iza­tion, too often lost, that “There was a time when not every moment of our lives was record­ed, pho­tographed, tweet­ed, face­booked, or oth­er­wise made instant­ly avail­able to the glob­al bil­lions of the con­nect­ed,” in the words of Gins­berg friend and archivist Stephen Tay­lor. In those ancient days, record­ings mat­tered and the things peo­ple chose to put on tape or film or what­ev­er medi­um they chose were pre­cious because of their rar­i­ty and their frag­ile phys­i­cal­i­ty. Two, these record­ings under­score the per­fect pitch of the collection’s title, which takes in all at once the com­ple­men­tary natures of Gins­berg the holy fool—mystic, trick­ster, and sen­su­al “white Negro” (to take Nor­man Mailer’s snide 50s term for hip­ster bohemi­ans).  Gins­berg was all these things, usu­al­ly in the same poem. His voice can slide in sub­tle or star­tling turns from bathos to pathos, from the fan­tas­tic imag­i­nary to keen­ly-observed social cri­tique.

In the first record­ed poem above, “A Super­mar­ket in Cal­i­for­nia,” Gins­berg imag­ines him­self shop­ping for gro­ceries at night with Walt Whit­man, an elab­o­rate extend­ed excur­sion into the poet’s process. In an intro, he calls this a “com­ing down” poem after writ­ing “a lot of great poet­ry.” Rem­i­nis­cent of Wal­lace Stevens’ “The Man on the Dump,” Gins­berg describes “shop­ping for images” in a “hun­gry fatigue… dream­ing of your enu­mer­a­tions.” The “you” here is Whit­man, and in the poem the two stroll down store aisles, sam­pling the “neon fruit” with­out pay­ing. In a fun­ny image, Gins­berg asks his muse, “which way are we going? Which way does your beard point tonight?” Maybe Gins­berg thought it a minor poem, but I’d call it a tiny del­i­ca­cy next to the sprawl­ing mon­ster “Howl.”

Anoth­er short auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal poem above—well-stocked with images as pre­cise, but not so neon, as “Supermarket”—is “First Par­ty at Ken Kesey’s with Hell’s Angels.” I can only imag­ine this is an accu­rate account of events not much embell­ished but per­cep­tive­ly edit­ed to give us an ellip­ti­cal suc­ces­sion of loose­ly con­nect­ed vignettes. None of the images sur­prise so much as con­firm exact­ly what one expects to find at Ken Kesey’s (with Hell’s Angels): “Cool black night through the red woods,” “a few tired souls hunched over in black leather jack­ets,” “a yel­low chan­de­lier at three a.m.,” “twen­ty youths danc­ing through the vibra­tion in the floor,” “a lit­tle mar­i­jua­na in the bath­room,” and, of course, “four police cars parked out­side the paint­ed gate.” It’s not a mas­ter­piece, but it’s a lit­tle show­case of Ginsberg’s tal­ent for com­pres­sion and, to use the word he applies to his hero Walt Whit­man, “enu­mer­a­tions” of jazz-inflect­ed lines that pop into focus with pleas­ing imme­di­a­cy.

“CIA Dope Calyp­so” is also true to its title, an upbeat island-style dit­ty with con­gas, gui­tar and maracas–a song about the South­east Asian hero­in trade  (alleged­ly!), Gins­berg sings, “sup­port­ed by the C‑I-A.” Nev­er afraid to hurl ver­bal Molo­tovs at his impe­ri­al­ist foes, Gins­berg does so here with strained and sil­ly rhymes and a good deal of tongue-in-cheek in-jok­ing. It’s a “jel­ly roll” performance—wickedly sub­ver­sive.

All of these record­ings are great fun, but Gins­berg seems best known for the “Holy Soul” part of his per­sona, the thun­der­ing prophet mys­tic war­rior of “Howl,” and that’s here in the box set too, with “Howl” and oth­er poems. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Ginsberg’s riv­et­ing 1955 read­ing of the epic “Howl” at San Francisco’s Six Gallery, dra­ma­tized in Rob Epstein and Jef­frey Fried­man’s semi-biopic Howl, with James Fran­co as Gins­berg. Below, see the poem’s apoc­a­lyp­tic “Moloch” sec­tion set to some ter­ri­fy­ing ani­mat­ed images from the 2010 film:

If Holy Soul Jel­ly Roll does­n’t ful­ly sate your taste for Gins­berg’s voice, nev­er fear: there is much more to come from Gins­berg Record­ings.

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.


Christopher Hitchens Remembers Ayatollah Khomeini’s Fatwa Against His Friend Salman Rushdie, 2010

When his tele­phone rang on Feb­ru­ary 14, 1989, Christo­pher Hitchens was thun­der­struck. A news­pa­per reporter was on the line, ask­ing for his reac­tion to a radio speech from Tehran ear­li­er that day in which the theo­crat­ic ruler of Iran, Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Komei­ni, called on Mus­lims around the world to mur­der his friend the nov­el­ist Salman Rushdie because of some­thing Rushdie had writ­ten in his book The Satan­ic Vers­es. As Hitchens lat­er wrote in his mem­oir, Hitch-22:

I felt at once that here was some­thing that com­plete­ly com­mit­ted me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a mat­ter of every­thing I hat­ed ver­sus every­thing I loved. In the hate col­umn: dic­ta­tor­ship, reli­gion, stu­pid­i­ty, dem­a­gogy, cen­sor­ship, bul­ly­ing, and intim­i­da­tion. In the love col­umn: lit­er­a­ture, irony, humor, the indi­vid­ual, and the defense of free expres­sion. Plus, of course, friendship–though I like to think that my reac­tion would have been the same if I had­n’t known Salman at all. To re-state the premise of the argu­ment again: the theo­crat­ic head of a for­eign despo­tism offers mon­ey in his own name in order to sub­orn the mur­der of a civil­ian cit­i­zen of anoth­er coun­try, for the offense of writ­ing a work of fic­tion. No more root-and-branch chal­lenge to the val­ues of the Enlight­en­ment (on the bicen­ten­ni­al of the fall of the Bastille) or to the First Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion, could be imag­ined.

Rushdie went into hid­ing, but his Japan­ese trans­la­tor, Hitoshi Igarashi, was mur­dered, and attempts were made against the lives of sev­er­al oth­er trans­la­tors and a pub­lish­er. Book­stores in Eng­land and Cal­i­for­nia were fire­bombed, and many more received threats of vio­lence. The pub­lic reac­tion to all of this was a bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment to Hitchens. In his book, God is Not Great: How Reli­gion Poi­sons Every­thing, he wrote:

One might have thought that such arro­gant state-spon­sored homi­cide, direct­ed at a lone­ly and peace­ful indi­vid­ual who pur­sued a life devot­ed to lan­guage, would have called forth a gen­er­al con­dem­na­tion. But such was not the case. In con­sid­ered state­ments, the Vat­i­can, the arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury, the chief sephardic rab­bi of Israel all took a stand in sym­pa­thy with–the aya­tol­lah. So did the car­di­nal arch­bish­op of New York and many oth­er less­er reli­gious fig­ures. While they usu­al­ly man­aged a few words in which to deplore the resort to vio­lence, all these men stat­ed that the main prob­lem raised by the pub­li­ca­tion of The Satan­ic Vers­es was not mur­der by mer­ce­nar­ies, but blas­phe­my. Some pub­lic fig­ures not in holy orders, such as the Marx­ist writer John Berg­er, the Tory his­to­ri­an Hugh Trevor-Rop­er, and the doyen of espi­onage authors John Le Car­ré, also pro­nounced that Rushdie was the author of his own trou­bles, and had brought them on him­self by “offend­ing” a great monothe­is­tic reli­gion. There seemed noth­ing fan­tas­tic, to these peo­ple, in the British police hav­ing to defend an Indi­an-born ex-Mus­lim cit­i­zen from a con­cert­ed cam­paign to take his life in the name of god.

This month Rushdie pub­lished Joseph Anton: A Mem­oir, describ­ing his nine-years of life in hid­ing under the Ayotol­lah’s death order. The new book’s rel­e­vance could not be more obvi­ous, giv­en the Anti-Amer­i­can riot­ing that broke out in much of the Mus­lim world this month in reac­tion to a YouTube video called Inno­cence of Mus­lims. Hitchens died last Decem­ber, and his voice in the mat­ter is sore­ly missed. But it isn’t hard to imag­ine what he might have said. In a 2009 Van­i­ty Fair essay, “Assas­sins of the Mind,” Hitchens wrote: “For our time and gen­er­a­tion, the great con­flict between the iron­ic mind and the lit­er­al mind, the exper­i­men­tal and the dog­mat­ic, the tol­er­ant and the fanat­i­cal, is the argu­ment that was kin­dled by The Satan­ic Vers­es.”

For a recent dis­cus­sion with Rushdie, lis­ten to his Sep­tem­ber 21 inter­view with Studio360:

Watch Simon & Garfunkel Play Their Big Central Park Concert (1981)

On Sep­tem­ber 19, 1981, Paul Simon and Art Gar­funkel got up in front of 500,000 peo­ple in New York City and played a show. That in itself sounds per­haps not ter­ri­bly unusu­al, but bear in mind that they put on the con­cert in Cen­tral Park. Even that might not strike you as notable these days, but the ear­ly eight­ies found major Amer­i­can cities on the ropes. Their pub­lic spaces had reached an espe­cial­ly advanced state of dete­ri­o­ra­tion, and com­men­ta­tors often sin­gled out New York as a drea­ry bell­wether of just this sort of aggres­sive urban decay. Look­ing back, to name just one exam­ple, we think of sub­way cars cov­ered, every exposed sur­face both inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or, with a palimpsest of graf­fi­ti. But Man­hat­tan’s Cen­tral Park had only fared a shade bet­ter, and the city found itself lack­ing the three mil­lion dol­lars need­ed to repair and main­tain the now-beloved vast green space. Parks Com­mis­sion­er Gor­don Davis recruit­ed the Queens-raised and New York-root­ed Simon and Gar­funkel to per­form the free ben­e­fit show that would become the album and movie The Con­cert in Cen­tral Park, ded­i­cat­ing the rev­enue from mer­chan­dis­ing and licens­ing to ren­o­va­tion.

You can watch the nine­ty-minute con­cert film above. Orig­i­nal­ly  broad­cast on HBO, it comes direct­ed by New York native Michael Lind­sey-Hogg, direc­tor of many clips for the Bea­t­les and the Rolling Stones (not to men­tion the son of Orson Welles). Simon and Gar­funkel’s per­for­mance, which runs two songs and twelve min­utes longer than The Con­cert in Cen­tral Park the album, includes much of what you’d expect — “Mrs. Robin­son,” “Scar­bor­ough Fair,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Bridge Over Trou­bled Water,” “The Sounds of Silence” — and a bit of what you would­n’t. It also offers a look back to a time when nobody quite knew whether New York City would get out of its slump, a time when Simon’s lyric about “Cen­tral Park, where they say you should not wan­der after dark” made more sense. Despite false starts since, it now seems safe to say that the recov­ery has hap­pened. By the same token, the con­cert itself, despite its suc­cess, proved a false start for an expect­ed long-term Simon and Gar­funkel reunion. But they would come togeth­er again to tour in the ear­ly 2000s, and rumors of pos­si­ble future live shows con­tin­ue to swirl.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed con­tent:

Paul Simon, Then and Now: Cel­e­brat­ing His 70th Birth­day

A Paul Simon Feelin’-Very-Groovy Moment

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

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Vladimir Nabokov Makes Editorial Tweaks to Franz Kafka’s Novella The Metamorphosis

Vladimir Nabokov admired Franz Kafka’s novel­la, The Meta­mor­pho­sis. Hence the lec­ture that Nabokov ded­i­cat­ed to the work here. But he also saw some small ways to word­smith the sto­ry, or at least the Eng­lish trans­la­tion of it. Above, we have some edits — the nips and tucks — that Nabokov scrib­bled on his per­son­al copy of Kafka’s most famous work.

In 1989, Nabokov’s lec­ture on The Meta­mor­pho­sis was actu­al­ly turned into a tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion star­ring Christo­pher Plum­mer. You can watch The Meta­mor­pho­sis — A Study: Nabokov on Kaf­ka online. It runs 30 min­utes. Of course, you can also down­load your own copy of Kafka’s near per­fect work of poet­ic imag­i­na­tion, to bor­row a phrase from Elias Canet­ti. Vis­it our col­lec­tions of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

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:

Take Vladimir Nabokov’s Quiz to See If You’re a Good Reader–The Same One He Gave to His Stu­dents

Vladimir Nabokov Names the Great­est (and Most Over­rat­ed) Nov­els of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Vladimir Nabokov Talks About Life, Lit­er­a­ture & Love in a Metic­u­lous­ly Pre­pared Inter­view, 1969

Vladimir Nabokov (Chan­nelled by Christo­pher Plum­mer) Teach­es Kaf­ka at Cor­nell

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Watch Steven Spielberg’s Debut: Two Films He Directed as a Teenager

When Steven Spiel­berg was six or sev­en years old his father took him to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Great­est Show on Earth. When he arrived at the the­ater he felt cheat­ed, because he thought he was going to see a real cir­cus, with real-life clowns and ele­phants and lion tamers. But as the pic­tures moved across the screen the boy’s dis­ap­point­ment soon gave way to enchant­ment. One scene in particular–the film’s  spec­tac­u­lar train wreck–would alter the course of his life.

After see­ing the movie, Spiel­berg talked his dad into to buy­ing him an elec­tric train set. When he got a sec­ond train his boy­ish instinct was to re-cre­ate the crash scene from The Great­est Show on Earth. He rammed the two trains togeth­er at high speed, just for the joy of watch­ing the pieces fly apart. His father was not amused. After pay­ing a sec­ond time to have the trains repaired, he warned Steven that if he crashed them again, the train set would be tak­en away. When Spiel­berg was about 12 years old, he got an idea. As he lat­er recalled:

What­ev­er got into me, I need­ed to see those trains crash­ing. But I also did­n’t want to lose my train set. My dad had sit­ting around the house, which I had always tak­en for grant­ed, this lit­tle eight mil­lime­ter Kodak film movie cam­era with a tur­ret that had three lenses–kind of a wide, medi­um and close-up lens. I nev­er real­ly both­ered with the cam­era, but I thought: Well, I know what I can do. What if I filmed the trains crash­ing into each oth­er? I can just watch the film over and over and over again. And that’s how I made my first movie. All in the cam­era. I did­n’t have an edit­ing machine. I just put the cam­era low to the track, the way we as chil­dren like to put our eyes close to the toys we’re play­ing with, so the scale seems to be real­is­tic. I filmed one train going left to right. I cut the cam­era, turned it around and filmed the oth­er train com­ing right to left. And intu­itive­ly I fig­ured out that if I put my cam­era in the mid­dle and they met in the mid­dle, I’d have my train wreck. And that’s what I did. Luck­i­ly the trains did­n’t break. But I looked at that film over and over and over again, and then I thought: I won­der what else I could do with this cam­era?

Spiel­berg began mak­ing films obses­sive­ly. “I used to just crank them out, these lit­tle one-reel­ers, one after the oth­er,” he told an audi­ence at the Amer­i­can Film Insti­tute in the 1970s. “They were just lit­tle dra­mat­ic exer­cis­es. It was a hob­by and noth­ing more, although sub­con­scious­ly I was begin­ning to take it seri­ous­ly.” He began screen­ing his films for kids in the neigh­bor­hood. One of his sis­ters would make pop­corn and he would charge 25 cents for admis­sion as a way to make mon­ey to buy more film. As time went on Spiel­berg learned film gram­mar and began splic­ing dif­fer­ent pieces of film togeth­er. When he was 14 years old he enlist­ed a group of school friends to act in a 40-minute World War II movie called Escape to Nowhere. In the doc­u­men­tary clip above, Spiel­berg and his father, Arnold, remem­ber the mak­ing of the movie.

Escape to Nowhere (frag­ment):

Spiel­berg filmed Escape to Nowhere in 1962 near his fam­i­ly’s home in Phoenix, Ari­zona. The Sono­ran Desert scenery around Echo Canyon and Camel­back Moun­tain stood in for North Africa, and about 20 to 30 of Spiel­berg’s friends and class­mates played sol­diers on both sides of the bat­tle.

“He had a lim­it­ed sup­ply of Ger­man hel­mets,” writes Joseph McBride in Steven Spiel­berg: A Biog­ra­phy, “so he would have his sol­diers run past the cam­era and pass their hel­mets to oth­er kids, who then would dash around behind the cam­era and make their appear­ances.” None of the cast were old enough to dri­ve a jeep, so his par­ents played those roles. In one scene, accord­ing to McBride, Spiel­berg’s moth­er, Leah Adler, pulled a hel­met over her hair and played a Ger­man sol­dier.

“My spe­cial effects were great,” Spiel­berg said in 1980. “For shell explo­sions, I dug two holes in the ground and put a bal­anc­ing  board loaded with flour between them, then cov­ered it with a bush. When a ‘sol­dier’ ran over it, the flour made a per­fect geyser in the air. Mat­ter of fact, it works bet­ter than the gun­pow­der used in movies today.” For some neigh­bors the scene was a bit too real­is­tic. McBride quotes a for­mer cast mem­ber describ­ing the scene:

“The High­way Patrol came after us,” reports Haven Peters, who played one of the lead­ing roles. “We were out in the desert, and some peo­ple drove by and report­ed to the state police that all these guys were troop­ing around in Nazi hel­mets and guns. Two or three cars of troop­ers came out to inves­ti­gate. We thought, Are we all going to be arrest­ed for tres­pass­ing? Some­body told them we were mak­ing a movie, and I remem­ber Steve’s dad talk­ing to them and cool­ing them off. After that they were real­ly inter­est­ed, and they hung around to watch.”

For his next juve­nile epic, Spiel­berg ven­tured into the sci­ence fic­tion genre. The film, Fire­light, was in many ways a tri­al run for his 1977 block­buster, Close Encoun­ters of the Third Kind.

Fire­light (frag­ment):

Fire­light had its ori­gins in a Boy Scout camp­ing trip that Spiel­berg missed out on. It was the only overnight scout­ing trip he had missed in a year, accord­ing to McBride, and when he caught up with his friends he was dev­as­tat­ed when they told him they had seen some­thing amaz­ing and unex­plain­able at night while camp­ing: “a blood-red orb ris­ing up behind some sage­brush, shoot­ing off into space.” As for­mer patrol leader Bill Hoff­man told McBride, “It was­n’t true at all. As far as I can tell, it was a com­plete fab­ri­ca­tion.” Nev­er­the­less, Spiel­berg had the idea for his next film, and he was bet­ter equipped this time. Here again is McBride:

The mak­ing of Fire­light was made pos­si­ble by the prizes Steve had won for Escape to Nowhere in the state ama­teur film con­test. “He won a whole bunch of stuff,” his father recalls. “He won a 16mm Kodak movie cam­era. I said, ‘Steve, I can’t afford to spend mon­ey for film for 16mm. Let’s swap it for an 8mm, and we’ll get a good one.’ So we bought a real good Bolex-H8 Deluxe, the big cam­era that was built on a 16mm frame, but cut for 8mm, and so you could get 400-foot reels on it. It had tele­pho­to lens­es, sin­gle-frame motion, and slow-motion, so he could make all kinds of stuff with that. And he won a whole library of books rel­a­tive to film­mak­ing. he loved those books, but he said, ‘I’m going to donate them to the school library. I don’t need them. I have the feel for it.’ As a gift for being that gen­er­ous, I said, ‘OK, we’re going to up the ante.’ We bought a Bolex pro­jec­tor, and we also bought a sound sys­tem. It was the first sound sys­tem out for con­sumer use, a Bolex Sonoriz­er.”

The scenes in Fire­light were shot in 1963 in var­i­ous loca­tions around Phoenix, includ­ing the Spiel­berg home. The actors dubbed their lines after­ward. The movie is set in a fic­tion­al Ari­zona town, with a sto­ry that is in some ways sim­i­lar to Close Encoun­ters. It involves an unhap­pi­ly mar­ried man obsessed with UFOs who tries to get skep­tics to believe in him. As the sto­ry moves along, a squad of Nation­al Guards­men, a dog, and a lit­tle girl played by Spiel­berg’s sis­ter Nan­cy all get abduct­ed by aliens. For spe­cial effects Spiel­berg built a papi­er-mâché moun­tain and used the mul­ti­ple expo­sure fea­ture on his new cam­era to super­im­pose the glow­ing “space­ships” over scenes. McBride offers his assess­ment of the film:

Fire­light intro­duces the themes of super­nat­ur­al intrud­ers, sub­ur­ban alien­ation and escape, bro­ken fam­i­lies and abduct­ed chil­dren, sci­en­tif­ic adven­ture, and spir­i­tu­al renew­al that would become famil­iar in Spiel­berg’s mature work. The young cou­ple on the run in Fire­light also point toward the Richard Drey­fuss and Melin­da Dil­lon char­ac­ters in Close Encoun­ters, and the ear­li­er film’s UFO expert, Howard Richards, is an old­er, more fal­li­ble, less bliss­ful ver­sion of François Truf­faut’s Lacombe. But unlike Close Encoun­ters, which rad­i­cal­ly depart­ed from sci-fi movie tra­di­tion to depict its extrater­res­tri­als as benign rather than men­ac­ing, Fire­light derives in large part from the mood of anx­i­ety and para­noia that char­ac­ter­ized the genre in the 1950s, when Spiel­berg became hooked on sci-fi.

Spiel­berg pre­miered Fire­light to a packed house of fam­i­ly, friends and curi­ous local res­i­dents at the Phoenix Lit­tle The­atre on March 24, 1964, when he was 17 years old. The film made a prof­it of one dol­lar. “I count­ed the receipts that night,” Spiel­berg recalled, “and we charged a dol­lar a tick­et. Five hun­dred peo­ple came to the movie and I think some­body prob­a­bly paid two dol­lars, because we made one dol­lar prof­it that night, and that was it.”

The day after the screen­ing, Spiel­berg moved to Cal­i­for­nia with his father, who was split­ting up with his moth­er. A few years lat­er, when he was show­ing his film work around Hol­ly­wood, Spiel­berg left two of the orig­i­nal reels from Fire­light with a pro­duc­er as an exam­ple of his work. Alas, just a week or so lat­er the pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny went out of busi­ness and the pro­duc­er dis­ap­peared with Spiel­berg’s reels. All that remains of Fire­light are frag­ments, includ­ing the one above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ter­ry Gilliam: The Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick (Great Film­mak­er) and Spiel­berg (Less So)

Steven Spiel­berg on the Genius of Stan­ley Kubrick

Wearable Sculpture by Nick Cave (But No, Not That Nick Cave) Invade Microsoft

Don’t get too excit­ed, Bad Seeds fans — although, come to think of it, you might rea­son­ably get excit­ed any­way at these “sound­suits,” craft­ed by the oth­er Nick Cave, a dancer and visu­al artist. The brief video above, from Cave’s show Meet Me at the End of the Earth last year at the Seat­tle Art Muse­um, gives you an idea of what these things look like and how they move. Using a near-bewil­der­ing vari­ety of strik­ing tex­tures and uncon­ven­tion­al com­po­nents — “sand­wich bags, spin­ning tops and cro­cheted doilies” get spe­cif­ic men­tions — Cave crafts sev­er­al lay­ers of visu­al inter­est inside which to place a par­tic­u­lar­ly adven­tur­ous mod­ern dancer. Seat­tle Art Muse­um cura­tor Pam McClusky describes the sound­suits as “a cross between Car­ni­val, Lib­er­ace, Shon­i­bare, Cock­ney, haute cou­ture and African cer­e­mo­ny.” To say the least.

View­ing Cave’s sound­suits in a muse­um set­ting is one thing; wit­ness­ing them in action out in the wild is quite anoth­er. As long as we’re talk­ing about the greater Puget Sound area, play the video just above and watch a squadron of sound­suit-clad dancers invade Microsoft. One can hard­ly imag­ine a stark­er clash than Cave’s aes­thet­ic of patch­work flam­boy­ance and the Microsoft cam­pus, that locus clas­si­cus of the slick­ly beige Pacif­ic North­west high-tech nineties. But for an even more fas­ci­nat­ing artis­tic con­trast, I say we put an end to the name-relat­ed con­fu­sion and unite this Nick Cave in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the brood­ing Aus­tralian singer-song­writer. Until that comes togeth­er, fans of one Cave can vis­it the oth­er’s Sound­suit Shop to gath­er the mate­ri­als for their own mash-up.

via Metafil­ter

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

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