The City in Cinema Mini-Documentaries Reveal the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, Her, Drive, Repo Man, and More

What do movies like Blade Run­ner, Her, Dri­ve, and Repo Man, sep­a­rat­ed by the years and even more so by their sen­si­bil­i­ties, have in com­mon? All come from auteur direc­tors, all have accu­mu­lat­ed con­sid­er­able fan fol­low­ings, and all have styles all their own. But to my mind, one impor­tant qual­i­ty unites them more than any oth­er: all take place in Los Ange­les. What’s more, all take place in a dis­tinc­tive vision of Los Ange­les, that most pho­tographed but least under­stood city in the world. Every fea­ture film that uses Los Ange­les as some­thing more than a back­drop, whether it tries to rep­re­sent or reimag­ine it, also acts as an acci­den­tal doc­u­men­tary of the city: of its built envi­ron­ment, of its peo­ple, of the ever-shift­ing ideas we have of it.

On that premise, I cre­at­ed Los Ange­les, the City in Cin­e­ma, a series of video essays meant to exam­ine the vari­ety of Los Ange­le­ses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, main­stream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appeal­ing and unap­peal­ing — just like the con­tra­dic­to­ry char­ac­ter­is­tics of the city itself. At the top of the post, you can watch my episode on Blade Run­ner, Rid­ley Scot­t’s 1982 pro­to-cyber­punk future noir that remains, to this day, the pop­u­lar idea of the Los Ange­les of the future (as evi­denced by the pejo­ra­tive cur­ren­cy of the term “Blade Run­ner-iza­tion” among NIM­BYs): denser, dark­er, thor­ough­ly Asian­ized, and tak­en back to a third-world indus­tri­al phase it nev­er real­ly passed through in the first place.

But more recent­ly, a com­pet­ing vision of Los Ange­les’ future emerged in the form of Her, Spike Jonze’s tale of a mus­ta­chioed, ukulele-play­ing mil­que­toast who falls in love with a sen­tient com­put­er oper­at­ing sys­tem. He does so in the high-ris­es and high-speed trains of, by com­par­i­son to Blade Run­ner, a glossier, gen­tler, future Los Ange­les not only free of killer android repli­cants but — even more sur­pris­ing­ly to many an Ange­leno — free of cars. My video essay on Her com­pares and con­trasts Scott and Jonze’s ideas of what lies ahead for the city: would you rather live in the for­mer’s Los Ange­les, hybridized with a grit­ti­er, less order­ly Tokyo, or the lat­ter’s, hybridized with a san­i­tized Shang­hai?

Nico­las Wind­ing Refn’s Dri­ve gave us a new take on the old tra­di­tion of Euro­pean film­mak­ers exam­in­ing Los Ange­les with a kind of per­plexed fas­ci­na­tion, as pre­vi­ous­ly exem­pli­fied by John Boor­man’s Point Blank, Jacques Der­ay’s  The Out­side Man, and Jacques Demy’s Mod­el ShopEng­lish cult direc­tor Alex Cox added his own rough-edged vol­ume to that shelf with 1984’s sci-fi punk favorite Repo Man. In 2000, Cox’s coun­try­man Mike Fig­gis pulled off his real-time, four-screen exper­i­ment Time­code on the Sun­set Strip, not far from the strip club where John Cas­savetes set much of The Killing of a Chi­nese Book­ie more than twen­ty years ear­li­er. You can find video essays on these movies and oth­ers on the list of those I’ve pro­duced so far:

New videos, includ­ing episodes on this year’s sol­id Los Ange­les pic­tures, Night­crawler and the Thomas Pyn­chon adap­ta­tion Inher­ent Vice, will appear reg­u­lar­ly. If you live any­where near Port­land, Ore­gon, note that I’ll give a talk and screen­ing there enti­tled “Los Ange­les and Port­land: The Cities in Cin­e­ma” at the Hol­ly­wood The­atre, fea­tur­ing nev­er-before-seen video essays on both Los Ange­les and Port­land films, on Jan­u­ary 25, 2015. Keep an eye on their site for details.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

Chaos Cin­e­ma: A Break­down of How 21st-Cen­tu­ry Action Films Became Inco­her­ent

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: Rush­moreThe Roy­al Tenen­baums & More

A Drone’s Eye View of Los Ange­les, New York, Lon­don, Bangkok & Mex­i­co City

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Werner Herzog Plays Himself in Cartoon That Satirizes Obama’s 2008 Election & Race in America

The Unit­ed States has two impor­tant cul­tur­al means of self-examination—the work of for­eign observers and of domes­tic satirists. In the for­mer cat­e­go­ry, we have the long­stand­ing exam­ple of polit­i­cal the­o­rist Alex­is de Toc­queville and the much bleak­er, con­tem­po­rary vision of Wern­er Her­zog. As for the lat­ter, we have ven­er­a­ble lit­er­ary heroes like Mark Twain and more pop­ulist, con­tem­po­rary voic­es like Chris Rock, Stephen Col­bert, and car­toon­ist Aaron McGrud­er, cre­ator of the com­ic strip-turned-ani­mat­ed series The Boon­docks. In 2010, the Sea­son 3 debut episode of the bit­ing Adult Swim show brought these two tra­di­tions togeth­er, as McGrud­er took on the elec­tion of America’s first black pres­i­dent by imag­in­ing a Ger­man documentarian—Herzog—who exam­ines the nation’s response through inter­views with the show’s char­ac­ters.

The clip above will give you an idea of the gen­er­al tone. Her­zog plays an exag­ger­at­ed ver­sion of him­self, com­plete with stereo­typ­i­cal­ly Ger­man expres­sions of exis­ten­tial despair. The Free­man fam­i­ly, the show’s cen­ter, rep­re­sents an also-exag­ger­at­ed range of respons­es from black Amer­i­cans to Obama’s elec­tion. Huey, the young black rad­i­cal (“retired”), express­es a deep, cyn­i­cal skep­ti­cism. His broth­er Riley has a total dis­re­gard for the social and polit­i­cal import of the elec­tion, con­fi­dent instead that a black pres­i­dent will give him a license to do what he wants. And the broth­ers’ grand­fa­ther Robert, a Civ­il Rights vet­er­an, dis­plays an unqual­i­fied opti­mism and nos­tal­gic pride for his activist days. The full episode also sat­i­rizes a cer­tain ill-informed rap­per with a char­ac­ter called Thug­nif­i­cent and cer­tain super­fi­cial white pro­gres­sives (“Oba­ma Guy” and “Oba­ma Girl”). And, of course, bel­liger­ent reac­tionary Uncle Ruckus gets his say.

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By the time of its air­ing, the episode was already near­ly two years late in its com­ment on the events, mak­ing it feel, wrote the A.V. Club’s Todd Van­Der­W­erff, “like an instant peri­od piece.” Per­haps now it seems down­right pale­olith­ic in the timescale of polit­i­cal com­men­tary. Mak­ing this kind of cul­tur­al cri­tique seem rel­e­vant out­side of the imme­di­ate moment is a chal­lenge writ­ers on The Dai­ly Show con­front, well, dai­ly. But here, the con­tent holds up, not only because Her­zog has a way of mak­ing every­thing time­less, but also because “the episode takes us back to… the way [Barack Oba­ma] man­aged to make almost every sin­gle one of his sup­port­ers believe that he was going to do what THEY most want­ed him to do and not what he had actu­al­ly promised to do.” In many ways, the coun­try is still recov­er­ing from a bru­tal hang­over after this post-2008 elec­tion high.

Whether the pres­i­dent is ful­ly to blame for encour­ag­ing false hopes—and fears—is high­ly debat­able. In any case, the char­ac­ters’ out­sized expec­ta­tions or expres­sions of apa­thy or vir­u­lent out­rage mir­ror many of the respons­es of both lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives. But it seems that both the left and right shared at least one hope: that the elec­tion of the country’s first black pres­i­dent would put an end to its old­est, deep­est, most per­sis­tent ill. “At the end of the episode,” writes Van­Der­W­erff, “most of the char­ac­ters seem dis­ap­point­ed that Oba­ma didn’t com­plete­ly rewrite the space-time con­tin­u­um, that Amer­i­ca still strug­gles with race.” An under­state­ment per­haps even in 2010, the phrase “still strug­gles with race” is even more so today, for rea­sons both obvi­ous and less so.

That the Unit­ed States—despite the con­tin­ued efforts of a great many activists and some few legislators—is still riv­en with deep racial divides, and that these rep­re­sent the per­sis­tence of a his­tor­i­cal lega­cy, should not be mat­ters in much dis­pute. A mul­ti­tude of aca­d­e­m­ic analy­ses on “stag­ger­ing dis­par­i­ties” in polic­ing prac­tices, imbal­ances in the jus­tice sys­tem, and pro­found wealth inequal­i­ty and dis­crim­i­na­tion in hous­ing and employ­ment bear out the claim. How we talk about these issues, who is autho­rized to do so, and what can be done about it, on the oth­er hand, are mat­ters of con­sid­er­able, seem­ing­ly unend­ing debate. It has always seemed par­tic­u­lar­ly iron­ic that many comedians—from Richard Pry­or to Chris Rock and Louis CK—have achieved much of their main­stream suc­cess by telling hard truths about the state of race in Amer­i­ca, truths few peo­ple seem to want to hear. When those mes­sages come from non-enter­tain­ers, for exam­ple, the back­lash can be swift and vicious.

But this is noth­ing new. From the can­dor of Shakespeare’s jesters to Swift’s poi­son pen to, yes, The Boon­docks, humor and satire have served as vehi­cles for what we would oth­er­wise sup­press or repress. (No need to be a Freudi­an to acknowl­edge the point). In this episode, the satir­i­cal tar­get isn’t only Obama’s sup­port­ers and detrac­tors at home—though they get their due. Herzog’s edi­to­r­i­al intru­sions also sat­i­rize some woe­ful­ly naïve, ahis­tor­i­cal expec­ta­tions of a glob­al, or at least Euro­pean, com­mu­ni­ty. As the Her­zog char­ac­ter puts it in his sec­ond ques­tion to Huey, “now that it looks like Oba­ma is going to win, as a black African Amer­i­can Negro, are you mere­ly excit­ed, or are you extreme­ly excit­ed that every­thing is going to change for­ev­er.” Van­Der­W­erff reads Huey’s apa­thet­ic response to such grandios­i­ty as an expres­sion of McGruder’s view that ide­al­ism is “both an unsus­tain­able tragedy and the only ratio­nal response to a world that’s hope­less­ly screwed.” But in the face of unbri­dled ide­al­ism, Huey’s hard-bit­ten real­ism is ton­ic: “Hope,” he says, “is irra­tional.” So also, per­haps, is despair.

Watch the full episode here and read a com­plete sum­ma­ry here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wern­er Herzog’s Eye-Open­ing New Film Reveals the Dan­gers of Tex­ting While Dri­ving

Steven Spielberg’s Oba­ma, Star­ring Daniel Day Lewis as the Pres­i­dent

David Rem­nick on Oba­ma

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

Watch a Music Video & Hear Tracks From Maya Angelou’s Posthumous Hip-Hop Album, Caged Bird Songs

Before she died ear­li­er this year, Maya Angelou was work­ing on Caged Bird Songs, a musi­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion that fea­tures Angelou recit­ing her poems and pro­duc­ers Shawn Rivera and Rocc­Starr blend­ing them with mod­ern day hip-hop. After her pass­ing, Angelou’s estate con­tin­ued nudg­ing the project along. Even­tu­al­ly the 13-song album was released in Novem­ber, and now comes a music video. The video (above) cen­ters around “Harlem Hop­scotch,” a poem Angelou wrote in 1969. The text of the poem is avail­able over at the Poet­ry Foun­da­tion. You can hear more tracks from the album below, or pur­chase the com­plete album here:

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Maya Angelou Tells Studs Terkel How She Learned to Count Cards & Hus­tle in a New Ani­mat­ed Video

Maya Angelou Reads “Still I Rise” and “On the Pulse of the Morn­ing”

Watch Langston Hugh­es Read Poet­ry from His First Col­lec­tion, The Weary Blues (1958)

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Kurt Vonnegut Reveals “Why My Dog Is Not a Humanist” in His Humanist of the Year Award Speech (1992)

Note: Von­negut starts talk­ing at around the 3:40 mark.

This is human­ism, as explained by bio­chemist, sci­ence fic­tion author and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Human­ist Asso­ci­a­tion Isaac Asi­mov:

Human­ists believe that human beings pro­duced the pro­gres­sive advance of human soci­ety and also the ills that plague it. They believe that if the ills are to be alle­vi­at­ed, it is human­i­ty that will have to do the job. They dis­be­lieve in the influ­ence of the super­nat­ur­al on either the good or the bad of soci­ety, on either its ills or the alle­vi­a­tion of those ills.

There’s a wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed Kurt Von­negut quote that puts things even more suc­cinct­ly:

I am a human­ist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decent­ly with­out any expec­ta­tion of rewards or pun­ish­ment after I’m dead.

It’s a def­i­n­i­tion Von­negut, Asimov’s hon­orary suc­ces­sor as AHA pres­i­dent, a scientist’s son, and, famous­ly, a sur­vivor of the fire­bomb­ing of Dres­den, embod­ied, though sure­ly not the only one he coined.

In his 1992 accep­tance speech for the association’s Human­ist of the Year award, above, he recalls how a stu­dent pressed him for a def­i­n­i­tion. He chose to fob the kid off on bet­ter paid col­leagues at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa, but pri­vate­ly came up with anoth­er take:

…a human­ist, per­haps, was some­body who was crazy about human beings, who, like Will Rogers, had nev­er met one he did­n’t like. That cer­tain­ly did not describe me. It did describe my dog, though.

As the title of Vonnegut’s speech implies (“Why My Dog is Not a Human­ist”), Sandy, his undis­crim­i­nat­ing Hun­gar­i­an sheep­dog, ulti­mate­ly fell short of sat­is­fy­ing the cri­te­ria that would have labelled him a human­ist. He lacked the capac­i­ty for ratio­nal thought of the high­est order, and more­over, he regard­ed all humans — not just Von­negut — as gods.

Ergo, your dog is prob­a­bly not a human­ist either.

Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, Von­negut ranged far and wide in his con­sid­er­a­tion of the mat­ter, touch­ing on a num­ber of top­ics that remain ger­mane, some 20 years after his remarks were made: race, exces­sive force, the treat­ment of prisoners…and Bill Cos­by.

For intro­duc­tion to human­ism, please see:  Stephen Fry Explains Human­ism in 4 Ani­mat­ed Videos: Hap­pi­ness, Truth and the Mean­ing of Life & Death

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Von­negut Explains “How to Write With Style”

Kurt Von­negut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Dis­gust with Civ­i­liza­tion

Kurt Von­negut Dia­grams the Shape of All Sto­ries in a Master’s The­sis Reject­ed by U. Chica­go

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

David Lynch and Moby Talk Blues Guitar, Meditation, Quinoa & the Joy of Los Angeles

Elec­tron­ic musi­cian Moby and mak­er of dis­turb­ing films David Lynch might, at first, seem an odd con­ver­sa­tion­al pair. What could the shaven-head­ed Gen­er­a­tion Xer from New York who made the album Play have in com­mon with the mess­i­ly yet elab­o­rate­ly coiffed Baby Boomer from Mon­tana who made the movie Blue Vel­vet? But as the record­ed event from this year’s Inter­na­tion­al Music Sum­mit demon­strates, they’ve got a lot to talk about. Enthu­si­asts of both cre­ators may know that they actu­al­ly do have pro­fes­sion­al con­nec­tions: Lynch direct­ed the music video for Moby’s “Shot in the Back of the Head,” Moby has made his music free to film­mak­ers, and Lynch has even record­ed an album of his own, com­plete with trou­bling video.

They’ve even become friends, ones close enough that Lynch just calls Moby “Mo,” and Moby once gave Lynch a slide gui­tar as a present. They’ve got such a rap­port, in fact, that Moby can ask Lynch, lead­ing­ly and admit­ted­ly so, if Lynch con­sid­ers that slide gui­tar the best present he ever received. He asks it, in fact, right up there onstage at the IMS, along with such oth­er ques­tions, pre-writ­ten on a sheet, as “Have you ever grown mag­gots?,” “Is Inland Empire my favorite movie of the last ten years?,” “What would your favorite birth­day meal be, keep­ing in mind this is a con­fer­ence about elec­tron­ic music?,” “Do we fear death?,” and “Would you like to grow quinoa in your back­yard?”

Though both Moby and Lynch love their quinoa, they make even more of a con­nec­tion over their city of res­i­dence, Los Ange­les. The for­mer points out that three of the lat­ter’s pic­tures — Lost High­way, Mul­hol­land Dri­ve, and Inland Empire — star not any par­tic­u­lar human actor, but Los Ange­les itself. “Any­thing goes,” Lynch explains about the city that inspires him (some­times, no doubt, dur­ing the med­i­ta­tion ses­sions he also dis­cuss­es here) with its light and its jas­mine-scent­ed air. “You’re free to think and do things” — two pur­suits that both of these guys have engaged in, unceas­ing­ly and fruit­ful­ly, over their entire careers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch’s Music Videos: Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Chris Isaak & More

David Lynch Explains Where His Ideas Come From

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Enhances Our Cre­ativ­i­ty

David Lynch Teach­es You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Weird, Sur­re­al­ist Video

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How the “Paul McCartney is Dead” Hoax Started at an American College Newspaper and Went Viral (1969)

Next time you see the still-youth­ful and musi­cal­ly pro­lif­ic Paul McCart­ney, take a good hard look and ask your­self, “is it real­ly him?” Can you be sure? Because maybe, just maybe, the con­spir­a­cy the­o­rists are right—maybe Paul did die in a car acci­dent in 1966 and was replaced by a dou­ble who looks, sounds, acts, and writes almost exact­ly like him. Almost. It’s pos­si­ble. Entire­ly implau­si­ble, whol­ly improb­a­ble, but with­in the realm of phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty.

In fact, the rumor of Paul’s death and replace­ment by some kind of pod per­son imposter cropped up not once, but twice dur­ing the six­ties. First, in Jan­u­ary, 1967, imme­di­ate­ly after an acci­dent involv­ing McCartney’s Mini Coop­er that month. The car, dri­ven by Moroc­can stu­dent Moham­mad Had­jij, crashed on the M1 after leav­ing McCartney’s house en route to Kei­th Richard’s Sus­sex Man­sion. Had­jij was hos­pi­tal­ized, but not killed, and Paul, rid­ing in Mick Jagger’s car, arrived at the des­ti­na­tion safe­ly.

The fol­low­ing month, the Bea­t­les Book Month­ly mag­a­zine quashed rumors that Paul had been dri­ving the Mini and had died, writ­ing, “there was absolute­ly no truth in it at all, as the Bea­t­les’ Press Offi­cer found out when he tele­phoned Paul’s St. John’s Wood home and was answered by Paul him­self who had been at home all day with his black Mini Coop­er Safe­ly locked up in the garage.” “The mag­a­zine,” writes the Bea­t­les Bible, “down­played the inci­dent, and claimed the car was in McCartney’s pos­ses­sion.”

In 1969, rumors of Paul’s death and a con­spir­a­cy to cov­er it up began cir­cu­lat­ing again, this time with an impres­sive appa­ra­tus that includ­ed pub­li­ca­tions in col­lege and local news­pa­pers, dis­cus­sions on sev­er­al radio shows, a uni­ver­si­ty research team, and enough eso­teric clues to keep high­ly sus­pi­cious, stoned, and/or para­noid, minds guess­ing for decades after­ward. The form­less gos­sip first offi­cial­ly took shape in print in the arti­cle “Is Bea­t­le Paul McCart­ney Dead?” in Iowa’s Drake Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent news­pa­per, the Times-Del­ph­ic. Cat­a­logu­ing “an amaz­ing series of pho­tos and lyrics on the group’s albums” that point­ed to “a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty that McCart­ney may indeed be insane, freaked out, even dead,” the piece dives head­first into the kind of bizarre analy­sis of dis­parate sym­bols and ten­u­ous coin­ci­dences wor­thy of the most dogged of today’s con­spir­a­cy-mon­gers.



Invoked are ephemera like “a mys­te­ri­ous hand” raised over Paul’s head on the Sgt. Pepper’s cover—“an ancient death sym­bol of either the Greeks or the Amer­i­can Indians”—and Paul’s bass, lying “on the grave at the group’s feet.” The lyric “blew his mind out in a car” from “A Day in the Life” comes up, and more pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence from the album’s back cov­er and cen­ter­fold pho­to. Evi­dence is pro­duced from Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour and The White Album. Of the lat­ter, you’ve sure­ly heard, or heard of, the voice seem­ing to intone, “Turn me on, dead man,” and “Cher­ish the dead,” when “Rev­o­lu­tion No. 9” is played back­wards. Only a col­lege dorm room could have nur­tured such a dis­cov­ery.

The arti­cle reads like a parody—similar to the sub­ver­sive, half-seri­ous satir­i­cal weird­ness com­mon to the mid-six­ties hip­pie scene. But whether or not its author, Tim Harp­er, meant to pull off a hoax, the Paul is dead meme went viral when it hit the air­waves the fol­low­ing month. First, a caller to Detroit radio sta­tion WKNR trans­mit­ted the the­o­ry to DJ Russ Gibb. Their hour-long con­ver­sa­tion lead to a review of Abbey Road in The Michi­gan Dai­ly titled “McCart­ney Dead; New Evi­dence Brought to Light.” With tongue in cheek, writer Fred LaBour called the death and replace­ment of Paul “the great­est hoax of our time and the sub­se­quent found­ing of a new reli­gion based upon Paul as Mes­si­ah.” In the mode of para­noid con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry so com­mon to the time—a genre mas­tered by Thomas Pyn­chon as a lit­er­ary art—LaBour invent­ed even more clues, inad­ver­tent­ly feed­ing a pub­lic hun­gry for this kind of thing. “Although clear­ly intend­ed as a joke,” writes the Bea­t­les Bible, “it had an impact far wider than the writer and his edi­tor expect­ed.”

Part of the after­math came in two more radio shows that Octo­ber of 1969. First, in two parts at the top, New York City DJ Roby Yonge makes the case for McCartney’s death on radio sta­tion WABC-AM. Recy­cling many of the “clues” from the pre­vi­ous sources, he also con­tends that a research team of 30 stu­dents at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty has been put on the case. Yonge plain­ly states that some of the clues only emerge “if you real­ly get real­ly, real­ly high… on some, you know, like, mind-bend­ing drug,” but this pro­vi­so doesn’t seem to under­mine his con­fi­dence in the shaky web of con­nec­tions.

Was Yonge’s broad­cast just an atten­tion grab­bing act? Maybe. The next Paul is Dead radio show, just above, is most cer­tain­ly an Orson Welles-like pub­lic­i­ty stunt. Broad­cast on Hal­loween night, 1969, on Buf­fa­lo, NY’s WKBW, the show employs sev­er­al of the station’s DJs, who con­struct a detailed and dra­mat­ic nar­ra­tive of Paul’s death. The broad­cast indulges the same album-cov­er and lyric div­ina­tion of the ear­li­er Paul is Dead media, but by this time, it’s grown pret­ty hoary. But for a small con­tin­gent of die-hards, the rumor was most­ly put to rest just a few days lat­er when Life mag­a­zine pub­lished a cov­er pho­to­graph of Paul—who had been out of the pub­lic eye after the Bea­t­les’ breakup—with his wife Lin­da and their kids. Para­phras­ing Mark Twain, McCart­ney famous­ly remarked in the inter­view inside, “Rumors of my death have been great­ly exag­ger­at­ed,” and added, “If I was dead, I’m sure I’d be the last to know.”

In lat­er inter­views, the Bea­t­les denied hav­ing any­thing to do with the hoax. Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970 that the idea of them inten­tion­al­ly plant­i­ng obscure clues in their albums “was bull­shit, the whole thing was made up.” The hoax did make for some inter­est­ing publicity—even fea­tur­ing in the sto­ry­line of a Bat­man comics issue—but the band most­ly found it baf­fling and annoy­ing. Cer­tain fans, how­ev­er, refused to let it die, and there are those who still swear that Paul’s imposter, alleged­ly named Bil­ly Shears and some­times called “Faul,” still walks the earth. Paul is Dead web­sites pro­lif­er­ate on the internet—some more, some less con­vinc­ing; all of them out­landish, and all offer­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing descent into the seem­ing­ly bot­tom­less rab­bit hole of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry. If that’s your kind of trip, you can eas­i­ly get lost—as did pop cul­ture briefly in 1969—in end­less “Paul is Dead” spec­u­la­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Paul McCartney’s Con­cep­tu­al Draw­ings For the Abbey Road Cov­er and Mag­i­cal Mys­tery Tour Film

Chaos & Cre­ation at Abbey Road: Paul McCart­ney Revis­its The Bea­t­les’ Fabled Record­ing Stu­dio

Hear Iso­lat­ed Tracks From Five Great Rock Bassists: McCart­ney, Sting, Dea­con, Jones & Lee

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

Fill Your New Kindle, iPad, iPhone, eReader with Free eBooks, Movies, Audio Books, Online Courses & More


San­ta left a new Kin­dleiPad, Kin­dle Fire or oth­er media play­er under your tree. He did his job. Now we’ll do ours. We’ll tell you how to fill those devices with free intel­li­gent media — great books, movies, cours­es, and all of the rest. And if you did­n’t get a new gad­get, fear not. You can access all of these mate­ri­als on the good old fash­ioned com­put­er. Here we go:

Free eBooks: You have always want­ed to read the great works. And now is your chance. When you dive into our Free eBooks col­lec­tion you will find 700 great works by some clas­sic writ­ers (Dick­ens, Dos­to­evsky, Shake­speare and Tol­stoy) and con­tem­po­rary writ­ers (F. Scott Fitzger­ald, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asi­mov, and Kurt Von­negut). The col­lec­tion also gives you access to the 51-vol­ume Har­vard Clas­sics.

If you’re an iPad/iPhone user, the down­load process is super easy. Just click the “iPad/iPhone” links and you’re good to go. Kin­dle and Nook users will gen­er­al­ly want to click the “Kin­dle + Oth­er For­mats links” to down­load ebook files, but we’d sug­gest watch­ing these instruc­tion­al videos (Kin­dle – Nook) before­hand.

Free Audio Books: What bet­ter way to spend your free time than lis­ten­ing to some of the great­est books ever writ­ten? This page con­tains a vast num­ber of free audio books — 630 works in total — includ­ing texts by Arthur Conan Doyle, James Joyce, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, George Orwell and more recent writ­ers — Ita­lo Calvi­no, Vladimir Nabokov, Ray­mond Carv­er, etc. You can down­load these clas­sic books straight to your gad­gets, then lis­ten as you go.

[Note: If you’re look­ing for a con­tem­po­rary book, you can down­load one free audio book from Find details on Audi­ble’s no-strings-attached deal here.]

Free Online Cours­es: This list brings togeth­er over 1100 free online cours­es from lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties, includ­ing Stan­ford, Yale, MIT, UC Berke­ley, Oxford and beyond.

These full-fledged cours­es range across all dis­ci­plines — his­to­ryphysicsphi­los­o­phypsy­chol­o­gy, busi­ness, and beyond. Most all of these cours­es are avail­able in audio, and rough­ly 75% are avail­able in video. You can’t receive cred­its or cer­tifi­cates for these cours­es (click here for cours­es that do offer cer­tifi­cates). But the amount of per­son­al enrich­ment you will derive is immea­sur­able.

Free Movies: With a click of a mouse, or a tap of your touch screen, you will have access to 700 great movies. The col­lec­tion hosts many clas­sics, west­erns, indies, doc­u­men­taries, silent films and film noir favorites. It fea­tures work by some of our great direc­tors (Alfred Hitch­cock, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stan­ley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard and David Lynch) and per­for­mances by cin­e­ma leg­ends: John Wayne, Jack Nichol­son, Audrey Hep­burn, Char­lie Chap­lin, and beyond. On this one page, you will find thou­sands of hours of cin­e­ma bliss.

Free Lan­guage Lessons: Per­haps learn­ing a new lan­guage is high on your list of New Year’s res­o­lu­tions. Well, here is a great way to do it. Take your pick of 46 lan­guages, includ­ing Span­ish, French, Ital­ian, Man­darin, Eng­lish, Russ­ian, Dutch, even Finnish, Yid­dish and Esperan­to. These lessons are all free and ready to down­load.

Free Text­books: And one last item for the life­long learn­ers among you. We have scoured the web and pulled togeth­er a list of 200 Free Text­books. It’s a great resource par­tic­u­lar­ly if you’re look­ing to learn math, com­put­er sci­ence or physics on your own. There might be a dia­mond in the rough here for you.

Thank San­ta, maybe thank us, and enjoy that new device.…

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.

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Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Identify It’s A Wonderful Life as Communist Propaganda

If you want­ed to know what life was real­ly like in the Cold War Sovi­et Union, you might take the word of an émi­gré Russ­ian writer. You might even take the word of Ayn Rand, as the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee (HUAC) did dur­ing the Red Scare, though Rand had not lived in her native coun­try since 1926. Nonethe­less, as you can see above, she tes­ti­fied with con­fi­dence about the dai­ly lives of post-war Sovi­et cit­i­zens. Rand also tes­ti­fied, with equal con­fi­dence, about the nefar­i­ous influ­ence of Com­mu­nist writ­ers and direc­tors in her adopt­ed home of Hol­ly­wood, where she had more recent expe­ri­ence work­ing in the film indus­try.

The 1947 HUAC hear­ings, writes the blog Aphe­lis, led to “the sys­tem­at­ic black­list­ing of Hol­ly­wood artists.” Among the wit­ness­es deemed “friend­ly” to cap­i­tal­ism were Gary Coop­er, Walt Dis­ney, and Ayn Rand. Pri­or to her tes­ti­mo­ny, the FBI had con­sult­ed Rand for an enor­mous, 13,533-page report enti­tled “Com­mu­nist Infil­tra­tion of the Motion Pic­ture Indus­try” (find it online here), which quot­ed from a pam­phlet pub­lished by her group:

The pur­pose of the Com­mu­nists in Hol­ly­wood is not the pro­duc­tion of polit­i­cal movies open­ly advo­cat­ing Com­mu­nism. Their pur­pose is to cor­rupt non-polit­i­cal movies — by intro­duc­ing small, casu­al bits of pro­pa­gan­da into inno­cent sto­ries and to make peo­ple absorb the basic prin­ci­ples of Col­lec­tivism by indi­rec­tion and impli­ca­tion. Few peo­ple would take Com­mu­nism straight, but a con­stant stream of hints, lines, touch­es and sug­ges­tions bat­ter­ing the pub­lic from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if con­tin­ued long enough. The rock that they are try­ing to split is Amer­i­can­ism.

Rand and her asso­ciates helped design a “film regime” that dis­sect­ed oth­er post-war movies like William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and George Cukor’s Keep­er of the Flame. These McCarthy-era film crit­ics sought to root out “ide­o­log­i­cal ter­mites” in the indus­try; they were espe­cial­ly dis­trust­ful of movies that ele­vat­ed what Rand called, with con­tempt, “the lit­tle man.” One of the films iden­ti­fied as par­tic­u­lar­ly per­ni­cious to the “rock” of Amer­i­can­ism was Frank Capra’s clas­sic It’s a Won­der­ful Life, a movie that today seems built on bedrock U.S. nation­al­ist values—commitment to fam­i­ly, redemp­tion through faith, con­tent­ment with mod­est small-town liv­ing….

Lis­ten­ing to Capra’s moti­va­tion for the film—as quot­ed in The Los Ange­les Times—makes it hard to believe he had any­thing like pro­mot­ing a worker’s par­adise in mind: “There are just two things that are impor­tant,” he said, “One is to strength­en the individual’s belief in him­self, and the oth­er, even more impor­tant right now, is to com­bat a mod­ern trend toward athe­ism.”

But in the FBI’s analysis—and pos­si­bly Rand’s, though it’s not clear how much, if any, of the report she authored directly—the tale of George Bai­ley man­i­fest­ed sev­er­al sub­ver­sive ten­den­cies. Fla­vor­wire sums up the charges suc­cinct­ly: “Writ­ten by Com­mu­nist sym­pa­thiz­ers,” “Attempt­ing to insti­gate class war­fare,” and “Demo­niz­ing bankers.”

Wonderful Life FBI File

We live in odd times, such that this rhetoric—which seemed so quaint just a cou­ple short decades or so ago—sounds jar­ring­ly con­tem­po­rary again as the pol­i­tics of the mid-20th cen­tu­ry reap­pear every­where. The charges against the seem­ing­ly innocu­ous Capra film hinged in part on the alleged Com­mu­nist ties of its prin­ci­ple screen­writ­ers, Fran­cis Goodrich and Albert Hack­ett. In their report, part of which you can see above, the FBI wrote that the screen writ­ers “prac­ti­cal­ly lived with known Com­mu­nists and were observed eat­ing lun­cheon dai­ly with such Com­mu­nists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robin­son.” Palling around, as it were.

In addi­tion to nam­ing the writ­ers’ acquain­tances and lunch bud­dies, the report quotes a redact­ed indi­vid­ual who “stat­ed that, in his opin­ion, this pic­ture delib­er­ate­ly maligned the upper class.” Anoth­er blacked-out source “stat­ed in sub­stance that the film rep­re­sent­ed a rather obvi­ous attempt to dis­cred­it bankers by cast­ing Lionel Bar­ry­more as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hat­ed man in the pic­ture. This, accord­ing to these sources, is a com­mon trick used by Com­mu­nists.” Final­ly, a third redact­ed source com­pares the plot of Capra’s movie with that of a Russ­ian film called The Let­ter, screened in the U.S. fif­teen years ear­li­er.

We can­not say for cer­tain, but it’s rea­son­able to assume that many of these hid­den FBI sources were asso­ciates of Rand. In any case, Rand—in vogue after the suc­cess of her nov­el The Foun­tain­head—appeared before HUAC and re-iter­at­ed many of the gen­er­al claims made in the report. Dur­ing her tes­ti­mo­ny, she focused on a 1944 film called Song of Rus­sia (you can hear her men­tion it briefly in the short clip at the top). She chiefly cri­tiques the film for its ide­al­ized por­trait of life in the Sovi­et Union, hence her enu­mer­a­tion of the many evils of actu­al life there.

Curi­ous­ly, many crit­i­cal treat­ments of It’s A Won­der­ful Life have said more or less the same thing of that work, call­ing the film “sen­ti­men­tal hog­wash,” for exam­ple, and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of “Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ist ide­ol­o­gy.” These read­ings seem per­sua­sive to me, but for those like Rand and her fol­low­ers, as well as J. Edgar Hoover and his para­noid under­lings, no film it seems—no mat­ter how cel­e­bra­to­ry of U.S. nation­al­ist mythology—could go far enough in glo­ri­fy­ing hero­ic cap­i­tal­ists, ignor­ing class con­flict, and min­i­miz­ing the strug­gles of “the lit­tle man.”

As Raw Sto­ry notes, tes­ti­mo­ny from oth­ers at the HUAC hear­ings brought “redemp­tion of an odd sort” for Capra’s movie, which “has been more than redeemed as it slow­ly became a sen­ti­men­tal and beloved hol­i­day peren­ni­al.” But even if It’s A Won­der­ful Life may now look like apple pie on cel­lu­loid, Fla­vor­wire points out that it’s still liable to raise sus­pi­cions among cer­tain aggres­sive pun­dits and cul­ture war­riors who push a “war on Christ­mas” nar­ra­tive and see social­ist sub­ver­sion even in acts of char­i­ty, like those dis­played so extrav­a­gant­ly in the film’s mushy end­ing (above).

It’s A Won­der­ful Life “is a hol­i­day movie that doesn’t men­tion Christ­mas until the 99-minute mark…. It takes a most­ly sec­u­lar read­ing of the hol­i­day as a time to take stock of your life, of the true bless­ings of fam­i­ly and friends. To those obsessed with the pre­ferred hol­i­day greet­ing or the col­or of Santa’s skin… this must sound like quite the Com­mu­nist sub­ver­sion indeed.”

Read much more about the HUAC inves­ti­ga­tion of Hol­ly­wood at Aphe­lis, who include links to a redact­ed ver­sion of the FBI “Com­mu­nist Infil­tra­tion” report and many oth­er fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the CIA Secret­ly Fund­ed Abstract Expres­sion­ism Dur­ing the Cold War

When Ayn Rand Col­lect­ed Social Secu­ri­ty & Medicare, After Years of Oppos­ing Ben­e­fit Pro­grams

Free Audio: Ayn Rand’s 1938 Dystopi­an Novel­la Anthem

The CIA’s Style Man­u­al & Writer’s Guide: 185 Pages of Tips for Writ­ing Like a Spy

Bertolt Brecht Tes­ti­fies Before the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee (1947)

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

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