When South Africa Banned Pink Floyd’s The Wall After Students Chanted “We Don’t Need No Education” to Protest the Apartheid School System (1980)

When Apartheid states get the blessing of powerful nations, lobbies, and corporations, they seem to feel empowered to do whatever they want. Such was the case, for a time, in South Africa, the country that coined the term when it put its version of racial segregation in place in 1948. The Apartheid system finally collapsed in 1991, decades after its counterpart in the U.S.—its undoing the accumulated weight of global condemnation, UN sanction, boycotts, and growing pressure from citizens in wealthy countries.

Of course, central to Apartheid’s demise were the outcries and actions of celebrity musicians. One such celebrity, Roger Waters, hasn’t stopped using his fame to lobby for change, a characteristic that can sometimes make him seem sanctimonious, but which also gave his most compelling Pink Floyd songs an urgency and bite that holds many decades later, even though the circumstances are much changed (or not). Lines like “we don’t need no thought control” have as much currency now as they did forty years ago.

No doubt, some of the most strident, personal, and powerful music Waters wrote for the band comes from The Wall. The rock opera to beat all rock operas, it turned out, provided a rallying cry for South African students, who chanted the notorious lyrics sung by a children’s chorus in “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” to protest racial inequalities in the school system. “We don’t need no education,” they sang in unison, and the song “held the top spot on the local charts for almost three months,” writes Nick Deriso at Ultimate Classic Rock, “a total of seven weeks longer than it did in America.”

Threatened by the phenomenon, the South African government banned the song, then the whole album, in 1980, imposing what Waters called “a cultural blockade… on certain songs.” Deriso explains that “South Africa’s Directorate of Publications held sweeping power in that era to ban books, movies, plays, posters, articles of clothing and, yes, music that it deemed ‘political or morally undesirable.’” The censors were not the only people to interpret the song as a threat. “People were really driven to frenzies of rage by it,” Waters remembers.

He has since played the song all over the world, including Berlin in 1990, and he spray painted its lyrics on the wall in the West Bank in 2006. “Twenty-five years later,” he writes at The GuardianThe Wall still resonated, this time with Palestinian children, who “used the song to protest Israel’s wall around the West Bank. They sang: ‘We don’t need no occupation! We don’t need no racist wall!” Waters compares the current boycott campaign to the refusal of major stars in the 80s to play South Africa’s Sun City resort “until apartheid fell and white people and black people enjoyed equal rights.”

As for the durability of “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” as a rallying cry for young activists, the best comment may come from an unlikely source—the Archbishop of Canterbury, who “went on record,” Waters writes, “saying that if it’s very popular with school kids, then it must in some way be expressing some feelings that they have themselves. If one doesn’t like it, or however one feels about it, one should take the opportunity of using it as a starting point for discussion—which was exactly how I felt about it.”

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

Mira Nair, Director of Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, Teaches an Online Course on Indie Filmmaking

FYI: Mira Nair, the director of Monsoon Wedding and The Namesakehas just released an online masterclass on independent filmmaking. In 17 video lessons, the Oscar-nominated director teaches students how to “make a big impact on a small budget, evoke the best from actors and non-actors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.” Nair’s course runs $90. But for $180, you can get an All-Access Pass to Masterclass’ catalogue of 45 courses, which includes courses by a number of other prominent filmmakers–Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ken Burns, Ron Howard, Werner Herzog and more. Not to mention actors and actresses like Samuel L. Jackson and Helen Mirren.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Blade Runner Getting Adapted into a New Anime Series, Produced by Cowboy Bebop Animator Shinichiro Watanabe

You may remember, in the run-up to the theatrical release of Blade Runner 2049 last October, that three short prequels appeared on the internet. Black Out 2022 (above), the most discussed installment of that miniature trilogy, stood out both aesthetically and culturally: directed by famed Japanese animator Shinichiro Watanabe, it expanded the reality of Blade Runner through a form that has drawn so much from that universe over the previous 35 years. “I just want an animated bladerunner series now,” says the current top-rated comment below that video, “this was magical.” And so, a year later, the answer to the prayer of that commenter (and clearly many other viewers besides) has appeared on the horizon: a Japanese animated series called Blade Runner — Black Lotus.

Overseen by Watanabe in the producer role and directed by Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki, the latter of whom worked in the art department on Black Out 2022, the new series will take place in 2032, between the events of the short and those of Blade Runner 2049.

“It will also include some ‘established characters’ from the Blade Runner universe, but that could mean all sorts of things,” writes The A.V. Club’s Sam Barsanti. “Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard would already be in hiding at that point after fathering the miracle replicant baby, so it could be about him going off on some cool guy adventures, but Deckard doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who goes on cool guy adventures. Ryan Gosling’s K probably wasn’t ‘born’ yet, since he’s a Nexus-9 replicant and those weren’t created until later in the 2030s, but we don’t know for sure.”

Perhaps supporting characters from both movies, “like Edward James Olmos’ Gaff (he might still be an LAPD cop) or Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace (he’s definitely hanging around, being an evil rich guy),” will show up. Whatever happens, the thirteen episodes of Blade Runner — Black Lotus will certainly have no small amount of both familiarity and surprise in store for fans of Blade Runner, as well as those of Watanabe’s other work. That goes especially for his philosophical space bounty-hunter series Cowboy Bebop, itself the source material for a new live-action television series on Adult Swim, who will air Blade Runner — Black Lotus at the same time as it’s streamed on anime site Crunchyroll.com. No release date has thus far been announced, but odds are the show’s debut will happen some time in 2019 — the perfect year for it, as everyone thrilling to the prospect of more Blade Runner already knows.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Andy Kaufman Creates Mayhem on Late Night TV: When Comedy Becomes Performance Art (1981)

While there are many styles of comedy, the contract between comedian and audience is a fairly standard one. The comedian endeavors to get laughs. The audience understands that sort of currency, and is eager to lavish it on deserving candidates.

The late Andy Kaufman wasn’t much interested in that sort of exchange.

His comedy was experimental to the point of performance art, and often felt experimental in a scientific sense as well. When he read long passages from The Great Gatsby to comedy club audiences, went after professional wrestlers twice his size, or insisted he’d found Jesus and gotten engaged to a Lawrence Welk Show singer, it was as if he was conducting a stress test. How much disorientation would an audience put up with?

He was a genuine weirdo. The genius kid who seems hellbent on winning the animosity of his classmates with his cryptic remarks and odd behavior.

Knowing young comedy fans who idolize prankster Sacha Baron Cohen’s shapeshifting stunts may find it hard to appreciate just how unsettling the off-kilter Kaufman could be.

Witness his 1981 guest spot on Fridays, a rival network’s short-lived attempt to duplicate Saturday Night Live’s success.

In the sketch above, Kaufman wanders pretty egregiously afield of expected conduct. In an era where guest stars appeared not infrequently bombed out of their gourds, it wasn’t entirely surprising that one might appear confused, or have trouble reading cue cards. But Kaufman seemed to be making a deliberate choice to scupper his career, or at the very least, the goodwill of Fridays’ cast and crew, by refusing to play along in a sketch about restaurant patrons sneaking off to the bathroom to get high.

“I can’t play stoned,” he breaks character to announce, mid-scene. Hmm. Seems like the kind of thing one might bring up during the table read. An a-hole would wait till dress rehearsal, when such a move would for sure inspire the enmity of cast and crew. Kaufman waited till the sketch was being taped in front of a live studio audience.

But then, Kaufman’s experiments needed an audience to succeed.

As with Sacha Baron Cohen’s elaborate ruses, it helped to limit the number of people who were in on the joke.

Actor Melanie Chartoff recalled how she and Kaufman’s other two scene partners, Mary Edith Burrell and Seinfeld’s Michael Richards, were tipped off fairly late in the process by producer/announcer Jack Burns, who was thrilled to snap up the live wire whose antics had permanently burned his bridges with Saturday Night Live:

Andy’s gonna bust out of the show tonight,” he gleamed. “He’s gonna mess up and break the fourth wall from the top of the monologue. It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna kick our ratings through the ROOF!

And so it did, abetted by benighted crew members who sprang to provide back up, when a furious-seeming Burns stormed the set as if to kick the ornery guest star’s ass.

But the piece de resistance came the following week, when producer John Moffitt went on air to satisfy the public’s need to know, confessing that the stunt was indeed a fake and piously suggesting they should take it as a reminder of the “spontaneity of live television, something that rarely happens in this basically passive medium today.”

Then Kaufman—who genuinely hated that his sleight of hand had been revealed—turned on Moffitt for the halting, miserable, and seemingly forced 4 minute apology below.

When the live audience laughed delightedly, he lashed out, insisting that his previous week’s actions were about to cost him his gig on the hit sitcom Taxi, all future roles, a number of friendships, and his marriage.

Never mind that he was unmarried.

This comedian played a long game, and easy laughs were never the goal.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this December for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Queen’s Dragtastic “I Want to Break Free” Video: It Was More Than America & MTV Could Handle (1984)

I remember the early part of 1984 when Queen’s “Radio Gaga,” their single from The Works album with a video that mixed in clips from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, was played nearly every hour on MTV. Or it least it seemed that way. And then in April, the band released their follow-up single, “I Want to Break Free,” seen above. This is when things got weird for Queen stateside and where truth starts to split from rumor.

In the fine tradition of British pantomime and Monty Python, the band appear in drag, with Mercury in a black leather skirt vacuuming the floor of a typical English living room, Brian May in curlers and nightdress; John Deacon as a more conservative grandmother; and Roger Taylor as a schoolgirl. British viewers would have got the joke–the style and dress and setting was a direct parody of popular working class soap opera Coronation Street, and its first shot of chimneys and row houses was a further giveaway.

“We had done some really serious, epic videos in the past, and we just thought we’d have some fun,” said Roger Taylor. “We wanted people to know that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously, that we could still laugh at ourselves. I think we proved that.”

But some Americans apparently did take it seriously and believed the video to be promoting cross-dressing. (There’s no mention whether they thought the middle section, featuring members of the Royal Ballet and a parody of Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, promoted ballet, leotards, or Claude Debussy).

Now most accounts from here on out say that MTV banned the video, despite the song being in the charts for eight weeks. It failed to be the blockbuster hit like “Radio Gaga,” for sure, and Queen never again really had a foothold on American pop culture until Live Aid, and even then their appearance meant more to the Brits than the Yanks. Queen went from a classic rock act to something the British got and the Americans didn’t.

Brian May agreed that the video was a turning point when he sat for a Terry Gross interview in 2010:

I remember doing a promo tour for this song that we did, which was called “I Want to Break Free.” Now we made a video for that, which was a pastiche of an English soap called “Coronation Street,” and we dressed up as the characters in that soap, and they were female characters. So we’re dressing up as girls – as women and we had a fantastic laugh doing it. It was hilarious to do it. And all around the world people laughed and they got the joke and they sort of understood it.

I remember being on the promo tour in the Midwest of America and people’s faces turning ashen and they would say, no, we can’t play this. We can’t possibly play this. You know, it looks homosexual. And I went, so? But it was a huge deal. And I know that it really damaged our sort of whole relationship with certainly radio in this country and probably the public as well…

But it was very difficult for us to sort of get back. And there’s a whole kind of gap in Queen history if you view it from America. And Freddie was very aware of that. And we never really came back and toured the way we should’ve done. You know, every place else in the world, we played football stadiums. But it never happened in the States. And Freddie, when I played him this thing, said – (laughter) well, he said, you know, it might do for us what nothing else would do, and he was dead right.

You know, it’s amazing that even the fact that Freddie died didn’t make that much of a difference. But the fact that Wayne’s World put it in their film did make a difference. And I suppose the quote that I’m steering clear of is that Freddie, at one point, said to me, you know, I suppose I’ll have to [expletive] die before we ever get big in America again.

While that is true, I’m not too sure about this “banned video” business. I saw this video a lot on MTV. I remember both my parents laughing at the video because it reminded them of the Pythons. And apart from a line repeated over and over on the Internet and in some very recent Queen biographies, it’s hard to find contemporary proof that this ban happened and when.

Being banned has often been great publicity and often ginned up controversy. But if you want to see a definitely banned Queen video, check out “Body Language,” from their 1982 album Hot Space. Filled with sweaty body parts, plenty of leather, and set in some sort of unisex bathhouse, this indeed was banned by MTV. Believe me, I would have remembered seeing this at the time if they hadn’t.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

How David Lynch Manipulates You: A Close Reading of Mulholland Drive

David Lynch messes with your mind. You’ve probably heard variations on that observation before, as likely to come from people who love Lynch’s films as from those who can’t stand them. Unlike most “normal” filmmakers, who tell stories comfortably ensconced in the reality that the tradition of cinema has built, Lynch has always told his stories in a cinematic reality of his own, built out of the existing elements of cinema but bolted together by him in surprising and often unsettling ways. Hence his name’s long-ago conversion into an adjective: David Lynch movies are Lynchian, and it falls to we who watch them to deal with the psychological effects — frightening, thrilling, completely disorienting, or some combination of those and more — that Lynchianness stirs within us.

In the video essay “Mulholland Drive: How Lynch Manipulates You,” Evan Puschak, better known at the Nerdwriter, breaks down Lynch’s process of mind-messing, at least as it works in one particular scene of one of his best-known and most acclaimed films, Mulholland Drive. Lynch, Puschak explains, “uses expectation as a tool. He wields expectation — the expectation that comes from what we know about film, about its history, the history of stories, and from our humanity — with the same nuance and power as someone else might use light to create a variety of moods in a space.”

Mulholland Drive, which seems to begin as the story of a would-be blonde ingenue arriving in Hollywood with dreams of making it big, gets further and further off kilter as it goes, leveraging the ostensible stiffness and even corniness it dares to present at the beginning to deliver a much darker and more complex cinematic experience in the end. “All throughout the film, from the overdubbed dialogue on down, David Lynch has made us privy to the veneer of things,” says Puschak. “It’s all curiously two-dimensional, and that puts us on our guard, since surfaces are what we get. Lynch encourages us to examine those surfaces, always remaining detached enough for a disinterested, critical view of what we’re seeing.”

But “as with everything that Lynch does, this two-dimensionality, this flatness, is also a deception. While we think we’re on our guard, superior to the cloying emotions of Hollywood wish-fulfillment, Lynch relishes dropping the bottom out, showing us just how unprepared for and susceptible we are to emotions that our society treasures or deeply fears.” In Mulholland Drive he accomplishes this over and over again by using ancient Hollywood stereotypes, film noir tropes, a nightclub singer lip-syncing to a Roy Orbison song in Spanish, a caveman living behind a Sunset Strip diner, Angelo Badalamenti spitting out an espresso, Billy Ray Cyrus, and much more besides. And as both Lynch’s fans and detractors must suspect, he no doubt has a few more ways to drop the bottoms out from under his audiences in his toolbox yet.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Peter Jackson Made His State-of-the-Art World War I Documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old: An Inside Look

There are very few working directors today who can do what Peter Jackson does so well—create extraordinary spectacles on the grandest of scales while also staying tightly focused on character development and emotional depth. He’s made missteps. His Hobbit trilogy felt bloated, busy and unnecessary, but one reason it so disappointed was because he’d already shown himself a master of fantasy filmmaking with what many considered the unfilmmable Lord of the Rings.

Of course non-Tolkien-related Jackson films like Heavenly Creatures also showcase these strengths, on a smaller scale: the ability to retain the human dimension amidst cinematic spectacles and inhuman darkness (a quality he mined explicitly in his years as a horror director). All of these sensibilities, including a pronounced streak of dark humor and talent for manipulating his audiences, make him the ideal director for a documentary on World War I.

It’s a conflict that makes little historical sense to most of us, that unfolded on a scale few of us can imagine, with few identifiable heroes and villains and a complicated geopolitical situation that can feel out of our grasp.

Many documentaries on the war are informative but, frankly, quite dull. In striving for objectivity, they lose sight of humanity. Rather than adopt the voice of god and newsreel look that characterizes the usual fare, Jackson has taken an active role in shaping the narrative for us with cutting-edge blockbuster cinematic techniques. He gives us characters to care about in showing the horror of trench warfare, the confusion and camaraderie of war. Though he uses original footage, it is digitally enhanced and colorized, screened in 3D, with recordings of remembrances from the soldiers themselves dramatically overlaid to create the sense that the figures we see onscreen are speaking to us.

The result, as Guy Lodge writes at Variety, “is a technical dazzler with a surprisingly humane streak…. So dazzlingly transformative is the restoration of this footage that it may as well be the product of a movie shoot.” Indeed, once the credits roll, viewers see the same “veritable army of magic-working technicians’ names” as they would on any big-budget action movie. Jackson has, in effect, produced “the world’s most state-of-the-art educational film,” applying all the emotional levers and pulleys of feature filmmaking to a historical archive.

Like most of us, students have trouble understanding the scale of the war and connecting with the lives of people so indistinctly photographed and far away in time. Jackson makes sure that they can do both, and his film will be sent to every high school in the U.K. Those schools will not, of course, be able to reproduce the 3D effects. Yet even these, though they sound “gimmicky on the face of it,” writes Lodge, prove “to have an experiential purpose, conveying the juddering movement and chaos of a conflict many of us have largely viewed through calcified still images.”

In the interviews and behind the scenes videos here, we learn how Jackson and his team solved the film speed problem to make the old reels look natural, how they created a color palette and removed blurriness and blemishes. Jackson also talks about his own personal stake in the project, imagining what his grandfather endured in the Great War. This connection seems to have spurred him all the more in the effort.

“To memorialize these soldiers a hundred years later,” he says, “is to try to bring some of their humanity back into the world again, to stop them being a black and white cliché.” In creating this moving memorial, Jackson goes far beyond the mandate of an educational film. He has used all the techniques at his disposal to make good on the promise in Robert Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem “For the Fallen,” from which the documentary takes its title:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

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

Watch 99 Movies Free Online Courtesy of YouTube & MGM: Rocky, The Terminator, Four Weddings and a Funeral & More

We all have those major motion pictures we’re sure we’ll see one day, but somehow haven’t seen yet. Usually they’ve had such a huge influence on popular culture, inspiring decades of references, homages, and jokes, that we feel like we’ve seen them anyway. Back in the days of yore when television reigned supreme, we might occasionally catch one of them (or most of one of them) while flipping channels at night, albeit in a form re-edited to remove sensitive content and fit the image onto a square screen. Given how dramatically those viewing practices have migrated to the internet in the 21st century, it only makes good sense that Youtube — that vast temple of modern-day channel-flipping — would strike a deal with a Hollywood studio to make more than a few of these movies available, free to view.

Just this month, MGM put nearly 100 of its films up on Youtube, some of the best known of which include The Terminator, the Rocky and Pink Panther movies, Legally Blonde, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Some of them you’ve almost certainly seen (and quite possibly want to see again), and others you’ve been meaning to see for ten, twenty, thirty, maybe even forty years.

Just like on television, the fact that you can watch them for free means that they come with ads, albeit ads less intrusive than traditional commercial breaks — unless you pay the monthly $9.99 USD for Youtube Premium, in which case they’ll play ad-free. (And in any case, they’re available at the moment only to viewers in the United States.) And also, as in the days of wee-hours channel-surfing, you’ll find the acclaimed classics mixed in with lesser-known pictures, even oddities, that may hold even more cinematic fascination.

Some of the unexpected titles among MGM’s free movies on Youtube include documentaries like Jiro Dreams of Sushi — the one about the most sternly and obsessively dedicated sushi chef in Tokyo, and probably the world, you may remember everyone talking about a few years ago — and With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, posted no doubt in tribute to the recently deceased comic book-industry legend. Cinematically-inclined readers who remember with amusement the internet and our perceptions of the internet back in the cable-TV days should take note that the free MGM collection on Youtube Movies also includes Hackers, Hollywood’s most vivid depiction of the fear and optimism that swirled around computers and their connectedness in the mid-1990s. We had a fair few unrealistic expectations of the internet back then, which that movie and movies like it now reveal, but how many of us dared imagine that it would take over the role of the television?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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