Quentin Tarantino & Roger Avary Rewatch Cult-Classic Movies on Their New Video Archives Podcast

Quentin Tarantino has countless fans all around the world, increasingly many of whom are too young to ever have rented a tape from a video store. But when those twenty-something cinephiles learn his origin story as a filmmaker, they must suspect they missed out on a valuable experience in the VHS era, whatever its inconveniences. When Tarantino broke out in the nineteen-nineties with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, he was publicly celebrated not just for those films, but for his having made them as a video-store-clerk-turned-auteur.

Indeed, it really does seem true that Tarantino’s cinematic sensibility owes something to the years he’d spent exercising his movie expertise behind the counter at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach. When the store closed in 1995, the freshly ascendant Tarantino seized the opportunity to buy up its thousands of VHS tapes. Roger Avary, his fellow Archives alumnus and collaborator on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction, bought the Laserdiscs. Though much of Avary’s collection has succumbed to the “disc rot” that notoriously afflicts that format, Tarantino’s collection has held up for more than a quarter-century.

Now Tarantino’s private tape stash provides the material for his and Avary’s latest collaboration: The Video Archives Podcast, to which you can listen on platforms like Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. On it, the two of them aim to re-create the vehemently cinephile environment of Video Archives by discussing the movies from its stock — after watching them on the actual VHS tapes the store once rented out. As Tarantino explains it, each episode of The Video Archives Podcast will feature three titles. But the conversations will go well beyond the films themselves, involving details of the particular home-video releases popped into the VCR as well as the history of the distributors that put them out.

Naturally, the hosts also get into their personal histories with these movies — which in some cases go back nearly 50 years — as film-lovers and filmmakers. Owing to the need to introduce the show itself, in the first episode they discuss only two pictures, both from the nineteen-seventies: John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s anti-establishment sci-fi comedy Dark Star, followed by Ulli Lommel’s rock-Mafia drama Cocaine Cowboys, which features a cameo from Andy Warhol. Representing a younger generation is Avary’s daughter Gala, producer of the podcast, who in a mid-show segment (and her own after-show) offers another perspective on the movies of the week. She clearly knows how to appreciate a cult classic, even if she’s never paid a late fee in her life.

via IndieWire

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Scenes from The Wizard of Oz Remastered in Brilliant 4K Detail: Behold the Work of a Creative YouTuber

The Wizard of Oz came out more than 80 years ago, but there must still be a few among us who remember seeing it in the theater. Only they would have felt completely the power of its famous scene when Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas and enters the colorful land of Oz. Much of the power of art comes from contrast, and this particular contrast could hardly have been a more persuasive advertisement for the power of Technicolor. After a development history of more than twenty years, that color motion-picture process had by 1939 reached the stage of its technological evolution called “Process 4,” which enabled studios to make use of not just some but all of the spectrum.

This final form of Technicolor enraptures viewers even today, reproducing colors as it did at intense, sometimes borderline-psychedelic depths of saturation. The process found its ideal material in the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, with its yellow brick road (choosing whose exact shade inspired about a week of deliberation at MGM), its ruby slippers (calculatedly changed from the silver shoes in L. Frank Baum’s original novel), and its host of settings and characters with great chromatic potential.

You can appreciate this un-repeatably fortuitous intersection of content and technology again in these scenes from an unofficial 4K restoration of the film posted by Youtuber Oriel Malik.

This is surely the sharpest and most-detail rich version of The Wizard of Oz most of us have seen, and, in those respects, it actually outdoes the original prints of the film. For some the image may actually be too clear, making obvious as it does certain artificial-looking aspects of the backgrounds and costumes. But in a sense this may not run counter to the intentions of the filmmakers, who knew full well what genre they were working in: even on film, a musical must retain at least some of the look and feel of the stage. Yet it’s also true that the softer visual edges of the contemporary analog printing and projection technologies would have enhanced the dreamlike atmosphere created in part by all those surreally vivid hues — which, according to die-hard Technicolor enthusiasts, only really come through on film anyway.

via BoingBoing

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Cover Songs: Philosophy and Taxonomy on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #129


Is re-playing or re-recording a song written and performed by someone else an act of love or predation? Your host Mark Linsenmayer is joined by Too Much Joy’s Tim Quirk, the Gig Gab Podcast’s Dave Hamilton, and the author of A Philosophy of Cover Songs Prof. P.D. Magnus to talk about different types of and purposes for covers, look a little at the history, share favorites, and more.

A few of the many cover songs we mention include:

This playlist includes most of the songs mentioned in P.D.’s book.

To prep for this, in addition to reading P.D.’s book (which is free), we looked at various lists of best and worst cover songs of all time: from timeout.combestlifeonline.comRolling StoneRadio X. Also check out this episode of the Ghost Notes Podcast.

Follow us @news4wombats (for P.D.), @tbquirk@DaveHamilton, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pretty Much Pop. Support the show at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

How Joni Mitchell Learned to Play Guitar Again After a 2015 Brain Aneurysm–and Made It Back to the Newport Folk Festival

Joni Mitchell almost quit the music industry in 1996, two years after releasing what critics called her best album since the 70s, 1994’s Turbulent Indigo. “I was in a losing fight with a business that basically, you know, was treating me like an also-ran or a has-been, even though I was still doing good work,” she told an interviewer at the time. “Everything about the business disgusted me.”

But show business has never really been about the show or the business for Mitchell. From her deeply personal songwriting to her vocal vulnerability, she imbues her music with the deepest parts of herself. Then there’s her brilliantly idiosyncratic guitar playing. “Her guitar doesn’t really sound like a guitar,” Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers writes at Acoustic Guitar. “The treble strings become a cool-jazz horn section; the bass snaps out of syncopations like a snare drum; the notes ring out in clusters that simply don’t come out of a normal six-string.”

Mitchell “mastered the idea that she could tune the guitar any way she wanted,” says David Crosby. She tuned to “the numbers in a date… a piece of music that I liked on the radio,” she says. “I’d tune to birdsongs and the landscape I was sitting in.” Trying to duplicate Mitchell’s tunings is typically a fool’s errand; even she forgets them. But “Joni’s weird chords,” as she says, are indispensable to her sound. (She also says she’s only written two songs — one of them her first — in standard tuning.)

In 1996, a digital guitar pedal that emulated her tunings and allowed a greater range of symphonic tones brought her back to the stage. Or, to put it another way — what brought her back to music was the guitar, which is exactly what brought her back to the stage at this year’s Newport Folk Festival — playing her first live set in 20 years after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015. (She last played Newport 53 years ago in 1969.) Nothing keeps Joni down for long.

In this case, however, Mitchell didn’t just forget her tunings after her illness. She forgot how to play the guitar altogether. She had to teach herself again by watching videos of her playing online. “I’m learning,” she says in the CBS interview at the top. “I’m looking at videos that are on the net, to see where to put my fingers. It’s amazing… when you have an aneurysm, you don’t know how to get into a chair. You don’t know how to get out of bed. You have to learn all these things again. You’re going back to infancy, almost.”

She’s come a long way since 2015, when she could neither speak nor walk, “much less play the guitar,” notes NPR. “To be able to recover to the point of being able to perform as a musician is really incredible,” says Dr. Anthony Wang, a neurosurgeon at Ronald Regan UCLA Hospital. “Playing an instrument and vocal cord coordination, those sort of things are really, super complex fine movements that would take a long time to relearn.” Mitchell’s commitment to mastering her instrument again was unflagging.

See her above pluck out “Joni’s weird chords” on one of her Parker Fly guitars in a solo section from the song “Just Like This Train” from Court & Spark. As we noted in an earlier post, she was joined at Newport by a host of celebrity friends, including Brandi Carlile, who sits with her in the CBS interview and confirms the amount of “will and grit” she applied to her recovery. She’s survived polio, personal tragedy, the 60s, chain smoking, and a debilitating aneurysm: the 78-year-old living legend won’t be with us forever, but we might expect she’ll have a guitar in her hand when she finally makes her exit from the music business for the last time.

via NPR

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

Visit Great Cities in the 1920s in Restored Color Film: New York City, London, Berlin, Paris, Venice & More

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris stars Owen Wilson as a Hollywood screenwriter on vacation in the French capital. Alas, the City of Lights as it is in the twenty-first century doesn’t satisfy him. When he walks his streets he thinks only of the nineteen-twenties, when a traveler in Paris could easily cross paths with the likes of Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Edgar Degas — as well as expatriates from Pablo Picasso and Djuna Barnes to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Or so he imagines, at any rate, and so he goes on to experience when he finds himself transported back in time to the city of the “Lost Generation” at each stroke of midnight.

With the video above, you, too, can take a trip to nineteen-twenties Paris — as well as nineteen-twenties New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Nice, Geneva, Milan, and Venice. A compilation of period footage sourced from the Prelinger Archives, it lightly colorizes, adds ambient sound, and in other ways enhances its disparate materials to make them feel all of a piece.

And indeed, the clip plays almost as if shot by a single, and singularly ambitious, world traveler of one hundred years ago. That hypothetical traveler’s world is both ours — filled as it is with such recognizable and ever-photographable sites as the Eiffel Tower, the gondolas of Venice, and the non-latex-clad cyclists of Copenhagen — and not.

Whether traditional or modern, the dress of everyone on the street looks neater and more formal than that worn by urbanites in the main today. In some cities, horse-drawn carriages still make their way through the traffic of buses, trams, and waves of seemingly identical personal cars. (Ford manufactured more than two million Model Ts in 1923 alone.) The nineteen-twenties brought rapid urban development in both the New World and the Old, as well as rapid development in motion photography. Not for nothing was it the decade of the “city symphony” film; for equally good reason, it remains the decade of which many of us dream, even a century later, when we want to feel the exhilaration of modernity.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch 70+ Soviet Films Free Online, Courtesy of Mosfilm, the Hollywood of the Soviet Union

Recently we’ve featured films by Sergei Eisenstein, a pioneer of cinema as we know it, and Andrei Tarkovsky, one of the most respected auteurs in the history of the art form. They’re all free to watch on Youtube, as is Sergei Bondarchuk’s epic adaptation of War and Peace from the late nineteen-sixties and Karen Shakhnazarov’s eight-part Anna Karenina, which came out just a few years ago. For all this we have Mosfilm to thank. Once the national film studio of the Soviet Union — equipped with the kind of resources that made it more or less the Hollywood of the U.S.S.R. — Mosfilm remains in operation as a production company, as well as a Youtube channel.

Mosfilm’s playlist of Soviet movies now offers more than 70 English-subtitled features, each one labeled by genre. The dozen comedies currently free to watch include Leonid Gaidai’s massively successful crime-and-society comedy The Diamond Arm (1969) and Eldar Ryazanov’s satirical Carnival Night (1956).

The versatile Ryazanov also directed pictures of other types for Mosfilm, including the musical Hussar Ballad (1962) and the melodrama Railway Station for Two (1982). A variety of genres and subgenres: Abram Room’s “love movie” Bed and Sofa (1927), Karen Shakhnazarov’s “mystic drama” Assassination of the Tsar (1991), Vladimir Motyl’s “Eastern” (as opposed to Western) White Sun of the Desert (1970), and Georgiy Daneliya’s “distopia movie” Kin-dza-dza! (1986).

Of course, one need not search far and wide to see the Soviet Union itself described as a dystopia. Few today could deny the fatal flaws of Soviet political and economic systems, but then, those flaws were hardly unknown to Soviet citizens themselves, even those in positions of cultural prominence. Viewers today may be surprised at just how keenly some of these movies (Georgiy Daneliya’s “tragic comedy” Autumn Marathon from 1979 being one classic example) observe the nature of life behind the Iron Curtain. In this and other ways, Soviet film has a greater variety of sensibilities and textures than one might expect. And given that Mosfilm produced more than 3,000 pictures during the existence of the U.S.S.R. — including Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala, from 1975 — there remain many more to discover, at least if the uploading continues apace. View the entire playlist of Soviet films with English subtitles here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Behold! A Medieval Graphic Novel Carved on an 14th Century Ivory Box

The Châtelaine de Vergy, a courtly romance that was wildly popular in the mid-13th century, would’ve made a crowd pleasing graphic novel adaptation. It’s got sex, treachery, a trio of violent deaths, and a cute pup in a supporting role.

Seeing as how the form had yet to be invented, medieval audiences got the next best thing – a Gothic ivory casket on which the story is rendered as a series of carved pictures that start on the lid and wrap around the sides.

In an earlier video for the British Museum’s Curator’s Corner series, Late Medieval Collections Curator Naomi Speakman admitted that the purpose of such deluxe caskets is difficult to pin down. Were they tokens from one lover to another? Wedding gifts? Jewelry boxes? Document cases?

Unclear, but the intricate carvings’ narrative has definitely been identified as that of The Châtelaine de Vergy, a steamy secular alternative to the religious scenes whose depiction consumed a fair number of medieval elephant tusks.

In addition to the early-14th century example in the British Museum’s collection, the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Gothic Ivories database catalogues a number of other medieval caskets and casket fragments depicting The Châtelaine de Vergi, currently housed in museums in Milan, Florence, Paris, Vienna, New York City and Kansas.

A very graphic novelesque conceit Speakman points to in the British Museum’s casket finds the Duke of Burgundy breaking the frame (to use comics terminology), reaching behind the gutter to help himself to the sword the Châtelaine’s knightly lover has just plunged into his own breast.

Peer around to the far side of the casket to find out what the Duke intends to do with that sword. It’s a shocker that silences the trumpets, quiets the dancing ladies, and might even have laid ground for a sequel: Chatelaine: The Duke’s Wrath.

Read Eugene Mason’s early 20th century translation of The Chatelaine of Vergi here.

Watch more episodes of the British Museum’s Curator’s Corner here.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Hundreds of Polish Films Free Online: Feature Films, Documentaries, Animations & More

The Polish film industry has produced a few internationally-known auteurs, including Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Roman Polanski, but a handful of critically-lauded directors cannot represent the scope of any national cinema. Without a wider appreciation of Poland’s film history, we lack crucial context for understanding its most famous artists. Now, a new archive called 35mm.online gives us hundreds of films and animations by Polish filmmakers, a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the country’s cinematic art like never before.

Polish film history can broadly be divided into films made before WWII and those made after, when the country came under strict Communist control. The first period includes a silent film industry that began with the origins of cinema itself and made a star of actress Pola Negri, whose films were screened in Berlin with German-language title cards. Many movies made in the sound era took direction, no pun intended, from filmmaker Aleksander Ford, a champion of Communist aesthetic theory. “Cinema cannot be a cabaret,” he once told the Soviet Kino magazine, “it must be a school.” Ford made realist films about social issues and propaganda films during the war.

In 1945, Ford took control of the Polish film industry as director of the nationalized state production company, Film Polski. The company had a monopoly on production, distribution, and exhibition, and in Poland, as in most Eastern Bloc nations in the Cold War, the challenge of evading censors put far more pressure on filmmakers than market demands. “Under the Communist regime,” Dark Kuzma writes at Movie Maker, “Polish authorities waged war on moviemakers…. Any critique of the Soviet Union or the Polish People’s Republic was silenced,” beginning with a 1945 film titled 2×2=4, by Antoni Bohdziewicz.

Ford didn’t last long as an administrator, though he returned in the 50s to help advise and oversee productions. Film Polski became the Central Office of Cinematography in 1951, and enforced even stricter controls on Polish filmmakers. But as control of the film industry centralized, academic bureaucrats took over for savvy filmmakers like Ford. “Polish censors,” Kuzma notes, “were highly literary, capable of deciphering even the most sophisticated ‘subversions’ in books, newspapers and other written forms — but they were quite impotent when it came to evaluating images.”

Polish filmmakers could not make any overt narrative critiques and “were forced to learn how to say something without saying it directly, how to depict a reality that did not officially exist,” says Oscar-nominated Polish cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski. Necessity led to a creative symbolic language viewers had to decode:

This was a responsibility we all felt: to create layered images, images with double meanings that dared viewers to interpret them differently. It was all in the details — like using wider lenses to show things you would not be able to show any other way. Something may be occurring in the background, slightly blurred. Sometimes all the film needs was to not include something or someone in the frame. 

The need for clandestine cinematic methods became fully apparent in 1982, when a commission met and determined even stricter rules for Polish film, partially in reaction to the filmmaker Ryszard Bugajski’s Interrogation, an unsparing depiction of “Stalin-era political life.” (See an excerpted scene at the top). A transcript of the proceedings, which included Bugajski, made their way out of the country in secret and was reported on in The New York Times. Bugajski feared his film would not see release, and he was right, though Interrogation circulated in samizdat VHS form for years, attaining cult status. It was eventually released years later and would become one of the most popular films of the time.

After Interrogation, Polish filmmakers began to employ even more distinctive symbolic vocabularies, from sci-fi satire in 1984’s hugely popular Sexmission (trailer above), to the use of heavily saturated colors, a feature so many Polish films of the 1980s and 90s share and which characterizes the work of Kieślowski, one of the most revered of Polish directors among Polish and non-Polish cinephiles alike. Best known for his early 90s trilogy Three Colors: Blue, Red and White, the director began using specific colors to convey meaning earlier in his career.

Camera operator Sławomir Idziak, who worked on Kieślowski’s 1988 A Short Film About Killing (see trailer above), remembers, “I shot the film in this hideous yellow-greenish color to subtly hint at the director’s idea that the country could be a killer, just like the main character. I remember one reviewer in Cannes writing that because the screen assumes the color of urine, it encapsulates the reality of Communist Poland. That was beautiful.”

Filmmaker Barbara Sass went on to make several films in which specific color plays significant roles, starting with her 1980, festival-winning debut, Without Love. She surrounds her yellow-haired main character, played by Dorota Stalińska, with a sickly hospital yellow, then immerses her in the dim red light of a photographic darkroom. Her many later films employed bold uses of color to similar effect. These films represent only a tiny sampling of the nearly 4,000 Polish films hosted on 35mm.online, a joint project of the Polish Film Institute and “one of Poland’s oldest film studios, Wytwrnia Filmw Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych (WFDiF), (Documentary and Feature Film Studios),” notes The first News

The collection includes 160 features, 71 documentaries 474 animated short films, and 10 animated features.  We’ve barely scratched the surface of Polish cinema history and there are hundreds of animations yet to watch (read some of their grim descriptions at MetaFilter). So get to watching at 35mm.online.

Note: To enable English subtitles, click the “Enable Subtitles” button beneath each film. (The first button.) Then go to the “Setttings” button and choose English subtiles.

via MetaFilter

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

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