David Lynch’s Projection Instructions for Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch is known for being persnickety about delivering the correct viewing experience to his audience, as he considers the cinema a sacred place. In a documentary short a few years back, he explained, “It’s so magical, I don’t know why, to go into a theater and have the lights go down. It’s very quiet and then the curtains start to open. And then you go into a world.”

However, the cinematheque is also the space where directors have the least control. They can hope that each print that goes out has been printed correctly (especially during the days of film), or that the sound is clear and/or loud enough, but, in a wide release, hope is all directors can do most of the time. There are exceptions: Stanley Kubrick oversaw the rerelease prints of his films. And Alfred Hitchcock demanded that there would be no late seating for Psycho-—a tactic that worked to the film’s advantage.

This card (above) from David Lynch came with every print of Mulholland Drive that was sent out to theaters. “I understand this is an unusual request yet I do need your help,” he writes. Lynch asks that the volume be raised 3db and that the image be given a tad more headroom.

John Neff, in a post on the Facebook Lynchland group, explained the card: “The volume request was because when we heard it in the Director’s Guild Theater for the cast and crew screening, David thought it was too quiet. The picture headroom request was because of the original TV aspect ratio. These concerns have been addressed in all format releases since the original DVD release.”

Mulholland Drive was originally shot, or rather, the first half of the film was shot as a television pilot for ABC, so a 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio was expected. But when the studios passed on the pilot, Lynch finished the film as a standalone feature. Cinemas matt projections at 1.85:1, cutting down on the headroom. (None of this effects the original negative, which is standard 35mm.)

Lynch similarly cares about home viewers. The first director-approved box set of his short films came with a similar, Lynch-created calibration video so you could control the color and the white balance. And one of the reasons fans keep waiting for a proper Blu-Ray release of Lost Highway is that Lynch has yet to oversee a proper transfer. When Kino Lorber released theirs in 2019, Lynch took to Twitter to tell fans to skip it: “Dear Twitter Friends, A Blu-ray of LOST HIGHWAY will be released very soon. It was made from old elements and NOT from a restoration of the original negative. I hope that a version from the restoration of the original negative will happen as soon as possible.”

As far as I know, he has not weighed in on the current problems associated with HDTVs, but Tom Cruise has been taking care of that. And whatever you do, do not watch Mulholland Drive on your iPhone.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Should You Race Back to Theaters When It’s Safe? Pretty Much Pop: Culture Podcast (#77) on the Big Screen Experience

The pandemic has kept us out of the movie theaters, forcing new streaming practices so that films can be released at all, but as these restrictions end in 2021, do we want things to go back just to the way they were?

Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt reviewed many articles where filmmakers fretted about the future of cinema. Even before the pandemic, concerns about falling movie house attendance and the increased use of streaming have had the industry worried about films being viewed in the manner their creators intended, or even made at all.

For at least the first half our of this discussion, we largely ignored all that in favor of musing on our own past theater-going habits and experiences. What has worked and hasn’t in the shift toward more spectacle and amenities? What do we like and loathe about being in an audience with others? Is the theater experience essential just for big special effects films, or does it make any film more effective? How would we improve moviegoing and home viewing? We consider the list of films that were supposed to come out this year and were either delayed or moved to streaming, like Tenet, Soul, In the Heights, etc.

Here are those articles, in case you’re curious:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. 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.

New Documentary Sisters with Transistors Tells the Story of Electronic Music’s Female Pioneers

“Technology is a tremendous liberator,” says Laurie Anderson in her voiceover narration for the new documentary Sisters with Transistors, a look at the women who have pioneered electronic music since its beginnings and been integral to inventing new sounds and ways of making them. “Women were naturally drawn to electronic music. You didn’t have to be accepted by any of the male-dominated resources. You could make something with electronics, and you could present music directly to an audience.”

Technology as liberator may sound utopian to our jaded 21st century ears, accustomed as we are to focusing on tech’s misuses and abuses. But machines have very often been a means of social progress, just as when “bicycles promised freedom to women long accustomed to relying on men for transportation.” The creation and innovation of recording and broadcasting equipment deserves its own place in women’s history.

Radio in particular gave women the opportunity to experiment with sound and reach millions who might not otherwise give them a hearing. The influence of BBC radio composers like Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, for example, remains pervasive, and the electronic soundscapes they created for radio and television helped define the sonic world we now inhabit. It is a world, director Lisa Rovner tells AFI’s Malin Kan below, permeated by electronic music.

“I can’t actually remember,” says Rovner, “a time when I wasn’t aware of electronic music. Electronic music penetrates pretty much every single aspect of my life since I was a kid, whether that’s stuff that’s on television or the video games that I played with my brother.” Her interest in the music’s “transcendent” qualities was first piqued, she says, at a rave. The film project happened to “check all the boxes” for her, with its focus not only on the electronic music women have made for over a century, but also on “the wider social, political and cultural context of the 20th century,” as the film’s site notes.

Sisters with Transistors covers a range of composers, several of whom we’ve previously featured on Open Culture, including Derbyshire, Oram, Clara Rockmore, Bebe Barron, Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, Laurie Spiegel, and Pauline Oliveros. “The history of women has been a history of silence,” Rovner writes. “Music is no exception.” Or as Oliveros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women composers? The question is often asked. The answer is no mystery. In the past, talent, education, ability, interests, motivation were irrelevant because being female was a unique qualification for domestic work and for continual obedience to and dependence upon men.

As Sisters with Transistors shows, new technologies broke that dependence for many women, including Oliveros, who provided us with a different answer to questions about the paucity of women composers. Why are there no “great” women in electronic music? Because you haven’t heard them yet. Learn their names and stories in the new documentary.

via Hyperallergic

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Daphne Oram Created the BBC’s First-Ever Piece of Electronic Music (1957)

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938-2014)

Meet Four Women Who Pioneered Electronic Music: Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue & Pauline Oliveros

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

Wonder Woman 1984 in Context – Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #76

The holiday film release season has now passed, having issued only one real blockbuster, which is the return of Wonder Woman. This week’s Pretty Much Pop likewise offers a returning hero:  Our college-going guest from ep. 33 on heroine journeys has now grown into a grad student in comics history, and she brings her deep WW knowledge to consider with your hosts Erica Spyres, Mark Linsenmayer, and Brian Hirt.

Part of the relevant context is the 2017 biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which revealed the unorthodox views of WW’s creator, and so of course this shows up in how WW judges us: She’s not just a Captain America-style patriot, but a foreigner who in the new film compassionately condemns our 80s greed and dishonesty. But do the themes actually make sense? And what’s with having her love interest return from the dead, hijacking another man’s body with no acknowledgment that that’s very skeevy?

Also, how does the depiction of WW’s homeland compare to other feminist utopias like Herland and “Sultana’s Dream”? Does it matter that WW was created by and initially aimed primarily at males? We learn a little about the post-Marston WW (who couldn’t join the Justice League, which was for boys only!) and talk about the ’70s TV show, the outfits, the villains, and WW in love.

Here are a few supplementary articles:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. 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.


What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2021: The Great Gatsby & Mrs. Dalloway, Music by Irving Berlin & Duke Ellington, Comedies by Buster Keaton, and More

“The year 1925 was a golden moment in literary history,” writes the BBC’s Jane Ciabattari. “Ernest Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were all published that year. As were Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, among others.” In that year, adds Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain Jennifer Jenkins, “the stylistic innovations produced by books such as Gatsby, or The Trial, or Mrs. Dalloway marked a change in both the tone and the substance of our literary culture, a broadening of the range of possibilities available to writers.”

In the year 2021, no matter what area of culture we inhabit, we now find our own range of possibilities broadened. Works from 1925 have entered the public domain in the United States, and Duke University’s post rounds up more than a few notable examples. These include, in addition to the aforementioned titles, books like W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil and Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s A Daughter of the Samurai; films like The Freshman and Go West, by silent-comedy masters Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton; and music like Irving Berlin’s “Always” and several compositions by Duke Ellington, including “Jig Walk” and “With You.”

These works’ public-domain status means that, among many other benefits to all of us, the Internet Archive can easily add them to its online library. In addition, writes Jenkins, “HathiTrust will make tens of thousands of titles from 1925 available in its digital repository. Google Books will offer the full text of books from that year, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. Community theaters can screen the films. Youth orchestras can afford to publicly perform, or rearrange, the music.” And the creators of today “can legally build on the past — reimagining the books, making them into films, adapting the songs.”

Does any newly public-domained work of 2021 hold out as obvious a promise in that regard as Fitzgerald’s great American novel? Any of us can now make The Great Gatsby “into a film, or opera, or musical,” retell it “from the perspective of Myrtle or Jordan, or make prequels and sequels,” writes Jenkins. “In fact, novelist Michael Farris Smith is slated to release Nick, a Gatsby prequel telling the story of Nick Carraway’s life before he moves to West Egg, on January 5, 2021.” Whatever results, it will further prove what Ciabattari calls the “continuing resonance” of not just Jay Gatsby but all the other major characters created by the novelists of 1925, inhabitants as well as embodiments of a “transformative time” who are “still enthralling generations of new readers” — and writers, or for that matter, creators of all kinds.

Related Content:

Free: The Great Gatsby & Other Major Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Safety Last, the 1923 Movie Featuring the Most Iconic Scene from Silent Film Era, Just Went Into the Public Domain

31 Buster Keaton Films: “The Greatest of All Comic Actors,” “One of the Greatest Filmmakers of All Time”

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hemingway Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

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.

Studio Ghibli Makes 1,178 Images Free to Download from My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away & Other Beloved Animated Films

Studio Ghibli make lush and captivating animated films. So, on occasion, do other studios, but of how many of their pictures can we say that each and every still frame constitutes a work of art in itself? As a test, try putting on a Ghibli movie and pausing at random, then doing the same for any other major animated feature of similar vintage: chances are, the former will far more often produce an image you’d like to capture in high resolution and use for your desktop background, or perhaps even print out and hang on your wall.

Now, Studio Ghibli have provided such images themselves, in an online collection (click here and scroll down the page) that offers more than 1,100 stills from their films, all free for the download. This trove has grown considerably since we first featured it this past fall here at Open Culture.

In that post, Ted Mills quotes Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki as instructing visitors to use the images “freely within the scope of common sense.” It was Suzuki, you may recall, who once taught us to draw the eponymous feline-ursine star of My Neighbor Totoro, the most beloved of the studio’s works — downloadable frames from which Ghibli put up only in November.

Along with Totoro came images from the acclaimed (and highly successful) likes of Spirited Away and Porco Rosso, as well as its lesser known romantic drama Ocean Waves, made for television by the studio’s younger animators in the early 1990s. The most recent update, made earlier this month, includes images from 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is now considered Ghibli’s honorary first picture, having been directed by co-founder Hayao Miyazaki before the studio’s foundation. There are also stills from 2016’s The Red Turtle, the stark, wordless feature produced by Suzuki but directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit.

Though the site is only in Japanese, anyone who’s seen at least a few Ghibli movies should have no problem finding their favorites, from the aforementioned residents of greatest-animated-films-of-all-time lists to highly respected but lower-profile works like Only Yesterday by Miyazaki’s Ghibli-founding parter, the late Isao Takahata. There’s also plenty to delight Ghibli fans of a more die-hard persuasion: take, for example, the visual materials from “On Your Mark,” the futuristic, nonlinear animated music video made for rock duo Chage & Aska. Whatever your own level of investment in the work of Studio Ghibli, you’d do well to assume that they’ve only just got started putting up their archives.

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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.

When Albert Einstein & Charlie Chaplin Met and Became Fast Famous Friends (1930)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother,” goes a well-known quote attributed variously to Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Ernest Rutherford. No matter who said it, “the sentiment… rings true,” writes Michelle Lavery, “for researchers in all disciplines from particle physics to ecopsychology.” As Feynman discovered during his many years of teaching, it could be “the motto of all professional communicators,” The Guardian’s Russell Grossman writes, “and especially those who earn a living communicating the tricky business of science.”

Einstein became one of the world’s great science communicators by choice, not necessity, and found ways to explain his complex theories to children and the elderly alike. But perhaps, if he’d had his way, he would rather have avoided words altogether, and preferred acrobatic feats of silent daring to get his message across. We might at least conclude so from his reverence for the work of Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was the only person Einstein wanted to meet in California during his second, 1930-31 visit to the U.S., when he was “at the height of his fame,” notes Claire Cock-Starkey at Mental Floss, “with newspapers tracking his every move and academics clamoring for explanations of his theories.”

The admiration, of course, was mutual. Their first meetings happened outside the press’s scrutiny, at Universal Studios, “where the pair took a tour and had lunch together. They hit it off straight away, sharing quick wits and curious minds.” In his autobiography, Chaplin writes that Einstein’s wife Elsa finagled an invitation to dinner at Chaplin’s house. And he “was only too happy to oblige,” Cock-Starkey writes, arranging an “intimate dinner, at which Elsa regaled him with the story of when Einstein came up with his world-changing theory, sometime around 1915.”

The two continued to correspond, and the big public unveiling of their friendship came when Chaplin invited Einstein to the premier of City Lights in 1931 (see photo up top) where the mega-celebrities from very different worlds were greeted by reporters, photographers, and adoring crowds. There are several recorded versions of their conversation. In one account, Einstein expressed bemusement at the cheering, and Chaplin remarked, “the people applaud me because everyone understands me, and they applaud you because no one understands you.”

Chaplin himself wrote in his 1933-34 travelogue, A Comedian Sees the World, that one of Einstein’s sons uttered the line, weeks afterward: “You are popular [because] you are understood by the masses. On the other hand, the professor’s popularity with the masses is because he is not understood.” Yet another version, circulating on the Nobel Prize’s Instagram and collecting tens of thousands of likes, has the exchange take place in a dialogue.

Einstein: “What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don’t say a word, yet the world understands you!”

Chaplin: “True. But your glory is even greater! The whole world admires you, even though they don’t understand a word of what you say.”

Whatever they really said to each other, it’s clear Einstein saw something in Charlie Chaplin worth emulating. Chaplin left his mark on Existentialist philosophy, lending the name of his film Modern Times to Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir’s influential journal, Les Temps Modernes. He left a legacy on Beat poetry, lending the name City Lights to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s infamous San Francisco bookstore and publisher. And it seems he also maybe had some small effect on physics, or on the most famous of physicists, who might have harbored a secret ambition to be a silent film comedian—or to communicate, at least, with the universal effectiveness of one as skilled as Charlie Chaplin, favorite of geniuses and grandmothers (and genius grandmothers) everywhere.

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

The Power of Pulp Fiction’s Dance Scene, Explained by Choreographers and Even John Travolta Himself

All the great movies have a few memorable scenes; Pulp Fiction is made of nothing but. More than a quarter-century ago, that film’s release turned a young video-store clerk-turned-auteur called Quentin Tarantino into a household name. Cinephiles today still argue about which is the most memorable among its scenes, and only the most contrarian could fail to consider the dance. It comes early in the film, when the hitman Vincent Vega takes his boss’ wife out to dinner, the absent kingpin having ordered him to do so. The two eat at an elaborately 1950s-themed diner and on a whim enter its twist contest. They walk off the dance floor with a trophy — as well as a couple decades’ influence on popular culture.

“The twist was made famous in the 60s,” explains choreographer Lauren Yalango-Grant in the Vanity Fair video just above. “There were a lot of variations that came out of the twist that we do see in this scene,” such as “the monkey,” “the swim,” and “the Batman,” better known as “the Batusi.”

As busted by John Tavolta and Uma Thurman, all these moves come out in an improvisational fashion, each in response to the last: “If John starts to do the Batman, then Uma’s going to ‘yes-and’ it with not only a Batman but an open palm, her own version of this move,” adds choreographer Christopher Grant. Their movements give the scene a great deal of its impact, but so does those movements’ incongruity with their expressions, which Yalango-Grant calls “the juxtaposition of their seriousness and the lack of play on their faces versus the play in their bodies.”

Though now cinematically iconic in its own right, Pulp Fiction‘s dance scene pays homage to a host of older films. The most obvious is Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part, with what Yalango-Grant calls its “amazing dance sequence in a cafe. It’s totally out of context, of nowhere.” Never shy to admit his acts of artistic “theft,” Tarantino once complained that too few picked up this one: “Everybody thinks that I wrote this scene just to have John Travolta dancing. But the scene existed before John Travolta was cast.” The director’s intention, rather, was to pay tribute to his favorite musical sequences, which “have always been in Godard, because they just come out of nowhere. It’s so infectious, so friendly. And the fact that it’s not a musical, but he’s stopping the movie to have a musical sequence, makes it all the more sweet.”

The casting of Travolta (Tarantino’s “strong, strong, strong second choice” for Vincent Vega) proved fortuitous. The very image of the man dancing made for yet another chapter of pop culture from which the film could draw, but without his real-life dancing skills and instincts, the scene wouldn’t have been as memorable as it is. “Quentin was dead-set on both of us doing the twist, which is a very fun dance, but it’s limited in how long one wants to watch someone do the twist,” Travolta remembers on a recent appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden. So he told the director, “When I was growing up, there were novelty dances. There were dances like the swim and the Batman and the hitchhiker and the tighten up. Maybe we should widen the spectrum on this.” Tarantino’s unwillingness to compromise his ambitions and obsessions has made him perhaps the most acclaimed filmmaker of his generation, but so has knowing when to defer to the star of Saturday Night Fever.

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Quentin Tarantino Gives Sneak Peek of Pulp Fiction to Jon Stewart in 1994

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An Analysis of Quentin Tarantino’s Films Narrated (Mostly) by Quentin Tarantino

How Anna Karina (RIP) Became the Mesmerizing Face of the French New Wave

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.

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