Slot Machine Age: A 1964 British Newsreel Angsts Over Whether Automated Machines Will Displace People

When Americans hear the phrase “slot machine,” they think of pensioners compulsively pulling levers day and night in Las Vegas. But when the British hear it, a much less bleak vision comes to their minds: the automated dispensation of cigarettes, coffee, groceries, and even entire meals. Or at least such a vision came to the minds of Britons back in 1964, the year of the British Pathé newsreel above. With its brilliant colors and jazzy score, Slot Machine Age proudly displayed to the viewing public the range of coin-operated wonders already making their way into daily life, from pay phones and pinball machines to shoe-buffers and bottle-recycling stations.

“This invention, this brainchild of the boffins, has created a new disease,” declares the announcer: “slot machine fever.” Again, this has nothing to do with gambling, and everything to do with automation. Nearly 60 years ago, buying something from a machine was a novelty to most people in even the most highly industrialized countries on Earth.

Yet even then the automat, where diners pulled all their dishes from coin-operated windows, had in certain cities been an institution for decades. Alas, such establishments didn’t survive the explosion of fast food in the 1970s, whose business model made use of more, not less, human labor.

But in the 1960s, the age of the robot seemed well on its way — so much so that this phrase titles another, slightly later British Pathé production showcasing a “semi-computerized version of the dumbwaiter” being tried out in hotel rooms. From it the film’s honeymooning couple extract cocktails, peanuts, toothpaste, and “that last cigarette of the day.” It even offers reading material, a concept since tried again in France, Poland, San Francisco, and an eccentric bookstore in Toronto, but the glorious age of all-around convenience predicted in these newsreels has yet to materialize. We citizens of the 21st century are in many cases hardly pleased, but rather anxious about what we see as our growing dependence on automation. Still, with the coronavirus-induced vogue for contact-free payment and dining, perhaps it’s time to give the automat another chance.

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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 or on Facebook.

Watch Free Cult Films by Stanley Kubrick, Fritz Lang, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi & More on the New Kino Cult Streaming Service

For many Open Culture readers, the Halloween season offers an opportunity — not to say an excuse — to re-experience classic horror films: F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu from 1922, for instance, or even George Méliès The Haunted Castle, which launched the whole form in 1896. This year, may we suggest a home screening of the formidable work of vintage cinema that is 1968’s The Astro Zombies? Written, produced, and directed by Ted Mikels — auteur of The Corpse Grinders and Blood Orgy of the She-Devils — it features not just “a mad astro-scientist” played by John Carradine and “two gore-crazed, solar-powered killer robot zombies,” but “a bloody trail of girl-next-door victims; Chinese communist spies; deadly Mexican secret agents led by the insanely voluptuous Tura Satana” and an “intrepid CIA agent” on the case of it all.

You can watch The Astro Zombies for free, and newly remastered in HD to boot, at Kino Cult, the new streaming site from film and video distributor Kino Lorber. Pull up the front page and you’ll be treated to a wealth of titillating viewing options of a variety of eras and subgenres: “Drive-in favorites” like Ape and Beware! The Blob; “golden age exploitation” like Reefer Madness and She Shoulda Said ‘No’!; and even classics like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire.

True cult-film enthusiasts, of course, may well go straight to the available selections, thoughtfully grouped together, from “Master of Italian Horror” Mario Bava and prolific Spanish “B-movie” kingpin Jesús Franco. Those looking to throw a fright night might consider Kino Cult’s offerings filed under “hardboiled horror”: Killbillies, The House with 100 Eyes, Bunny: The Killer Thing.

Few of these pictures skimp on the grotesque; fewer still skimp on the humor, a necessary ingredient in even the most harrowing horror movies. Far from a pile of cynical hackwork, Kino Cult’s library has clearly been curated with an eye toward films that, although for the most part produced inexpensively and with unrelenting intent to provoke visceral reactions in their audiences, are hardly without interest to serious cinephiles. The site even includes an “artsploitation” section containing such taboo-breaching works as Curtis Burz’s Summer House. Among its general recent additions you’ll also find Dogtooth by Yorgos Lanthimos, perhaps the most daring high-profile provocateur currently at work in the medium. Since Kino Cult has made all these films and more available to stream at no charge, none of us, no matter our particular cinematic sensibilities, has an excuse to pass this Halloween un-entertained — and more to the point, undisturbed. Enter the collection 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 or on Facebook.

Quentin Tarantino Gives a Tour of Video Archives, the Store Where He Worked Before Becoming a Filmmaker

When Quentin Tarantino hit it big in the 1990s with Reservoir Dogs, and then much bigger with Pulp Fiction, he became known as the auteur who’d received his film education by working as a video-store clerk. But like much Hollywood hype, that story wasn’t quite true. “No, I was already a movie expert,” says the man himself in a clip from the 1994 BBC documentary Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood’s Boy Wonder. “That’s how I got hired at Video Archives.” Located in the South Bay — a comparatively little-seen region of Los Angeles County later paid loving tribute with Jackie Brown — the store was, in the words of one of its owners, “one of the few places that Quentin could come as a regular guy and get a job and become like a star.”

“Me and the other guys would walk into the local movie theater and we’d be heading toward our seats and we’d hear, ‘There go the guys from Video Archives,'” says Tarantino in Tom Roston’s I Lost It at the Video Store. On one level, the experience constituted “a primer to what it would be like to be famous.” Having begun as a Video Archives customer, Tarantino wound up working there for five years, offering voluminous and forceful recommendations by day and, after closing, putting on staff-only film festivals by night. “That time is captured perfectly in True Romance,” which Tony Scott directed but Tarantino wrote, and one of those co-workers, Roger Avary, would collaborate with him on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction.

Video Archives was a beacon to all the South Bay’s “film geeks.” Then as now, most such people “devote a lot of money and they devote a lot of their life to the following of film, but they don’t really have that much to show for all this devotion,” other than their strongly held cinematic opinions. “What you find out fairly quickly in Hollywood is, this is a community where hardly anybody trusts their own opinion. People want people to tell them what is good, what to like, what not to like.” Hence the ability of the young Tarantino,  brimming with opinions and unafraid to state them and possessed of an unwavering resolve to make movies of his own, to go from video-store clerking practically straight to the top of the industry. Though he didn’t need film school — nor college, or indeed high school — he could hardly have found a more suitable alma mater.

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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 or on Facebook.

Quentin Tarantino Reviews Movies: From Dunkirk and King of New York, to Soul Brothers of Kung Fu & More

Some of the most influential directors of the French New Wave, like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Éric Rohmer, first stepped into the world of film as critics. They found their voices by publishing in the Paris cinephile institution of Cahiers du cinéma; a few decades later, Quentin Tarantino found his own by working at the Manhattan Beach cinephile institution of Video Archives. Stories of all the myriad ways in which he would express his enthusiasm for and expertise on cinema there have passed into legend. But just like the critics Godard, Truffaut, and Rohmer, the video-store clerk Tarantino ultimately seems to have signed on to the old proposition that the best response to a work of art is another work of art.

Tarantino’s endorsements of and introductions to the work of other directors (for example, the one he recorded for Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express) have given us a sense of his cinematic taste. So, in an even more telling manner, do the elements he steals — by his own admission — from other movies.

A look at the dance scene in Pulp Fiction, for example, reveals a filmmaker well acquainted with the French New Wave, and even more so with the work of Italia master Federico Fellini that came out in the same era. And even if you think you could go head-to-head with Tarantino on midcentury European auteurs, could you match his understanding of A Man Called TigerFatal Needles vs. Fatal Fists, or Soul Brothers of Kung Fu?

Those are just three of the films Tarantino has reviewed at the web site of the New Beverly Cinema, the theater he owns in Los Angeles. Published in a low-profile manner, these short essays on the kind of 1970s Hong Kong martial-arts pictures that rightfully belong on downtown triple-bills (and that Tarantino surely first saw on downtown triple-bills) exude the kind of fan-critic energy that brings to mind bygone days of the internet.

Not that Tarantino eschews more recent movies and movie media. In late 2019 and early 2010, he appeared three times on The Ringer’s The Rewatchables podcast to share his thoughts on three pictures worth seeing again: Christopher Nolan‘s Dunkirk from 2017, Tony Scott’s Unstoppable from 2010, and Abel Ferrara’s King of New York from 1990. Listen and you may just feel like a Video Archive customer in the 1980s, getting recommendations from an oddly persuasive clerk.

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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 or on Facebook.

Watch a Gripping 10-Minute Animation About the Hunt for Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann

In February 2018, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany conducted interviews with 1,350 American adults, aged 18 and up.

Their findings, published as the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study, reveal a sharp decline in Americans’ awareness of the state-sponsored extermination of six million Jewish men, women, and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.

This knowledge gap was particularly pronounced among the millennial respondents. Sixty-six percent had not heard of Auschwitz — the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers, where over a million perished. Twenty-two percent of them had not heard of (or were unsure if they had heard of) the Holocaust.

This is shocking to those of us who grew up reading The Diary of Anne Frank and attending assemblies where Holocaust survivors — often the older relative of a classmate — spoke of their experiences, rolling up their sleeves to show us the serial numbers that had been tattooed on their arms upon arrival at Auschwitz.

The study did make the heartening discovery that nearly all of the respondents — 93% — believed that the Holocaust should be a topic of study in the schools, many citing their belief that such an education will prevent a calamity of that magnitude from happening again.

(In defense of millennials, it’s worth noting that in the decades since 1977, when more than half of the country tuned in to watch the miniseries Roots, the Civil War and the horrors of slavery had all but disappeared from American curriculums, a direction the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting to redress.)

The Holocaust is such a huge subject that there is a question of how to introduce it, ideally, in such a way that young people’s interest is sparked toward continuing their education.

The Driver is Red, Randall Christopher‘s animated short, above, could make an excellent, if somewhat unusual, starting place.

The film’s text is drawn from Israeli Mossad Special Agent Zvi Aharoni’s first person account of the successful manhunt that tracked Adolf Eichmann, a member of Heinrich Himmler’s inner circle and architect of the Nazi’s “final solution,” to Argentina.

This event transpired in 1960, fifteen years after Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz.

Aharoni, voiced by actor Mark Pinter, recalls receiving the tip that Eichmann was living in Argentina under an assumed name, and locating him in a modest dwelling on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Filmmaker Christopher builds the tension during the ensuing stakeout with effective, noir-ish, pencil sketches that take shape before our eyes, mapping surveillance points, a couple of happy accidents, and one harrowing moment where Aharoni feared his foreign accent might give him away.

There’s more to the story than can be packed in a fourteen minute film, but those fourteen minutes are as gripping as any tightly plotted spy movie.

Christopher is less interested in directing the next James Bond flick than putting Holocaust education back on the table for all Americans.

2016 New York Times article about the handwritten letter Eichmann sent Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, begging for clemency, paved the way for the film by motivating Christopher to fill in some gaps in his education with regard to the Holocaust.

As the then-46-year-old told Leorah Gavidor of The San Diego Reader in 2018:

I (felt) so dumb, so ignorant, being an adult in America and not knowing the history of it.

My friends, people I told this story to, they were fascinated. They would start listening very carefully when I started to talk about this Nazi from Germany that was found 15 years after the war, halfway around the world. They didn’t know anything about it. That’s how I knew I was on to something.

Before the film was completed, Christopher staged a live reading of the script at San Diego’s Verbatim Books, then passed the mic to Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler, who told the audience about surviving Auschwitz.

As Christopher recalled:

People were tripping. There’s three lines about Treblinka in the film, and this Nazi war criminal, and then they see someone there, with the tattoo on her arm, in front of them, who experienced this firsthand.

Mrs. Schindler became a Holocaust educator in 1972, when her son’s teacher invited her to share her story with his middle school classmates.

She is now 91.

via The Atlantic

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

King Arthur in Film: Our Most Enduring Popular Entertainment Franchise? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #104

With the recent theatrical release of The Green Knight, your Pretty Much Pop host Mark Linsenmayer, returning host Brian Hirt, plus Den of Geek’s David Crow and the very British Al Baker consider the range of cinematic Arthuriana, including Excalibur (1981), Camelot (1967), King Arthur (2004), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), First Knight (1995), Sword of the Valiant (1983), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1973), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

Arthuriana encompasses numerous (sometimes contradicting) stories that accrued and evolved for nearly 1000 years after the probable existence of the unknown person who was the historical source for the character before the 14th century poem (author unknown) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and then in the 15th century Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, which provided the template for well-known modern retellings like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958).

The length and complexity of this mythology makes a single film problematic, with most settling on the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere leading to Camelot’s downfall. Multiple TV treatments have tried to do it justice, and if Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword had been a box office success, then we’d currently be seeing multiple films in an Arthurian cinematic universe. By picking a smaller story and not trying too hard to tie it to King Arthur (who appears but is not named), The Green Knight is able to be more creative in painting and updating the strange story of Sir Gawain, who in previous cinematic outings (including Sword of the Valiant where Sean Connery played The Green Knight) involved Gawain involved in a series of nonsensical adventures far removed from the events told in the original poem.

We talk through characterization in a mythic story, stylizing the epic (how much violence? how weird?), its status as public domain material (like Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes), and the moral lesson of the original Gawain poem and what director David Lowery did with that for the new film. Is the new film actually enjoyable, or just carefully thought through and artfully shot? Note that we don’t spoil anything significant about The Green Knight until the last ten minutes, so it’s fine if you haven’t seen it (Al hadn’t either).

Here are song articles by David Crow on our topic:

Other articles we used to prep for this included:

The YouTube versions of the source material that Mark listened to are here and here, and the relevant Great Courses offering is here.

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at 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 Agnès Varda Explores Beauty in Cléo from 5 to 7: a Video Essay

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” That quote is usually attributed to Anaïs Nin, who counts among the most famous Parisiennes despite only having spent a relatively short stretch of her life there. Cléo Victoire must also occupy those same ranks, despite being a wholly fictional character. We know her as the protagonist of 1962’s Cléo from 5 to 7the breakout feature by French New Wave auteur Agnès Varda — another of the great Parisiennes of our time, if one reluctant enough to have arrived for her education at the Sorbonne seeing Paris as a “grey, inhumane, sad city.” Still, as Cléo’s perambulations through and interactions with Paris reveal, Varda certainly knew how to use the place.

As the film plays out in real time, “we follow Cléo through an afternoon as she journeys across real locations in Paris, waiting for her dreaded test results to be ready.” So says Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, in his new video essay “Through Agnes Varda’s Looking Glass.” A promising singer, Cléo has undergone a medical examination to determine whether or not she has cancer, and not until the final scene will she have the answer.

In the meantime, Varda takes the opportunity to “paint a complex picture of a complex woman on a stressful day in her life.” This stress prompts Cléo “to examine and ultimately confront her self-image,” a journey that takes her past, among other things, more than a few mirrors.

Beginning the film as a self-regarding character — in the most literal sense — Cléo never passes up a chance to check her own reflection, and thus confirm her own existence. “If she’s not a beautiful, healthy, up-and-coming singer,” as Puschak articulates the question that descends upon her, “who is she?” Composed only of outside perceptions, Cléo’s center cannot hold; eventually “she discards the identity she’s made for others. She ceases to be an object, looked at even by herself and becomes a subject, the one who looks.” Her crisis forces her to “observe the world as it is, not as a reflection of people’s expectation of her.” Varda’s cinematic vision of her transformation shows what it is to see things not as we are, but as they are.

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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 or on Facebook.

Darth Vader’s Voice: The Original Voice Versus the Vocals of James Earl Jones

The hulking black-caped figure, “a walking iron lung,” as George Lucas called him in 1977, Darth Vader more than rightly tops a list of the 50 best movie villains of all time as the “gold standard of villainy,” but it took more than inspired costuming to make him so. Vader is a composite creation of several different talents. The quality by which we most know (and fear) him – the booming voice that commands and kills from afar — came, of course, from James Earl Jones. As one of the 20th century’s greatest actors, it’s fair to say that Jones not only provided Vader’s voice, but he also provided the villains soul, inasmuch as the Sith Lord had one left.

Although he redeemed himself at the end of Return of the Jedi, Vader’s humanity was an open question throughout most of the trilogy. When he “naturally … wanted to make Darth Vader more interesting, more subtle, more psychologically oriented,” Jones says,” Lucas reportedly replied, “No, no. What we’re finding out is you’ve got to keep his voice on a very narrow band of inflection because he ain’t human, really.”

While he worried about casting the only Black actor in the first Star Wars film in the role of a dehumanized villain, Lucas ultimately decided that no one else, not even Orson Welles, could convey Vader’s serious intent.

But first, actor David Prowse understandably thought he had the role when he put on the heavy black suit, helmet, and cape. Best known for his role as the Green Cross Code Man, a well-loved public service announcement hero in the UK, the former bodybuilder Prowse performed Vader’s lines from inside the costume, his voice muffled, as you can hear in the clips above, by the mask. During the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope, Prowse was told that Vader’s lines would be re-recorded. He did not know that someone else would play the role.

Jones himself asked for no credit and did not receive any until Return of the Jedi. Paid $7,500, he thought of the 2 ½ hours spent in the recording booth for the first film as “just special effects.” (The real effects artist, sound designer Ben Burtt, created Vader’s iconic mechanical breathing sound by syncing recordings of his scuba gear to Jones’ breaths.) Jones once told Star Wars Insider that David Prowse “is Vader.” And while the six-foot-seven Prowse, who passed away last November, might have been perfectly cast as the imposing form, no one on set could hear him as Darth Vader.

“With a strong Devonshire accent that earned him the nickname ‘Darth Farmer’ from the crew,” Force Material notes, “the reality is that Dave Prowse was never going to be called upon to provide the voice of Darth Vader.” We might digress on the distribution of accents in the Star Wars universe. Maybe Prowse wasn’t the right Englishman to play the part, but why didn’t Lucas cast another British actor, as he had for every other major bad guy in the film, beginning a tradition that continues in Star Wars movies and related media over forty years later?

There’s hardly any question. No one can command attention with his voice like James Earl Jones. And perhaps no other actor could give such enduringly human menace to a character described by its creator as a walking iron lung.

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

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