When David Bowie Played Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Film, Basquiat

Many actors have played Andy Warhol over the years, but not as many as you might think. Crispin Glover played him in The Doors, Jared Harris played him in I Shot Andy Warhol, Guy Pearce played him in Factory Girl, and Bill Hader played him in Men in Black III, but with a twist: he is actually an agent who is so bad as his cover role as an artist, he’s “painting soup cans and bananas, for Christ sakes!” On television John Cameron Mitchell has acted the Warhol role in Vinyl, and Evan Peters briefly portrayed him in American Horror Story: Cult.

But you might suspect our favorite Warhol would be the one acted by David Bowie in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat, the biopic of the Black street artist who was taken into the art world fold by Warhol, and wound up collaborating with him in last works by both artists. Jeffrey Wright plays Basquiat in one of his earliest roles.

Now, you might watch this scene from Basquiat above (and another below) and say, well, that’s just mostly Bowie. But I would say, yes, that’s kind of the point. Andy Warhol is an enigmatic figure, a legend to many, a man who hid behind a constructed persona; David Bowie is too. When one plays the other, a weird sort of magic happens. Fame leaks into fame. Many actors might do better with the mannerisms or the voice, but the charisma…that is all Bowie. After singing about the painter back in 1972, Bowie finally collapsed their visions together in the art of film, where reality and fantasy meet and meld.

Around this time in the mid 1990s, Bowie was very much a part of the New York/London art scene. He was on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine and interviewed Basquiat director (and artist) Julian Schnabel, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and Balthus. A conceptual artist-slash-serial killer became one of the main characters of his overlooked 1995 Eno collaboration Outside. He was both a collector and an artist, which we’ve focused on before. And he was thinking about the new world opening up because of the internet. Bowie’s artist brain saw the possibilities and the dangers, and also the raw capitalist potential. He offered shares in himself as an IPO in 1997 and released a single as Tao Jones Index, three puns in one. Bowie never predicted the idiocy of the NFT, but he certainly would have laughed wryly at it.

In this Charlie Rose interview to promote Basquiat, Bowie and Schnabel discuss the role of Warhol, the role of art, and the reality of the art world.

“It was more of an impersonation, really,” says Bowie about his Warhol. “That’s how I approach anything.” Of note, however, is how quickly Bowie moves away from discussing himself or the film to talk about larger issues of art and commerce. Bowie does admit that he and Schnabel disagree on a lot of things, and you can see it in their body language. But there’s also a huge respect. It’s a fascinating interview, go watch the whole thing.

Bonus: Below watch Bowie meeting Warhol back during the day…

Related Content:

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The Odd Couple: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, 1986

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider: The Rise and Fall of BowieNet (1998)

Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Revolutionary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large Format Book by Taschen

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.

What’s the Role of a Director in Constructing Comedy? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #100

What makes for a good comedy film or show? Funny people reading (or improvising) funny lines is not enough; an good director needs to capture (or recreate in the editing room) comic timing, construct shots so that the humor comes through and coach the actors to make sure that the tone of the work is consistent.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Heather Fink to discuss the role of the director in making a comedy (or anything else) actually good. Heather has directed for TV, film, and commercials and spent a lot of time doing sound (a boom operator or sound utility) for productions like Saturday Night Live, Get Out, The Morning Show, and Marvel’s Daredevil.

We talk about maintaining comedy through the tedious process of filming, putting actors through sex scenes and other hardships, not telling them how to say their lines, comedians in dramas, directing improv/prank shows, and more. We touch on include Bad Trip, Barry, and Ted Lasso, and more.

Watch some of Heather’s work:

  • Alleged, a short about dramatizing accusations against Steven Segal
  • Inside You, a film she wrote, directed, and (reluctantly) starred in
  • The Focus Group, a short Heather directed written by and starring Sara Benincasa

We used some articles to bring various directors and techniques to mind:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that 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.

The Aesthetic of Evil: A Video Essay Explores Evil in the Films of Bergman, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese & Beyond

Movies have heroes and villains. Or at least children’s movies do; the more sophisticated the audience, the hazier the line between good and evil becomes, until it finally seems to vanish altogether. Not that cinema directed toward genuinely mature audiences dispenses with those concepts entirely: rather, it makes art out of the ambiguity and interpenetration between them. This is true, to an extent, even in some of the recent wave of big-budget superhero movies, in the main exercises in rolling an “adult” texture onto stories essentially geared toward adolescents. Hence the appearance of the Joker, Batman’s grinning arch-nemesis, in “The Aesthetic of Evil,” the Cinema Cartography video essay above.

In the Joker of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, “we see an evil that’s relentless, primarily because the core function is complete and total anarchy. Whatever order is established, whoever it’s under ,must be destroyed. As a result, an epoch is created where any rules or codes of conduct are broken. Anything that you anticipate will happen, will result in the opposite.”

This Joker made an outsized cultural impact with not just the explicitness of his disorder-oriented morality, but also a material-transcending performance by Heath Ledger. In that same era, Jamie Hector took a comparatively minimalist but equally memorable turn in David Simon’s series The Wire as Marlo Stanfield, a drug kingpin “too villainous for the villains.” Like the Joker, Marlo is a law unto himself, “willing to destroy the equilibrium of any facet of the world there is, on a whim.”

These two represent just one of the forms evil has taken in recent decades. The essay’s other examples range from Psycho‘s Norman Bates and 2001’s HAL 9000 to The King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin and Fanny and Alexander‘s stepfather Edvard — or rather, the unwelcome transformation of the family Edvard represents. The most diabolical evil does not confine itself within the person of the antagonist, especially not in the work of Michael Haneke, which twice appears in “The Aesthetic of Evil.” Benny’s Video is on one level about a murderous adolescent; on another, it’s about the “evasion of the real” that seduces us all. The White Ribbon is on one level about random acts of violence in a small village; on another, it’s about how evil reflects “the collective consciousness of a society.” Haneke’s films have often been described as difficult to watch, and that may well have less to do with what they show than what they know: even if we aren’t all villains, we’re certainly not heroes.

Related Content:

Orson Welles on the Art of Acting: ‘There is a Villain in Each of Us’

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” a Quote Falsely Attributed to Edmund Burke

Why Do Tech Billionaires Make for Good TV Villains? Pretty Much Pop #93 Considers “Made for Love,” et al.

The Aesthetic of Anime: A New Video Essay Explores a Rich Tradition of Japanese Animation

The Dark Knight: Anatomy of a Flawed Action Scene

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.

Neil Young Plays “Hey, Hey, My, My” with Devo: Watch a Classic Scene from the Improvised Movie Human Highway (1980)

For Neil Young fans, the words “Human Highway” can mean one of three different things, two of which are so unlike the third, it’s as if they came from different artists. First, there’s “Human Highway,” the song, one of Young’s gentle acoustic rags, with Nicolette Larson’s soft vocal harmonies and lots of banjo and fiddle. It landed on 1978’s Comes a Time but debuted five years earlier, nearly becoming the title track for a CSNY album that never materialized, a legendary follow-up to Déjà Vu.

None of this has anything to do with Human Highway, the 1980 film directed by Neil Young (as “Bernard Shakey”) and Dean Stockwell, which tells the “story,” if it can be called, of a crooked diner owner in a small town next to a nuclear power plant staffed by the members of Devo as “nuclear garbagepersons.” The cast is cult film royalty: “Dennis Hopper is a psychotic cook named Crackers,” notes critic Steven Puchalski, “Sally Kirkland is a beleaguered waitress; [Stockwell] is the new owner, Young Otto (son of the late Old Otto); plus Neil Young and Russ Tamblyn are frighteningly convincing as two noodle-headed gas pump operators, Lionel and Fred.”

The film is set on the last day before a nuclear apocalypse, a slapstick take on the time’s nuclear anxiety and Young’s stance against nuclear power. His nerdy Lionel idolizes rock star Frankie Fontaine (also Young), then becomes him in a dream sequence full of “wooden Indians” — his backing band. He then jams out with Devo for ten minutes (top) one of the highlights of the film, a performance of “Hey, Hey, My, My” with Mark Mothersbaugh taking lead vocals as Devo character “Booji Boy” (pronounced “boogie boy”).

“By normal standards,” Puchalski writes, “the movie sucks, but it’s a Mutant Must-See for Rock-‘N’-Schlock Completists.” It could also be one of the most influential indie films of the eighties, argues Den of Geek’s Jim Knipfel, leaving its mark on everything from Alex Cox’s Repo Man to David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet (in which Hopper and Stockwell play somewhat similar characters) and Twin Peaks (in which Russ Tamblyn appears), to Tim Burton’s Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure.

Or maybe Young “was simply cursed to be ten minutes ahead of his time,” given that hardly anyone saw Human Highway in 1982. Shot over four years, and mostly financed by Young himself, Human Highway saw a limited release in L.A. then disappeared until a 1996 VHS edit of the film brought it some renown and critical reappraisal. (Its cover quoted an agent at William Morris saying, “It’s so bad, it’s going to be huge.”) The film has since become a cult classic, warranting special screenings like a reunion in 2016 at L.A.’s Regal Theater featuring Young, Tamblyn, Devo’s Gerald Casale, actress Charlotte Stewart, and Cameron Crowe. (See a trailer for the DVD director’s cut release just above.)

At one point during the Q&A, Young turned to Crowe and asked, “Do you think we could get this movie made today?”. The film was made under unique conditions: “no script, improvised dialogue and a daily routine that began with someone asking him ‘What’s the plan today, Neil?’ to which he always replied ‘The plan today is no plan!'” It could get made, if Neil wanted to finance it (and a younger cast could handle the amount of drugs that clearly went into making the film). Given the number of digital distribution channels and Young’s fame, it could also very likely find a wide audience.

But in 1982, releasing a self-financed film, even if you were Neil Young, proved much more challenging. And in the late seventies and early eighties, one of the few ways for innovative New Wave bands like Devo to get wider notice was to catch the ear of stars like Young, who discovered them on stage in 1977 and knew he had to get them on film — before “Whip It” and their first defining hits came out — and show the rest of us what we were missing.

Related Content:

Neil Young Releases a Never-Before-Heard Version of His 1979 Classic, “Powderfinger”: Stream It Online

The Mastermind of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, Presents His Personal Synthesizer Collection

Who Is Neil Young?: A Video Essay Explores the Two Sides of the Versatile Musician–Folk Icon and Father of Grunge

When Neil Young & Rick “Super Freak” James Formed the 60’s Motown Band, The Mynah Birds

The Philosophy & Music of Devo, the Avant-Garde Art Project Dedicated to Revealing the Truth About De-Evolution

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

Watch 15 Hours of The Pink Panther for Free

Remember Saturday mornings?

If you’re an American of a certain age, you probably spent a good chunk of them sprawled in front of the TV, absorbing a steady stream of network cartoons peppered with ads for toys and sugared cereal.

One of Saturday morning’s animated stars stood out from the crowd, a lanky, bipedal feline of a distinctly rosy hue.

He shared Bugs Bunny’s anarchic streak, without the hopped-up, motormouthed intensity.

In fact, he barely spoke, and soon went entirely mute, relying instead on Henry Mancini’s famous theme, which followed him everywhere he went.

Above all, he was sophisticated, with a minimalist aesthetic and a long cigarette holder.

Director Blake Edwards attributes his lasting appeal to his “promiscuous, fun-loving, devilish” nature.

John Cork’s short documentary Behind the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon, below, details how Edwards charged commercial animators David DePatie and Friz Freleng with creating a cartoon persona for the Pink Panther Diamond in his upcoming jewel heist caper.

DePatie, Freleng and their team drafted over a hundred renderings in response to the character notes Edwards bombarded them with via telegram.

Edward’s favorite, designed by director Hawley Pratt, featured the iconic cigarette holder and appeared in the feature film’s trailer and title sequence, ultimately upstaging a star studded cast including David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner, and Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

The cartoon panther’s sensational debut prompted United Artists to order up another 156 shorts, to be released over a four to five year period. The first of these, The Pink Phink, not only established the tone, it also nabbed the Academy Award for 1964’s best animated short.

Although he was created with an adult audience in mind — the narrator of the original theatrical trailer asks him about bedroom scenes — his wordless torment of the simplified cartoon Inspector proved to be money in the bank on Saturday mornings.

The Pink Panther Show ran from 1969 to 1980, weathering various title tweaks and a jump from NBC to ABC.

Syndication and cable TV ensured a vibrant afterlife, here and in other countries, where the character’s sophistication and reliance on body language continues to be a plus.

The plots unfolded along predictable lines — the groovy panther spends 6 minutes thwarting and bedeviling a less cool, less pink-oriented character, usually the Inspector.

Every episode’s title includes a reference to the star’s signature color, often to groaning degree – Pink of the LitterPink-A-BooThe Hand Is Pinker Than the EyePinkcome TaxThe Scarlet Pinkernel….

We won’t ask you to guess the color of Pink Panther Flakes, manufactured under the auspices of Post, a Pink Panther Show co-sponsor.

“I thought it was just fine for the film,” Edwards says of the animated Pink Panther in Cork’s 2003 documentary, “But I had no idea that it would take off like that, that it would have that kind of a life of its own… that kind of a merchandising life of its own. Thank god it did!”

Stay cool this summer with an 11-hour Pink Panther marathon, comprised of the following free compilations of Seasons 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

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

An Introduction to Japanese Kabuki Theatre, Featuring 20th-Century Masters of the Form (1964)

The English language has adopted kabuki as an adjective, applied to situations where exaggerated appearances and performances are everything. Business, politics, media: name any realm of modernity, and the myriad ways in which its affairs can turn kabuki will spring to mind. A highly stylized form of dance-drama originating in the seventeenth century, it continues to stand today as a pillar of classical Japanese culture — and indeed, according to UNESCO, one piece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The worldwide regard for kabuki owes in part to self-promotional efforts on the part of Japan, whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned the half-hour introductory film above.

Produced in 1964, Kabuki: The Classic Theatre of Japan holds up as a representation of the art, as well as a view of some of the mid-20th century’s master practitioners. These actors include Jitsukawa Enjaku III, Nakamura Utaemon VI, and Ichikawa Danjūrō XI, whose stage names reflect their place in an unbroken professional lineage.

In fact, Ichikawa Danjūrō XI is a predecessor of Ichikawa Ebizō XI, previously featured here on Open Culture for his work in kabuki Star Wars adaptations. The generations shown here didn’t go in for such pop-cultural hybridization, but rather plays from the traditional kabuki repertoire like ShibarakuMusume Dōjōji, and Sukeroku, scenes from all three of which appear in the film.

“Through elaborate costumes and vivid makeup, through beautifully stylized acting and exaggerated vocalization, and highlighted with picturesque settings and colorful music, the kabuki actors create dramatic effects of extraordinary intensity within a framework of pure entertainment,” explains the narrator. And as in the early performances of Shakespeare, all the roles are played by males, specialists known as onnagata. “Because the emphasis in kabuki is on artistic performance, not realism, the onnagata is considered more capable of expressing true femininity than is possible for an actress.” This may have struck Western viewers in the 1960s as an odd notion, but the sheer foreignness of kabuki — cultural, geographical, and temporal — must have been as captivating back then as it remains today, no matter how long we’ve been throwing its name around.

Related Content:

Japanese Kabuki Actors Captured in 18th-Century Woodblock Prints by the Mysterious & Masterful Artist Sharaku

Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

World Shakespeare Festival Presents 37 Plays by the Bard in 37 Languages: Watch Them Online

A Page of Madness: The Lost, Avant Garde Masterpiece from the Early Days of Japanese Cinema (1926)

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.

Hear Isabella Rossellini Sing “Blue Velvet” in Its Entirety

Blue had a big moment in 1990’s European arthouse cinema, in films like Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue and Derek Jarman’s auto-elegiac Blue, the last film the director made before his death in 1995; blue as a color of impossible love, loss, and death — moods and themes deeply intertwined with music in both films and both directors’ oeuvres. But where would the color blue in art house cinema be without David Lynch’s 1986 Blue Velvet, the surreal neo-noir that introduced Lynch to Brooklyn-born composer Angelo Badalamenti, and thus began one of most creative of art house relationships between cinema and music?

Badalamenti first joined the film’s production not as a composer but as a voice coach for star Isabella Rossellini, who played a risky role not only because of Blue Velvet‘s sadomasochism and nudity, but also because she was cast as a lounge singer, even though, as Rossellini admits, she couldn’t sing. “My friend Peter Runflo said Lynch was shooting in North Carolina and Isabella Rossellini wasn’t happy with the people teaching her to sing,” Badalamenti tells Spirit and Flesh magazine.

“I said, ‘You can get anybody for that. I gotta wash my car.’ [laughs] I was more into arranging and orchestrating and didn’t know who David Lynch was. But he convinced me by saying it’s a Dino De Laurentiis movie – I knew that name. I met with Isabella and after a couple of hours with a piano and a little cassette recorder, we got a decent vocal.”

Lynch wanted Badalamenti to stick around and write a theme that sounded like the Cocteau Twins’ “Song of the Siren,” his favorite song at the time, which he couldn’t afford to license. The result was “Mysteries of Love,” sung by another stalwart Lynch musical collaborator, Julee Cruise. But it was the vocal stylings of Dorothy Vallens that gave the film its title and its prevailing mood. “Adorned in blue eyeshadow, carmine lipstick and a cheap wig, Dorothy sings in a joint called ‘The Slow Club,'” writes The New York Times’ Laurie Winer, “Performing only ballads with the word ‘blue’ in the title, she manages to put together a tattered glamour, like a remnant from a 40’s movie, that is palpably distressing when her stare floats out into the smoke-filled club.”

Lit in lurid blue light, Rossellini sings the film’s “Blue Velvet/Blue Star” medley in a smoky contralto, recalling Wassily Kandinsky’s observation, “the color blue can even cause a temporary paralysis.” In the video at the top, a YouTube user has reconstructed Rossellini’s full rendition of the titular song, a Number One hit in 1963 for Bobby Vinton and a breakout hit in 1951 for Tony Bennett. “Pardon the huge quality dip (and total mono for aural consistency),” the video’s creator notes, “but short of a new soundtrack release using the master, this is the most complete version of this we’ll be getting.”

The images and audio were cobbled together from the original 1990 soundtrack, German Filmmaker Peter Braatz’s 2016 documentary, Blue Velvet Revisited, a VHS copy of the film, and the original film audio. Like Nico, another heavily-European-accented former model whose monotone defined a new art movement, Rossellini’s tuneless lounge act announced a new surrealist aesthetic that would reach the mainstream with Blue Velvet‘s prominence upon its release. The lasting impact of Lynch’s love of blue on the following decade’s cinema deserves a study all its own, and we should always mark Blue Velvet as the first meeting of two artists (two “brothers,”  Badalamenti says) who did more to marry cinematic color and musical mood than perhaps any two collaborators in the art form.

Related Content: 

David Foster Wallace Explains How David Lynch’s Blue Velvet Taught Him the True Meaning of Avant Garde Art

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

Carl Sagan Tells Johnny Carson What’s Wrong with Star Wars: “They’re All White” & There’s a “Large Amount of Human Chauvinism in It” (1978)

Is Star Wars science fiction or fantasy? Different fans make different arguments, some even opting for a third way, claiming that the ever-multiplying stories of its ever-expanding fictional universe belong to neither genre. Back in 1978, the year after the release of the original Star Wars film (which no one then called “A New Hope,” let alone “Episode Four”), the question was approached by no less a popular scientific personality than Carl Sagan. It happened on national television, as the astronomer, cosmologist, writer, and television host in his own right sat opposite Johnny Carson. “The eleven-year-old in me loved them,” Sagan says in the clip above of Star WarsClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and other then-recent space-themed blockbusters. “But they could’ve made a better effort to do things right.”

Everyone remembers how Star Wars sets its stage: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” But right there, Sagan has a problem. Despite its remoteness from us, this galaxy happens also to be populated by human beings, “the result of a unique evolutionary sequence, based upon so many individually unlikely, random events on the Earth.”

So Homo sapiens couldn’t have evolved on any other planet, Carson asks, let alone one in another galaxy? “It’s extremely unlikely that there would be creatures as similar to us as the dominant ones in Star Wars.” He goes on to make a more specific critique, one publicized again in recent years as ahead of its time: “They’re all white.” That is, in the skins of most of the movie’s characters, “not even the other colors represented on the Earth are present, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.”

Carson responds, as anyone would, by bringing up Star Warscantina scene, with its rogue’s gallery of variously non-humanoid habitués. “But none of them seemed to be in charge of the galaxy,” Sagan points out. “Everybody in charge of the galaxy seemed to look like us. I thought there was a large amount of human chauvinism in it.” That no medal is bestowed upon Chewbacca, despite his heroics, Sagan declares an example of “anti-Wookiee discrimination” — with tongue in cheek, granted, but pointing up how much more interesting science fiction could be if it relied a little less on human conventions and drew a little more from scientific discoveries. Not that Star Wars is necessarily science fiction. “It was a shootout, wasn’t it?” Carson asks. “A Western in outer space.” Johnny never did hesitate to call ’em as he saw ’em.

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Carl Sagan Predicts the Decline of America: Unable to Know “What’s True,” We Will Slide, “Without Noticing, Back into Superstition & Darkness” (1995)

Carl Sagan on the Importance of Choosing Wisely What You Read (Even If You Read a Book a Week)

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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.

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