Video & Multimedia
November 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
A century ago, well before Jurassic Park or The Land Before Time or even plain old moribund Godzilla, cinema’s preeminent dinosaur was Gertie, a colorless, potentially narcoleptic herbivore, species indeterminate, fond of dancing and casting elephants into the sea. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) was one of the first animated films; it pioneered key-frame animation, a technique in which a story’s major positions were drawn first and the intervening frames were filled in afterward. Gertie’s creator, the cartoonist Winsor McCay, made more than ten thousand drawings of her, and these, as you can see above, yielded fewer than seven minutes of animated footage. (If you want to skip straight to the Gertie goods, head to the seven-minute mark, but beware—you’ll miss some riveting live-action scenes featuring well-dressed gentlemen shaking hands, well-dressed gentlemen gathering at a dinner party, and well-dressed gentlemen smoking.)
This Friday, as part of the MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation, the animation historian John Canemaker hosts a screening of Gertie and three of McCay’s other early animations, “as well as a re-creation—with audience participation—of the legendary routine that introduced Gertie in McCay’s vaudeville act.” No elephants will be harmed.
September 22, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Before she made a living as a novelist, Fay Weldon, who’s eighty-three today, was a copywriter “at O&M, a copy group head in charge of the Little Lion egg account, first-generation IBM computers, and goodness knows what else.” As she tells it, her crowning achievement there was the slogan “Vodka makes you drunker quicker”: “It just seemed to me to be obvious that people who wanted to get drunk fast needed to know this.” Her superiors disagreed—god knows why—and the motto never saw the light of day.
What did see the light of day is “Go to Work on an Egg,” a masterly double entendre that served as the catchphrase for the aptly named British Egg Marketing Board. Weldon managed the ad team that coined the phrase, and proof of her handiwork abounds. On YouTube you can find a series of “Go to Work on an Egg” meta-advertisements in which an increasingly indignant Tony Hancock—a famous British radio and TV personality—bemoans that his career has come to this. “Ladies and gentlemen, owing to the present state of the theatrical profession, I have with great reluctance been forced to accept a job as a supporting actor to a lady doing a commercial for eggs.” Read More »
September 10, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Though she’s known mainly for her poetry, H.D. was a cineaste, too, in both senses of the word—in the late twenties she formed the Pool Group with Kenneth Macpherson and Bryher (the pen name of Annie Winifred Ellerman). They published a film journal, Close Up, to which H.D. frequently contributed, and they made a number of films, only one of which survives in full. It’s 1930’s Borderline, starring Paul Robeson opposite H.D. herself, credited here as Helga Doorn. It’s about an interracial, bisexual love affair—not so much a love triangle as a love quadrilateral—and, yes, it’s available in toto on YouTube. As the Criterion Collection says, the film “boldly blends Eisensteinian montage and domestic melodrama.”
August 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I think cultural undergrounds develop in the void left by the abdication of the official culture. During the sixties, so many august institutions seemed to have no self-confidence. The universities, corporations, the very fabric of the state. Everything you pushed just seemed to fall over. Everything was up for grabs. For me, the counterculture was like a party that spilled out into the world until one had the odd feeling in society that one was walking around looking at the results of a party that had ended a few years before—a big experiment. But there was no program, everybody wanted different things. I think Kesey wanted a cultural revolution, the nature of which was uncertain; he was just making it up as he went along. Other people were into political reform. Others thought the drugs would fix it all. Peace and love and dope.
—Robert Stone, the Art of Fiction No. 90
Happy birthday to Robert Stone, who turns seventy-seven today. Prime Green, his 2006 memoir, features more of his thoughts on the sixties—and he is very good, and often very funny, on the sixties. In the clip above, he reads an excerpt from the book about his time as a writer at a supermarket tabloid, an unsavory publication he calls the National Funder. Stone worked under a guy called Fat Lou “in the dank basement of hackdom,” at an office not far from the Flatiron Building. His forte: headlines. His compunctions: myriad. But his work as a yellow journalist: impeccable.
August 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
From Oguz Uygur, a Turkish filmmaker, comes this video on ebru, or marbling, a design style in which artists create intricate patterns using floating, vividly colored inks and then transfer them to paper. Uygur’s parents are skilled marblers—they’re the ones you see here—and his video gives a sense of the patience and precision required to bring off such impressive patterns as “the nonpareil marble,” “the peacock marble,” or “the entwined comb marble.”
In order to make the colors “float,” you’ll need a bed of viscous mucilage, known as size. You can make this from moss or seaweed extracts—you know, whatever you have lying around the house. Once that’s in place,
The colors are then spattered or dropped onto the size, one color after another, until there is a dense pattern of several colors … Each successive layer of pigment spreads slightly less than the last … Once the colors are laid down, various tools and implements such as rakes, combs, and styluses are often used in a series of movements to create more intricate designs.
Rookie has a helpful guide to do-it-yourself marbling (no viscous mucilage required—just turpentine). For truly dedicated autodidacts, there’s Josef Halfer’s The Progress of the Marbling Art: From Technical Scientific Principles, an 1894 manual that goes into exhaustive (and perhaps exhausting) detail on every facet of the art. Its distinctions are fine: Halfer reminds that the gray snail marble is not to be confused, for instance, with the common greenish-gray snail marble, or the grayish-green snail marble. They’re different.
August 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Happy birthday, Andy Warhol. Go on, have that Whopper! You’ve earned it. Ketchup? Sure! Ketchup! Have the whole bottle!
No, no, take your time. We’ve got all day.
This clip is from the Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth’s 66 Scenes from America (1982). He said of the performance:
[Warhol] is told that he has to say his name and that he should do so when he has finished performing his action, but what happens is that the action takes a very long time to perform; it’s simply agonizing. I have to admit that I personally adore that, because it’s a pure homage to Warhol. It couldn’t be more Warholesque. That’s of course why he agreed to do it.
But we don’t know this. Maybe he was just hungry.