(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘film history

“Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower”*…

Humor is said to be the quintessential humor capacity, last thing that AI could– will?– conquer…

New Yorker cartoons are inextricably woven into the fabric of American visual culture. With an instantly recognizable formula — usually, a black-and-white drawing of an imagined scenario followed by a quippy caption in sleek Caslon Pro Italic — the daily gags are delightful satires of our shared human experience, riffing on everything from cats and produce shopping to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Yorker‘s famous Cartoon Caption Contest, which asks readers to submit their wittiest one-liners, gets an average 5,732 entries each week, and the magazine receives thousands of drawings every month from hopeful artists.

What if a computer tried its hand at the iconic comics?

Playing on their ubiquity and familiarity, comics artist Ilan Manouach and AI engineer Ioannis [or Yiannis] Siglidis developed the Neural Yorker, an artificial intelligence (AI) engine that posts computer-generated cartoons on Twitter. The project consists of image-and-caption combinations produced by a generative adversarial network (GAN), a deep-learning-based model. The network is trained using a database of punchlines and images of cartoons found online and then “learns” to create new gags in the New Yorker‘s iconic style, with hilarious (and sometimes unsettling) results…

Comics artist Ilan Manouach (@IlanManouach) and AI engineer Yiannis Siglidis created The Neural Yorker: “Computer-Generated New Yorker Cartoons Are Delightfully Weird.”

For comparison’s sake, see “142 Of The Funniest New Yorker Cartoons Ever.”

Alan Kay

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As we go for the guffaw, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that the first chapter in Walt Disney’s career as an animator came to a close when he released the 7th and next-to-last “Laugh-O-Gram” cartoon adaption of a fairy tale, “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Disney’s first animated films began in 1920 as after-work projects when Disney was a commercial artist for an advertising company in Kansas City. He made these cartoons by himself and with the help of a few friends.

He started by persuading Frank Newman, Kansas City’s leading exhibitor, to include short snippets of animation in the series of weekly newsreels Newman produced for his chain of three theaters. Tactfully called “Newman Laugh-O-grams,” Disney’s footage was meant to mix advertising with topical humor…

The Laugh-O-grams were a hit, leading to commissions for animated intermission fillers and coming attractions slides for Newman’s theaters. Spurred by his success, the 19-year-old Disney decided to try something more ambitious: animated fairy tales. Influenced by New York animator Paul Terry’s spoofs of Aesop’s Fables, which had premiered in June 1920, Disney decided not only to parody fairy-tale classics but also to modernize them by having them playing off recent events. With the help of high school student Rudy Ising, who later co-founded the Warner Brothers and MGM cartoon studios, and other local would-be cartoonists, Disney [made 7 animated shorts, of which “Jack, the Giant Killer” was the penultimate].

Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-grams

“Something can always go wrong”*…

Blood Simple

When what’s old is new again…

When Dennis Lehane joked in 2011 that the only real difference between Greek tragedy and noir was that in the former characters fall from great heights and in the latter they drop from the curb, he was pinpointing something simultaneously mythic and fatalistic about the American crime fiction tradition: the idea of cautionary tales being told at street level. “Whichever way you turn,” broods the antihero of Edgar G. Ulmer’s axiomatic Detour (1945), “fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” The same anxious malaise inflecting detective stories of Depression-era novelists like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler—whose twisty plots doubled as picaresque guided tours through a newfangled urban wilderness—would manifest in the flow of postwar thrillers that either literally adapted their contents or else reconfigured their themes for a visual medium. Stories set in moral grey zones and gritty environments were transformed into cinematic shadow plays by filmmakers who recognized and exploited the material’s expressionist potential. A movie like Fritz Lang’s wonderfully wicked The Woman in the Window (1944) sutures the seams between the elegant, sinister poeticism of Weimar-era horror and the hard-driving, irrepressible energy of pre-Code American crime pictures, an unholy matrimony yielding plenty of significant offspring. In 1946, writing about a group of American movies previously banned in France during the Nazi occupation—mostly signed by European émigrés like Lang who’d fled for the Hollywood Hills—critic Nino Frank evocatively referred to them as “dark films,” a coinage whose actual originality has been debated but proved lingeringly evocative. The description was taken as a workable industrial template for decades by Hollywood studios and insurgent independents alike.

Though noir was and remains an amorphous concept, it does have a few instantly identifiable features: like any genuinely red-blooded and pleasurable entertainment, you know it when you see it. The commercial appeal of noir lay primarily in its natural conduciveness to sex and violence, both always lurking and often intertwined in defiance of everyday moralism and official censorship, while its critical viability owed to its existential dimension, a spectrum broad enough to accommodate a muckraker like James M. Cain alongside Albert Camus. The latter famously said that Cain’s 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was a deep influence on his own 1942 L’étranger; in both books, outwardly mild-mannered protagonists momentarily get away with murder, imagining themselves privy in the act’s aftermath to some secret knowledge about what Camus’s narrator calls “benign indifference of the world.” Or, as a pair of noir addicts put it in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), a movie branded with the mark of Cain: “it’s hard to explain, but seeing it whole gives you some peace.”…

The Same Old Song: A Guide to NeonoirAdam Nayman (@brofromanother) leads us from Point Blank and Chinatown through Blood Simple and Night Moves to The Last Seduction and Momento.

* “Visser” (M. Emmet Walsh), Blood Simple

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As we get dark, we might send thrilling birthday greetings to Arthur Zwerling; he was born on this date in 1914. Better known by his professional name, Jeff Corey, he was a stage and screen actor and director (whose work included noirs like The Man Who Wouldn’t Die and the radio series The Adventures of Philip Marlowe).

Corey’s career was interrupted when he was blackilisted in the early 1950s, so he turned to teaching– and became one of the most influential acting coaches in Hollywood. His students, at various times, included Robert Blake, James Coburn, Richard Chamberlain, James Dean, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Michael Forest, James Hong, Luana Anders, Sally Kellerman, Shirley Knight, Bruce Lee, Penny Marshall, Jack Nicholson, Roger Corman, Darrell M. Smith, Diane Varsi, Sharon Tate, Rita Moreno, Leonard Nimoy, Sally Forrest, Anthony Perkins, Rob Reiner, Robert Towne, Barbra Streisand, and Robin Williams. He resumed his acting career in the the 60s.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 10, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads”*…

Olivia Fanny Tonge , A Toad, c. 1905

Before the swallow, before the daffodil, and not much later than the snowdrop, the common toad salutes the coming of spring after his own fashion, which is to emerge from a hole in the ground, where he has lain buried since the previous autumn, and crawl as rapidly as possible towards the nearest suitable patch of water. Something – some kind of shudder in the earth, or perhaps merely a rise of a few degrees in the temperature – has told him that it is time to wake up: though a few toads appear to sleep the clock round and miss out a year from time to time – at any rate, I have more than once dug them up, alive and apparently well, in the middle of the summer.

At this period, after his long fast, the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large. This allows one to notice, what one might not at another time, that a toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings, and which I think is called a chrysoberyl…

From George Orwell (in 1946): “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad.” From The Orwell Foundation, via Berfrois.

* Marianne Moore

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As we appreciate amphibians, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that cartoonist John Randolph (J.R.) Bray first exhibited his animated film, “The Artist’s Dream” (later retitled “The Dachshund and the Sausage” for reasons that will be obvious).  Bray was not the first animator; indeed, he was following purposefully in the steps of fellow cartoonist Windsor McCay, who had added animations of “Little Nemo” and “How a Mosquito Operates” to his stage presentations.  But Bray earned a place in the history of the art by being among the first– arguably the first– animator to organize his work and his studio according to the principles of industrial production (that’s to say, with division of labor)– an approach that has survived to this day.

Bray

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“There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told”*…

… and some that do:

Edgar A. Poe landed in Philadelphia in 1838. He had been raised among the elite of Richmond, Virginia, but in Philadelphia he was an impoverished outsider seeking recognition and stability as a professional writer. Strikingly, Poe’s first publication in Philadelphia—and the one that sold the most in his lifetime—was a scientific textbook…

Poe’s best-selling book during his lifetime was a guide to seashells, and The Conchologist’s First Book was good enough to elevate the entire field: the fascinating story in this excerpt from John Tresch’s The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science (available June 15).

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we comb the beach, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that motorists lined up for the opening of America’s first drive-in theater, in Camden, NJ.

Park-In Theaters–the term “drive-in” came to be widely used only later–was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan and a sales manager at his father’s company, Whiz Auto Products, in Camden. Reportedly inspired by his mother’s struggle to sit comfortably in traditional movie theater seats, Hollingshead came up with the idea of an open-air theater where patrons watched movies in the comfort of their own automobiles. He then experimented in the driveway of his own house with different projection and sound techniques, mounting a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, pinning a screen to some trees, and placing a radio behind the screen for sound. He also tested ways to guard against rain and other inclement weather, and devised the ideal spacing arrangement for a number of cars so that all would have a view of the screen. [The first feature was a 1932 film, Wives Beware]

The young entrepreneur received a patent for the concept in May of 1933 and opened Park-In Theaters, Inc. less than a month later, with an initial investment of $30,000. Advertising it as entertainment for the whole family, Hollingshead charged 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person, with no group paying more than one dollar…

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[For a more contemporary photographic update on the phenomenon, see here.]

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“I want people to walk into a movie theater and be transported to a different world”*…

In the fall of 1997, a blurb appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. AMC Theaters was launching a “brand new concept… a fancy interior that transforms the otherwise plain theater into a science-fiction, high-tech experience,” replete with decorative planets, the colors teal, purple, and yellow, and a “generally upbeat design.” Its name: the Odyssey…

If you went to the movies around this time anywhere in the United States, you might’ve registered a similar aesthetic. Like cartoon corporatism and hypermodernism getting smashed through a cultural particle collider. It was ambient and nearly universal, and yet absolutely the opposite of timeless. One year into life without movie theaters and you might begin to wonder: What was that?

You might start thinking first about the carpets. Those frenzied, high-octane, blacklight carpets that took over movie theaters for a small, fixed period of time and then mostly just… went away. Like an obscure one-hit-wonder earworm, the carpets might keep bugging you, prompting you to wonder: How is it that we, as a society, spent that much free time in these bizarre wall-to-wall settings without ever wondering what acid-doused party monster’s fever dreamt them up? Who decided this is what movie theaters should look like? What was this “style” even called?

Do you think what you’re about to read is simply, like, an etymology of carpet? If only. If those carpets could talk, they’d tell you a story about late-90s economics, showbiz, multiplexes, and an era of world-building that changed moviegoing as we know it—maybe more than any other… 

If Y2K-Era Movie Theater Carpets Could Talk“: behind the ecstatic aesthetic of squiggles, stars, and confetti.

Genndy Tartakovsky

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As we settle on the extra-large tub of popcorn, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1941 that Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane, premiered at the Palace Theater in New York. A quasi-biography (based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, with elements of those of Joseph Pulitzer and Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick), it was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, winning Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Herman Mankiewicz and Welles.

Considered by many critics and filmmakers to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane was voted number 1 in five consecutive British Film Institute Sight & Sound polls of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as its 2007 update.

Citizen Kane is particularly praised for Gregg Toland‘s cinematography, Robert Wise‘s editing, Bernard Herrmann‘s music, and its narrative structure, all of which were innovative and have been precedent-setting.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

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