kottke.org posts about video
Born to be Mild is a short documentary about The Dull Men’s Club, an online community of men wishing to escape the hurly-burly of everyday life and just be ordinary.
Whether you’re crazy for roundabouts, addicted to photographing mailboxes, have the world’s largest collection of British milk bottles, or you’re a dull man with pretty much any sort of hobby that induces bafflement and yawns in friends and acquaintances, there’s a club just for you. A drolly cheerful celebration of the very ordinary, Born to be Mild explores the uncommon hobbies practiced by the members of the Dull Men’s Club — an online community that connects ‘dull men, and women who appreciate dull men’.
The group’s “greatest accomplishment”, listed on their about page, is:
Remaining dull in spite of the ever-increasing pressures from advertising, the media, and elsewhere to change.
In a recent piece in the NY Times Magazine, Nicholson Baker wrote about dullness:
That’s the extremely interesting thing: Everything is interesting. Potentially. Sometimes it may not seem so. You may think a certain thing is completely without interest. You may think, or I may think, eh, dull, boring, heck with it, let’s move on. But there is someone on this planet who can find something interesting in that particular thing. And it’s often good to try. You have to poke at a thing, sometimes, and find out where it squeaks. Any seemingly dull thing is made up of subsidiary things. It’s a composite — of smaller events or decisions. Or of atoms and molecules and prejudices and hunches that are fireflying around in unexpected and impossible trajectories. Everything is interesting because everything is not what it is, but is something on the way to being something else. Everything has a history and a secret stash of fascination.
The Dull Men’s Club actually seems to be the Odd Objects Collector’s Club. I could get into milk bottles and roundabouts. What about the truly dull, who don’t collect anything and just watch the news on TV all day?
In 1977, the Voyager space probes were launched from Earth to explore our solar system. That same year, Sam Klemke began a project to document his life on video, and in 2011, he made a video of 35 years of annual greetings/status reports. This video resulted in a documentary film, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine.
Beginning decades before the modern obsession with selfies and status updates, Sam grows from an optimistic teen to a self-important 20-year-old, into an obese, self-loathing thirty-something and onwards into his philosophical fifties.
Did you know that George Lucas approached David Lynch about directing Return of the Jedi? After a visit to Lucas’ studio described here by Lynch, Lynch turned Lucas down pretty quickly. But what might have been, huh? Well, this fan-made trailer gives us a taste of a Lynch-helmed Star Wars movie. (via one perfect shot)
Yesterday, Elon Musk shared SpaceX’s plan for colonizing Mars. Gizmodo has a good overview of the plan.
SpaceX plans to build a “self-sustaining city” on Mars, according to its founder Elon Musk. But, while we now know a lot more about how SpaceX plans to get to Mars, details about how people will actually survive up there remain sketchy.
Musk dropped the news on Tuesday during an address at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had promised to reveal how the company planned to send people to live on Mars.
“I don’t have an immediate doomsday prophecy,” said Musk, but he noted that he saw only two possible paths forward. “One path is to stay on Earth forever, and there will be some extinction event. The alternative is to become a multi-planetary species, which I hope you will agree is the right way to go.”
Musk says that human flights to Mars could start as soon as 2023. So audacious, I love it. I am so rooting for him to pull this off.
Update: Wait But Why has a characteristically entertaining and informative piece about SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket.
“It’s so mind-blowing. It blows my mind, and I see it every week.”
Elon’s pumped. And when you learn about the big fucking rocket he’s building, you’ll understand why.
First, let’s absorb the challenge at hand. It’s often said that space is hard. To this day, only a few hundred people have been in space, only a few countries have the ability to launch something into space, and the history of human space travel is littered with tragic launch failures. Firing something super heavy and delicate and full of explosive liquid up through the atmosphere without anything going wrong is incredibly hard.
But when we talk about humans going into space, we’re talking mostly about humans going into Low Earth Orbit, a layer of space between 100 and 1,200 miles above the ground — and normally, they’re headed only 250 miles up to the International Space Station. The only time humans have gone farther were the small handful of Americans who made it out to the moon in the 1960s, traveling about 250,000 miles away.
When Earth and Mars are at their closest, Mars is somewhere between 34 and 60 million miles away — about 200 times farther away than the moon and about 200,000 times farther away than the ISS.
The moon is just over one light second away.
Mars is more than three light minutes away.
Mars is far.
Johanna Nordblad is a free diver who specializes in cold water dives. After being injured in a biking accident, her recovery involved ice water baths and she developed an interest in cold water. Ian Derry filmed Nordblad doing a dive for this gorgeous short video.
There is no place for fear, no place for panic, no place for mistakes. Under the ice, you need total control of the place, the time, and to trust yourself completely.
Contemporary culture has a way of making everything seem daunting, even something as simple as meditation. This 2-minute video presents a very straightforward way to start meditating: sit up straight and concentrate on your breathing for five minutes.
Your brain’s gonna go nuts, and that’s fine. The whole game is to notice when you’ve gotten lost, and then to start over. And then start over again. And again. And again. Every time you do that, it’s like a bicep curl for your brain. […] Meditation is unlike anything you do in the rest of your life. Failure is actually success.
The video is narrated by Dan Harris, the author of 10% Happier, which has a subtitle many of you might be able to relate to: “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works”.
When you open the glove compartment on this car, it sounds like light jazz. And with that, it’s time inaugurate a new tag on the site: things that sound like other things, which includes my all-time favorite, this shovel falling sounds exactly like Smells Like Teen Spirit. (via @kepano)
Steve Wiles is a band director from Oklahoma who is a extremely talented whistler. Wiles can whistle two melodies at the same time.
Competitive whistler Christopher Ullman is pretty good too — he doesn’t kiss before competitions and his best friend is a tube of Chapstick.
When Roger Whittaker whistles, he sounds like a damn bird! Pavarotti was also not too shabby a whistler.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is overrated. Why? For starters, the director of the Louvre said that 80% of the museum’s visitors are there just to see the Mona Lisa. 80%! We’re talking about one of the finest museums in the world, overflowing with some of the world’s greatest artworks, and people come to only see one thing. Overrated. The story of how that happened involves a passionate art critic and a crime.
When you see how well it works for Donald Trump, do you ever think to yourself, “Oh, maybe I should be more racist”?
I loved this. If Galifianakis can’t get her to break, what hope does Trump have in the debates? Maybe this is part of her debate prep?
Thousands of people die every day from malaria, a disease that is transmitted to humans solely through mosquitoes. With CRISPR, scientists can easily genetically engineer mosquitoes incapable of transmitting malaria and using a technique called gene drive, they can force that genetic change into the native mosquito population. So, should we do it?
In a sketch from Monty Python called Argument Clinic, a character played by Michael Palin goes to a facility and pays to have an argument with John Cleese. That argument was recreated for this video using a pair of old school speech synthesizers. Palin’s part is played by the DECTalk Express (aka the voice of Stephen Hawking) and Cleese’s part is played by the Intex Talker. As you can probably hear, the Talker predates the DECTalk by a few years and is more difficult to understand. (via @303)
You had me at Chris Pratt and J. Law in space. I hope this doesn’t suck.
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two passengers onboard a spaceship transporting them to a new life on another planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when their hibernation pods mysteriously wake them 90 years before they reach their destination.
The Monty Hall Problem is one of those things that demonstrates just how powerful a pull common sense has on the human reasoning process. The problem itself is easily stated: there are three doors and behind one of them there is a prize and behind the other two, nothing. You choose a door in hopes of finding the prize and then one of the other two doors is opened to reveal nothing. You are offered the opportunity to switch your guess to the other door. Do you take it?
Common sense tells you that switching wouldn’t make any difference. There are two remaining doors, the prize is randomly behind one of them, why would switching yield any benefit? But as the video explains and this simulation shows, counterintuition prevails: you should switch every time.
America was introduced to the difficulty of the problem by Marilyn vos Savant in her column for Parade magazine in 1990.1 In a follow-up explanation of the question, vos Savant offered a quite simple “proof” of the always switch method (from Wikipedia). Let’s assume you pick door #1, here are the possible outcomes:
||Result if you stay
||Result if you switch
As you can see, staying yields success 33% of the time while if you switch, you win 2 times out of three (67%), a result verified by a properly written simulator. In his Straight Dope column, Cecil Adams explained it like so (after he had gotten it wrong in the first place):
A friend of mine did suggest another way of thinking about the problem that may help clarify things. Suppose we have the three doors again, one concealing the prize. You pick door #1. Now you’re offered this choice: open door #1, or open door #2 and door #3. In the latter case you keep the prize if it’s behind either door. You’d rather have a two-in-three shot at the prize than one-in-three, wouldn’t you? If you think about it, the original problem offers you basically the same choice. Monty is saying in effect: you can keep your one door or you can have the other two doors, one of which (a non-prize door) I’ll open for you.
See also the case of the plane and the conveyor belt (sorry not sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Vox recently took a look at every single job that Homer has ever had on The Simpsons in an attempt to see where his average salary falls on the economic spectrum in America.
Over the show’s 596-episode run, Homer has had at least 191 jobs. They’ve ranged from executive positions to service jobs, and have dotted the entire economic spectrum, from ultra-rich to the poverty line.
In the list below, we’ve compiled the real-life salaries for 100 of these jobs. Seasonal jobs (like “mall Santa”), and jobs that were virtually impossible to find salary data for (“beer smuggler”) were excluded, as were any repeats (he was an Army private twice, for instance). His full-time gig as a safety inspector is highlighted in yellow, for reference.
He gets a lot of flack, but Homer is actually the most interesting person in America by a wide margin, even though he’s not well compensated for it.
See also Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics.
For a recent episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak takes a look at how Steven Spielberg constructed the intense opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. His decision to film the Omaha Beach landing from the perspective of a battlefield cameraman — something he cribbed from actual WWII battle footage and John Ford’s The Battle of Midway, where scenes in which on-set explosions made the film skip were kept in the finished movie — made it one of the best depictions of war ever created. I need to watch this movie again soon.
An incredible detail Puschak notes: the shot-length in that scene was surprisingly long, particularly for a battle scene. In fact, the shot length in that scene was more than double that of the entirety of 300, any Transformers movie, and Inception.
Meet the lichen katydid. Hailing from the forests of Central and South America, this insect has evolved over the millennia to blend in amazingly well with the lichens that populate the forest.
Did you ever wonder what the auctioneer is saying when they’re trying to get people to bid on things? They talk so quickly it’s hard to tell sometimes, so Barry Baker of Ohio Real Estate Auctions slows down the action to describe exactly what auctioneers are saying.
See also one of my favorite silly things from recent months: Auctioneer beats.
The series of Marvel movies — X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. — is the highest grossing film series of all time but the films’ music is largely forgettable and bland in a way that it isn’t in Star Wars, James Bond, or Harry Potter. In this video, the Every Frame a Painting gang explores why that is: partially a trend toward movie music not designed to be noticed and also the use by directors of temporary music that unduly influences the final score. All the Marvel movies run together for me (aside from Guardians of the Galaxy, which had distinctive music in it, I can’t recall a single scene from any one of the more recent films) and perhaps the music is one reason.
There’s a follow-up video to the one above composed of clips of movies played with their temp music followed by the same clips with the final music, which is nearly identical.
They’ve also started a Twitter account highlighting the influence of temp music on final scores.
These videos have me wondering…was Carter Burwell’s score for Carol influenced by temp music, specifically Philip Glass’ score for The Hours? This interview in Rolling Stone and the FAQ on his site suggest not:
It’s his ability to make music that compliments a scene rather than eclipse it that has made him an invaluable creative partner to filmmakers who work in such intense melodramatic registers, and Burwell is emphatic that his scores aren’t responsible for all of the emotional heavy-lifting. “As a listener, I do not like being instructed,” he says, emphatically. “It riles me when the music tells me something before I can figure it out for myself. In fact, I enjoy the discomfort of not being sure how to take something.” It’s the reason why he loathes listening to the temp music that directors often attach to rough cuts in order to point composers in the right direction.
But the similarities are there, so who knows?
Update: I forgot to mention that Stanley Kubrick ended up ditching the original score written for 2001 and sticking with the temp music, which were the classical compositions by Strauss et al. that we’re so familiar with today.
Update: In a video response, Dan Golding shows how temp music is not a recent Hollywood obsession…even the famous Star Wars theme was greatly influenced by temp music:
He questions that the pull of temp music by contemporary directors and composers is sufficient to explain why movie music is now so uninspiring:
Film music is an embrace of rampant unoriginality, and to think about how film music works, we need to think of new ways to talk about these questions, rather than just saying, “it’s a copy”.
Golding pins the blame primarily on technology but also on composers and filmmakers drawing from fewer and less diverse sources. Interestingly, this latter point was also made by Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou in a recent chat with Anil Dash, albeit about originality in video essays. A lightly edited excerpt:
My advice to people has always been: copy old shit. For instance, the style of Every Frame a Painting is NOT original at all. I am blatantly ripping off two sources: the editing style of F for Fake, and the critical work of David Bordwell/Kristin Thompson, who wrote the introductory text on filmmaking called Film Art. I’ve run into quite a few video essays that are trying to be “like Every Frame a Painting” and I always tell people, please don’t do that because I’m ripping of someone else. You should go to the source. When any art form or medium becomes primarily about people imitating the dominant form, we get stifling art.
If you look at all of the great filmmakers, they’re all ripping someone off but it was someone 50 years ago. It rejuvenated the field to be reminded of the history of our medium. And I sincerely wish more video essayists would rip off the other great film essayists: Chris Marker, Godard, Agnès Varda, Thom Andersen. Or even rip off non-video essayists. I would kill to see someone make video essays the way Pauline Kael wrote criticism. That would be my jam!
ps. Also! Hans Zimmer — composer of film scores for Gladiator, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight, etc. — was the keyboard player in the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star music video. WHAT?!
A parking lot for airline employees has become a small community of people who live in motor homes and are rarely around.
Taking a back-road shortcut to catch a flight from Los Angeles two years ago, I passed an obscure airline employee parking lot — and was surprised to see over 70 motor homes. It looked like there was an entire community planted right there in the parking lot of the airport. I wondered, who lived there — and why?
I learned that this community was an employee parking lot turned motor-home park made up of pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. And I became fascinated by why and how the residents — people who may have flown us across the country, or walked us through emergency landing procedures — came to inhabit such an unusual place.
What a lovely little film. (via @JossFong)
On the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, just a few months before he died, Fred Rogers recorded this very short message to the parents of young children.
We’ve seen what some people do when they don’t know anything else to do with their anger. I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings, ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else, we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place.
Mr. Rogers was, without question, my number one hero and influence growing up. I liked Sesame Street and the Electric Company and Captain Kangaroo and 3-2-1 Contact and all the rest, but I loved Mr. Rogers. So, I don’t know about you, but whenever Mr. Rogers looks right into the camera like that and tells me how proud he is of me, I start to tear up a little and vow to do better. See also always look for the helpers.
In an episode of Doctor Who from 2010, the Doctor and his companion Amy take Vincent van Gogh, who was not a commercially successful artist in his own lifetime, to the Musée d’Orsay to see an entire room filled with his paintings. The resulting scene is unexpectedly touching.
What causes traffic? Mostly the poor reaction times of humans driving cars. Even a simple lane change can cause traffic to back up for hours. What’s the solution? (Hint: it rhymes with “health diving stars”.)
See also intersections in the age of driverless cars.
Researchers at Harvard have come up with a novel way of studying how bacteria evolve to become drug resistant. They set up a large petri dish about the same shape as a football field with no antibiotics in the end zones and increasingly higher doses of antibiotics toward the center. They placed some bacteria in both end zones and filmed the results as the bacteria worked its way toward the center of the field, evolving drug resistance as it went. Ed Yong explains:
What you’re seeing in the movie is a vivid depiction of a very real problem. Disease-causing bacteria and other microbes are increasingly evolving to resist our drugs; by 2050, these impervious infections could potentially kill ten million people a year. The problem of drug-resistant infections is terrifying but also abstract; by their nature, microbes are invisible to the naked eye, and the process by which they defy our drugs is even harder to visualise.
But now you can: just watch that video again. You’re seeing evolution in action. You’re watching living things facing down new challenges, dying, competing, thriving, invading, and adapting — all in a two-minute movie.
Watch the video…it’s wild. What’s most interesting — or scary as hell — is that once the drug resistance gets going, it builds up a pretty good momentum. There’s a pause at the first boundary as the evolutionary process blindly hammers away at the problem, but after the bacteria “learn” drug resistance, the further barriers are breached much more quickly, even before the previous zones are fully populated.
Alright, there’s Bullitt and The French Connection and Ronin and The Bourne Identity. But for my money, the best movie chase scene ever is from Aardman Animations’ The Wrong Trousers. The chase comes right at the end of the 30-minute short and features Wallace and Gromit trying to apprehend a jewel thief. It’s hilarious, exciting, and meticulously crafted. Pay special attention to the editing and sound, particularly in the last 20 seconds. Masterful.
BTW, if you haven’t seen the entire short, it’s free on Amazon Prime right now…it’s probably my favorite short film ever. (Ok, Powers of Ten. But then The Wrong Trousers!)
Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show) is coming out with a new mockumentary for Netflix about a competition to determine the best sports mascot.
You know exactly what’s coming but you still laugh your ass off.
This Valley Girl contest that aired on Real People1 in 1982 is quite the time capsule of Reagan-era America. BAG YOUR FACE!!!! I had totally (LIKE, TOTALLY!!) forgotten about that super-80s insult. Is the Valley Girl thing the reason we, like, all say “like” and uptalk all the time now?
Opened in 1995 on St. Marks in the East Village, the @ Cafe was one of the first (and coolest) internet cafes in the US.1 They had a bunch of computers, a T1 line (at $9000/mo!), a hip menu including alcoholic beverages, and no idea what they were doing. They didn’t plan for ventilation for all the hardware, so they cooled the server room with a garbage can full of ice!
And I was glad to hear the CU-SeeMe shout out at the very end of the video. I think about that app every time I hear about something “new” like Facebook Live, Periscope, or Snapchat. Talk about being ahead of its time…CU-SeeMe was video chat that predated the popularity of the web.
Raging Cinema pays tribute to the late Gene Wilder and his use of the comedic pause. On Twitter, Edgar Wright, who knows a thing or two about funny, called for a moment of silence for Wilder:
A moment of silence for the master of the comedic pause.
Gene Wilder: funny doing something & funny doing nothing.