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“What Are We Going to Say This Year?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

The Wire creator David Simon wrote about his friend and colleague Michael K. Williams, who died suddenly last week at the age of 54. The Question Michael K. Williams Asked Me Before Every Season of ‘The Wire’:

And from that moment forward, his questions about our drama and its purposes were those of someone sharing the whole of the journey. It became something of a ritual with us: To begin every season that followed, Michael K. Williams would walk into the writers’ office and sit on the couch.

“So,” he would ask, “what are we going to say this year?”

He gave us an astounding gift — an act of faith from a magnificent actor who could have played his hand very differently. Television usually chases its audience — if they love them some Omar, you feed them more Omar. If they can’t stop looking at Stringer, you write more Stringer. Never mind story and theme.

Instead, Mike bent his beautiful mind to a task that even the best writers and show runners often avoid. He thought about the whole story, the whole of the work.

Perhaps more than any in that talented cast, I came to trust Mike to speak publicly to our drama and its purposes, to take personal pride in all that we were trying, however improbably, to build. He became increasingly political as the show aged, and in interviews took to addressing societal and political issues, his arguments ranging well beyond Omar’s arc.

“I started to realize that, oh, this is not about me,” Williams once told an interviewer, looking back. “It had everything to do with … just great tapestry, this great narrative of social issues … things that are wrong in our country.”

See also tributes from Wendell Pierce and other actors & filmmakers who worked with Williams.

Drone Panorama of Cao Bang

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

panoramic drone photo of a green mountainous landscape in Vietnam

Stunning photo by Pham Huy Trung of Cao Bằng, Vietnam. When I first saw this on Instagram, I thought it was an illustration; it took several looks to convince myself it wasn’t.

The Texas Switch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

The Texas Switch is a filmmaking technique in which an actor and stunt person are switched seamlessly during a single shot — the actor steps out of the frame or behind a prop and the stunt person steps in (or vice versa). The lack of cutting keeps the narrative going and helps to obscure the switcheroo. The video above contains many great examples. of the technique.

See also some Texas Switches from James Bond movies. (via storythings)

Black Film Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Black Film Archive

Black Film Archive is a collection of links to films made by Black filmmakers & actors from 1915 to 1979 that are available to stream online. Maya Cade writes about why she created this archive.

The films collected on Black Film Archive have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. This criterion for selection is as broad and inclusive as possible, allowing the site to cover the widest range of what a Black film can be.

The films listed here should be considered in conversation with each other, as visions of Black being on film across time. They express what only film can: social, anthropological, and aesthetic looks at the changing face of Black expression (or white attitudes about Black expression, which are inescapable given the whiteness of decision-makers in the film industry).

Films, by their very nature, require a connection between creator and audience. This relationship provides a common thread that is understood through conventional and lived knowledge to form thought and to consider. Not every filmmaker is speaking directly to Blackness or Black people or has the intention to. Some films listed carry a Black face to get their message across. But presented here, these films offer a full look into the Black experience, inferred or real, on-screen.

What a great open resource — exactly what the internet is for. You can read more about the archive on Vulture and NPR.

How Mushroom Time Lapses Are Filmed

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Documentaries about mushrooms like Fantastic Fungi are interesting but it turns out that short documentaries about how mushroom documentaries are made are fascinating as well. For this short video, Wired talked to Louie Schwartzberg about how mushroom time lapses are filmed. I don’t know why I assumed they filmed these outside…of course they are done indoors to help control lighting, weather, and other factors (like rogue wildlife). And after decades of working on nature films, Schwartzberg has integrated his process deeply into his life:

I realized I’ve turned it into a spiritual practice. It actually literally gets me up in the morning because as soon as I’m out of bed, I’m thinking ooh, “I wonder what the flower did last night? Is it still in frame? Is it in focus?”

I have to imagine what the framing and the composition is going to look like tomorrow, or two days from now, or a week from now. That is a transformational experience because you have to put your mind into the mindset and the intention of the flower or the fungi, thinking where it’s going to grow, how big will it get. And if you’re right, boy, it’s a rush. If you’re wrong, it means you just gotta do it all over again.

This was surprisingly philosophical in parts.

Here’s Why You’ll Fail the Milk Crate Challenge

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Bored of dying from Covid-19, Americans have dreamed up a more entertaining way to mortally wound themselves: the milk crate challenge. Wired asked structural engineer Dr. Nehemiah Mabry (who explained the different types of bridges to us earlier in the year) to explain the physics behind the challenge and why you shouldn’t attempt it. (via @pomeranian99)

Living Coastlines of Oyster Reefs Can Protect Against Coastal Erosion

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

Because of humans, most of the world’s oyster reefs have disappeared over the last 200 years. Now, some groups around the world are trying to put some of them back. In addition to providing water filtration and habitats for other animals, offshore oyster reefs can help slow long-term erosion by acting as living breakwater structures that partially deflect waves during storm surges.

In the last century, 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have vanished. And we’re only recently beginning to understand what that’s cost us: While they don’t look incredibly appealing from the shore, oysters are vital to bays and waterways around the world. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water every day. And over time, oysters form incredible reef structures that double as habitats for various species of fish, crabs, and other animals. In their absence, our coastlines have suffered.

Now, several projects from New York to the Gulf of Mexico and Bangladesh are aiming to bring the oysters back. Because not only are oysters vital ecosystems; they can also protect us from the rising oceans by acting as breakwaters, deflecting waves before they hit the shore. It won’t stop the seas from rising — but embracing living shorelines could help protect us from what’s to come.

(via the kid should see this)

Update: Check out the Billion Oyster Project if you’d like to get involved in returned oysters to New York Harbor. (via @djacobs)

Meditative Zen Garden Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

Soothing, relaxing, meditative, mesmerizing — just a few of the ways to describe Yuki Kawae’s video of creating different patterns in his zen garden. I guess I could say more about it, but it’s pretty simple: if you want to relax and chill out for awhile, watch Kawae make patterns in the sand. (via colossal)

Brushy One String

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

As his name suggests, Jamaican street musician Brushy One String plays a one-string guitar and, under that constraint, makes some truly beautiful music. Josh Jones wrote about Brushy for Open Culture:

When Jamaican musician Andrew Chin, better known as Brushy One String first told friends about his vision — “a dream in which he was told to play the one-string guitar” — they responded with mockery — all but one, who “insisted it was fate,” writes Playing for Change, “and that he had to make that dream come true.” So Brushy set out to do just that, playing on street corners and in the market, “in a big broad hat and sunglasses,” he says. The music came to him naturally. He is no ordinary street musician, however, and his one-string guitar is not a gimmick. Brushy is a talented singer-songwriter, with a powerful voice and a musical sensibility that transcends his bare-bones minimalism.

In addition to his NPR Tiny Desk Concert above, this video of Brushy performing Chicken in The Corn on his one-string has been viewed over 50 million times.

See also Gasper Nali and His Homemade [One-String] Bass Guitar. Would love to see a duet with these two single stringers!

The Trailer for The Matrix Resurrections

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YESSSSSSS!!!!! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!!

Yes. Fuck yes.

Cléo from 5 to 7

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2021

I keep tabs on a few trusted film school-ish YouTube channels and while I like when they cover films I’ve seen or those directed by my favorite directors, it’s more valuable when they introduce me to something new. Evan Puschak’s Nerdwriter is a particular favorite guiding light and in his latest video, he talks about Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, a film I now want to watch as soon as possible. A synopsis via Wikipedia:

Cléo from 5 to 7 follows a pop singer through two extraordinary hours in which she awaits the results of a recent biopsy. The film is superficially about a woman coming to terms with her mortality, which is a common auteurist trait for Varda. On a deeper level, Cléo from 5 to 7 confronts the traditionally objectified woman by giving Cléo her own vision. She cannot be constructed through the gaze of others, which is often represented through a motif of reflections and Cléo’s ability to strip her body of “to-be-looked-at-ness” attributes (such as clothing or wigs). Stylistically, Cléo from 5 to 7 mixes documentary and fiction, as had La Pointe Courte. The film represents diegetic action said to occur between 5 and 7 p.m., although its run-time is 89 minutes.

I’ve added Cléo from 5 to 7 to my HBO Max queue but you can also find it on Kanopy (accessible with a library card) and The Criterion Channel.

This Virus Shouldn’t Exist (But it Does)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2021

In one of their most popular videos in awhile, kottke.org favorite Kurzgesagt tells us about something I’d never heard of before: giruses. These giant viruses have only been discovered within the last 20 years and are so large and contain so much genetic material that maybe they are actually alive?

Hidden in the microverse all around you, there is a merciless war being fought by the true rulers of this planet, microorganisms. Amoebae, protists, bacteria, archaea and fungi compete for resources and space. And then there are the strange horrors that are viruses, hunting everyone else. Not even being alive, they are the tiniest, most abundant and deadliest beings on earth, killing trillions every day. Not interested in resources, only in living things to take over. Or so we thought.

It turns out that there are giant viruses that blur the line between life and death — and other viruses hunting them.

Kaleidoscope Brain: 100 Visualizations of Moby-Dick

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2021

the letters of the alphabet in order of their appearance in Moby-Dick

the constellation Cetus (aka 'The Whale')

every color in Moby-Dick

Peter Gorman of Barely Maps has published a wonderful little book called Kaleidoscope Brain that contains 100 visualizations of Moby-Dick. Gorman read Herman Melville’s masterpiece last year and made these maps & graphics to help him make sense of it.

I read Moby-Dick in April 2020. For weeks afterward, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started making maps and diagrams as a way to figure it out.

Moby-Dick is infamous for its digressions. Throughout the book, the narrator disrupts the plot with contemplations, calculations, and categorizations. He ruminates on the White Whale, and the ocean, and human psychology, and the night sky, and how it all relates back to the mystery of the unknown. His narration feels like a twisting-turning struggle to explain everything.

Reading Moby-Dick actually made me feel like that-like I’d mentally absorbed its spin-cycle style. I developed a case of “Kaleidoscope Brain.” The maps I was making were obsessive and encyclopedic. They were newer and weirder and they digressed beyond straightforward geography.

The book is available as a free download on Gorman’s Patreon — support his efforts if you find them valuable!

Above, from top to bottom: the letters of the alphabet in order of their appearance in the book, the constellation Cetus (aka “The Whale”), every color in the book.

How to Make a Netflix-Style Documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2021

In this short video, YouTuber Paul E.T. shows how you can make a Netflix-style true crime documentary about anything. Even stolen toast. The equipment needs are pretty minimal - a good camera, a couple of lenses, some lighting, and a decent mic. The magic is in the editing. (via my son’s insistence that I click on this while browsing YouTube on the TV last night)

The Footnotes to The French Dispatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2021

Wes Anderson’s tenth film, The French Dispatch, is about a fictional magazine published by a group of Americans in France. The movie’s magazine is based on the New Yorker and in advance of its release, Anderson has published an anthology of articles from the actual New Yorker (and other magazines) that inspired the characters in the film. It’s called An Editor’s Burial.

A glimpse of post-war France through the eyes and words of 14 (mostly) expatriate journalists including Mavis Gallant, James Baldwin, A.J. Liebling, S.N. Behrman, Luc Sante, Joseph Mitchell, and Lillian Ross; plus, portraits of their editors William Shawn and New Yorker founder Harold Ross. Together: they invented modern magazine journalism.

Because the world is constantly folding in on itself these days, Anderson explained why he is publishing the book to Susan Morrison in the New Yorker:

Two reasons. One: our movie draws on the work and lives of specific writers. Even though it’s not an adaptation, the inspirations are specific and crucial to it. So I wanted a way to say, “Here’s where it comes from.” I want to announce what it is. This book is almost a great big footnote.

Two: it’s an excuse to do a book that I thought would be really entertaining. These are writers I love and pieces I love. A person who is interested in the movie can read Mavis Gallant’s article about the student protests of 1968 in here and discover there’s much more in it than in the movie. There’s a depth, in part because it’s much longer. It’s different, of course. Movies have their own thing. Frances McDormand’s character, Krementz, comes from Mavis Gallant, but Lillian Ross also gets mixed into that character, too — and, I think, a bit of Frances herself. I once heard her say to a very snooty French waiter, “Kindly leave me my dignity.”

As Morrison then noted, it would be very cool if every movie came with a suggested reading list. The French Dispatch is set for release in the US in late October and An Editor’s Burial will be out September 14 and is available for preorder.