July 14th, 2010 14 comments or # link to posted by david
Smashing Telly as a personal curated video project is now closed. However, I will be launching a collaborative version soon.
In the interim, check out Oobject which is a kind of online Wunderkammer comprising visual lists of man-made objects. A mainstream version of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Typologies, if you like. Oobject may look like yet another, crappy, weird things site, but delve into it, I’ve put an unhealthy amount of effort into it.
In the spirit of the global takeover of content by the headline and listicle I also plan to do one last post on Smashing Telly with a big list of my favorite factual TV programs and clips (since Smashing Telly focused on these).
July 14th, 2010 3 comments or # link to posted by david
Kottke writes: “If Smashing Telly were still going, this would be perfect for it: every feature-length Andrei Tarkovsky film is available for viewing online for free.”
Indeed. See them all here.
For the record, Mirror is my favorite.
September 28th, 2009 6 comments or # link to posted by david
The BBC iPlayer link is here.
[Note this is not the creationist nonsense of the same name]
What Darwin didn’t know was exactly how right about natural selection he was.
This is a great documentary, not so much in terms of production, but solid content. It looks at the evolution of the concept of natural selection, from Darwin to evolutionary developmental biology, where the correspondence between the fossil and DNA records are exactly what prove the theory beyond all doubt.
The history of natural selection is the opposite of its popular perception, it is a story of slow acceptance in the scientific community culminating in total validation and proof rather than an antique concept which has raised recent doubts. Vapid but noisy objections emanating from the current rise of religious extremism are an irrelevance in terms of the time-line of evolution by natural selection as an idea and reasonable debate about it.
Who knew that without knowledge of genetics, Darwin’s humility in absence of absolute proof of his ideas, would allow him to insert in his last edition of the Origin of Species a nod to the possibility of Lamarckian evolution; that de Vries’ (false) idea of the origin of species as coming out of nowhere through single mutations almost replaced Darwin’s gradual selection after he died; or that for the 50th anniversary of his death, the Natural History Museum in London put on a show of Darwinian evolution that ignored the very idea of natural selection that makes it Darwinian in the first place?
Exotically named and unplaceable accented Dutch-Kiwi-Canadian-South-African biologist, Armand Marie Leroi, leads us through this history with the eventual triumph of natural selection. This culminates in the Neo Darwinian synthesis of evolution and genetics and the ‘evo-devo’ combination of evolutionary and developmental biology, which create an accurate view of the tree of life and realize the full grandeur of the mechanism that describes its growth – natural selection.
August 3rd, 2009 6 comments or # link to posted by david
I have low tolerance for self indulgent artsyness and Tarkovsky films look superficially like they might be in this category, which is a shame because, as Tony the Tiger might say, they’re great. Nothing comes as close to a moving painting as a Tarkovsky film.
Here is a documentary where the director recounts his life and work.
July 28th, 2009 14 comments or # link to posted by jim
This is a documentary about vogueing, and the extremely refined and detailed aesthetic sensibilities it reflects, shot in New York City around Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, and Harlem in the mid- to late-80s. The city has changed in dramatic ways since then, to say the least.
The characters of the film are complete outsiders with, at the same time, a deep understanding of the world they are outside of. As Terrence Rafferty wrote in The New Yorker, “the material is almost too rich, too suggestive. Everything about the ball culture signifies so blatantly and so promiscuously that the movie induces a kind of semiotic daze.”
It is certainly hard to view human behavior the same way after watching this film. I hope this low-quality version will be interesting enough to inspire you to rent the real thing.
(The video player embed here should allow you to watch all 11 segments of the film.)
July 26th, 2009 17 comments or # link to posted by david
The Crystal’s “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)“, caused a storm of protest when it was released in 1962, and its ambiguous sentiment underlies ‘It Felt Like a Kiss’, Adam Curtis’ new film. It is a portrait of America between 1958 and 1965, a period when radical individualism emerged with superficial freedom and underlying entrapment. The film has been conceived of as much as a multi-media art piece, as a TV documentary, the BBC having given Curtis an unusual degree of freedom, possibly because they are not quite sure what to do with him.
Curtis is like the Malcolm Gladwell of film making, there is a nagging doubt that what is being argued isn’t science but the delivery is so masterful and thorough that its utterly compelling. It Felt Like a Kiss looks stunning from the trailer (look out for the full version), but perhaps its rhetoric will elicit similar mixed feelings as inspired the subject. Regardless, Curtis, who creates movies that are like the conspiracy theory films that clog Youtube (except that they produced with intelligence), will no doubt become a web celebrity when his next film, which deals with the Internet itself is released combining the meme like qualities of his format with a self-referential subject.
The BBC, in their infinite wisdom, have regionally restricted everything including trailers of It Felt Like A Kiss, so I am linking to the Guardian. A full version of the film is on Curtis’ web site, but is also UK only (I cannot watch it, because I’m in France).
July 22nd, 2009 9 comments or # link to posted by jim
This film is from 1955. It depicts, or appears to (I have no idea if it’s all a fantasy), a cycling idyll, during a postwar period in England when the bicycle was a working man’s (and woman’s?) transportation, without intended symbolism or activism.
Sport clothing certainly has changed a great deal.
Avid cyclists will also notice the well-executed double paceline, at the start of the second clip. The announcer mentions that a “hard riding” sport cyclist of the time might be expected to cover 100 miles in a day. That figure hasn’t changed much, and I’m not too surprised. Aside from a major reduction in weight, the addition of more gears, and the removal of fenders the bicycles closely resemble modern ones (in fact, I suspect these bicycles might be a bit more comfortable, if heavier, than their modern equivalents). Then as now, a hard-riding cyclist might well cover 100 miles on a weekend club ride. These bicycles would have been all-steel, made relatively locally, in Birmingham rather than China. Many here are three-speeds; all have fenders.
My one hesitation in posting this film is that probably most of its irony is probably going right over my head. I’m sure David can provide some insight into the accents, the places, and other British detail that is, typically, lost on me.
Two new people will be helping me stoke Smashing Telly as editors. Their qualification? Both are great, independent minded, pickers and collectors and have something interesting to say. These seem to be paramount skills in this here Internet age. Both are living in New York, but that is co-incidence.
Jim Nachlin was brought up in a mini commune in a Soho Loft in the 70’s and learned to ride a bike in it because the streets weren’t safe. I like him because he is genuinely eccentric and insightful in a way that people who try to be never are – and because he only likes second hand things.
Hunter Gatherer is from Detroit and now also lives in New York. At first I though he was a brit because when he blogged about the UK it had insight that could only come from someone who had been brought up there. Now I realize that his perceptions came from watching TV. Anyone who has powers of observation like that would be a great contributor here.
July 21st, 2009 5 comments or # link to posted by jim
A short film made in the early 1950s about the elevated rail line that traveled from the base of Manhattan, up the Bowery and 3rd Avenue, to Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.
New Yorkers, how many places do you recognize as they zoom by? What brewery was that on 3rd Avenue?
The characters are an arty type, a drunk, a little girl, a young couple, and the drama or plot, such as it is, revolves around a nickel stuck in the wooden floorboards of the train (also notice the padded seats). The main characters here are really the subway and the city.
(via The Prelinger Archives)
July 20th, 2009 2 comments or # link to posted by david
[ NASA have restored the moon landing video. Slightly odd in a way, because part of the appeal of the live transmissions was their distinctive poor quality compared to the film flown back later. They were really far away and the crackle and hiss created an electrifying sense of excitement. ]
Update: One of the bizarre things about the Internet is that despite its promise of real time media, refreshing a text based web site is a lot less interesting than watching TV when it comes to breaking news. I was looking for something online which captured the excitement of the moon landings in real time, and not a Twitter feed. SMS is less dramatic than what we had 40 years ago. It turns out that Jason Kottke has created a fantastic site which is showing the moon landings as they happened 40 years later to the second. a simple a powerful idea: watch it here.
Why does it matter that we went to the moon?
Did we really ‘come in peace’ by sending people on a purposeless voyage riding incredibly expensive, Nazi designed, bomb rockets, in an inter-empire pissing contest, while millions starved?
Human beings are hard wired to murder each other. We are tribal, hairless apes whose aggressive tendencies, when transferred from the sticks and stones of the ancient African savannah to modern industrialized nations, threaten the atomic slaughter of millions with a single phone call. And despite our species-wide back slapping about human capacity for caring, we are selective about who we care for. Just as we feed dogs dozens of other mammals during their lifetime, but would go to jail if we fed a dog to one of them, our capacity for empathy is selective and over-rated. Many of the people that suffer daily in poor regions have been treated worse a pet dog; they are like the food we give to our pets, something we don’t think about because they are physically distant.
Sending people to the moon helps quell the most egregious effects of our instincts. It is the most notable thing hairless apes have done since shedding hair because it places our notion of drive and purpose outside of the planet, and therefore allows anyone on the planet to share equally. It symbolizes our ability to channel aggression to conquer space rather than each other and a creates a tangible purpose that is independent of terrestrial geography.
If space missions allow people to behave as one looking out, from some perspectives, they are all that we have done looking in from outside. An alien staring at our planet for the last 4 billion years from the remote vacuum of space might see nothing more than the silent blip blip as a handful of people left earth and went to the nearest ball of rock and back, more than a generation ago. And 40 years later – nothing.
That blip blip, created all of the challenge of war, all of the excitement of weapons and all of the triumph of victory – without the killing, something that resonates on a personal, sentimental level.
When I was 3, my grandfather met Neil Armstrong and gave me his autograph. It started a lifelong obsession with space technology which gave me the same instinctive visceral kick as toy gun. I now have an 18 month old son and I’ll be able to give him something other than toy soldiers to play with and something more to aim for than those blips.
What could possibly be more important?
July 19th, 2009 8 comments or # link to posted by david
If you can overcome the fact that Niall Ferguson seems to have slowed his metabolism to alter his rate of speaking to avoid any exertion whatsoever in the summer heat that this talk was delivered, then it’s interesting – interesting because it is dull and obvious but wrong.
Darwinian Natural selection takes a minute to grasp and a lifetime to misunderstand, as Ferguson demonstrates – his premise is that markets might be Darwinian. Perhaps the reason he is appears so cautious, is that accepting that greed driven markets are Darwinian is one step away from politically unacceptable Social Darwinism.
Maybe it was for this reason that Paul Kedrosky originally put up the clip with the disclaimer: “I’m skittish about the over-application of neo-Darwinian thinking to everything in sight , but this talk by Niall Ferguson is worth a look”
Since neo-Darwinism refers to a strict interpretation of Darwin’s exact description of Evolution, Niall Ferguson’s market evolution is nothing of the sort – it could equally be saying that markets are Lamarckian and not Darwinian, since successful market strategies are passed on during the lifetime of those who develop them.
This is the problem with applying Darwin to everything. Clearly all order is ultimately self-emergent, it is a meta law that must therefore apply to every collection of interacting systems but unless you describe the mechanism you aren’t saying much.
For example, Darwinism requires a finite environment (creating the constraints for competition), mutation (to create new things to select) and inheritance (to create a cycle for rules of selection to apply). The rules of selection themselves are defined by the interaction of a specific system and specific environment. Capitalist markets are based upon growth markets where supply and demand are elastic and where advantage comes from invention – or ideas. The genes are memes and there is no proof yet that memetic Darwinism is more than analogy.
Ferguson is surprised that when he showed a slide of Dawkins and Gould to an audience of bankers at a conference organized by Goldman Sachs, not a single person could identify them. However, Ferguson may be able to recognize evolutionists and evolution in the colloquial sense but not Darwin and his theory. Understanding the exact mechanism of evolution is the contribution that Darwin made and is often misunderstood because the idea of natural selection is so easy to grasp in a general form.
That markets are Darwinian in the colloquial sense of survival of the fittest, is obvious but unfashionable. That markets are truly Darwinian means that they are not Lamarckian and that a business advantage cannot be transferred during the lifetime of the system that Darwinian rules are operating on – that would be remarkable. Just as there is some debate about whether memes are really Darwinian, its not clear that markets are, but not for the reasons that Ferguson argues.
[ I suspect that memes are in fact really Darwinian and that the way that the Lamarckian problem is removed is to figure out what the equivalent of an organism is for memes.
Organisms themselves are persistent features which remain after all their constituent molecules are replaced through eating and pooping. In this way, organisms are actually like ideas or rather a specific message containing ideas.
In the generalized world of any type of idea or information, memes are ideas contained in messages and memetic organisms are a specific example of a message, for example in the binary encoding of a computer, the pen marks in a letter or a business transaction.
The life cycle that makes this non Lamarckian is the successful or unsuccessful application or transmission of an idea or collection of inseparable ideas from one message encoding to another. This could be from a computer to a print out or even a collection of neurons in someone's head, in every case the message idea is contained within a new message medium.
Reproduction of animals through transfer of an idea of how to build that animal (contained in its DNA) from one animal to its offspring is a specific case of memetic transfer. ]
via Paul Kedrosky
July 17th, 2009 6 comments or # link to posted by david
My hobby is Physics, specifically information theory. Not a popular pastime to have, perhaps, but my Dad is a physicist and the interest rubs off.
One thing I’ve learned is that to get simple explanations for things, counter to popular belief it’s better to get the view of the best physicists than the best communicators. Richard Feynman was both.
There are many Feynman clips around, but Bill Gates has spent significant time and some of his fortune tracking down rights for a famous series of 7 lectures by Feynman at Cornell University in 1964, called the Messenger lectures. They have been put up for free at the Microsoft Research Web site, as part of project Tuva, with full transcripts and interactive features.
The extras are thorough and useful for this type of subject matter, but the format is very like an old school interactive CD-ROM, where the interface re-invents the wheel and omits standard functionality such as the ability to embed.
[ BTW - these Microsoft Silverlight powered videos were almost impossible to watch for me, due to stopping and starting. Like the bad old days before Youtube used flash embeds and web based video suddenly seemed good enough. Silverlight is, in theory solid, so what's up here? Is it just me? ]
June 26th, 2009 10 comments or # link to posted by david
[Mass Moonwalks have already been organized in London and Vienna. Here is an instructional video so that you can nail it and join in.]
Jackson was weirder than Elvis and sold more records, ergo instant media bonanza and Internet meltdown. Nothing like a premature celebrity death to keep the ailing newspaper industry from its long overdue one or the Internet from spreading sanity-threatening, pandemic memetic flu.
You see, the Internet is a giant pile of interconnected tubes which has the principal function of amplifying celebrity and thus revealing that the vast majority of humans are sheep. An entire country twice the size of France may be on the brink of revolution but no matter, Michael Jackson has died and the heat generated by overloaded server farms threatens accelerated global warming. Google originally thought that the number of queries it was receiving today was a Denial of Service Attack.
Anyone dying is sad, but as Andrew Sullivan points out, sadder than Michael Jackson’s death, was the normal life that was stolen from him from childhood. It’s the only sensible point I’ve seen today, other than Gawker which taking its traditional ‘meta’ stance and instead of morbidly following the Jackson wake is doing an autopsy on the media coverage itself. Gawker points out that in country where libel laws don’t extend to the dead, having been charged on 4 counts of child molestation is not going to make this pretty in the long run.
This is a rare opportunity (the last one was possibly Princess Diana’s fatal car crash) to look at what happens when ordinary humans temporarily become weirder than Jackson himself, with emotion either genuinely felt and therefore often hysterical, or cynically milked and therefore deplorable. The lasting story here will be the supra-normal reaction of the fans and of the media.
Here is a small roundup of media absurdity so you can switch off your radio, unplug the TV at the socket and tape up the windows for the next 48 hours.
The BBC, under the headline: “Africa cries for Michael Jackson“. is reporting that Michael Jackson’s brother, Marlon, is planning to develop a hybrid slave history and Jackson Five theme park in Nigeria, where, In Lagos, a Radio Continental presenter broke into uncontrollable weeping live on air and her co-presenter had to take over.
Back in Britain, the BBC has some choice quotes from Jackson’s UK bodyguard:
“Everyone thought he was this weird freak, but when you’re with him he’s as normal as everyone else“. Is he blind? “We used to dress him up and sneak him out of his hotel room and do normal things in shops“. Lets be straight, playing ‘lets do normal things in shops’ is not a normal game.
The Tampa Liberal Examiner claims that:
“‘Weird Al’ Yankovic wouldn’t be ‘Weird Al’ without those infectious Jackson parodies“, missing the obvious point that Weird Al would have been, in fact, a whole lot weirder if he’d done a straight up imitation.
Zeenews India wins the worst headline of the day award with a painful attempt at poetic metaphor:
“‘Moon walk’ into dreadful shadows”
while the San Francisco Chronicle wins the most pretentious, staying on the Moonwalk theme:
“…billions of humans disagree about the nature of God. But everyone knows what the moonwalk is.”
The sycophant award goes to Deepak ‘I knew Michael personally, we were best friends’ Chopra on Beliefnet:
“I sat with him for hours while he dreamily wove Aesop-like tales about animals“. Not something I’d be able to sit through without narcotics, personally.
The Web and Twitter are awash with adolescent ‘nobody understands how I feel’ self-indulgence so I’ve picked out only one sample via WJZ Baltimore which is no more atypical or less bland than thousands of others:
“I was @ a concert and I was a contestant at all Michael Jackson look-a-like contest! it will hard to cope with his death!!” Oh well, we still have his double. Seriously though, what kind of sadist organizes a Michael Jackson lookalike contest for kids?
My favorite quote so far, however, is this one from Hitfix:
“It’s always the little strange details about someone that super-famous that stick out“.
What, tiny details like him changing from a six foot African American man to a bad wax works’ white version of Diana Ross with a child’s voice?
June 24th, 2009 Comments Off or # link to posted by david
From the comments, Jon picks edge of darkness in his favorite TV from the past.
“One of a long series of big drama serials that pretty much sustained British TV in the post-Play for Today years. It fed straight into the nuclear paranoia instilled from a childhood where we subconsciously listened for the early warning sirens. ”
Here it is on Veoh (a login allows you to watch it and parts 2-4 in full).
Comments Off tags: drama
June 22nd, 2009 12 comments or # link to posted by david
By popular request, this list was supposed to be just British TV programs, but I’ll limit that restriction to myself since I grew up there and also since I actually think UK TV is overrated. These days the US does drama much better – e.g. The Wire.
The principal criterion for my choices is not necessarily which things I think are actually good, but those that provoke existential longing. This comprises a combination of homesickness and nostalgia, brought on from the dislocation in both time and space experienced by mid-life crisis prone, aging expats.
1. Janet Street Porter profiles punk for the London Weekend Show.
Picking this may seem so unbelievably obscure that it’s self indulgent. But it’s a specific and personal memory that I had assumed would be lost in some tape archive in the bowels of London Weekend Television. That someone has found it and put it on Youtube demonstrates perfectly the almighty power of the web. Punk blew a vast hole in the flank of tawdry, laurel resting, UK culture, like nothing else before or since. It still seems modern, yet its older than the Second World War was when it was filmed.
2. Brideshead Revisited.
As in the 1981 version. Despite the campiness which I had to explain away in detail to my wife who is French, Brideshead is a serious project, the only TV program that Halliwell ever gave 5 stars to. It is quintessentially English and has all the posh stuff that I rebelled against as anachronistic, stuffy crap and now see the attraction of. For BBC zealots, note that this was a Granada production.
Clip: “We were eating the Lobster Thermidor when the last guest arrived…“.
3. Nuts in May
I wasn’t sure which Mike Leigh item to pick, but eventually settled on this. It’s a perfect slice of where lingering Edwardian sensibilities met 70s New Age. I knew people who had parents like Keith and Candice-Marie.
Clip: “I’ll Knock Your Head Off”.
4. The Sweeney
Hearing the theme tune to this makes me feel very strange. Nothing represents the slightly impoverished but gritty reality of the 70s like The Sweeney. It was nasty and brutish and went on for 3 years. The character development of the main protagonists, Regan and Carter, surpassed US cop shows from the same period and rendered them tough but endearing. Diamonds in the rough.
Sweeney Closing Track with stills.
5. The Shock of the New
Although it has been updated, ironically here I’m referring to the old Shock of the New, broadcast in 1980. A visual feast of a tour through modern art with a tour de force commentary providing an equally stunning audio treat.
Clip: The Shock of the New, Marcel Duchamp
Horizon these days seems to be dumbed down, but perhaps I am just getting older. It was my introduction to science and what drew me to California, when I heard scientists being interviewed at seductive locations like the Salk Institute. Ever since then, scientists have to have American accents to sound credible and techie.
Clip: Horizon Interview with Richard Feynman.
7. The Good Life
In picking a UK sitcom, both Fawlty Towers and Porridge are perhaps better, but I’ve chosen The Good Life for sentimental reasons. It reminds me of growing up, bits of it were even filmed in the town I grew up, and richard Briers’ character could have been my dad. The is light entertainment, but it captures profoundly, the feel of what suburban London was really like in the 70s better than anything I know.
Clip: Intro and random scene.
Post your own lists in the comments.
June 19th, 2009 13 comments or # link to posted by david
Sorry for the lack of posting – I’ve been on holiday (by mistake), in Provence. A million miles away from the scene of this clip which Hunter Gatherer has once again sifted from the pile of crap that is the reality of the once great British television.
and read Hunter Gatherer’s analysis, here.
June 8th, 2009 15 comments or # link to posted by david
UK’s Channel 4 is to put its entire back catalog online for free
That’s the good news. The bad news is that this will presumably only apply within the UK.
Increasingly the dream of on-demand, online TV of the type that I tried to make available here from scraps that required sifting through endless search results is becoming a reality.
But there is one thing that is fucking it up royally – regionalization. The same moronic, antediluvian thinking that means that you can’t watch a DVD you bought in one country, in another is being applied to nearly all legitimate TV on the web. Its a disaster, something that doesn’t apply for music or text and is ruining something that could be great.
The usual excuse for this not being possible is the impossibility of handling things like the payments of residuals to actors. Like the music industry, the people who deal with this feel very threatened by the Internet and are actively trying to hold up progress.
The sad thing is that people won’t notice. You can’t miss something you never knew. But imagine if people in the UK could watch Hulu or people in the US could watch the Channel 4 in the same way that they can read the BBC online.
June 1st, 2009 19 comments or # link to posted by david
A game show featuring Stalin would be a suitably absurd comedy sketch, yet it’s not far from the truth.
What’s my Line is a perfect American, Post Modern, TV masterpiece. A piece of cheap, light entertainment that featured several of the most important people of the 20th Century in the context of a game show. People that later ruled countries (Ford, Carter, Reagan), appear in museums (Dali), created the museums themselves (Frank Lloyd Wright) or became cultural icons (Walt Disney) were all ‘What’s my Line’ contestants.
If the chalkboard where people wrote their names were preserved, it would be a museum piece.
I’ll embed more that I can find in the comment’s (feel free to do so too). In the mean time, for you enjoyment, here is America’s most famous architect in history playing What’s my Line.
For Memorial Day, Hunter Gatherer posted an excellent piece on the 1963 war film, The Victor. I recommend reading what he has to say in full, but here is the snippet that accompanies the clip above:
“The particularly strong portrayal of the less heroic side of war’s consequences was shocking given the year that the film was made. One scene in particular, purportedly inspired by the execution of Eddie Slovik, set the execution of a deserter in the last months of the war to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Christmas’.”