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Not all whistleblowers are created equal. Julian Assange is, after all, no Daniel Ellsberg, even if the latter leaker supports him.

The WikiLeaks founder is nothing if not a Trump-ish world figure, having climbed onto that stage while our current President was still more Kim Kardashian than Kim Jong-un, busy weighing the relative merits of Arsenio Hall and Gary Busey in a make-believe boardroom.

Assange has repeatedly proven himself over the past seven years to have been deeply irresponsible with both the lives of innocent people–even at-risk ones–and the truth. Slavishly devoted to his own privacy despite having no regard for anyone else’s, he’s a vainglorious, egotistical asshole with a deep misogynistic streak and multiple sexual assault allegations on his public record. (If you want to hear more, someone locate Billy Bush and get the bus running.) That doesn’t even take into account Assange apparently working as a Putin stooge over the last several years, with his organization becoming a Kremlin house organ far more effective than Pravda ever was during the Soviet days.

A question remains despite his odious behavior: Even if what Assange practices is some sort of voodoo journalism, will it endanger genuine practitioners if he’s arrested and tried for espionage? That inquiry was a lot more germane before Trump and hopefully will be again after him, since any U.S. reporter or news organization are targets of the White House’s wrath during this terrible time, no questionable practices required.

In writing about Risk, the Laura Poitras documentary about the world’s second-most-infamous Kremlin crony, Sue Halpern of the New York Review of Books wonders over this very issue. An excerpt:

Despite Assange’s vocal disdain for his former collaborators at The New York Times and The Guardian, his association with those journalists and their newspapers is probably what so far has kept him from being indicted and prosecuted in the United States. As Glenn Greenwald told the journalist Amy Goodman recently, Eric Holder’s Justice Department could not come up with a rationale to prosecute WikiLeaks that would not also implicate the news organizations with which it had worked; to do so, Greenwald said, would have been “too much of a threat to press freedom, even for the Obama administration.” The same cannot be said with confidence about the Trump White House, which perceives the Times, and national news organizations more generally, as adversaries. Yet if the Sessions Justice Department goes after Assange, it likely will be on the grounds that WikiLeaks is not “real” journalism.

This charge has dogged WikiLeaks from the start. For one thing, it doesn’t employ reporters or have subscribers. For another, it publishes irregularly and, because it does not actively chase secrets but aggregates those that others supply, often has long gaps when it publishes nothing at all. Perhaps most confusing to some observers, WikiLeaks’s rudimentary website doesn’t look anything like a New York Times or a Washington Post, even in those papers’ more recent digital incarnations.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that WikiLeaks publishes the information it receives much like those traditional news outlets. When it burst on the scene in 2010, it was embraced as a new kind of journalism, one capable not only of speaking truth to power, but of outsmarting power and its institutional gatekeepers. And the fact is, there is no consensus on what constitutes “real” journalism. As Adam Penenberg points out, “The best we have comes from laws and proposed legislation which protect reporters from being forced to divulge confidential sources in court. In crafting those shield laws, legislators have had to grapple with the nebulousness of the profession.”

The danger of carving off WikiLeaks from the rest of journalism, as the attorney general may attempt to do, is that ultimately it leaves all publications vulnerable to prosecution. Once an exception is made, a rule will be too, and the rule in this case will be that the government can determine what constitutes real journalism and what does not, and which publications, films, writers, editors, and filmmakers are protected under the First Amendment, and which are not.

This is where censorship begins. No matter what one thinks of Julian Assange personally, or of WikiLeaks’s reckless publication practices, like it or not, they have become the litmus test of our commitment to free speech. If the government successfully prosecutes WikiLeaks for publishing classified information, why not, then, “the failed New York Times,” as the president likes to call it, or any news organization or journalist? It’s a slippery slope leading to a sheer cliff. That is the real risk being presented here, though Poitras doesn’t directly address it.•


“This is not the film I thought I was making”:

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The Man From Mars.

It wasn’t a commercial triumph like his namesake organ, but Laurens Hammond’s “Teleview” projection system for early 3-D films was critically acclaimed. The set-up was installed in Manhattan’s Selwyn Theater in the early 1920s, and moviegoers were treated to screenings of The Man From Mars, a stereoscopic film made especially for Teleview, which was shown on a large screen and on individual viewing devices attached at each seat. It apparently looked pretty great. Alas, the equipment and installation was costly, and no other cinemas adopted the technology. From the December 17, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

It wasn’t the Jazz Singer, but Benito Mussolini agreed to star in a talkie when asked by Fox Movietone News to stand before the company’s motion-picture cameras and address the citizens of the United States. In the 80-second running time, Il Duce used the phrase “make America great.” 

This type of content helped the then-struggling Fox establish, in 1929, a newsreel theater in Times Square, which served as a forerunner to today’s cable outlets.

The Fascist leader, who understood the power of communications like few in his era, would endeavor within a decade of making this short to build his very own Hollywood. Today he would merely need to open his own Twitter account. Progress.

An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the first foreign leader to have a speaking role on film.

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation is the “little” 1974 psychological thriller he squeezed in between the first two Godfather films, which fast-forwarded the disquiet of Antonioni’s Blow-Up into the Watergate Era, even if the director has always considered it more a personal than political film. The movie, which hangs on San Francisco surveillance expert Harry Caul’s descent into madness, remains a classic and has actually grown in stature as the Digital Age replaced the analog one. When I wrote briefly about the cerebral movie six years ago, I concluded with this:

In the era that saw the downfall of an American President who listened to the tapes of others and erased his own, The Conversation was amazingly relevant, but in some ways it may be even more meaningful in this exhibitionist age, in which we gleefully hand over our privacy to satisfy our egos. As Caul and Nixon learned, and as we may yet, those who press PLAY don’t always get to choose when to press STOP.•

This weekend, we had a sitting American President (baselessly) accuse his predecessor of tapping his phone lines, all the while the Intelligence Community searches for real tapes of this Administration’s officials conspiring with the Kremlin during the campaign. Such evidence would be treasonous.

It’s not shocking that Trump’s viciously ugly brand of nostalgia has forced us backwards into a Cold Way type of paranoia, in which 20th-century espionage is predominant. The greater insight to take from The Conversation may be more about the near future, however, when nobody has to hit PLAY because there’s no longer a STOP.

In an amazing find, the good people at Cinephilia & Beyond published a 1974 Filmmakers Newsletter interview in which Brian De Palma quizzed Coppola about this masterwork. It’s more a discussion of cinema than of Watergate, and there’s a very interesting exchange in which the subject reveals why he doesn’t regard Hitchcock with awe.

Here’s the opening:


Here’s a wonderful making-of featurette about The Conversation, which asked questions about a world where everyone is a spy and spied upon. The surprise more than 40 years later: Few seemed upset as we crept into the new order of the techno-society. We haven’t been trapped after all; we’ve logged on and signed up for it.

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According to legend, writer William Peter Blatty pretended to be a Saudi prince in the 1950s to get booked on the game show You Bet Your Life. He didn’t fool Groucho but did win $10,000, which helped him jump-start his career.

Blatty, who just died, enjoyed a long, successful run, but during the 1970 to 1973 period, when The Exorcist was a hugely controversial blockbuster as both novel and film, he was on the receiving end of a torrent of congratulations and curses seldom experienced by an American writer. If it wasn’t clear in those times that Blatty was correct and his critics (a mix of Catholic Church leaders and high-toned film critics) were not, it seems fairly obvious now.

In the inaugural 1974 edition of People, Blatty responded to the firestorm over the screen adaptation of The Exorcist. An excerpt in which he hit back at the critical elite, that quaint thing that used to exist before the fans fans stormed the gates. An excerpt:

Question:

How do you feel about some of the most negative reviewers of your film?

William Peter Blatty:

I would like to introduce Pauline Kael of The New Yorker to Father Woods and Father Cortes. They hate the movie because they say it is doing the church no good. Pauline Kael hates the movie because she says it is “the biggest recruiting poster the Catholic Church has had since the sunnier days of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.” I would like to put these people in a room together.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times said the film was not made without intelligence or talent. He said this only further infuriated him—that we should have wasted the intelligence, talent, money and budget of a lavish production on what he called elegant claptrap.

Question:

Why are they so negative?

William Peter Blatty:

They belong to a very small, elitist set of reviewers who have been trapped so long in the squirrel cage of their egos that the world of reality outside their cage is a blur. They neither reap nor sow nor perform any useful social function. They are malignant Miles of the field.•


Blatty and Exorcist collaborators Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller, reconvened in 1984 for Good Morning America.

Truth can be elusive and facts imprecise, but an earnest pursuit of both is fundamental for the establishment and maintenance of civil society. The assault on enlightenment during the election cycle and since has been a wanton act of nihilism by the latest wave of neo-Nazis and the President-Elect himself.

Just one tool in their kit is to preemptively accuse others of things they are guilty of–an especially easy task for damaged souls given to repressing and projecting–which allows for a wall of confusion to be erected. Once nothing seems sure, anything becomes possible.

One example would be a hatemonger pointing out a mistake in the New York Times, in an attempt to create a false equivalency with Breitbart or some of other white-nationalist propaganda. Except, of course, while the Times or any reasonable publication can be mistaken, the act of being wrong isn’t their mission. It’s an exception, not the rule.

Beyond voting and calling and emailing and marching, something American citizens can do if they fear liberal democracy is now in jeopardy would be to hold every political and public figure accountable if they fail to support noble attempts at truth, if they feed the fog, whether it’s Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker refusing to call out Trump on his plethora of lies or the POETUS trying to obfuscate in regards to Russia’s interference in our free elections.

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An excerpt of Wallace Shawn’s centerpiece speech from 1981’s My Dinner With Andre that presently seems particularly pertinent:

WALLY:

Even if I were to accept the idea that there’s just no way for anybody to have personal happiness now, well, you know, I still couldn’t accept the idea that the way to make life wonderful would be to just totally, you know, reject western civilization and fall back into some kind of belief in some kind of weird something. I mean…I mean, I don’t even know how to begin talking about this, but, do you know…? In the Middle Ages, before the arrival of scientific thinking as we know it today, well, people could believe anything. Anything could be true: the statue of the Virgin Mary could speak, or bleed, or whatever it was. But the wonderful thing that happened was that then in the development of science in the western world, well, certain things did come slowly to be known, and understood. I mean, you know, obviously all ideas in science are constantly being revised; I mean, that’s the whole point. But we do at least know that the universe has some shape, and order, and that, you know, trees do not turn into people, or goddesses. And they’re very good reasons why they don’t, and you can’t just believe absolutely anything!•

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Dr. Phil, who is not a doctor but is in fact a Phil, would make a wonderful Surgeon General in the Trump Administration, though Dr. Drew is also a strong candidate. Either choice would be no sillier than having a Reality TV personality with no qualifications and a sociopathic bent assuming the role of President.

Phil McGraw, the shameless exploiter, is only part of the madness currently engulfing poor Shelley Duvall, a wonderfully idiosyncratic actor deeply troubled by mental illness. Also involved is Vivian Kubrick, filmmaker, composer and daughter of Stanley Kubrick, who abused and tormented Duvall while making The Shining.

Vivian initially seemed to be acting with great kindness in establishing a GoFundMe drive in Duvall’s name. However, it’s now known she’s a Scientologist who apparently doesn’t believe in psychiatric treatment, making the whole undertaking a puzzlement. That the fundraiser was being hosted from Clearwater, Florida, home of Scientology headquarters, only raises more concerns.

In Seth Abramovitch’s Hollywood Reporter piece, the journalist reveals Duvall isn’t the only one who’s undergone a shocking transformation. An excerpt:

Vivian Kubrick, 56, is one of two children born to the directing genius and Christiane Harlan, a young German actress he met on the set of 1957’s Paths of Glory. While Kubrick had been married twice before, he and Harlan never tied the knot — though they stayed together 40 years until his death in 1999. The couple’s first child together, Anya, was one year older than Vivian. When Anya died in 2009 of cancer, Vivian did not attend the funeral — this despite the fact that the pair were all but inseparable growing up. 

By then, however, Vivian had been deeply enmeshed in Scientology for well over a decade, according to family members who have spoken with the media. A talented musician and orchestrator, Vivian had composed the music to her father’s Full Metal Jacket in 1987. Kubrick, who was grooming her to follow in his filmmaking footsteps, had wanted his daughter to compose the score to 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, too — but by then Vivian had begun the process of disconnection on from her family.

“At the last moment she said she wouldn’t,” Kubrick’s widow Christiane told The Guardian in 2009, as noted by Scientology watchdog site The Underground Bunker. “They had a huge fight. He was very unhappy. He wrote her a 40-page letter trying to win her back. He begged her endlessly to come home from California. I’m glad he didn’t live to see what happened.” Kubrick died in March 1999, just months before the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman film opened. 

In 2010, Vivian’s half-sister Katharina Kubrick told the Daily Beast that Vivian had cut off all communication to the family. Katharina went on to recount the time Vivian showed up to her father’s 1999 funeral accompanied by a Scientology handler. “The person sat on a bed, saying nothing, while Vivian complained of back pain that she said had been caused 10,000 years ago,” according to the report. 

When she failed to show up in 2009 to Anya’s funeral, the family had all but lost hope. “She has completely changed as a person,” Katharina said. “And it’s just very sad. We’re not allowed to contact her. Something happened to her. She has been changed forever.”

To the family’s shock, after years of no contact with Vivian, someone spotted her in a video of a 2013 anti-government rally held in Dallas, her hometown, led by the conspiracy-obsessed conservative radio host Alex Jones.

According to Hollywood Interrupted‘s Mark Ebner, Vivian was policing the GoFundMe page vigilantly since its Friday launch, “blocking anyone who simply asks if the money could possibly go to legitimate [psychiatric] health care” — practices which the organization has openly and aggressively derided as barbaric and corrupt since its founding in 1954.

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Many dark fictions about technology focus on machines going rogue and running amok, but couldn’t things progress as planned and still lead to trouble if we have poor priorities and make the wrong decisions?

On a 1979 Dick Cavett Show, Ira Levin was asked how he dreamed up the scenario for his chilling novel The Stepford Wives. He answered that after reading about the possibility of robotic domestic servants in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, he wondered what would happen if we achieved that goal at a very high level. You know, if everything went according to plan.

Humanoid robots aren’t in our near future, but chatbots and digital assistants will be an increasing part of our lives in the short run. They may eventually get so good that we won’t know sometimes if we’re speaking to a human or not. Perhaps we will be aware, but that won’t stop us from speaking to them as if “they” were people. There will be a relationship. That’s the plan, anyhow.

Some excerpts on that topic from Alvin Toffler’s book:

Whether we grow specialized animals to serve us or develop household robots depends in part on the uneven race between the life sciences and the physical sciences. It may be cheaper to make machines for our purposes, than to raise and train animals. Yet the biological sciences are developing so rapidly that the balance may well tip within our lifetimes. Indeed, the day may even come when we begin to grow our machines. …

We are hurtling toward the time when we will be able to breed both super- and subraces. As Theodore J. Gordon put it in The Future, “Given the ability to tailor the race, I wonder if we would “create all men equal,’ or would we choose to manufacture apartheid? Might the races of the future be: a superior group, the DNA controllers; the humble servants; special athletes for the ‘games’; research scientists with 200 IQ and diminutive  bodies …” We shall have the power to produce races of morons or of mathematical savants. …

Technicians at Disneyland have created extremely life-like computer-controlled humanoids capable of moving their arms and legs, grimacing, smiling, glowering, simulating fear, joy and a wide range of other emotions. Built of clear plastic that, according to one reporter, “does everything but bleed,” the robots chase girls, play music, fire pistols, and so closely resemble human forms that visitors routinely shriek with fear, flinch and otherwise react as though they were dealing with real human beings. The purposes to which these robots are put may seem trivial, but the technology on which they are based is highly sophisticated. It depends heavily on knowledge acquired from the space program—and this knowledge is accumulating rapidly.

There appears to be no reason, in principle, why we cannot go forward from these present primitive and trivial robots to build humanoid machines capable of extremely varied behavior, capable even of “human” error and seemingly random choice—in short, to make them behaviorally indistinguishable from humans except by means of highly sophisticated or elaborate tests. At that point we shall face the novel sensation of trying to determine whether the smiling, assured humanoid behind the airline reservation counter is a pretty girl or a carefully wired robot.

The likelihood, of course, is that she will be both.

The thrust toward some form of man-machine symbiosis is furthered by our increasing ingenuity in communicating with machines. A great deal of much-publicized work is being done to facilitate the interaction of men and computers. But quite apart from this, Russian and American scientists have both been experimenting with the placement or implantation of detectors that pick up signals from the nerve ends at the stub of an amputated limb. These signals are then amplified and used to activate an artificial limb, thereby making a machine directly and sensitively responsive to the nervous system of a human being. The human need not “think out” his desires; even involuntary impulses are transmittable. The responsive behavior of the machine is as automatic as the behavior of one’s own hand, eye or leg.•

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Duck Soup and Young Frankenstein are, in some order, my number 1 and 1A favorite film comedies. That comes to mind, of course, because of the sad passing of Gene Wilder, an essentially perfect comic actor who displayed great range despite not seeming to ever move an inch. He was a central, grounding figure in works that could have–should have–fallen apart: Mel Brooks comedies, Willy Wonka, Richard Pryor buddy pictures and Ionesco plays. (He always refused to acknowledge he’d been in a filmed version of The Rhinoceros because he was scarred by what was reportedly abusive behavior by co-star Zero Mostel.)

Here’s an insane rarity: Wilder and Cloris Leachman on the set of YF in 1974, being interviewed really badly for Spanish TV. Along with Mary Shelley and Brooks, the actor received a writing credit for the movie.

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Staring into the maw of an active volcano in Guadeloupe is inherently more dramatic than Googling or Tweeting, but it’s the latter that ultimately may have a larger-than-Krakatoa effect on the world. Werner Herzog, who was brave and foolish enough to drag a small camera crew to the gurgling La Soufrière in 1976, has now turned his attention to another unpredictable and potentially explosive source, though this time a human-made one, the Digital Revolution.

In a New York Times review, A.O. Scott trains his immaculate writing on the director’s latest, the impressionistic Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. The piece is far from a pan, though the critic asserts the auteur’s attempts to introduce poetry and wonder into the topic do not always survive the facts of our algorithmic era.

An excerpt:

The devices in our hands and on our desks, and the invisible, ubiquitous networks that link them, are often seen to be ushering us toward utopia or hastening the arrival of the apocalypse. Mr. Herzog, an unseen interviewer with an unmistakable voice, seems receptive to both views. He listens to scientists and entrepreneurs celebrate the expansion of knowledge and learning that the digital revolution has brought forth, and to others who lament the erosion of privacy and critical-thinking skills. The physicist Lucianne Walkowicz explains how a solar flare could bring the whole network — and with it our super-technologized way of life — crashing down in a matter of days. On the other hand, we might build self-driving cars, perfect artificial intelligence applications that permanently erase the boundary between people and machines or even create colonies on Mars.

At times, Mr. Herzog’s imagination leaps beyond even the more startling speculations of his subjects. He is not so much credulous as excitable, given to interrupting the prose of researchers and analysts with flights of poetry. He tries to press some of them to predict the future, something scientists are generally reluctant to do. And he poses a question that charms and stumps many of them: “Does the internet dream of itself?”

As its title suggests, “Lo and Behold” is to some extent Mr. Herzog’s dream of the internet. Divided into 10 brief chapters, it is impressionistic rather than comprehensive. Many of the ideas are familiar, and some important aspects of life in the digital era are examined superficially or not at all. Though Edward Snowden’s name is dropped, there is not much attention to surveillance or spying, and the uses and abuses of connectivity as a tool of corporate and state power are barely explored.

The interviews seem to have been conducted over a few years, which gives a curiously dated feeling to parts of the film. Sebastian Thrun, a founder of the online learning company Udacity, enthuses about the transformative potential of his courses, but the widely reported failure of those courses to realize their supposed potential does not come up. Skepticism is really not Mr. Herzog’s thing.•

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It’s understood The Hollywood Reporter is an industry trade journal that addresses above all else the business of movies, but Stephen Galloway’s article on the Nate Parker ugliness from the aspect of how the director and Fox Searchlight can best do damage control is bizarre and offensive. For a journalist to write from inside an imaginary public relations war room about the optimum tactics to use to ensure a movie “can survive a rape-trial scandal” is just jaw-dropping, especially since the woman who charged Parker and his Birth of a Nation co-writer Jean Celestin didn’t survive, having committed suicide in 2012. It’s the strangest set of priorities.

An excerpt:

First, it’s crucial for the filmmaker to separate his life from the message of his film, about the horrific treatment of slaves — and by extension all African-Americans — in our society. That means Searchlight likely will have to abandon its plans to tie the movie’s marketing to him. The messenger may be flawed; the message isn’t. Now the message must be central to the movie’s campaign.

Second, Parker must demonstrate that he is a changed man. Penitence works far better than protests of innocence. The Birth of a Nation must be presented as his redemption story, a mea culpa rather than a personal triumph.

Third, Parker must deploy the men and women who know him and have worked with him to testify to his decency. That means not only his wife but also such luminaries as Denzel Washington, who gave him a break on The Great Debaters, and Oprah Winfrey, herself the victim of sexual abuse.

So far, Parker has handled the crisis shrewdly.•

In the New York Times, Roxane Gay has a deep and nuanced op-ed explaining why she can’t separate the art from the behavior of the artist, which would consign Pablo Picasso and Anne Sexton and Errol Flynn, among many others, to mothballs, but which is a very understandable reaction. An excerpt:

Mr. Parker is being forced to publicly reckon with his past, and he is doing a lousy job. I want to have empathy for him, but everything he says and does troubles me. You see, what happened in 1999 was a “painful moment” in his life. Most of what he has to say about that “painful moment” involves how he felt, how he was affected. The solipsism is staggering.

In an interview with Deadline.com, the entertainment news site, Mr. Parker said: “I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife. My mom lives here with me; I brought her here. I’ve got four younger sisters.” He offers up the women in his life as incontrovertible evidence of goodness or, perhaps, redemption. But no matter how much he wishes it to be so, his women cannot erase his past. He went so far as to bring his 6-year-old daughter to an interview where he knew he would be questioned about the circumstances surrounding the rape trial — a strange, manipulative and even cynical choice. To this day, he believes he did nothing wrong, though he also says he has “grown” and is a “changed” man.•

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In “Fun With DNA,” Sam Kean’s Atlantic article, the author offers up some uses, potential and actual, for genetic code, from the theoretical resurrection of the woolly mammoth (which wouldn’t exactly be a woolly mammoth) to the storage of classic movies (which are exact duplicates). It makes for an economical storage system, for sure. As the article points out: The equivalent of 1 million CDs full of information can fit into a single gram of DNA. Of course, the data will eventually be mixed and matched, and that’s when the games will get messy and possibly dangerous.

An excerpt:

DNA is the oldest medium in existence for storing data, so it makes sense that the double helix could find use in computing. Scientists can encode data as DNA by assigning every number and letter to a unique string of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s (much like modern computers encode data as 1’s and 0’s) and then producing strands of synthetic DNA with that information. DNA-sequencing machines can later extract the data.

Why bother? Aside from being ultra-durable, DNA is also an incredibly efficient way to store information. Scientists have already been able to fit 700 terabytes of data—roughly the equivalent of 1 million CDs—in a single gram of DNA, and it can theoretically hold far more. By some estimates, all of the data currently stored on the world’s disk drives could fit in the palm of your hand if encoded in DNA. For this reason, Technicolor, the entertainment company, has begun storing old movies as DNA, starting with the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon. You can also copy DNA-based data nearly indefinitely with simple enzymes. The Harvard geneticist George Church recently converted a book he wrote into DNA, then made 70 billion copies in a test tube—making it the most reproduced text in history.

Beyond just storing data, some researchers have suggested using DNA to build biological computers. These biocomputers wouldn’t look like laptops, with screens and keyboards. Rather, they’d be chemicals inside test tubes or biological membranes. But like laptops, they would have the ability to take in information, process it, and act. DNA seems especially promising for parallel processing, which involves making millions or even billions of computations simultaneously. (An example is weather forecasting, which involves integrating temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity data for many, many points on the Earth’s surface all at once.) And unlike electronic devices, which can’t easily infiltrate living cells, DNA-based computers could penetrate these spaces, giving us ways to record information and possibly fight disease in real time.

Church notes that above all, DNA holds great promise for data encoding because the medium won’t ever grow obsolete. “We lose our affection for floppy drives” and other technologies, Church says. “But we’ll always have some interest in DNA.”•

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The Esquire interview Michael Hainey did with Clint Eastwood (and his son Scott) is getting a lot of play, but it’s awful.

The Q&A is an example of dereliction of duty by the inquisitor, in much the same way that Maureen Dowd failed miserably in her early-campaign exchange with Donald Trump, treating him like a slightly naughty uncle, allowing him free reign to use the world greatest news organization to portray himself as something other than a dangerous bigot. Dowd seem to think it was a laugh riot at the time, though the campaign has since proved to be to serious as sin and literally riotous at times. 

Trying to get a subject to talk himself into a corner usually isn’t a good gambit unless you’re willing to ask the tough questions once his nose hits the wall. If you accept the assignment and the conversation crosses into politics or race or any important matter, you best offer more than a nodding head and a blank slate for any opinion offered.

When Eastwood tells Hainey people troubled by racism (non-white folks, mostly) should “just get the fuck over it,” the interviewer should have pointed out to him that those same protesters might tell him to get over his dismay with their struggle for civil rights, a matter as grave as can be given our history of legal double standards based on skin color. It also would have been wonderful if the writer had pointed out to the actor-director that the reason many people call Trump a racist is because his pronouncements and policy proposals are often explicitly racist. That should have been the minimum expected of the interview, but, unfortunately, the empty chair at the 2012 RNC offered more pushback.

An excerpt:

Esquire:

Your characters have become touchstones in the culture, whether it’s Reagan invoking “Make my day” or now Trump … I swear he’s even practiced your scowl.

Clint Eastwood:

Maybe. But he’s onto something, because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a pussy generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist. And then when I did Gran Torino, even my associate said, “This is a really good script, but it’s politically incorrect.” And I said, “Good. Let me read it tonight.” The next morning, I came in and I threw it on his desk and I said, “We’re starting this immediately.”

Esquire:

What is the “pussy generation”?

Clint Eastwood:

All these people that say, “Oh, you can’t do that, and you can’t do this, and you can’t say that.” I guess it’s just the times.

Esquire:

What do you think Trump is onto?

Clint Eastwood:

What Trump is onto is he’s just saying what’s on his mind. And sometimes it’s not so good. And sometimes it’s … I mean, I can understand where he’s coming from, but I don’t always agree with it.

Esquire:

So you’re not endorsing him?

Clint Eastwood:

I haven’t endorsed anybody. I haven’t talked to Trump. I haven’t talked to anybody. You know, he’s a racist now because he’s talked about this judge. And yeah, it’s a dumb thing to say. I mean, to predicate your opinion on the fact that the guy was born to Mexican parents or something. He’s said a lot of dumb things. So have all of them. Both sides. But everybody—the press and everybody’s going, “Oh, well, that’s racist,” and they’re making a big hoodoo out of it. Just fucking get over it. It’s a sad time in history.•

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Paradise lost was the recurrent theme of Hunter S. Thompson, a great writer and a tiresome fuck with a gun, who saw decline and fall everywhere he wentcampaign trails, Big Sur, hippie communes, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, cyberspace–perhaps because it reminded him of himself. In his writing, America was always a has-been or never-was, something born wicked or gone crooked. Often, his assessment was right.

In 1978, the BBC program Omnibus had Nigel Finch train his cameras on the Gonzo journalist and his artist Ralph Steadman. The film begins with the latter smoking on a plane, headed to Aspen to meet his friend in god knows what condition, a jungle of a man awaiting a Kurtz. “We’re offering nickel beer and lemonade,” says the flight attendant over the loudspeaker, suitably, and we’re off to the races, eventually snaking from Colorado to Las Vegas to the commodifying Dream Factory of Hollywood. Donald Trump is so much worse than anyone he despised during his life, anyone.

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In the pursuit of truth, Werner Herzog has his whole life elected to battle elements natural and human-made. Whether taking epic walks across Germany sans car, lugging cameras to the maw of a live volcano or commanding his cast and crew to pull a 320-ton steamship over a hill, he hasn’t always enjoyed a tension-less relationship with the tools of the Industrial Age, let alone the Digital one.

In 2011’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog offered a mélange of the natural and artificial, the implements of the ancient and modern, trying to make sense of, among other things, cave drawings, 3-D filmmaking, albino crocodiles and nuclear power plants. In the forthcoming Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, he takes a bold step into what technology has wrought, not dismissing its greatness nor drunkenly celebrating its proliferation. 

In a smart Vox interview, Emily Yoshida had the happy task of explaining Pokémon Go to the director. It could not have gone better. An excerpt:

Werner Herzog:

Tell me about Pokémon Go. What is happening on Pokémon Go?

Vox:

It’s basically the first mainstream augmented reality program. It’s a game where the entire world is mapped and you walk around with the GPS on your phone. You walk around in the real world and can catch these little monsters and collect them. And everybody is playing it.

Werner Herzog:

Does it tell you you’re here at San Vicente, close to Sunset Boulevard?

Vox:

Yeah, it’s basically like a Google map.

Werner Herzog:

But what does pokémon do at this corner here?

Vox:

You might be able to catch some. It’s all completely virtual. It’s very simple, but it’s also an overlay of physically based information that now exists on top of the real world.

Werner Herzog:

When two persons in search of a pokémon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?

Vox:

They do fight, virtually.

Werner Herzog:

Physically, do they fight?

Vox:

No—

Werner Herzog:

Do they bite each other’s hands? Do they punch each other?

Vox:

The people or the…

Werner Herzog:

Yes, there must be real people if it’s a real encounter with someone else.•

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Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

The one time I interviewed Werner Herzog, in 2005, I asked him how he survived the threatening situations he encountered while making his sometimes death-defying films and in his life. He replied: “I’ve been fortified by enough philosophy.” Ever since then, I’ve always asked myself if I’ve been similarly fortified, if I’ve read and thought enough so that even when I’m deeply shaken, there’s something essential within me that remains solid.

Herzog just did a Reddit AMA, which includes an exchange that speaks to this idea. The excerpt:

 Question:

You’ve covered everything from the prehistoric Chauvet Cave to the impending overthrow of not-so-far-off futuristic artificial intelligence. What about humankind’s history/capability terrifies you the most?

Werner Herzog:

It’s a difficult question, because it encompasses almost all of human history so far. What is interesting about this paleolithic cave is that we see with our own eyes the origins, the beginning of the modern human soul. These people were like us, and what their concept of art was, we do not really comprehend fully. We can only guess.

And of course now today, we are into almost futuristic moments where we create artificial intelligence and we may not even need other human beings anymore as companions. We can have fluffy robots, and we can have assistants who brew the coffee for us and serve us to the bed, and all these things. So we have to be very careful and should understand what basic things, what makes us human, what essentially makes us into what we are. And once we understand that, we can make our educated choices, and we can use our inner filters, our conceptual filters. How far would we use artificial intelligence? How far would we trust, for example, into the logic of a self-driving car? Will it crash or not if we don’t look after the steering wheel ourselves?

So, we should make a clear choice, what we would like to preserve as human beings, and for that, for these kinds of conceptual answers, I always advise to read books. Read read read read read! And I say that not only to filmmakers, I say that to everyone. People do not read enough, and that’s how you create critical thinking, conceptual thinking. You create a way of how to shape your life. Although, it seems to elude us into a pseudo-life, into a synthetic life out there in cyberspace, out there in social media. So it’s good that we are using Facebook, but use it wisely.•

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In 1921, before there were Talkies, Arthur Blanchard invented a machine to create plots for big-screen pictures. Thirty years later, B-movie Hollywood director Edward Ludwig believed the time was soon when computers would do the screenwriting. Is such a thing possible now? Not exactly, though there’s a new AI that probably could replace Michael Bay and his incoherent, big-budget Hal-Needham-in-space crap. Bay’s someone who needs to be technologically unemployed.

In an Ars Technica article, Annalee Newitz writes about “Sunspring,” a short sci-fi film about a futuristic love triangle that was wholly written by a neural network named Benjamin, the brainchild of NYU AI researcher Ross Goodwin. The resulting work is odd and spirited, an offbeat and stilted regurgitation of current sci-fi tropes but with something of an eccentric auteur’s touch and the Dada poet’s pen. In its own way, it’s compelling.

Newitz writes of her reporting on the film: “As I was talking to [director Oscar] Sharp and Goodwin, I noticed that all of us slipped between referring to Benjamin as ‘he’ and ‘it.'” (You can watch the movie if you go to the article.) An excerpt:

Knowing that an AI wrote Sunspring makes the movie more fun to watch, especially once you know how the cast and crew put it together. Director Oscar Sharp made the movie for Sci-Fi London, an annual film festival that includes the 48-Hour Film Challenge, where contestants are given a set of prompts (mostly props and lines) that have to appear in a movie they make over the next two days. Sharp’s longtime collaborator, Ross Goodwin, is an AI researcher at New York University, and he supplied the movie’s AI writer, initially called Jetson. As the cast gathered around a tiny printer, Benjamin spat out the screenplay, complete with almost impossible stage directions like “He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor.” Then Sharp randomly assigned roles to the actors in the room. “As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight,” Sharp told Ars. The actors interpreted the lines as they read, adding tone and body language, and the results are what you see in the movie. Somehow, a slightly garbled series of sentences became a tale of romance and murder, set in a dark future world. It even has its own musical interlude (performed by Andrew and Tiger), with a pop song Benjamin composed after learning from a corpus of 30,000 other pop songs.

Building Benjamin

When Sharp was in film school at NYU, he made a discovery that changed the course of his career. “I liked hanging out with technologists in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program more than other filmmakers,” he confessed. That’s how he met Goodwin, a former ghost writer who just earned a master’s degree from NYU while studying natural language processing and neural networks. Speaking by phone from New York, the two recalled how they were both obsessed with figuring out how to make machines generate original pieces of writing. For years, Sharp wanted to create a movie out of random parts, even going so far as to write a play out of snippets of text chosen by dice rolls. Goodwin, who honed his machine-assisted authoring skills while ghost writing letters for corporate clients, had been using Markov chains to write poetry. As they got to know each other at NYU, Sharp told Goodwin about his dream of collaborating with an AI on a screenplay. Over a year and many algorithms later, Goodwin built an AI that could.•

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Mussolini built his own Hollywood in the 1930s to spread his Fascist message. Today he would just tweet.

Artifice used to be more real in a sense when the movie industry was in the business of “nation-building,” when sets were an elaborate, eye-popping selling point and simulacra was not sacred but esteemed, since there was not yet the technical acumen to create any sort of profound special effects. “A cast of thousands” was the un-humble brag used to peddle Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 remake of his own epic, The Ten Commandments, and there was another “cast” of a similar size behind the scenes making the Nile run and bushes burn.

Then the collapse of the studio system hit in the 1960s, and moguls lost their religion, mostly downsizing scale and Labor. For a while, relatively cheap, personal productions by Hoppers and Fondas and Coppolas and Scorseses ruled the day. Eventually, the studios were ready dream big again, and in 1975, the robot-shark technology of Jaws captured the summer in its animatronic maw. Two years later, Star Wars relied heavily on Industrial Light & Magic to realize its vision. It was still a long way to the technology behind today’s tentpoles, but the rise of the machines and the diminishment of human craft began in Hollywood–as it did in a big-picture way all across America–decades ago. The Herculean returned, but Hercules was now a bit player.

From “True Fakes on Location,” Tom Carson’s excellent Baffler article about auteurs and architecture:

2016 marks Intolerance’s centenary, and that shouldn’t be a milestone only to high-minded fans of cinema’s artistic dawn. Because [D.W.] Griffith predicted everything in movies, it’s also a milestone for any garden-variety filmgoer who’s ever been wowed by coarse and costly Hollywood spectacle. I suspect only prigs are completely immune to the delights of whole foreign environments—whether antique, exotically international, familiar but exaggerated, or just plain fantastical—that have been erected, populated, and photographed for no better reason than to knock our socks off. For my money, Intolerance is where fake movie architecture began its complicated dance with the real thing, affecting how audiences perceive the past, reconfigure their present, and anticipate the future.

The ambition of Intolerance did have precursors. Griffith himself had built a biblical town in the San Fernando Valley for Judith of Bethulia two years earlier. The imported Italian period epicsQuo Vadis? (1913) and Cabiria (1914) had stimulated both his ambition and his envy. But in scale and pull-out-the-stops grandeur, nothing like Belshazzar’s Court had ever been seen before—except by, well, Belshazzar and some two hundred thousand other lucky but very dead Babylonians in the sixth century BCE. Even Griffith’s own 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation hadn’t required particularly extravagant exterior sets, however unprecedented in scope (and vicious in sentiment—Intolerance was conceived in part to rebut its critics) his love song to the Ku Klux Klan had otherwise been.

One reason Intolerance’s Babylon still looks stunning is that the age of computer-generated imagery has all but ruined our capacity to experience Hollywood’s imagineering as something nonetheless rooted in the material world.•

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New England tinkerer Arthur Blanchard didn’t patent a machine in 1916 to remove the guesswork from the pre-Talkie screenwriting process but merely to alleviate humans of the guessing. The so-called thinking machine was a handheld device that used a slot-machine method to cough up plots. It was marketed as “The Movie Writer,” though it was said to be helpful in the creation of poems and novels as well. In 1921, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran an article celebrating this simple technology.

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Stanley Kubrick was, I think, the greatest filmmaker of them all, more than Lang or Wilder or Godard or anyone. Living a private life in London, he grew into a mythical figure, although he didn’t put on airs, enjoyed American football and was amused by White Men Can’t Jump. But he was an eccentric guy whose film productions often lasted longer than many wars. It’s somehow no surprise that one of his longest-tenured employees was a Formula One race driver who had no previous movie experience before signing on for a stint on A Clockwork Orange. That man, Emilio D’Alessandro, has written a book about his 30-year odyssey with Kubrick.

From a Vice interview conducted by Rod Bastanmehr:

Vice:

What were some of the projects that you would hear him talk about that didn’t end up being filmed?

Emilio D’Alessandro:

Anytime we would be working on one film and we’d go down to a location, he would always be making notes or moves for another project. It was A.I. once, or Napoleon, which he really, really, really wanted to make. But he was always working on other projects while he was filming.

The thing he loved doing just as much [making movies] was the research. He had boxes and boxes of research done, so if one day he was able to finally make, say, this Napoleon movie, he would be ready. And I would keep it safe for him in case [producers] decided to actually do something with it. I would be ready to unearth it all myself. He never stopped researching, ever.

Vice:

Do you remember where you were when you heard he’d passed away? Were you with him?

Emilio D’Alessandro:

I’ll speak briefly because it really hurts me now, still. But yes, I was with him, I left him a note the night before on his desk like I always did. I said, “Everything is OK down in your office, your fax is clear, people got their messages. Please stay and have a rest, you’re very tired. You can come down in the afternoon—I’ll be here in the morning as usual.” Then unfortunately midday I got a phone call telling me that Stanley had died in the night. And I just screamed the biggest swear word, and I never swear. I had to drive to his house before I could believe it. And even when I got there and his wife took me by the hand to tell me, I still wasn’t sure it was real. And I drove back home that night not believing it. Sometimes I still don’t know if I do.•

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WALT DISNEY AND DR. WERNER VON BRAUN, 1954

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A few years back, I blogged about how the dream factory in California had migrated North, shifting from Hollywood to Silicon Valley. While Jules Verne’s visions required more than a century to be born, The Truman Show needed only a decade, and Her essentially came into the world already talking. 

Science fiction is no longer the starting gun for the future but is regularly lapped by it. It’s not only because Moore’s Law has speeded up research while culture still slowly gestates but because of the great wealth concentrated in the technology sector and the game-changing ambitions of those who possess it. They’re largely more concerned with legacy than bank ledgers, and ego is a powerful tool if harnessed correctly. Whether this new normal leads us to a better tomorrow is TBD.

In “The Future Is Almost Now,” Elizabeth Alsop writes wisely of this altered reality and more. An excerpt:

Many new works of science fiction seem to represent a strain of pre-apocalyptic cinema, characterized by a willingness to dramatize disasters that are less hypothetical than poised to happen. Both Ex Machina and Her, for instance, unfold against backdrops whose production design suggests that viewers are witnessing only a lightly futurized version of 21st-century life. However technically fictional the gadgets on display, the advances the films imagine—an artificially intelligent OS, a Turing-test approved robot—strike audiences as not just possible, but highly probable. As Ex Machina’s partly mad scientist declares, “[t]he arrival of strong AI has been inevitable for decades. The variable was when, not if.” Spike Jonze’s Her similarly takes its paradigm shift—humans falling in love with machines—for granted. Unlike The Terminator and Matrix franchises, these films don’t predict an apocalyptic “rise” of machines so much as a gradual digital takeover, the next phase of a revolution already in progress.

As such, the worlds of newer sci-fi films can look and feel eerily familiar. The opening shots of Interstellar, which feature hardscrabble towns and actual Depression-era footage, initially lead viewers to suspect they’re witnessing, if anything, the recent past. As the critic A.O. Scott noted in The New York Times,[the director Christopher] Nolan … drops us quietly into what looks like a fairly ordinary reality.” Or as NPR’s Amanda Fiegl put it, “it’s science fiction with an uncomfortable ring of truth.” It’s possible that such realistic settings—also seen in Ex Machina and Her—are meant to serve moralizing ends, reminding audiences that dystopia is nigh.•

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Speaking of mind-altering substances, when a teenager, the French Surrealist writer René Daumal blasted his brain with the carbon tetrachloride he normally used to kill beetles for his insect collection. Not a good idea. By the time he was 36, he’d joined the bugs in the great beyond, no doubt in part because of his amateur chemistry experiments.

Known primarily today for the novel Mount Analogue: A Tale of Non-Euclidean and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures, which Alejandro Jodorowsky used as the basis for his crazy-as-fuck 1973 film, Holy Mountain, Daumal’s recollection of his auto-dosing, “A Fundamental Experiment,” was reprinted in a 1965 Psychedelic Review. The opening:

The simple fact of the matter is beyond telling.  In the 18 years since it happened, I have often tried to put it into words.  Now, once and for all, I should like to employ every resource of language I know in giving an account of at least the outward and inward circumstances. This ‘fact’ consists in a certainty I acquired by accident at the age of sixteen or seventeen; ever since then, the memory of it has directed the best part of me toward seeking a means of finding it again, and for good.

My memories of child-hood and adolescence are deeply marked by a series of attempts to experience the beyond, and those random attempts brought me to the ultimate experiment, the fundamental experience of which I speak.

At about the age of six, having been taught no kind of religious belief whatsoever, I struck up against the stark problem of death.

I passed some atrocious nights, feeling my stomach clawed to shreds and my breathing half throttled by the anguish of nothingness, the ‘no more of anything’.

One night when I was about eleven, relaxing my entire body, I calmed the terror and revulsion of my organism before the unknown, and a new feeling came alive in me; hope, and a foretaste of the imperishable. But I wanted more, I wanted a certainty. At fifteen or sixteen I began my experiments, a search without direction or system.

Finding no way to experiment directly on death-on my death-I tried to study my sleep, assuming an analogy between the two.

By various devices I attempted to enter sleep in a waking state. The undertaking is not so utterly absurd as it sounds, but in certain respects it is perilous. I could not go very far with it; my own organism gave me some serious warnings of the risks I was running. One day, however, I decided to tackle the problem of death itself.

I would put my body into a state approaching as close as possible that of physiological death, and still concentrate all my attention on remaining conscious and registering everything that might take place.

I had in my possession some carbon tetrachloride, which I used to kill beetles for my collection. Knowing this substance belongs to the same chemical family as chloroform (it is even more toxic), I thought I could regulate its action very simply and easily: the moment I began to lose consciousness, my hand would fall from my nostrils carrying with it the handkerchief moistened with the volatile fluid. Later on I repeated the experiment –in the presence of friends, who could have given me help had I needed it.

The result was always exactly the same; that is, it exceeded and even overwhelmed my expectations by bursting the limits of the possible and by projecting me brutally into another world.

First came the ordinary phenomena of asphyxiation: arterial palpitation, buzzings, sounds of heavy pumping in the temples, painful repercussions from the tiniest exterior noises, flickering lights. Then, the distinct feeling: ‘This is getting serious. The game is up,’ followed by a swift recapitulation of my life up to that moment. If I felt any slight anxiety, it remained indistinguishable from a bodily discomfort that did not affect my mind.

And my mind kept repeating to itself : ‘Careful, don’t doze off. This is just the time to keep your eyes open.’

The luminous spots that danced in front of my eyes soon filled the whole of space, which echoed with the beat of my blood- sound and light overflowing space and fusing in a single rhythm. By this time I was no longer capable of speech, even of interior speech; my mind travelled too rapidly to carry any words along with it.

I realized, in a sudden illumination, that I still had control of the hand which held the handkerchief, that I still accurately perceived the position of my body, and that I could hear and understand words uttered nearby–but that objects, words, and meanings of words had lost any significance whatsoever. It was a little like having repeated a word over and over until it shrivels and dies in your mouth: you still know what the word ‘table’ means, for instance, you could use it correctly, but it no longer truly evokes its object.

In the same way everything that made up ‘the world’ for me in my ordinary state was still there, but I felt as if it had been drained of its substance. It was nothing more than a phantasmagoria-empty, absurd, clearly outlined, and necessary all at once.

This ‘world’ lost all reality because I had abruptly entered another world, infinitely more real, an instantaneous and intense world of eternity, a concentrated flame of reality and evidence into which I had cast myself like a butterfly drawn to a lighted candle.

Then, at that moment, comes the certainty; speech must now be content to wheel in circles around the bare fact.

Certainty of what?

Words are heavy and slow, words are too shapeless or too rigid. With these wretched words I can put together only approximate statements, whereas my certainty is for me the archetype of precision. In my ordinary state of mind, all that remains thinkable and formulable of this experiment reduces to one affirmation on which I would stake my life: I feel the certainty of the existence of something else, a beyond, another world, or another form of knowledge.

In the moment just described, I knew directly, I experienced that beyond in its very reality.

It is important to repeat that in that new state I perceived and perfectly comprehended the ordinary state of being, the latter being contained within the former, as waking consciousness contains our unconscious dreams, and not the reverse. This last irreversible relation proves the superiority (in the scale of reality or consciousness) of the first state over the second.

I told myself clearly: in a little while I shall return to the so-called ‘normal state’, and perhaps the memory of this fearful revelation will cloud over; but it is in this moment that I see the truth.

All this came to me without words; meanwhile I was pierced by an even more commanding thought. With a swiftness approaching the instantaneous, it thought itself so to speak in my very substance: for all eternity I was trapped, hurled faster and faster toward ever imminent annihilation through the terrible mechanism of the Law that rejected me.

‘That’s what it is. So that’s what it is.’

My mind found no other reaction. Under the threat of something worse, I had to follow the movement.

It took a tremendous effort, which became more and more difficult, but I was obliged to make that effort, until the moment when, letting go, I doubtless fell into a brief spell of unconsciousness. My hand dropped the handkerchief, I breathed air’, and for the rest of the day I remained dazed and stupefied-with a violent headache.•


“Nothing in your education or experience can have prepared you for this film.”

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I don’t trust the NSA or Oliver Stone with our information. 

It was clear long before Edward Snowden to any American paying attention that our government had overreached into our privacy in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s not that there aren’t real dangers that need to be investigated, but treating every citizen like a threat is another kind of threat.

Stone is a very gifted filmmaker whose work seems informed by chemicals he (over-)experimented with as a youth. It’s galling that so many took his overheated JFK hokum seriously for so long and that some still do. His films are interesting provided no one uses them as history lessons.

That means the director’s upcoming take on Snowden should be…interesting? Well, let’s not prejudge. 

Stephen Galloway of the Hollywood Reporter has an article about Stone’s paranoid approach to the making of the movie, which might be warranted in this case. He recently said this of the production: “We moved to Germany, because we did not feel comfortable in the U.S….we felt like we were at risk here.” An excerpt:

When Stone (whose films include Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Wall Street) was first approached to make the movie, he hesitated. He had been working on another controversial subject, about the last few years in the life of Martin Luther King Jr., and did not immediately wish to tackle something that incendiary again.

“Glenn Greenwald [the journalist who worked with Poitras to break the Snowden story] asked me some advice and I just wanted to stay away from controversy,” he said. “I didn’t want this. Be that as it may, a couple of months later, the Russian lawyer for Snowden contacts me via my producer. The Russian lawyer told me to come to Russia and wanted me to meet him. One thing led to another, and basically I got hooked.”

In Moscow, Stone met multiple times with Snowden, who has been living in exile in Russia since evading the U.S. government’s attempts to arrest him for espionage. “He’s articulate, smart, very much the same,” he said. “I’ve been seeing him off and on for a year — actually, more than that. I saw him last week or two weeks ago to show him the final film.”

He added: “He is consistent: he believes so thoroughly in reform of the Internet that he has devoted himself to this cause … Because of the Russian hours, he stays up all night. He’s a night owl, and he’s always in touch [with the outside world], and he’s working on some kind of constitution for the Internet with other people. So he’s very busy. And he stays in that 70-percent-computer world. He’s on another planet that way. His sense of humor has gotten bigger, his tolerance. He’s not really in Russia in his mind — he’s in some planetary position up there. And Lindsay Mills, the woman he’s loved for 10 years — really, it’s a serious affair — has moved there to be with him.”•

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Oriana Fallaci conducted a famously contentious 1963 interview with Federico Fellini, which marked the brutish end of what had been a lively friendship begun in the previous decade, the director’s ego and the journalist’s envy getting the best of the moment. In the preface, Fallaci wrote of Fellini’s colorful experiences in New York City when he lived there in 1957. The passage:

I have known Fellini for many years; to be precise ever since I met him in New York for the American première of his movie The Nights of Cabiria, at which time became good friends. In fact, we often used to go eat steaks at Jack’s or roast chestnuts in Times Square, where you could also do target shooting. Then, from time to time, he would turn up at the apartment I shared in Greenwich Village with another girl called Priscilla to ask for a cup of coffee. The homely brew would alleviate, though I never understood why, his nostalgia for his homeland and his misery at his separation from his wife Giulietta. He would come in frantically massaging his knee, “My knee always hurts when I am sad. Giulietta! I want Giulietta!” And Priscilla would come running to look at him as I’d have gone running to look at Greta Garbo. Needless to say, there was nothing of Greta Garbo about Fellini, he wasn’t the monument he is today. He used to call me Pallina, Little Ball. He made us call him Pallino, sometimes Pallone, Big Ball. He would go in for innocent extravagances such as weeping in the bar of the Plaza Hotel because the critic in the New York Times had given him a bad review, or playing the hero. He used to go around with a gangster’s moll, and every day the gangster would call him at his hotel, saying, “I will kill you.” He didn’t understand English and would reply, “Very well, very well,” so adding to his heroic reputation. His reputation lasted until I explained to him what “I will kill you” meant. With half an hour Fellini was on board a plane making for Rome. 

He used to do other things too, such as wandering around Wall Street at night, casing the banks like a robber, arousing the suspicions of the world’s most suspicious police, so that finally they asked to see his papers, arrested him because he wasn’t carrying any, and shut him up for the night in a cell. He spent his time shouting the only English sentence he knew: “I am Federico Fellini, famous Italian director.” At six in the morning an Italian-American policeman who had seen La Strada I don’t know how many times said, “If you really are Fellini, come out and whistle the theme of La Strada.” Fellini came out and in a thin whistle–he can’t distinguish a march from a minuet–struggled through the entire soundtrack. A triumph. With affectionate punches in the stomach that were to keep him on a diet of consummé for the next two weeks, the policemen apologized and took him back to his hotel with an escort of motorcycles, saluting him with a blare of horns that could be heard as far away as Harlem.•

It may have looked suspiciously like an open casket, but Alfred Hitchcock had a casting couch. He wasn’t the chaste monk of the macabre he made himself out to be. It was just a few years ago that Tippi Hedren described how her career was held hostage post-Birds by Hitchcock, all because she wouldn’t give in to his sexual blackmail

Oriana Fallaci interviewed the British suspense master in 1963 when his crowpocalypse screened in Cannes, but while she had a good understanding of the cruelty beneath the surface of the filmmaker she so admired, she clearly was hoodwinked by his narrative of being a devoted, even sexless, husband, entitling the piece, “Mr. Chastity.” What follows is most of her introduction, which paints the director as tiresome and homophobic, and the Q&A’s first few exchanges.

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For years I had been wanting to meet Hitchcock. For years I had been to every Hitchcock film, read every article about Hitchcock, basked in contemplation of every photograph of Hitchcock: the one of him hanging by his own tie, the one of him reflected in a pool of blood, the one of him playing with a skull immersed in a bathtub. I liked everything about him: his big, Father Christmas paunch, his twinkling little pig eyes, his blotchy, alcoholic complexion, his mummified corpses, his corpses shut inside wardrobes, his corpses chopped into pieces and shut inside suitcases, his corpses temporarily buried beneath beds of roses, his anguished flights, his crimes, his suspense, those typically English jokes that make even death ridiculous and even vulgarity elegant. I might be wrong, but I cannot help laughing at the story about the two actors in the cemetery watching their friend being lowered into his grave. The first one says to the other, “How old are you, Charlie?” And Charlie answers, “Eighty-nine.” The first one then observes, “Then there’s no point in your going home, Charlie.” …

My opportunity to meet him and really kiss his hand came at the Cannes Festival, where Hitchcock was showing The Birds, a sinister film about birds that revolt against men and exterminate them by pecking them to death. Hitchcock was coming from Hollywood, and I rushed to Nice airport to greet him. Three hours later I was in his room on the fourth floor of the Carlton Hotel, gazing at him just as my journalist colleague, Veronique Passani, had gazed at Gregory Peck the first time she met him–and she had subsequently managed to marry him. Not that Hitchcock was handsome like Gregory Peck. To be objective, he was decidedly ugly: bloated, purple, a walrus dressed like a man–all that was missing was a mustache. The sweat, copious and oily, was pouring out of all that walrus fat, and he was smoking a dreadfully smelly cigar, which was pleasant only insofar as it obscured him for long moments behind a dense, bluish cloud. But he was Hitchcock, my dearest Hitchcock, my incomparable Hitchcock, and every sentence he spoke would be a pearl of originality and wit. In the same way that we assume that intellectuals are necessarily intelligent, and movie stars necessarily beautiful, and priests necessarily saintly, so I had assumed that Hitchcock was the wittiest man in the world.

He’s isn’t. The full extent of his humor is covered by five or six jokes, two or three macabre tricks, seven or eight lines that he has been repeating for years with the monotony of a phonograph record that’s stuck. Every time he opened a subject, in the sonorous voice of his, I foresaw how he would conclude; I already read it. Moreover, he would make his pronouncements as if he knew it himself: hands folded on his breast, eyes cast up toward the ceiling, like a child reciting a lesson learned by heart. Nor was there anything new about his admission of chastity, of complete lack of interest in sex. Everyone knows that Hitchcock has never known any woman other than his wife, has never desired any woman other than his wife; because he’s not interested in women. This doesn’t mean that he likes men, for heaven’s sake; such deviations are regarded by him with pained and righteous disgust. It only means for him sex does not exist; it would suit him fine if humanity were born in bottles. Nor, for him, does love exist, that mysterious impulse from which beings and things are born; the only thing that interests him in all creation is the opposite of whatever is born: whatever dies. If he sees a budding rose, his impulse, I am afraid, is to eat it.

With the blindness of all disciples or faithful admirers, I took some time to realize his failings. In fact our interview began with bursts of laughter for a good half-hour. But then the bursts of laughter became short little laughs, the short little laughs became smiles, the smile grew cold, and at a certain point I discovered that I could no longer raise a laugh, nor could I have done so even if he had tickled the soles of my feet. That was when I realized the most spine-chilling thing about him: his great wickedness. A person who invents horrors for fun, who makes a living frightening people, who only talks about crimes and anguish, can’t really be evil, so I thought. He is, though. He really enjoys frightening people, knowing that every now and then somebody dies of a heart attack watching his movies, reading that from time to time a man kills his wife the way a wife is killed in one of his movies. Not knowing all the criminals whose master he has been is sheer torture to him. He would like to know about all such authors, to compliment each one and offer him a cigar. Because he can laugh about death with the wisdom of the sages? No, no. Because he likes death. He likes it the way a gravedigger likes it.•

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