Monday, September 15, 2014

Transformation Of Global Energy Grid Is Now Underway

For decades, those with the most to lose have told us, and campaigned loudly, that solar power, wind power, wave power were a waste of time and money. We were lied to. And countries that aren't shifting to renewable energy options are set to miss out on the biggest and potentially most profitable change in the way entire nations are powered in civilisation's history.

From the New York Times:
Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

A similar pattern may well play out in other countries that are pursuing ambitious plans for renewable energy. Some American states, impatient with legislative gridlock in Washington, have set aggressive goals of their own, aiming for 20 or 30 percent renewable energy as soon as 2020.
The word the Germans use for their plan is starting to make its way into conversations elsewhere: energiewende, the energy transition. Worldwide, Germany is being held up as a model, cited by environmental activists as proof that a transformation of the global energy system is possible.

The Rest Of The Story Is Here

Awful to think that Australia once led the world in solar power technology. Our entire country could be at least half-powered by solar by now, had those technical innovations and investments continued. But Big Coal and Old Electricity monopolies won out.

The Australian Abbott Government appears to be in the midst of a war against renewable energies. Hard to imagine they can hold out much longer, as the reality of our renewables-based future becomes even more impossible to ignore.

Where The Music Industry Now Looks For Its Stars Of Tomorrow: Vine

Music industry execs only listening to five or six seconds of a new musician's song on Vine isn't too far away from how they used to deal with demo tapes back in the 1980s and 90s. Record execs would, literally, listen to just a few seconds of a new song when they were working their way through unsolicited piles of audio tapes, and then later CDs. It wasn't unusual for a record company exec to whip through dozens of demo tapes in one afternoon.

So anyway, Vine, the six-seconds-only video clip site is running hot as the place to find new talent, and also be discovered, claims Buzzfeed:

The ability to engage large numbers of fans for six seconds at a time on Vine can suggest a starpower that will translate outside of the service, at record stores and on tour stages. If thousands of users are liking and reposting everything an artist shares, the thinking goes, then those same users can be mobilized to buy a new song or album, or to shell out for concert tickets when the artist comes to town.

“It’s a bit like meeting a band who’ve built an amazing following live and saying, ‘Wow this band is really connecting with people and they’re self-starters,’” said Massey. “They have their own motivation and they’ve created their own world already.”

There’s good reason to believe that activity on Vine has an impact on the marketplace. In July, Mendes’ debut single “Life of the Party” sold 148,000 copies in its first week and reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, making him the youngest artist ever to enter the top 25 of the chart with his first release. His subsequent self-titled EP, and first collection of all original songs, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on iTunes, selling 48,000 copies in its first week, according to SoundScan.

And beyond minting creative and camera-ready young artists, Vine has also proven an effective, if unconventional, distribution channel for hit songs. Because the service allows users to pair a separate audio track with their video, a song with the right tone can serve as a ready-made soundtrack. DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s manic barn burner “Turn Down for What” and the convulsive Martin Garrix floor-filler “Animals” punched up the action in countless Vines before spreading to radio and elsewhere online.

“‘Turn Down for What’ was initially an independent release, and before we signed it there were bootleg versions of the song already climbing up the iTunes chart,” said Imran Majid, head of A&R at Columbia Records. “We put the official version of the song up right before shutting down for Christmas break last year and it shot straight to No. 11. We said, ‘If this song reaches 30,000 in sales before we get back, we’ll all give each other high fives.’ It sold over 39,000 in a single day.”
It gets really interesting, and potentially very profitable, when Vine introduces a 'Buy' or 'Donate Now' button (to finance future recordings by an up and comer).

The Rest Of The Story Is Here

Has The Time Come To Purposely Dose Water Supplies WIth Powerful Drugs?

Considering some of the stories he wrote on the subject, it would be fascinating to hear what Philip K Dick would've thought of the idea of purposely dosing drinking water supplies with drugs to lower violence, depression and suicides: 
 Lithium has been known for its curative powers for centuries, if not millenniums. Lithia Springs, Ga., for example, with its natural lithium-enriched water, appears to have been an ancient Native American sacred site. By the late 19th century Lithia Springs was a famous health destination visited by Mark Twain and Presidents Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Lithium drinks were in huge demand for their reputed health-giving properties, so much so that the element was added to commercial drinks. 7-Up was originally called Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda and contained lithium citrate right up until 1950. In fact, it’s been suggested that the 7 in 7-Up refers to the atomic mass of the lithium. (Maybe the “Up” referred to mood?) Even beer made with lithia water was available.
But today?
Today lithium is little discussed despite the huge public appetite for health information. Nor is it much advertised or even available. Scanning the shelves at a local chain store pharmacy, I discovered that standard vitamins did not contain lithium and the nutritional supplement section of the store had no products containing lithium. Lithium was available only in the relatively high-dose medication form that requires a prescription from a physician. Online, however, there are lithium products available including, amazingly enough, the original Lithia spring water.

Some scientists have, in fact, proposed that lithium be recognized as an essential trace element nutrient. Who knows what the impact on our society would be if micro-dose lithium were again part of our standard nutritional fare? What if it were added back to soft drinks or popular vitamin brands or even put into the water supply? The research to date strongly suggests that suicide levels would be reduced, and even perhaps other violent acts. And maybe the dementia rate would decline. We don’t know because the research hasn’t been done.

For the public health issue of suicide prevention alone, it seems imperative that such studies be conducted. In 2011, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Research on a simple element like lithium that has been around as a medication for over half a century and as a drink for millenniums may not seem like a high priority, but it should be.

A fascinating read in all. Definitely a subject that will be taken much more seriously very soon by Western governments.

Admit It - Your Twitter Addiction Is Making You Miss Out On Life

A painful, uncomfortable read for Twitter junkies, but David Fisher should be applauded for getting this out there (excerpts):

The end of Twitter for me was realising it wasn't really serving any purpose related to what I want to contribute through the job I did. I know who I serve - readers/public - and the Twitter feed I created didn't really do that. Twitter has no resonance, unless it is driven relentlessly, and the churn of content demolishes anything you might try to constructively build. It doesn't go anywhere. Like those bars with no closing time, it is endless and goes on and on.
I found weird things - I'd ask questions of politicians then later see tweets flash by with links to news stories based on the MP's tweeted answer. I'd deconstruct reports as they were released and find the results built into an analysis in some newspaper somewhere. I'd fight with those obnoxious characters and find the dialogue misconstrued or misquoted elsewhere.

As time went on, it became clear I, as a journalist, was part of the dialogue rather than simply recording it. And from all of that, Twitter didn't create anything of value for the time I put into it that couldn't have been produced elsewhere.

That was the nub of it - time better spent elsewhere and who I was serving. I stopped about 18,000 tweets in, written over an 18-month period.
One day, I was sitting in the newsroom watching a Twitter storm flare and die in a matter of hours.
It's common to Twitter - an intense ranting outrage online that roars and fades in an afternoon . It blew through my feed and after it had gone it was as if it had never been there. I looked at my screen and thought: What on earth am I doing?

What went wanting for the time sacrificed online? What time had I missed with friends? And family?

How many disjointed pieces of research get spat into cyberspace when bolting them together might have meant something? What arguments was I having online that I could better direct elsewhere?
 So I took a month off. In just days, my focus sharpened and I stepped back into the world. My son, 7, asked after Twitter and when I told him it was gone he said, "Good," and hugged me.
The people I had met online reached out in other ways, which was lovely.

The people I didn't enjoy disappeared. I had lost nothing, really, and gained much. Twitter is a time and attention soak and I loved it not at all.

The Rest Of The Story Is Here

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Star Wars Episode 7: More Leaked Pics - Falcon, X-Wing, 'Snout Beast'

Less than 24 hours after TMZ published a fat wad of on-set 'leaked' photos from the new Star Wars movie, yet more appear online. This time from inside Pinewood Studios in England.

Not so sure that Star Wars producers are actually "angry" these are getting out. As far as spoilers go, they don't show anything not already expected - the return of Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, an X-Wing fighter under construction, and one of the presumed plethora of aliens and creatures that will populate the new Star Wars trilogy.

The 'leaked' photos are no PR disaster as some entertainment websites claim.

The movie is a month into shooting, there is no teaser trailer yet, no poster, no official title, no official pics released at all, yet the 'leaked' photos are popping up across nerd blogs, Star Wars addict sites, an
d mainstream media across the planet. These pics are feeding the hunger for info on the new movie, at absolutely no cost to the moviemakers or Disney studio.

Also, the 'leaked' pics do exactly what producers and writer-director JJ Abrams want to be known about the new Star Wars movies - they are ditching a lot of the CGI for real sets, constructed space craft exteriors and interiors and Muppet-like creatures.

Expect more soon.

Star Wars Episode 7: First Photos From The Set

It has begun...

TMZ scored a swag of photos from the set of JJ Abrams' Star Wars: Episode 7, presumably taken by one or more of the extras, as there is a lot of pics of people in costumes standing around posing.

The images show creatures and set detail from Tattooine, where best guess would presume Luke Skywalker has returned to live three decades after the end of Return Of The Jedi, and presumably where his son is growing up when the movie opens.

Pics also indicate JJ Abrams is sticking by his pledge to use practical special effects, real sets and real set detail, instead of CGI everything, to give the new film a style and look closer to the original trilogy.

The full set of images are here, but here's a few of the better ones:

These photos are from the "huge set" in the Abu Dhabi desert, where shooting began in mid-May, 2014. The production has now moved to Pinewood Studios, in England. The Abu Dhabi set includes a full-scale shuttle craft and a town market, a tower and 'moisture vaporators.' Early scenes in the desert shoot included an explosion that leaves a huge blast crater. The film is scheduled for release in 2015. Director JJ Abrams wrote the script with Indiana Jones trilogy and The Empire Strikes Back co-writer Lawrence Kasdan.

George Lucas wrote the story summaries for Star Wars Episode 7, 8 and 9, and worked with Kasdan through a long pre-production process, after Lucas sold the Star Wars rights to Disney for $4 billion.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:
The reality of giving up control weighed on George Lucas, though. At the end of every week before she flew home to Los Angeles, Kennedy says, she asked Lucas how he was feeling. Sometimes he seemed at peace. Other times, not. “I’m sure he paused periodically to question whether he was really ready to walk away,” she says.
At first Lucas wouldn’t even turn over his rough sketches of the next three Star Wars films. When Disney executives asked to see them, he assured them they would be great and said they should just trust him. “Ultimately you have to say, ‘Look, I know what I’m doing. Buying my stories is part of what the deal is.’ I’ve worked at this for 40 years, and I’ve been pretty successful,” Lucas says. “I mean, I could have said, ‘Fine, well, I’ll just sell the company to somebody else.’ ”

Lucas attended story meetings for the new film, adjudicating the physical laws and attributes of the Star Wars universe.

“I mostly say, ‘You can’t do this. You can do that,’ ” Lucas says. “You know, ‘The cars don’t have wheels. They fly with antigravity.’ There’s a million little pieces. Or I can say, ‘He doesn’t have the power to do that, or he has to do this.’ I know all that stuff.”

More To Come

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope Reads 'Free Palestine' Graffiti, Prays, At Israel's Wall

The Pope made an unannounced stop in Bethlehem to pray at Israel's gruesome wall cutting through the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods. He told witnesses, "I know exactly what this wall means."

Joy swept through Gaza as word spread about the Pope's visit, and his being photographed in front of graffiti proclaiming "Free Palestine."

The Pope extended an invitation to both Israel and Palestine's leaders to join him at The Vatican for talks on June 6. Palestinian leaders accepted immediately. Israel had not responded, hours later.

This is one of the most remarkable, iconic news photos of 2014, perhaps of the decade:

Another pic showing more of the graffiti The Pope purposely allowed himself to be photographed in front of.

The graffiti reads: "Pope, we need some 1 to speak about justice. Bethlehem looks like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine"

The Pope's visit to Bethlehem and what's known as 'Israel's Apartheid Wall' sends a clear message to Israel. Stop delaying, get peace with Palestine sorted, get rid of this wall.

Gaza, the West Bank, The Vatican now waits for Israel's response.

UPDATE: Both Israel and Palestine have now accepted The Pope's invitation to talks at The Vatican in early June.
 26 Jewish extremists violently protesting The Pope's visit to Mount Zion were arrested:
"Demonstrators at King David's Tomb threw stones and bottles at Israel's security forces."

The Pope didn't arrive in Israel as his first stop on Holy Land visit. He arrived near Bethlehem in a Jordanian helicopter, and was passing through Bethlehem when he signaled driver to stop at the above graffiti on the Israel Wall. During a meeting with Palestine's President Abbas, he embraced him and called him "a peacemaker."

The Pope said he accepts the State of Palestine, urged the completion of the 'two state solution' and announced what was being done to the Palestinian people by Israel was "increasingly unacceptable."

Rest Of The World Still Blissfully Unaware Australia Has World's Oldest Rock Carvings

30,000 year old rock carving at Australia's Burrup Peninsula Pic by Ken Mulvaney

Look at how much our concept of humankind's long existence on Planet Earth has changed in just a few hundred years:
Evidence had been mounting throughout the 18th century that our planet was incredibly old and that life had existed on it for a very long time – much, much longer than the figure of under 6,000 years that Bishop Ussher had derived in the 17th century for the date of the Earth and all living things. For example, in the 1840s, scientists had begun to realise that rock and gravel deposits found in the Alps and other regions had not been laid down by the flood but were the leftovers of the glaciers and giant icecaps that had covered much of Europe.

Today, we know these events as ice ages, but at the time the period was simply called the reindeer age, because remains of these north dwelling creatures were being found at digs in southern Europe, an indication of the intense cold that must then have enveloped the continent in the distant past, it was argued.

In addition, at several riverbank sites, including one key dig on the banks of the river Somme, in northern France, scientists had excavated human artefacts mixed with the bones of extinct animals such as the mammoth and the woolly rhino. The finds suggested that during the last ice age we might once have shared the landscape with these creatures.
But other scientists disagreed. They argued that the mixing of mammoth fossils and human tools had actually been caused by rivers and flood waters sweeping together different deposits. The mammoth bones had actually been laid down aeons before the human artefacts, they argued, but they had been mixed together by natural forces. In other words, humans did not appear on the scene until long after the mammoth had gone.

The excavation at La Madeleine would demolish that notion. The site at Abri de la Madeleine, in the Dordogne, a prehistoric shelter that lies under an overhanging cliff, is made up of well-preserved, distinct layers of deposits that have since been found to contain rich amounts of ancient tools, carvings and fossils of mammoths, woolly rhinos, reindeer and wolverines.

"The site has since lent its name to a period known as the Magdalenian era, which thrived across Europe between 12,000 and 16,000 years ago, and which we now appreciate was a time of incredible artistic creativity," says Professor Chris Stringer, curator of the Natural History Museum exhibition.
Of course, when people in Europe were unearthing mammoth carcasses and carved ivory in the mid-1800s, Indigenous Australians were passing on oral histories of how their people had lived for thousands of generations, and had been carving artistic figures on rocks, making music and navigating by the stars, for at least 30,000 years.

The rest of the world still seems blissfully unaware of this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

And Still, They Come....

A UFO crashes to Earth in China. But it only stays an unidentified flying object for a few hours. Then it's identified as part of a Russian communications satellite. Still, an impressive ex-UFO

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Confusion, The Screaming, The Running

Want! Seems such an obvious addition to the action figure menagerie, surprised these haven't been made before:

via @Lostateminor

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

"I Was Fookin Pissed In This Video, Look How Drunk I Am There"

Oasis' Noel Gallagher reviews Oasis videos and turns out to be funny than most professional comedians. He perfectly nails the absurdity of 1990s music videos...actually, all eras of music videos.

Just brilliant.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Napoleon - The Greatest Movie Stanley Kubrick Never Made

Stanley Kubrick, in the back with his daughter, considered Jack Nicholson as his Napoleon

I wrote the below story for Salon, back in 2000. Had another look at it a few days ago, after hearing Australian director Baz Lurhman has had access to Kubrick's script in the hope of turning it into a mini-series for HBO. Kubrick's script was kicking around online for years, and it was a fantastic read. Worth tracking down, if you're able to do so.

From Salon:

For 30 years before his death, the idiosyncratic director dreamed of making a sex-drenched epic of war and peace.

By Darryl Mason

In 1968, 40-year-old director Stanley Kubrick had the cinematic world at his feet and one big movie project germinating in his head.

He had started his career as the original independent filmmaker, at a time where it was nigh impossible to make movies outside the studios, and through the previous 15 years he had directed eight films — some of the most acclaimed, debated and controversial ever made. “Spartacus” (1960), “Lolita” (1962) and “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) clearly demonstrated Kubrick’s ability to use pitch-black humor and great spectacle to tell tales of the true heart of man as few filmmakers had told them before. His films had been feted by critics as cinematic masterpieces or dismissed as overblown indulgences, and although all were profitable, they were hardly box-office triumphs.

But Kubrick’s latest film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” had proved to be both a critical and a box-office success. Kubrick knew he could now make almost any film he desired, and what he desired most was to bring to the screen his vision of the chaotic, war-soaked life of Napoleon. It was to be no mere Hollywood biopic; Kubrick planned to stage full-scale re-creations of the French ruler’s most infamous wars, and he wanted to do it on the same battlefields that Napoleon had fought on 150 years before.

Since his youth hustling chess games in Greenwich Village, N.Y., Kubrick had harbored a deep fascination with Napoleon’s life. It was, according to Kubrick, “an epic poem of action.”

“He was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come,” Kubrick told Joseph Gelmis in 1968 (for Gelmis’ interview anthology book, “The Film Director as Superstar”) as he geared up for the film’s production.

When “2001″ picked up five Oscar nominations, including best director, Kubrick used the heat to marshal MGM into backing his new film. The studio coughed up development funds and Kubrick hired a team of researchers. He then plunged into a two-year odyssey to bring his Napoleon epic to the screen.

His first step was to view all the other films made of Napoleon’s life so far. There were many, an average of three a decade from the birth of cinema up to the early 1950s. Although Kubrick found many things he liked in the massive 1956 “War & Peace,” made in Russia, he abhorred Abel Gance’s much-hallowed “Napoleon” of 1927, which originally ran more than five hours and was shown in cinemas in a triple-screen presentation.

The film “has built up a reputation among film buffs over the years,” Kubrick told Gelmis, “but I found it to be really terrible. As far as story and performance goes it’s a very crude picture.”
Kubrick then hired a renowned Napoleon scholar, Oxford University professor Felix Markham, to serve as overseeing historical advisor, and purchased the rights to Markham’s own biography of the man. Though Kubrick used Markham’s book as a basis for his screenplay, he mainly bought the rights as a legal base to avoid “the usual claims from the endless number of people who have written Napoleonic books.”

Kubrick used 20 of Markham’s graduate students to construct a master biographical file on the 50 principal characters of Napoleon’s life. A file ordered by date was devised to store index cards of key events, when and where they happened, with each index card annotated with individual characters’ names. This allowed Kubrick to instantly determine where each of his characters was on a given date, and what they were doing in relation to one another.

Kubrick himself soaked up a few hundred books on Napoleon’s life and times. So intense was Kubrick in his research that he began to imitate the Frenchman’s habit of bombarding every person he met with a plethora of questions, a character trait Kubrick reportedly kept for the rest of his life.
Stranger still, Kubrick even adopted Napoleon’s eating habits.

During pre-production on “A Clockwork Orange,” actor Malcolm McDowell watched in astonishment as Kubrick consumed a meal: a bite of dessert, a bite of steak, another bite of dessert.

“This is the way Napoleon ate,” Kubrick informed the amused McDowell, who often cited it in interviews as one of his favorite Kubrick anecdotes.

After the years he had devoted to nailing down every last detail of costume, set and space science for “2001,” Kubrick desired to simplify the process for his new film. The unintentional result was a bewilderingly large picture file of some 15,000 entries on all things Napoleon. Kubrick designed a retrieval system based on subject classification that also included a visual signaling method, allowing cross-indexing of subjects to an almost unlimited degree of complexity and detail. It was designed so everyone from costumers to set detailers could find any information they needed, and not soak up Kubrick’s time with the endless queries that had plagued him during the making of “2001.”

The director, who was a revolutionary film technologist, also sought out special lenses that would allow him to continue shooting his exteriors long into the evening, way beyond the hours mere mortal film crews would have to pack up and go home.

Kubrick wanted to shoot his “Napoleon” with natural light whenever possible, and found lenses that would allow the sex scenes between Napoleon and Josephine — and Napoleon and queens and the wives of various rulers — to be shot with only candles for illumination. Six years later Kubrick would use the very same techniques for the acclaimed candlelit interiors in “Barry Lyndon.”

In production notes accompanying his screenplay of 1969, Kubrick noted four elements that would add most to the cost of filming his epic spectacle: the large number of extras required, the fact that all extras would require military uniforms, the prolific expenses incurred by constructing period sets of French and Russian palaces and, finally, “overpriced movie stars.”

But Kubrick, ever the strategist, found many financially creative ways to reduce the budget.
He had no desire to try to match the budget extremes of the last great historical epic, 1963′s “Cleopatra,” still probably Hollywood’s greatest financial debacle. If MGM was going to give Kubrick the money he needed to make his film, he had to show them how willing he was to compromise.

After his birth by fire in playing the director for hire on “Spartacus” a decade before, Kubrick knew the impossible expenses of staging a sea battle, even in miniature. In his screenplay he came up with the idea of using maps to show Napoleon’s naval battle with the English and limning the disastrous results with simple haunting shots: two French ships lying on the bottom of the sea; a drowned French admiral floating in his cabin, surrounded by a drift of papers, books and a roast chicken.
He could live without a realistic sea battle, but Kubrick planned nothing less than full-scale re-creations of Napoleon’s finest military moments.

And Kubrick knew he could do them for a reasonable price, despite the logistics. To replicate Napoleon’s battles, Kubrick decided he would need at least 40,000 infantrymen and 10,000 cavalrymen, as many as Napoleon actually used.

When shooting “Paths of Glory” in 1957, Kubrick hired 800 German police officers (who were trained by the military) to play soldiers. It worked so well that Kubrick decided he must find a country that would hire out its armed forces to him. Fifty extras to a truck would mean the production needed 1,000 trucks to ship 50,000 soldiers to a location, so not only did Kubrick need locations with the proper terrain to accurately stage his battles, the sites also needed to be within marching distance of barracks or a city with enough accommodations.

But Kubrick’s dream to shoot on actual Napoleonic battlefields was scuttled almost as soon as location scouting began. Few sites were found to be suitable for filming; industrial and urban development had overtaken most and the rest were ringed by modern buildings. Kubrick did, however, take samples of the soil from the battlefields of Waterloo so the color and quality of the dirt beneath Napoleon’s feet could be duplicated at the new locations.

So how, exactly, did Kubrick expect to persuade a government to lend him 50,000 soldiers for a movie shoot?

“One has to be optimistic about these things,” Kubrick told Gelmis. “If it turned out to be impossible I’d obviously have no other choice than to make do with a lesser number of men, but this would only be as a last resort. I wouldn’t want to fake it with fewer troops because Napoleonic battles were out in the open, a vast tableau where the formations moved in an almost choreographic fashion … [The battles were] so beautiful, like vast lethal ballets, that it’s worth making every effort to explain the configuration of forces to the audience.”

To do so Kubrick included not only scenes of epic confrontations in his screenplay but also maps, charts and vast tracts of voice-over, supplying concise history lessons on each battle as well as explanations of the psychology of war that Napoleon used to trounce his enemies.

By the end of 1968, Kubrick had found suitable locations for his battles in Yugoslavia and the Romanian government was willing to supply troops in the tens of thousands for no more than $2 per man per day. Yugoslavia, no doubt put off by the thought of having multitudes of Romanian soldiers tromping through its countryside for Kubrick’s epic, offered to supply the same number of men for only $5 per man per day.

Both Yugoslavia and Romania also came to Kubrick’s party in reducing his monstrous military-costuming budget. They each quoted him less than $40 per uniform, one-fifth the price Kubrick had been quoted in England. But Kubrick managed to find an even cheaper way to dress the majority of his troops.

A New York firm had come up with a way of producing a durable paper fabric (both drip-dry and fireproof) onto which could be printed the required detail and insignia of any uniform, and the uniforms could be manufactured in the tens of thousands for less than $4 each. Kubrick undertook film tests and found that at a distance of a few dozen yards, the paper uniforms were indistinguishable from the real thing. Prototypes of vehicles and weapons of the period were created from paintings and written descriptions of the time, and Kubrick insisted they be exact to the minutest detail. Once he was happy, the prototypes were readied to be mass-produced in the volume the movie required.

He originally budgeted $3 million to $6 million to construct and decorate the numerous palatial sets required for his French emperors and Russian kings. This was a shocking amount in 1969, for any film. But Kubrick, through his researchers and his own formidable negotiating skills, managed to locate and secure 16th and 17th century palaces and villas in France and Italy. These would require almost no additional detailing to be historically authentic, and he worked out a deal to rent them for daily fees of only a few hundred dollars.

As far as the “overpriced movie stars” were concerned, Kubrick felt there was enough proof that they do “little besides leaving an insufficient amount of money to make the film properly.”

In script notes to MGM, Kubrick cited his own “2001″ and the then-recent, low-budget box-office monolith The Graduate as films that were successful simply because they were enjoyed by filmgoers for being good stories, well told. He added that it was the positive word of mouth, not star power alone, that quickly encouraged the masses to fill cinemas nationwide.

Kubrick’s intention was to use “great actors and new faces.” One of his first choices — along with Ian Holm — was Jack Nicholson, fresh from his Oscar-nominated role in “Easy Rider.” Kubrick believed Nicholson permeated his characters with intelligence — a quality, Kubrick noted in a letter to the actor (later cited in John Baxter’s Kubrick biography), “that cannot be acted.”

But while Kubrick collected his vast minutiae of detail on Napoleon through 1968, hotelier Kirk Kerkorian was collecting shares in the then-ailing MGM. By the time Kubrick finished and delivered his screenplay, in September 1969, he had solved most of the pre-production problems of filming, costuming, locations and casting. But Kubrick was not able to persuade MGM to finance his epic and was forced to fire his researchers and key crew. Kerkorian, who soon became the new owner of MGM, was more interested in moving into television production than in producing the kind of large-scale epics that had almost bankrupted the studio over the previous decade.

What’s more, Napoleon himself was no longer good box office. Although no Napoleonic film had been made for two decades, by the time Kubrick finished his screenplay there were suddenly three new films in production. The main competitor was John Huston’s “Waterloo,” but Kubrick had been able to track down the screenplay and had learned it would be substantially different from the film he wanted to make. Huston’s “Waterloo” would focus only on the 100 days leading up to Napoleon’s last great battle, while Kubrick’s would follow Napoleon from birth to death.

By early 1971, all three of the other Napoleonic films had been released, and all three were box-office disasters, failing to even make their budgets back. MGM, now barely producing any movies at all, could find no funds for Kubrick’s epic, and his name and talent alone were not enough to convince Kerkorian that the film would set the box office alight.

Reluctantly, Kubrick walked away from MGM. But he quickly found a comfortable home with Warner Bros., where he would stay for the rest of his career. He signed a three-film deal that would supply the funds to develop and make the movies Kubrick wanted to make, the way he wanted to make them. Not only would he have total freedom in choosing his projects and be given the final cut, but after a period of five to seven years after each film’s release the original negative and all rights would become the sole property of Kubrick.

To prove its faith in its new star director, Warner Bros. gave Kubrick a few million dollars to turn Anthony Burgess’ then relatively unknown novel, “A Clockwork Orange,” into an X-rated film.
In a press release to announce their partnership, Kubrick stated that after “Clockwork” he would return to bringing “Napoleon” to the screen. Kubrick then plunged into “Clockwork,” and the finished film was in cinemas around the world within a year of the start of principal photography — a script-to-screen ratio that Kubrick was never again able to replicate.

Kubrick’s mind did indeed turn back to Napoleon after “A Clockwork Orange” was released, but Nicholson no longer had any interest in playing the historical figure, and Holm, another of Kubrick’s choices, had been signed to star in yet another Napoleon biopic, the British television production “Napoleon and Love.”

It, too, failed spectacularly to hook in an audience. Whether Kubrick was dismayed by such a lack of interest in his prime subject or whether he felt he never truly nailed the script is not known. But according to Kubrick’s longtime friend at Warner Bros., publicist Julian Senior, the director never officially submitted a finished screenplay to the studio.

Not wanting to waste all those years of prodigious Napoleonic research, and still fascinated with the era, Kubrick searched out a suitable literary vehicle, eventually settling on William Thackeray’s “The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esquire, by Himself” after considering, then dismissing, the author’s better-known “Vanity Fair.” During post-production on “Barry Lyndon,” in 1975, Kubrick was still talking about his Napoleon project, though he confided to an interviewer that it would cost $50 million to $60 million to produce and would run more than three hours.

In the midst of preparing his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining,” and noting the success of the large-scale miniseries “Roots,” Kubrick began investigating the possibility of turning his Napoleon project into a 20-hour television production, with Al Pacino in the lead role. He revealed his plans in an interview with French writer Michel Ciment. But Kubrick’s friend Senior believes the suggestion was probably nothing more than a joke. “My God,” Senior exclaimed in a recent interview, “can you imagine Stanley Kubrick actually doing a miniseries?”

After Kubrick’s death last year, rumors abounded through movie media that Steven Spielberg, a friend of Kubrick’s since the pair met at London’s Elstree Studios in 1978, was going to film Kubrick’s “Napoleon” screenplay, with Kubrick producing. But this rumor most likely arose in confusion with another Kubrick/Spielberg project, “AI” which Spielberg has recently started shooting from a script by Kubrick.

The terrible irony for Kubrick fans is that in the year of his death, the technology of computer-generated imagery exploded to the point where his vast Napoleonic battle scenes would finally have been within realistic budgetary reach. Recent films like “Gladiator” and “The Patriot” used CGI to turn a few hundred extras into thousands of soldiers pouring down hillsides and slamming into battle.

Kubrick was very well aware that CGI would allow him to personally craft his beloved battle scenes via computer.

Now, after the massive worldwide box-office success of “Gladiator,” Hollywood has evidence that audiences will sit through lengthy historical expositions on politics and the duality of man as long as a gritty, limb-hacking, blood-caked battle scene is just around the corner. And if Kubrick’s “Napoleon” screenplay can be used as a marker, his film would have supplied plenty of both.

A few months ago, Kubrick’s September 1969 “Napoleon” screenplay appeared on a number of Internet sites. It originally turned up six years ago in a salt mine near Hutchinson, Kan., where the major film studios have long stored their archives. Earlier this year copies traded hands on eBay for hundreds of dollars each, before the full script made its illegal Internet debut. It is gone from the Web now, however, though tens of thousands of Kubrick fans managed to download it before the Kubrick estate requested the screenplay be removed.
In his lengthy screenplay, Kubrick desired to show Napoleon as more of a man, with all a man’s failings, and less a crusading hero. He wanted the audience to find out what it was like to be Napoleon, on and off the battlefield. Like Mel Gibson’s best-picture-winning epic “Braveheart,” Kubrick’s “Napoleon” screenplay showed its hero leading countless charges, but it also detailed the behind-the-scenes preparations for a battle. In Kubrick’s film you would have seen the less than glamorous side of staging a war, the necessary paperwork behind the negotiating and signing of treaties and declarations, the exacting mathematics of troop configuration to determine just how far troops could march on how much food.

As with many of Kubrick’s films — notably “Spartacus,” “Dr. StrangeLove” and “Full Metal Jacket” — the screenplay makes much of the inherent responsibilities that come to the mighty and powerful and of how quick most are to abuse that power. It wallows in the corruption of the state by the war machine and man’s insatiable desire for valor, victory and bloodshed.

Curiously, Kubrick’s “Napoleon” screenplay shares many similarities — even some duplicate scenes (!) — with his final film, “Eyes Wide Shut.” Like Tom Cruise’s character, Napoleon, his heart hammered by Josephine’s infidelity, meets a young prostitute on a cold night street. He also attends a party where couples copulate spiritedly in plain sight of the other guests.

The sexuality of Kubrick’s “Napoleon,” considering he intended to make it in 1971, is remarkable. Josephine and Napoleon make love surrounded by floor-to-ceiling mirrors (to evoke a feeling that Kubrick described as “maximum erotica”). She betrays him with another lover while Napoleon is heard in voice-over, away in battle, declaring his love and lust for her. Later, at a lavish dinner,

Napoleon finds himself seated next to “the strikingly beautiful Madame Trillaud, a sexy brunette.” He addresses her husband about the true source of corruption in society: “Society is corrupt because man is corrupt, because he is weak, selfish, hypocritical and greedy … and he is born this way.”

Napoleon’s servant then purposely spills wine down the dress of Madame Trillaud. Napoleon then takes her into a side room and tries to seduce her, ignoring her refusals. When she finally succumbs, they are interrupted by Josephine knocking on the door. Napoleon orders his wife away, yelling that he will “only be five minutes!”

These scenes in themselves make Kubrick’s screenplay a unique biopic study. Most historical films barely even acknowledge that their subjects had any kind of sex life at all. It is obvious that Kubrick intended his scenes to have been more than just an embrace and a quick fade-out after a kiss.

In very much the same way as his films, Kubrick’s screenplay comes truly alive after multiple exposures to its densely worded architecture. The historical epics of the 1990s, like “Braveheart,” “The Patriot” and “Gladiator,” seem trite in comparison, on the screenplay page at least. There is very little that is wistful or overtly romanticized in Kubrick’s “Napoleon.” People fuck, fight, kill, betray each other and then fuck again.

Much blood is shed, but not only in battle. Some of the strongest scenes occur away from the battlefields, the most poignant in the Grand Army’s adventures in Russia. Napoleon leads his troops into a Moscow that has become a ghost town. Kubrick describes it as “deserted, lifeless, a city of the dead, except for the eerie echo of horses’ hoofs.”

An old man stumbles from a house, brandishing a pitchfork and babbling insanely. Napoleon’s soldiers laugh at him, until the old man runs through a soldier with his pitchfork. An officer executes the old man with a pistol, but in the act of doing so blows off the hand of one of his own soldiers.

Marching 1,000 miles home through a terrible winter, Napoleon’s army becomes “a starving, feverish mob, without purpose.” Then follows an incredible scene in a Russian village, in which officers and soldiers try to fend off the winter freeze by squashing themselves into a tiny house with their horses.

They blockade themselves in to stop the other soldiers left outside to die from fighting their way in. But then a fire breaks out and those inside are unable to escape the flames. Other men rush forward from where they have been huddling in an open field to warm themselves, and cook horsemeat on the ends of their swords.

In reading the screenplay, it is obvious that Kubrick’s heart was more devoted to the warring Napoleon than to the lover, the father, the son. Kubrick may have personally regarded the love affair between Napoleon and Josephine as “one of the great obsessional passions of all time,” but most of their scenes together are filled with clunky dialogue more reminiscent of soap opera than great cinema.

Kubrick often seems in a rush to get on with the next battle, or into the thick of more talk about the tactics and psychology of war. Napoleon had a mental warehouse of war tips and battle tactics, and Kubrick uses a number of them as a way to inject some much-needed humor. “The first rule of warfare,” Kubrick has his Napoleon tell a colleague, “is to wear warm winter underwear. You can never conjure up brilliance with a cold bottom.”

Kubrick’s “Napoleon” would not have been an easygoing cinematic experience. His Napoleon was a dour, complex, demoralized man, even from childhood. Kubrick writes of Napoleon as a teenager in military school, alone in his dorm room, surrounded by books of history, philosophy and poetry, always reading, always learning. In the voice-over to this scene, the utterly miserable Napoleon tells us, “Life is a burden for me. Nothing gives me any pleasure; I find only sadness in everything around me. It is very difficult because the ways of those with whom I live, and probably always shall live, are as different from mine as moonlight is from sunlight.”

It is also hard not to read some characteristics of Kubrick the director into his telling of Napoleon the conqueror. Though Napoleon’s voice speaks to us directly on only a few occasions, the words seem to be coming straight from the mind of Kubrick. He stated in a number of interviews that organizing a massive campaign of war bore similarities to staging a major film production.

“There is no man more cautious than I am when planning a campaign,” Napoleon states in voice-over, echoing Kubrick. “I exaggerate all the dangers, and all the disasters that might occur. I look quite serene to my staff, but I am like a woman in labor. Once I have made up my mind, everything is forgotten, except what leads to success.”
There has been plenty of Internet speculation, and highly suspect rumors, that directors from Martin Scorsese to Ridley Scott to Michael Mann are planning to resurrect Kubrick’s “Napoleon,” using the original screenplay he wrote 31 years ago.
The most believable scenario is that the Kubrick estate will eventually allow a publisher to produce a book bringing together Kubrick’s original screenplay and interviews with the key crew members of the aborted project, lavished with a selection of designs for costumes, props, vehicles and weaponry.
Kubrick never got to stage his beloved Napoleonic wars, but in his 1968 interview with Gelmis, he hinted at what we might have seen had his dream epic been realized on celluloid. It can only be one of the great losses of modern cinema that Kubrick’s “Napoleon” never came to be.

“There’s a weird disparity between the sheer visual and organizational beauty of the historical battles and their human consequences,” Kubrick said. “It’s rather like watching two golden eagles soaring through the sky from a distance; they may be tearing a dove to pieces, but if you are far enough away the scene is still beautiful.”
Why There Will Never Be Extended 'Director Cut' Editions Of ANY Stanley Kubrick Movie

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2-D2, C3PO To Return In Star Wars VII

By Darryl Mason

They're all back. All Of Them!

The Star Wars VII cast and key crew at the first scrip read-through.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker, plus John Williams doing the music, and these actors filling out the key cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow.

The Force has not been kind to Luke Skywalker, then again, it's been 30 years. It's easy for R2-D2 to still be looking so good, he doesn't age like humans...wait, a second, R2-D2 looks different, doesn't he? Different head dome? OK, enough of that.

Mark Hammill (Luke), JJ Abrams (director), Harrison Ford (Han Solo)
 Some might say it's a blessing George Lucas isn't directing. That duty falls to JJ Abrams, who as a kid Star Wars nerd must be pretty much tripping. Actually, he is:
It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud."
How they're going to manage 'leaks' of set photos, production designs and early footage is anyone's guess. Presumably, they will Feed The Fan Beast as much as possible, to help tamper down demand.

SW:VII will pick up 30 years after where Return Of The Jedi left over. The new movies are not Star Wars canon, meaning all those SW books and TV shows and Ewok movies that have flowed in the near 40 years since Stars Wars first opened on cinema screen have sweet fuck-all to do with what will happen and where and when in the new movies. So that 1990s Star Wars Universe novel where Han Solo gets killed? Forget it, it's meaningless now.

That will drive some Star Wars fans berzerk, and they will feel betrayed that the storylines they've followed for decades don't mean squat, in the end, when the new movies open.

I expect the Big Bang Theory TV show to have a lot to say about that.

Star Wars VII hits cinemas December, 2015.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rupert Loves Google, Rupert Hates Google

Rupert Murdoch can't decide whether he loves Google or hates it.

One day he praises it, a few days later he questions its ethics. Yes, Rupert Murdoch is questioning the ethics of a company that exploits the private data collected on citizens.

Google good when it might extend his life:
Google bad when it criticises the National Security Agency.

Why Rupert Murdoch is standing up for the NSA is anyone's guess. Mutual bedfellows, perhaps? The hacking controversy still surrounding his news empire certainly does make it sound like News of the World, in particular, was a huge data gathering operation on the British people.

Of course, there is the old conspiracy theory that Rupert Murdoch has been a very valuable ally for the interests of the CIA, and US spy agencies since the 1960s. Like I said, it's a "conspiracy theory", very little info to back up such claims, but there's no denying he's a fan of US spy agencies, even when they appear to be acting against the interests of the American people.

Why Rupert Murdoch is suddenly going Google for 'attacking' the NSA is a bit weird. It's old news, at least a few weeks old, the only big Google/NSA in the past few days is this:
Google changed its security settings for Gmail last month. The extra encryption will mean that nobody can read emails that are sent over various networks, and was an answer to the controversy surrounding the National Security Agency (NSA).
The world was appalled to find out that the government had been spying on innocent people, and Google wanted to do something about it.
Murdoch's questioning of the ethics of Google's info and data collection practices has set off an inevitable apoplexy of reaction on Twitter and Facebook. The short version is: Who The F..k Is Rupert Murdoch To Question The Ethics Of Anybody?


Saturday, April 26, 2014

8 Animals That Could Score Yoo 10 Years Jail If You Eat Them In China

China seems to be making a serious effort to crack down on the consumption of rare and endangered animals. Eat any of the below animals in China, and you could score a decade in the slammer, so says new government guidelines.

Golden Monkeys
image via ghsdawgs

image via wikipedia

Giant Pandas

Asian Black Bears

Tigers (real ones, not these ones)

Chinese Alligators
Photo by Greg Hume

Rhinos (the horn, or anything else)
image via TripAdvisor

Shark fins
Photo by Darryl Mason

The Chinese sound serious about this new move to curb illegal trafficking of rare animals, which will have a big cultural impact, not only because rhino horn and bear bile can be part of traditional medicines, but the eating of rare local wildlife is boastworthy amongst some of the upper classes. Even in China, the upper classes can be total dicks:
"Eating rare wild animals is not only bad social conduct but also a main reason why illegal hunting has not been stopped despite repeated crackdowns," Lang Sheng, deputy head of the legislative affairs commission of the NPC standing committee, told Xinhua.
 More Here