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kottke.org posts about oral history

A Golden Age of Oral Histories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Golden Girls is one of my ten favorite TV shows ever. Recently, the entire series came to Hulu. I went to find the terrific oral history of the show, published just last year… and it was gone. The entire publication and its website had folded.

Luckily, the writer (Drew Mackie) had saved a copy, and published it on his own site after the magazine went under. So we still have gems like this anecdote from writer Winifred Hervey:

Bea was always my favorite. I left after the third season, and that’s the year she won her Emmy for Best Actress. I was at the ceremony, and after she gave her speech she came over and said, “Winifred, did you hear I mentioned your name, you little twat?” She was mad because I left.

That Golden Girls oral history is part of why I’ve been thinking about how we might save and recirculate the best parts of the web. So many good things have already vanished. The web is resilient, but fragile, too.

Big, splashy, gossipy pop culture oral histories used to be pretty rare, online or off. Vanity Fair would publish one every once in a while; in 2009, the magazine collected nine of them from the previous decade, including great features on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Motown Records, and a galloping 50-year history of the entire internet, from ARPA to YouTube. Other magazines would do oral histories from time to time — GQ has had some terrific ones — but the real explosion begins in this decade, and it begins and ends on the web.

One of the first pieces Grantland published in 2011 was an oral history of The National, a writerly sports publication stacked with talent that could never make enough money and ended far too soon. (Message!) Right around then, a few really successful features helped kick off the boom.

Since then, my god — we have so many oral histories! Two years ago, Thrillist put together a list of 260 oral histories on music, movies, TV, and related pop culture alone. There are fake oral histories, “oral histories” that only interview two people, oral histories of things the writers profess to hate (trigger warning: autoplay), and oral histories of cult TV shows even more cultish side characters. (“In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.”)

But what are the histories you actually need to read? The Kottke Archives have links to and capsule summaries of no fewer than twenty-five oral histories, going back to 2008. These include histories of SXSW Interactive, the Challenger disaster, Freaks and Geeks, Cheers, Die Hard, and George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic.

With these alone, you already have enough reading material to get you through this week and beyond. But since we’re saving these for aliens, our grandchildren, and our alien grandchildren, I’m going to add a few more. These are just some of my favorite oral histories that (as far as I can tell) have never appeared on Kottke.org.

That last oral history in particular shows you how much the web has changed over the last twelve years — i.e., about half its life. In 2005, Yacht Rock was a show that me and a few thousand other people were really excited about, and that was enough to make it a web sensation. You couldn’t even get it on YouTube, because YouTube barely existed. Web video series were not getting loving write-ups in prestigious magazines. Yet here we are.

We Work Remotely

The story behind Homestar Runner

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 27, 2017

It feels like a stretch to call this “An Oral History of Homestar Runner” — the author only interviews two people, and it zips through time while all the details are kinda glossed over in a way that’s not entirely satisfying.

However. It’s still a solid interview with the two creators of Homestar Runner, which was easily the best all-ages cult video site from a time (the early 00s) when there weren’t exactly a lot of any of those things around.

It’s also a memory of a time when the web, or at least some corners of it, were a respite from the awfulness of the world, without being wholly removed from it. For example, I was introduced to it by a friend who’d just moved to lower Manhattan for grad school in 2002. We went and saw Ground Zero, commiserated about the upcoming midterm elections and the possibility of war with Iraq, and then he showed me a Strong Bad email. None of this seemed discordant. It was a firehose of new things, good and bad, not a stream of distilled horror demanding constant engagement. I miss that, and I know I’m not the only one.

A long oral history of Prince

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

GQ talked to a bunch of people about Prince and came back with many stories — “ordinary and out there” — about the entertainer. Picked this excerpt pretty much at random:

Ian Boxill (engineer at Paisley Park, 2004-09): Even when he was dressed down, he’d dress like Prince: three-inch-tall flip-flops, or these heels with lights — they’d light up when he walked. That was his comfortable clothing. He had no pockets. You know, if you got people around that can carry phones and money for you, you can get away with that. No pockets and no watch. If he needed to use a phone he’d use my phone or a driver’s phone.

Hayes: We have a thing called Caribou Coffee in Minnesota, which is like Starbucks. He’d go over there, and he didn’t have any pockets. He didn’t have a wallet or any credit cards. He just had cash he’d carry in his hand-like, a $100 bill. And whoever took his order, they’d have a good day, ‘cause he’d buy his coffee drink and then just leave the whole hundred. He doesn’t wait for any change because he doesn’t have anywhere to put it.

Van Jones: He was very interested in the world. He wanted me to explain how the White House worked. He asked very detailed kind of foreign-policy questions. And then he’d ask, “Why doesn’t Obama just outlaw birthdays?” [laughs] I’m, like, “What?” He said, “I was hoping that Obama, as soon as he was elected, would get up and announce there’d be no more Christmas presents and no more birthdays — we’ve got too much to do.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know if that would go over too well.”

(via who else?)

The definitive oral history of Die Hard

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2016

Die Hard

Now available as a Kindle single (71 pages): Die Hard: An Oral History.

In this definitive oral history of “Die Hard,” writers, actors, producers, and studio executives reveal behind-the-scenes stories, from the curious origins of the film’s title, to the script’s evolution from a depressing ’70s character study to an optimistic Reagan-era blockbuster, to the seminal negotiations between 20th Century Fox and Willis’s then-agent which sent his client’s career into the stratosphere, to details of moguls Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver’s famously tumultuous relationship while developing some of the ’80s most successful franchises.

The Daily Beast has an excerpt on the casting of John McClane.

They went to Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. They went to Sly, who turned it down. They went to Richard Gere-turned it down. They went to James Caan-turned it down. They went to Burt Reynolds, and all of these people rejected it because, remember, this is 1987. You had all these Rambo movies. We’ve had Commando, Predator, and in the wake of all of these, the hero, they said, was like a pussy. The reaction? “This guy’s no hero.” Right? In desperation, they went to Bruce Willis.

How “My Boo” got its name

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 14, 2016

This is fun: an oral history of Ghost Town DJ’s 1996 hit “My Boo.” Did you know that Lil Jon started out in A&R for So So Def? Or that he picked the title “My Boo” over “I Want To Be Your Lady” and pushed to include it on an early label comp? (I did not.)

#RunningmanChallenge ???? @jerrygunnz ???? By @malachi_variations IB By @Rah2bandz

A video posted by Kevin Sözé ???????? (@11.oo7) on

I was also very late to hear about the Running Man Challenge, which put “My Boo” back into circulation and the sales charts back in April, but in my defense: I am old.

You may also like: this oral history of hyphy and the Bay Area hip-hop scene at the turn of the millennium. It’s a little distended and the photo layout almost feels like Beats By Dre sponsored content, but it’s a loving look at a moment that’s gone.

And who shows up halfway through, helping to break hyphy nationwide? Lil Jon! That guy is everywhere.

(Hat-tip: @xohulk, @myhairisblue)

On the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2016

Today is the 30th anniversary of the final launch and subsequent catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Popular Mechanics has an oral history of the launch and aftermath.

Capano: We got the kids quiet, and then I remember that the line that came across the TV was “The vehicle has exploded.” One of the girls in my classroom said, “Ms. Olson [Capano’s maiden name], what do they mean by ‘the vehicle’?” And I looked at her and I said, “I think they mean the shuttle.” And she got very upset with me. She said, “No! No! No! They don’t mean the shuttle! They don’t mean the shuttle!”

Raymond: The principal came over the PA system and said something like, “We respectfully request that the media leave the building now. Now.” Some of the press left, but some of them took off into the school. They started running into the halls to get pictures, to get sound-people were crying, people were running. It was chaos. Some students started chasing after journalists to physically get them out of the school.

I have certainly read about Feynman’s O-ring demonstration during the investigation of the disaster, but I hadn’t heard this bit:

Kutyna: On STS-51C, which flew a year before, it was 53 degrees [at launch, then the coldest temperature recorded during a shuttle launch] and they completely burned through the first O-ring and charred the second one. One day [early in the investigation] Sally Ride and I were walking together. She was on my right side and was looking straight ahead. She opened up her notebook and with her left hand, still looking straight ahead, gave me a piece of paper. Didn’t say a single word. I look at the piece of paper. It’s a NASA document. It’s got two columns on it. The first column is temperature, the second column is resiliency of O-rings as a function of temperature. It shows that they get stiff when it gets cold. Sally and I were really good buddies. She figured she could trust me to give me that piece of paper and not implicate her or the people at NASA who gave it to her, because they could all get fired.

I wondered how I could introduce this information Sally had given me. So I had Feynman at my house for dinner. I have a 1973 Opel GT, a really cute car. We went out to the garage, and I’m bragging about the car, but he could care less about cars. I had taken the carburetor out. And Feynman said, “What’s this?” And I said, “Oh, just a carburetor. I’m cleaning it.” Then I said, “Professor, these carburetors have O-rings in them. And when it gets cold, they leak. Do you suppose that has anything to do with our situation?” He did not say a word. We finished the night, and the next Tuesday, at the first public meeting, is when he did his O-ring demonstration.

We were sitting in three rows, and there was a section of the shuttle joint, about an inch across, that showed the tang and clevis [the two parts of the joint meant to be sealed by the O-ring]. We passed this section around from person to person. It hit our row and I gave it to Feynman, expecting him to pass it on. But he put it down. He pulled out pliers and a screwdriver and pulled out the section of O-ring from this joint. He put a C-clamp on it and put it in his glass of ice water. So now I know what he’s going to do. It sat there for a while, and now the discussion had moved on from technical stuff into financial things. I saw Feynman’s arm going out to press the button on his microphone. I grabbed his arm and said, “Not now.” Pretty soon his arm started going out again, and I said, “Not now!” We got to a point where it was starting to get technical again, and I said, “Now.” He pushed the button and started the demonstration. He took the C-clamp off and showed the thing does not bounce back when it’s cold. And he said the now-famous words, “I believe that has some significance for our problem.” That night it was all over television and the next morning in the Washington Post and New York Times. The experiment was fantastic-the American public had short attention spans and they didn’t understand technology, but they could understand a simple thing like rubber getting hard.

I never talked with Sally about it later. We both knew what had happened and why it had happened, but we never discussed it. I kept it a secret that she had given me that piece of paper until she died [in 2012].

Whoa, dang. Also not well known is that the astronauts survived the initial explosion and were possibly alive and conscious when they hit the water two and a half minutes later.

Over the December holiday, I read 10:04 by Ben Lerner (quickly, recommended). The novel includes a section on the Challenger disaster and how very few people saw it live:

The thing is, almost nobody saw it live: 1986 was early in the history of cable news, and although CNN carried the launch live, not that many of us just happened to be watching CNN in the middle of a workday, a school day. All other major broadcast stations had cut away before the disaster. They all came back quickly with taped replays, of course. Because of the Teacher in Space Project, NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the mission into television sets in many schools — and that’s how I remember seeing it, as does my older brother. I remember tears in Mrs. Greiner’s eyes and the students’ initial incomprehension, some awkward laughter. But neither of us did see it: Randolph Elementary School in Topeka wasn’t part of that broadcast. So unless you were watching CNN or were in one of the special classrooms, you didn’t witness it in the present tense.

Oh, the malleability of memory. I remember seeing it live too, at school. My 7th grade English teacher permanently had a TV in her room and because of the schoolteacher angle of the mission, she had arranged for us to watch the launch, right at the end of class. I remember going to my next class and, as I was the first student to arrive, telling the teacher about the accident. She looked at me in disbelief and then with horror as she realized I was not the sort of kid who made terrible stuff like that up. I don’t remember the rest of the day and now I’m doubting if it happened that way at all. Only our classroom and a couple others watched it live — there wasn’t a specially arranged whole-school event — and I doubt my small school had a satellite dish to receive the special broadcast anyway. Nor would we have had cable to get CNN…I’m not even sure cable TV was available in our rural WI town at that point. So…?

But, I do remember the jokes. The really super offensive jokes. The jokes actually happened. Again, from 10:04:

I want to mention another way information circulated through the country in 1986 around the Challenger disaster, and I think those of you who are more or less my age will know what I’m talking about: jokes. My brother, who is three and a half years older than I, would tell me one after another as we walked to and from Randolph Elementary that winter: Did you know that Christa McAuliffe was blue-eyed? One blew left and one blew right; What were Christa McAuliffe’s last words to her husband? You feed the kids — I’ll feed the fish; What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts; How do they know what shampoo Christa McAuliffe used? They found her head and shoulders. And so on: the jokes seemed to come out of nowhere, or to come from everywhere at once; like cicadas emerging from underground, they were ubiquitous for a couple of months, then disappeared. Folklorists who study what they call ‘joke cycles’ track how — particularly in times of collective anxiety — certain humorous templates get recycled, often among children.

At the time, I remember these jokes being hilarious1 but also a little horrifying. Lerner continues:

The anonymous jokes we were told and retold were our way of dealing with the remainder of the trauma that the elegy cycle initiated by Reagan-Noonan-Magee-Hicks-Dunn-C.A.F.B. (and who knows who else) couldn’t fully integrate into our lives.

Reminds me of how children in Nazi ghettos and concentration camps dealt with their situation by playing inappropriate games.

Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called “tickling the corpse.” At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played “gas chamber,” a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying.

  1. Also, does anyone remember the dead baby jokes? They were all the rage when I was a kid. There were books of them. “Q: What do you call a dead baby with no arms and no legs laying on a beach? A: Sandy.” And we thought they were funny as hell.

I will never do anything Muppety

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 22, 2015

muppet-christmas-carol.jpg

A surprisingly moving micro-oral history of “How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol”:

When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight.

An oral history of Industrial Light and Magic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2015

Star Wars was a film that literally couldn’t be made; the technology required to bring the movie’s universe to visual life simply didn’t exist.

So George Lucas did what any enterprising young director who was destined to change the movie business would do. He invented a company to invent the technology. Wired’s Alex French and Howie Kahn take you inside the magic factory with the untold story of ILM.

An oral history of Boogie Nights

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2014

Every once in awhile on the site, I’ll use the phrase “in my wheelhouse”, meaning something that is particularly interesting to me. Well, Grantland’s long oral history of the making of Boogie Nights is so in my wheelhouse that I might be the captain.

When [Anderson] set out to film Boogie Nights, it was with a resolve bordering on arrogance. Compromise wasn’t part of the plan. Still, after an intense production and postproduction period — one in which the director had to manage a cranky, confused Burt Reynolds and an untested, rapping underwear model named Mark Wahlberg — Anderson was forced once again to fight studio heads for his cut of the film.

But Anderson’s vision prevailed this time. Nearly 20 years later, Boogie Nights endures. For its beautiful portrait of nontraditional families; for Reynolds and Wahlberg, the surrogate father and son, who were never better; for Philip Seymour Hoffman, squeezing into character and breaking hearts; for its prodigy director sticking to his guns and nailing it; for John C. Reilly’s hot-tub poetry; for Roller Girl. Is everybody ready? This is the making and near unmaking of Boogie Nights.

Man, I love that movie. But think on this: Leonardo DiCaprio as Dirk Diggler, Drew Barrymore as Roller Girl, and Bill Murray as Jack Horner.

An oral history of SXSW Interactive

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2014

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Fast Company presents an oral history of the SXSW Interactive Festival.

Within SXSW Interactive’s march from obscurity to prominence is the story of digital culture itself. SXSW was a hive of activity for early web denizens and hackers around the turn of the century, and a birthing ground for the social media revolution that reshaped modern life in the second half of the ’00s. Its emergence from the shadow of the music festival it grew out of mirrors the transformation of geeks into modern society’s newest rock stars.

I went to SXSW a handful of times (maybe five?), met my wife there, and even keynoted (w/ Dooce) in the big room (which was, in my memory, a disaster of Zuckerpudlian proportions). Paul Ford noted on Twitter:

Wow this is just a tiny bit The Oral History of Talking About Yourself.

Totes get that, but South By1 distinguished itself in the early days by being a conference where anyone could participate. Attendees took ownership of this conference as they could not at the other big web conferences of the era. Everyone was someone, everyone was nobody. (I mean, not literally — the Jeffreys (Zeldman and Veen) couldn’t walk three feet without someone engaging them in conversation. But you get my drift.) As on the personal web of the late 1900s and early 2000s, you were the focal point of SXSW, for better or worse.

  1. There was an effort back in my day to refer to the conference as “sick-sow” but thankfully that didn’t stick. I mean, Jesus.

Shooting on the short ends

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2014

This oral history of Swingers over at Grantland got a little long for me (but if you’re a fan, you should definitely read the whole thing), but there are good bits throughout. I particularly liked this part:

Ludwig: Our biggest cost was getting film. Film comes in 1,000-foot loads and 400-foot loads. On a big movie, they’ll throw away the end of the film, like the last hundred feet or so.

Liman: We shot most of the movie with these 100-foot short ends. It’s a minute of film. Which also meant the actors could get through 60 seconds of a scene and I’d have to call reload.

Wurmfeld: I cultivated a lot of relationships with the people around town selling short ends.

LaLoggia: I called this place in L.A. that does recycled, re-canned short ends and I just begged for the cheapest price we could get. (Many of the short ends came from the movie Twister.)

Liman: The problem with shooting on short ends, though, is that it takes four minutes to reload a conventional camera. I thought to myself: We’ll never get through the movie if we shoot a minute, spend four minutes reloading, shoot a minute, spend four minutes reloading. You’ll never get any kind of rhythm going. So I decided I would shoot the movie with this documentary 35-millimeter film camera that was not designed to shoot dialogue because it sounds like a sewing machine.

Ludwig: The camera was much louder than a regular camera that you’d use for a feature film. But it’s easy to load and very compact. I think it was developed so Godard could have a camera that would fit into his bicycle basket.

Liman: To absorb the sound, I would take my down jacket and put it over the camera and then take the two arms and tie them together underneath the lens. And then my comforter would just get wrapped around the whole thing once. Jon would describe it like he was acting in front of a big, fluffy snowball. But I really think that as insane as that setup was, it created a really safe environment for the actors. Vince really did some extraordinary things, like the scene where he’s supposed to be drunk and he jumps up on the table. You know, he had to do that in front of a lot of people and I feel like they looked at me and they were like, Doug is clearly not being self-conscious.

Favreau: There was never enough time and never enough film.

Liman: Every day we’d panic because I was shooting more film than I thought I was gonna shoot and we didn’t have enough film and we didn’t have any money.

LaLoggia: I used to hide film in the trunk of my car because Doug could not help himself. He just wanted to shoot, shoot, shoot, so we would lie to him and say that we were out of film.

Whatever it takes, baby.

Hoop Dreams is 20 years old

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2014

Hoop Dreams is a tremendous documentary that will be re-screened at Sundance this year, two decades after its initial release. Here’s an oral history of the making of the film.

Basketball fanatics Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert originally set out to make Hoop Dreams as a half-hour doc for PBS that would focus on the culture surrounding streetball. But as quickly as they got on the blacktop, they left it. The dreams of their subjects, Arthur Agee and William Gates, were too grand for just the playground, and instantly, the filmmakers were immersed in the young men’s lives, showcasing both the good and bad.

Twenty years after the film premiered at Sundance and was awarded the festival’s Audience Award, it’s grown into an iconic work. Its snub in the Best Documentary category at the 67th Academy Awards in 1995 led to changes in the voting process. NBA players treat the movie as their own life story. It’s been added to the Library Of Congress’ National Film Registry. And when looking back on the film’s 15th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared it “the great American documentary.”

I Like Oral Histories and I Cannot Lie

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2013

This oral history about Sir Mix-A-Lot’s hit Baby Got Back is way more interesting than it had any right to be.

Sir Mix-a-Lot: There was one event that really made me think that I should do a song about this, which was irritating the shit out of me. Amy and I were at a hotel on tour, when we saw one of the Spuds MacKenzie ads for Budweiser during the Super Bowl. You’d see these girls in the ad: Each one was shaped like a stop sign, with big hair [and] straight up-and-down bird legs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I was so sick of that shit. Now, Amy never said anything about all this until she realized I was so in favor of her physique. She was an actress, and she started admitting that she felt like she lost a lot of parts because of her hourglass figure. I knew for a fact that many artists felt that if they didn’t use a skinny-model-type woman in their video, then mainstream America would reject the song. But I do not agree with that: If you look at Dolly Parton at her peak, a lot of white guys were like “daammn!” At the same time, when I did casting calls for videos, curvy women wouldn’t show up. They thought they didn’t have a chance. Unless you were in the hood, women who had curves — and I’m not talking about women who are shaped like me, with a gut, but women who ran five miles a day, with a washboard, six-pack stomach and a nice round, beautiful, supple ass — wore sweaters around their waist! Bottom line: Black men like curves. When they’re crooning to women about how beautiful they are in an R&B song, the ladies you see in the video don’t reflect what those guys like. Every time an R&B video was on, I heard women say, “I just saw him down in Oakland, and his girls wasn’t like that.” That made me think that this was more than a funny song, and it wrote itself.

Baby Got Back contributed to the cultural shift that changed that:

Sir Mix-a-Lot: Now, ass isn’t a big deal. I go to the gym, and I’ll hear a white girl saying to her trainer, “I want this to be round.” They realize that it doesn’t mean that you’re out of shape if you have a nice ass. Anybody who’s ever seen a stripper pick up a dollar bill with her ass knows you can’t do that with fat.

An uncensored oral history of The Hangover

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2013

The Hangover Part III is out later in the month and the Hollywood Reporter has an oral history of the making of the first two movies.

HELMS: I was always the nervous Nelly about those jokes. Zach was going to get arrested for the baby thing.

PHILLIPS: Jerking the baby off at Caesars.

GALIFIANAKIS: I did it first with the doll that was just sitting there while we were setting up the shot. I showed Todd, and he goes, “Let’s go ask the parents if we can do that.” (Laughter.) I’m like, “No.”

PHILLIPS: I waited for the [baby’s] mom to go upstairs because the mom was a little bit more not into stuff like that. I go to the dad: “It would be funny if Zach pretends to do this. Would you have a problem with that?” And he literally goes: “[My wife is] going to be gone for a half-hour. Can you do it in the next half-hour?”

COOPER: “Can you jerk my kid off in a half-hour?” (Laughter.)

An oral history of the making of Pulp Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2013

Mark Seal pieces together an oral history of the making of Pulp Fiction through interviews with Tarantino, Thurman, Jackson, Travolta, Harvey Weinstein, and many others.

When Pulp Fiction thundered into theaters a year later, Stanley Crouch in the Los Angeles Times called it “a high point in a low age.” Time declared, “It hits you like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.” In Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman said it was “nothing less than the reinvention of mainstream American cinema.”

Made for $8.5 million, it earned $214 million worldwide, making it the top-grossing independent film at the time. Roger Ebert called it “the most influential” movie of the 1990s, “so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it — the noses of those zombie writers who take ‘screenwriting’ classes that teach them the formulas for ‘hit films.’ “

Pulp Fiction resuscitated the career of John Travolta, made stars of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, gave Bruce Willis new muscle at the box office, and turned Harvey and Bob Weinstein, of Miramax, into giants of independent cinema. Harvey calls it “the first independent movie that broke all the rules. It set a new dial on the movie clock.”

“It must be hard to believe that Mr. Tarantino, a mostly self-taught, mostly untested talent who spent his formative years working in a video store, has come up with a work of such depth, wit and blazing originality that it places him in the front ranks of American filmmakers,” wrote Janet Maslin in The New York Times. “You don’t merely enter a theater to see Pulp Fiction: you go down a rabbit hole.” Jon Ronson, critic for The Independent, in England, proclaimed, “Not since the advent of Citizen Kane … has one man appeared from relative obscurity to redefine the art of movie-making.”

So many great things in this piece. Daniel Day-Lewis as Vincent Vega, Samuel L. Jackson had to fight to play Jules, how to replicate a heroin high (“drink as much tequila as you can and lay in a warm pool or tub of water”), Travolta’s contribution to the humor (and choreography) of the film, and the true contents of the briefcase.

I saw Pulp Fiction on opening weekend in a mall theater in Iowa. We had no idea what to expect going in and holy hell the drive home was a weird mixture of shellshocked and wired. (via df)

Oral History of Freaks and Geeks

posted by Aaron Cohen   Dec 07, 2012

Really great and long oral history of Freaks and Geeks in the January issue of Vanity Fair, a show that aired for one season on NBC in 1999, but has since developed a cult following. A following helped, no doubt, by the emergence of stars like James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segal, along with the show’s co-creaters Paul Feig, and, well, Judd Apatow.

PAUL FEIG: We did our infamous two weeks with the writers locking ourselves in a room and telling personal stories. I wrote a list of questions for everybody to answer: “What was the best thing that happened to you in high school? What was the worst thing that happened to you in high school? Who were you in love with and why?”

JUDD APATOW: “What was your worst drug experience? Who was your first girlfriend? What’s the first sexual thing you ever did? What’s the most humiliating thing that ever happened to you during high school?”

PAUL FEIG: That’s where most of our stories came from. Weirder stuff happens to people in real life than it does on TV. It was a personal show for me and I wanted it to be personal for everybody else.

While we’re on Freaks and Geeks, why not read the above article while listening to Freaks and Geeks Complete, a Rdio playlist by Joel Robinson with all the songs featured on the series.

While we’re on oral histories, Tim Carmody posits “we are living in a golden age of oral histories.” Agreed.

While we’re on Judd Apatow, take a look at Gallery1988’s ‘A Tribute to Judd Apatow,’ an art show inspired by the Apatow’s TV shows and movies.

An oral history of Cheers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2012

Amy Poehler says it’s the best show on television and GQ has a long oral history of Cheers.

On The Jeffersons, you would give your notes to the director, and he’d go, “Right, right,” and then turn around and go to the actors and say, “Oh, those fucking writers. They want to change this.” And then the director would come back [to the writers] and go, “Oh, those actors. They won’t do a thing I ask them.” You get this weird us-against-them [mentality].

And when we got to Cheers, everybody could talk to everybody. Now, granted, if you were smart you had a sense of where you were on the totem pole, you watched your comments and obviously deferred to the bosses. But if I saw something that Shelley had done that I thought was particularly good, or if a writer had a suggestion for a way she might be able to do it better, you got to tell her that. The only rule was you had to do it so everybody could hear; there were no private conversations. It had to be open with everybody. It really fostered this feeling that we were all in it together.

I watched Cheers all the time when I was a kid…I’ve seen each episode at least twice. For me, it was the best show until Seinfeld came along. Haven’t seen an episode for probably 15 years though. I wonder if it holds up as well as Poehler claims.

An oral history of the Dream Team

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2012

This history of the 1992 US Olympic basketball team might only be interesting to those who watched all those games. Which I did. And I am.

Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.

You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.

An oral history of The Wire

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jun 01, 2012

The Wire premiered on HBO 10 years ago tomorrow so Maxim (what really?) is out with a long oral history. It’s all worth reading (and finally proof for the ‘I read it for the articles’ argument), but the more interesting bits to me were towards the end, and I wish there were a few more comments from superfans. Marc Spitz did an amazing job wrangling interviews from the majority of the cast.

New to me was the cop actors and crook actors not hanging out together, and Prop Joe mentoring the kids from Season 4.

Tristan Wilds (Michael Lee, student, Stanfield gang enforcer): Every time we’d get a script all four of us would sit down with Robert Chew go over the script and make sure we had it down.

Robert F. Chew (Joseph “Proposition Joe” Stewart, drug kingpin): A couple of them were not from Baltimore so they did not have the lingo and the dialect, so I’d give them hints on that and just understanding the emotion of the scene.

I also liked this bit about Snoop.

Tristan Wilds: I remember when I first read the script, I was like “Noooo! Why do I gotta do it?” Snoop became like my big sister to me; she was everything. I was actually with my niece a couple months ago and she was watching iCarly -and there was a scene where Sam takes paint ball gun and shoots Gib, but he looks at her before she does and says, ‘How’s my hair look?’ And she says, “You look good, Gib.”

Method Man: I always went online to see the reactions that people would have after someone got killed. Snoop, when she got killed, oh you should’ve seen it. You would’ve thought somebody really died. Like it was a funeral happening: “RIP Snoop, we gon’ miss you,” and all this craziness. They were just two lines short of making “In Memory Of” T-Shirts. Same thing with Omar. Stringer, same thing. Then when I die, it’s like “good for him. They should’ve killed his ass sooner.”

Also on the 10th Anniversary tip, here’s Details on 10 Ways the Wire changed TV and The Atlantic says The Wire feels dated. (via @groveatlantic)

Oral History of The Sopranos

posted by Aaron Cohen   Mar 24, 2012

Next month’s Vanity Fair has a Saturday worthy longread, an oral history of The Sopranos. It’s been about 5 years since the show ended, and for the most part, the major figures have not had much to say about it. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s good if you were a fan.

JAMES GANDOLFINI: I’m still in love with Edie. And, of course, I love my wife, but I’m in love with Edie. I don’t know if I’m in love with Carmela or Edie or both. I’m in love with her.

EDIE FALCO: It was weird to sit down at a table read with the actresses playing Tony’s girlfriends. Occasionally I would get a sharp twinge at the back of my neck, because, especially if I’m tired, the emotional lines would bleed into each other and I’d have to kind of keep my bearings and remember, No, no, no, this is your job, and at home you have your life. Even years later, I remember when I saw Jim in God of Carnage on Broadway, and he was Marcia Gay Harden’s husband, and I had this “How come I have to be O.K. with this?” kind of feeling.

On the response to the show.

TERENCE WINTER (writer, executive producer): One F.B.I. agent told us early on that on Monday morning they would get to the F.B.I. office and all the agents would talk about The Sopranos. Then they would listen to the wiretaps from that weekend, and it was all Mob guys talking about The Sopranos, having the same conversation about the show, but always from the flip side. We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn’t believe how accurate the show was.

Voices of History’s Last-Known Survivors

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2012

That’s the subtitle of a book released in 2010 called The Last Leaf by Stuart Lutz. In the book are dozens of interviews with “last survivors or final eyewitness of historically important events”, including the last living pitcher to give up a home run to Babe Ruth in 1927, the last man alive to work with Thomas Edison, and the last American WWI soldier.

When we read about famous historical events, we may wonder about the firsthand experiences of the people directly involved. What insights could be gained if we could talk to someone who remembered the Civil War, or the battle to win the vote for women, or Thomas Edison’s struggles to create the first electric light bulb? Amazingly, many of these experiences are still preserved in living memory by the final survivors of important, world-changing events. In this unique oral history book, author and historic document specialist Stuart Lutz records the stories told to him personally by people who witnessed many of history’s most famous events.

See also human wormholes and the Great Span.

An oral history of MTV

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2011

Pitchfork has an excerpt of I Want My MTV, an oral history of the first decade of MTV.

I got word that Pepsi had bought the first spot in the 1984 Grammy telecast and they were gonna play a new Michael Jackson Pepsi ad. I’m like, “Michael Jackson belongs to MTV, not the Grammys.” I wasn’t gonna let it happen. So I called Roger Enrico, the head of Pepsi, and said, “Roger, I’ve got a major problem. This Pepsi Michael Jackson spot that’s gonna run in three weeks on the Grammys? That should run on MTV first.”

“Well, Garland, I’ve already made a deal with the Grammys.” I go, “Wait a minute. You know how we do world premieres of videos. What if I world premiere the commercial? And what if I give you 24 promos a day for two weeks leading up to it? Would that interest you?”

He goes, “How much do you want for this?” I said, “Nothing.” He goes, “What? You’re telling me you would promote a commercial 24 times a day for two weeks before playing it? Garland, I like your style. Done.” So it played for the first time on MTV.

(thx, jon)

Magnetic Attitude, Community’s teenage prodigy

posted by Tim Carmody   May 05, 2011

NBC’s Community has a minor character (nick)named Magnitude, who overwhelmingly speaks in just a single catchphrase — “Pop Pop!” Both the character and the phrase have unexpectedly taken off. Here’s their first appearance:

The Wrap’s John Sellers has written an oral history of Magnitude where show creator Dan Harmon (along with actor Luke Youngblood and staff writer/character creator Adam Countee) fills in the character’s surprisingly rich backstory. Highlights:

Harmon: In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.

Countee: This guy has a nickname within a nickname. The layering of the character, I thought, was so funny and so brilliant. That little nuance spoke volumes about who this kid is and who this kid is trying to be.

Harmon: At some point, we had to give Magnitude a birthdate. And someone decided that he was 16 years old. We were like, “That’s hilarious.” He’s, like, some kind of weird prodigy. There is also a deleted couplet from the election episode. Magnitude is up there talking, and the dean applauds his bold urban flavor. And in response to that, Shirley, in the audience, says, “Bold urban flavor? Please. That boy’s from Barbados. His father’s a cardiologist.” So, there’s some biographical information to add to the canon.

Weirdly, when I lived in Chicago, my roommate Bob:

  1. looked surprisingly like Magnitude (same haircut, same glasses, same attitude)
  2. BOTH his parents were cardiologists
  3. the family wasn’t from Barbados — they were from Nigeria.

He disappointed the entire family by getting an MA in psychology, then dropping out and spending all day listening to Gang Starr, drinking brandy, and reading books about conspiracy theories and the paranormal. He was easily the best roommate I ever had.

An oral history of the Beastie Boys

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2011

On the eve of the release of the Beastie Boys’ latest album, New York Magazine has an interesting history of the band as told through interviews of the band and others who were there.

They accidentally knew what they were doing.

Following a leak of the new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the band is now streaming the full album on their web site. (via stellar)

Klaus Nomi, Still Kicking

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 16, 2008

Apparently there is a new (and exceedingly posthumous) Klaus Nomi album; there are three way-out mp3s from it on this site. Today’s Village Voice published a little oral history of the East Village legend. There is also this incredible performance on YouTube—which, oddly, is of quite nearly exactly the music (or at least the harmonic progressions) from Michael Nyman’s “Memorial” from “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover”… which came out in 1989, though it was apparently first performed in 1985; Nomi died in 1983. Update: Ah ha! Rumors on the internet say the tune is based on Purcell.