I mentioned earlier I was working on compiling a list of my favorite media available in The Commons. I have been waiting to write such a list until I had accumulated a large enough body of work to skim through it and share the Very Best Stuff™ with you. Despite having a healthy-sized collection at this point, this will be an evolving list and may become a permanent page at some point, so keep an eye on the left side of your screen.
Okay, on to the list, starting with what I consider the best films, short or feature-length, available free(-as-in-speech) and legal online.
A beautiful film funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and released to the world under a CC BY-SA-NC license. The Cosmonaut is a touching scifi space romp that spends most of its time on the ground. The story is not complex, but I found its simplicity charming. The titular cosmonaut sets off to become the first man on the moon and ends up returning to an Earth that is just the same as when he left it, aside from missing a few important details. There is a fair amount of ambiguity around what actually occurs during the movie, leaving many possible interpretations up to the viewer. Aesthetically pleasing, high-quality acting, and a pinch of homoeroticism make this is a must-see.
Hughes the Force
An epic mash-up of John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, etc.) and Star Wars. The blend works indescribably well and should appeal to any child of the 70s/80s. High production values, good-enough acting for what it is, and a Kevin Smith cameo mean that this one of the best comedy films available only on the Internet. It certainly does not hurt that the villain is portrayed by a former underwear model. Disclaimer: status in The Commons is disputable as it is not CC-licensed but does include this disclaimer: “Hughes the Force is a non-profit film being made for private use and is not intended for sales of any sort. No money is being made from this film and no one was paid to make it.”
Sita Sings the Blues
Oh this film. So the creator, Nina Paley, is a big name in the fight for free culture and was cool enough to release this film in to the public domain without any restrictions whatsoever. Keeping that in mind, I dove into Sita really wanting to enjoy it. I somewhat succeeded. The film is a beautiful and often humerous “musical, animated personal interpretation of the Indian epic the Ramayana,” incorporating many aspects of Paley’s separation from her ex-husband. It is not quite avant garde, but it is not that far away either. If you can appreciate the art of it all for its own sake and think you will not mind the quirky humor, I recommend Sita without reservations. Otherwise, there will be a few.
Sintel and Tears of Steal
A pair of sub-fifteen minute short films from the Blender Foundation, creators of the FOSS 3D animation software, Blender. Both films reveal the potential of such software and the ability to create professional grade animation with free software. Sintel is a pretty typical fantasy story of a girl and her dragon. It breaks no new grounds in storytelling and is best enjoyed for the animation. Tears of Steal, which incorporates live-action actors and high quality computer graphics, is cheesier but also the better story. It reminds me of a Doctor Who episode: funny in a corny sort of way and deeply heartfelt.
The only series to make it to this list, Pioneer One, is representative of the problems inherent in independent serialized dramas. Namely, when the budget (apparently) inevitably runs out or the creators move on to other efforts, the audience is left in the lurch. Pioneer was at least able to complete a full season of six episodes, unlike its promosing Vodo science fiction brother, L5. The story is a relatively engaging one, that of a cosmonaut (a theme of CC scifi?) returned to Earth. Except this cosmonaut’s red homeland is a little more distant than the USSR. The actors are good enough and writing is serviceable; I have seen worse of both on cable. The absolute lack of funding is most apparent in the prop department, but like many indie works beforehand, the creators deftly dodge most circumstances that would call for anything that could not be found in their garages. I recommend watching the first episode to see if you can appreciate the story beyond its limitations.
Considering the fandom associated with Creative Commons and other forms of free media, there are inevitably a number of documentaries about the movement. If you are interested in learning more about why we care about copyright reform and spreading free culture, they are worth checking out. Also, if you are a fan of Cory Doctorow or Girl Talk, take a look at RiP: A Remix Manifesto, which heavily features interviews with both men.
Good Copy Bad Copy
Steal This Film
TBP AFK (The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard)
Code Rush – The story of the end times of Netscape and the birth of the Mozilla project.
The Arduino Documentary – Open source hardware at its finest.
All the stuff from Dead Gentlemen Productions and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. The incredibly nerdy people at these fan-funded companies are constantly producing high-quality serials and movies with very specific target audiences: nerds. If you are a D&D-er, you are likely already aware of the film, The Gamers. You may not be aware that the people behind that cult classic never stopped making movies and release their productions under copyleft licenses. If you are not an avid gamer, I probably should not recommend their works to you…but I will anyway. Their unique blend of hokey, hackneyed writing and shoestring budgets make their humor all the more endearing.
For newbies, check out The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising and the webseries JourneyQuest.
Of course this is all ignoring the multitude of films in the public domain. Check out some of my Free Flash Friday posts for more of that. There are also plenty of films that did not make the list that you may appreciate more than I did. Vodo is doing some fun things with producing independent free media as well and is worth a bit of your time.
If you end up watching and enjoying any of these works, please consider donating to their creators. The money will go straight to the people who deserve it and you will be supporting the future of free media.
Keep an eye out for the next part in this series: Best of the Commons – Music.
Trying to start back with Free Flash Friday. Tonight, I bring you the classic German Expressionist film, Metropolis.
Here is modern review from The Guardian:
One of the biggest, strangest, maddest films in cinema history returns, with missing footage restored: a textual enlargement that of course “explains” nothing about the film, and just makes it bigger, stranger and madder than ever. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film is a crazed futurist epic, a mythic sprawl with something of Jung and Wagner, and dystopian nightmare about a city-state built on slave labour, whose prosperity depends on suppressing a mutinous underground race whose insurrectionist rage is beginning to bubble. Metropolis predicts the ideologies of class and race of the 20th century, and there is a perennial frisson in the way the workers’ leader Maria longs for a messianic figure who can find a middle way between the head and the heart, the bosses and the workers: he will be the Mediator, or the “Mittler” – a word that has a chilling echo with another real-life leader who at the time of Metropolis’s premiere had a few seats in the Reichstag. The “Maschinenmensch” robot based on Maria is a brilliant eroticisation and fetishisation of modern technology and the current crisis in Dubai, whose economic boom was founded on a colossal import of globalised labour, makes Metropolis seem very contemporary.
Okay, I am going to try and get back on the usual schedule for FFF.
One change, though, is that I am no longer hosting the videos directly. Instead, I will provide the link to the files from the Archives, where you can download them yourselves, if you so desire. For streaming, I am going to go with the tried and true YouTube method. Most of the films are already uploaded, and I will be sure to upload any I find missing.
Sorry if any of you do not like YouTube because of the creepy Google stalking it does, but as always, I promise to embed the https and no-cookie-tracker versions only (collusion has not spotted a tracker from them yet). Also, sorry for the decreased video quality.
Tonight’s feature is William Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill from 1959. Featuring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, and Richard Long.
From a Variety review:
The screenplay is the one about the group of people who promise to spend the night in a haunted house. In this case, it’s for pure monetary gain. Vincent Price, owner of the house, is offering $10,000 to anyone who lasts out the night. There is a gimmick in the plot which explains the screams, ghosts, bubbling vats of lye and perambulating skeletons.
Haunted Hill is expertly put together. There is some good humor in the dialog which not only pays off well against the ghostly elements, but provides a release for laughter so it does not explode in the suspense sequences. The characters are interesting and not outlandish, so there is some basis of reality. Director William Castle keeps things moving at a healthy clip.
Sounds delightful, right?
Download at the Internet Archives.
It seems like I am always apologizing for being late with these things. This one may be a little more late than usual (by a week a or two). To show that I am extra-apologetic, I will give you what is probably the greatest film in the public domain and one of my favorite films of all time: George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
This is one of the first horror flicks I ever saw–and encouraged by my mother no less! It was what introduced me to the world of zombies and the dread hopelessness of not knowing if you are the only human being left alive. It still puts me on edge like few other films can.
Here is a snippet of Roger Ebert’s impressions upon seeing the film for the first time in 1967 to give you an idea of the film’s impact:
The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying.
I don’t think the younger kids really knew what hit them. They were used to going to movies, sure, and they’d seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else
Sorry for the late post, but I promise it is a good one.
This week’s FFF is 1942′s Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. As this is a Basil Rathbone Sherlock tale and thus set in the “modern” day, take a guess at who was trying to take advantage of the eponymous “secret weapon.”
Yep, the Nazis.
Here is a rather lackluster review from the New York Times, published January 5th, 1943 (yay Internet for preserving this):
By all the laws of nature and temporal consistency, too, our old friend, Sherlock Holmes, should be an octogenarian by now, and his famous familiar, Dr. Watson, should have long since been planted beneath the sod. But Universal Pictures, disregarding the literary traditions and time, has given those two beloved gentlemen the blessing of eternal youth and has set them to chasing Nazi villains in the war-consumed London of today with the same hale and vigorous tenacity as they showed toward opium smugglers years ago.
Thus, in their latest adventure, “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon,” which came to the Rialto yesterday, we have the amazing spectacle of the Baker Street boys still at work, first protecting an eminent scientist who has perfected a marvelous new bomb-sight, and then uncovering the Nazi agents who almost swipe the scientist and device. And still Mr. Holmes is cool and cryptic, Dr. Watson is confident and dense—and the head of the Nazi spy ring none other than Holmes’s ancient antagonist, Moriarity.
Yes, by courtesy of Universal, Holmes is there to aid England in time of peril. Holmes and Dr. Watson. Or is it really they? Isn’t it, perhaps, just Basil Rathbone with wind-blown hair and Nigel Bruce with wing collar, jaunting through another routine spy fiction? And isn’t Moriarity just Lionel Atwill in professional garb? Reason compels the candid and disillusioning admission that it is. But the aura is still mysterious, the action is fast and tense. And the plot is sufficiently fantastic that no one is likely to swallow it. Let’s make believe with Universal that Holmes isn’t old and Dr. Watson isn’t a shade.
You will also be happy to know that many of the Basil Rathbone films are available at the Internet Archives.
Welcome once again to Free Flash Friday.
Today’s offering is a true classic that you have all likely heard of already: Ed Wood’s 1959 science fiction travesty, Plan 9 From Outer Space. The film gained its fame by being labeled, and perhaps actually being, the “worst movie ever made” in 1980. References to it come up in pop culture rather frequently, so because I am on a never-ending quest to master popular culture, it is a must-see.
Here is Lisa Derrick’s review from over at Firedoglake (an interesting progressive news site and home to Durhamite Pam Spaulding’s Pam’s House Blend).
While Plan 9 from Outer Spaceis considered to be one of the worst movies of all time, winning the Golden Turkey Award, and directed by a true American auteur Ed Wood, Jr., it is not without its charms and carries a potent message. Due in part to its Southern Baptist investors–who hoped and prayed profits from the film would fund their own pet projects–there is a weird Christian subtext that plays upon the concept of the dead emerging from the grave on Judgment Day. Additionally, two of the investors play gravediggers, and Reverend Lynn Lemon from the investing congregation performs a graveside service in the film, plus there’s Hollywood lore that cast members had to be baptized before the the production was given a check. (The idea of Maila “Vampira” Numi with her 17-inch waist getting dunked for Jesus is mind boggling. Bela Lugosi was already dead by then, thus spared the indignity; the footage of Luguosi is from test shots for another Wood production).
In Plan 9 from Outer Space, the aliens who have previously tried peaceful means to politely ask Earth governments to stop trying to blow stuff up, resort to a creepier plan: They will resurrect the dead and have them march on the governments of the world in order to scare The Powers That Be into abandoning their plans for the Solaranite, a weapon designed to blow up Earth’s sun and by extension all the galaxies which can see the Sun’s light from afar, in other words, the entire universe.
Despite Plan 9 from Outer Space‘s slipshod sets, dependence on stock footage, and horrendous bloopers and gaffes, the film makes a philosophical point and has certainly inspired everyone from Tim Burton to DYI filmmakers to seize their vision and create films. Even if you have to reuse footage of a dead star.
I know the first FFF was a little rough, so here is a movie you do not have to be intoxicated to enjoy: 1945′s film noir thriller, Detour.
Got a nice review from over at BoingBoing:
This 1946 black-and-white film is as grim, hard-boiled, and twisty as any film noir title I’ve ever seen. Al (Tom Neal) plays a talented pianist stuck in cheap joint in New York. He’s got an attitude to match the atmosphere (when a patron gives him a ten-dollar tip after he plays an insanely complex piece, he remarks that it’s just “a piece of paper crawling with germs.”)
Naturally, Al falls for the house singer, but she won’t marry him because he doesn’t have enough money. When she goes to Hollywood to try to become an actress, Al quits his job and starts hitchhiking across the country to be with her. He doesn’t know it, but when a flashy loudmouth in a big car picks him up, Al’s fate is sealed. Ann Savage, playing a femme fatale who seethes with bitter poison, is a show stealer.
And as an added bonus, a bunch of old British propaganda films, also from the 40′s here.
Obviously this is a day early. I had some free time (read: I was bored), and wanted to figure out how to embed videos on here. HTML5-madness and lack of fullscreen support was killing me, so from now on, this will be Free Flash Friday, where I share neither the latest nor greatest from the depths of the Public Domain.
Today’s timeless treasure is 1964′s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Gather by the fireplace kids, throw on a Snuggie, and do your best MST3k impersonation.