CLOSE

Happy 20th Birthday, Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan!

Kristina Postnikova / Shutterstock.com

The largest country in Central Asia—it’s as big as all of Western Europe combined—turns 20 years old today, and to celebrate, here’s a list of ten random facts about everyone’s favorite Kazakh-speaking ‘Stan.

1. For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Borat, the fictional reporter invented by the English comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, hails from Kazakhstan. In Baron Cohen’s 2006 blockbuster movie, Borat describes his native land in less than flattering terms, as an impoverished region where prostitution and child marriage are rife, and people drink “horse urine” for fun. In response to such bad—if genuinely comedic—publicity, the Kazakhstan government bought full-page ads in The New York Times and the U.S. News and World Report, and commercials on CNN and the local ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., begging Americans to get to know the real Kazakhstan, too.

2. How You Like Them Apples?
Those Granny Smiths sitting in your fruit bowl right now? They’re the great- great- great- granddaughters of wild apples, Malus sieversii, which are originally from modern-day Kazakhstan. According to Christopher Robbins’ 2008 travel book, Apples Are From Kazakstan (required reading for any visitor of that wind-parched land), the wild apples were brought to the Middle East 2,300 years ago, where they were cultivated and eventually exported worldwide.

3. Tiptoe Through the…

Tulips are from the mountains within, and surrounding, modern-day Kazakhstan, too. They were also later cultivated in Turkey and then exported to Europe, causing what historians refer to as “Tulipmania” in the Netherlands. The 17th-century Dutch were reportedly so taken with the waxen flowers that a single bulb was sometimes sold for the price of an entire house in Amsterdam.

4. Horsing Around
Horses and cattle have been so vital to nomadic Kazakh culture for so long, a common greeting in the countryside asks not if you are OK, but “Are your cattle OK?” A 2009 archeological study found that people in modern day Kazakhstan are among the first in the world to tame horses, and to use them for riding, work, milk and meat. Besparmak, boiled hunks of horsemeat, is still on traditional Kazakh menus today.

5. King Arthur was a Kazakh?
According to Robbins’ book, the famous, supposedly Celtic, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table may have actually been Kazakh horsemen. While that’s hardly a point of historical certainty, Robbins describes the claim as “serious scholarly speculation.” And it kind of makes sense: If King Arthur lived at all, he would have lived around 1500 years ago—right around the time that Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius sent thousands of cavalrymen from modern-day Kazakhstan to defend the fringes of the Roman Empire in the modern British Isles. The commander of those Central Asian cavalrymen just happened to be named Lucius Artorius Castus, or “Artyr” in Welsh.

6. Stung
Despite its gorgeous, lunar countryside—not to mention its handful of historical claims to fame—Kazakhstan, led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, remains a largely repressive, corrupt and undemocratic bastion for some pretty grim human rights abuses. In July this year, the famous English rocker, Sting, cancelled a concert the day before it was scheduled—on President Nazarbayev’s birthday, no less—in the Kazakh capital, citing human rights concerns.

7. The Naked Truth
In June this year, one of Kazakhstan’s most famous and fearless investigative journalists, Guljan Yergaliyeva, quit her job as editor of a major Kazakh newspaper and started her own news website. To publicize the new portal, Yergaliyeva released an advertisement on YouTube in she strips down to a pair of shiny stilettos, leaving viewers with nothing more than the site’s chirpy slogan: “Better the naked truth than a dandy lie.” We’d like to have seen Walter Cronkite perform stunt like that.

8. Big Buildings

kzww / Shutterstock.com

The World’s Biggest Tent, built by world-famous architect Norman Foster, is in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. But that’s not all: Astana, this futuristic, frigid blip upon the Kazakh steppe, was built by the sheer force of will of President Nazarbayev, who also commissioned a massive pyramid (also built by Foster), a shimmering concert hall (a nod to the Sydney Opera House), and a rather hideous tower, called the Bayterek (pictured), shaped like a Poplar tree crowed by a giant golden egg and decorated by—what else?—Nazarbayev’s gilded hand print.

9. Family Feud!
Politics in Kazakhstan are fifty percent ex-Soviet machinations and fifty percent afternoon soap opera. For example, for the last half-decade, President Nazarbayev has been locked in feisty, international power struggle—alternately described as a “war of attrition” and a “blood feud” by Western newspapers—with his former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev. Aliyev, who has publically criticized his father-in-law’s human rights abuses, has also been accused of torturing people. Both men's names bubble up in political gossip circles from D.C. to Beijing.

10. Dances With Horses
An equestrian-themed dance craze has been sweeping Kazakhstan for the last couple years, with flash mobs the size of small cities gathering in malls, streets and public parks to perform a galloping traditional dance, called Kara Zhorga. In September this year, nearly 60,000 people turned out on the streets of Oskemen, a city in eastern Kazakhstan, according to EurasiaNet. The year before, 15,000 turned out in the western city of Atyrau to shake, shimmy and gallop the night away. Giddy-up!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Martin Wittfooth
arrow
Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
nextArticle.image_alt|e
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
arrow
entertainment
11 Magical Facts About Willow
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Five years after the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) and four years after Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), George Lucas gave audiences the story for another film about an unlikely hero on an epic journey, but this time he had three Magic Acorns and a taller friend instead of a whip and gun to help him along. Willow (1988) was directed by Ron Howard and starred former Ewok and future Leprechaun, Warwick Davis.

Over the past few decades, Willow—which was released 30 years ago today—has become a cult classic that's been passed down from generation to generation. Before you sit down to explore that world again (or for the first time), here are 11 things you might not have know about Willow.

1. IT WAS WRITTEN FOR WARWICK DAVIS.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Warwick Davis revealed that George Lucas first mentioned the idea for the film to Davis’s mother during the filming of one of the Ewok TV specials in 1983, in which he was reprising his role as Wicket. Lucas had been developing the idea for more than a decade at that point, but working with Davis on Return of the Jedi helped him realize the vision. “George just simply said that he had this idea, and he was writing this story, with me in mind,” Davis said. “He didn't say at that time that it was going to be called Willow. He said, 'It's not for quite yet; it's for a few years ahead, when Warwick is a bit older.'" The role was Davis’s first time not wearing a mask or costume on screen.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED MUNCHKINS.

Five years after he mentioned the idea, Lucas was ready to make his film with Ron Howard directing and a then-17-year-old Davis as the lead. The original title was presumably inspired by the characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent Victor Fleming film.

3. IT WAS CRITICIZED FOR BEING A COPY OF STAR WARS.

Having thought of the two worlds simultaneously, Lucas may have cribbed some of his own work and other well-known stories a little too much for Willow, and some critics noticed. “Without anything like [Star Wars’s] eager, enthusiastic tone, and indeed with an understandable weariness, Willow recapitulates images from Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver's Travels, Mad Max, Peter Pan, Star Wars itself, The Hobbit saga, Japanese monster films of the 1950s, the Bible, and a million fairy tales," wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. "One tiny figure combines the best attributes of Tinkerbell, the Good Witch Glinda, and the White Rock Girl.”

Later in her review, Maslin continued to point out the similarities between the two films: “When the sorcerer tells Willow to follow his heart, he becomes the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a film that also has its Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3P0 and Princess Leia stand-ins. Much energy has gone into the creation of their names, some of which (General Kael) have recognizable sources and others (Burglekutt, Cherlindrea, Airk) have only tongue-twisting in mind. Not even the names have anything like Star Wars-level staying power.”

4. IT WAS THE LARGEST CASTING CALL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE IN MOVIE HISTORY.

Lucas has previously cast several little people for roles in Return of the Jedi, and there were more than 100 actors hired to portray Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. But, according to Davis, the casting call for Willow was the largest ever at the time with between 225 and 240 actors hired for the film.

5. THE DEATH DOGS WERE REAL DOGS IN COSTUME.

The big bad in the film, Bavmorda, has demon dogs that terrorize Willow’s village. The dogs are more boar-like than canine, but they were portrayed by Rottweilers. The prop team outfitted the dogs with rubber masks and used animatronic heads for close-up scenes.

6. IT WAS THE FIRST USE OF MORPHING IN A FILM.

While trying to use magic to turn an animal back into a human, Willow fails several times before eventually getting it right, but he does succeed in turning the animal into another animal, which is shown in stages. To achieve this, the visual effects teamed used a technique known as "morphing."

The film’s visual effects supervisor, Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, explained the technique to The Telegraph:

The way things had been up till that time, if a character had to change at some way from a dog into a person or something like that it could be done with a series of mechanical props. You would have to cut away to a person watching it, and then cut back to another prop which is pushing the ears out, for example, so it didn't look fake ... we shot five different pieces of film, of a goat, an ostrich, a tiger, a tortoise, and a woman and had one actually change into the shape of the other one without having to cut away. The technique is much more realistic because the cuts are done for dramatic reasons, rather than to stop it from looking bad.”

7. THE STORY WAS CONTINUED IN SEVERAL NOVELS.

Willow has yet to receive a sequel, but fans of the story can return to the world in a trilogy of books that author Chris Claremont wrote in collaboration with Lucas between 1995 and 2000. According to the Amazon synopsis of Shadow Moon, the first book picks up 13 years after the events of the film, and baby Elora Danan’s friendless upbringing has turned her into a “spoiled brat who seemingly takes joy in making miserable the lives around her. The fate of the Great Realms rests in her hands, and she couldn't care less. Only a stranger can lead her to her destiny.”

8. THERE IS A MISSING SCENE CONCERNING THE MAGIC ACORNS.

Hardcore fans of the film have noticed that there is a continuity error that involves the Magic Acorns Willow was given by the High Aldwin. During an interview with The Empire Podcast, Davis explained that in a scene near the end of the film, he throws a second acorn and is inexplicably out after having only used two of the three Magic Acorns he had been given earlier in the film. Included in the Blu-ray release is the cut scene, in which Willow uses an acorn (his second) in a boat during a storm and accidentally turns the boat to stone. Davis says that his hair is wet in the next scene that did make it into the original version of the film, but the acorn is never referenced.

9. JOHN CUSACK AUDITIONED FOR THE PART OF MADMARTIGAN.

Val Kilmer in 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Val Kilmer famously played the role of the reluctant hero two years after played Iceman in Top Gun (1986), but he was not the only big name to audition for the role. Davis revealed in a commentary track that he once read with John Cusack, who in 1987 had already starred in Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand by Me (1986), and Hot Pursuit (1987).

10. THERE IS A NOD TO SISKEL AND EBERT.

During a battle scene later in the film, Willow and his compatriots have to fight a two-headed beast outside of the castle. The name of the stop motion beast is the Eborsisk, which is a combination of the names of famed film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

11. THE BABY NEVER ACTED AGAIN.

A scene from 'Willow' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

As is the case with most shows and films, the role of the baby Elora was played by twins, in this case Kate and Ruth Greenfield. The IMDb pages for both actresses only has the one credit. In 2007, Davis shared a picture of him posing with a woman named Laura Hopkirk, who said that she played the baby for the scenes shot in New Zealand, but she is not credited online.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios