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14 Facts About Reality Bites

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Reality Bites showed audiences how early-twentysomethings in the mid-1990s spent most of their time basing their personal ethos around the term “selling out” and suffering (Big Gulp-aided) brain cramps from self-rationalizing the hypocrisy of keeping “superficial” jobs to pay the bills. Winona Ryder played Lelaina, an aspiring documentarian who films her roommates and then has the video aired (with exploitative gloss) by her network executive boyfriend Michael Grates, a role played by first-time feature film director Ben Stiller. Ethan Hawke played the caustic irony-pointer-outer lost boy Troy, with support from Steve Zahn and Janeane Garofalo.

1. THE WRITER OF THE MOVIE NEVER WANTED TO BE A SCREENWRITER.

In 1994, Reality Bites screenwriter Helen Childress told Entertainment Weekly that she had “no interest in screenwriting. I wanted to be a poet. But poets don't make any money.” So she wrote a script all the same about people in their 20s in the early 1990s, which is exactly what producer Michael Shamberg was looking for. Childress was 24 years old when the film was released on February 18, 1994.

2. BEN STILLER MADE SOME KEY CHANGES TO CHILDRESS’ SCRIPT.

Stiller believed the script to be “extremely funny,” but tweaked it anyway. “Originally, it was much more about all the characters in the movie,” he said in an interview around the time of the film’s release. “Janeane’s character, Vickie, and Steve’s character, Sammy, and Ethan’s character, Troy; all their stories were much more fleshed out. I felt like I couldn’t really bring all those stories together; couldn’t really tell them all fully, so I just wanted to make it more about Lelaina and her relationship with Troy.” He also changed the character he ended up playing, Michael Grates, from a 35-year-old ad man attempting to make Japanese candy bars popular in the United States to a twentysomething executive for In Your Face TV.

3. TRISTAR PICTURES CHANGED ITS MIND ABOUT MAKING THE MOVIE.

In 1993, the studio also eventually said no to Pulp Fiction. Made for $11.5 million, Reality Bites would end up being released by Universal Pictures, after Stiller claimed they were “turned down by everybody” else because twentysomething coming-of-age movies such as Singles (1992) didn’t make enough money.

4. WINONA RYDER ADVOCATED HARD FOR ETHAN HAWKE AND JANEANE GAROFALO.

Winona Ryder had seen Ethan Hawke in the World War II drama A Midnight Clear (1992), and subsequently pushed for him to play Troy. Despite working with Stiller earlier on The Ben Stiller Show (1993), Garofalo said she didn’t know if she would have been cast as Vickie without Ryder’s high opinion of her.

5. GWYNETH PALTROW, PARKER POSEY, AND ANNE HECHE AUDITIONED FOR VICKIE.

Garofalo beat them out. In another interesting could-have-been, the part of Sammy came down to Steve Zahn and Noah Wyle (later of ER fame).

6. HAWKE PUT STEVE ZAHN ON THE PRODUCERS’ RADAR.

Hawke and Zahn co-starred in the play Sophistry. Hawke encouraged executive producer Stacey Sher to see Zahn for Sammy. “Tons of people read for the part and it was just once we saw Steve, we knew,” Sher told HitFix.

7. IT WAS EMMANUEL “CHIVO” LUBEZKI’S FIRST AMERICAN FILM.

The Mexico City-born Lubezki was brought in as the director of photography. “I was very young and I was inexperienced and coming to America and uncomfortable living here,” Lubezki recalled. “I didn't have many friends. I was just coming here to work. When I got this offer, I read the script, and I have to be honest, I barely understood the humor in the script. I didn't find it that funny. I found it more dramatic than funny.”

The language barrier was irrelevant; Childress later said his hard work made everyone look “gorgeous.” Shamberg believed the look of the film was a “kind of a romantic naturalism.” Last month, Lubezki pulled off an Oscar threepeat when he won his third consecutive Oscar for Best Cinematography for The Revenant (following wins for Birdman and Gravity).

8. ONE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS THE REAL WORLD.

It was nixed when MTV’s The Real World debuted.

9. GAROFALO WAS FIRED (“SORT OF”), AND RYDER FOUGHT FOR HER AGAIN.

“That was my first experience with a studio film,” Garofalo told The A.V. Club. “I didn't understand what was going to happen, or why the hours were so long. I know Ben was not thrilled with me there. He also didn't like my attitude during rehearsal, because I hate to rehearse. He sort of fired me, but luckily I was rehired because Winona stepped in on my behalf. Let's put it this way: I don't have a good work ethic.”

10. NONE OF THE COMPANIES MENTIONED IN THE MOVIE INSISTED ON A CHANGE IN THE SCRIPT.

“There is product placement in the movie, but I don’t have any problem with it because it never happened where they said ‘OK, you can put our product in but you have to change your script,’” Stiller reasoned. Diet Coke specifically was written into the script because Childress lived off of it.

11. HAWKE TURNED STILLER ON TO LISA LOEB.

Loeb had participated in Hawke’s theater company, writing music in New York City. Hawke sent her new song, “Stay,” to Stiller, who agreed it should be in the movie. After they were refused permission by Atlantic Records to use a song by The Lemonheads (fronted by Evan Dando, who appears in the film), “Stay” was slotted as the second song to play during the closing credits. The first and last music video Hawke directed would be “Stay.” Mostly because of the movie, Loeb achieved the rare distinction of being an unsigned artist with a number one single, a feat that wouldn’t be achieved again for another 19 years.

12. PETER FRAMPTON WASN’T THE FILMMAKER’S FIRST CHOICE.

"Baby I Love Your Way” was supposed to be a Beck tune.

13. THE FIRST TEST SCREENING DIDN’T GO WELL.

When the Berkeley, California audience saw the Universal logo, most of them booed.

14. THE REAL TROY SUED.

A Troy Dyer attended USC film school with Childress, became a financial consultant in Wisconsin, and sued in 2005 for defamation. Childress claimed Dyer gave her permission to use his name, because he was straight-laced and conservative—the total opposite of the character. The case was settled to “everyone’s mutual satisfaction,” according to Dyer.

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

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2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

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MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

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14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
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Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

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15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

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Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

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18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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