Open Culture Blog

Syndicate content
The best free cultural & educational media on the web
Updated: 39 min 9 sec ago

JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier Artistically Animated with Pulsing Neon Lights

Fri, 29 May 2015 - 11:28 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRYpIYCHlOI

The Well-Tempered Clavier, composed by JS Bach between 1722 and 1742, remains one of the most innovative and influential works in the history of Western classical music. A website from Northern Arizona State U. sums up what essentially made Bach’s composition — a collection of 48 preludes and fugues spread across two volumes — so innovative, so influential.

One of Bach’s primary purposes in composing these cycles was to demonstrate the feasibility of the “well tempered” tuning system that would allow for composition in every key.

Another purpose of the Well-Tempered Clavier was to reveal how modern and progressive composition could be informed by conservative ideas. The Well-Tempered Clavier is an encyclopedia of national and historical styles and idioms. Its influences range from the white-note style of the Renaissance motet to the French manier. Ironically, half of this stylistic smorgasbord is expressed in fugue, a form that was out of date upon the cycle’s completion. Bach was of course aware of this. His hope was to defend the venerable form by demonstrating how it could absorb contemporary flavors.

If you’ve never experienced Bach’s piece, then I’d encourage you to listen to the 1960s recording by Glenn Gould. Or watch a section of the piece being performed on the All of Bach website — a site that will eventually put 1080 Bach performances online, for free.

Above, we have something a little different. Created by director and visual artist Alan Warburton, this newly-released video takes a famous section of Bach’s composition and animates it with pulsing neon lights. Describing what went into making this video, the Sinfini Music website writes:

Alan’s incredible design incorporated many thousands of separate CGI lights, every one of which had to be tailored to the precise duration of Pierre-Laurent Aimard‘s note strikes. ‘I needed to find a way of automating the process of these turning on and off in time with the music,’ says Alan. With no midi file of the performance available, he was faced with the seemingly impossible task of matching every note of a stand-in midi file to the recording, by ear alone…

Then it was a question of rendering the animated data in CGI within the virtual space created especially for the animation. This too, was no mean feat, even for the army of cloud-based computers that had a hand in the task. Each frame took 15 minutes to render because of the thousands of calculations involved in activating each light as well as the shadows, glows and reflections required to make the scene look truly life-like.

Sinfini Music, which commissioned this project, has more on Warburton’s creation here.

Hope this gets your weekend started on the right, er, note.

via The Kids Should See This

Related Content:

All of Bach Is Putting Videos of 1,080 Bach Performances Online

A Big Bach Download: All of Bach’s Organ Works for Free

The Genius of J.S. Bach’s “Crab Canon” Visualized on a Möbius Strip

Virginia Woolf’s Haunting Suicide Note Read by Actress Louise Brealey

Fri, 29 May 2015 - 8:30 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdXYQK01-pU

A few weeks ago, we featured Benedict Cumberbatch’s reading of the letter Alan Turing (whom Cumberbatch portrayed in last year’s The Imitation Game) wrote before his 1952 conviction of “gross indecency.” It came from Letters Live, “a series of live events celebrating the power of literary correspondence” put on by publisher Canongate and Cumberbatch’s production company SunnyMarch and “inspired by Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note” — a site Open Culture readers surely know well by now.

Back in 2013, Josh Jones wrote a post here on Virginia Woolf’s handwritten 1941 suicide note, “a haunting and beautiful document, in all its unadorned sincerity behind which much turmoil and anguish lie.” Having seen that note, perhaps you’d also like to hear it performed. If so, you’ll want to watch the Letters Live video at the top of the post, which offers an interpretation of the To the Lighthouse author’s declaration that “I can’t fight any longer” by Cumberbatch’s Sherlock co-star Louise Brealey.

If you haven’t had your fill of literary correspondence read aloud by these noted British performers, do pay a visit to Letters Live‘s Youtube page, where you can also hear Brealey reading letters from Bessie Moore and Clementine Churchill as well as Cumberbatch reading letters from Chris Barker and more from Alan Turing. Watching internet videos of live performances of traditional letters — the mind may reel at all these simultaneous layers of mediation and interpretation, but the pieces of correspondence chosen still speak straight to the heart.

Related Content:

Virginia Woolf’s Handwritten Suicide Note: A Painful and Poignant Farewell (1941)

Watch Patti Smith Read from Virginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Surviving Recording of Woolf’s Voice

James Joyce’s Dirty Love Letters Read Aloud by Martin Starr, Paget Brewster & Other TV Comedy Actors (NSFW)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Alfred Hitchcock Make Cameo Appearances in 37 of His Films (Plus Free Hitchcock Films Online)

Fri, 29 May 2015 - 4:55 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YbaOkiMiRQ

It may sound redundant, but to many people a Hitchcock film would not be a Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. By this I mean not only Hitchcock’s masterful command of light and shadow, camera movement, and editing, but also the brief, witty appearances of the man himself, in front of the camera. Of course we have the droll intro of the great director’s own TV show, with his silhouette sliding into a cartoon of his jowly profile. We also have the chance to spot him nearly everywhere else in his body of work since he appears—as a bystander or as some form of comic relief—in 37 of his films: from 1927’s The Lodger to 1976’s Family Plot. In this last cameo, as you can see below, he appears again in silhouette.

At the top of the post, you can watch a supercut of all 37 of these cameos. And see a complete list, with descriptions, at Wikipedia. AMC’s Tim Dirks tells us of “two recurring themes” in Hitchcock’s film appearances: “(1) Hitchcock often carried a musical instrument, and (2) Hitchcock often used public transportation (buses, trains, etc.), and was seen as a casual passer-by in the crowd in the public place (train stations, at an airport, etc.). Most of the cameos appeared early in the film, and often there was a bit of mild humor in the appearance.” Though they may seem narcissistic, Hitchcock promised the cameos were for the sake of his fans, who certainly appreciated the recurring trademark. “I always give a little thought to my appearances,” said the director in a 1966 interview, “and come on as early as possible—don’t want to hold them in suspense!”

The Hitchcock cameos began by accident, writes MysteryNet, when, “short an actor in one of his first films, Hitchcock took it upon himself to play the small part.” In this movie, The Lodger (watch it online), Hitchcock actually appears twice—as a newsroom clerk and again later in a crowd. He would make two appearances in three more films: Suspicion, Rope, and Under Capricorn. Most of his cameos are very brief, some shot at a distance, and others with his back to the camera. To spot Hitchcock in your favorite of his films [you can watch 23 for free in our collection of Free Hitchcock films], see AMC’s complete list, which features thumbnails and approximations of how many minutes into the film he appears. Also don’t miss The Telegraph’s comprehensive gallery of stills of Hitchcock’s cameos, like that of his Rear Window appearance above. And for even more Hitchcock in Hitchcock, see the supercut below of every setup the director shot for his popular mystery show Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcTtxv-4a3U

Related Content:

23 Free Hitchcock Movies Online 

1000 Frames of Hitchcock: See Each of Alfred Hitchcock’s 52 Films Reduced to 1,000 Artistic Frames

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rules for Watching Psycho (1960)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Frida Kahlo’s Colorful Clothes Revealed for the First Time & Photographed by Ishiuchi Miyako

Fri, 29 May 2015 - 1:00 am

Imagine the dress up fun we could have in Grandma’s attic, if Grandma were Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and the attic was a sealed off Mexico City bathroom where Grandpa – artist Diego Rivera, natch – had stashed all her stuff.

Yellow-laced scarlet booties trimmed with beads!

A glamorous, rotting swimsuit and an extremely familiar-looking traditional Tehuana headdress!

A saucy prosthetic leg! A skirted body cast embellished with hand-painted hammer and sickle.

Now let us take a minute to live vicariously through photographer Ishiuchi Miyako, whose previous subjects have included the clothing of her late mother and victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In 2004, the Museo Frida Kahlo’s staff started organizing Frida’s personal effects. Rivera (1886–1957) had stored them in the aforementioned Mexico city bathroom, along with instructions that the room should remain sealed for a period of 15 years following his death. In 2011, the museum invited Miyako in to document the far-from-mint condition relics, almost 300 in total.

“If I met her, I wouldn’t ask any questions,” the photographer avowed in an interview with AnOther Magazine. “I would only want to stare at her and touch her body.”

There is an intimacy to her gaze that suggests this statement might be true. Rarely have a couple of bottles of dried up nail polish exuded such sensuality.

Miyako’s Frida photographs have been collected in a book, and can be seen in the flesh in London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery through mid-July.

via Patron of the Arts

Related Content:

1933 Article on Frida Kahlo: “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art”

Frida Kahlo Writes a Personal Letter to Georgia O’Keeffe After O’Keeffe’s Nervous Breakdown (1933)

Photos of a Very Young Frida Kahlo, Taken by Her Dad

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Visit Leon Trotsky in Mexico, 1938

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

The Absurd Philosophy of Albert Camus Presented in a Short Animated Film by Alain De Botton

Thu, 28 May 2015 - 4:30 pm


//www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQOfbObFOCw

What is the meaning of life? This may sound simplistic or naïve, especially in relation to much contemporary philosophy, which assumes the question is incoherent and reserves its focus for smaller and smaller slices of experience. And, of course, prior to the rise of secular modernity, the question was answered for us—and still is for a great many people—by religion. One either believed the answer, through coercion or otherwise, or kept quiet about it. But at least since Søren Kierkegaard, philosophers in the West have taken the question very seriously, and found all of the answers wanting. By the mid-twentieth century, there seemed to thinkers like Albert Camus to be no answer. Life has no meaning. It is inherently absurd and purposeless.

This Camus concluded in challenging essays like “The Myth of Sisyphus” and novels like L’Etranger, a book most of us know as The Stranger but which Alain de Botton, in his School of Life video above on Camus’ philosophy, translates as The Outsider. Reading this book, de Botton observes, “has long been an adolescent rite of passage” since many of its themes “are first tackled at seventeen or so.” Its protagonist, Meursault, an older, more nihilistic version of Holden Caulfield, illustrates Camus’ thesis through his steadfast refusal to identify with any meaning-making institutions or emotions, and through a casual, senseless murder. But while Meursault may see through the pretensions of his society, he has failed to see the world as it is.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=01meVbOfObc

Colin Wilson, another author many people read during intellectually formative years—who wrote an existentialist study also called The Outsider—describes Meursault’s indifference to life as a product of “his sense of unreality.” Only the looming prospect of death awakens him from what Meursault calls “a heavy grime of unreality.” Instead of despairing at life’s emptiness, Camus determined that true freedom required engaging fully with life, in the face of futility—with the ultimate prospect of death and the option of suicide always in view. Camus, says de Botton, “writes with exceptional intensity… as a guide for the reasons to live.” De Botton somewhat superficially praises Camus’ sexual prowess, fashion sense, and good looks as more than just “stylistic quirks,” but as markers of his psychological health.

But more than just a ladies man, Camus was a “great champion of the ordinary,” as well as a champion footballer and Nobel prize-winning literary star. He was also a fully committed journalist and political activist for much of his career, who stood by his individual principles even as other leftist intellectuals got swept up in the allure of Soviet communism under Stalin. In the documentary above, we learn important details of many of these qualities, as well of Camus’ troubled early life. Given his background of impoverishment and loss, it is indeed remarkable that Camus—much more so than other, more privileged philosophers—lived such a rich, fully engaged life.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=dICwQHVqLZU

In a rare television interview above, Camus answers questions about his theatrical adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, another novel that confronts head on the question of life’s meaning. He speaks of the novel’s “nihilism,” now “the reality that we have to face.” Camus does not mention that Dostoyevsky, like the existentialist Kierkegaard, managed to salvage a kind of religious faith in the face of emptiness; the French philosopher and writer was convinced of the impossibility of such a thing. But whether one draws Dostoevsky or Camus’ conclusions, both would suggest that to live authentically, one must seriously grapple with the problem of meaninglessness and the reality of death.

Related Content:

Hear Albert Camus Deliver His Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (1957)

Albert Camus: Soccer Goalie

Existential Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus Explained with 8-Bit Video Games

Nietzsche, Wittgenstein & Sartre Explained with Monty Python-Style Animations by The School of Life

Download 130 Free Philosophy Courses: Tools for Thinking About Life, Death & Everything Between

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Chris Burden Get Shot for the Sake of Art (1971)

Thu, 28 May 2015 - 11:01 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE5u3ThYyl4

Chris Burden passed away on May 10 and here at Open Culture we honored him with a post about his oddly hilarious late night 1970s TV commercials. But before that, Burden entered the public consciousness with one of his ballsiest and insane performance pieces.

“Shoot” (1971) consisted of the 25-year-old Burden being shot in the arm at close range by a friend wielding a rifle. A few inches off, and Burden would have probably died. Instead, as we see in the original piece above, he walks off very quickly, more in shock than pain. His intention was to be grazed by the bullet. It went a little deeper.

As Burden points out in the video, only eight seconds of the brief piece exists. It was filmed, November 19, 1971 in a small gallery in Santa Ana, CA called “F Space,” a few doors down from Burden’s studio, with only a few friends in attendance. He had previously announced his intention to be shot for art to the editors of an avant-garde art journal called Avalanche.

The video and Burden’s commentary on the missing footage is now what constitutes the piece. He urges us to listen for the sound of the empty shell hitting the ground. “In this instant I was a sculpture,” Burden later said. Journalists at the time wondered if Burden would make it to 30. Douglas Davis in Newsweek called him “the Evel Knievel of art.”

Coming at the height of the Vietnam War, the piece is about many things: trust, violence, the limits and risks of art, the role of the audience, the bravery of artists compared to the duty of soldiers. The video is now part of the MoMA and Whitney collections.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=drZIWs3Dl1k

The New York Times commissioned this new short doc about the work and tracked down the marksman, one of Burden’s friends, whose identity had remained a secret until now. Fortunately, Burden is also in the video, and gives the last word:

“I think a lot of those performance works were an attempt to control fate or something,” Burden says. “Or giving you the illusion that you can control fate.”

via Kottke

Related content:

John Baldessari’s “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art”: A 1971 Conceptual Art Piece/DIY Art Courset

Metropolis II: Chris Burden’s Amazing, Frenetic Mini-City

Yoko Ono Lets Audience Cut Up Her Clothes in Conceptual Art Performance (Carnegie Hall, 1965)

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Patti Smith’s Polaroids of Artifacts from Virginia Woolf, Arthur Rimbaud, Roberto Bolaño & More

Thu, 28 May 2015 - 8:30 am

Polaroid photography has seen a new wave of interest over the past decade, in large part from young photographers looking to do something different from what they can with the digital technology on which they grew up. The other modern practitioners include no less a creator than Patti Smith, who have personally witnessed the format’s appearance, fade, and return. A few years ago, her Polaroid photography reached the galleries, becoming shows and installations in Connecticut and Paris.

These “black-and-white silver gelatin prints made from Polaroid negatives, small and square and in soft focus,” writes the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, “are culled from a collection that documents hundreds of encounters with worldly effects transformed into sacred relics. A fork and a spoon that belonged to Arthur Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet who has been one of Smith’s touchstones forever. [Robert] Mapplethorpe’s bedroom slippers and the tambourine he made for Smith. A chair that belonged to the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño. William S. Burroughs’s bandanna. A replica of a life mask cast from the features of William Blake.”

Smith’s “gorgeous, misty photographs are inspired by artifacts from some of Smith’s favorite artists, from museums she has visited around the world, and many are from her personal life,” writes Flavorwire‘s Emily Temple on “Camera Solo,” the Hartford exhibition which introduced these Polaroids to America in 2011. If you didn’t make it to the Wadsworth Atheneum for that show, you can still experience it through Patti Smith: Camera Solo, its companion book. Or have a look at her work on display at the BBC’s site, the gallery that offers the photos of Virginia Woolf’s bed, writing desk, and gravestone just above.

You can see even more at this post from Lens Culture on “Land 250,” the exhibition of Smith’s Polaroid photography at Paris’ Fondation Cartier.”I first took Polaroids in the early 1970s as components for collages,” it quotes Smith as saying. “In 1995, after the death of my husband, I was unable to center on the complex process of drawing, recording or writing a poem. The need for immediacy drew me again to the Polaroid. I chose a vintage Land 100.” In 2002, she settled on the Land 250, the venerable instant camera that gave the Paris show and its associated monograph their titles. It surely counts as one of the most important artifacts of Smith’s artistic life — and one with which she has captured the artifacts of so many other artistic lives important to her.

Related Content:

Watch Patti Smith Read from Virginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Surviving Recording of Woolf’s Voice

Patti Smith Reads Her Final Words to Robert Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith’s List of Favorite Books: From Rimbaud to Susan Sontag

Andy Warhol’s 85 Polaroid Portraits: Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simpson & Many Others (1970-1987)

The Masterful Polaroid Pictures Taken by Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The First Trailer for the Upcoming David Foster Wallace Film Is Now Online

Thu, 28 May 2015 - 12:45 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqUa5sYHC9s

Heads up David Foster Wallace fans. Yesterday, A24 Films released a trailer for The End of the Tour, James Ponsoldt’s upcoming film which stars Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace, and Jesse Eisenberg as Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. The film is based on Lipsky’s 2010 memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourselfwhich documents the five-day road trip Lipsky took with Wallace in 1996, just as Wallace was completing the book tour for his breakout novel Infinite Jest.

You might know Jason Segel from lighter and often hilarious comedy films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up. When The End of the Tour hits theaters on July 31st, you’ll see him inhabiting a very different kind of role.

When you’re done watching the trailer above, you can see the real David Foster Wallace in Big, Uncut Interview recorded in 2003. It makes for an interesting comparison.

via Variety

Related Content:

David Foster Wallace’s 1994 Syllabus: How to Teach Serious Literature with Lightweight Books

30 Free Essays & Stories by David Foster Wallace on the Web

‘This Is Water': Complete Audio of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Graduation Speech (2005)

Franz Kafka’s Kafkaesque Love Letters

Wed, 27 May 2015 - 4:50 pm

It’s easy to think of Franz Kafka as a celibate, even asexual, writer. There is the notable lack of eroticism of any recognizable sort in so much of his work. There is the prominent biographical detail—integral to so many interpretations—of his outsized fear of his father, which serves to infantilize him in a way. There is the image, writes Spiked, of “a lonely seer too saintly for this rank, sunken world.” All of this, James Hawes writes in his Excavating Kafka, “is pure spin.” Against such idolatry, both literary and quasi-religious, Hawes describes “the real Kafka,” including the fact that he was “far from an infrequent visitor to Prague’s brothels.” Though “tortured”—as his friend, biographer, and executor Max Brod put it—by guilt over his sexuality, Kafka nonetheless did not deny himself the frequent company of prostitutes and a collection of outré pornography.

But a part of the myth, Kafka’s extreme diffidence in romantic relationships with two women in his life—onetime fiancé Felice Bauer and Czech journalist Milena Jesenská—is not far off the mark. These relationships were indeed “tortured,” with Kafka “demanding commitment while doing his best to evade it.” His courtship with Felice was conducted almost entirely through letters, and his personal correspondence to both women, published in separate volumes by Schocken Books, “has all the earmarks of his fiction: the same nervous attention to minute particulars; the same paranoid awareness of shifting balances of power; the same atmosphere of emotional suffocation—combined, surprisingly enough, with moments of boyish ardor and delight.” So writes the New York TimesMichiko Kakutani in her review of Letters to Felice in 1988.

A March 25, 1914 letter to Felice exemplifies these qualities, including Kafka’s tendency to “berate” his fiancé and to “backpedal” from the serious possibility of marriage. In answer to her seemingly unasked question of whether Bauer might find in him “the vital support you undoubtedly need,” Kafka writes,” there is nothing straightforward I can say to that”:

The exact information you want about me, dearest F., I cannot give you ; I can give it you, if at all, only when running along behind you in the Tiergarten, you always on the point of vanishing altogether, and I on the point of prostrating myself; only when thus humiliated, more deeply than any dog, am I able to do it. When you post that question now I can only say: I love you, F., to the limits of my strength, in this respect you can trust me entirely. But for the rest, F., I do not know myself completely. Surprises and disappointments about myself follow each other in endless succession.

The frustrated mystery, self-abasement, vague and fearful hints, and reference to dogs are all elements of the so oft-invoked Kafkaesque, though the frank proclamation of love is not. Not long after his 1917 diagnosis of tuberculosis, Kafka would break off the engagement. In 1920, he began his—also heavily scripted—affair with Jesenská, his side of which appears in the collected Letters to Milena. In these missives, the same set of personal and literary impulses alternate: tender expressions of devotion give way to dark and cryptic statements like “written kisses… are drunk on the way by the ghosts” and “I have spent all my life resisting the desire to end it.” One letter seems to have nothing at all to do with Milena and everything to do with Kafka’s project as a writer:

I am constantly trying to communicate something incommunicable, to explain something inexplicable, to tell about something I only feel in my bones and which can only be experienced in those bones. Basically it is nothing other than this fear we have so often talked about, but fear spread to everything, fear of the greatest as of the smallest, fear, paralyzing fear of pronouncing a word, although this fear may not only be fear but also a longing for something greater than all that is fearful.

Passages like these warrant the reduplication in Kakutani’s review title: “Kafka’s Kafkaesque Love Letters.” It is almost as if he used these letters as a testing ground for the tangled internal conflicts, doubts, and obsessions that would make their way into his fiction. Or that, in them, we see these Kafkaesque motifs distilled. It is during his engagement to Felice Bauer that Kafka produced “his most significant work, including The Metamorphoses,” and during his relationship with Milena Jesenská that my personal favorite, The Castle, took shape.

Although it has long been fashionable to resist the “biographical fallacy,” reading an author’s life into his or her work, the existence of hundreds of Kafka’s letters in publication makes this separation difficult. Elias Canetti described Kafka’s letters as a dialogue he was “conducting with himself,” one which “provide[s] an index of the emotional events that would inspire ‘The Trial’” and other works. Kafka’s unexpected bouts of romantic passion notwithstanding, these letters add a great deal of support to that critical assessment.

via Michiko Kakutani/New York Times

Related Content:

Vladimir Nabokov Makes Editorial Tweaks to Franz Kafka’s Novella The Metamorphosis

The Art of Franz Kafka: Drawings from 1907-1917

Four Franz Kafka Animations: Enjoy Creative Animated Shorts from Poland, Japan, Russia & Canada

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Joni Mitchell Talks About Life as a Reluctant Star in a New Animated Interview

Wed, 27 May 2015 - 11:12 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDu36PgFwWs

Yesterday, Blank on Blank dropped its latest animated video — this one featuring Joni Mitchell in conversation with record executive Joe Smith. In the interview originally recorded in 1986, Mitchell declares herself a reluctant star — someone who loved making music, but never wanted fame, and all the lost privacy and normalcy that comes along with it. Smith talked with Joni and countless other musicians while researching and writing his book Off the Record. You can still stream many of those interviews (for free) on iTunes and the Library of Congress website. We have more on that here.

Related Content:

Vintage Video of Joni Mitchell Performing in 1965 — Before She Was Even Named Joni Mitchell

James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, Live and Together (1970)

The Music, Art, and Life of Joni Mitchell Presented in a Superb 2003 Documentary

Hear Sun Ra’s 1971 UC Berkeley Lecture “The Power of Words”

Wed, 27 May 2015 - 8:30 am

Reading David Byrne’s How Music Works the other day, I came across a passage where the Talking Heads frontman recalls his formative early exposure to the distinctive compositions and persona (not that you can really separate the two) of Sun Ra. “When I first moved to New York, I caught Sun Ra and his Arkestra at the 5 Spot, a jazz venue that used to be at St. Mark’s Place and Bowery,” Byrne writes. “He moved from instrument to instrument. At one point there was a bizarre solo on a Moog synthesizer, an instrument not often associated with jazz. Here was electronic noise suddenly reimagined as entertainment!”

Some might have written off Sun Ra and his Arkestra as indulging in formless artistic flailing, but in these shows, “as if to prove to skeptics that he and the band really could play, that they really had chops no matter how far out they sometimes got, they would occasionally do a traditional big band tune. Then it would be back to outer space.” As in Sun Ra’s music, so in Sun Ra’s words: as the jazz composer born Herman Poole Blount got increasingly experimental in his composition, the details of his “cosmic philosophy” underlying it, a kind of science-fiction-inflected Afro-mysticism, multiplied.

While many of Sun Ra’s pronouncements struck (and still strike) listeners as a bit odd, he could nevertheless ground them in a variety of intellectual contexts as a serious thinker. We offered evidence of this last year when we posted the full lecture and reading list from the course he taught at UC Berkeley in 1971, “The Black Man in the Cosmos.” Now you can hear it straight from the man himself in the playlist at the top of the post, which contains his lecture “The Power of Words,” also delivered at Berkeley in 1971, as part of the school’s Pan-African Studies curriculum.

But do heed the warning included with the videos: “Remember, Sun Ra was a ‘UNIVERSAL BEING’ not of this dimension or of a race category. With all his informative authority, in some cases during these lectures, the content will be shocking to hear.” Shocked or not, you may well come away from the experience convinced that not only did Sun Ra the musician understand the power of music, executed creatively, to take us to new aesthetic realms, he also understood the power of words to take us to new intellectual ones. But you’ve got to be willing to take the ride into outer space with him.

Related Content:

Sun Ra’s Full Lecture & Reading List From His 1971 UC Berkeley Course, “The Black Man in the Cosmos”

A Sun Ra Christmas: Hear His 1976 Radio Broadcast of Poetry and Music

The Cry of Jazz: 1958’s Highly Controversial Film on Jazz & Race in America (With Music by Sun Ra)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Parvati Saves the World: Watch a Remix of Bollywood Films That Combats Rape in India

Wed, 27 May 2015 - 1:00 am

Sexual violence in India has been in the spotlight ever since a 23-year-old medical student was gang raped and murdered on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. The crime was so flagrant and so brutal that the country recoiled in shock. Students and activists descended into the streets of Delhi to protest.

Filmmaker Ram Devineni realized just how entrenched the problem is in Indian culture when he spoke with a cop during one of those protests. As he told the BBC,”I was talking to a police officer when he said something that I found very surprising. He said ‘no good girl walks alone at night.’

The Indian government rushed legislation that would increase the prison term for rape along with criminalizing other crimes against women like stalking. Yet, a string of other high-profile rapes, including a few against foreign tourists, show that this is a continuing problem, one that wasn’t going to be solved with a few laws.

“I realized that rape and sexual violence in India was a cultural issue,” said Devineni. “And that it was backed by patriarchy, misogyny and people’s perceptions.”

So Devineni decided to try and change India’s culture with one of the most powerful weapons out there: art.

Inspired by Hindu mythology, Devineni and a couple collaborators created a graphic novel about Priya, a rape survivor who appeals for help to Parvati, the Goddess of power and beauty. By the end of the comic, Priya confronts her attackers while riding a tiger.

As a continuation of the project, Devineni created Parvati Saves the World, a similar story pieced together from some amazingly kitschy Bollywood epics from the 1970s. He described the project as being “like DJ Spooky’s remix of Birth of a Nation but this focuses on sexual violence.”

In the film, Priya once again appeals to Parvati after getting attacked, this time by the friend of a prideful king. When Parvati confronts the king, he tries to assault her. This is a bad move. Her husband is the God Shiva, AKA “the Destroyer,” AKA someone you really don’t want to tick off. As punishment, he brings fire and death on heaven and earth. Realizing that violence isn’t the answer, Parvati goes to Earth to become “a beacon of hope for oppressed women everywhere.”

You can watch Parvati Saves the World in three parts above. You can learn more about Devineni’s mission at The Creator’s Project.

Related Content:

Bertrand Russell’s Improbable Appearance in a Bollywood Film (1967)

Ravi Shankar Gives George Harrison a Sitar Lesson … and Other Vintage Footage

George Harrison’s Mystical, Fisheye Self-Portraits Taken in India (1966)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Flannery O’Connor to Grace New U.S. Postage Stamp

Tue, 26 May 2015 - 8:19 pm

Since 1979, the US Postal Service has made a practice of issuing postage stamps honoring “skillful wordsmiths” who have “spun our favorite tales — and American history along with them.” Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Wright, Julia De Burgos, Mark Twain, O. Henry, and Ralph Ellison have all been fêted since 2009. And soon we can add the Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor to the list. Her stamp will make its debut on June 5th. Until then, we’d encourage you to stream rare recordings of O’Connor reading her famous story, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’, and her witty essay, “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction.” These are the only known recordings of O’Connor reading her work, and they provide a wonderful introduction to O’Connor’s literary talents.

via LA Times

Related Content:

Flannery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)

Flannery O’Connor to Lit Professor: “My Tone Is Not Meant to Be Obnoxious. I’m in a State of Shock”

Flannery O’Connor’s Satirical Cartoons: 1942-1945

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Rare Video: Georges Bataille Talks About Literature & Evil in His Only TV Interview (1958)

Tue, 26 May 2015 - 11:00 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XCnGuK8CVc

“Where other transgressive figures of the past have mostly been tamed,” wrote Josh Jones in a post here last year, “[Georges] Bataille, I submit, is still quite dangerous.” You can get a sense of that in the documentary featured there, À perte de vue, which introduces the transgressive French intellectual’s life and thought, which from the 1920s to the 1960s produced books like The Solar AnusThe Hatred of Poetry, and The Tears of Eros, all part of a body of work that captivated the likes of Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.

At the top of this post, you can enjoy another, straighter shot of Bataille through his 1958 appearance opposite interviewer Pierre Dumayet — the only television interview he ever did. The occasion: the publication of his book Literature and Evil, a title that, Bataille says, refers to “two opposite kinds of evil: the first one is related to the necessity of human activity going well and having the desired results, and the other consists of deliberately violating some fundamental taboos — like, for example, the taboo against murder, or against some sexual possibilities.”

Bataille’s fans expect from him a certain amount of taboo violation, though executed in a specific literary form — not just prose, but the distinctive sort of prose, whether spoken or written, brought to perfection by midcentury French intellectuals. In this ten-minute clip, Bataille elaborates on his conviction that we can’t separate literature from evil: if the former stays away from the latter, “it rapidly becomes boring.” He also gets into a discussion of Baudelaire, Kafka (“both of them knew they were on the side of evil”), Shakespeare, the importance of eroticism and childishness in literature, and the inherently anti-work nature of writing. However relevant you find Bataille’s ideas today, you have to give the man this: he never gets boring.

Related Content:

Georges Bataille: An Introduction to The Radical Philosopher’s Life & Thought Through Film and eTexts

Michel Foucault – Beyond Good and Evil: 1993 Documentary Explores the Theorist’s Controversial Life and Philosophy

Extensive Archive of Avant-Garde & Modernist Magazines (1890-1939) Now Available Online

Jacques Lacan’s Confrontation with a Young Rebel: Classic Moment, 1972

Free Online Philosophy Courses

Download 55 Free Online Literature Courses: From Dante and Milton to Kerouac and Tolkien

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Magical Animated Music Video for the Japanese Pop Song, “On Your Mark”

Tue, 26 May 2015 - 8:30 am


On this site, we’ve featured music videos by such acclaimed filmmakers as David Lynch, David Fincher, Jim Jarmusch and even Andy Warhol. Now add to this list the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Back in 1994, Miyazaki was stuck on the script for his next feature Princess Mononoke. So he decided to do a video for the song “On Your Mark” by Japanese pop duo Chage & Aska. The resulting piece is a gorgeous, dense, enigmatic work that not only recalls Miyazaki’s earliest works like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, but also the edgier visions of the future seen in films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell. In fact, the short is such a magical, memorable piece of filmmaking that it overwhelms the song.

The video unfolds in a non-linear fashion, jumping forward and back, forking into multiple versions of the same scene. Miyazaki isn’t concerned about you not getting the story. As he said in a 1995 interview, you can “interpret [the film] anyway you want.”

The piece opens with a giant structure that looms over an otherwise beautiful, bucolic landscape. Miyazaki, who is never especially forthcoming when talking about his work, describes the world of “On Your Mark” like this: “There is so much radiation on the Earth’s surface, humans can no longer live there. But, there is flora, just like there is one around Chernobyl. It became a sanctuary for nature, with the humans living in the underground city.”

The video then shifts abruptly to a scene straight out of Akira. Down in that underground city, the police attack the highrise headquarters of a spooky religious cult and rescue a young girl with broad, feathered wings. An angel? Who knows. A lot of viewers have noted the cult echoes that of Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult that released Sarin gas into the subways of Tokyo in March 1995. Of course, the video was made before the attack. Mamoru Oshii’s 1993 animated feature Patlabor 2 also had eerie similarities to Aum, so much so that it was featured in the 1995 Yamagata Documentary Film Festival. Both filmmakers, it seems, tapped into that ugly undercurrent in the zeitgeist of Japanese culture at that time.

As Miyazaki’s short progresses, it shows two cops who decide to do the right thing and break the girl out of the laboratory where she is being held. The first time they try, the cops (and presumably the angel) plunge to their deaths. The second time they try – and it’s not really clear how they get this do-over – they manage to escape. The cops drive to the irradiated surface of the earth and watch in awe as the angel flies way.

In Miyazaki’s mind, the winged girl represents hope:

If you don’t completely give up on the situation and you keep your hope, not letting anyone touch it, and then you have to let it go, you let it go where no one can touch it. It’s just that. Maybe there was a bit of exchange in the moment of letting her
go. That’s fine, that’s enough. …Probably they’ll go back to being the policemen. I don’t know if they could go back, though. [laughs]

Related Content: 

How to Make Instant Ramen Compliments of Japanese Animation Director Hayao Miyazaki

French Student Sets Internet on Fire with Animation Inspired by Moebius, Syd Mead & Hayao Miyazaki

Japanese Cartoons from the 1920s and 30s Reveal the Stylistic Roots of Anime

Watch Sherlock Hound: Hayao Miyazaki’s Animated, Steampunk Take on Sherlock Holmes

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Albert Einstein Tells His Son The Key to Learning & Happiness is Losing Yourself in Creativity (or “Finding Flow”)

Tue, 26 May 2015 - 4:55 am

As one particularly astute observer of human emotions might put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that we can’t all be Albert Einstein. In fact, none of us can. That unique experience was denied even Einstein’s son Hans Albert, though he did go on to his own distinguished career as an engineer and professor of hydraulics. Einstein father and son had a strained relationship, yet the great physicist had a hand in his son’s success, inspiring him to pursue his scientific passion. But Einstein’s paternal encouragement extended further, beyond scientific pursuits and to a general theory of learning and enjoyment that suggests we can be happiest and most productive when being most ourselves.

While living in Berlin in 1915, Einstein wrote a poignant letter to his son, just two days after finishing his theory of general relativity. His tone swings from buoyant to pained—lamenting his family’s “awkward” separation and proposing to spend more time with Albert, as he calls him. His son can “learn many good and beautiful things from me,” writes Einstein, “These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life.”

Einstein also writes, “I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits.” An amateur musician himself, Einstein understood the value of developing an informal avocation. “Mainly play the things on the piano which please you,” he tells his son, “even if the teacher does not assign those.” Doing what you love, the way you like to do it, he goes on, “is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs

This great theme of total immersion in a creative endeavor surfaced several decades later in another scientist’s work, that of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, described by Martin Seligman—former President of the American Psychological Association—as “the world’s leading researcher” in the field of positive psychology. Presented in his popular TED talk above, and at more length in his books on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi’s insights into human flourishing mirror Einstein’s: he calls such creative immersion “flow,” or the state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.”

The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

Contrary to our usual conceptions of using one’s “skills to the utmost,” Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the reward for entering such a state is not the material benefits it generates, but the positive emotions. These, as Einstein theorized, not only motivate us to become better, but they also provide a source of meaning no amount of financial gain above a minimum level can offer. “The lack of basic material resources contributes to unhappiness,” Csikszentmihalyi’s data demonstrates, “but the increase in material resources does not increase happiness.” While none of us can be Einstein, Csikszentmihalyi tells us we can all benefit from Einstein’s advice, by doing whatever we do to the best of our abilities and without any motive other than sheer pleasure.

via Farnam Street/Brain Pickings

Related Content:

The Musical Mind of Albert Einstein: Great Physicist, Amateur Violinist and Devotee of Mozart

Albert Einstein on Individual Liberty, Without Which There Would Be ‘No Shakespeare, No Goethe, No Newton’

Listen as Albert Einstein Calls for Peace and Social Justice in 1945

Albert Einstein Reads ‘The Common Language of Science’ (1941)

Free Online Psychology Courses

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Italian Astronaut Reads The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the International Space Station

Tue, 26 May 2015 - 1:00 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpQfWLkKbhw

On Friday, to help celebrate Dante’s 750th birthday, Colin Marshall presented for you Samantha Cristoforetti, Italy’s first female astronaut, reading lines from The Divine Comedy aboard the International Space Station. Little did we know that, just a few days later, we could serve up a new video of Cristoforetti reading lines (this time in English) from a much more modern text — Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979). The video was filmed as part of Towel Day, a celebration held every May 25th, where fans across the universe carry a towel in Adams’ honour. Above you can see Cristoforetti, floating upside down, doing just that, and reading the section of the book that touches on towels, the “most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.”

via

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Related Content:

Astronaut Reads The Divine Comedy on the International Space Station on Dante’s 750th Birthday

William Shatner Narrates Space Shuttle Documentary

Wonderfully Kitschy Propaganda Posters Champion the Chinese Space Program (1962-2003)

Robert De Niro Tells Graduating NYU Arts Grads, “You Made It… And You’re F*cked”

Mon, 25 May 2015 - 2:22 pm

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN4v_JK_qbY

I’ve attended my share of graduations and hence my share of graduation speeches—from politicians more interested in stumping than inspiring their audience; to local TV personalities assuring graduates they too could become local TV personalities; to the real Patch Adams, who wasn’t nearly as funny as Robin Williams in his less-than-funny turn as Patch Adams. My experience has taught me that graduation speeches generally suck.

But not for the most recent batch of graduates of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, who got both bracing honesty and career validation from a speaker most likely to give it to you straight. With his trademark foul-mouth gruffness, De Niro told the graduating class what every aspiring artist needs to know: “You made it,” he said, “and you’re f*cked.” The world, De Niro told his audience, is not opening its arms to embrace art school grads. For all our pop cultural celebration of creativity, the so-called “creative class”—as we’re told again and again—is mostly in decline.

Of course it’s never been an easy road for artists. De Niro knows this full well not only through his own early experiences before superstardom but from his upbringing: both his mother and father were bohemian painters with turbulent, fascinating lives. And so he also knows of what he speaks when he tells the NYU grads that they “didn’t have a choice.” Where pragmatic accounting grads may be “passionate about accounting,” De Niro says, “it’s more likely that they used reason and logic and common sense to reach for a career that could give them the expectation of success and stability.”

Not the arts grads, the famous actor says: “You discovered a talent, developed an ambition and recognized your passion.” Their path, he suggests, is one of self-actualization:

When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You aren’t just following dreams, you’re reaching for your destiny. You’re a dancer, a singer, a choreographer, a musician, a filmmaker, a writer, a photographer, a director, a producer, an actor, an artist. Yeah, you’re f***ed. The good news is that that’s not a bad place to start.

Maybe not. And maybe, for those driven to sing, dance, paint, write, etc., it’s the only place to start. Granted, NYU students are already a pretty select and privileged bunch, who certainly have a leg up compared to a great many other struggling artists. Nevertheless, given current economic realities and the U.S.’s depressing aversion to arts education and funding, these grads have a particularly difficult road ahead, De Niro says. And who better to deliver that hard truth with such conviction and good humor?

h/t @sheerly

Related Content:

David Byrne’s Graduation Speech Offers Troubling and Encouraging Advice for Students in the Arts

Jim Carrey Commencement Speech: It’s Better to Fail at What You Love Than Fail at What You Don’t

‘This Is Water': Complete Audio of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Graduation Speech (2005)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch a New, “Original” Episode of Seinfeld Performed Live on Stage

Mon, 25 May 2015 - 11:33 am

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=_01VarPZMfU

The last episode of Seinfeld aired in 1998. So maybe you’re ready for a brand new episode of the show featuring “uncanny portrayals of the central characters, 90s commercial parodies, and original Seinfeld standup”?

You won’t get it from Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.

You will get it from the comedy team Bellevue, which has created a “sketch show about nothing.”

Bellevue wrote and performed their own 30-minute episode of Seinfeld called “The Leaning Susan.” Presented at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC, the “show” features Cathryn Mudon as Elaine, Noah Forman as Jerry, Dru Johnston as George, Michael Antonucci as Kramer, and Joanna Bradley as Susan. (Remember Susan?) And, as one Youtuber put it, “if you squint…, you could swear you’re watching an episode of Seinfeld. The actors here are phenomenal.”

Enjoy…

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Related Content:

Watch Classic Seinfeld Scenes Dubbed in …. Yiddish

What’s the Deal with Pop Tarts? Jerry Seinfeld Explains How to Write a Joke

Seinfeld & Nothingness: A Supercut of the Show’s Emptiest Moments

Mœbius Illustrates Paulo Coelho’s Inspirational Novel The Alchemist (1998)

Mon, 25 May 2015 - 4:55 am

When Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist came out in English, the level of popularity it eventually attained seriously impressed me. Then I went to Latin America, where the Spanish version seemed to have won a vaster readership still. I haven’t yet gone to Brazil to gauge the book’s popularity on the streets of Coelho’s homeland since its first publication to relatively little interest, but it surely hasn’t gone unknown there. As many fans as The Alchemist has, though, the inspiration-and-destiny-inflected appeal of the text entirely escapes some readers, in whichever language they read it. Perhaps they’d prefer an edition illustrated by Mœbius?

Born Jean Giraud, Mœbius’ career guarantees him a permanent place as one of the most influential comic artists ever to live. Even apart from the achievements in the medium in which he became famous — his founding work on Heavy Metal, his creation of nontraditional western outlaw Blueberry — he did a good deal of work that brought his singularly imaginative aesthetic into other creative realms, such as concept art from Alejandro Jodorowky’s Dune and illustrations for Dante’s Paradiso. In some sense, it might have seemed natural for him to lend his hand to Coelho’s fantasy tale of an Andalusian shepherd boy on a treasure-hunting journey to Egypt.

The Illustrated Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream came out in 1998, and it included 35 Mœbius illustrations, four of which you see here. The artist’s signature style, which he usually used in the service of dark, complex fusions of past and present, might at first sound ill-suited for Coelho’s simple fable, but Mœbius adapts well to the material. Even if you put down the book unconvinced by Coelho’s arguments about following your dream, you might consider looking to Mœbius instead with our post on his tips for aspiring artists. Either way, The Illustrated Alchemist itself showcases a collaboration between two well-known creators who most definitely paid their dues.

Related content:

How Paulo Coelho Started Pirating His Own Books (And Where You Can Find Them)

Paulo Coelho on the Fear of Failure

The Inscrutable Imagination of the Late Comic Artist Mœbius

Mœbius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Mœbius Illustrates Dante’s Paradiso

Moebius Gives 18 Wisdom-Filled Tips to Aspiring Artists (1996)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.