Open Culture Blog

Syndicate content
The best free cultural & educational media on the web
Updated: 40 min 36 sec ago

Fritz Lang Tells the Riveting Story of the Day He Met Joseph Goebbels and Then High-Tailed It Out of Germany

2 hours 44 min ago


The more World War II history you read, the more you understand not just the evil of the Nazis, but their incompetence. Sometimes you hear variations on the observation that “in Nazi Germany, at least the trains ran on time,” but even that has gone up for debate. It seems more and more that the Holocaust-perpetrating political party got by primarily on their way with propaganda — and in that, they did have a truly formidable apparatus.

Much of the dubious credit there goes to Hitler’s close associate Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda and an anti-semite even by Nazi standards. “Power based on guns may be a good thing,” he said in a 1934 Nuremberg Party Convention speech. “It is, however, better and more gratifying to win the heart of a people and keep it.” He understood the power of film in pursuit of this end, providing not only essential assistance for productions like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, but also attempting to recruit no less a leading light of German cinema than Fritz Lang, director of three Doctor Mabuse pictures, the proto-noir M, and the expressionist epic Metropolis.

Goebbels loved Metropolis, but had rather less appreciation for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, going so far as to ban it for its supposed potential to instill in its viewers a distrust of their leaders. And so, on one fateful day in 1933 when Goebbels called Lang to his office, the filmmaker wondered if he might find a way to get the ban lifted. But Goebbels preferred to talk, at great length, about another proposal: Lang’s employment in artistic service of the Nazi cause.


“The Fuhrer and I have seen your films,” Lang quotes Goebbels as saying, “and the Fuhrer made clear that ‘this is the man who will give us the national socialist film.'” Feeling no choice but to thank Goebbels for the honor and ostensibly accept the offered (or perhaps insisted-upon) position as the head of state film production, Lang went home and immediately told his servant to prepare luggage “for a one- or two-week trip to Paris,” leaving Germany that same evening, never to return until the late 1950s. You can hear Lang tell this story in German in the clip at the top of the post, and again in English, and in more detail, in the 1974 interview with William Friedkin above.

But did it it really happen as he says? In his Film Quarterly article “Fritz Lang and Goebbels: Myth and Facts,” Gösta Werner casts doubt, noting that “even though it is highly probable that Goebbels did offer Lang the post as head of the entire German film production, there is not a word about it in Goebbels’s usually meticulous diary for the year 1933. Lang is not mentioned there at all.” For Lang’s part, his passport’s “foreign currency stamps from Berlin testify, as do the various entry and exit stamps, that between the journeys abroad in the summer of 1933 Lang returned to Berlin, which city he left finally only on 31 July 1933 — four months after his legendary meeting with Goebbels and supposed dramatic escape.”

But then, you expect a certain amount of drama from a storyteller of Lang’s caliber, onscreen as well as off. And despite holding the views of, in Werner’s words, a “fierce nationalist,” Lang clearly made the right choice in reality by not getting caught up in the offices of the Third Reich, whenever and however he made that choice. To this day, cinephiles respect and admire the power of Lang’s filmmaking — a power that we can only feel relieved didn’t fall into the wrong hands.

via Biblioklept/Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Watch Lambeth Walk—Nazi Style: The Early Propaganda Mash Up That Enraged Joseph Goebbels

Metropolis: Watch a Restored Version of Fritz Lang’s Masterpiece (1927)

Fritz Lang’s M: The Restored Version of the Classic 1931 Film

Fritz Lang’s “Licentious, Profane, Obscure” Noir Film, Scarlet Street (1945)

Titanic: The Nazis Create a Mega-Budget Propaganda Film About the Ill-Fated Ship … and Then Banned It (1943)

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.

David Lynch Creates a Very Surreal Plug for Transcendental Meditation

5 hours 59 min ago

While fans wait with increasing dour moods on the future of the Twin Peaks reboot, David Lynch is busy doing…something. When the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards honored the director for his work as founder and chairman of the David Lynch Foundation, it turned out Lynch couldn’t make the evening.

Instead of the usual apology email, the man who once turned some test footage into a weird short film made a quick video to screen at the award show. It’s…Lynchian.

The video features a Barbie doll—-renamed Trixie for this short—-lying on a purple blanket and taking a call from Lynch, who is out shopping for Trixie’s makeup. Hearing Lynch’s version of a woman’s voice is strange enough, but he goes on to chastise the young girl when she suggests sunbathing nude is a form of meditation. Then follows Lynch’s pitch for Transcendental Meditation, which he’s been using as a creative boon since before Eraserhead. See our previous post: David Lynch Explains How Meditation Enhances Our Creativity. And also: David Lynch Talks Meditation with Paul McCartney.

The video ends with some mechanical birds singing. Possibly they’re from a place where there’s always music in the air, or, most probably, from Digi Birds.

Incidentally, this isn’t Lynch’s first Barbie video. In 2011 he promoted his new coffee line with a similar video which you can check out here.

Until the Showtime/Twin Peaks negotiations are finally solved, any new Lynch is worth checking out.

Related Content:

David Lynch’s Surreal Commercials

David Lynch Teaches You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Weird, Surrealist Video

David Lynch Takes Aspiring Filmmakers Inside the Art & Craft of Making Indie Films

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 and/or watch his films here.

Kickstart the Theatrical Release of the First Comprehensive Black Panther Party Documentary

9 hours 31 min ago

I grew up with a simplistic, moralizing official history of the Civil Rights movement, one full of platitudes and false dichotomies: a sanitized version of Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as the model of a “good” Civil Rights leader; Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other radicals were vilified as “bad” Civil Rights leaders—or Anti-American terrorists. We read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” but nothing from Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, or Stokely Carmichael. This is how most histories go, official narratives being what they are. There are heroes and villains, and little in-between. However, there is much more ambiguity surrounding events than most of us choose to accept. I came to see things much differently regarding the Black Panther Party, though not in a way that makes me feel like trading insults with strangers on the internet. I reserve the right to make up my own mind. You must also make up yours.

But one must be informed. Which is why projects like The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution—whose Kickstarter campaign video you can see above—are so important. It weighs heavily to be writing this now, as tragedies all too familiar to the figures in the film still play out tonight and nearly every night across the U.S. We owe it to ourselves to know the histories of the current struggle, both official and unofficial. I overheard someone say recently that getting a genuine education requires taking “two sets of notes.” For those raised with a one-dimensional textbook history of the Civil Rights movement, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is like another set of notes, along with other films like Goran Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975, Lee Lew-Lee’s All Power to the People! The Black Panther Party and Beyond, and Mario and Melvin Van Peebles’ fictionalized history Panther.

These films provide interesting and excellent introductions to the subject, but Stanley Nelson’s documentary offers, as he puts it, “the first comprehensive look at the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party.” Nelson is an award-winning veteran documentarian whose films include Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple, and The Murder of Emmett Till. He began The Black Panthers seven years ago, and its current release, audiences have told him, “could not have come at a better time.” The film has already premiered for “a select audience” at Sundance, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and L.A.’s Pan African Film Festival. With eight days to go, the Kickstarter to fund the doc’s multi-city theatrical release has almost reached its goal of $50,000. See their page to help them get all the way there.

Then consider reading, and re-reading, “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Related Content:

Wattstax Documents the “Black Woodstock” Concert Held 7 Years After the Watts Riots (1973)

Read Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story: The Influential 1957 Civil Rights Comic Book

Watch The March, the Masterful, Digitally Restored Documentary on The Great March on Washington

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

Visit The Online Library of Babel: New Web Site Turns Borges’ “Library of Babel” Into a Virtual Reality

Mon, 27 Apr 2015 - 1:55 pm

Jorge Luis Borges specialized in envisioning the unenvisionable: a map the same size as the land it depicts, an event whose possible outcomes all occur simultaneously, a single point in space containing all other points in space, a vast library containing all possible books. That last, the setting, subject, and title of his short story “The Library of Babel,” has given readers much to think about since its first publication in 1941, and in recent decades has done more than its part to bolster Borges’ posthumous reputation as a seer of our unprecedentedly rich but often difficult-to-navigate new media landscape.

Borges imagined the Library of Babel comprising a huge number of connected hexagonal rooms lined by bookshelves. “Each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.” Each book contains a different combination of letters, and in total they contain all possible combinations of letters, with the result that the Library as a whole contains

Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.

This vision has inspired a fair few thinkers, including most recently Brooklyn author and programmer Jonathan Basile. “I was lying in bed one night and the idea of an online Library of Babel popped into my head,” he says in an interview with Flavorwire.  “My first thought was — it must exist already. It seems like such a natural extension of the capabilities of a computer that I was sure someone would have made it. The next day I looked for it, a bit excitedly, and was disappointed. From then on, it’s kind of been a reluctant destiny for me.”

As the fruit of that destiny, we have, a new web site that will theoretically come to contain exactly what Borges’ Library of Babel contains: the text of every possible 410-page book. You can start looking through them by searching for text, viewing a random book, or browsing by hexagonal chamber. You’ll notice that the vast, vast majority of Basile’s Library of Babel offers nothing but nonsense — the very same thing, in other words, that Borges’ does, which in his telling causes great frustration among the luckless librarians charged with maintaining the place.

But a visit to the online Library of Babel should bring you to the same question the original story does: to what extent does meaning reside in the physical world, and to what extent does it reside in our minds? And what would Borges himself make of all this? “He was never one to take the border between reality and fiction too seriously,” says Basile. “Reading his story is already, in its own way, entering the world of the library. In a sense it’s a horror story, but it feels to me more like a black comedy. Perhaps he would just laugh.”

Enter the online Library of Babel here.

via Flavorwire

Related Content:

Jorge Luis Borges Selects 74 Books for Your Personal Library

Borges: Profile of a Writer” Presents the Life and Writings of Argentina’s Favorite Son, Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

Jorge Luis Borges’ Favorite Short Stories (Read 7 Free Online)

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.

Watch a Japanese Craftsman Lovingly Bring a Tattered Old Book Back to Near Mint Condition

Mon, 27 Apr 2015 - 10:27 am


Remember disfiguring binders with band logos and lyrics, doodling in the margins of textbooks, idly marking the fore edges with ball point designs?

At most, such pursuits helped pass a few minutes in study hall.

How long would it take to undo all this handiwork?

Clearly much, much longer than it took to create. In the above episode of the Japanese documentary series, The Fascinating Repairmen, Tokyo-based book conservator Nobuo Okano brings over 30 years of experience to bear on a tattered, middle school English-to-Japanese dictionary. This is not the sort of job that can be rushed.

Its original owner must be driven by sentiment in hiring a master craftsman to restore the book as a present for his college-bound daughter. Surely it would be just as easy, possibly even more convenient, for the young woman in question to look up vocabulary online. If keeping things old school is the goal, I guarantee a recently published paperback would prove far cheaper than conservator Okano’s laborious fix.

He spends four hours just turning and pressing its battered pages—all 1000 of them—with tweezers and a tiny pink iron.

He also scrapes the spine free of crumbling glue, resets tattered maps, preserves the old cover’s title as a decorative element for the new one, and dispatches the initials of a teenage crush with one chop of his blade. (So much for sentiment…)

One need not speak Japanese to admire the painstaking craftsmanship that will keep this beat-up old book out of the landfill.

Other episodes follow other craftspeople as they lavish attention on a suitcase, grater, and a stuffed toy penguin. Watch a complete playlist here.

via Colossal

Related Content:

Artist Takes Old Books and Gives Them New Life as Intricate Sculptures

The Chemistry Behind the Smell of Old Books: Explained with a Free Infographic

The Craft and Philosophy of Building Wooden Boats by Hand

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

Animated Philosophers Presents a Rocking Introduction to Socrates, the Father of Greek Philosophy

Mon, 27 Apr 2015 - 8:30 am


Would there be such a thing as philosophy had there been no such person—or literary character, at least—as Socrates? Surely people the world over have always asked questions about the nature of reality, and come up with all sorts of speculative answers. But the particular form of inquiry known as the Socratic method—a blanket presumption of ignorance—would not have become the dominant force in Western intellectual history without its namesake. And that is, of course, not all. In the work of Socrates’ highly imaginative student, interpreter, and biographer Plato, we find, as Alfred North Whitehead suggested, a “wealth of general ideas” that have made for “an inexhaustible mine of suggestion” for philosophers since antiquity.

As bluesman Robert Johnson did for rock and roll, Socrates more or less single-handedly invented the formulas of Western thought. He might be called the first philosophical rock star—and judging by the Guns N’ Roses soundtrack to the animated video above, the producers of the Greek Public Television series Animated Philosophers seem to feel the same. Dubbed into English, and with character animation that owes more than a little to South Park, this episode makes the case for Socrates’ importance to philosophy as tantamount to Christ’s in Christianity. Overstated? Perhaps, but the argument is by no means a thin one.

To make the point, writer, editor, and host George Chatzivasileiou interviews Greek philosophers like Vasilis Karamanis and Vasilis Kalfas, who basically agree with Roman orator Cicero’s characterization of Socrates bringing “philosophy down from the heavens to the earth”… as well as, says Kalfas, “into the city” as a “teacher of the citizen” in a modern democratic city-state. A key part of Socrates’ appeal is that he “did not take anything for granted, no matter how obvious it may have seemed.” Though this attitude is as much a performance as it is a genuine admission of ignorance, the Socratic approach nonetheless set the standards of intellectual integrity in the West.


The comparison with Christ is relevant in more ways than one. The fathers of the Christian church relied as much on Plato and his student Aristotle—sometimes it seems even more so—as they did on the Bible. Perhaps chief among early theologians, Bishop Augustine of Hippo receives the animated rock star treatment above in another episode of Animated Philosophers, this one subtitled in English. The many other episodes in the series—on Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, Empedocles, Parmenides, Plotinus, Epicurus, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras—are all available on Youtube, but only in the original Greek with no titles or dubbing. It’s no great surprise the series focuses almost exclusively on Greek philosophers. And yet, national pride notwithstanding, the ancient civilization does have legitimate claim to the origins of the discipline, especially in that most influential figure of them all, Socrates.

Related Content:

140 Free Online Philosophy Courses

A History of Ideas: Animated Videos Explain Theories of Simone de Beauvoir, Edmund Burke & Other Philosophers

The History of Philosophy … Without Any Gaps

Allan Bloom’s Lectures on Socrates (Boston College, 1983) 

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

Hear 46 Versions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3 Minutes: A Classic Mashup

Mon, 27 Apr 2015 - 1:00 am


In 2013, New York’s most popular classical music station WQXR celebrated the centennial of Igor Stravinksy’s The Rite of Spring, with a series of events that culminated in Rite of Spring Fever, 24 hours of different performances of the work and a live solo interpretation by Bang on a Can pianist Vicky Chow.

As a promotional posting, WQXR also created this mashup of 46 recordings in 3 minutes, showing the varying approaches to Stravinsky’s score, and the wildly different dynamics of interpretation.

Sixteen years after the work’s tumultuous live premiere in 1913, both Stravinsky and conductor Pierre Monteux competed to record the first version in 1929 in Paris. That was followed in 1930 by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose re-recorded version would become the most famous when it appeared in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. That film did more to bring Stravinsky to wide swathes of society, from kids to grandparents, than any other performance. Plus it had frickin’ dinosaurs:


Phil Kline, the composer and curator of WQXR’s event, notes that it was high-fidelity LPs, not 78s, that really brought the dynamics of Rites into its own. “Few other classics so desperately need to be heard with a wide dynamic range, especially on that big bottom end,” he writes.

This mashup is pretty schizoid, but shows the personalities and influences of each conductor: Leonard Bernstein creates a colorful and sparkling Rite; Pierre Boulez is like a machine; Karajan is thunderous. The various piano interpretations lose none of their bite after being resigned to the keyboard. And Stravinsky’s 1960 recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (aka the New York Philharmonic, renamed for contractual reasons) is also here, sounding just that little bit sweeter than the rest.

Via Kottke

Related Content

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Visualized in a Computer Animation for Its 100th Anniversary

Vi Hart Uses Her Video Magic to Demystify Stravinsky and Schoenberg’s 12-Tone Compositions

The Avant-Garde Project: An Archive of Music by 200 Cutting-Edge Composers, Including Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage & More

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 and/or watch his films here.

A Harrowing Test Drive of Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion Car: Art That’s Scary to Ride

Sat, 25 Apr 2015 - 1:04 am


In the 1930s, the systems theorist, designer and inventor Buckminster Fuller created the Dymaxion car — an aerodynamic concept car that managed to get 30 miles per gallon while topping out at 90 miles per hour, and transporting 11 passengers. Like Fuller’s Dymaxion house, the three-wheel Dymaxion car could be disassembled and re-assembled with ease. You can see vintage videos of both here.

The concept car didn’t get much beyond the concept stage. Only three original versions were built, one of which rolled over at the 1933 World’s Fair, leaving the driver dead, three passengers injured, and investors reluctant to bring the car to market. In 2010, the British architect Sir Norman Foster built a replica of the Dymaxion. You can see Dan Neil, of The Wall Street Journal, take the car on a harrowing test drive above. And if you’re intrigued enough to learn more, you can hunt down the 2012 documentary called The Last Dymaxion (watch a trailer of the film here).

via Gizmodo/@KirstinButler

Related Content:

Everything I Know: 42 Hours of Buckminster Fuller’s Visionary Lectures Free Online (1975)

Better Living Through Buckminster Fuller’s Utopian Designs: Revisit the Dymaxion Car, House, and Map

Watch an Animated Buckminster Fuller Tell Studs Terkel All About “the Geodesic Life”

Martin Scorsese Introduces Filmmaker Hong Sangsoo, “The Woody Allen of Korea”

Fri, 24 Apr 2015 - 12:55 pm


In the clip above, Martin Scorsese talks about a group of films that, in his words, have “enriched me, educated me, disturbed me, moved me in a way that have awakened me to new possibilities in cinema.” Those words will remind many of us of our experiences with Scorsese’s own pictures, which raises a big question: what movement could possibly have enough power to enrich, educate, disturb, move, and cinematically awaken a man who has done so much enriching, educating, disturbing, moving, and cinematic awakening himself?


Scorsese speaks of the cinema of South Korea, especially the wave that, over the past twenty years, has brought the global film scene such auteurs as Park Chan-wook (Joint Security AreaOldboyStoker), Lee Chang-dong (OasisSecret SunshinePoetry), and Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, 3-Iron, Pietà). But he adds that, “for me, there’s something especially interesting about the films of Hong Sangsoo. It’s got to do with his masterful sense of storytelling. In each of his films that I’ve managed to see, everything kind of starts unassumingly” — but then things “unpeel like an orange.”


Only in one respect can I compare myself to Martin Scorsese: a love of Hong Sangsoo movies. I even wrote an essay for The Quarterly Conversation a few years back trying to explain the artistry of this most prolific Korean director, who has put out sixteen alcohol-soaked, cigarette-clouded, social and sexual awkwardness-saturated features to date. Some call Hong “the Korean Woody Allen,” which gets at the fact that his many comedies of manners pass through more moods than comedy and deal with more than manners, but that doesn’t capture his penchant for rich formal and structural experimentation — stories told multiple times, through different perspectives, using clashing sets of facts, and so on — which delights cinephiles everywhere.


This has made Hong a big name on the festival circuit — he usually has a project or two making the rounds at any given time — on which his latest movie Hill of Freedom received much critical acclaim. Telling of a Japanese man’s trip to Seoul to track down his Korean ex-girlfriend through a disordered pile of letters he sent her all at once, the mostly English-language movie shows the internationalization of not just Hong’s appeal, but of his work itself. It allows few of its characters to speak their native language, resulting in the kind of meaningful inarticulacy that he’d previously had to get his all-Korean casts drunk to achieve.


You can take the plunge into Hong’s cut-up and meticulously rearranged cinematic world of inept, jealously idealistic men, women that I’ve elsewhere described as “eerily unrepentant studies in blank calculation and frigid pliability,” and the catastrophes into which they lead themselves by starting with his debut The Day the Pig Fell into a Well, available free on the Korean Film Archive’s Youtube channel.


I recently went to Korea to record a podcast interview with Seoul-based film scholar Marc Raymond about how Hong’s films reflect modern Korean life. It turns out they reflect it pretty well, something I’ll see for myself later this year when, after having studied the Korean language for nearly a decade, I move to Korea — all out of an interest first stoked by Hong Sangsoo.

Related Content:

Watch 98 Korean Feature Films Free Online, Thanks to the Korean Film Archive

The Five Best North Korean Movies: Watch Them Free Online

Martin Scorsese Creates a List of 39 Essential Foreign Films for a Young Filmmaker

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.

The Science of Singing: New, High-Speed MRI Machine Images Man Singing ‘If I Only Had a Brain’

Fri, 24 Apr 2015 - 10:46 am


Back in December, Ayun Halliday took you inside an MRI machine to explore the neuroscience of jazz improvisation and musical creativity. Along the way, you got to see Johns Hopkins surgeon Charles Limb jam on a keyboard inside one of those crowded, claustrophobia-inducing tubes. How could you beat that for entertainment?

Today, we return with a new video showing another way the MRI machine is giving scientists new insights into the making of music. This time the focus is on how we produce sounds when we sing. When “we sing or speak, the vocal folds—the two small pieces of tissue [in our neck]—come together and, as air passes over them, they vibrate,” and produce sound. That’s basically what happens. We know that. But the typical MRI machine, capturing about 10 frames per second, is too slow to really let scientists break down the action of the larynx. Enter the new, high speed MRI machine at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, working at 100 frames per second. It does the trick.

Above, you can see the new machine in action, as a volunteer sings ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’ Get more of the backstory over at the Beckman Institute.

via Mental Floss

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:

This is Your Brain on Jazz Improvisation: The Neuroscience of Creativity

Why We Love Repetition in Music: Explained in a New TED-Ed Animation

Baudelaire, Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix & Hugo Get a Little Baked at Their Hash Club (1844-1849)

Fri, 24 Apr 2015 - 6:00 am

Hôtel de Lauzun, the meeting place of the Club des Hachichins

It may be cliché to say so, but there does seem to be a strong correlation between experiments with mind-altering chemicals and some of the most intriguing experiments in literary style. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Arthur Rimbaud, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson…. Of course, it is necessary to point out that these talented writers were already that—talented writers—substances or no. As one of Rimbaud’s modern children, Patti Smith, declares, drugs are “not really how one accesses the imagination. It can be a tool, but when that tool starts to master you, you’ll lose touch with your craft.”

This seems to have happened to Smith’s literary idol. One of Rimbaud’s literary heroes, Charles Baudelaire, also eventually succumbed to his excessive use of laudanum, alcohol, and opium. But at one time, Baudelaire dabbled with a much less destructive drug, hashish, along with a coterie of other artists, including Alexandre Dumas, Gérard de Nerval, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and painter Eugène Delacroix. The French greats gathered in a gothic house, from 1844-1849, under the moniker Club des Hachichins and partook of the drug, introduced to it by medical doctor Jacques-Joseph Moreau and writer and journalist Théophile Gautier. Writes The Guardian:

…ritualistically garbed in Arab clothing, they drank strong coffee, liberally laced with hashish, which Moreau called dawamesk, in the Arabic manner. It looked, reported the members, like a greenish preserve, its ingredients a mixture of hashish, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, butter and cantharides. Some of them would write of their “stoned” experiences, although not all. Balzac attended the club but preferred not to indulge, though some time in 1845 the great man cracked and ate some. He told fellow members he had heard celestial voices and seen visions of divine paintings. 

Baudelaire declared the hash admixture “the playground of the seraphim” and “a little green sweetmeat.” And yet, like Balzac, he “rarely, if indeed ever, indulged.” Gautier would write of the poet, “It is possible and even probable that Baudelaire did try hascheesh once or twice by way of physiological experiment, but he never made continuous use of it. Besides, he felt much repugnance for that sort of happiness, bought at the chemist’s and taken away in the vest-pocket.”

This “repugnance” did not keep Baudelaire from other drugs. And it did not keep him from writing a short book in 1860 on hash and opium, Artificial Paradises (Les Paradis Artificiels). The Paris Review reprints an excerpt of one section, “The Poem of Hashish”—not in fact a poem, but a descriptive essay. Translated by Aleister Crowley—another writer whose experiments with chemical excess contributed to some of the strangest books written in English—Baudelaire’s prose is almost medical in its precision. In part a response to Thomas de Quincy’s 1821 drug memoir Confession’s of an English Opium Eater, the symbolist poet’s treatise does not draw the conclusions one might expect.

Though he writes stunningly vivid, almost seductive, descriptions of hash intoxication, instead of praising the creative effects of drugs, Baudelaire disparages their use and warns of addiction, especially for the artist. At one point, he writes, “He who would resort to a poison in order to think would soon be incapable of thinking without the poison. Can you imagine this awful sort of man whose paralyzed imagination can no longer function without the benefit of hashish or opium?” Baudelaire recognized these stifling effects even as he lapsed into addiction himself, describing in withering terms the search “in pharmacy” for an escape from “his habitaculum of mire.”

You can read an excerpt of the Crowley-translated “The Poem of Hashish” at The Paris Review’s site and the full translation here. Those who have indulged in their own cannabis experiments—legally or otherwise—will surely recognize the poetic accuracy of his hash portrait, so perfect that it’s hard to believe he didn’t partake at least once or twice at the all-star Club des Hachichins:

Hashish often brings about a voracious hunger, nearly always an excessive thirst … Such a state would not be supportable if it lasted too long, and if it did not soon give place to another phase of intoxication, which in the case above cited interprets itself by splendid visions, tenderly terrifying, and at the same time full of consolations. This new state is what the Easterns call Kaif. It is no longer the whirlwind or the tempest; it is a calm and motionless bliss, a glorious resignèdness. Since long you have not been your own master; but you trouble yourself no longer about that. Pain, and the sense of time, have disappeared; or if sometimes they dare to show their heads, it is only as transfigured by the master feeling, and they are then, as compared with their ordinary form, what poetic melancholy is to prosaic grief.

via The Paris Review

Related Content:

Carl Sagan Extols the Virtues of Cannabis (1969)

The Coffee Pot That Fueled Honoré de Balzac’s Coffee Addiction

Reefer Madness, 1936’s Most Unintentionally Hilarious “Anti-Drug” Exploitation Film, Free Online

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

Shakespearean Actor Brian Cox Teaches Hamlet’s Soliloquy to a 2-Year-Old Child

Fri, 24 Apr 2015 - 1:29 am


Perhaps you’ve seen Scottish actor Brian Cox in blockbuster films like Braveheart, The Bourne Identity, or Troy. Or, if you’re lucky enough, you’ve seen him perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company in critically-acclaimed performances of The Taming of The Shrew and Titus Andronicus. But there’s perhaps another role you haven’t seen him in: tutor of toddlers. Several years back, Cox taught Theo, then only 30 months old, the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, hoping to show there’s a Shakespearean actor in all of us. Later, Cox talked to the BBC about his “masterclass” with Theo and what he took away from the experience. Watch him muse right below:


Related Content:

What Shakespeare Sounded Like to Shakespeare: Reconstructing the Bard’s Original Pronunciation

Orson Welles’ Radio Performances of 10 Shakespeare Plays

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

Free Online Shakespeare Courses: Primers on the Bard from Oxford, Harvard, Berkeley & More

Hōshi: A Short Film on the 1300-Year-Old Hotel Run by the Same Family for 46 Generations

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 - 1:37 pm

Hōshi is a ryokan (a Japanese traditional inn) located in Komatsu, Japan, and it holds the distinction of being the 2nd oldest hotel in the world, and “the oldest still running family business in the world” (per Wikipedia). Built in 718 AD, the ryokan has been operated by the same family for 46 consecutive generations. Count them. 46 generations.

Japan is a country with deep traditions. And when you’re born into a family that’s the caretaker of a 1300-year-old institution, you find yourself struggling with issues most of us can’t imagine. That’s particularly true when you’re the daughter of the Hōshi family, a modern woman who wants to break free from tradition. And yet history and strong family expectations keep calling her back.

The story of Hōshi ryokan is poignantly told in a short documentary above. It was shot in 2014 by the German filmmaker Fritz Schumann.

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:

200 Free Documentaries Online

Early Japanese Animations: The Origins of Anime (1917-1931)

Hand-Colored Photographs of 19th Century Japan

The Oldest Known Footage of London (1890-1920) Shows the City’s Great Landmarks

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 - 11:30 am


The City of London has exploded like Blade Runner in the last couple of decades with glass and concrete and shrines to global capitalism like St. Mary Axe (aka the Gherkin) and the Shard (aka the Shard). But has the view from the ground stayed the same? According to this charming then vs. now video assembled by a company called YesterVid, yes.

Trawling through the oldest surviving public domain footage from the early days of film (1890 – 1920), the videographers have placed old and modern-day shots side by side, matching as close as they can camera placement and lens.

Missing from today: the soot, the filth in the gutter, and the free-for-all in the streets as horse-drawn carriages and early busses battled it out with pedestrians. Streets are safer now, with railings to protect citizens, though the signs of increased security are also apparent, and CCTV cameras are most probably filming the director…somewhere!

St. Paul’s still needs room to breathe, and while the Empire Theatre may not show any more Lumiere Cinematographies, it’s still a cinema showing IMAX films. It didn’t suffer the fate of many cinemas outside of London after the ‘60s: being turned into bingo halls or just torn down.

Also: the sea of red poppies seen at 4:28 during the shot of the Tower of London’s moat is an installation work by artist Paul Cummins. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was installed between July and November of 2014 and, according to Wikipedia, it consisted of 888,246 ceramic red poppies, each intended to represent one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the Great War.

Final point: the oldest pub in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, still stands, and during the sweltering summers provides a cool respite, as most of its drinking rooms are underground. Cheers!

via Coudal

Related Content:

London Mashed Up: Footage of the City from 1924 Layered Onto Footage from 2013

2,000 Years of London’s Historical Development, Animated in 7 Minutes

Prize-Winning Animation Lets You Fly Through 17th Century London

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 and/or watch his films here.

David Ogilvy’s 1982 Memo “How to Write” Offers 10 Pieces of Timeless Advice

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 - 4:55 am

Nobody ever went broke writing a readable guide to writing in English, especially those that rise to the ranks of standard recommendations alongside Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and William Zinsser’s On Writing WellBoth of those books endorse and exemplify the virtue of brevity, but even such short volumes take a great deal longer to read and internalize than this eminently to-the-point English style guide by the “Pope of Modern Advertising,” (and, for his part, a fan of Roman and Raphaelson’s Writing That Works) David Ogilvy, originally composed in the form of an internal memo.

Ogilvy sent it out on September 7th, 1982, directing it to everyone employed at Ogilvy & Mather, the respected ad agency he’d founded more than thirty years before. “The memo was entitled ‘How to Write,'” says Lists of Note, “and consisted of the following list of advice:”

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

And since we all send out more written communication today than we would have in 1982, the points on this list have only grown more advisable with time. “The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather,” Ogilvy adds. “People who think well, write well.” Amid all this practical advice, we’d do well not to forget that essential connection between word and thought. I like to quote a favorite Twitter aphorist of mine — and, per Ogilvy’s warning, I’ve checked my quotation first — on the subject: “People say they can’t draw when they mean they can’t see, and that they can’t write when they mean they can’t think.”

For more on the methods of Ogilvy the self-described “lousy copywriter” (but “good editor”), see also Lists of Note’s sister site Letters of Note, which has a 1955 letter wherein he lays out his work habits. A seemingly effective one involves “half a bottle of rum and a Handel oratorio on the gramophone.” Your mileage may vary.

via Lists of Note

Related Content:

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Ray Bradbury Offers 12 Essential Writing Tips and Explains Why Literature Saves Civilization

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story

Writing Tips by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell

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.

See the First Known Photograph Ever Taken (1826)

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 - 1:00 am

In histories of early photography, Louis Daguerre faithfully appears as one of the fathers of the medium. His patented process, the daguerreotype, in wide use for nearly twenty years in the early 19th century, produced so many of the images we associate with the period, including famous photographs of Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and John Brown. But had things gone differently, we might know better the harder-to-pronounce name of his onetime partner Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who produced the first known photograph ever, taken in 1826.

Something of a gentleman inventor, Niépce (below) began experimenting with lithography and with that ancient device, the camera obscura, in 1816. Eventually, after much trial and error, Niépce developed his own photographic process, which he called “heliography.” He began by mixing chemicals on a flat pewter plate, then placing it inside a camera. After exposing the plate to light for eight hours, the inventor then washed and dried it. What remained was the image we see above, taken, as Niépce wrote, from “the room where I work” on his country estate and now housed at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center.

At the Ransom Center website, you can see a short video describing Niépce’s house and showing how scholars recreated the vantage point from which he took the picture. Another video offers insight into the process Niépce invented to create his “heliograph.” In 1827, Niépce traveled to England to visit his brother. While there, with the assistance of English botanist Francis Bauer, he presented a paper on his new invention to the Royal Society. His findings were rejected, however, because he opted not to fully reveal the details, hoping to make economic gains with a proprietary method. Niépce left the pewter image with Bauer and returned to France, where he shortly after agreed to a ten-year partnership with Daguerre in 1829.

Sadly for Niépce, his heliograph would not produce the financial or technological success he envisioned, and he died just four years later in 1833. Daguerre, of course, went on to develop his famous process in 1829 and passed into history, but we should remember Niépce’s efforts, and marvel at what he was able to achieve on his own with limited materials and no training or precedent. Daguerre may receive much of the credit, but it was the “scientifically-minded gentleman” Niépce and his heliography that led—writes the Ransom Center’s Head of Photographic Conservation Barbara Brown—to “the invention of the new medium.”

Niépce’s pewter plate image was re-discovered in 1952 by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, who published an article on the find in The Photographic Journal. Thereafter, the Gernsheims had the Eastman Kodak Company create the reproduction above. This image’s “pointillistic effect,” writes Brown, “is due to the reproduction process,” and the image “was touched up with watercolors by [Helmut] Gernsheim himself in order to bring it as close as possible to his approximation of how he felt the original should appear in reproduction.”

Related Content:

See The First “Selfie” In History Taken by Robert Cornelius, a Philadelphia Chemist, in 1839

Harry Taylor Brings 150-Year-Old Craft of Tintype Photography into the Modern Day

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye, a Revealing Look at “The Father of Modern Photography”

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

What is the Self? Watch Philosophy Animations Narrated by Stephen Fry on Sartre, Descartes & More

Wed, 22 Apr 2015 - 1:55 pm


If you’ve followed our recent philosophy posts, you’ve heard Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) speak on what makes us humanthe origins of the universe, and whether technology has changed us, and Harry Shearer speak on ethics — or rather, you’ve heard them narrate short educational animations from the BBC scripted by Philosophy Bites‘ Nigel Warburton. Now another equally distinctive voice has joined the series to explain an equally important philosophical topic. Behold Stephen Fry on the Self.


These four videos draw on Socrates’s work on what it means to know oneself (and the limits of one’s knowledge); Erving Goffman’s (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life) Shakespearean observation that we all play roles on this stage of a world; Rene Descartes‘ famous declaration “I think, therefore I am”; and Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of human existence preceding human essence (which, if it sounds a bit foggy, the video will clarify). Whichever of these thinkers’ claims sound most plausible to you, you’ll come out feeling a bit surer that, whatever constitutes our selves — if indeed we have them — it isn’t what you might have assumed going in.


If the notions that we know nothing, that we have no fixed identities, that we create ourselves (and/or our selves) by our own actions, and that a trickster demon may be controlling your thoughts even as you read this seem too detached from everyday experience to easily grasp, at least we have a sensible English voice like Fry’s to guide us through them. The stereotypes may say that the people of that practical-minded land don’t go in for this kind of talk. But I propose a refutation: specifically, a refutation in the form of a return by Fry to talk about two of his fellow Britons, David Hume and George Berkeley. They had a few things to say about the self — to put it mildly.


Related Content:

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

A History of Ideas: Animated Videos Explain Theories of Simone de Beauvoir, Edmund Burke & Other Philosophers

How Did Everything Begin?: Animations on the Origins of the Universe Narrated by X-Files Star Gillian Anderson

What Makes Us Human?: Chomsky, Locke & Marx Introduced by New Animated Videos from the BBC

Has Technology Changed Us?: BBC Animations Answer the Question with the Help of Marshall McLuhan

How Can I Know Right From Wrong? Watch Philosophy Animations on Ethics Narrated by Harry Shearer

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.

Slavoj Žižek Calls Political Correctness a Form of “Modern Totalitarianism”

Wed, 22 Apr 2015 - 12:30 pm


Opinions on what we generally mean by the phrase “political correctness” vary widely. Does it refer to the ways we try to maintain basic politeness and common decency in what we like to think of as a pluralistic, egalitarian society? Or is it a form of Orwellian, state-sponsored mind control that squashes dissent and banishes unpopular ideas from public discourse? On the one hand, stories of unacceptably abusive behavior in workplaces, classrooms, and government buildings abound, seeming to require placing reasonable limits on speech. On the other hand, extreme examples of rampant “trigger warnings” and other such qualifiers—on college literature syllabi, for example—can seem hypersensitive, patronizing, and silly at best.

In the Big Think video above, Marxist theorist, cultural critic, and professional provocateur Slavoj Žižek approaches the term as a kind of enforced niceness that obscures oppressive power relationships. He begins with an example, of a so-called “postmodern, non-authoritarian father,” who uses a subtle form of emotional coercion, playing on feelings of guilt, to enforce love and respect for a grandparent. This model, says Žižek, is “paradigmatic” of “modern totalitarianism”:

This is why the formula of modern totalitarianism is not “I don’t care what you think, just do it.” This is traditional authoritarianism. The totalitarian formula is, “I know better than you what you really want.”

“In this sense,” says Žižek, “I am horrified by this new culture of experts.” In his typically animated style, he leaps from case to case—the banning of public e-cigarette smoking, for example—to show how concerns about public health or racism give way to meaningless, culturally stultifying moralizing. His point that political correctness can be a humorless “self-discipline” is persuasive. Whether his examples of “progressive racism”—or the social release valve of obscene or racist jokes—translate to an American context is debatable. (Trigger warning: Žižek drops a couple n-words).

Does the uncouth Žižek get a pass because he disavows personal prejudice, even as he makes light of it? Is there really a “great art” to the racist joke that can bring people closer together? Do we need a “tiny exchange of friendly obscenities” to establish “real contact” with other people? I for one wouldn’t want to live in a society without obscene humor and honest, open conversation. But whether all forms of political correctness— whatever it is—are “modern totalitarianism,” I leave to you to decide. It does seem to me that if we can’t have political debates without fear and shame then we really have lost some measure of freedom; but if we’re unable to debate with good will and sensitivity, then we’ve lost some important measure of our humanity.

Related Content:

Slavoj Žižek: What Fullfils You Creatively Isn’t What Makes You Happy

Slavoj Žižek on the Feel-Good Ideology of Starbucks

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

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

Quentin Tarantino Supercuts Explore the Director’s Stylized Use of Sound, Close Ups & Cars in His Films

Wed, 22 Apr 2015 - 11:30 am

It’s not surprising perhaps that we are in a film nerd supercut golden age. After all, all film students have access to video editing software, almost all movies are available digitally, and websites, like this one, are perpetually hungry for new content. Great supercuts reveal something new or unnoticed about a great director, like how Yasujiro Ozu uses hallways or Kubrick favors one-point perspective. Editor Jacob T. Swinney, who won the internet last month with his video “First and Final Frames,” just released the third out of a promised four-part supercut on Quentin Tarantino.

The director of Pulp Fiction and Death Proof is, of course, known for his dialogue – razor-sharp, obscenity-laden repartee crammed with references to pop culture or obscure movies. What is a Tarantino movie without a rant about the true meaning of “Like a Virgin,” say, or a lengthy discourse on the difference between McDonald’s menus in American and in Europe? Swinney strips away all that dialogue to explore some of the recurring visual and audial motifs that lard Tarantino’s films. What you realize after watching these is just how stylized his movies are. Tarantino loves expressionistic sound effects, flashy insert shots, generally aping the look and feel of his cinematic heroes like Sergio Leone or King Hu. You can watch the first film above and the next two below.

The first film called “Hearing Tarantino” is about all the pungent, stylized sounds the QT has used. As you can imagine, there are lots of gurgling of blood and clanking of swords. What you might not have noticed is how many cartoony whooshes and zings he has folded into the sound mix.

The second vid, “Tarantino’s Extreme Close Ups,” shows lots of eyes bearing expressions somewhere along the terrified-pissed off spectrum.

And the third piece, “Tarantino: Driving Shots,” shows just how much of his movies take place in cars.

The fourth film has yet to come out, but I hope it’s on Tarantino’s not-at-all creepy obsession with women’s feet. You can probably fill a couple minutes just on Uma Thurman’s alone.

Related Content:

Quentin Tarantino Lists the 12 Greatest Films of All Time: From Taxi Driver to The Bad News Bears

Quentin Tarantino Tells You About The Actors & Directors Who Provided the Inspiration for “Reservoir Dogs”

Watch Free Online My Best Friend’s Birthday, Quentin Tarantino’s 1987 Debut Film

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 lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

High-Tech Japanese Camera Proves That the Shape of a Wine Glass Affects the Flavor of Wines

Wed, 22 Apr 2015 - 1:00 am


Japanese scientists have developed a camera that confirms what we’ve long sensed: “wine glass shape has a very sophisticated functional design for tasting and enjoying wine.” That’s what Kohji Mitsubayashi, a researcher at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, told Chemistry World.

It’s a little complicated, and I’d encourage you to read this Chemistry World article, but the upshot is this: Mitsubayashi’s team used a special camera to analyze “different wines, in different glasses – including different shaped wine glasses, a martini glass and a straight glass – at different temperatures.” And they found that “different glass shapes and temperatures can bring out completely different bouquets and finishes from the same wine.”

In the video above, you can see the new-fangled camera in action, demonstrating how wines at different temperatures (something that’s affected by the geometry of the glass) release different vapors. And those translate into different flavors. Get more on this at Chemistry World.

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:

How to Open a Wine Bottle with Your Shoe for the DIY Connoisseur

The Physics of Guinness Beer Demystified

The Physics of Coffee Rings Finally Explained