Open Culture Blog

Syndicate content
The best free cultural & educational media on the web
Updated: 55 min 34 sec ago

A Look Inside Martin Scorsese’s Vintage Movie Poster Collection

2 hours 45 min ago

When Martin Scorsese isn’t making films, he’s busy preserving them, from helping fund the restoration of classics to collecting the ephemera of his youth, especially posters. A selection of his movie poster collection, representing the height of film advertising from the 1930’s to the 1960s, currently hangs at MoMA through October 25, 2015.

The power that a poster held in the imagination decades ago should not be understated. For many it was the only knowledge they had about the film they were about to see, and many artists, hired in house by the studios, hyped up the sexiest parts of the films. It sold tickets.

The MoMA exhibit is centered on the billboard sized poster for Powell and Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffmann (1951), a stunning work when seen large. (For an understanding about the impressive size of most posters, check out this graphic.)

It’s only because of collectors like Scorsese and Ira. M. Resnick (for whose book Scorsese wrote an introduction) that the artists behind these posters have been named and recognized.

Although the MoMA web page promoting the exhibition is surprisingly stingy when it comes to naming all the artists in the show, some internet sleuthing brings up some names. The illustrator behind the Hoffmann poster, Marc Stone, was also a painter of World War II propaganda posters in the UK.

The minimal, Risko-esque rendering of Veronica Lake for Sullivan’s Travels (1941) is credited to Maurice Kallis, though an anonymous comment on the movie poster blog Citizen K. credits it to Fritz Siebel, the commenter’s father. Siebel, who immigrated to the U.S. from Vienna, wound up illustrating A Fly Went By for Dr. Seuss’ children’s book imprint and creating the famous Yul Brynner-lookalike and cleaning product mascot Mr. Clean.

René Péron, who created the beautiful Expressionistic design for Erich von Stroheim’s The Lost Squadron (1932) started his career with posters for silent classics like Abel Gance’s Napoleon and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). But he’s probably best known for the iconic caricature of Jacques Tati gracing the poster for Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.

Both the poster for Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and Kazan’s On the Waterfront are by one of the Italian kings of movie posters, Anselmo Ballester. His style is lurid and pulpy, and if there is one dame in distress in a movie, he would make her the selling point of the poster. He was also known for his love of Rita Hayworth, for whom he would produce his best work. (Just look at this poster for Salome, which is way more interesting than the picture it represents.)

Lastly, Scorsese has added one of his own film’s posters: Peter Strausfeld’s stunning woodblock poster for Mean Streets. The British artist had a very particular style (text on one side, graphic on the other), and was hired by the Academy Cinema in London as their designer. (Now, *that’s* a job.)

The fact that we can watch trailers on our televisions and now iPhones has long diminished the power of the poster. However, there are still signs of life in the industry, and the amount of artists creating beautiful limited edition prints of posters for their favorite films increases every year.

via Quartz

Related content:

50 Film Posters From Poland: From The Empire Strikes Back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

100 Greatest Posters of Film Noir

Martin Scorsese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies (and Writes a New Essay on Film Preservation)

Gaze at Global Movie Posters for Hitchcock’sVertigo: U.S., Japan, Italy, Poland & Beyond

The Strange and Wonderful Movie Posters from Ghana: The Matrix, Alien & 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 tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Wes Anderson & Yasujiro Ozu: New Video Essay Reveals the Unexpected Parallels Between Two Great Filmmakers

5 hours 14 min ago

At first blush, Yasujiro Ozu and Wes Anderson would seem to be miles apart. Ozu is the “most Japanese” of all directors. His films are small, quiet, finely calibrated works that document the slow reordering of the family unit in the face of Japan’s rapid modernization. Anderson’s movies are twee and whimsical, filled with wry humor and a shocking amount of violence against dogs.

Yet video essayist Anna Catley in her piece Wes Anderson & Yasujiro Ozu: A Visual Essay makes a pretty compelling case that these two auteurs are more similar than you might think. Both filmmakers have a clear and highly stylized manner of constructing their movies: Ozu’s films are characterized by symmetrical compositions and an unmoving camera that remains about two and a half feet off of the ground. Anderson’s movies are marked by symmetrical compositions, long complex camera moves and lots of overhead shots. Both Ozu and Anderson have a stable of actors that they work with repeatedly — Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara for Ozu, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray for Anderson. Both filmmakers’ movies are about the complex, often fraught, relationships between parents and children. And both directors often employed the point of view of children to highlight adult hypocrisy and disappointment.

Ozu’s movies, however, were relatively free of Cat Stevens songs.

You can watch the full video above. It might just make you watch a double feature of Ohayo and Moonrise Kingdom.

via Indie Wire

Related Content:

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: RushmoreThe Royal Tenenbaums & More

Wes Anderson’s Favorite Films: MoonstruckRosemary’s Baby, and Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel

Watch Wes Anderson’s Charming New Short Film, Castello Cavalcanti, Starring Jason Schwartzman

Wes Anderson’s First Short Film: The Black-and-White, Jazz-Scored Bottle Rocket (1992)

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 vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

An 18-Hour Playlist of Readings by the Beats: Kerouac, Ginsberg & Even Bukowski Too

8 hours 50 min ago

Plenty of us get tuned in to the Beats through print — maybe a yellowed copy of Howl, a mass-market Naked Lunch, a fifth- or sixth-hand On the Road — but sometimes the verse or prose that so thrills us on those pages fairly demands to be spoken aloud, preferably by the Beat in question. That may have proven a tricky desire to fulfill in decades past, but now Spotify has made it nearly effortless to hear the Beats whenever we like: you can find over eighteen hours of material on a playlist called, straightforwardly enough, The Beats.

These 249 tracks include not just figures like the previously alluded to Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, but other beloved Beats such as Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky — and Charles Bukowski, not a figure one necessarily associates closely with that movement. Some Bukowski and/or Beat enthusiasts will tell you that each would have nothing to do with the other. Yet the hard-living poet and self-confessed “dirty old man” occasionally admitted to something approaching fondness for certain members of the supposedly higher-minded counterculture: “He’s better to have around than not to have around,” Bukowski once said of Ginsberg. “Without his coming through, none of us would be writing as well as we are doing now, which is not well enough, but we hang on.”

With the Beats’ Spotify playlist, you can judge for yourself not only whether they and Bukowski wrote “well enough” (though literary history seems to have proven that piece of self-deprecation wrong), but also whether they spoke well enough — or rather, whether they performed their own work in the way you’d always imagined it in your head. Whatever your assessment, rest assured you won’t hear voices like Ginsberg’s, Burroughs’ and especially Bukowski’s anywhere else. If you don’t have the Spotify software itself yet, no problem: you can download it free here.

Related Content:

Naropa Archive Presents 5,000 Hours of Audio Recordings of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs & Other Beat Writers

Rare Footage of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac & Other Beats Hanging Out in the East Village (1959)

A Reading of Charles Bukowski’s First Published Story, “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip” (1944)

Listen to Charles Bukowski Poems Being Read by Bukowski Himself & the Great Tom Waits

Hear 130 Minutes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Recorded Readings (1968)

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.

2,200 Radical Political Posters Digitized: A New Archive

12 hours 19 min ago

I recently heard someone say his college-bound nephew asked him, “What’s a union?” Whether you love unions, loathe them, or remain indifferent, the fact that an ostensibly educated young person might have such a significant gap in their knowledge should cause concern. A historic labor conflict, after all, provided the occasion for Ronald Reagan to prove his bona fides to the new conservative movement that swept him into power. His crushing of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981 set the tone for the ensuing 30 years or so of economic policy, with the labor movement fighting an uphill battle all the way. Prior to that defining event, unions held sway over politics local and national, and had consolidated power blocks in the American political landscape through decades of struggle against oppressive and dehumanizing working conditions.

In practical terms, unions have stood in the way of capital’s unceasing search for cheap labor and new consumer markets; in social and cultural terms, the politics of labor have represented a formidable ideological challenge to conservatives as well, by way of a vibrant assemblage of anarchists, civil libertarians, anti-colonialists, communists, environmentalists, pacifists, feminists, socialists, etc. A host of radical isms flourished among organized workers especially in the decades between the 1870s and the 1970s, finding their voice in newsletters, magazines, pamphlets, leaflets, and posters—fragile mediums that do not often weather well the ravages of time. Thus the advent of digital archives has been a boon for students and historians of workers’ movements and other populist political groundswells. One such archive, the Joseph A. Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan Library, has recently announced the digitization of over 2,200 posters from their collection, a database that spans the globe and the spectrum of leftist political speech and iconography.

We have cleverly-designed visual puns like the Chicago Industrial Workers of the World poster just above, titled “What is what in the world of labor?” Promoting itself as “One Big Union of All Labor,” the IWW made some of the most ambitious propaganda, like the 1912 poster (middle) in which an “Industrial Co-Operative Commonwealth” replaces the tyranny of the capitalist, who is told by his “trust manager” peer, “Our rule is ended, dismount and go to work.” In this post-revolutionary fantasy, the IWW promises that “A few hours of useful work insure all a luxurious living,” though it only hints at the details of this utopian arrangement. Up top, we have an ornate May Day poster from 1895 by Walter Crane, hoping for a “Merrie England” with “No Child Toilers,” “Production for Use Not For Profit,” and “The Land For the People,” among other, more nationalist, sentiments like “England Should Feed Her Own People.”

“While all of the posters were scanned at high resolution,” writes Hyperallergic, “they appear online as thumbnails with navigation to zoom.” You can download the images, but only the smaller, thumbnail size in most cases. These hundreds of posters represent “just a portion of the material in the Labadie Collection”—named for a “Detroit-area labor organizer, anarchist, and author” who “had the idea for the social protest archive at the university in 1911.” You can view other political artifacts in the UMich library’s digital collections here, including anarchist pamphlets, political buttons, and a digital photo collection. The collection as a whole gives us a potentially inspiring, or infuriating, mosaic of political thought at its boldest and most graphically assertive from a time before online petitions and hashtag campaigns took over as the primary circulators of popular radical thought.

via Hyperallergic (where you can find some other big, visually striking posters)

Related Content:

The Red Menace: A Striking Gallery of Anti-Communist Posters, Ads, Comic Books, Magazines & Films

Unz.org: A New, Vast and Slightly Right-Wing Archive of Magazines, Books and TV Shows

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

Free Online Political Science Courses

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

Venice in Beautiful Color Images 125 Years Ago: The Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace & More

Wed, 1 Jul 2015 - 1:55 pm

A few months ago, Mental Floss put up a post of “Fantastic 120-Year-Old Color Pictures of Ireland.” Fantastic pictures indeed, although the nature of the technology that produced them seems as interesting to me as the 19th-century Irish life captured in the images themselves. They came from the Library of Congress’ geographically organized archive of photocrom prints, a method perhaps known only to die-hard historical photography enthusiasts. For the rest of us, the Library of Congress’ page on the photocrom process explains it: “Photochrom prints are ink-based images produced through ‘the direct photographic transfer of an original negative onto litho and chromographic printing plates.'”

Its inventor Hans Jakob Schmid came up with the technique in the 1880s, a decade that began with color photography consigned to the realm of theory. While Photocrom prints may look an awful lot like color photographs, look at them through a magnifying glass and “the small dots that comprise the ink-based photomechanical image are visible.” “The photomechanical process permitted mass production of the vivid color prints,” each color requiring “a separate asphalt-coated lithographic stone, usually a minimum of six stones and often more than ten stones.” But that unwieldy-sounding technology and laborious-sounding process has given us, among other striking pieces of visual history, these lush images of fin de siècle Venice, which the writer of place Jan Morris once described as “less a city than an experience.”

At the top of the post, we have a view of the Rialto Bridge, which spans one of the city’s famous canals; below that a scene of pigeon-feeding in St. Mark’s Piazza; the image just above leaves the pigeons behind to view the interior of St. Mark’s Basilica.

The photos below, all also taken between 1890 and 1900, depict the exterior and interior of the Doge’s Palace, as well as its view of San Giorgio Island by moonlight.

We may not consider these “real” color photographs, but the colors they present, vividly applied in the printing process, somehow more accurately represent the spirit of late 19th-century Europe — one of history’s truly vivid periods, in one of its enduringly vivid human environments. More color images of fin-de-siecle Venice can be viewed here.

via Mental Floss

Related Content:

Take a Virtual Tour of Venice (Its Streets, Plazas & Canals) with Google Street View

How Venice Works: A Short Film

Venice in a Day: From Daybreak to Sunset in Timelapse

Venice is Way Under Water…

Hand-Colored Photographs of 19th Century Japan

The First Color Photos From World War I: The German Front

The Oldest Color Movies Bring Sunflowers, Exotic Birds and Goldfish Back to Life (1902)

One of the Earliest Known Photos of Guys Sitting Around and Drinking Beer (Circa 1845)

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.

Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music

Wed, 1 Jul 2015 - 1:21 pm

With her buttoned-up style, work with the UN, and name like a plucky character in a certain English wizard series, Delia Derbyshire may not seem a likely pioneer of experimental electronic music. But her work in the sixties and seventies indeed made her a forerunner of so much contemporary electronic music that most every current legend in the business—from Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers to Paul Hartnoll of Orbital, who calls her work “quite amazing” and “timeless”—credits her in some way or another. If you’ve never heard of Derbyshire, you can learn about her life and work in the 2010 BBC Radio 4 documentary above, “Sculptress of Sound.”

As we recently noted in an earlier post, Derbyshire occupies a prominent place in the history of women in the field. She has also worked with everyone from Doctor Who composer Ron Grainer (who took sole credit for their work together) to Paul McCartney. Well almost. McCartney—a huge fan of Derbyshire’s work with the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop—considered collaborating with her on an early version of “Yesterday,” then went with strings instead. But her near hit with the Beatles showed just how far she had come since joining the BBC as a trainee studio manager in 1960. The previous year, Decca records rejected her application, telling her point blank that they did not hire women for studio work.


For contractual reasons, Derbyshire made many of her radio compositions under pseudonyms, and she may have been frustrated by her near-obscurity. She did withdraw from music in the mid-seventies, not to reappear until a few years before her death in 2001. But perhaps her departure had nothing to do with lack of fame. Derbyshire had the highest of technical standards and a mathematical approach to making music. Once commercial synthesizers became available, she felt that making electronic music had become too easy and her enthusiasm waned. The new music bored her, and instead of trying to hold on to her relevance, she made a graceful exit.

It’s only in recent years that Derbyshire has become recognized for the pioneer she was. See her above profiled in a 2009 short documentary, “The Delian Mode,” by Kara Blake. Featured are Derbyshire’s innovative techniques with manipulated tape machines and found sounds for her TV and film scores and her original compositions under her own name and with influential early electro-pop band White Noise. The Guardian called Derbyshire’s way of making music “an analytical approach to synthesiz[ing] complex sounds from electronic sources.” Her degree in mathematics informed her way of working, as did her conception of herself not primarily as a composer, but also as a scientist. “I suppose in a way,” she said of her painstakingly-created scores, “I was experimenting in psycho-acoustics.” Many of her experiments sound as fresh today as they did at the time, ready to inspire several more generations of composers and musicians.

You can dip into an archive of Derbyshire’s music over at UBU.com.

Related Content:

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938- 2014)

Meet the Dr. Who Composer Who Almost Turned The Beatles’ “Yesterday” Into Early Electronica

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

Watch L’Inferno (1911), Italy’s First Feature Film and Perhaps the Finest Adaptation of Dante’s Classic

Wed, 1 Jul 2015 - 11:00 am

In its second decade, cinema struggled to evolve. The first films by the Lumière Brothers and Thomas Edison were short and gimmicky – shots of trains racing towards the screen, couples kissing and cute kittens getting fed. A quick rush. A bit of fun. Its creators didn’t see much past the novelty of cinema but then other filmmakers like Georges Méliès, Edwin S Porter, Alice Guy-Blaché and D.W. Griffith started injecting this new medium with elements of story. It started aspiring towards art.

To this end, filmmakers started to expand the canvas on which they created. Films that were just two to eight minutes lengthened in duration as their stories grew in complexity. The first feature-length movie came in 1906 with the Australian movie The Story of the Kelly Gang. In 1915, D.W. Griffith premiered his racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation, which crystallized film language and proved that longer movies could be financially successful. In between those two movies came L’Inferno (1911) – perhaps the finest cinematic adaptation of Dante’s Inferno out there and the first feature-length Italian movie ever.

Like Griffith, the makers of L’InfernoFrancesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro – sought to raise cinema to the ranks of literature and theater. Unlike Griffith, they didn’t really do much to forward the language of cinema. Throughout L’Inferno, the camera remains wide and locked down like the proscenium of a stage. Instead, they focused their efforts on creating gloriously baroque sets and costumes. Much of the film looks like it was pulled straight from Gustave Dorè’s famed illustrations of The Divine Comedy. Yet seeing a picture in a book of a demon is one thing. Seeing it leap around lashing the naked backs of the damned is something else entirely. If you were ever tempted by the sin of simony, you’ll think twice after seeing this film.

L’Inferno — now added to our collection of 700 Free Movies Online — became both a critical and commercial hit worldwide, raking in over $2 million (roughly $48 million in today’s money) in the US alone. “We have never seen anything more precious and fine than those pictures. Images of hell appear in all their greatness and power,” gushed famed Italian novelist and reporter Matilde Serao when the film came out.

American film critic for The Moving Picture World, W. Stephen Bush, was even more effusive:

“I know no higher commendation of the work than mention of the fact that the film-makers have been exceedingly faithful to the words of the poet. They have followed, in letter and in spirit, his conceptions. They have sat like docile scholars at the feet of the master, conscientiously and to the best of their ability obeying every suggestion for his genius, knowing no inspiration, except such as came from the fountainhead. Great indeed has been their reward. They have made Dante intelligible to the masses. The immortal work, whose beauties until now were accessible only to a small band of scholars, has now after a sleep of more than six centuries become the property of mankind.”

Of course, the film’s combination of ghoulishness and nudity made it ripe to be co-opted by shady producers who had less that lofty motives. Scenes from L’Inferno were cut into such exploitation flicks as Hell-O-Vision (1936) and Go Down, Death! (1944).

You can watch the full movie above. Be sure to watch to the end where Satan himself can be seen devouring Brutus and Cassius.

Related Content:

40 Great Filmmakers Go Old School, Shoot Short Films with 100 Year Old Camera

What David Lynch Can Do With a 100-Year-Old Camera and 52 Seconds of Film

A Trip to the Moon (and Five Other Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Special Effects

Gustave Doré’s Dramatic Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy

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 vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Velvet Underground as Peanuts Characters: Snoopy Morphs Into Lou Reed, Charlie Brown Into Andy Warhol

Wed, 1 Jul 2015 - 8:31 am

The fun cartoon above was apparently found in a “Guide to the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Factory” published by the French magazine, Les Inrockuptibles in 1990. It came around the same time the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (located in Paris) held an exhibition dedicated to Andy Warhol. Of course, Warhol famously took a break from painting in the mid-1960s and, among other things, threw his influence behind the up-and-coming NYC band, The Velvet Underground. Serving as the band’s manager, he “produced” VU’s first album, which meant designing the album cover and giving the band members — Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Nico — the freedom to make whatever album they pleased. Above, you can see these same musicians reimagined as Peanuts characters.

via WFMU

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:

The Case for Andy Warhol in Three Minutes

French Couple Sings an Achingly Charming Version of VU’s “Femme Fatale”

The Crazy, Iconic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Velvet Underground Vocalist, Enigma in Amber

New Archive Offers Free Access to 22,000 Literary Documents From Great British & American Writers

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 - 2:55 pm

Thomas Hardy—architect, poet, and writer (above)—gave us the fierce, stormy romance Far From the Madding Crowd, currently impressing critics in a film adaptation by Thomas Vinterberg. He also gave us Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, and Jude the Obscure, books whose persistently grim outlook might make them too depressing by far were it not for Hardy’s engrossing prose, unforgettable characterization, and, perhaps most importantly, unshakable sense of place. Hardy set most of his novels in a region he called Wessex, which—much like William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha—is a thinly fictionalized recreation of his rural hometown of Dorchester and its surrounding counties.

Now, thanks to the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, we can learn all about this ancient region in South West England, and Hardy’s transmutation of it, through Hardy’s own proof copy of a 1905 book by Frank R. Heath called Dorchester (Dorset) and its Surroundings, with revisions in Hardy’s hand. In the excerpt above, for example, from page 36 of this scholarly work, the author discusses Hardy’s use of Dorchester in The Mayor of Casterbridge and the so-called “Wessex Poems.” In the margins on the right, we see Hardy’s corrections and glosses. Though this may not seem the most exciting piece of Hardy memorabilia, for students of the author and his investment in a rural corner of England, it is indeed a treasure.

The Hardy archive also contains scans of the author’s correspondence, manuscripts and signed typescripts, and architectural drawings, like that of St. Juliot’s Church in Cornwall, above. This extensive digital Hardy collection is but one of many housed in the Ransom Center’s Project Reveal, an acronym for “Read and View English & American Literature.” Read and view you can indeed, through the intimacy of first drafts, manuscripts, personal writing, and other ephemera.

See, for example, a handwritten draft of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in French, (excerpt above). Below, we have a handwritten list of Robert Louis Stevenson’s favorite books, and further down, a manuscript draft of Katherine Mansfield’s “Now I am a plant, a weed” from her personal poetry notebook.

Other authors included in the Project Reveal archive include Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Hart Crane, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and William Thackeray. The project, writes the Ransom Center in a press release, generated more than 22,000 high-resolution images, available for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction or fees” (but with attribution). The literary storehouse on display here only adds to an already essential collection of artifacts the Ransom Center houses, such as the papers of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, syllabi, annotated books, and manuscripts from David Foster Wallace, scrapbooks of Harry Houdini, and the first known photograph ever taken. See a complete list of contents of the Ransom Center’s Digital Collections here, and learn more about this amazing library in the heart of Texas at their main site.

Related Content:

Library of Congress Launches New Online Poetry Archive, Featuring 75 Years of Classic Poetry Readings

Yale Launches an Archive of 170,000 Photographs Documenting the Great Depression

Literary Remains of Gabriel García Márquez Will Rest in Texas

David Foster Wallace’s Love of Language Revealed by the Books in His Personal Library

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

Watch a Needle Ride Through LP Record Grooves Under an Electron Microscope

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 - 11:18 am

Last year, we highlighted a 1956 video from RCA Victor which demonstrated how vinyl records were made back in the good old days. If you have 23 free minutes, you can get a pretty good look at the production process — the live audio recording, the making of a master disc, the production of a mold, the eventual mass production of vinyl records, etc.

Almost 60 years later, vinyl is making a comeback. So why not let Ben Krasnow, a hardware engineer at Google X, give us a much more modern perspective on the LP? Above, watch Krasnow’s stop motion animation, made with an electron microscope, which shows us a phonograph needle riding through grooves on an LP. Much of the 9-minute video offers a fairly technical primer on what went into making this stop motion clip in the first place. So if you want to get to the action, fast forward to the 4:20 mark.

If you hang with Krasnow’s video, you can also see him take some microscopic looks at other media formats — CD-ROMs, early forms of DVDs, and more.

via Devour

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 Vinyl Records Are Made: A Primer from 1956 (That’s Relevant in 2014)

How to Clean Your Vinyl Records with Wood Glue

World Records: New Photo Exhibit Pays Tribute to the Era of Vinyl Records & Turntables

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Shot by Shot: A 22-Minute Breakdown of the Director’s Filmmaking

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 - 8:30 am

“What is Bresson’s genre? He doesn’t have one. Bresson is Bresson,” wrote master filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky in his seminal book Sculpting in Time. “The very concept of genre is as cold as the tomb.”

Nonetheless, Tarkovsky made two of the most praised, best-regarded science fiction films in cinema. Stalker (watch it online) is a metaphysical riddle wrapped in the trappings of a sci-fi thriller. In the verdant area called the Zone, ringed off by miles of barbed wire and armed soldiers, pilgrims come to behold an uncanny landscape ruled by a powerful, otherworldly intelligence. The film seemed to prefigure the Chernobyl disaster that happened years later and proved to be the unlikely inspiration for a video game.

Adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (watch online) is about a space station that orbits a sentient planet that causes hallucinations in the cosmonauts. The hyper-rational protagonist, Kris Kelvin, is thrown for a loop when he is confronted by a doppelganger of his dead wife who killed herself years earlier. The logical side of him knows that this is a hallucination but he falls in love anyway, only to lose her again. Kelvin is caught in a hell of repeating the mistakes of his past.

Solaris was seen as a Cold War-era response to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both movies are mind-altering deep-space epics that raise more questions than they answer. Yet Tarkovsky hated 2001’s ostentatious use of cutting-edge special effects. “For some reason, in all the science-fiction films I’ve seen, the filmmakers force the viewer to examine the details of the material structure of the future,” he told Russian film journalist Naum Abramov in 1970. “More than that, sometimes, like Kubrick, they call their own films premonitions. It’s unbelievable! Let alone that 2001: A Space Odyssey is phony on many points, even for specialists. For a true work of art, the fake must be eliminated.”

Indeed, Tarkovsky seemed to deliberately half-ass the generic elements of film. He used leisurely shots of tunnels and highways of 1971 Tokyo to depict the city of the future. He devoted only a couple minutes of the film’s nearly three hour running time to things like spaceships. And you have to love the fact that the space station in Solaris has such distinctly unfuturistic design elements as a chandelier and a wood-paneled library.

Tarkovsky, of course, isn’t interested in science. He’s interested in art and its way to evoke the divine. And his primary way of doing this is with long takes; epic shots that resonate profoundly even if the meaning of those images remains elusive. Solaris opens with a shot of water flowing in a brook and then, later in the scene, there is a sudden downpour. The camera presses into a shot of a teacup filling with rain. It’s a beautiful, memorable, evocative shot. Maybe the image means something. Maybe its beauty is, in and of itself, its meaning. Either way, Tarkovsky forces you to surrender to his deliberate cinematic rhythm and his pantheistic view of the world.

In a piece called Tarkovsky Shot by Shot, video essayist Antonios Papantoniou dissects a few scenes from Solaris, breaking down each according to camera angle, shot type and duration while pointing out recurring visual motifs. “Diametrically different from Hollywood’s extravagant moviemaking Tarkovsky’s Solaris is in a cinematic universe of its own,” writes Papantoniou in one of the video’s copious intertitles. “Symbolic images and metaphysical manifestations are created and expressed in a poetic way where every visual detail matters.” Watching Shot by Shot, you get a real sense of just how beautifully his films unfold with those gorgeously choreographed long takes. You can watch the full video above.

via Indie Wire

Related Content:

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

Watch Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mind-Bending Masterpiece Free Online

The Masterful Polaroid Pictures Taken by Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s Advice to Young Filmmakers: Sacrifice Yourself for Cinema

A Poet in Cinema: Andrei Tarkovsky Reveals the Director’s Deep Thoughts on Filmmaking and Life

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 vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

George Orwell Blasts American Fashion Magazines (1946)

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 - 1:05 am

While the print magazine industry as a whole has seen better days, publications dedicated to women’s fashion still go surprisingly strong. Perhaps as a result, they’ve continued to attract criticism, not least for their highly specific, often highly altered visions of the supposedly ideal body image emblazoned across their covers. One critic called it an “overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty,” with nearly all of the women on display “immensely elongated” with narrow hips and “slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard.”

This hardly counts as a recent phenomenon; that particular criticism comes from 1946, the critic none other than Animal Farm and 1984 author George Orwell. He lodged his complaint against an “American fashion magazine which shall be nameless” in his “As I Please” column for the British TribuneThe New Republic, which subsequently ran Orwell’s broadside stateside, re-published it on their web site last year. On the magazine’s cover Orwell sees a photograph of “the usual elegant female, standing on a chair while a gray-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirtsleeves kneels at her feet” — a tailor about to take a measurement. “But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment—not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization.”

But this wouldn’t count as an Orwellian indictment of the state of Western society without a harsh assessment of the language used, and the author of “Politics and the English Language” doesn’t neglect to make one here. In the fashion magazine Orwell finds “an extraordinary mixture of sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expensive technical jargon. Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random”:

“A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.” “Bared and beautifully bosomy.” “Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!” “Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!” “An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.” “The miracle of figure flattery!” “Molds your bosom into proud feminine lines.” “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsets wash and wear and whittle you down… even though they weigh only four ounces!” “The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable… forever beloved… Forever Amber.” And so on and so on and so on.

From what I can tell by the fashion magazines of 2015 my girlfriend leaves around the house, while the specific terminology might have changed, the brand-strewn overall wordscape of meaninglessness and obscurantism remains. Orwell surely didn’t foresee that lamentable linguistic and aesthetic situation changing any time soon — though it might surprise him that, despite it all, American civilization itself, in its characteristically unsleek, inelegant, and provisional way, has continued lumbering on.

You can read Orwell’s short essay on Fashion here.

Related Content:

George Orwell Reviews Mein Kampf (1940)

George Orwell’s 1984: Free eBook, Audio Book & Study Resources

The Only Known Footage of George Orwell (Circa 1921)

George Orwell and Douglas Adams Explain How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea

For 95 Minutes, the BBC Brings George Orwell to Life

George Orwell’s Final Warning: Don’t Let This Nightmare Situation Happen. It Depends on You!

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.

Dr. Seuss’ World War II Propaganda Films: Your Job in Germany (1945) and Our Job in Japan (1946)

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 - 1:30 pm

Most of us come to know the work of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel through his children’s books (I, for instance, remember Hop on Pop as the first book I could read whole), and while he remains most famous as a prolific teller and illustrator of surreally didactic tales for youngsters, his productivity entered other cultural areas as well. Perhaps the most surprising chapter of his career happened during the Second World War, when Seuss, who had already demonstrated his strong anti-Hitler, anti-Mussolini, and pro-Roosevelt sentiments in political cartoons, went to work scripting propaganda films.

Having joined the U.S. Army in 1943 as a Captain, Seuss went on to take charge of the Animation Department of the Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit. Working under Frank Capra toward the end of the war, he wrote the short films Your Job in Germany and Our Job in Japan, both intended to get American soldiers into the right mindset for the occupations of those defeated countries. “With your conduct and attitude while inside Germany, you can lay the groundwork of a peace that could last forever,” says the narrator of the former, “Or just the opposite.”

Unlike the similarly G.I.-targeted Private Snafu cartoons we featured last year, nothing of Seuss’ fanciful style comes through in these films, which use all-too-real footage to illustrate to “our boys” as vividly as possible what could go wrong if they let their guard down in these only-just-former enemy territories. “The German lust for conquest is not dead,” the narrator warns, “it’s merely gone undercover.”  The German people, he insists, “must prove they have been cured beyond the shadow of a doubt before they ever again are allowed to take their place among respectable nations.”

Our Job in Japan also holds out the prospect of a prolonged peace — “peace, if we can solve the problem of 70 million Japanese people.” But this short doesn’t have quite as damning a tone as Your Job in Germany; instead, it focuses on how best to rehabilitate an “old, backward, superstitious country” full of impressionable people “trained to follow blindly wherever their leaders led them.” According to the script, the eminently teachable and adaptable “Japanese brain” just happened to fall under the sway of warlords who decided it could “be hopped up to fight with fanatical fury.” Patronizing, certainly, but a far cry from the popular conception in the west at the time of the Japanese as a cruel, power-mad race inherently bent on bloodshed.

Seuss himself had a history of anti-Japanese cartooning (also featured on our site), but it seems his views had already begun to turn by the time of Our Job in Japan, which argues only for setting an example demonstrating that “what we like to call the American Way, or democracy, or just plain old Golden Rule common sense is a pretty good way to live.” As a result, no less a player in the Pacific theater than Douglas MacArthur found the film excessively sympathetic to the Japanese and tried to have it suppressed, a kind of controversy that never erupted around the likes of Hop on Pop. But as far as the actual winning of Japanese hearts and minds goes, I suspect Seuss’ children’s books have done a better job.

Related Content:

New Archive Showcases Dr. Seuss’s Early Work as an Advertising Illustrator and Political Cartoonist

Private Snafu: The World War II Propaganda Cartoons Created by Dr. Seuss, Frank Capra & Mel Blanc

Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japanese Cartoons During WWII, Then Atones with Horton Hears a Who!

Donald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream and Four Other Disney Propaganda Cartoons from World War II

“The Ducktators”: Loony Tunes Turns Animation into Wartime Propaganda (1942)

200 Ansel Adams Photographs Expose the Rigors of Life in Japanese Internment Camps During WW II

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.

Free: Listen to John Rawls’ Course on “Modern Political Philosophy” (Recorded at Harvard, 1984)

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 - 1:02 pm

Some of the most-referenced Western political thinkers—like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson—have taken hierarchies of class, race, or both, for granted. Not so some of their more radical contemporaries, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine, who made forceful arguments against inequality. A strain of utopianism runs through more egalitarian positions, and a calculating pragmatism through more libertarian. Rarely have these two threads woven neatly together.

In the work of 20th century political philosopher John Rawls, they do, with maybe a knot or a kink here and there, in a unique philosophy first articulated in his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, a novel attempt at reconciling abstract principles of liberty and equality (recently turned into a musical.) Like the Enlightenment philosophers before him, Rawls’ system of distributive justice invokes a thought experiment as the ground of his philosophy, but it is not an original myth, like the state of nature in nearly every early modern thinker, but an original position, as he calls it, of a society that lives behind a “veil of ignorance.” In this condition, wrote Rawls:

No one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.

Clearly, then, this idea presupposes the opposite of a meritocracy built on labor, conquest, or natural superiority. In fact, some of Rawls’ critics suggested, the “original position” presupposes a kind of nothingness, a state of incoherent nonexistence. What does it mean, after all, to exist without histories, differences, attributes, or aspirations? And how can we visualize an equality of conditions when no one experiences anything like it? What kind of position can possibly be “original”?

To clarify his theory and answer reasonable objections, Rawls followed A Theory of Justice with a 1985 essay called “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical.” This rethinking coincided with a series of lecture classes he taught at Harvard in the 80s, which were eventually published in a 2001 book also titled Justice as Fairness, a promised “restatement” of the original position.

Now we can hear these lectures, or most of them, with the rest to come, on Youtube. Get started with the first lecture in his 1984 seminar “Philosophy 171: Modern Political Philosophy,” at the top, with lectures two and three above and below. There are six additional classes on the Harvard Philosophy Department’s Youtube channel, with a final two more to follow. (Get them all here.)

In these talks, Rawls explains and expands on his core principles: equality of opportunity and the “difference principle,” which states that any and all inequality should benefit the least well-off members of a society. Rawls’ brand of political liberalism (also a title of one of his books) has influenced presidents, judges, and legislators with arguments directly contrary to some of the right’s ideological architects, many of whom in fact wrote in reaction to Rawls. We are free to accept his claims or not, but Rawls’ significant contribution to the terms of modern political discourse is inarguable.

This set of lectures will be added to our collection of 140 Free Online Philosophy Courses, a subset of our meta collection: 1100 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via Daily Nous

Related Content:

A Theory of Justice, the Musical Imagines Philosopher John Rawls as a Time-Traveling Adventurer

6 Political Theorists Introduced in Animated “School of Life” Videos: Marx, Smith, Rawls & More

An Introduction to the Political Philosophy of Isaiah Berlin Through His Free Writings & Audio Lectures

Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure

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

 

Watch Glass Walls, Paul McCartney’s Case for Going Vegetarian

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 - 11:24 am

Paul McCartney became a vegetarian in 1975, thanks to his wife Linda, who campaigned for animal rights before it became fashionable, and later wrote internationally bestselling vegetarian cookbooks. Decades later, Sir Paul still remains committed to the cause, encouraging people to skip eating meat once a week — see his Meatless Mondays web site — and persuading figures like the Dalai Lama to walk the walk. Above you can watch the Paul McCartney-narrated film, Glass Walls. It works on his theory that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” That is, if you saw how most every carnivorous meal starts with absurd amounts of suffering suffering, you might question whether you personally want to support this.

Glass Walls will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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.

Artist Turns 24-Volume Encyclopedia Britannica Set into a Beautifully Carved Landscape

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 - 4:15 am

Not too long ago, an older relative tried to donate the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia he’d owned since boyhood to a local charity shop, but they refused to take it.

What an ignominious end to an institution that had followed him for seven decades and twice as many moves. Like many such weighty possessions, its provenance was sentimental, a graduation gift I believe, bestowed all at once, rather than purchased piecemeal from a traveling encyclopedia salesman.

By the time I came along, its function had been reduced to the primarily decorative. Every now and then, he’d find some pretext to pull one of its many volumes from the shelf.

Did I know that Tanzania was once called Tanganyika?

And Thailand was once Siam!

The vintage Funk & Wagnalls’ many facts, maps, and illustrations were not the only aspects in need of an update. Its pre-Women’s Lib, pre-Civil Rights attitudes were shocking to the point of camp. There was unintentional comic gold in those pages. A collage artist could’ve had a ball. Witness the success of the Encyclopedia Show, an ongoing performance event in Chicago.

Multidisciplinary artist Guy Laramée takes a much more sober approach, above. Adieu, his sculptural repurposing of a 24-volume Encyclopedia Britannica feels like a memento mori for a dimly recalled ancestor of the information age.

Quoth the artist:

I carve landscapes out of books and I paint romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.

An enemy of 3D printing and other 21st-century technological advances, Laramée employs old fashioned power tools to accomplish his beautiful, destructive vision. What’s left is a deliberate wasteland.

Kudos to filmmaker Sébastien Ventura for transcending mere documentation to deliver the befitting elegy at the top of the page. He presents us with a beautiful ruin. Whatever happened there, nature will reclaim it.

You can see more of Laramée’s work at This Is Colossal.

Related Content:

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

The Sketchbook Project Presents Online 17,000 Sketchbooks, Created by Artists from 135 Countries

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Puts 400,000 High-Res Images Online & Makes Them Free to Use

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

Fritz Lang Invents the Video Phone in Metropolis (1927)

Fri, 26 Jun 2015 - 11:00 pm

On Monday, we brought you evidence that Stanley Kubrick invented the tablet computer in 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today, we go back forty years further into cinematic history to ask whether Fritz Lang invented the video phone in 1927’s Metropolis. In the clip above, you can watch a scene set in the home of Joh Fredersen, stern master of the vast, futuristic, titular industrial city of 2026. In order to best rule all he surveys — and to complete the image of a 20th-century dystopia — he lives high above the infernal roil of Metropolis, safely ensconced in one of its vertiginous towers and equipped with the latest hulking, wall-mounted, inexplicably paper-spouting video phone technology.

Fredersen, writes Joe Malia in his notes on video phones in film, “appears to use four separate dials to arrive at the correct frequency for the call. Two assign the correct call location and two smaller ones provide fine video tuning. He then picks up a phone receiver with one hand and uses the other to tap a rhythm on a panel that is relayed to the other phone and displayed as flashes of light to attract attention.” Not content to infer the mechanics of these imaginary devices, Malia would go on to create the supercut below, a survey of video phones throughout the history of film and television, from Metropolis onward, including a stop at 2001:

The supercut also includes a clip from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, whose (on the whole, astonishingly timeless) design I called out for using video phones in a video essay of my own. In reality, contrary to all these 20th-century visions of the far-flung future, video phone technology didn’t develop quite as rapidly as predicted, and when it did develop, it didn’t spread in quite the same way as predicted. Even the rich world of 2015 lacks bulky video phone boxes in every home and on every street corner, but with voice over internet protocol services like Skype, many in even the poorest parts of the world can effectively make better video phone calls than these grand-scale sci-fi productions dared imagine — then again, they do often make them on tablets more or less straight out of 2001.

H/T David Crowley

Related Content:

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

Did Stanley Kubrick Invent the iPad in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The City in Cinema Mini-Documentaries Reveal the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, Her, Drive, Repo Man, and More

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 President Obama Sing “Amazing Grace” at the Funeral of Clementa Pinckney

Fri, 26 Jun 2015 - 4:30 pm

It was quite a week for President Obama. On Monday, we all got to hear the revealing interview Obama recorded in the Los Angeles garage of comedian Marc Maron. Midweek, the Supreme Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Healthcare Act, his signature piece of legislation. Now on Friday — the same day that Obama welcomed the court’s landmark decision on gay marriage — the President solemnly presided over the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine African-Americans murdered in a Charleston church last week.

You can watch his eulogy above in its entirety, but we’re fast forwarding to the end, when, rather unexpectedly, the president led the congregation in singing Amazing Grace, a Christian hymn written in 1779 by John Newton. In an ironic historic footnote, Newton was the captain of English slave ships and wrote the spiritual song when his ship, buffeted by a storm, nearly met its demise. This marked the beginning of a spiritual conversion for Newton, during which he remained active in the slave trade. Only years later did he repent and focus his energy on abolishing slavery. He would write ‘Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade,’ an influential tract that “described the horrors of the Slave Trade and his role in it.”

Like many things, the descendants of slaves took the good from “Amazing Grace” and made it their own.

Note: the singing starts at the 35:20 mark if you really need to move things along.

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.

via Mother Jones

Related Content:

1.5 Million Slavery Era Documents Will Be Digitized, Helping African Americans to Learn About Their Lost Ancestors

President Obama Chats with David Simon About Drugs, The Wire & Omar

Visualizing Slavery: The Map Abraham Lincoln Spent Hours Studying During the Civil War

Free Online History Courses

Hear Johnny Cash Deliver Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Fri, 26 Jun 2015 - 10:41 am

Four score and seven years ago…

It goes on from there.

If you’re a bit rusty on Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, listen to singer Johnny Cash recite the famously brief speech in its entirety, above, from his America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song album. (The acoustic guitar accompaniment is by long time Cash collaborator, Norman Blake.)

A little background for those in need of a refresher: Lincoln delivered the speech in November 1863, at the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Four months earlier, roughly 10,000 Confederate and Union soldiers perished—and another 30,000 were wounded—during three days of fighting in the area. The Battle of Gettysburg ended in a major victory for the North, though Lincoln was frustrated that General George Meade failed to pursue Robert E. Lee’s retreating forces. (Whether or not such a move could have shortened the war is a matter of some debate.)

Lincoln welcomed the invitation to the cemetery’s dedication as a chance to frame the significance of the war in terms of the Declaration of Independence. Slave owners frequently cited the constitutionality of their actions, for unlike the Declaration, the Constitution did not hold that all men were created equal.

The day’s other speaker, former Harvard President and Secretary of State Edward Everett, praised  the “eloquent simplicity & appropriateness” of the president’s two minute speech, perhaps blushing a bit, given that he himself had held the podium for two hours.

A year and a half later, when Lincoln was assassinated, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts summed it up:

That speech, uttered at the field of Gettysburg…and now sanctified by the martyrdom of its author, is a monumental act. In the modesty of his nature he said “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.” He was mistaken. The world at once noted what he said, and will never cease to remember it.

(How sorry those gentleman would be to learn just how little most Americans today know of the  the Battle of Gettysburg. Fear not, though. A restored version of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary is coming to PBS this fall.)

Please note that Lincoln’s brief remarks were carefully prepared, and not scribbled on the back of an envelope during the train ride that took him to Gettysburg. As a nation, we love folksy origin stories, and depending on the size of one’s penmanship, it is indeed possible to fit 272 words on an envelope, but it’s a myth… no matter what Johnny Cash may say in his introduction.

PS – If you would like to commit the Gettysburg Address to memory, try singing it to the tune of “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. No doubt Professor Lynda Barry would approve.

Related Content:

The Poetry of Abraham Lincoln

Resurrecting the Sounds of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s New Biopic

Animated Video: Johnny Cash Explains Why Music Became a Religious Calling

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

Commuters Can Download Free eBooks of Russian Classics While Riding the Moscow Metro

Fri, 26 Jun 2015 - 8:30 am

Image by Zigurds Zakis

They say that Mussolini’s brand of fascism made Italy’s trains run on time. Meanwhile, it looks like Communists and Post-Communist autocrats made the morning subway ride in Russia something of a cultural experience.

As you can see below, the Soviets designed the Moscow subway stations as underground palaces, adorned with “high ceilings, stained glass, mosaics and chandeliers.” (Check out a gallery of photos here.) In more recent times, city planners opened the Dostoyevskaya subway station, a more austere station where you can see black and white mosaics of scenes from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels — Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. Somewhat controversially, the mosaics depict fairly violent scenes. On one wall, The Independent writes, “Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment brandishes an axe over the elderly pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna and her sister, his murder victims in the novel. Near by, a character from Demons holds a pistol to his temple.” Nothing like confronting murder and suicide on the morning commute.

If these gloomy scenes don’t sound familiar, don’t fret. Late last year, the Moscow subway system launched a pilot where Moscow subway commuters, carrying smartphones and tablets, can download over 100 classic Russian works, for free. As they shuttle from one station to another, riding on subway cars equipped with free wifi, straphangers can read texts by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Bulgakov, Lermontov, Gogol and more. Perhaps that takes the sting out of the soaring inflation.

Note: You can find countless Russian classics in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections. They were assembled in a liberal, democratic spirit.

Related Content:

The Digital Dostoevsky: Download Free eBooks & Audio Books of the Russian Novelist’s Major Works

The Complete Works of Leo Tolstoy Online: New Archive Will Present 90 Volumes for Free (in Russian)

Stephen Fry Profiles Six Russian Writers in the New Documentary Russia’s Open Book