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An Eye-Popping Collection of 400+ Japanese Matchbox Covers: From 1920 through the 1940s

2 hours 19 min ago

Phillumeny – the practice of collecting matchboxes – strikes me as a fun and practical hobby. As a child, I was fascinated with the contents of a large glass vase my grandparents had dedicated to this pursuit. Their collection was an ersatz record of all the hotels and nightclubs they had apparently visited before transforming into a dowdy older couple who enjoyed rocking in matching Bicentennial themed chairs, monitoring their bird feeder.


As any serious phillumenist will tell you, one need not have a personal connection to the items one is collecting. Most matchbox enthusiasts are in it for the art, a microcosm of 20th century design. The urge to preserve these disposable items is understandable, given the amount of artistry that went into them. It was good business practice for bars and restaurants to give them to customers at no charge, even if they never planned to strike so much as a single match.

Smoking’s heyday is over, but until someone figures out how to make fire with a smart phone, matchboxes and books are unlikely to disappear. Wherever you go, you’ll be able to find goodies to add to your collection, usually for free.

Or you could stay at home, trawling the Internet for some of the most glorious, and sought after examples of the form – those produced in Japan between the two World Wars. As author Steven Heller, co-chair of the School of Visual Arts’ MFA Design program, writes in Print magazine:

The designers were seriously influenced by imported European styles such as Victorian and Art Nouveau… (and later by Art Deco and the Bauhaus, introduced through Japanese graphic arts trade magazines, and incorporated into the design of matchbox labels during the late 1920s and ’30s). Western graphic mannerisms were harmoniously combined with traditional Japanese styles and geometries from the Meiji period (1868–1912), exemplified by both their simple and complex ornamental compositions. Since matches were a big export industry, and the Japanese dominated the markets in the United States, Australia, England, France, and even India, matchbox design exhibited a hybrid typography that wed Western and Japanese styles into an intricate mélange.

Find something that catches your eye? It shouldn’t cost more than a buck or two to acquire it, though Japanese clutter-control guru, Marie Kondo, would no doubt encourage you to adopt cartoonist Roz Chast’s approach to matchbook appreciation.

Earlier this spring, Chast shared her passion with readers of The New Yorker, collaging some of her favorites into an autobiographical comic wherein she revealed that she doesn’t collect the actual objects, just the digital images. Those familiar with Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Chast’s hilariously painful memoir about her difficult, aging parents’ “golden years,” will be unsurprised that she opted not to add to the unwelcome pile of “crap” that gets handed down to the next generation when a collector passes away.

If you’re inspired to start a Chast-style collection, have a rummage through the large album of Japanese vintage matchbox covers that web designer, Jane McDevitt posted to Flickr, from which the images here are drawn.

Those 418 labels, culled from a friend’s grandfather’s collection are just the tip of McDevitt’s matchbox obsession. To date, she’s posted over 2050 covers from all around the world, with the bulk hailing from Eastern Europe in the 50s and 60s.  You can visit her collection of 400+ Japanese matchbox covers here. And if you’re into this stuff, check out the Japanese book, Matchbox Label Collection 1920s-40s.

via coudal.com

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Ayun Halliday, author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine, will be reading from her travel memoir, No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late at Indy Reads Books in downtown Indianapolis, Thursday, July 7. Follow her @AyunHalliday

An Eye-Popping Collection of 400+ Japanese Matchbox Covers: From 1920 through the 1940s is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Terry Gilliam Explains His Never-Ending Fascination with Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”

6 hours 51 min ago

As I recall, if you asked men in the 1990s to describe ideal the woman, a great many would have made references to Uma Thurman, who spent that decade playing high-profile roles in acclaimed movies like Pulp Fiction and Gattaca—as well as less-acclaimed movies like The Avengers and Batman & Robin (but hey, you can’t pick winners all the time). But animator, director, American Monty Python member and all-around visionary Terry Gilliam made use of the powerful appeal of Thurman’s presence even earlier, when—making The Adventures of Baron Munchausen—-he needed just the right young lady for a scene recreating Sandro Botticelli’s Renaissance painting The Birth of Venus.

“The casting director in L.A. said, ‘You’ve got to meet this girl,'” Gilliam remembers in the clip from this year’s BBC Arts documentary Botticelli’s Venus: The Making on an Icon at the top of the post. “There she was: statuesque, beautiful, intelligent—incredibly intelligent.” He compares the original canvas itself to a “widescreen cinema,” as well as, just as aptly, to a lower art form entirely: “The winds are blowing, her hair starts billowing out, the dressing girl is bringing in the robe — it’s a really funny painting, looking at it again, because she’s there, static, elegant, naked, sexy. The robe wouldn’t look so good if the winds weren’t blowing, nor would her hair look so beautiful. It’s like, this is a commercial for shampoo!”

As Monty Python fans all know, Gilliam had worked with The Birth of Venus before, using his signature cutout animation technique, which defined much of the look and feel of Monty Python‘s Flying Circus, to make Venus dance. “I like testing how much I like something, or how beautiful something is, by making fun of it,” he says to his BBC interviewer. “If it withstands my silliness, it’s really great art.” Further props to Botticelli come at the end of the clip, when she asks Gilliam if he thinks Venus represents “the ultimate male fantasy.” “Oh, why not?” he immediately replies. “You don’t do much better than that. I think he really cracked that one.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Terry Gilliam Explains His Never-Ending Fascination with Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s Three Rules for Living Well: A Short and Succinct Life Philosophy

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 - 12:52 pm

Regular readers of Open Culture know us to gush over our favorite celebrity couples now and then: John and Yoko, Jean-Paul and Simone, Frida and Diego…. Not your usual tabloid fare, but the juicy details of these amorous partners’ lives also happen to intersect with some of our favorite art, music and literature. One cultural power couple we haven’t covered much, surprisingly, well deserves the “power” adjective: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, two personalities whose influence on the art and music of the last several decades can hardly be overstated.

Has Reed’s reputation at times been inflated, and Anderson’s underplayed? Maybe. She doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the witty, profound, moving work she’s done, year after year (with one lengthy hiatus) since the 70s. Reed’s career since the 70s consisted of more misses than hits. But put them together (in 1992) and you get a harmonious meeting of Reed’s raw, gut-level assertions and Anderson’s curious, playful concepts.



Witness their personal strength together in the Charlie Rose excerpt at the top of the post. Reed, who was often a difficult interview subject, to put it mildly, and who gained a reputation as a brutally unpleasant, abusive rock and roll diva (immortalized lovingly in Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”), comes off in this sit-down with Anderson as almost warm and fuzzy. Did she make him want to be a better person? I don’t know. But Anderson’s short obituary after his 2013 death remembered Reed as a “prince and fighter,” her longer obit as a “generous” soul who enjoyed butterfly hunting, meditation, and kayaking. No reason he wasn’t all those things too.

When it came to music, Reed could pull his partner into the orbit of his sweet R&B songcraft, as in their duet of “Hang on to Your Emotions,” further up, and she could pull him out of it—like John Cale and Nico had done in the Velvet Underground—and into the avant-garde drone of her experimental scene (as above in the pair’s collaboration with composer and saxophonist John Zorn). Just this past Spring, in one of the most touching musical tributes I’ve ever seen, Anderson recreated Reed’s abrasive screw-you to his record label, Metal Machine Music, as a conceptual art piece called Drones, leaning several of his guitars against several fully-cranked vintage amps, letting the feedback ring out for five days straight.

None of us can be Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson; every couple is happy, or unhappy, in their own way. But what, in the grand tradition of mining celebrity couple’s lives for advice, can we learn from them? I guess the overall message—as Anderson herself suggested in her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech for Reed (above, in shaky audience video)—is this: keep it simple. Kansas State English Professor Philip Nel points out Anderson’s “wise… thoughtful” words on the subject of living well, delivered in her speech at the 8:55 mark:

I’m reminded also of the three rules we came up with, rules to live by. And I’m just going to tell you what they are because they come in really handy. Because things happen so fast, it’s always good to have a few, like, watchwords to fall back on.

And the first one is: One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.

Can you imagine Lou Reed as “really, really tender”? He certainly was in song, if not always in person. In any case, these three rules seem to me to encapsulate a personal philosophy built solidly on fearless integrity and compassion. Difficult to live by, but well worth the effort. And because I’m now feeling super warm and fuzzy about Lou and Laurie, I’ll leave you with the short WNYC interview clip below, in which she reveals her favorite Lou Reed song, which he happened to write about her.

via Nine Kinds of Pie

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

Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s Three Rules for Living Well: A Short and Succinct Life Philosophy is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Betty Davis’ Legendary and Long-Lost Recording Sessions, Produced by Miles Davis, Finally Released (1968-1969)

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 - 10:54 am

Bringing her down-home North Carolina background to the world of funk, Betty Mabry spent a better part of the sixties trying to make it big in the music scene, while also modeling to pay the rent. She ran in the same crowds as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Hugh Masekela (who she dated), and she wrote her own songs, selling one to the Chambers Brothers, and then got a couple of singles on Capitol Records.


And then Miles Davis stepped in the picture. First as a whirlwind romance and marriage, then as a producer who was going to launch Betty Davis as the queen of funk (and refurbish his image in the process.) He had already dedicated two songs to her and put her on the cover of his 1968 album Filles de KilimanjaroAnd now he was set to produce her solo debut.

That album is finally being released. Betty Davis: The Columbia Years 1968-1969 drops tomorrowTo hear Light in the Attic’s video press release above breathlessly tell it, “music fans have long debated the truth about one legendary session recorded in 1969 at Columbia’s 52nd Street Studios.” Personally I don’t know what was actually debated, but yes, Betty Davis recorded tracks for a funk album using members of Jimi Hendrix’s Experience band (Mitch Mitchell, drums) and his Band of Gypsies (Billy Cox, bass), along with guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, Harvey Brooks on bass, Wayne Shorter on sax, and Larry Young on organ. Teo Macero co-produced with Miles Davis.

If this sounds like most of the band that went on to make Miles’ Bitches Brew (a record title suggested by Betty), then you’re right. It could be seen as a session that got the wheels spinning in Miles’ mind about a new direction to take his own work. And it’s that moment that so fascinates music fans.

Columbia passed on the Betty Davis album and buried it in its vaults. It would take four years until Betty Davis was able to get a solo album out on her own terms. That eponymous 1973 album and the two that followed were poor sellers, but earned cult status due to Betty Davis’ unabashed and unapologetic sexuality, feminism, and ferocity on stage—the same factors that scared radio operators and concert venues.

“She was the first Madonna, but Madonna was like Donny Osmond by comparison,” Carlos Santana once quipped about her.

The Light in the Attic site has very brief clips from the songs on the new release, but since they are all from the openings of the tracks, they give little indication of the funky stew to follow, from the Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival covers (“Politician Man,” “Born on the Bayou”) to her own songs. The CD and LP package looks gorgeous of course, with liner notes and photos.

Davis retired from music after her fourth album went nowhere but she is still around, and, according to the Light in the Attic website, a documentary is in the works on this influential funky icon who needs rediscovering.

via Boing Boing

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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.

Betty Davis’ Legendary and Long-Lost Recording Sessions, Produced by Miles Davis, Finally Released (1968-1969) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Physics & Caffeine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Coffee to Explain Key Concepts in Physics

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 - 8:30 am

Want to teach me physics? Make it interesting. Better yet, use a cup of coffee as a prop. Now you’ve got my attention.

Created by Charlotte Arene while interning at the University of Paris-Sud’s Laboratory of Solid State PhysicsPhysics & Caffeine uses a shot of espresso to explain key concepts in physics. Why does coffee cool off so quickly when you blow on it? It comes down to understanding heat and thermodynamics. Why does coffee stay in a cup at all? That seemingly simple question is explained by quantum mechanics and even Newtonian physics and special relativity. You might want to watch that section twice.

Shot image by image, this stop motion film took three long months to create. Pretty impressive when you consider that 5,000 images went into making the film.

Get more information on the film, and even download it, from this page. And find more physics primers below.

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via Aeon

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Physics & Caffeine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Coffee to Explain Key Concepts in Physics is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The Philosophy of Bill Murray: The Intellectual Foundations of His Comedic Persona

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 - 12:30 am

“Bill Murray is a national, no, an international, no an intergalactic treasure,” said Jim Jarmusch, who directed him in Coffee and Cigarettes and Broken Flowers, when the actor won this year’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. But what, exactly, do we find so compelling about the guy? I launched into my own quest to find out after seeing his performance in Rushmore (regarded by most Murray scholars as a revelation of depth at which he’d only hinted between wisecracks before), watching every movie he ever appeared in. Similarly rigorous research must have gone into this new video on the philosophy of Bill Murray.



“Since replacing Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live in 1977,” says narrator Jared Bauer, “Bill Murray has embodied a very particular type of comedy that can best be described as ‘ironic and cooly distant.'” Bauer references a New York Times article on Murray’s ascendance to “secular sainthood” which describes him as having had “such a long film career that, in the public mind, there are multiple Bill Murrays. The Bill Murray of Stripes and Ghostbusters is an anti-authoritarian goofball: the kind of smart-aleck who leads a company of soldiers in a coordinated dance routine before a visiting general, or responds to the possible destruction of New York City by saying, ‘Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!'”

That memorable line makes it into “The Philosophy of Bill Murray,” as do many others, all of which spring from the actor’s signature persona, which “stands slightly at a distance from everything, enabling him to maintain a dryly humorous commentary about what’s going on around him.” Bauer places this in a tradition of American comedy “dating back at least to the vaudeville days” and continuing through to Groucho Marx’s habitual breakage of the fourth wall. He even connects it to 15th-century Japanese playwright-philosopher Zeami Motokiyo and, in some sense his 20th-century continuation, Bertolt Brecht.

But what influence best explains Murray’s distinctive onscreen and increasingly performance art-like offscreen behavior today? Maybe that of his onetime teacher, the Greco-Armenian Sufi mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, who, as Murray’s Ghostbusters co-star Harold Ramis put it, “used to act really irrationally to his students, almost as if trying to teach them object lessons.” He taught what he called “the fourth way of enlightenment,” or — more fittingly in Murray’s case — “the way of the sly man,” who can “find the truth in everyday life” by remaining simultaneously aware of both the outside world and his inner one while not getting caught up in either. The sly man thus exists between, and uses, “the world, the self, and the self that is observing everything.”

Bauer sums up Murray’s uniqueness thus: “He turns the usual style of American comedic irony against itself, or against himself,” leading us to “identify not with Bill Murray’s character, but with Bill Murray, who distances himself from the stakes of the narrative.” But whether playing a character, playing himself, or something between the two, Murray seems as if he knows something we don’t about the stakes of life itself. “I’d like to be more consistently here,” he once said to Charlie Rose, who’d asked what he wants that he doesn’t already have. “Really in it, really alive. I’d like to just be more here all the time, and I’d like to see what I could get done, what I could do, if I was able to not get distracted, to not change channels in my mind and body.” A universal human longing, perhaps, but one Murray, the ultimate sly man, has come to tap more deeply into than any performer around.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Philosophy of Bill Murray: The Intellectual Foundations of His Comedic Persona is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

23 Hours of H.P. Lovecraft Stories: Hear Readings & Dramatizations of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” & Other Weird Tales

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 - 10:51 am

Image by Lucius B. Truesdell, via Wikimedia Commons

H.P. Lovecraft has somewhat fallen out of favor in many circles of horror and fantasy writing. Just this past year, after much debate, the World Fantasy Awards decided to remove his likeness from their statuette. Because, quite frankly, Lovecraft was not only a bigot but a committed anti-Semite and white supremacist who loathed virtually everyone who wasn’t, as he put it, “Nordic-American.” This included African-Americans and “stunted bracycephalic South-Italians & rat-faced half-Mongoloid Russian & Polish Jews, & all that cursed scum,” as he wrote in a letter to fellow writer August Derleth. The statement is representative of many, many more on the subject.


Were these simply private political opinions and nothing more, there might not be sufficient reason to read them into his work, but as several people have argued convincingly, Lovecraft’s opinions form the basis of so much of his work. China Miéville, for example, writes “I follow [French novelist Michel Houellebecq—hardly known for any kind of political correctness] in thinking that Lovecraft’s oeuvre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply structured with race hatred. As Houellebecq said, it is racism itself that raises in Lovecraft a ‘poetic trance.’”

Lovecraft’s xenophobic loathing begins to seem like an almost pathological hatred and fear of anyone different, and of any kind of change in the nation’s makeup. It goes far beyond casual “man of his time” attitudes (and increasingly, of our time). F. Scott Fitzgerald lived during Lovecraft’s time. And Fitzgerald had the critical distance to satirize fanatical bigotry like Lovecraft’s in The Great Gatsby‘s Tom Buchanan. All of that said, however, it’s impossible to deny Lovecraft’s influence on horror and fantasy, and almost no one has done so, even among those writers who most vehemently lobbied to retire his image or who found his presence deeply troubling.

World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor writes about contemporary authors having to wrestle with the fact “that many of The Elders we honor and need to learn from hate or hated us.” Winner Sofia Samatar, who wanted the statuette changed, exclaimed, “I am not telling anybody not to read Lovecraft. I teach Lovecraft! I actually insist that people read him and write about him!” In a short essay at Tor, sci-fi and fantasy writer Elizabeth Bear expressed many of the same ambivalent feelings about her “complicated relationship with Lovecraft.” While finding his “bigotry of just about any stripe you like… revolting,” his work has nonetheless provided “a powerful source of inspiration, the foundations of it like Hadrian’s Wall; full of material for mining and repurposing.”

It’s not particularly unusual to find such ambivalent attitudes expressed toward literary ancestors. All artists—all people—have their character flaws, and to expect every writer we like to share our values seems naive, narrow, and superficial. But Lovecraft presents an extreme example, and also one whose prose is often pretty terrible: overstuffed, overwrought, pretentious, and archaic. But it’s that pulpy style that makes Lovecraft, Lovecraft—that contributes to the feverish atmosphere of paranoia and alienation in his stories. “He’s a master of mood,” Bear avows, “of sweeping blasted vistas of despair and the bone-soaking cold of space.”

That much of his despair and horror emanated from a place inside him that feared the “gestures & jabbering” of other humans does not make it any less effectively creepy or hypnotic. It just makes it that much harder to love Lovecraft the author, no matter how much we might admire his work. But perhaps Lovecraft was such an effective horror writer precisely because he was so terribly afraid of change and difference. As he himself wrote of his particular brand of supernatural horror, or “weird fiction,” as he called it: “horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected… because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion.” One needn’t be a phobic racist to write good horror fiction, but in Lovecraft’s case, I guess, it seems to have helped.

Just as much as the work of Isaac Asimov, or Robert Heinlein, or Gene Roddenberry resides in the DNA of science fiction, so too does Lovecraft inhabit the organic building blocks of horror writing. Horror and fantasy writers who somehow avoid reading Lovecraft may end up absorbing his influence anyway; readers who avoid him will end up reading some version of “Lovecraft pastiche,” as Bear puts it. So it behooves us to go to the source, find out what Lovecraft himself wrote, take the good over the bad, even “pick a fight with him,” writes Bear, “because of what he does right, that makes his stories too compelling to just walk away from, and because of what he does wrong… for example, the way he treats people as things.”

We’ve previously brought to your attention several online Lovecraft archives, such as this compilation of Lovecraft eBooks and audiobooks, and these many fine dramatizations of Lovecraft’s stories. Additionally, you can download many of Lovecraft’s stories and letters published in the seminal horror and fantasy magazine Weird Tales. And in the Spotify playlist above (download Spotify here if you need it), you can hear The H.P. Lovecraft Compendium, 23 hours of readings and dramatizations of Lovecraft’s creepy short stories and novellas, including The Shadow Over Innsmouth, “The Dunwich Horror,” The Whisperer in Darkness, “The Call of Cthulhu,” and many, many more. However repugnant many of Lovecraft’s attitudes, there’s no denying the power of his “weird fiction.” As the playlist advises, “you might want to leave a light on when listening to these chilling performances….”

This playlist will be added to our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

23 Hours of H.P. Lovecraft Stories: Hear Readings & Dramatizations of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” & Other Weird Tales is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Laurie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 - 8:30 am

Her avant-garde performance art endeared her to the New York art world long before she dated, then married, one of the most influential men in rock and roll. Her work has at times been overshadowed by her more conventionally famous partner and collaborator, but after his death, she continues to make challenging, far ahead-of-its-time work and redefine herself as a creative force.


No, I don’t mean Yoko Ono, but the formidable Laurie Anderson. In addition to her experimental art, Anderson is a filmmaker, sculptor, photographer, writer, composer, and musician. Her surprise electronic hit “O Superman” (above) from her debut 1982 album Big Science, “warns of ever-present death from the air in an era of jingoism,” writes David Graham at The Atlantic. Anderson herself explains the song as based on a “beautiful 19th-century aria by Massenet… a prayer to authority. The lyrics are a one-sided conversation, like a prayer to God. It sounds sinister—but it is sinister when you start talking to power.”

“O Superman” speaks, mockingly, to American military hegemony and to a particular historical event, the Iran hostage crisis. As such, it is representative of much of her work, melding classical instincts and musicianship with electronic experimentation and a darkly comic sensibility that she often wields like a critical scalpel on U.S. political attitudes—from her huge, five-record 1984 live album United States (with songs like “Yankee See” and “Democratic Way”) to her 2010 project Homeland.

One of Anderson’s most recent pieces, Dirtday, “responds,” she says above, to “a very tragic situation… a decade after 9/11… so much fear. Dirtday was really inspired by trying to look at that fear… almost from a point of view of ‘what is it when a whole nation gets hypnotized?’” Her art may be politically oppositional, but she also admits, that “as a storyteller, I find my ‘colleagues’ in politics, you know, a little bit closer than I thought.” The admission belies Anderson’s ability to incorporate multiple perspectives into her complex narratives, as all great writers do. And great writers begin as readers, their work in dialogue with the books that move and shape them.

So what does Laurie Anderson read? Below, you’ll find a list of her top ten books, curated by One Grand, a “bookstore in which celebrated thinkers, writers, artists, and other creative minds share the ten books they would take to their metaphorical desert island.” Her choices include great comic storytellers, like Laurence Sterne, and chroniclers of the lumbering beast that is the U.S., like Herman Melville. Other well-known novelists, like Nabokov and Annie Dillard, sit next to Buddhist texts and creative nonfiction. It’s a fascinating list, and if you’re as intrigued and inspired by Anderson’s work as I am, you’ll want to read, or re-read, everything on it.

Skip on over to One Grand to read Anderson’s complete, witty commentaries on each of her choices.

Also check out, UBUweb, which has a nice collection of Laurie Anderson’s early video work.

via The New York Times Magazine

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

Laurie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Hear 230 Episodes of Escape: Classic Radio Dramas of Stories by Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells & More (1947-1954)

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 - 1:00 am

“Worried about the price of butter and eggs? Fed up with the housing shortage? Want to get away from it all? CBS offers you Escape!” These words open October 1st, 1947’s broadcast adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” Richard Connell’s safari culture-satirizing short thriller about a New York big-game hunter en route to Rio who falls off his yacht, swims to shore, and soon finds himself evading an eccentric Cossack aristocrat who hunts human beings for sport on his own private island. Not exactly the sort of material that takes all one’s cares away, but Escape, it seems, had its own definition of escapism.

Originally airing on CBS radio between 1947 and 1954 — time that, without a regular sponsor, it spent in eighteen different time slots — the program’s 230 episodes took material from all over the literary landscape: Ray Bradbury’s “Mars Is Heaven,” Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds,” H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” (among several other of his tales), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost Special,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” You can listen to almost all its broadcasts, which mix then-new writers in with the established or already canonized ones, at the Internet Archive. (Stream all the episodes right above.) “Escape brings together everything that was good about old-time radio drama rolled into one,” say the notes there, calling each episode “a micro drama carefully planned to capture the listener’s attention for thirty minutes.”

“Many of the stories were later reused by more high profile shows such as Suspense, but on the whole the Escape versions were of equal quality and sometimes more dramatically focused and atmospheric. When Radio Life wrote ‘These stories all possess many times the reality that most radio writing conveys,’ it hit the nail on the head.” At the time, the show’s creators must have constantly worried that all their sponsorship troubles and time-slot changes would keep the show from lasting, but even listeners now, more than sixty years after the Golden Age of radio and with our own concerns about egg prices and housing shortages, can find in it a quality of escapism still unmatched by most popular culture.

Find other vintage radio dramas in our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear 230 Episodes of Escape: Classic Radio Dramas of Stories by Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells & More (1947-1954) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

President Warren G. Harding’s Steamy Love Letters

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 - 12:01 am

If you know something about American history, you know that Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) will never appear on Mount Rushmore. He died during his unpopular first term in office, tarnished by the Teapot Dome scandal and revelations of an extramarital affair. Harding once apparently said, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” And historians tend to agree. Consistently polls ranking the performance of American presidents put him at the bottom of the list.

History might, however, look more kindly upon Harding’s love letters, the byproduct of his womanizing ways. Before taking office, Harding fathered a love child with Nan Britton, a woman 31 years his junior. He also carried on a 15-year affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, a friend’s wife, to whom he started writing letters in 1910. And what letters they were. Here’s one from January 28, 1912:

I love your poise

Of perfect thighs

When they hold me

in paradise. . .

I love the rose

Your garden grows

Love seashell pink

That over it glows

I love to suck

Your breath away

I love to cling —

There long to stay. . .

I love you garb’d

But naked more

Love your beauty

To thus adore. . .

I love you when

You open eyes

And mouth and arms

And cradling thighs. . .

If I had you today, I’d kiss and

fondle you into my arms and

hold you there until you said,

‘Warren, oh, Warren,’ in a

benediction of blissful joy. . . . I

rather like that encore

discovered in Montreal.

Did you?

And another from September 15, 1913, which John Oliver playfully mocks above:

Honestly, I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that there will never be any relief untilI take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pillowing breasts. Oh, Carrie! I want the solace you only can give. It is awful to hunger so and be so wholly denied. . . . Wouldn’t you like to hear me ask if we only dared and answer, “We dare,” while souls rejoicing sang the sweetest of choruses in the music room? Wouldn’t you like to get sopping wet out on Superior — not the lake — for the joy of fevered fondling and melting kisses? Wouldn’t you like to make the suspected occupant of the next room jealous of the joys he could not know, as we did in morning communion at Richmond?

Oh, Carrie mine! You can see I have yielded and written myself into wild desire. I could beg. And Jerry came and will not go, says he loves you, that you are the only, only love worthwhile in all this world, and I must tell you so and a score or more of other fond things he suggests, but I spare you. You must not be annoyed. He is so utterly devoted that he only exists to give you all. I fear you would find a fierce enthusiast today.

Originally unearthed by historian Francis Russell in 1964, the letters were donated to the Library of Congress, where they remained under seal until 2014. You can find scans of the original Warren G. Harding-Carrie Fulton Phillips Correspondence on the LOC website. (The LOC also produced an informative video on the exchange.) Read transcriptions of the best letters at The New York Times.

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President Warren G. Harding’s Steamy Love Letters is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Hear Young Bob Dylan, Before Releasing His First Album, Tell Amazing Tales About Growing Up in a Carnival

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 - 10:31 am

Back in 2012, we featured a young Bob Dylan talking and playing on The Studs Terkel radio show in 1963. Open Culture’s Mike Springer prefaced the interview with these words, “Dylan had just finished recording the songs for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, when he traveled from New York to Chicago to play a gig at a little place partly owned by his manager, Albert Grossman, called The Bear Club. The next day he went to the WFMT studios for the hour-long appearance on The Studs Terkel Program. Most sources give the date of the interview as April 26, 1963, though Dylan scholar Michael Krogsgaard has given it as May 3.” In talking with Studs, Dylan told some tall tales (scholars say) about his youth, ones that would have made Huckleberry Finn proud. And that tendency to create an alternative biography is on display again in an even earlier interview, dating back to March 11, 1962.



Animated by Blank on Blank above, the (excerpted) interview lets us hear Dylan, only 20 years old, before the release of his eponymous debut album, and before achieving any kind of fame. Young Dylan tells Cynthia Gooding, host of the “Folksinger’s Choice” radio program in NYC, about the six years he spent with the carnival.

I was with the carnival off and on for about six years… I was clean-up boy, I used to be on the main line, on the ferris wheel, uh, do just run rides. I used to do all kinds of stuff like that… And I didn’t go to school a bunch of years and I skipped this and I skipped that.

Later he continued:

I wrote a song once. I’m trying to find, a real good song I wrote. An’ it’s about this lady I knew in the carnival. An’ er, they had a side show, I only, I was, this was, Thomas show, Roy B Thomas shows, and there was, they had a freak show in it, you know, and all the midgets and all that kind of stuff. An’ there was one lady in there really bad shape. Like her skin had been all burned when she was a little baby, you know, and it didn’t grow right, and so she was like a freak. An’ all these people would pay money, you know, to come and see and … er … that really sort of got to me, you know. They’d come and see, and I mean, she was very, she didn’t really look like normal, she had this funny kind of skin and they passed her of as the elephant lady. And, er, like she was just burned completely since she was a little baby, er.

You can hear a nearly complete audio recording of the interview (55 minutes) below, and read a transcript of the full interview on Expecting Rain.

Over on Spotify, you can hear the 11 songs that Dylan played for Gooding that day.

They include several that Dylan wrote, along with some old folk and blues songs:

  1. “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle” (Hank Williams/Jimmie Davis)
  2. “Fixin’ to Die” (Bukka White)
  3. “Smokestack Lighning” (Howlin’ Wolf)
  4. “Hard Travelin'” (Woody Guthrie)
  5. “The Death of Emmett Till”  (Bob Dylan)
  6. “Standing on the Highway” (Bob Dylan)
  7. “Roll on John” (Rufus Crisp)
  8. “Stealin'” (traditional)
  9. “It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad” (traditional)
  10. “Baby, Please Don’t Go” (Big Joe Williams)
  11. “Hard Times in New York Town” (Bob Dylan)

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Hear Young Bob Dylan, Before Releasing His First Album, Tell Amazing Tales About Growing Up in a Carnival is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Hear Anaïs Nin Read From Her Celebrated Diary: A 60-Minute Vintage Recording (1966)

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 - 8:30 am

At one time, writer Anaïs Nin’s reputation largely rested on her passionate, long-term love affair with novelist Henry Miller, whom she also financially supported while he wrote his best-known novels and became, writes Sady Doyle, a “darling of the avant-garde.” Nin herself was a marginalized, “unfashionable” writer, whose “frank portrayals of illegal abortions, extramarital affairs and incest” brought such critical opprobrium down on her that “by 1954, Nin believed the entire publishing industry saw her as a joke.” She had good reason to think so.


Miller’s notoriously censored books won him cult literary status, and inspired the Beats, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and many more hedonistic male writers seeking to turn their lives into art. Nin’s equally explicit work was met, she lamented, “with indifference, with insults.” Critics either ignored her novels, several of them self-published, or dismissed them as vulgar, artless, and worse. One headline, Doyle notes, called Nin “a monster of self-centeredness whose artistic pretentions now seem grotesque.”

All of that changed when Nin published the first volume of her diary in 1966. Thereafter, she achieved global fame as a feminist icon, and the next ten years saw the publication of an additional six volumes of her journals, then several more excerpts after her death in 1977. Most notably, Henry and June appeared in 1986 (subsequently made into a film by Philip Kaufman), a book which—in conjunction with the publication of her and Miller’s letters the following year—further added to the mythology of the two passionately erotic writers.

Nin had kept her diaries religiously since age 11, and has become known as “modernity’s most prolific and perceptive diarist,” writes Maria Popova, a distinction that has led to a tremendous resurgence in pop culture popularity in our time, when well-crafted self-revelation is de rigeur for artists, activists, online personalities, and aspirants of all kinds. Henry Miller is now “a marginalized and largely forgotten American writer” (or so claims his biographer Arthur Hoyle), and Nin has become a “patron saint of social media,” writes Doyle, a “proto-Lena-Dunham.” Pithy quotations from her diaries—properly credited or not—constantly circulate on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

A new generation just discovering Anaïs Nin can access her work in any number of ways—from hip, meme-heavy Tumblr accounts like Fuck Yeah Anais Nin to more formal online venues like the Anais Nin Blog, which aggregates biographies, podcasts, scholarship, bibliographies, controversies, and anything else one might want to know about the author. Anaïs Nin fans can also hear the author herself read from her famous diary in the audio here. At the top of the post, hear Nin’s reading, recorded in ’66, the year of the first volume’s publication. The complete recording runs about 60 minutes. (For some reason, the person who uploaded the audio to Youtube left some blank space at the end.) You can hear an alternative version on Archive.org.

After the acclaim of Nin’s diaries, and the celebrity she enjoyed in her last decade, her reputation once again suffered, posthumously, as biographers and critics savaged her life and work in moralistic torrents of what would today be called “slut-shaming.” But Nin is now once again rightly revered as a writer fully dedicated to the art, no matter the reception or the audience. The astonishing stream of words that flowed from her, recording every detail of her experiences, “seems nothing less than phenomenal,” wrote Noel Young of Nin’s nonstop letter writing. When it came to the detailed, insightful, and acutely philosophical recording of her life, “the act of writing may have even surpassed the act of living.”

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

Hear Anaïs Nin Read From Her Celebrated Diary: A 60-Minute Vintage Recording (1966) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The Very First Film Adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a Thomas Edison Production (1910)

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 - 4:51 am

The story of humans creating monstrous beings in their image may have perennial relevance, even if it seems specific to our contemporary cultural moment. What, after all, is Oscar Isaac’s AI inventor in Ex Machina but a 21st century update of Victor Frankenstein? And what is Frankenstein’s monster but a Gothic recreation of the Golem, or any number of folkloric automatons in cultures far and wide? It’s an age-old archetypal story that seems to get an update every year.


People have imagined making artificial people, perhaps for as long as people have told stories. But each iteration of that story emerges from a historical matrix of particular technological, philosophical, and metaphysical anxieties. In the case of Ex Machina, we have not only a thinking, feeling humanoid, but one created out of mass data collection and designed to serve the prurient interests of a Nietzschean venture capitalist engineer. How very 2015, no?

In the original Frankenstein, a novel written by a woman, Mary Shelley, we have a very different kind of monster, born out of a Romantic convergence of interest in alchemy and the occult—the original domains of early modern scientists like Isaac Newton—and more modern, industrial scientific methods (hence the novel’s subtitle, The Modern Prometheus). Many critics have called the novel the first work of science fiction, and many, like Maurice Hindle in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, have described its main theme as “the aspiration of modern masculinist scientists to be technically creative divinities.”

And yet, writes Ruth Franklin at the New Republic—drawing convincingly on Shelley’s own traumatic experiences with birth, including her own—Frankenstein might “also be a story about pregnancy.” Intriguing as this possibility may be, most interpretations of the novel have seen it as “a fable of masculine reproduction, in which a man creates life asexually.” That tradition continues in the movies with the first film adaptation of Frankenstein, made by Edison studios just over 100 years after the novel’s 1818 publication.

The 1910 short silent film, which you can watch above, bills itself as “a liberal adaptation from Mrs. Shelley’s famous story,” and opens in its first scene with Victor Frankenstein leaving home for college. Two years later, the Faustian mad scientist discovers the mystery of life, uses the knowledge to make his “creature”—a surprisingly grotesque scene—and, appalled at the sight of it, rejects the thing in horror. The rest of the story proceeds along the usual lines, as the monster, in rags and fright wig, seeks recognition from his creator/parent and wreaks havoc when he does not receive it.

This first Frankenstein film, directed by J. Searle Dawley, arrived two years after Edison’s Bronx, New York studios began full and very lucrative operations, and, by this time, writes Rich Drees, motion pictures had begun to receive unwelcome attention from “moral crusaders and reform groups, who decried the new medium as being dangerous and encouraging of immorality.” Edison responded quickly, fearing “a serious threat to his bottom line,” and ordered that his films’ production quality and “moral tone” be improved.

Frankenstein, writes Drees, “was the perfect choice to kick off production under this new moral banner. It’s a story that deals with the extremes of the human condition, life and death, and the dangers of tampering in God’s realm.” Edison released the film with the following disclaimer:

To those familiar with Mrs. Shelly’s story it will be evident that we have carefully omitted anything which might be any possibility shock any portion of the audience. In making the film the Edison Co. has carefully tried to eliminate all actual repulsive situations and to concentrate its endeavors upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale. Wherever, therefore, the film differs from the original story it is purely with the idea of eliminating what would be repulsive to a moving picture audience. 

Five years after the Edison studio’s short, another silent adaptation, Life Without Soul, appeared. Made by the Ocean Film Corporation, this film is now lost to history, but it qualifies as the first feature-length adaptation at 70 minutes. A review of the film, writes the blog Frankensteinia, “reveals a story that hews fairly close to Mary Shelley’s novel,” making a “bold attempt at capturing the world-spanning sweep of the tale.”

Several dozen film adaptations in the ensuing years have tracked more or less closely to Shelley’s narrative—giving Frankenstein’s monster a bride and having Victor Frankenstein reanimate his dead lover with the mind of a wrongly-executed man. But none of these films, so far as I know, has drawn out the subtext of Frankenstein as a novel about pregnancy and childbirth. Such an adaptation remains to be made, perhaps by the first woman director to take on a Frankenstein film.

You can find Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in our collections of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

The film above will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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

The Very First Film Adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a Thomas Edison Production (1910) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Colorful Animation Visualizes 200 Years of Immigration to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 - 1:00 am

Many of us, whether born there, residing there, or just interested in the place, describe the United States of America as “a nation of immigrants.” What exactly that phrase means has in recent times become the subject of heated public debate. As this year’s presidential candidates strain to appeal to voters with a wide variety of views on the question of what role immigration should play in America’s future (to say nothing of what’s going on in Britain right now), it might help to look at what role immigration has played in its past, and a new animated infographic of who has immigrated from where since 1820 gives the clearest possible look at the whole picture.



“Through most of the 1800s, immigration came predominantly from Western Europe (Ireland, Germany, the U.K.),” writes the data visualization’s creator Max Galka at Metrocosm. “Toward the end of the century, countries further east in Europe (Italy, Russia, Hungary) took over as the largest source of migration. Beginning in the early 1900’s, most immigrants arrived from the Americas (Canada, Mexico). And the last few decades have seen a rise in migration from Asia.”

Each colored dot flying toward the U.S. represents a part of that country’s population, and the brightness of a country’s color on the map corresponds to its total migration to the U.S. at that particular time. Galka provides other charts that show immigration flows by country of origin over time, which makes immigration look higher than ever, and then the same data as a percentage of the total population of the United States, which makes it look almost lower than ever. (And as an American who moved to Korea last year, I can’t help but ask whether we should now give as much thought to emigration out of the U.S. as we have to immigration into it.)

To really feel the advantages and complications of the nation of immigrants first-hand, you’ll want to spend time in a major American city, those always vibrant, often troubled places that people like The Wire creator David Simon have dedicated themselves to observing. “You look at what New Orleans is capable of, as a product of the American melting pot, and it’s glorious,” he once said. “It’s in the friction and in the dynamic between the various groups that inhabit a city that creativity really happens. What makes cities work is a level of tolerance and human endeavor and wit that is absolutely required on the part of all people. Whether or not we succeed as an urban people is the only question worth asking.” And in America, an urban people has always been a diverse people.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Colorful Animation Visualizes 200 Years of Immigration to the U.S. (1820-Present) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Slavoj Žižek Explains the Artistry of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films: Solaris, Stalker & More

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 - 12:30 pm

Though a filmmaker of strong personal convictions, artistic and otherwise, Andrei Tarkovsky made films that endure in part because they open themselves to a multiplicity of interpretations. Nothing in the Tarkovsky canon opens itself up to quite such a multiplicity of interpretations as Stalker, which continues to produce fascinating new works derived from their creators’ experience of the film, such as Geoff Dyer’s Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of video games, and even a segment of the Slavoj Žižek-starring documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, which you can watch above.



“We need the excuse of a fiction to stage what they truly are,” declares the philosophical, cultural, and political provocateur over footage of what many consider Tarkovsky’s masterpiece. He describes it as “a film about a ‘Zone,’ a prohibited space where there are debris, remainders of aliens visiting us.” The titular professionals he describes as “people who specialize in smuggling foreigners who want to visit into this space where you get many magical objects.” The ultimate goal of all who make the harrowing journey to the Zone? “The room in the middle of this space, where it is claimed your desires will be realized.”

Not a bad summing-up of the premise of a movie even whose biggest fans struggle to explain. But Žižek, of course, takes his analysis further, bringing in Solaris, Tarkovsky’s 1972 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction novel about a planet that can read the minds of the humans in orbit around it, “an id machine as an object which realizes your nightmares, desires, fears, even before you ask for it.” With Stalker, Tarkovsky envisions the opposite, “a zone where your desires, your deepest wishes, get realized on condition that you are able to formulate them. Which, of course, you are never able.”

If you subscribe to Žižek’s reading of the films, it actually makes perfect sense that they could continue to find new, enthralled audiences: the human relationship to desire remains as fraught as ever — and perhaps has only gained fraughtness as we find ways to satisfy our desires — and both Solaris and Stalker find artistically striking new ways to dramatize it. And according to Žižek, the respected filmmaker also provides a solution: “religious obscurantism,” a “gesture of self-sacrifice” of the kind we see made in his final films, Nostalghia and The Sacrifice. Tarkovsky also sacrificed himself, but for cinema, and so created some of the most formally remarkable motion pictures ever made, ones in which, in Žižek’s words, “we are made to feel this inertia, drabness of time,” and even “the density of time itself.” If you wonder what he means by that, as ever, you’ve just got to experience Tarkovsky for yourself. A number of his major films you can watch free online.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Slavoj Žižek Explains the Artistry of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films: Solaris, Stalker & More is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Photographer Bill Cunningham (RIP) on Living La Vie Boheme Above Carnegie Hall

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 - 11:35 am

New York City lost some of its charm this weekend, with the news that Bill Cunningham, the Times’ beloved, on-the-street fashion photographer, had passed away at the age of 87.

Much has been made over the fact that he was designated a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. It’s an honor he earned, hitting the streets daily in his usual mufti of khakis, sneakers, and bleu de travail cotton jacket to hunt his quarry by bicycle, but one could never accuse him of courting it.



His employer frequently sent him to cover the elite, but he had no interest in joining their ranks, despite his own growing celebrity. His “Evening Hours” column documented the dressed up doings on the “party circuit.” (This living New York landmark never shook his Boston accent, one of the chief delights of his weekly video series for the Times.) A recent installment suggests that shooting the likes of actress Nicole Kidman and Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour during tony private functions at MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“aht”) was far less exciting than encountering colorfully clad Himalayan dancers and a children’s craft table at an entirely free Sunday afternoon street fair sponsored by the Rubin Museum of Art.

Playwright Winter Miller shared this anecdote the morning Cunningham’s death was announced:

…he didn’t give a fk about who was famous or not. I once met Bill Murray in the lobby of the old New York Times building. He’d shown up to see if he could track down a photo of him and his then-wife that Bill had shot. I brought one Bill to the other, but Bill (Cunningham) was out on the streets with his blue jacket, white bike and camera. When he returned, I explained how I’d come to take Bill Murray under my wing to help him track down this photo. Bill had no idea who Bill Murray was and not unkindly told me (that) none of his photos were digital, so it would involve him personally digging through old files and he didn’t have time. I admired that he knew his priorities and never strayed from his task. I had been eager to get Bill Murray the thing he’d wanted and would have combed though vast files myself… but I never looked. Bill Cunningham’s files were impenetrable to an outsider.

One likes to think that Murray, who’s known for using his fame as his ticket to hang with ordinary mortals, would find much to love about that.

In fact, Murray strikes me as the perfect candidate to play Cunningham in a biopic covering the six decades spent living and working in a studio over Carnegie Hall. As far as I know, Bill Cunningham New York, a feature length documentary, is the only time his story has been captured on the silver screen. How can it be that no one has thought to make a movie centered on the lost bohemian period Cunningham recalls so fondly in the slideshow above? It sounds like an American spin on the Lost Generation—sneaking down to the unlocked stage for photographer Editta Sherman’s impromptu amateur performances of The Dying Swan, an elderly circus performer and her dog roaming the halls on a unicycle, someone always in a state of undress…

Perhaps Murray’s frequent collaborator, Wes Anderson, could be enlisted to set these wheels in motion. The colorful cast of characters seem tailor-made for this director, already a fashion world favorite.

The hats alone!

Prior to acquiring an Olympus Pen D half-frame camera from a friend in 1966, Cunningham worked as a milliner. Marilyn Monroe used to crack herself up, trying them on in between classes at the Actor’s Studio. The wife of a Carnegie Hall neighbor and Cunningham’s boss, fashion photographer Ray Solowinski, served as his model. After he was established as a fashion expert in his own right, Cunningham admitted that his designs were “a little too exotic – you know, for normal people”.

I think they’re wonderful, and hopefully, Bill Murray, Wes Anderson and you will agree. See below. I think they’re wonderful, and hopefully, Bill Murray, Wes Anderson and you will agree. Hats off to the inimitable Bill Cunningham, as much a fixture of New York as Carnegie Hall.

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

Photographer Bill Cunningham (RIP) on Living La Vie Boheme Above Carnegie Hall is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Free: Hear 24 Hours of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures & Talks on the Powers That Subvert Our Democracies

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 - 4:50 am

Noam Chomsky is optimistic. Yes, the world seems to teeter on the brink of… well, name your dystopian scenario, but Noam Chomsky is optimistic. The same Chomsky who, for decades, has sought to show the myriad ways our most revered institutions are largely sham operations behind which powerful elites conduct secret wars, propaganda campaigns, environmental destruction, and concerted efforts to defraud the people and disable democratic processes… well, he tells us, in a recent interview with James Resnick, that we too “can be very optimistic. Things like this have happened before and they’ve been overcome.”

By “things like this,” the renowned linguist and anarchist political philosopher specifically means astounding levels of wealth inequality and the ascendency, once again, of far-right extremism in Europe and the U.S., a phenomenon he first observed in the years prior to World War II. Chomsky began his career of social and political critique in 1938 at the age of 10, “writing articles for the school newspaper on the rise of fascism in Europe and the threats to the world as I saw them.”

He went on to completely revolutionize the field of linguistics, an achievement that, stunningly, can seem secondary to his political writing and activism, given the sheer number of his books, essays, interviews, and speeches critical of state power, war, and media manipulation over the past several decades. (Some of his books you can read free online here.) I suppose if Chomsky weren’t something of an optimist, he would have given up a long time ago. He tells Resnik what keeps him going:

The things I consider inspiring is seeing people struggling: poor suffering people, with limited resources, struggling to really achieve anything. Some of them are very inspiring. For example, a remote very poor village in southern Colombia organizing to try to prevent a Canadian gold-mining operation from destroying their water supply and the environment; meanwhile, fending off para-military and military violence and so on. That kind of thing which you see all over the world is very inspiring.

Are you inspired? Maybe it depends on how many of these grassroots struggles you’ve witnessed. The worldwide, ground-level resistance Chomsky describes—and refers to again and again in his political work—is largely hidden from us, by a mass media that sees no dollar value in it, or perhaps obscures it for more sinister reasons. As Chomsky has argued since the sixties—most comprehensively in his 1988 Manufacturing Consent with Edward S. Herman—the campaigns of war and economic depredation conducted by the West against minorities, indigenous people, and small nations around the world mostly occur with the consent of Western people: a consent manufactured by a massive propaganda operation called the Free Press.

His position should not sound especially controversial to anyone who has paid the least bit of attention in the last few years. The seeming collusion of respected news organizations like The Washington Post and The New York Times in the push for the second Iraq War led to well over a decade of post-hoc introspection by journalists. Recent months have seen those same organs—for perhaps more baldly profit-seeking motives—provide a couple of billion dollars-worth of free PR for Donald Trump, a candidate who has on multiple occasions threatened to retaliate against the press for any criticism, and who recently revoked the Post’s credentials to cover his events. (A recent Harvard study concluded that during this protracted, ugly primary season, “the press became [Trump’s] dependable if unwitting ally.”)

As in these examples, the role of the British press in spreading fear and misinformation prior to this month’s Brexit vote has become its own significant story. We constantly see the press turning in agonized circles, trying to come to grips with its complicity in pushing various agendas. Whether or not mainstream media organizations take direct orders from government bodies or economic elites, they accede to the interests of the powerful all the same, and they wield enormous influence over a voting public who depend upon them for information. The situation presents a serious problem for the health of a functioning democracy, which itself depends upon an informed and educated electorate.

But as Chomsky has often argued—drawing as always on primary sources and directly quoting the West’s most influential political philosophers, policy architects, and business leaders—elites since the 17th and 18th centuries have intentionally thwarted the ability of the public to make informed decisions, and have shut the populace out of the most important decision-making processes. As he wrote in his 1999 critique of Neoliberalism, Profit Over People, “the general population must be excluded entirely from the economic arena, where what happens in the society is largely determined. Here the public is to have no role, according to prevailing democratic theory.”

Chomsky follows this line of reasoning in his talk “When Elites Fail,” at the top of the post, delivered as the keynote address for the Ecoconvergence Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2009. You can also hear this talk, along with 19 others, in the Spotify playlist just above—a total of 24 hours of Chomskyan social, political, and economic analysis, delivered by the man himself in his calm, measured, understated way. (If you need Spotify’s free software, download it here.) Chomsky addresses “The Tyranny of Corporations,” the “U.S. Media as Propaganda System,” “Politics and Language,” “Iraq: The Forever War,” and more—levying criticisms against the systems of power, whether Republican, Democratic, or international, that doggedly seek to increase their domains and, in the approving words of James Madison, to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

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

Free: Hear 24 Hours of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures & Talks on the Powers That Subvert Our Democracies is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

And Now for Some Culinary Weirdness: Christopher Walken Shows You How to Cook Chicken & Pears

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 - 1:00 am

I don’t need to be made to look evil. I can do that on my own. 

– Christopher Walken

Five years ago, actor Christopher Walken casually shared a simple recipe for roast chicken with pears, above. The lighting was amateur, his implements fairly utilitarian, and, much to my gratification, he couldn’t keep his cat off the counter, either.



His improvised patter was as nonchalant as his handling of his ingredients. Undeterred, legions of fans still found plenty of Walken-esque quotes with which to spice up the video’s comments section.

Chalk it up to the dozens of soft spoken, seriously unhinged characters on which this actor’s reputation rests. It’s painfully easy to imagine a rival gang member or law enforcement official lashed to a chair just off camera, squirming in terror as Walken pauses to appreciate the “little cookies” the caramelized pears leave behind on the bottom of his pan.

Whatever he’s planning to do to this imaginary unfortunate, one hopes it won’t involve flaps of skin and a vertical poultry roaster.

As to the recipe, it’s as delicious as it is innocuous. Try it!

If you’re feeling less than adventurous, you can decrease the creep factor by replicating the shoot with a grandfatherly gent of your choosing prior to serving. (Anyone who’s not Christopher Walken will do.)

If you’re looking for further serving suggestions, the comedy channel Funny or Die revisited the dish in 2012, pairing it with salad, seafood melange, red wine, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Richard Belzer, and two heavily made up assistants who appear to be on loan from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video.

Things get cooking with a visit to the Byzantine Stew Leonard’s supermarket, and end with a cell phone pic of Walken’s nose. There’s a live mandolin serenade and the kitchen seems vastly more expensive, but I found myself missing the homey sense of foreboding created by the original.

Still, one can never go wrong with poultry and pears.

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

And Now for Some Culinary Weirdness: Christopher Walken Shows You How to Cook Chicken & Pears is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

What Does “Kafkaesque” Really Mean? A Short Animated Video Explains

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 - 9:00 am

We derive adjectives from great writers’ names meant to encapsulate entire philosophies or modes of expression. We have the Homeric, the Shakespearean, the Joycean, etc. Two such adjectives that seem to apply most to our contemporary condition sadly express much darker, more cramped visions than these: “Orwellian” and “Kafkaesque.” These adjectives also—suggests writer Noah Tavlin—name two of the most misunderstood of authorial visions. In a TEDEd video last year, Tavlin attempted to clear up confusion about the “Orwellian,” a term that’s tossed around by pundits like a political Frisbee.



Tavlin returns in the video above to explain the meaning of “Kafkaesque,” a less-abused descriptor but one we still may not fully appreciate. He begins with a brief summary of Kafka’s novel The Trial, in which “K, the protagonist, is arrested out of nowhere and made to go through a bewildering process where neither the cause of his arrest nor the nature of the judicial proceedings are made clear to him.” The scenario is “considered so characteristic of Kafka’s work” that scholars use the term “Kafkaesque” to describe it. Kafkaesque has become evocative of all “unnecessarily complicated and frustrating experiences, like being forced to navigate labyrinths of bureaucracy.”

But the word is much richer than such casual usage as describing a trip to the DMV.

Tavlin references Kafka’s short story “Poseiden,” in which the god of the sea can neither explore nor enjoy his realm because he is buried under mountains of paperwork. In truth, he is “a prisoner of his own ego,” unwilling to delegate because he sees his underlings as unworthy of the task. This story, Tavlin argues, “contains all of the elements that make for a truly Kafkaesque scenario.”

It’s not the absurdity of bureaucracy alone, but the irony of the character’s circular reasoning in reaction to it, that is emblematic of Kafka’s writing. His tragicomic stories act as a form of mythology for the modern industrial age, employing dream logic to explore the relationships between systems of arbitrary power and the individuals caught up in them.

Tavlin refers to The Metamorphosis and “A Hunger Artist” as further examples of how Kafka’s characters overcomplicate their own lives through their fanatical, singular devotion to absurd conditions.

But as Tavlin admits later in the video, the bewildering mechanisms of power in stories such as The Trial also “point to something much more sinister”—the idea that arcane bureaucracies become self-perpetuating and operate independently of the people supposedly in power, who are themselves reduced to functionaries of mysterious, unaccountable forces. Tavlin quotes Hannah Arendt, who studied the totalitarian nightmares Kafka presciently foresaw, and wrote of “tyranny without a tyrant.” More recently, philosopher Manuel De Landa has theorized increasingly complex, impersonal systems operating with little need for human intervention. His War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, for example, imagines modern warfare as the evolving operations of more-or-less self-organizing weapons systems. Theorists frequently observe that the speed of technological advancement now proceeds at such a dizzyingly exponential rate that it will soon surpass our ability to control or understand it at all. Perhaps, as Tesla’s Elon Musk suggests, we ourselves are no more than operations in a complex system, simulated beings inside a computer program.

But scenarios like De Landa’s and Musk’s are also not the Kafkaesque, for these theorists of modern technocracy lack a key feature of Kafka’s vision—his dark, tragicomic, absurdist sense of humor, which permeates even his bleakest visions. On the one hand, Tavlin says, we “rely on increasingly convoluted systems of administration” and find ourselves judged and ruled over “by people we can’t see according to rules we don’t know”—a situation bound to provoke profound anxiety and psychological distress. On the other hand, Kafka’s attention to the absurd, “reflects our shortcomings back at ourselves,” reminding us that “the world we live in is one we created.” I’m not so sure, as Tavlin concludes, that Kafka believed we have the “power to change for the better” the overcomplicated systems we barely understand. Kafka’s comic vision, I think, ultimately partakes in what Miguel de Unamuno called “the tragic sense of life.” But he does not fully deny his characters all freedom of choice, even if they frequently have no idea what it is they’re choosing between or why.

Note: You can download essential works by Franz Kafka as free audiobooks if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Trial with Audible. You get two free audiobooks with each trial. Find more information on that program here.

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

What Does “Kafkaesque” Really Mean? A Short Animated Video Explains is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

A Wonderful Archive of Historic Transit Maps: Expressive Art Meets Precise Graphic Design

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 - 6:00 am

Anyone who loves cities almost certainly loves transit maps: for well over a century, they’ve not only played an essential role in the navigation of urban spaces but developed into their very own distinctive form at the intersection of utility and aesthetics. The finest examples simultaneously possess the clarity and information-richness of the best graphic design and hold out promises of excitement and modernity that require a true artistic sensibility to properly express. None of this is lost on Cameron Booth, the Australian graphic designer living in Portland, Oregon who runs the site Transit Maps.

“A well designed transit map conveys a lot of information in a very small space,” writes Booth on the site’s About page. “In an instant, we learn how to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’, simply by following some coloured lines. The very best maps become symbols of their city, admired and loved by all.” None have become quite so symbolic as the map of the London Underground, the oldest subway system in the world, and Transit Maps‘ posts filed under the London Underground tag, such as the 1929 cutaway diagram of its Piccadilly Circus station by Italian architect and urban designer Renzo Picasso just above provide plenty of good reading — and even better viewing — for its many enthusiasts.

Among American cities, no subway system has a more respected map than Washington, DC’s, the work of graphic designer Lance Wyman, for whom it has remained a work in progress: he oversaw a redesign just five years ago, almost forty years after the system went into service and his original map made its debut. Here we have one of Wyman’s original working sketches for the map straight from his notebook. “Interestingly, it looks like Wyman was experimenting with textural treatments for the route lines at this time,” adds Booth, “an idea I’m ever so glad he abandoned, because it would have looked so busy and hideous.”

Having seen many more transit maps than most, and even having designed some of his own (including a reworking of the DC Metro map), Booth doesn’t hesitate to point out both the virtues and the flaws of the ones he posts. He even grades them on a star rating system (with, of course, circular London Underground logos substituting for actual stars), collecting the very best under the five-star tag. One such passage with flying colors, the 1950s Yorkshire coast train map at the top of the post, has Booth exclaiming that “they don’t make ‘em like this any more. The 1908 bird’s-eye view of Chicago, source of the legend above, scores its own five stars by “minute attention to detail,” down to the inclusion of “smoke curls from factory chimneys” and “almost every tree in the city’s parks.”

Few cities have attracted as much attention from mapmakers as New York, possibly due to all its wonders — or at least those are what IBM graphic designer Nils Hansell emphasizes in his mid-1950s map “Wonders of New York” which, despite not looking far past Manhattan, does include transit and much else besides: Booth mentions its depiction of “300-odd numbered points of interest” as well as “the last vestiges of New York’s once-extensive elevated railway lines.” You need quite a high-definition scan to really appreciate all this, and Booth found one in the David Rumsey Map Collection, which we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture.

Scroll through the pages and pages of Transit Maps’ historical tag, and you’ll find a wealth of fascinating showpieces of the transit mapper’s art, not just from the Londons and New Yorks of the world, but also from times and places like Berlin in 1931Madison, Wisconsin in 1975, and Booth’s own old hometown of Sydney in 1950 and new hometown of Portland in 1978. The archive even includes transit maps from unusual places, such as a delightful one printed on the back of a Japanese matchbox in the 1920s, and maps for transit systems never completed, such as the one for the Baghdad Metro from the early 1980s just above. Iraq’s capital may still await a full-service subway system — and much else besides — but at least its map earns top marks.

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Vladimir Nabokov Creates a Hand-Drawn Map of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Wonderful Archive of Historic Transit Maps: Expressive Art Meets Precise Graphic Design is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.