Archive for March, 2014

abNormal: A Short Documentary on the Science of Being Different

Striking French, Russian & Polish Posters for the Films of Andrei Tarkovsky
in Art, Film | March 20th, 2014
Stalker_France_MPOTW

Nearly thirty years after his death, Andrei Tarkovsky (many of whose films you can watch free online) continues to win devoted fans by what some describe as his still-unparalleled mastery of aesthetics. Not only do all his pictures — and especially his later works like Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker – present images of the deepest richness in a manner of the highest refinement, but in so doing they come out looking and feeling like no other films created before or since. So many cinephiles claim that one can identify their favorite director’s work by only a single shot, but for Tarkovsky this boast actually seems to hold true (especially in the case of the nine-minute candle-carrying shot from Nostalghia). When we talk about Tarkovsky, we talk about aesthetics, whether we talk about his films, his Polaroid photos, or his posters.

Sacrifice_Russia_MPOTW

Not that Tarkovsky’s perfectionism had him exercising total control over the one-sheets that advertise his films, nor did he actually command every visual detail of every frame of the films themselves. I would submit, however, that all who worked in the orbit of a Tarkovsky production, from cinematographers to set builders, right down to the graphic designers, entered his thoroughly realized and affecting aesthetic reality. “Tarkovsky is one filmmaker for whom I’d gladly have posters that simply feature gorgeous images from his films (of which there are an unlimited supply)” writes Adrian Curry at MUBI, “but there are so many terrific illustrated posters that I thought I’d just feature my favorite for each film.” His selections include the French one for Stalker, the Polish one for Mirror (because you can never ignore Polish movie poster design), and the Russian one for The Sacrifice. It pays Tarkovsky one of the highest possible compliments: he created not only beauty, but works that inspire others to create beauty.

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A collection of the international movie posters for each of Tarkovsky’s major films can be found at Nostalghia.com.

Related Content:

Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

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

Tarkovsky’s Solaris Revisited

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Very First Films: Three Student Films, 1956-1960

The Masterful Polaroid Pictures Taken by Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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How Truffaut Became Truffaut: From Petty Thief to Great Auteur
in Film | March 20th, 2014
400 blows poster

“Cinema saved my life,” confided François Truffaut. He certainly returned the favor, breathing new life into a French cinema that was gasping for air by the late 50s, plagued as it was by academism and Big Studios’ formulaic scripts. From his breakthrough first feature 400 Blows in 1959–to this day one of the best movies on childhood ever made–to his untimely death in 1984, Truffaut wrote and directed more than twenty-one movies, including such cinematic landmarks as Jules and Jim, The Story of Adele H., The Last Metro and the tender, bitter-sweet Antoine Doinel series, a semi-autobiographical account of his own life and loves. What is more, along with a wild bunch of young film critics turned directors—his New Wave friends Godard, Chabrol, Rivette and Resnais—Truffaut revolutionized the way we think, make and watch films today. (This notion will be amply covered in my upcoming Stanford Continuing Studies course, When the French Reinvented Cinema: The New Wave Studies, which starts on March 31. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please join us.)

Almost as interesting as Truffaut’s rich legacy is the narrative that led to it: How Truffaut became Truffaut against all odds. And how his unlikely background as unwanted illegitimate child, petty thief, runaway teen and deserter built the foundations for the ruthless film critic and gifted director he would become.

Les 400 Coups (400 Blows) unveils some of the hardships the young François endured—and what qualities he would draw from them and use to the film’s advantage to renew what cinema should feel like. In Les 400 Coups, we see a fictionalized version of the defining moments in the young François’ life through the character of Antoine Doinel: the discovery that he was born from an unknown father, the contentious relationship with a mother who considered him a burden and condescended to take him with her only when he was ten, the friendship with classmate Robert Lachenay and the endless wanderings in the streets of Paris that ensued. The film offers a glimpse of the dearth of emotional as well as material comfort at home and how Antoine makes do with it, mostly by pinching money, time and dreams of love elsewhere: Antoine “borrows” bills and objects (Truffaut, too, took and sold a typewriter from his dad’s office), steals moments of freedom in the streets, and loves vicariously through the movie theaters (in the trailer above, Antoine and his friend catch a showing of Ingmar Bergman’s Monika).

Picture 11

If anything, the real Truffaut did far worse than his cinematic alter ego. Like Antoine, the young François skipped schools, stole, told lies, ran away and went to the movies on the sly. He ran up debts so high—mostly to pay for his first ciné-club endeavors—that he was sent to a juvenile detention center by his father. Later, having enlisted in the Army, Truffaut deserted upon realizing he would be sent to Indochina to fight: prison was again his lot. In his cell, he received letters from the great prisoner of French letters, Jean Genêt: it was only fitting that the young Truffaut would become friends with the author of The Journal of a Thief.

But had he been a better kid, Truffaut might never have been such a great director. His so-called moral shortcomings foreshadow what would make his genius: an impulsive need to bend the rules, a talent for working at the margins and invent new spaces to free himself from formal limitations, and a fundamental urge to be true to his own vision, at the risk of infuriating the older generation. His years of truancy roaming the streets and movie theaters of Paris and his repeated experience of prison led him naturally to revolt against the confinement of the studio sets where movies were at the time entirely made. Instead, he took his camera out of the studios and into the streets. On location shooting, natural light, improvised dialogues, vivacious tracking shots of the pulse of the city — all traits that made the New Wave look refreshingly new and modern — befitted the temperament of an independent young man who had already spent too many days behind bars.

Having gotten in so much trouble for lack of money, Truffaut also ensured that financial independence would be the cornerstone of his film-making: one of the smartest moves he made as a young director was to found his own production company, the Films du Carrosse. Money meant freedom, this much he had long learnt.

But it is Truffaut’s innate sense of fiction and story telling that his younger years reveal most. Like the fictional Antoine in this clip, Truffaut seemed to have displayed a disarming mix of innocence and deception, or rather an unabashed admission that he had to invent other rules to get by and succeed, and a precocious realization that telling stories would get him further than telling the truth. “Des fois je leur dirais des choses qui seraient la vérité ils me croiraient pas alors je préfère dire des mensonges” tells Antoine in his grammatically incorrect French to the psychologist—“Sometimes if I were to tell things that would be true they would not believe me so I prefer to tell lies.” Each survival trick, each prank implied new lies to forge, and a keen understanding of his public was paramount for their success: contrary to Godard and his avant-garde deconstruction of narrative lines and meaning, Truffaut always wanted to tell good, believable stories: one could say he practiced his narrative skill by telling the tales his first audience (mother, father, teachers) wanted to hear.

One of the most memorable lines of 400 Blows is a lie so outrageous that it has to be believed. Asked by his teacher why he was not able to turn in the punitive homework he was assigned, Antoine blurts out: “It was my mother, sir.” – “Your mother, your mother… What about her?” –“She’s dead.” The teacher quickly apologizes. But this blatant lie tells another kind of truth, an emotional one that the audience is painfully aware of: Antoine’s, or should we say Truffaut’s mother is indeed “dead” to him, unable to show motherly affection. The mother’s death is less a lie than a metaphor, the subjective point of view of the child. Truffaut the director is able to allude to this deeper mourning but also to save the mother from her deadly coldness by the sheer magic of fiction. Antoine’s votive candle has almost burnt down the house, his parents are fighting, his dad threatens to send him to military school, when suddenly the mother suggests they all go… to the movies. Unexpectedly, magically, they emerge from the theater cheerful and united, in a scene of family happiness that can exist only in films. For a moment, cinema saved them all.

To learn more about Truffaut’s life and work, we recommend Stanford Continuing Studies Spring course “The French New Wave.” Laura Truffaut, François Truffaut’s daughter, will come and speak about her father’s work.

Cécile Alduy is Associate Professor of French at Stanford University. She writes regularly for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker.

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Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man in the World Documents the Life of the Bizarre Occultist, Poet & Mountaineer
in History, Literature, Religion | March 20th, 2014

Perhaps no one single person has had such widespread influence on the countercultural turns of the 20th century as Cambridge-educated occultist and inventor of the religion of Thelema, Aleister Crowley. And according to Crowley, he isn’t finished yet. “1000 years from now,” Crowley once wrote, “the world will be sitting in the sunset of Crowlianity.” The self-aggrandizing Crowley called himself “the Great Beast 666” and many other tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic titles. The British press dubbed him “The Wickedest Man in the World,” also the title of the above documentary, one of a four-part BBC 4 series on famously sinister figures called “Masters of Darkness.” Crowley is perhaps most famous for his dictum “Do what thou wilt,” which, taken out of its context, seems to be a philosophy of absolute, unfettered libertinism.

It’s no surprise that the particular treatment of Crowley’s life above adopts the tabloid description of the magician. The documentary—with its ominous music and visual effects reminiscent of American Horror Story’s jarring opening credits—takes the sensationalistic tone of true crime TV mixed with the dim lighting and hand-held camerawork of paranormal, post-Blair Witch entertainments. And it may indeed take some liberties with Crowley’s biography. When we’re told by the voice-over that Crowley was a “black magician, drug fiend, sex addict, and traitor to the British people,” we are not disposed to meet a very likable character. Crowley would not wish to be remembered as one anyway. But despite his pronounced disdain for all social conventions and pieties, his story is much more complicated and interesting than the cardboard cutout villain this description suggests.

Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875 to wealthy British Plymouth Brethren brewers, Crowley very early set about replacing the religion of his family and his culture with a variety of extreme endeavors, from mountaineering to sex magic and all manner of practices derived from a synthesis of Eastern religions and ancient and modern demonology. The results were mixed. All but the most adept find most of his occult writing incomprehensible (though it’s laced with wit and some profundity). His raunchy, hysterical poetry is frequently amusing. Most people found his overbearing personality unbearable, and he squandered his wealth and lived much of life penniless. But his biography is inarguably fascinating—creepy but also heroic in a Faustian way—and his presence is nearly everywhere inescapable. Crowley traveled the world conducting magical rituals, writing textbooks on magic (or “Magick” in his parlance), founding esoteric orders, and interacting with some of the most significant artists and occult thinkers of his time.

Aleister_Crowley_1902_K2

As a mountaineer, Crowley co-lead the first British expedition to K2 in 1902 (the photo above shows him during the trek). As a poet, he published some of the most scandalous verse yet printed, under the name George Archibald Bishop in 1898. During his brief sojourn in the occult society Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he exerted some influence on William Butler Yeats, if only through their mutual antipathy (Crowley may have inspired the “rough beast” of Yeats’ “The Second Coming”). He’s indirectly connected to the development of the jet propulsion system—through his American protégée, rocket scientist Jack Parsons—and of Scientology, through Parsons’ partner in magic (and later betrayer), L. Ron Hubbard.

Though accused of betraying the British during the First World War, it appears he actually worked as a double agent, and he had many ties in the British intelligence community. Crowley rubbed elbows with Aldous Huxley, Alfred Adler, Roald Dahl, and Ian Fleming. After his death in 1947, his life and thought played a role in the work of William S. Burroughs, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Genesis P-Orridge, and countless others. Crowley pops up in Hemingway’s A Movable Feast and he has inspired a number of literary characters, in for example Somerset Maugham’s The Magician and Christopher Isherwood’s A Visit to Anselm Oakes.

472px-Aleister_Crowley,_Magus

So who was Aleister Crowley? A sexually liberated genius, a spoiled, egomaniacal dilettante, a campy charlatan, a skeptical trickster, a cruel and abusive manipulator, a racist misogynist, a Nietzschean superman and “icon of rebellion” as the narrator of his story above calls him? Some part of all these, perhaps. A 1915 Vanity Fair profile put it well: “a legend has been built up around his name. He is a myth. No other man has so many strange tales told of him.”

As with all such notorious, larger-than-life figures, who Crowley was depends on whom you ask. The evangelical Christians I was raised among whispered his name in horror or pronounced it with a sneer as a staunch and particularly insidious enemy of the faith. Various New Age groups utter his name in reverence or mention it as a matter of course, as physicists reference Newton or Einstein. In some countercultural circles, Crowley is a hip signifier, like Che Guevara, but not much more. Dig into almost any modern occult or neo-pagan system of thought, from Theosophy to Wicca, and you’ll find Crowley’s name and ideas. Whether one’s interest in “The Great Beast” is of the prurient variety, as in the investigation above, or of a more serious or academic bent, his legacy offers a bountiful plenty of bizarre, repulsive, intriguing, and completely absurd vignettes that can beggar belief and compel one to learn more about the enigmatic, pan-sexual black magician and self-appointed Antichrist.

The Wickedest Man in the World will be added to our collection of 200 Free Documentaries, part of our larger collection of 635 Free Movies Online.

Related Content:

Rare 1930s Audio: W.B. Yeats Reads Four of His Poems

William S. Burroughs Teaches a Free Course on Creative Reading and Writing (1979)

How to Operate Your Brain: A User Manual by Timothy Leary (1993)

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

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Watch Seth Meyers’ Late Night Players Act Out the New Yorker’s Famous Cartoons
in Comedy, Comics/Cartoons, Television | March 19th, 2014

Along with its whimsical, hand-drawn covers and its surprisingly readable articles on unlikely subjects, like nickel-mining, The New Yorker magazine is known for its cartoons – single panel doodles that can be either wry commentaries on our culture or, as a famous Seinfeld episode pointed out, utterly inscrutable.

Translating the cartoons to television seems a task doomed to failure but Seth Meyers, the newly-installed host of Late Night, managed successfully to do just that. The show’s “theater group-in-residence, the late night players” reenacted some of the magazine’s more famous recent cartoons. Many of the magazine’s most enduring cartoon set ups are represented – a bar, a wedding reception and, of course, a deserted island.

Providing deadpan commentary on the performances is The New Yorker’s editor-in-chief David Remnick. When selecting cartoons for the magazine, he notes, the primary criteria is that they “should be funny.” Check it out above.

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Einstein’s Relativity: An Animated New Yorker Cartoon

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.

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abNormal: A Short Documentary on the Science of Being Different
in Science | March 19th, 2014

What do a dancer, a chess player, a visual artist, a trumpeter, an architect, and a cab driver have in common? In the case of the dancer, the chess player, the visual artist, the trumpeter, the architect, and the cab driver profiled in trained molecular biologist and neuroscientist and The Rough Guide to the Brain author Barry J. Gibb’s abNormal above, they share… well, abnormality, in some sense or another. This half-hour documentary, which Gibb made in consultation with psychologist and neuroimaging researcher Chris Frith, “points a microscope at human behaviour, asking viewers to question their perceptions of others and even of themselves.” An ambitious mandate, especially when you consider its central question: we know what we mean when we think of someone else as abnormal, but what do all these other people — people whom we might indeed find abnormal, for good, ill, or both — consider abnormal? Do they consider themselves abnormal? And how do we define normality, let alone abnormality, in the first place?

A tangled question, bordering on nonsense, but science can, as usual, clarify a few things. abNormal finds answers, or at least the appropriate questions, in the workings of the human brain. It comes as an early offering from Mosaic, a new site from the Wellcome Trust “dedicated to exploring the science of life” by telling “stories with real depth about the ideas, trends and people that drive contemporary life sciences,” all published as Creative Commons-licensed content. In this case, a set of human stories — the frustrated IT worker who ditched the office job to become a London cabbie, the Thai painter who makes large-form works with three-dimensional nipples, the breakdancer bent on recreating and improving on 1982 with his body alone — converge to elucidate a deeper scientific narrative about our brains, our environments, and the forms our lives take today.

via Open Culture

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A Film About Making Music

What Difference Does It Make? A Film About Making Music Featuring Brian Eno, Giorgio Moroder, Erykah Badu and more than 70 other artists,

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Maciej Ceglowski – Barely succeed! It’s easier!

We live in a remarkable time when small teams (or even lone programmers) can successfully compete against internet giants. But while the last few years have seen an explosion of product ideas, there has been far less innovation in how to actually build a business. Silicon Valley is stuck in an outdated ‘grow or die’ mentality that overvalues risk, while investors dismiss sustainable, interesting projects for being too practical. So who needs investors anyway?

I’ll talk about some alternative definitions of success that are more achievable (and more fun!) than the Silicon Valley casino. It turns out that staying small offers some surprising advantages, not just in the day-to-day experience of work, but in marketing and getting customers to love your project. Best of all, there’s plenty more room at the bottom.

If your goal is to do meaningful work you love, you may be much closer to realizing your dreams than you think

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Don’t Blame It On Sunshine – Blues Fusion Dance w/ Dean & Amanda

I want to live in a world where everyone gets together and dances like this.
Forget the small talk.
Forget talking about work or the weather.
Let’s all dance like this….

If I were king of the universe, these two would be my ambassadors of fun.

Update: According to a comment in YouTube:

“Amanda lives in Seattle and teaches lessons (Seattle’s blues event is called Rain City Blues).
Dean no longer dances or teaches.”

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FIRST KISS

We asked twenty strangers to kiss for the first time…

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Does money make you mean?

It’s amazing what a rigged game of Monopoly can reveal. In this entertaining but sobering talk, social psychologist Paul Piff shares his research into how people behave when they feel wealthy.

Paul Piff studies how social hierarchy, inequality and emotion shape relations between individuals and groups.

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How to quit your life (and reboot): Priya Parker

 

Many people are doing jobs in fear; fear that they might not make the best out of their lives. Priya Parker provides seven techniques to help you quit your life and reboot.

She invites you to use these techniques to explore the biggest needs in the world that you might have the passion and the capacity to address.

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