Carlos Santana & Tom Morello Launch Online Courses on How to Play the Guitar

Thanks to two new courses from Master Class, you can now learn to play guitar from Carlos Santana and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello. Launched yesterday, Santana’s Master Class on the Art and Soul of Guitar "breaks down his creative process and teaches you his spiritual take on making music," covering:

  • How to pull from multiple musical styles and influences.
  • How to break down music you hear and use it to improve how you play.
  • Ideas for exercises in the styles of great blues musicians.
  • How he marries harmonies with rhythmic accents.
  • His approach to writing a melody for guitar.
  • How he creates dialogue between guitar parts when he writes songs.
  • Guidance for leading a band and building trust with band members.

For his part, Tom Morello's course on the electric guitar will teach you, in 26 video lessons, the riffs, rhythms, and solos that launched his career. The course covers everything from beginner music theory, to learning how to improvise, solo and play with speed, to developing an appreciation for lyrics and melody. Each course costs $90. For $180, you can get an annual pass to the 45 courses in Masterclass' course catalogue.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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The Evolution of The Great Wave off Kanazawa: See Four Versions That Hokusai Painted Over Nearly 40 Years

Has any Japanese woodblock print — or for that matter, any piece of Japanese art — endured as well across place and time as The Great Wave off Kanagawa? Even those of us who have never known its name, let alone those of us unsure of who made it and when, can bring it to mind it with some clarity, as sure a sign as any (along with the numerous parodies) that it taps into something deep within all of us. But though the artist behind it, 18th- and 19th-century ukiyo-e painter Katsushika Hokusai, was undoubtedly a master of his tradition, even he didn't conjure up The Great Wave off Kanagawa in the form we know it on the first try.

In fact, he'd been producing different versions of it for nearly forty years. On Twitter Tarin tkasasagi recently posted four versions of the Great Wave that Hokusai painted over that period. Here you see them arranged from top to bottom: the first from 1792, when he was 33; the second from 1803, when he was 44; the third from 1805, when he was 46; and the famous fourth from 1831, when he was 72.

Each time, Hokusai de-emphasizes the human presence and emphasizes the natural elements, bringing out drama from the water itself rather than from the people who regard or navigate it. In each version, too, the colors grow bolder and the lines stronger.

The skill level of a working artist — especially an artist working as hard as Hokusai — almost inevitably increases over time, and that must have something to do with these changes, though it also looks like the process of an artistic personality settling into its subject matter. "From the time I was six, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me," says Hokusai himself in a widely circulated quotation. "Around the age of 50, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs. It was not until my 70th year, however, that I produced anything of significance."

In the artist's telling, only at the age of 73, after the final Great Wave, did he begin to grasp "the underlying structure of birds and animals, insects and fish, and the way trees and plants grow. Thus if I keep up my efforts, I will have even a better understanding when I was 80 and by 90 will have penetrated to the heart of things. At 100, I may reach a level of divine understanding, and if I live decades beyond that, everything I paint — dot and line — will be alive." The fact that he didn't make it to 100 will forever keep enthusiasts wondering what magnificence an even older Hokusai might have achieved, but even so, the body of work he managed to produce in his 88 years contains works that, like the ultimate form of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, outlived him and will outlive all of us.

via Ted Gioia

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Byrne Curates a Playlist of Great Protest Songs Written Over the Past 60 Years: Stream Them Online

When you hear the words “protest song,” what do you see? Is it a folkie like Bob Dylan or Joan Baez delivering songs about injustice? Is it an earnest young thing with a guitar? Is it trapped in 1960s amber, while time has moved on to more ambiguity, more nihilism, more solipsism?

British writers--and may we add amateur folksingers--Jonathan Luxmoore and Christine Ellis made this lament over two years ago in the pages of The Guardian, in an opinion piece entitled, “Not talkin' bout a revolution: where are all the protest songs?” Here they blame the immediacy of social media, the rise of aspirational hip hop, and the decline of radical politics. They end, presciently, with a Jeremy Corbyn-shaped hope for change. Well, look where we are now. Things developed rather quickly, did they not?

(And as a side note, I would suggest the 1980s as a way more protest-filled music decade than the 1960s. Because of the self-aggrandizement of 1960s curators, they claim more than they did. But nearly every pop, rock, r’n’b, and hip hop act of the ‘80s has at least one political song in its discography.)

Enter David Byrne, whose mission apart from his day job as a musician is to bring hope to the masses with a determined optimism. He’s here to say that the protest song never went away, only our definition of it. And he’s brought the receipts, or rather the playlist above, to prove his point:

...in fact, they now come from all directions in every possible genre—country songs, giant pop hits, hip hop, classic rock, indie and folk. Yes, maybe there weren’t many songs questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq, but almost every other issue has been addressed.

Stretching over six decades, the playlist demonstrates the various forms protest can take, from describing racial violence (Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” to Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout”) to bemoaning economic injustice (The Specials’ “Ghost Town”) and railing against war and conflict (U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, Edwin Starr’s “War”). Sometimes declaring the positive and gaining a voice is enough of a protest: you could argue that James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” did more for equality than any song about racism. Bikini Kills’ “Rebel Girl” does similar things for third-wave feminism.

But Byrne wisely gives voice to those who feel they’re swimming against any resistance tide:

I’ve even included a few songs that “protest the protests.” Buck Owens, the classic country artist from Bakersfield, for example, has two songs here. “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” is a celebration of Americans who feel they are unnoticed, left behind. One might call it a populist anthem, but I think the reference to white socks is intentionally meant to be funny—in effect, it says: “we know who we are, we know how uncool white socks are.”

Look, it’s easy to believe that songs “changed the world” when they are easily accessible to hear decades later but the boots-on-the-ground marches and revolutionary acts from which they sprang are now just photographs, film reels, and foggy memories. But who can deny the gut punch of this year’s “This Is America” from Childish Gambino, the continued excellence of Killer Mike and/or Run the Jewels, and any number of songs that document our outrage? The songs of protest continue as long as there is injustice.

And in the case of David Byrne, covering a modern protest song and adding to its list of names, is what can keep an idea, a memory, and a feeling alive for a new audience. Here he is at the encore of his current tour, covering Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout,” a memorial to all the black lives killed by law enforcement.

“Here was a protest song that doesn’t hector or preach at us,” he said in an article for the Associated Press. “It simply asks us to remember and acknowledge these lives that have been lost, lives that were taken from us through injustice, though the song leaves that for the listener to put together. I love a drum line, so that aspect of the song sucked me in immediately as well. The song musically is a celebration and lyrically a eulogy. Beautiful.”

He also wisely asked permission to cover such a recent song, especially when it’s an older white man lending his voice to it. But Monae gave her blessing:

“I thought that was so kind of him and of course I said yes. The song’s message and names mentioned need to be heard by every audience.”

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Revolutionary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large Format Book by TASCHEN

At many a bookstore and art gallery gift shop, you will find copies of writer and artist Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child, a young person’s introduction to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The book has deservedly won a Caldecott Medal and the praise of adult readers who find as much or more to admire in it as their kids do. A surprisingly moving short biography, it hits many of the major notes in Basquiat’s formative years: His Brooklyn childhood and Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage; his love for his encouraging mother and heartbreak at her institutionalization in a mental hospital; his childhood spent in New York art galleries planning to be a famous artist, and his keen interest in anatomy textbooks, jazz, and black history….

But for a seriously deep immersion in the artist’s history and development, you will want to consult a new 500-page book from TASCHEN, Jean-Michel Basquiat XXL. Written by curator Eleanor Nairne and edited by Hans Werner Holzwarth, the “oversized hardcover,” notes This is Colossal,” is filled with large-scale reproductions of the artist’s drawings, paintings, and notebook pages. Several essays guide the reader year-by-year through Basquiat’s artistic career, from 1978 to his untimely death in 1988.”

The ten years the book covers provide enough material for two or three volumes, and also happen to tell the story of a cultural revolution in which Basquiat was at the center, as TASCHEN writes:

The legend of Jean-Michel Basquiat is as strong as ever. Synonymous with New York in the 1980s, the artist first appeared in the late 1970s under the tag SAMO, spraying caustic comments and fragmented poems on the walls of the city. He appeared as part of a thriving underground scene of visual arts and graffiti, hip hop, post-punk, and DIY filmmaking, which met in a booming art world. As a painter with a strong personal voice, Basquiat soon broke into the established milieu, exhibiting in galleries around the world.

Basquiat is now recognized—art scholar and curator Dieter Buchhart argues—as an artist who “eternalized… the exhilarating possibilities for art, music, and social critique in New York.” But for all the high praise he has garnered after his tragic overdose at 27, in life his work was often “’explained away’ by his Afro-Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage,” writes Kristen Foland at Swamp. “Some art historians and critics, including Sharon F. Patton, categorized his work as ‘primitive’ and called him a ‘black graffiti artist,’ a term he found inherently racist.”

Basquiat recoiled at the idea of being segregated and singled out as a “black artist”; but he proudly celebrated black life and cultural forms in narrative works rich with symbolism and poetry, mourning and triumph. Asked about his subject matter, he once replied, “royalty, heroism and the streets.” Grand themes and settings were what he had in mind, and Nairne fittingly titles her essay in the TASCHEN book, “The Art of Storytelling.”

Perhaps the reason Basquiat’s life makes such a good story, for kids and grownups alike, is that he himself was such a powerful storyteller. He weaved his personal history seamlessly into the social and political fabric that enmeshed him in the legendary late-seventies/early-eighties downtown New York scene. The new large format TASCHEN book lets you get a close-up look at the fine details of his revolutionary canvases, drawings, collages, wood panel paintings, and street poetry and painting.

via This is Colossal

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

Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Interests Gradually Wider and More Impersonal”

Advice on how to grow old frequently comes from such banal or bloodless sources that we can be forgiven for ignoring it. Public health officials who dispense wisdom may have good intentions; pharmaceutical companies who do the same may not. In either case, the messages arrive in a form that can bring on the despair they seek to avert. Elderly people in well-lit photographs stroll down garden paths, ballroom dance, do yoga. Bulleted lists punctuated by dry citations issue gently-worded guidelines for sensible living. Inoffensive blandness as a prescription for living well.

At the other extreme are profiles of exceptional cases—relatively spry individuals who have passed the century mark. Rarely do their stories conform to the model of abstemiousness enjoined upon us by professionals. But we know that growing old with dignity entails so much more than diet and exercise or making it to a hundred-and-two. It entails facing death as squarely as we face life. We need writers with depth, sensitivity, and eloquence to deliver this message. Bertrand Russell does just that in his essay “How to Grow Old,” written when the philosopher was 81 (sixteen years before he eventually passed away, at age 97).

Russell does not flatter his readers’ rationalist conceits by citing the latest science. “As regards health,” he writes, “I have nothing useful to say…. I eat and drink whatever I like, and sleep when I cannot keep awake.” (We are inclined, perhaps, to trust him on these grounds alone.) He opens with a drily humorous paragraph in which he recommends, “choose your ancestors well,” then he issues advice on the order of not dwelling on the past or becoming a burden to your children.

But the true kernel of his short essay, “the proper recipe for remaining young,” he says, came to him from the example of a maternal grandmother, who was so absorbed in her life, “I do not believe she ever had time to notice she was growing old." “If you have wide and keen interests and activities in which you can still be effective,” Russell writes. “you will have no reason to think about the merely statistical fact of the number of years you have already lived, still less of the probable shortness of your future.”

Such interests, he argues, should be “impersonal,” and it is this quality that loosens our grip. As Maria Popova puts it, “Russell places at the heart of a fulfilling life the dissolution of the personal ego into something larger.” The idea is familiar; in Russell’s hands it becomes a meditation on mortality as ever-timely as the so-often-quoted passages from Donne’s “Meditation XVII." Philosopher and writer John G. Messerly calls Russell’s concluding passage “one of the most beautiful reflections on death I have found in all of world literature.”

The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

Read Russell’s “How to Grow Old” in full here. And see many more eloquent meditations on aging and death—from Henry Miller, André Gide, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Grace Paley—at Brain Pickings.

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

Watch Andy Warhol Eat an Entire Burger King Whopper–While Wishing the Burger Came from McDonald’s (1981)

In the early 1980s, Danish experimental filmmaker Jørgen Leth came to America intent on capturing it live as it was actually lived across that vast, still-new, and often strange country. The result, 66 Scenes from America, offers images of roadside motels and diners, desert landscapes, the Manhattan skyline, miles of lonely highway, and stars and stripes aplenty. Halfway through it all comes the longest, and perhaps most American, scene of all: Andy Warhol eating a fast-food hamburger. A few moments after he accomplishes that task, he delivers the film's most memorable line by far: "My name is Andy Warhol, and I just finished eating a hamburger."

"Leth did not know Warhol, but he was a bit obsessed with him so he definitely wanted to have him in his movie," writes DailyArt's Zuzanna Stanska. And so when Leth came to New York, he simply showed up at Warhol's Factory and pitched him the idea of consuming a "symbolic" burger on film. "Warhol immediately liked the idea and agreed to the scene – he liked it because it was such a real scene, something he would like to do."

When Warhol showed up at the photo studio Leth had set up to shoot the scene, complete with a variety of fast-food hamburgers from which he could choose, he had only one question: "Where is the McDonald's?" Leth hadn't thought to pick one up from the Golden Arches as well, not knowing that Warhol considered McDonald's packaging "the most beautiful."

Warhol had a deep interest in American brands. "What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest," he wrote in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. "You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good." Surely the same could be said of any particular fast-food burger, even if Warhol couldn't have his preferred brand on that particular day in New York in 1981. In the event, he chose a Whopper from Burger King, still a well-known brand if hardly as iconic as McDonald's — or, for that matter, as iconic as Warhol himself.

Above, you can see Leth talking years later about his experience filming Warhol.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Story of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” the Boozy Ballad That Has Become One of the Most Beloved Christmas Songs of All Time

Drugstore Cowboy, Barfly, Leaving Las Vegas, even Bonnie and Clyde… we love a good story about doomed, down-and-out lovers. Whatever emotional reservoir they tap into, when written well and honestly, such stories have broad cultural appeal. Which in part explains the overwhelming popularity of The Pogues’ 1987 classic “Fairytale of New York,” the kind of “anti-Christmas song,” writes Dorian Lynsky at The Guardian, “that ended up being, for a generation, the Christmas song.”

Many holiday stories cynically trade on the fact that, for a great many people, the holidays are filled with pain and loss. But “Fairytale of New York” doesn’t play this for laughs, nor does it pull the old trick of cheap last-minute redemption.

Sung as a duet by Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl to the boozy tune of an Irish folk ballad, the song “is loved because it feels more emotionally ‘real’ than the homesick sentimentality of ‘White Christmas.'" Even if we can’t identify with the plight of a burned-out Irish dreamer spending Christmas in a New York drunk tank, we can feel the ache of broken dreams set in high relief against holiday lights.

The song's history itself makes for a compelling tale, whether we believe the origin story in accordion player James Fearnley’s memoir Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues or that told by MacGowan, who maintains that Elvis Costello, the band’s producer, bet the singer that he couldn’t write a Christmas duet. (Fearnley writes that they were trying to top The Band’s 1977 “Christmas Must Be Tonight.”)

Either way, a Christmas song was a good idea. "For a band like the Pogues, very strongly rooted in all kinds of traditions rather than the present, it was a no-brainer," says banjo-player and co-writer Jem Finer. Not to mention the fact that MacGowan was born on Christmas Day 1957.

Finer began the song as a tale about a sailor missing his wife on Christmas, but after the banjo player's wife called it “corny” he took her suggestion to adapt the “true story of some mutual friends living in New York.” MacGowan took the title from J.P. Donleavy’s 1973 novel A Fairy Tale of New York, which happened to be lying around the recording studio. After a promising start, the song then went through two years of revisions and re-recordings before the band finally settled on the version millions know and love, produced by Steve Lillywhite and released on the 1988 album If I Should Fall From Grace with God.

Originally intended as a duet between MacGowan and bass player Cait O’Riordan, a version recorded with her was “not quite there,” guitarist Philip Chevron has said. Soon after, O’Riordan left the band, and MacGowan recorded the song again at Abbey Road in 1987, singing both the male and female vocal parts himself. Eventually Lillywhite took the track home to have his wife, English singer Kirsty MacColl, record a temporary guide vocal for the female parts. When MacGowan heard it, he knew he had found the right foil for the character he plays in the song.

“Kirsty knew exactly the right measure of viciousness and femininity and romance to put into it and she had a very strong character and it came across in a big way,” MacGowan later remarked in an interview. “In operas, if you have a double aria, it’s what the woman does that really matters. the man lies, the woman tells the truth.” As part of her character’s “viciousness”, she hurls the slur “f*ggot” at MacGowan, who calls her a “slut.” The offensive words have been censored on radio stations, then uncensored, and good cases have been made for bleeping them out (most recently by Irish DJ Eoghan McDermott on Twitter).

MacGowan himself has issued a statement defending the lyrics as in keeping with the characters. “Sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively," he writes, adding, “If people don’t understand that I was trying to accurately portray the character as authentically as possible then I am absolutely fine with them bleeping the word but I don’t want to get into an argument.” Whatever position one takes on this, it’s hard to deny that MacGowan, co-writer Finer, and MacColl totally hit the mark when it comes to authenticity.

The genuine emotions "Fairytale of New York" taps into has made it the most beloved Christmas song of all time in TV, radio, and magazine polls in the UK and Ireland. It has become “far bigger than the people who made it,” writes Lynskey. Or, as Fearnley puts it, “It’s like ‘Fairytale of New York’ went off and inhabited its own planet.” An artist can’t ask for more. See making-of videos by the BBC and Polyphonic at the top. Watch the band sloppily mime the song with MacColl on Top of the Pops further up (MacGowan cannot actually play the piano). And just above, see the official video, starring Drugstore Cowboy’s Matt Dillon—filmed inside a real police station on the Lower East Side during a freezing Thanksgiving week in 1987, for maximum holiday vérité.

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

In Bill Gates Office, There’s a Wall with the Entire Periodic Table with Samples of Each Element

Just a fun fact...

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via Ed Yong/Reddit

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Wes Anderson’s Breakthrough Film, Rushmore, Revisited in Five Video Essays: It Came Out 20 Years Ago Today

"I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie." So said eminent New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael about Rushmore, Wes Anderson's second film. But having spent the better part of a decade in retirement by that point, she didn't publish that judgment; rather, she spoke it straight to Anderson himself, who had rented out a theater to give her a personal screening. "I was a little disappointed by Ms. Kael's reaction to the movie," Anderson writes in his recollection of the event. Upon its release on December 11, 1999 — twenty years ago today — a fair few of its viewers would echo Kael's bewilderment. But just as many would feel they'd seen the early work of a master, and time would soon vindicate that feeling: whether you love his movies or can't stand them, Wes Anderson became Wes Anderson because of Rushmore.

"There are few perfect movies," says critic and Wes Anderson specialist Matt Zoller-Seitz. "This is one of them." His video essay on Rushmore, part of a series adapted from his book The Wes Anderson Collection, breaks down just a few of the elements that have made the film so beloved. "At once arch and earnest, knowing and innocent," Anderson's story of a flakily ambitious teenage prep-school boy Max Fischer's friendship with a middle-aged steel magnate Herman Blume — and the affections for a widowed first-grade teacher that turn that friendship into a rivalry — "feels unique and furiously alive."

Drawing deeply from the personality and experience of Anderson himself (and those of his co-writer and frequent collaborator Owen Wilson) as well as The 400 BlowsThe Graduate, and other classic pictures, it never does so in an obvious or predictable manner.

Of all the strokes of luck required for the then-twentysomething Anderson even to get the chance to make a movie like Rushmore (especially after his debut feature Bottle Rocket seemed to have vanished without a trace), no coup was greater than the casting of Bill Murray as Blume. It "resonates backward through film history," says Zoller-Seitz, "because Max is a geeky teenage version of a certain kind of 80s and 90s hero. Rushmore's masterstroke is how it takes the piss out of those characters: it implies that maybe the bravado that those 80s and 90s characters had was just a cover for fear and depression." Quite a depth of insight for a young filmmaker to possess — but then, many once underestimated the young Anderson, whose sensibilities get further examined in the ScreenPrism video essay "Rushmore: Portrait of Wes Anderson as a Young Man," and they did so at their peril.

"The charms of this movie are abundant," says the New York Times' A.O. Scott in his Critic's Pick video on Rushmore. "It has whimsical production design; clever and sharp writing; tender, comical performances; a brilliant use of pop music to underscore and slightly ironize the emotions being expressed on the screen." Scott singles out the strength of its visual compositions, which Anderson uses to, for example, "arrange people in the frame in such a way as to show everything about their relationship — a kind of psychological dimension to the space that almost makes the dialogue secondary." It all comes in service of telling two stories in counterpoint, one "about an adolescent coming to terms with his limitations" and another about "an artist coming into possession of his powers."

Over the past twenty years, the critical consensus on Rushmore has shifted almost universally away from assessments like Kael's and toward those like Scott's. In the video above, a more mature Anderson reflects on making the movie — and making it, in fact, at the very same high school he went to himself. "The strongest association for me is being back in class," he says. "In the end, the thing that strikes me most forcefully when I think back on it is just that I went home." He also adds that "I don't even know how we managed to get Rushmore made, or why," given the apparent failure of Bottle Rocket, a picture on which he and Wilson had labored for years. "Rushmore was more expensive, maybe even a bit stranger, and yet it seemed just to happen. I think it was just lucky." Especially lucky for us viewers over the past two decades, as well as the generations of Rushmore fans still to come.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Take Animated Virtual Reality Tours of Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak (Circa 320 AD)

Maybe you, too, were a Latin geek who loved sword and sandal flicks from the golden age of the Hollywood epic? Quo Vadis, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and, of course, Spartacus…. Never mind all the heavy religious pretext, context, subtext, or hammer over the head that suffused these films, or any pretense toward historical accuracy. What thrilled me was seeing ancient Rome come alive, bustling with togas and tunics, centurions and chariots. The center of the ancient world for hundreds of years, the city, naturally, retains only traces of what it once was—enormous monuments that might as well be tombs.

The incredibly detailed 3D animations here don’t quite have the same rousing effect, granted, as the “I am Spartacus!” scene. They don’t star Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, or Kirk Douglas. They appeal to different sensibilities, it’s true. But if you love the idea of visiting Rome during one of its peak periods, you might find them as satisfying, in their way, as Peter Ustinov’s Nero speeches.

Dating not from the time of Mark Antony or even Jesus, the painstakingly-rendered tours of ancient Rome depict the city as it would have looked—sans humans and their activity—during its “architectural peak,” as Realm of History notes, under Constantine, “circa 320 AD.”

The VR trailer at the top from History in 3D, developed by Danila Loginov and Lasha Tskhondia, depicts, in Loginov’s words, “the Forums area, and also Palatine and Capitolium hills.” The two additional trailers for the project show the “baths of Trajan and Titus, the statue of Colossus Solis, arches of Titus and Constantine, Ludus Magnus, the temple of Divine Claudius. Our team spent some time and recreated this area along with all minor buildings as a complex and added it to the model which has been already done.” This means, he says, “we have now almost the entire center of ancient imperial Rome already recreated!”

We glide gently over the city with a low-flying-bird’s eye view, taking in its realistic skyline, tree-lined streets, and gurgling fountains. The lack of any human presence makes the experience a little chilly, but if you’re moved by classical architecture, it also presents a refreshing lack of distraction—an impossible request in a visit to modern Rome. Another project, Rome Reborn, which we’ve previously featured here, takes a different approach to the same imperial city of 320 AD. The trailers for their VR app don’t provide the seamless flight experience, but they do contain equally epic music. (They also have a few people in them, blockily-rendered gawking tourists rather than ancient Romans.)

Instead, these clips give us fascinating glimpses of the interiors of such splendid structures as the Basilica of Maxentius—tiled floors, domed ceilings, columned walls—from a number of different perspectives. We also get to fly above the city, drone-style, or hot air balloon-style, as it were. In the clip below, we cruise over Rome in that vehicle, with Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, serving as the app’s “virtual archaeologist” in an audio tour.

“The ambitious undertaking,” of the Rome Reborn app, writes Meilan Solly at Smithsonian, “painstakingly built by a team of 50 academics and computer experts over a 22-year period, recreates 7,000 buildings and monuments scattered across a 5.5 square mile stretch of the famed Italian city.” The three modules of the Rome Reborn app demoed here are all available at their website. Geeks—and historians of ancient Roman architecture and city planning—rejoice.

via Smithsonian

Related Content:

A Huge Scale Model Showing Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

An Interactive Map Shows Just How Many Roads Actually Lead to Rome

The Ups & Downs of Ancient Rome’s Economy–All 1,900 Years of It–Get Documented by Pollution Traces Found in Greenland’s Ice

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





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