Watch Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words, Starring Benedict Cumberbatch

A quick note: The director Andrew Hutton has seemingly made available online Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words, his 2010 film which features Benedict Cumberbatch as Van Gogh. The film, declares Hutton’s Vimeo channel, “won a Rockie for Best Arts Documentary at the Banff World Media Festival in 2011, receiving critical acclaim for its fascinating insight into the life of the artist and its unique approach to storytelling.”

Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words will be added to our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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A Day in the Life of Zen Monk Leonard Cohen: A 1996 Documentary

I don’t think anybody really knows why they’re doing anything. If you stop someone on the subway and say, “Where are you going – in the deepest sense of the word?” you can’t really expect an answer. I really don’t know why I’m here. It’s a matter of “What else would I be doing?” Do I want to be Frank Sinatra, who’s really great, and do I want to have great retrospectives of my work? I’m not really interested in being the oldest folksinger around. 

– Leonard Cohen, speaking to author Pico Iyer in April 1998


One need not have lived a rock n’ roll lifestyle to be familiar with its pleasures and pitfalls. That heady mix of drugs, sex, and public adulation isn’t sustainable. Some can’t survive it. Some retire to a more staid domestic scene while others are left chasing a spotlight that’s unlikely to favor them twice. But rarely do you find one who chooses to give it all up to become a Buddhist monk.

Well, not all.

As director Armelle Brusq’s 1996 documentary, above, shows, singer-songwriter—and yes—Zen monk Leonard Cohen’s routine at the Mount Baldy Zen Center outside Los Angeles extended beyond the usual mindfulness practice. His simple quarters were outfitted with a computer, printer, radio, and a Technics KN 3000 synthesizer. He sometimes doffed his robes to enter the recording studio or enjoy a bowl of soup at Canter’s Deli. Comparatively, his worldly attachments were few, divvied between the professionally necessary and the fond. Still, calling his daughter, Lorca, to pass along a veterinarian’s update, Cohen sounds every inch the doting Jewish dad.

Celebrity devotion to Kabbalah or various Eastern spiritual practices often stinks of the superficial, a passing fancy that won’t last more than a year or two. Cohen’s relation to Zen Buddhism is enduring, a gift from his longtime friend and teacher, Mount Baldy’s Roshi, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, who died last year at the age of 107.

One of Cohen’s responsibilities was helping Roshi with the myriad small details the elderly abbot would have had difficulty navigating on his own. Cohen seems entirely at peace in the roadie role, keeping track of luggage while on tour, and fetching cones for the entire party from a nearby ice cream truck.

The poem Cohen penned in honor of Roshi’s 89th birthday is of a piece with his most enduring work. Think Suzanne’s oranges were the only fruit? Not so:

His stomach’s very happy

The prunes are working well

There’s no one left in heaven

And there’s no one going to hell

Filmmaker Brusq is chiefly concerned with documenting Cohen’s spiritual reality, but she tosses in a few treats for those hungry for pop iconography, particularly the impromptu show-and-tell at the 25-minute mark, when the crew peeks into the legend’s memorabilia-filled LA office.

The soundtrack, too, is music to a Cohen fan’s ears, and lyrically inspired given the subject:

Waiting for The Miracle


A Thousand Kisses Deep 


The Future


Dance Me to the End of Love

Closing Time

Never Any Good

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Happy 18th birthday to her favorite formerly-17-year-old playwright! Follow her @AyunHalliday

William Gibson’s Seminal Cyberpunk Novel, Neuromancer, Dramatized for Radio (2002)

Who can call themselves fans of cyberpunk, or even modern science fiction, without having experienced William Gibson’s Neuromancer? That 1984 novel, which many see as the defining work of the sci-fi subgenre where, as Gibson himself put it, “high tech meets low life,” has gone through many print runs in many languages. But you don’t need to read it to get to know its distinctive reality — its Japanese megalopolis setting of Chiba City, its characters like “console cowboy” Case and “street samurai” Molly Millions, its technologies like advanced artificial intelligence, electromagnetic pulse weapons, a virtual reality space called, yes, the Matrix. You can also hear it.

Last year, we featured the out-of-circulation audiobook version of Neuromancer read by Gibson himself, and though it faithfully transmits his characteristically sawed-off writing style, some may find that form a bit lacking in drama. But as luck would have it, the BBC, home to some of the last remaining masters of the radio drama form, adapted the novel in 2002, and you can hear the resulting two-hour production on the Youtube playlist above or stream it from SFFaudio. Even Gibson purists may well come away satisfied, since its respect for the original text begins right with the classic opening line: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

In any form, Neuromancer has endured for many reasons, not least that it still gets us thinking every time about the intersection between technology and humanity. It certainly gets critical theorist Fredric Jameson thinking, and you can read his thoughts in his new essay “A Global Neuromancer.” He contends that, among other things, cyberspace still doesn’t exist: “It is a literary construction we tend to believe in; and, like the concept of immaterial labor, there are certainly historical reasons for its appearance at the dawn of postmodernity which greatly transcend the technological fact of computer development or the invention of the Internet.” Jameson doesn’t write prose quite as easily followed as Gibson’s, but like any true classic, Neuromancer keeps inspiring not just works similar to it, but works wildly different from it as well.

Note: You can download for free a professionally-read version of Neuromancer (the complete book) if you take part in one of the free trials offered by our partners and/or Click on the respective links to get more information.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Roberto Bolaño’s 12 Tips on “the Art of Writing Short Stories”

Bolano Advice

For some certain romantic reasons, a segment of the English-language reading population fell in love with Roberto Bolaño in the first few years of this millennium. One invariably glimpsed Bolaño’s award-winning 1998 novel The Savage Detectives on endtables and nightstands after its translation in 2007, with or without bookmarks. When 2666—the Chilean writer’s dizzyingly enormous work on the darkest of events in 1990’s Northern Mexico—appeared, it did so posthumously, further elevating Bolaño’s literary outlaw mythos. In addition to being a hard-bitten Trotskyist nomad, Bolaño—who died of liver failure in 2003—was said to have been a heroin addict and alcoholic. Neither was the case, writes Hector Tobar in the LA Times, quoting a Mexico City-based journalist on the author: “He had a super boring daily life. It was a life built around his own writing rituals and habits.”

For all his legendary exploits as a globetrotting journalist and poet, Bolaño also seems to have built his life around reading. “Reading,” Bolaño has said, “is more important than writing.” He finds much company with this statement among fellow writers. Patti Smith, for example, who urges reading “anything by Bolaño,” could also “recommend a million” books to anyone who asks. A much shorter but still challenging list of hers reveals a deep and broad investment in literature. William S. Burroughs, who probably didn’t read Bolaño but worked in a similarly hallucinatory vein, taught a class on “Creative Reading” that was only secondarily a class on writing, filled with example after example from writer after treasured writer. The best writing advice writers can dispense, it seems, is this: Read.

Such is the approach of Bolaño himself, in a short, pithy essay on how to write short stories. He begins in a perfunctory way, almost with a sigh: “Now that I’m forty-four years old, I’m going to offer some advice on the art of writing short stories.” The advice, found in the graphic form above on The Paris Review‘s Tumblr and reprinted in a non-fiction collection titled Between Parenthesis, quickly becomes exuberantly pedantic, permeating the boundaries of its neatly ordered list form with tongue moving from cheek to cheek. Does he really mean that we should read “the notable Pseudo-Longinus” on the sublime? Or to suggest—after insistent reference to several essential Latin American writers’ writers—that “with Edgar Allan Poe, we would all have more than enough good material to read”? Probably. But the gist, with more than enough sincerity, is this: Read the greats, whoever they are, and read them often.

See Bolaño’s complete text here at Electric Cereal and an excerpted version below.


(1) Never approach short stories one at a time. If one approaches short stories one at a time, one can quite honestly be writing the same short story until the day one dies. 

(2) It is best to write short stories three or five at a time. If one has the energy, write them nine or fifteen at a time.

(4) One must read Horacio Quiroga, Felisberto Hernández, and Jorge Luis Borges. One must read Juan Rulfo and Augusto Monterroso. Any short-story writer who has some appreciation for these authors will never read Camilo José Cela or Francisco Umbral yet will, indeed, read Julio Cortázar and Adolfo Bioy Casares, but in no way Cela or Umbral. 

(5) I’ll repeat this once more in case it’s still not clear: don’t consider Cela or Umbral, whatsoever.

(6) A short-story writer should be brave. It’s a sad fact to acknowledge, but that’s the way it is.

(9) The honest truth is that with Edgar Allan Poe, we would all have more than enough good material to read. 

(10) Give thought to point number 9. Think and reflect on it. You still have time. Think about number 9. To the extent possible, do so on bended knees. 

(12) Read these books and also read Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver, for one of the two of them is the best writer of the twentieth century.

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

2,200 Radical Political Posters Digitized: A New Archive


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

beat generation

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

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

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

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Look Inside Martin Scorsese’s Vintage Movie Poster Collection


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

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

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

Imacon Color Scanner

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

via Quartz

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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 and/or watch his films here.

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

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

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

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

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

via Indie Wire

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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

Venice 1

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

Venice 2

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

Venice 3

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

Venice 4

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

Venice 5

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

Venice 6

via Mental Floss

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music

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

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

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

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

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

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