Yoda’s Long Lost Twin Found in a 14th Century Illuminated Manuscript

medieval yoda

In a new picture book called Medieval Monsterspublished by the British Library, historian Damien Kempf and art historian Maria L. Gilbert have gathered together illustrations that highlight the great monsters of the medieval world. Monsters were everywhere, including “on the edges of manuscript pages” and on “the fringes of maps.” The successor to Medieval Cats and Medieval DogsMedieval Monsters contains no shortage of fascinating illustrations, including the one above. It looks remarkably like Yoda, doesn’t it?

A British Library curator told NPR, “The Yoda image comes from a 14th-century manuscript known as the Smithfield Decretals.”  “I’d love to say that it really was Yoda, or was drawn by a medieval time traveler.” But “it’s actually an illustration to the biblical story of Samson — the artist clearly had a vivid imagination!”

See more monsters at the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts blog.

via NPR

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

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The Making of Star Wars As Told by C-3PO & R2-D2: The First-Ever Documentary on the Film (1977)

The Earth, it seems, has only one truly unlimited resource: enthusiasm for Star Wars. Not even The Phantom Menace, the derision magnet that opened the film series’ newer trilogy, made a serious dent in our reserves. But did everyone who got together in the 1970s to make the very first Star Wars movie, from George Lucas on down the chain of command, understand how deep a vein of fandom they had drilled into? The Making of Star Wars, a 1977 documentary on that beloved space opera-turned-cultural phenomenon, will give you some idea.

Now that Star Wars has generated such a universe, if you like, of supplementary content, one more 50-minute behind-the-scenes special might strike you as no great shakes. But when The Making of Star Wars appeared in ’77, it appeared as the first documentary about Star Wars ever. And it has much higher ambitions than the average promotional short of the day, featuring not only cast and crew interviews but segments on the (decidedly pre-CGI) effects technology employed in the production.

Even the most dedicated Star Wars buffs will still find material of interest here, including footage that never made it into the picture’s theatrical cut, and footage reintroduced into 1997’s revamped “Special Edition” of the original trilogy but altered with CGI (another drain on several generation’s Star Wars love). But many of us will watch The Making of Star Wars on one of its strengths alone: C-3PO and R2-D2 host the whole thing. Could even those precision-engineered droids have foreseen the thunderous reception that has met this year’s brand new teasers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

The Making of Star Wars is a candidate for our list of Free Online Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 200 Free Documentaries Online.

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 CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Martin Scorsese Makes a List of 85 Films Every Aspiring Filmmaker Needs to See


Before the rise of institutional film schools—ensconced in university walls with all the formality that entails—those seeking to learn the craft did so by apprenticing themselves to studios and master directors, and by watching lots and lots of movies. If we take the example of some of the most interesting filmmakers working today, this still may be the best way to become a filmmaker. Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School, for example, forgoes the trappings of classrooms for a much more rough-and-tumble approach—and a direct confrontation with the medium. Kevin Smith dropped out of film school, as did Paul Thomas Anderson, spurred on partly by a love of Terminator 2. “My filmmaking education,” revealed Anderson, “consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films.” It’s more or less how Quentin Tarantino learned to make movies too.

You could hardly do better—if you’ve decided to take this independent route toward a cinematic education—than apprentice yourself under Martin Scorsese. Or at least find out what films he loves, and watch them all yourself. Last year, we featured a list of 39 foreign films the estimable director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Hugo, Goodfellas (etc., etc., etc.) recommended to a young filmmaker. Today, we bring you a list of 85 films Scorsese referenced in the course of a four-hour interview he gave to Fast Company. “Some of the movies he discussed,” writes FastCo, “Others he just mentioned. But the cumulative total reflects a life lived entirely within the confines of movie making.” Shoot on over to Fast Company to read Scorsese’s commentary on each of the films below, and see an aesthetically pleasing version of his list over at MUBI as well.

Like I said, you could hardly do better.

  • Ace in the Hole
  • All that Heaven Allows
  • America, America
  • An American in Paris
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • The Bad and the Beautiful
  • The Band Wagon
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Cape Fear
  • Cat People
  • Caught
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Conversation
  • Dial M for Murder
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Duel in the Sun
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  • Europa ’51
  • Faces
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • The Flowers of St. Francis
  • Force of Evil
  • Forty Guns
  • Germany Year Zero
  • Gilda
  • The Godfather
  • Gun Crazy
  • Health
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • House of Wax
  • How Green Was My Valley
  • The Hustler
  • I Walk Alone
  • The Infernal Cakewalk
  • It Happened One Nght
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Journey to Italy
  • Julius Caesar
  • Kansas City
  • Kiss Me Deadly
  • Klute
  • La Terra Trema
  • The Lady From Shanghai
  • The Leopard
  • Macbeth
  • The Magic Box
  • M*A*S*H
  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller
  • The Messiah
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Mishima
  • Deeds Goes to Town
  • Smith Goes to Washington
  • Nashville
  • Night and the City
  • One, Two, Three
  • Othello
  • Paisa
  • Peeping Tom
  • Pickup on South Street
  • The Player
  • The Power and the Glory
  • Stagecoach
  • Raw Deal
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Rise of Louis XIV
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • Rocco and his Brothers
  • Rome, Open City
  • Secrets of the Soul
  • Senso
  • Shadows
  • Shock Corridor
  • Some Came Running
  • Stromboli
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • Sweet Smell of Success
  • Tales of Hoffman
  • The Third Man
  • T-Men
  • Touch of Evil
  • The Trial
  • Two Weeks in Another Town

via FastCoCreate

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

Interactive Music Video Lets You Explore the Apartments on the Cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti

Dig that heavy metal / Underneath your hood / Baby I can work all night / Believe I got the perfect tools / Talkin’ bout love

Last February, Led Zeppelin released a deluxe, re-mastered version of their sprawling 1975 double album Physical Graffiti, a record perhaps best known for the epic, orchestral grandeur of the 8 1/2 minute “Kashmir” (not to be outdone by the 11-minute “In My Time of Dying”). In an album full of stylistic departures and solid returns to form, one track, “Trampled Under Foot,” manages to be both, driven by down-and-dirty blues and uptown 70s funk, courtesy of John Paul Jones’ Stevie Wonder-inspired organ groove. With lyrics Robert Plant himself described as “raunchy,” the song—one of Plant’s favorites—may be the band’s most 70s-sounding. That’s not to say it’s dated, only that it most perfectly captures the sound of the American street represented on the album cover, a shot of two adjacent tenements on New York City’s St. Mark’s Place.


Now, listeners can enter those buildings and tool around the apartments, courtesy of the interactive video at the top of the post (view it in a larger format here), which features a previously unreleased rough mix of the track called “Brandy & Coke.” Conceived and directed by Hal Kirkland, the video pulls together some of my favorite things—the period design and styling of That ‘70s Show, the most inventive tricks of the music video age, a la Tom Petty or Peter Gabriel, and of course, Zep—with the added 21st century technology of online interactivity. Click the arrow keys while the video plays and you’re transported from one vivid tableaux to another, some representing funky apartment scenes, others something else entirely. The video also integrates footage from Zeppelin’s performance of the song at Earl’s Court in ’75.


Clever references abound, like the nod to godfather of fantasy cinema Georges Méliès (above) and an allusion to the classic MTV moon landing intro (below). Overall, it’s an astonishing visual feast that hearkens back to the very best in music video technology, a seemingly lost art that Kirkland and company may singlehandedly resurrect. See Kirkland’s site for more of his internet age music video creations, including “Sour—Hibi No Neiro,” shot entirely on webcams.


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

Watch Björk’s 6 Favorite TED Talks, From the Mushroom Death Suit to the Virtual Choir


Image by Zach Klein

Singer-songwriter Björk, currently enjoying a career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, celebrated TED’s billionth video view with a playlist of six treasured TED Talks. What do her choices say about her?

In this talk, artist Jae Rhim Lee models her Mushroom Death Suit, a kicky little snuggy designed to decompose and remediate toxins from corpses before they leech back into the soil or sky. Despite Björk’s fondness for outré fashion, I’m pretty sure this choice goes beyond the merely sartorial.

For more information, or to get in line for a mushroom suit of your own, see the Infinity Burial Project.

Continuing with the mushroom / fashion theme, Björk next turns to designer Suzanne Lee, who demonstrates how she grows sustainable textiles from kombucha mushrooms. The resulting material may variously resemble paper or flexible vegetable leather. It is extremely receptive to natural dyes, but not water repellent, so bring a non-kombucha-based change of clothes in case you get caught in the rain.

For more information on Lee’s homegrown, super green fabric, visit BioCouture.

Björk’s clearly got a soft spot for things that grow: mushrooms, mushroom-based fabric, and now…building materials? Professor of Experimental Architecture Rachel Armstrong’s plan for self-regenerating buildings involves protocols, or “little fatty bags” that behave like living things despite an absence of DNA. I’m still not sure how it works, but as long as the little fatty bags are not added to my own ever-growing edifice, I’m down.

For more information on what Dr. Armstrong refers to as bottom up construction (including a scheme to keep Venice from sinking) see Black Sky Thinking.

Björk’s next choice takes a turn for the serious… with games. Game Designer Brenda Romero began exploring the heavy duty emotional possibilities of the medium when her 9-year-old daughter returned from school with a less than nuanced understanding of the Middle Passage. The success of that experiment inspired her to create games that spur players to engage on a deeper level with thorny historical subjects. (The Trail of Tears required 50,000 individual reddish-brown pieces).

Learn more about Romero’s analog games at The Mechanic is the Message.

Remember those 50,000 individual pieces? As photographer Aaron Huey documented life on Pine Ridge Reservation, he was humbled by hearing himself referred to as “wasichu,” a Lakota word that can be translated as “non-Indian.” Huey decided not to shy away from its more pointed translation: “the one who takes the best meat for himself.” His TED Talk is an impassioned history lesson that begins in 1824 with the creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ends in an activist challenge.

Proof that Björk is not entirely about the quirk.

See Huey’s photos from the National Geographic cover story, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.”

Björk opts to close things on a musical note with excerpts from composer Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” and “Sleep” performed by a crowdsourced virtual choir. Its members—they swell to 1999 for “Sleep”—record their parts alone at home, then upload them to be mixed into something sonically and spiritually greater than the sum of its parts.

Listen to “Sleep” in its entirety here.

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

David Chase Reveals the Philosophical Meaning of The Soprano’s Final Scene

Eight years after it aired, the final scene of the final episode of The Sopranos still has people guessing: What happened when the screen suddenly went black? Did Tony Soprano get whacked? Or did he live to see another quasi-ordinary day? Could he really die as Journey sings, “Don’t Stop Believing?”

In a new interview appearing on The Directors Guild of America web site, David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, revisits the making of the final scene. Chase doesn’t directly answer the questions about Tony’s fate. But he does give us some insight into the deeper philosophical questions raised in the scene (watch it above) and how much they’re bound up in the lyrics of Journey’s soundtrack. There’s some deeper meaning in the small town girl and the city boy taking “the midnight train goin’ anywhere”:

I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: ‘Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ Then it talks about Tony: ‘Just a city boy,’ and we had to dim down the music so you didn’t hear the line, ‘born and raised in South Detroit.’ The music cuts out a little bit there, and they’re speaking over it. ‘He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn’t find. I mean, they didn’t become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.

And there’s meaning packed in the idea of “Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard.”

Cutting to Meadow parking was my way of building up the tension and building up the suspense, but more than that I wanted to demonstrate the lyrics of the song, which is streetlights, people walking up and down the boulevard, because that’s what the song is saying. ‘Strangers waiting.’ I wanted you to remember that is out there. That there are streetlights and people out there and strangers moving up and down. It’s the stream of life, but not only that, it’s the stream of life at night. There’s that picture called History Is Made at Night [from 1937]. I love that title. And that kind of echoes in my head all the time.

But if you’re looking for the philosophical essence of the scene, then look no further than the mantra, “Don’t stop believin.'” That’s what it’s all about:

I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.

Read Chase’s complete account of the famous final scene here.

Thanks to Ted Mills for flagging this. Follow him at @TedMills.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Enter the Church of the SubGenius, the Parody Religion Backed by R. Crumb, David Byrne & Other Alt-Icons

You may not know much about the Church of the SubGenius, but you’ve definitely seen its prophet. The intensively groomed, Ward Cleaveresque J. R. “Bob” Dobbs (below) began as a humble piece of 1950s clip art and went on to become “a way of life to millions… yet half of them don’t even know it.” Or so claims the sweeping, absurdity-laced, sonically (and perhaps intellectually) twisted narration of Arise! The SubGenius, an “instructional barrage video” put out by the Church in 1992 as the most potent distillation of its religion-satirizing sensibility.


The obsession with worldwide conspiracies, the importance granted to voracious consumption and “remixing” of pop culture (visible everywhere in Arise!), the hardline opposition to work, the all-important and never-defined quality of “Slack,” the askew eschatology: how much of the Church of the Subgenius’ doctrine has remained mere parody religion, and how much, since its founding in the late 1970s, have its “followers”—a group that includes such alt-icons as David Byrne, Robert Crumb, and Mark Mothersbaugh—come to consider as good as the real thing?

But whatever legitimacy this surprisingly long-running postmodern joke has attained, we can also view it, like all religions, as a cultural movement. This approach raises its own questions: how, exactly, did Dobbs’ pipe-clenching, fatherly yet sinister visage become one of the most recognizable subcultural emblems of the 1980s and 1990s? You may never learn the answer, just as you may never get a handle on the entirety of the Church’s ever more labyrinthine and aggressively preposterous mythology, but you’ll certainly find it all strangely compelling in the attempt.

And even if Arise! The SubGenius doesn’t recruit you into the Church of the SubGenius’ ranks, you’ve got to respect what they’ve predicted: not the end of the world, as much as they talk about it, but our currently thriving 21st-century culture of media appropriation, recontextualization, and absurdification. If ever there were a religion for the Youtube era, here it is. And if you find nothing novel in its characteristic ambivalence about what counts as serious and what doesn’t, maybe the Church of the SubGenius’ teachings have penetrated even deeper into the zeitgeist than all those “Bob” stickers made us suspect.

via Network Awesome

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema 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.

Hear Ursula K. Le Guin’s Pioneering Sci-Fi Novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, as a BBC Radio Play

Whether they consider it one of her most or least important works, fans of science-fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin usually have a great deal to say about her best-known novel, 1969’s The Left Hand of Darkness. But it doesn’t matter to me whether a book has won a Hugo or a Nebula — and The Left Hand of Darkness has won both — or how many readers — and The Left Hand of Darkness has many — have slapped on it the label of “masterpiece.” No, I only get intrigued by descriptions like the one Wikipedia puts in its opening paragraph on the novel, which calls it “the most famous examination of sexless androgyny in science fiction.”

Among its many other fascinating qualities, The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on an alien world with no fixed sexes, performing a narrative “thought experiment” about what kind of society you might get when, depending on the circumstances, anyone might reproduce with anyone else. This unusual concept has drawn the attention of not only generations of readers but several different adaptors, most recently the BBC. They’ve always done a redoubtable job converting imaginative literature into radio drama — take their recent version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or their classic one of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, considered by many fans better than the book. Now they’ve set their sights on Le Guin’s award-winner.

The first episode of the BBC’s Left Hand of Darkness has already aired, and you can hear it free online for about a month at the show’s site. (It runs almost an hour.) Episode two is now online here. You can get a taste of the production from the promotional video at the top of the post; the one just above gives a scrap of insight as to how Le Guin came to envision the novel’s world. Personally, I need no further incentive to tune in than that the series features Toby Jones, whose presence (usually in film) reliably indicates a just-askew-enough cultural experience. And if you still feel wary about engaging with any kind of science fiction, know that even Harold Bloom really, really liked the book.

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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 CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Has a Strange Dinner with James Joyce & Draws a Cute Sketch of It (1928)

fitzgerald drawings

The characters in many of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories—rakish, drunken undergraduates and overeducated gadabouts—so resemble their creator that it’s tempting to read into all of his work some autobiographical intent. One episode in the writer’s life that didn’t make it into his fiction, Fitzgerald’s meeting with James Joyce in Paris, nevertheless makes a fascinating anecdote all its own, and seems so perfectly in character that it could have inspired an amusing short story for The Saturday Evening Post.

According to Sylvia Beach, doyenne of the expat American literary scene in Paris, founder of Shakespeare and Company Books, and publisher of Ulysses, Fitzgerald “worshipped James Joyce, but was afraid to approach him.” In her memoir, Shakespeare and Company, Beach relates how in 1928 she and her friend, lover, and fellow bookseller Adrienne Monnier, “cooked a nice dinner and invited the Joyces, the Fitzgeralds, and André Chamson and his wife Lucie.”

Scott drew a picture in my copy of The Great Gatsby of the guests—with Joyce seated at the table wearing a halo, Scott kneeling beside him, and Adrienne and myself, at the head and foot, depicted as mermaids (or sirens).

You can see Fitzgerald’s quirky little sketch above. Beach’s telling, it seems, omits many of the colorful details of the meeting. According to Herbert Gorman, another guest at the dinner and Joyce’s first biographer, Fitzgerald—so overawed by the Irish author that he referred to the evening as the “Festival of St. James”—“sank down on one knee before Joyce”—as in his drawing—“kissed his hand, and declared: ‘How does it feel to be a great genius, Sir? I am so excited at seeing you, Sir, that I could weep.’”

Most likely very drunk on champagne, Fitzgerald’s antics apparently quite alarmed Joyce. In his literary history, Noel Riley Fitch tells us that the American “offered to show his esteem for the Irish writer… by jumping out of the window. An amazed Joyce is supposed to have prohibited the display and exclaimed, ‘That young man must be mad—I’m afraid he’ll do himself some injury.’” The bizarre incident did not prevent Fitzgerald from obtaining Joyce’s autograph in his copy of Ulysses. Nor did it prevent him, on a later occasion, from threatening to jump from his apartment balcony onto the street, “drunk and depressed by his failing marriage.” This time, he was stopped by French novelist André Chamson, with whom he had struck up a friendship at the Joyce dinner.

Beach’s memoir contains many other charming, and somewhat dismaying, stories about the Fitzgeralds, most involving profligate spending and drinking of champagne. We may not have the pleasure of hearing these tales from the Gatsby author himself—save through his essays, letters, and many fictionalizations of his life. But the genial Beach, who outlived Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and most every other author of the “Lost Generation,” appeared in several filmed interviews, in French and English, and told stories of 1920s Paris. In one such interview, above, hear her describe the founding of Shakespeare and Company, that Parisian literary hub without which some of the greatest literature of the 20th century may never have reached the reading public.

via Austin Kleon

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

Take a Virtual Tour of Abbey Road Studios, Courtesy of the New Google Site “Inside Abbey Road”

Once again, Google quietly drops a nifty piece of interactive webbery and acts like it ain’t no big deal.

Google’s new web site, Inside Abbey Road, lets viewers walk inside Abbey Road Studios, check out the famous recording studio (home to most of the Beatles’ songs, birthplace of Dark Side of the Moon, Radiohead’s The Bends, Kanye West’s Late Registration, the list goes on) inspect the rooms, and watch interviews and mini-docs. It also matches up iconic photos (including the one shot outside of the famous crosswalk) with the studio today. The site is a collaboration between Google and the studio to celebrate over 80 years of music history.

Inside Abbey Road

Abbey Road existed before the Fab Four and Cliff Richard, of course, and the new site includes footage of composer Sir Edward Elgar opening the studio in 1931 and conducting a recording of “Land of Hope and Glory.”

There’s plenty of modern footage too, from Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams to Take That and Sigur Rós. You have to poke around a little bit to find everything, but the site includes a map in case you get lost.

abbey road beatles

You can also have a go at mixing a four-track recording in the control booth, fool around on the J37 tape deck that was the height of tech during the time of Sgt. Pepper, and try to find the rumored echo chamber. (Trust me, it’s there.)

abbey road board

If you want to take a break outside and watch a real-time version of this digital location, there’s always the Abbey Road traffic cam, where you watch a whole bunch of tourists try to get their Beatles on without getting hit by an irate lorry driver. Here’s OC editor, Dan Colman, captured on the webcam just last week.

Take your virtual tour of Abbey Road here.

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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 and/or watch his films here.