Flannery O’Connor to Lit Professor: “My Tone Is Not Meant to Be Obnoxious. I’m in a State of Shock”

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When Flannery O’Connor started writing in the middle of the 20th century, short stories — or at least fashionable short stories that were published in The New Yorker –unfolded delicately revealing gossamer-like layers of experience. O’Connor’s stories, in contrast, were pungent, grotesque, often violent moral tales dealing with unabashedly Christian themes. They definitely weren’t fashionable at the time. Yet since her untimely death at age 39 in 1964, O’Connor’s reputation has only increased. Even for readers who aren’t immersed in Catholic theology, her stories — which pair outlandish, often comic characters with harrowing, existential situations — have a way of burrowing into your consciousness and staying there. For O’Connor, the gothic tales were a means to an end: “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

In 1961, an English professor wrote to O’Connor hoping to help his students understand “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The story, perhaps the author’s most famous, is a slippery, troubling work about a family of six casually murdered by an escaped convict called the Misfit in the backwoods of Georgia. The story’s main character is clearly the Grandmother. The story is seen through her eyes, and she is the one who ultimately dooms the family. Yet the professor didn’t quite see it that way:

We have debated at length several possible interpretations, none of which fully satisfies us. In general we believe that the appearance of the Misfit is not ‘real’ in the same sense that the incidents of the first half of the story are real. Bailey, we believe, imagines the appearance of the Misfit, whose activities have been called to his attention on the night before the trip and again during the stopover at the roadside restaurant. Bailey, we further believe, identifies himself with the Misfit and so plays two roles in the imaginary last half of the story. But we cannot, after great effort, determine the point at which reality fades into illusion or reverie. Does the accident literally occur, or is it part of Bailey’s dream? Please believe me when I say we are not seeking an easy way out of our difficulty. We admire your story and have examined it with great care, but we are not convinced that we are missing something important which you intended us to grasp. We will all be very grateful if you comment on the interpretation which I have outlined above and if you will give us further comments about your intention in writing ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’

O’Connor was understandably baffled by this reading. Her response:

28 March 1961

The interpretation of your ninety students and three teachers is fantastic and about as far from my intentions as it could get to be. If it were a legitimate interpretation, the story would be little more than a trick and its interest would be simply for abnormal psychology. I am not interested in abnormal psychology.

There is a change of tension from the first part of the story to the second where the Misfit enters, but this is no lessening of reality. This story is, of course, not meant to be realistic in the sense that it portrays the everyday doings of people in Georgia. It is stylized and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious.

Bailey’s only importance is as the Grandmother’s boy and the driver of the car. It is the Grandmother who first recognized the Misfit and who is most concerned with him throughout. The story is a duel of sorts between the Grandmother and her superficial beliefs and the Misfit’s more profoundly felt involvement with Christ’s action which set the world off balance for him.

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

Flannery O’Connor

You can hear O’Connor read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” below. We have more information on the 1959 reading here:

Via Letters of Note

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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 badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Read The Very First Comic Book: The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (1837)

Obadiah Oldbuck

Comic books, as any enthusiast of comics books won’t hesitate to tell you, have a long and robust history, one that extends far wider and deeper than the 20th-century caped musclemen, carousing teenagers, and wisecracking animals so many associate with the medium. The scholarship on comic-book history — still a relatively young field, you understand — has more than once revised its conclusions on exactly how far back its roots go, but as of now, the earliest acknowledged comic book dates to 1837.

The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, according to thecomicbooks.com’s page on early comic-book history, “was done by Switzerland’s Rudolphe Töpffer, who has been considered in Europe (and starting to become here in America) as the creator of the picture story. He created the comic strip in 1827,” going on to create comic books “that were extremely successful and reprinted in many different languages; several of them had English versions in America in 1846. The books remained in print in America until 1877.”

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Also known as Histoire de M. Vieux BoisLes amours de Mr. Vieux Bois, or simply Monsieur Vieuxbois, the original 1837 Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck earned Töpffer the designation of “the father of the modern comic” from no less an authority on the matter than Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud, who cites the series’ pioneering use of bordered panels and “the interdependent combination of words and pictures.” You can see for yourself at the web site of Dartmouth College’s Library.

Alas, contemporary critics — and to an extent Töpffer himself, who considered it a work targeted at children and “the lower classes” — couldn’t see the innovation in all this. They wrote off Obadiah Oldbuck‘s harrowing yet strangely lighthearted pictorial stories of failed courtship, dueling, attempted suicide, robbery, drag, elopement, ghosts, stray bullets, attack dogs, double-crossing, and the threat of execution as mere trifles by an otherwise capable artist. So the next time anyone gets on your case about reading comic books, just tell ‘em they said the same thing about Obadiah Oldbuck. Then send them this way so they can figure out what you mean. You can read The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck in its totality here.

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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.

How Did Everything Begin?: Animations on the Origins of the Universe Narrated by X-Files Star Gillian Anderson

Back in November, we brought you the BBC series of short animated videos, A History of Ideas. Produced in collaboration with the UK’s Open University and narrated by Harry Shearer, these fun introductions to such philosophers as Simone de Beauvoir and Edmund Burke, and such weighty philosophical topics as free will and the problem of evil, make challenging, abstract concepts accessible to non-philosophers. Now the series is back with a new chapter, “How Did Everything Begin?,” a survey of several theories of the origins of the universe, from Thomas Aquinas’ philosophical speculations, to Hindu cosmology; and from theologian William Paley’s design argument (below), and the theory of the Big Bang (above).

The two videos here present an interesting counterpoint between the origin theories of astrophysics and theology. Though current day intelligent design proponents deny it, there is still much of William Paley’s argument, at least in style, in their explanations of creation. First propounded in his 1802 work Natural Theology, the theologian’s famous watchmaker analogy—which he extended to the design of the eye, and everything else—gave Charles Darwin much to puzzle over, though David Hume had supposedly refuted Paley’s arguments 50 years earlier. The Big Bang theory—a term created by its foremost critic Fred Hoyle as a pejorative—offers an entirely naturalistic account of the universe’s origins, one that presupposes no inherent purpose or design.

As with the previous videos, these are scripted by former Open University professor and host of the Philosophy Bites podcast, Nigel Warburton. This time around the videos are narrated by Gillian Anderson, whose voice you may not immediately recognize. Rather than sounding like Dana Scully, her famous X-Files character, Anderson speaks in a British accent, which she slips into easily, having lived in the UK for much of her childhood and now again as an adult. (You may have seen Anderson in many of the English period dramas she has appeared in, or in British crime drama The Fall or Michael Winterbottom’s uproarious adaptation of Tristram Shandy.)

These fascinating speculative theories—whether scientific or mythological—are sure to appeal to fans of the X-Files, who can perhaps begin to believe again, or remain skeptical, thanks to news that Anderson may reteam with Chris Carter and David Duchovny for a reboot of the classic sci-fi series.

Watch the remaining videos in the series below:

Thomas Aquinas and the First Mover Argument

Hindu Creation Stories

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

A Dazzling Gallery of Clockwork Orange Tattoos

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Alex, the protagonist of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange takes teenage rebellion to psychotic extremes, but one act he and his droogs never indulge in is getting tattooed. It doesn’t even seem to be on their radar. How different things were in 1962, when the book was published!

I have no doubt that director Stanley Kubrick (or designer Milena Canonero) could have devised some iconic ink for the 1971 film adaptation, but it would’ve been gilding the lily. Movie Alex Malcolm McDowell’s single false eyelash is so arresting as to be instantly recognizable. It deserved its star billing on the updated book cover that coincided with the film’s release.

It’s also just one of many Clockwork Orange-inspired images that decorates fans’ hides now that tattooing has hit the mainstream. What would Alex think?

The little monster’s ego would’ve have relished the notoriety, but I bet he’d have had a snicker, too, at the lengths to which eager chellovecks and devotchkas will go. It’s the kind of thing his dim droogie Dim would do—mark himself up permanent when he could’ve just as well have bought a totebag.

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Whether or not you personally would consider making a salute to A Clockwork Orange a lifelong feature of your birthday suit, it’s hard not to admire the commitment of the passionate literature and film lovers who do.

In assembling the gallery below, we’ve opted to forgo the photorealistic portraits of McDowell—particularly the ones that recreate the aversion therapy scene—in favor of the graphic, the creative, the jaw dropping, the sly… and the unavoidable Hello Kitty mash up, which we’re kind of hoping washes off.

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Clockwork Tattoo 5

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Clockwork Tattoo 11

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Clockwork Tattoo 13

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and cartoonist, whose latest comic celebrates Civil War firebrand, “Crazy Bet” Van Lew. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Whitney Museum Puts Online 21,000 Works of American Art, By 3,000 Artists

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Soir Bleu by Edward Hopper, 1914.

The trend has now become delightfully clear: the world’s best-known art institutions have got around to the important business of making their collections freely viewable online. We’ve already featured the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, and the National Gallery (as well as new, internet-based institutions such as the Google Art Project and Art.sy). Today, we bring news that the Whitney Museum of American Art has joined in as well.

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The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz, 1907.

“Last week, the Whitney Museum massively overhauled its online database,” writes Hyperallergic’s Becca Rothfeld. “The museum of American art expanded its online collection from a paltry 700 works to around 21,000. The digital reserve now includes over 3,000 pieces by Edward Hopper, in addition to offerings from a wide swathe of art from the United States, including the likes of Mike Kelley and Martin Wong.” Rothfeld also notes that all this digitization has happened during the museum’s physical move, currently underway, to a building in the Meatpacking District with 63,000 combined square feet of indoor and outdoor gallery space.

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Morning Sky by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1916.

We non-New Yorkers have, of course, already booked our flights to experience the Whitney’s new digs. But since the building won’t actually open to the public until May, all of us, no matter where we live, will have to content ourselves for the moment with what the museum has put online so far. Fortunately, it has put a lot online: you can browse their digital collections by artist here; you’ll notice a great deal of Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and Andy Warhol already available for your browsing pleasure.

via Hyperallergic

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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.

Slavoj Žižek Names His Favorite Films from The Criterion Collection

Slavoj Žižek – the world’s most famous Slovenian, the “Elvis of cultural theory” – readily admits that he’s a big fan of movies. After all, there are few better ideological delivery systems out there than cinema and Žižek is fascinated with ideology. In his documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, he parses some beloved favorites in unexpected ways. So Taxi Driver is not only an unofficial remake of The Searchers but also echoes America’s recent foreign policy blunders in the Middle East? Okay. So Titanic has parallels with the Soviet propaganda movie The Fall of Berlin? Sure. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, at its heart, articulates some very cynical notions of government? Actually, I sort of suspected that one. Žižek’s tendency to make wild, surprising rhetorical leaps and his penchant for dropping nods to pop culture alongside references to Karl Marx and Jacques Lacan have turned him into that rarest of people – a celebrity philosopher.

Last fall, Žižek stopped by the office of The Criterion Collection where he rattled off some of his favorite movies from its library. His commentary is incisive, fascinating, occasionally flip and often funny. As it turns out, Žižek is not a fan of Milan Kundera; he is one of the very few people out there who prefers Roberto Rossellini’s late films over his early Italian Neo-Realist masterpieces like Rome, Open City; and he ended up being a personal inspiration for Ang Lee’s film, The Ice Storm. You can watch him talk in the video above. Below is the film list, along with some choice quotes.

Trouble in Paradise (1932) – dir. Ernst Lubitsch
“It’s the best critique of Capitalism.”

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – dir. Alexander Mackendrick
“It’s a nice depiction of the corruption of the American press.”

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – dir. Peter Weir
“I simply like early Peter Weir movies. … It’s like his version of Stalker.”

Murmur of the Heart (1971)- dir. Louis Malle
“It’s one of those nice gentle French movies where you have incest. Portrayed as a nice secret between mother and son. I like this.”

The Joke (1969) – dir. Jaromil Jireš
“The Joke is the first novel by Milan Kundera and I think it’s his only good novel. After that it all goes down.”

The Ice Storm (1997) – dir. Ang Lee
“I have a personal attachment to this film. When James Schamus was writing the scenario, he told me he was reading a book of mine and that my theoretical book was inspiration [sic]. So it’s personal reason but I also loved the movie.”

Great Expectations (1946) dir. David Lean
“I am simply a great fan of Dickens.”

Rossellini’s History Films (Box Set) – The Age of the Medici (1973), Cartesius (1974), Blaise Pascal (1972)
“Rossellini’s history films, I prefer them. These late, long boring TV movies. I think that the so-called great Rossellinis, for example German Year Zero and so on, they no longer really work. I think this is the Rossellini to be rehabilitated.”

City Lights (1931) – dir. Charlie Chaplin
“What is there to say? This is one of the greatest movies of all times.”

Carl Theodor Dreyer Box SetDay of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), Gertrud (1964)
“It’s more out of my love for Denmark. It’s nice to know already in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Denmark was already a cinematic superpower.

Y Tu Mamá También (2002) – dir. Alfonso Cuáron
“This is for obvious personal reason. I do the comment. [He did the DVD Commentary for the movie] Although, I must say that my favorite Cuáron is Children of Men.”

Antichrist (2009) – dir. Lars Von Trier
“I will probably not like it, but I like Von Trier. It is simply a part of a duty.”

Žižek goes on to say that he oftentimes enjoys the DVD commentary of a movie more than the actual film. “I am a corrupted theorist. Screw the movie. I like to learn all around the movie.”

And below you can watch Žižek’s take on John Carpenter’s overlooked gem, and leftist parable, They Live!

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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 badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Dominic West, Stephen Fry & Benedict Cumberbatch Read From a Guantánamo Prisoner’s Diary

For more than a decade, Mohamedou Ould Slahi has remained locked up in Guantánamo, despite never being charged with a crime. He’s just one of many prisoners trapped in a Kafkian state of legal limbo. Confined to a single cell, Slahi has written a haunting, 466 page account of his experience. And, after years of litigation, and some 2,500 redactions by the US government, his diary is finally being published. You can read the declassified manuscript online over at The Guardian. To get some context on the whole affair, you can watch a short documentary above, which features readings by Dominic West (McNulty in The Wire). Below, we have more readings by Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth. Yet more readings can be found on SoundCloud.

Stephen Fry

 

Benedict Cumberbatch

 

Colin Firth

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus 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.

How “America’s First Drug Czar” Waged War Against Billie Holiday and Other Jazz Legends

The U.S. government’s so-called “War on Drugs” predates Richard Nixon’s coinage of the term in 1971 by many decades, though it is under his administration that it assumed its current scope and character. Before Woodstock and Vietnam, before the creation of the DEA in 1973, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics—headed by “America’s first drug czar,” Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger, from 1930 to 1962—waged its own war, at first primarily on marijuana, and, to a great degree, on jazz musicians and jazz culture. Anslinger came to power in the era of Reefer Madness, the title of a rather ridiculous 1938 anti-drug film that has come to stand in for hyperbolic anti-pot paranoia of the ’30s and ’40s more generally. Much of that madness was the Commissioner’s special creation.

Like so much of the post-Nixon drug war, Anslinger staged his campaign as a moral crusade against certain kinds of users: dissidents, the counterculture, and especially immigrants and blacks. According to Alexander Cockburn’s Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs, and the Press, Anslinger’s “first major campaign was to criminalize the drug commonly known as hemp. But Anslinger renamed it ‘marijuana’ to associate it with Mexican laborers,” and claimed that the drug “can arouse in blacks and Hispanics a state of menacing fury or homicidal attack.” Anslinger “became the prime shaper of American attitudes to drug addiction.” And like later despisers of rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop, Anslinger’s hatred of jazz motivated many of his targeted attacks.

Ansligner linked marijuana with jazz and persecuted many black musicians, including Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. Louis Armstrong was also arrested on drug charges, and Anslinger made sure his name was smeared in the press. In Congress he testified that “[c]oloreds with big lips lure white women with jazz and marijuana.”

“Marijuana is taken by… musicians,” he told Congress in 1937, “And I’m not speaking about good musicians, but the jazz type.” Although the La Guardia Committee would refute almost everything Anslinger testified to about the effects of smoking pot, the damage was already done. (Anslinger’s prosecution of jazz musicians, particularly Louis Armstrong—paralleled that of another power-mad, paranoid bureaucrat, J. Edgar Hoover.)

Anslinger did not simply dislike jazz. He feared it. “It sounded,” he wrote, “like the jungles in the dead of night.” In jazz, “unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected.” And the lives of jazz musicians “reek of filth.” And yet, writes Johann Hari in his book Chasing the Scream (excerpted in Politico), his campaign largely failed because of the jazz world’s “absolute solidarity” in opposition to it. “In the end,” writes Hari, “the Treasury Department told Anslinger he was wasting his time.” And so, “he scaled down his focus until it settled like a laser on one single target—perhaps the greatest female jazz vocalist there ever was,” Billie Holiday.

Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge about Holiday knows she had a drug problem in desperate need of treatment. And, of course, Holiday wasn’t addicted to a relatively harmless substance like marijuana, but to heroin, which—along with alcohol abuse—eventually lead to her death. Yet, as Cockburn writes, Anslinger had “hammer[ed] home his view that [drug addiction] was not… treatable,” but “could only be suppressed by harsh criminal sanctions.” Accordingly, he “hunted” Holiday—in Hari’s apt description—sending agents after her when he heard “whispers that she was using heroin, and—after she flatly refused to be silent about racism.”

Recruiting a black agent, Jimmy Fletcher, for the job, Anslinger began his attacks on Holiday in 1939. Fletcher shadowed Holiday for years, and became protective, eventually, “it seems,” writes Hari, “fall[ing] in love with her.” But Anslinger broke the case through Holliday’s viciously abusive husband, Louis McKay, who agreed to inform on her—something no fellow musician would do. In May of 1947, Holiday was arrested and put on trial for possession of narcotics. “Sick and alone,” writes Hettie Jones in Big Star Fallin’ Mama: Five Women in Black Music, “she signed away her right to a lawyer and no one advised her to do otherwise.” Promised a “hospital cure in return for a plea of guilty,” she was instead “convicted as a ‘criminal defendant,’ and a ‘wrongdoer,’ and sentenced to a year and a day in the Federal Women’s Reformatory at Alderson, West Virginia.”

After her release, Holiday was stripped of her cabaret license, restricted from singing in “all the jazz clubs in the United States… on the grounds,” writes Hari, “that listening to her might harm the morals of the public.” Two years after her first conviction, Anslinger recruited another agent, a sadist named George White, who was all too happy take Holiday down. He did so in 1949 at the Mark Twain Hotel in San Francisco—“one of the few places she could still perform”—arresting her without a warrant and with what were very likely planted drugs. White apparently “had a long history of planting drugs on women” and “may well have been high when he busted Billie for getting high.” (See the declassified case against her here. Her manager John Levy is erroneously referred to as her “husband” and called “Joseph Levy.”)

A jury refused to convict, but Anslinger gloried in the toll his campaign had taken. “She had slipped from the peak of her fame,” he wrote, “her voice was cracking.” After her death in 1959, he wrote callously, “for her, there would be no more ‘Good Morning Heartache.’” For her part, though Holiday “didn’t blame Anslinger’s agents as individuals; she blamed the drug war,” writing in her autobiography, “Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into the black market… then sent them to jail…. We do practically the same thing every day in the week to sick people hooked on drugs.”

Many jazz musicians, but especially Holiday, paid dearly for Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ “war on drugs.” Hari documents the “race panic” that underlay most of Anslinger’s actions and the egregious double standard he applied, including a “friendly chat” he had with Judy Garland over her heroin addiction and kid gloves treatment of a “Washington society hostess,” in contrast to his relentless prosecution of Holiday. His persecution of Holliday and others was accompanied by a propaganda campaign that demonized “the Negro population” as dangerous addicts. As Hari points out, Anslinger “did not create these underlying trends,” but he promoted racist fictions and manipulated them to his advantage. And his singling out of cultures and groups he personally disliked and feared as special targets for vigorous, prejudicial prosecution helped set the agenda for anti-drug legislation and cultural attitudes in every decade since he decided to go after jazz and Billie Holiday.

Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream, is now available on Amazon.

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

The Public Domain Project Makes 10,000 Film Clips, 64,000 Images & 100s of Audio Files Free to Use

Sure, we love the internet for how it makes freely available so many cultural artifacts. And sure, we also love the internet for how it allows us to disseminate our own work. But the internet gets the most interesting, I would submit, when it makes freely available cultural artifacts with the express purpose of letting creators use them in their own work — which we then all get to experience through the internet. The new Public Domain Project will soon become an important resource for many such creators, offering as it does “thousands of historic media files for your creative projects, completely free and made available by Pond5,” an entity that brands itself as “the world’s most vibrant marketplace for creativity.”

trip to the moon public domain

So what can you find to use in the Public Domain Project? As of this writing, it offers 9715 pieces of footage, 473 audio files, 64,535 images, and 121 3D models. “The project includes digital models of NASA tools and satellites, Georges Méliès’ 1902 film, A Trip To The Moon, speeches by political figures like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr., recordings of performances from composers like Beethoven, and a laid-back picture of President Obama playing pool,” says a post at The Creators Project explaining the site’s background.

In the Public Domain Project’s expanding archives you will also find clips of everything, from rocket launches to film of old New York to very, very early cat videos, to, of course, mushroom clouds. I imagine that some future Chris Marker could make creative use of this stuff indeed, and if they need a score, they could use a concerto for pizzicato and ten instruments, Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat Major,” or maybe “Johnny Get Your Gun.” Alternatively, they could part out the very first documentary and use the Public Domain Project’s bits and pieces of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie CameraWhatever you want to create, the usable public domain can only grow more fruitful, so you might as well get mixing, remixing, and sharing, as Pond5 puts it, right away. Visit The Public Domain Project here.

via The Creators Project

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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.

Jean Cocteau Delivers a Speech to the Year 2000 in 1962: “I Hope You Have Not Become Robots”

Jean Cocteau was a great many things to a great many people—writer, filmmaker, painter, friend, and lover. In the latter two categories he could count among his acquaintances such modernist giants as Pablo Picasso, Kenneth Anger, Erik Satie, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Jean Marais, Marcel Proust, André Gide, and a number of other famous names. But Cocteau himself had little use for fame and its blandishments. As you’ll see in the short film above, “Cocteau Addresses the Year 2000,” the great 20th century artist considered the many awards bestowed upon him naught but “transcendent punishment.” What Cocteau cared for most was poetry; for him it was the “basis of all art, a ‘religion without hope.'”

Cocteau began his career as a poet, publishing his first collection, Aladdin’s Lamp, at the age of 19. By 1963, at the age of 73, he had lived one of the richest artistic lives imaginable, transforming every genre he touched. Deciding to leave one last artifact to posterity, Cocteau sat down and recorded the film above, a message to the year 2000, intending it as a time capsule only to be opened in that year (though it was discovered, and viewed a few years earlier). Biographer James S. Williams describes the documentary testament as “Cocteau’s final gift to his fellow human beings.”

He reiterates some of his long-standing artistic themes and principles: death is a form of life; poetry is beyond time and a kind of superior mathematics; we are all a procession of others who inhabit us; errors are the true expression of an individual, and so on. The tone is at once speculative and uncompromising…

Portraying himself as “a living anachronism” in a “phantom-like state,” Cocteau, seated before his own artwork, quotes St. Augustine, makes parables of events in his life, and addresses, primarily, the youth of the future. The uses and misuses of technology comprise a central theme of his discourse: “I certainly hope that you have not become robots,” Cocteau says, “but on the contrary that you have become very humanized: that’s my hope.” The people of his time, he claims, “remain apprentice robots.”

Among Cocteau’s concerns is the dominance of an “architectural Esperanto, which remains our time’s great mistake.” By this phrase he means that “the same house is being built everywhere and no attention is paid to climate, atmospherical conditions or landscape.” Whether we take this as a literal statement or a metaphor for social engineering, or both, Cocteau sees the condition as one in which these monotonous repeating houses are “prisons which lock you up or barracks which fence you in.” The modern condition, as he frames it, is one “straddling contradictions” between humanity and machinery. Nonetheless, he is impressed with scientific advancement, a realm of “men who do extraordinary things.”

And yet, “the real man of genius,” for Cocteau, is the poet, and he hopes for us that the genius of poetry “hasn’t become something like a shameful and contagious sickness against which you wish to be immunized.” He has very much more of interest to communicate, about his own time, and his hopes for ours. Cocteau recorded this transmission from the past in August of 1963. On October 11 of that same year, he died of a heart attack, supposedly shocked to death by news of his friend Edith Piaf’s death that same day in the same manner.

His final film, and final communication to a public yet to be born, accords with one of the great themes of his life’s work—“the tug of war between the old and the new and the paradoxical disparities that surface because of that tension.” Should we attend to his messages to our time, we may find that he anticipated many of our 21st century dilemmas between technology and humanity, and between history and myth. It’s interesting to imagine how we might describe our own age to a later generation, and, like Cocteau, what we might hope for them.

via Network Awesome

Related Content:

Jean Cocteau’s Avante-Garde Film From 1930, The Blood of a Poet

The Postcards That Picasso Illustrated and Sent to Jean Cocteau, Apollinaire & Gertrude Stein

David Lynch Presents the History of Surrealist Film (1987)

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


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