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Akira Kurosawa’s Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers: Write, Write, Write and Read

in Film, Writing | September 26th, 2016

We should all learn from the best, and in the domain of cinema, that means studying under masters like Akira Kurosawa. Though now nearly twenty years gone, the Japanese filmmaker known as “the Emperor” left behind not just one of the most impressive bodies of directorial work in existence — RashomonSeven SamuraiThrone of BloodRan, and much else besides — but a generous quantity of words. In addition to the voluminous materials related to the films themselves, he wrote the book Something Like an Autobiography, gave in-depth interviews, and offered filmmaking advice to established colleagues and young aspirants alike.

“If you genuinely want to make films,” Kurosawa tells the next generation of directors in the clip above, “then write screenplays. All you need to write a script is paper and a pencil. It’s only through writing scripts that you learn specifics about the structure of film and what cinema is.”

This brings to mind the story of how, long unable to find funding for Kagemusha, he wrote and re-wrote its screenplay, then, still unable to go into production, painted the entire film, shot by shot. Such persistence requires no little strength of patience and discipline, the very kind one builds through rigorous writing practice. Kurosawa quotes Balzac: “The most essential and necessary thing is the forbearance to face the dull task of writing one word at a time.”

Take it one word at a time: apparently creators as ostensibly different as Balzac, Kurosawa, and Stephen King agree on how to handle the writing process. And to write, Kurosawa adds, you must read. “Young people today don’t read books,” he says, echoing an oft-heard complaint. “It’s important that they at least do a certain amount of reading. Unless you have a rich reserve within, you can’t create anything. Memory is the source of your creation. Whether it’s from reading or from your own real-life experience, you can’t create unless you have something inside yourself.” Or, as Werner Herzog more recently put it: “Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read… read, read… read.” But per Kurosawa, don’t forget to write — and when the writing gets tough, do anything but give up.

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Akira Kurosawa Painted the Storyboards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Compare Canvas to Celluloid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Explore 5,300 Rare Manuscripts Digitized by the Vatican: From The Iliad & Aeneid, to Japanese & Aztec Illustrations

in Archives, Books, History, Literature, Museums | September 26th, 2016


Hundreds of years before vast public/private partnerships like Google Arts & Culture, the Vatican served as one of the foremost conservators of cultural artifacts from around the world. In the era of the Holy Roman Empire, few of those works were available to the masses (excepting, of course, the city’s considerable public architecture and sculpture). But with over 500 years of history, Vatican Museums and Libraries have amassed a trove of artifacts that rival the greatest world collections in their breadth and scope, and these have slowly become public over time. In 1839, for example, Pope Gregory XVI founded the Egyptian Museum, an extensive collection of Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts including the famous Book of the Dead. We also have The Collection of Modern Religious Art, which holds 19th and 20th century impressionists, surrealists, cubists, expressionists, etc. In-between are large public collections from antiquity to the Renaissance.


When it comes to manuscripts, the Vatican Library is no less an embarrassment of riches. But unlike the art collections, most of these have been completely inaccessible to the public due to their rarity and fragility. That’s all going to change, now that ancient and modern conservation has come together in partnerships like the one the Library now has with Japanese company NTT DATA.

Their combined project, the Digital Vatican Library, promises to digitize 15,000 manuscripts within the next four years and the full collection of over 80,000 manuscripts in the next decade or so, consisting of codices mostly from the “Middle Age and Humanistic Period.” They’ve made some excellent progress. Currently, you can view high-resolution scans of over 5,300 manuscripts, from all over the world. We previously brought you news of the Library‘s digitization of Virgil’s Aeneid. They’ve also shared a finely illustrated, bilingual (Greek and Latin) edition of its predecessor, The Iliad (top).


Further up, from a similar time but very different place, we see a Pre-Columbian Aztec manuscript, equally finely-wrought in its hand-rendered intricacies. You’ll also find illustrations like the circa 17th-century Japanese watercolor painting above, and the rendering of Dante’s hell, below, from a wonderful, if incomplete, series by Renaissance great Sandro Botticelli (which you can see more of here). Begun in 2010, the huge-scale digitization project has decided on some fairly rigorous criteria for establishing priority, including “importance and preciousness,” “danger of loss,” and “scholar’s requests.” The design of the site itself clearly has scholars in mind, and requires some deftness to navigate. But with simple and advanced search functions and galleries of Selected and Latest Digitized Manuscripts on its homepage, the Digital Vatican Library has several entry points through which you can discover many a textual treasure. As the site remarks, “the world’s culture, thanks to the web, can truly become a common heritage, freely accessible to all.” You can enter the collection here.


Related Content:

1,600-Year-Old Illuminated Manuscript of the Aeneid Digitized & Put Online by The Vatican

Botticelli’s 92 Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy

15,000 Colorful Images of Persian Manuscripts Now Online, Courtesy of the British Library

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

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The Art of Making Old-Fashioned, Hand-Printed Books

in Books, Technology | September 26th, 2016

Reports of traditional books’ death are greatly exaggerated, thanks in part to the success of print-on-demand publishing and other digital innovations.

As thrilled as we are about the survival of the printed page—it’s a relief to have something to read after Wi-Fi fails during the zombie invasion—the craftsmanship that goes into hand-printed, hand-bound volumes is an almost-lost art.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s video, above, documents the painstaking process, beginning with the arranging of metal type that will result in an octavo, the most common type of book.

It’s a quiet endeavor, though surely a bit louder than the V&A’s silent documentation, an unusual choice given a certain segment of the millennial populace’s appetite for well-edited artisanal craft videos in which music plays a big part.

A well-deployed tune could elevate these lovely visuals to the realms of the advanced elegy.

YouTube user, Kraftsman Sheng, attempts to remedy the situation by reproducing the video (sans attribution) with a soundtrack of his own choosing—pianist Roger Williams’ syrupy 1965 rendition of “Softly As I Leave You,” below.

An unconventional choice, to be sure. I should think something baroque would go better with all of this meticulous folding, cutting, and binding.

Though perhaps something a little more robust could highlight the hardcore heroism of the artisans toiling to keep this ancient art alive. Electric Lit has a round up of great book-inspired punk songs, of which “Time” by Richard Hell and the Voidoids seems particularly apt.

Print’s not dead!

via Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

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Oxford University Presents the 550-Year-Old Gutenberg Bible in Spectacular, High-Res Detail

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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U2 Takes Down Trump in a Las Vegas Concert; In Other News, Springsteen Calls Him a “Moron”

in Music, Politics | September 25th, 2016

Give it up for U2. Playing in Las Vegas, America’s gambling capital, Bono turned a performance of “Desire” into a bit of Orwellian theater.

Bono: “Las Vegas, are you ready to gamble?”

Cut to Donald on the big screen: “What do you have to lose?”

Bono: “Are you ready to gamble your car?”

The birther-in-chief on the big screen: “What do you have to lose?”

Bono: “Are you ready to gamble your house? Are you ready to gamble the American Dream?”

Trump: “The American Dream is dead!”

Bono: “The American Dream is alive! No, you can’t deny her, D-e-s-i-r-e!”

Meanwhile, in other news, Bruce Springsteen made his own case against Donald. Asked by Rolling Stone what he thought of the the Trump phenomenon, he offered this:

Well, you know, the republic is under siege by a moron, basically. The whole thing is tragic. Without overstating it, it’s a tragedy for our democracy. When you start talking about elections being rigged, you’re pushing people beyond democratic governance. And it’s a very, very dangerous thing to do. Once you let those genies out of the bottle, they don’t go back in so easy, if they go back in at all. The ideas he’s moving to the mainstream are all very dangerous ideas – white nationalism and the alt-right movement. The outrageous things that he’s done – not immediately disavowing David Duke? These are things that are obviously beyond the pale for any previous political candidate. It would sink your candidacy immediately.

I believe that there’s a price being paid for not addressing the real cost of the deindustrialization and globalization that has occurred in the United States for the past 35, 40 years and how it’s deeply affected people’s lives and deeply hurt people to where they want someone who says they have a solution. And Trump’s thing is simple answers to very complex problems. Fallacious answers to very complex problems. And that can be very appealing.

You can read the rest of the interview here. It’s also worth reading the Hillary endorsement from the Cincinnati Enquirer, an Ohio paper, which–until now–has endorsed GOP candidates for the better part of a century.

via Rolling Stone

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David Byrne & Neil deGrasse Tyson Explain the Importance of an Arts Education (and How It Strengthens Science & Civilization)

in Art, Creativity, Education, Science | September 23rd, 2016

Unless you’re a policy geek or an educator, you may never have heard of the “STEM vs. STEAM” debate. STEM, of course, stands for the formula of “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” as a baseline for educational curriculum. STEAM argues for the necessity of the arts, which in primary and secondary education have waxed and waned depending on prevailing theory and, perhaps more importantly, political will. Andrew Carnegie may have donated handsomely to higher education, but he frowned on the study of “dead languages” and other useless pursuits. Industrialist Richard Teller Crane opined in 1911 that no one with “a taste for literature has the right to be happy” because “the only men entitled to happiness… are those who are useful.”

It’s a long way from thinking of poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as Percy Shelley wrote in his “Defence of Poetry” 90 years earlier, but Shelley’s essay shows that even then the arts needed defending. By the time we get to STEM thinking, the arts have disappeared entirely from the conversation, become an afterthought, as venture capitalists, rather than wealthy industrialists, decide to trim them away from public policy and private investment. The situation may be improving, as more educators embrace STEAM, but “there’s tension,” as Neil DeGrasse Tyson says in the excerpt above from his StarTalk interview show on Nat Geo. In the kinds of funding crises most school districts find themselves in, “school boards are wondering, do we cut the art, do we keep the science?”

The choice is a false one, argues former Talking Heads frontman and sometimes Cassandra-like cultural theorist David Byrne. “In order to really succeed in whatever… math and the sciences and engineering and things like that,” Byrne tells Tyson above, “you have to be able to think outside the box, and do creative problem solving… the creative thinking is in the arts. A certain amount of arts education…” will help you “succeed more and bring more to the world… bringing different worlds together has definite tangible benefits. To kind of cut one, or separate them, is to injure them and cripple them.”

The idea goes back to Aristotle, and to the creation of universities, when medieval thinkers touted the Liberal Arts—the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy)—as models for a balanced education. Tyson agrees that the arts and sciences should not be severed: “Suppose they did that back in Renaissance Europe? What would Europe be without the support and interest in art?” He goes even further, saying, “We measure the success of a civilization by how well they treat their creative people.”

It’s a bold statement that emerges from a longer conversation Tyson has with Byrne, which you can hear in the StarTalk Radio podcast above. Tyson is joined by co-host Maeve Higgins and neuroscientist and concert pianist Dr. Mónica López-González—and later by Professor David Cope, who taught a computer to write music, and Bill Nye. Byrne makes his case for the equal value of the arts and sciences with personal examples from his early years in grade school and art college, and by building conceptual bridges between the two ways of thinking. One theme he returns to is the interrelationship between architecture and music as an example of how art and engineering co-evolve (a subject on which he previously delivered a fascinating TED talk).

You won’t find much debate here among the participants. Everyone seems to readily agree with each other, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Speaking anecdotally, all of the scientists I know affirm the value of the arts, and a high percentage have a creative avocation. Likewise, I’ve rarely met an artist who doesn’t value science and technology.  We find example after example of scientist-artists—from Albert Einstein to astrophysicist Stephon Alexander, who sees physics in Coltrane. The central question may not be whether artists and scientists can mutually appreciate each other—they generally already do—but whether school boards, politicians, voters, and investors can see things their way.

Related Content:

David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve

An Animated Neil deGrasse Tyson Gives an Eloquent Defense of Science in 272 Words, the Same Length as The Gettysburg Address

The Secret Link Between Jazz and Physics: How Einstein & Coltrane Shared Improvisation and Intuition in Common

The Musical Mind of Albert Einstein: Great Physicist, Amateur Violinist and Devotee of Mozart

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

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