Nelson Mandela Archive Goes Online (With Help From Google)

Last week, the Albert Einstein Archive went online, bringing thousands of the physicist's papers and letters to the web. This week, we get the launch of the Nelson Mandela Digital Archive, which makes available thousands of papers belonging to the man who galvanized the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, before eventually becoming the leader of the nation. (Don't miss his first recorded TV interview from 1961 here.)

Made possible by a $1.25 million grant from Google, the archive organizes Mandela's papers chronologically and thematically. You can jump into sections covering his Early Life, Prison Years, and Presidential Years, or explore his extensive book collections and work with youngsters. And, much like Einstein, you'll get to know a different side of Mandela, the private side that was often hidden from public view.

Note: We recently mentioned that Google Street View will let you take a virtual tour of the Amazon basin. Now, it turns out, you can also use the software to take a train ride through the Swiss Alps. Start your journey here.

Image from Nelson Mandela's prison journals.

The Bayeux Tapestry Animated

We had to do it. We had to bring back a wonderful little animation of The Bayeux Tapestry -- you know, the famous embroidery that offers a pictorial interpretation of the Norman Conquest of England (1066) and the events leading up to this pivotal moment in medieval history. Currently residing in France, the tapestry measures 20 inches by 230 feet, and you can now see an animated version of the story it narrates. The clip above starts roughly halfway through the historical narrative, with the appearance of Halley's Comet, and it concludes with the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The video created by David Newton began as a student project at Goldsmiths College.

P.S. Don't miss the many courses in the History section of our big collection of Free Online Courses. They're all from top flight universities.

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Art in the Era of the Internet (and Why Open Education Matters)

During the late 1990s, when the internet first boomed, we talked a lot about creative destruction -- about how old businesses would collapse, making way for new ones to emerge. And, indeed, companies like Amazon,, and eBay changed the way we buy our books, computers and everyday items. Years later, we're seeing new internet technologies changing the arts world. Kickstarter, a platform that uses crowdsourcing to fund creative projects, may eventually bring more funding to the arts than the NEA, providing support for countless new artists. Creative Commons and its liberating copyright regime already lets artists distribute their creative works to the broadest audience possible. And The Creators Project, a global arts initiative created by Intel and Vice, is redefining our concept of the art studio and art exhibition. That's the story told by Art in the Era of the Internet, a video created by PBS' Off Book web series.

Speaking of Creative Commons, the California nonprofit (along with the U.S. Department of Education and the Open Society Institute) has launched the Why Open Education Matters Video Competition. The competition will award cash prizes for the best short videos explaining the use of Open Educational Resources and the opportunities these materials create for teachers, students and schools. Create a great video (by June 5th) and you can win $25,000. Get more details at

via BrainPickings

Wim Wenders and Celebrated Directors Talk About the Future of Cinema (1982)

His interest stoked by the sight of a majestic old tree beside the road to Cannes, one which lived before anyone made films and may well live after anyone makes films, Wim Wenders consulted fifteen of his colleagues for their thoughts on the future of cinema. This being the time and place of the 35th Cannes Film Festival, he managed to round up celebrated international auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Michelangelo Antonioni — names cinephiles now mention alongside Wenders' own — as well as lesser-known filmmakers like Mike De Leon, Romain Goupil, and Ana Carolina. Alone in a hotel room in front of the rolling camera, a tape recorder capturing their voice to their right and a silent television spouting images to their left, they each respond to questions on a sheet that follow from the same prompt: “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?” Their reactions make up Room 666, which you can watch free online.

You may be familiar with the hand-wringing happening over this question even today, 30 years on. While our current anxiety has to do with whether on-demand, internet-based delivery mechanisms will render movies as we know them obsolete, several of the filmmaking minds in Room 666 go straight to the then-looming specter of home video. Some seem nervous about it; others — notably Goupil, who unhesitatingly denounces the inconvenience of traditional production tools, and Herzog, who prefaces his answer by taking off his shoes and socks — seem untroubled. Late in the documentary, a certain Steven Spielberg pops up to defend his position as "one of the last optimists" in cinema. Even more surprising than his presence, given the context, is his view of the film artist's struggle against the film industry. Hollywood, he claims, has always yearned to make that mythical, money-printing "movie for everyone." He argues that, given these demands, the troubled economic times, the struggling dollar, and the shaky attendance figures — in 1982, remember — filmmakers will just have to fight the good fight that much harder to tell their small, peculiar stories in ways that seem big and broadly marketable.

Pacing and gesticulating, Antonioni explains his confidence that mankind will adopt, adapt to, and improve upon whichever variety of filmmaking technology comes its way, "magnetic tape" or something more futuristic. But does this apply equally to filmgoers as to filmmakers? Antonioni and certain other of Wenders' isolated interviewees speculate that, with the advent of personal screening technologies, the entire traditional cinematic viewing infrastructure — theaters, projectors, snack bars — will inevitably vanish. When Two Lane Blacktop director Monte Hellman takes his seat in Room 666 and bemoans having taped hundreds of movies off television without having watched a single one, he briefly comes off as more prescient, or at least as more of an illustration of the future, than anyone else.

Yet in 2012's mixed cinematic economy, amid an unprecedentedly wide range of means to watch a movie, I still find myself in theaters more often that not. In these theaters, I often watch revivals of films by these very same filmmakers, or even by their elders. Since Anthony Lane wrote it in the New Yorker, I've quoted it almost daily: "There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion." H/T Dangerous Minds

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Monty Python’s Away From it All: A Twisted Travelogue with John Cleese

And now for something completely delicious: a rare gem from the Monty Python vault called Away From it All, featuring John Cleese as Nigel Farquhar-Bennett, a voice-over artist badly in need of a holiday.

The 13-minute film is a parody of the mind-numbing travelogues they used to show in movie theaters. It was produced in 1979 and screened in British and Australian theaters as a warm-up for Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The narration was written by Cleese, who Michael Palin once said was born with a silver tongue in his mouth. "John loves words," writes Palin in The Very Best of Monty Python, "especially 'nebulous', 'trenchant' and 'orthodontic'. Though most children's first word is 'mama', John's was 'elision'. 'Mama' was third, after 'hydraulics'." Enjoy.

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John Cleese on the Origin of Creativity

The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match Revisited

Ballet in Super Slow Motion (And More Culture Around the Web)

This doesn't need much in the way of an introduction, except to say that two photographers, Simon Iannelli & Johannes Berger, caught Marina Kanno and Giacomo Bevilaqua, both from the Staatsballett Berlin, performing several jumps, each captured in slow motion at 1000 frames per second. And it's all set to Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place." Enjoy that (h/t Kottke) and also ...

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Google Doodle Celebrates Mies Van Der Rohe's Crowning Achievement

Terry Gross Talks With Matthew Weiner ('Mad Men' Creator) On What's Next For Don Draper

Will One Researcher's Discovery in the Amazon Destroy Chomsky's Theory of Linguistics?

The Mechanical Universe: 52 Lecture Intro to Physics by Caltech. Added to the Physics section of our Free Courses List

How to be an Academic Failure: A Guide for Beginners

Recording of William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Speech

From Le Monde, "Backstage with Charlie Chaplin," a Handful of Very Moving Stills

Kurt Vonnegut: The Paris Review Interview (1977)

A Rejected & Unpublished Kurt Vonnegut Novella Gets Released as a $1.99 Kindle Single

Advice on Advice from Literary Greats

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

First High-Resolution Images of the Wreck of the Titanic

Watch The Hitch-Hiker by Ida Lupino (the Only Female Director of a 1950s Noir Film)


In our enlightened times, film directing has become a reasonably open profession, admitting men, women, and — given the plummeting cost of production equipment — children alike. But imagine how it would've been in 1949, when the English-born actress Ida Lupino took the reins of Not Wanted from the project's ailing director Elmer Clifton. This wouldn't have seemed normal at the time, and it would've seemed even less normal that she went on to direct six more pictures. Her fifth, 1953's The Hitch-hiker, even entered the tradition of noir, one rarely associated with female writers or directors. Femmes fatales, sure — these stories could scarcely exist without them — but women behind the camera?

To add a layer of irony on top of the unlikeliness, The Hitch-hiker does away with any trace of overt womanly presence. By the time we get to know the film's hapless protagonists, a couple of buddies who look and act like fresh-cut slabs of all-American blandness, they've already told their wives they're off to a fishing trip, and they'll get back when they get back.

Bearing straight south down the open road, no sooner do they reach Mexico than they pick up a hitchhiker. By the time they come to understand that this black-clad, lumpy-featured fellow has killed before, may well kill again, and intends to mount a ceaseless campaign of psychological manipulation in order to get a ride to his freedom, we understand why hitchhiking has gone out of style. You can find out how things turn out for them by watching the whole thing, free on YouTube.

Lupino's film doesn't just remove the women from the noir formula; it leaves aside most of the darkness implicit in the genre's very name. Apart from a few tense nighttime scenes and a climactic chase through an after-hours shipyard, the bulk of The Hitch-hiker's action takes place under a harsh Mexican sun that bleaches out nearly everything but the jagged shadows cast by unearthly rock formations along the empty road. Though actually shot on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the movie takes its foreign setting seriously, offering several relatively extended sequences and exchanges conducted entirely in untranslated Spanish. By the standards of midcentury American genre film, this nearly counts as an act of radical artistic experimentation. Yes, The Hitch-hiker plays a bit broadly today and leans on a few tropes that must have seemed creaky even in 1953, but it remains an unusual enough entry in noir history to merit attention — and not just because of the sex of the director.

You can find The Hitch-hiker and other films by Ida Lupino in our collection 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc., and in our special collection of Free Noir Films.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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