The Canterbury Tales Remixed: Baba Brinkman’s New Album Uses Hip Hop to Bring Chaucer Into the 21st Century, Yo

Baba Brinkman, a self-proclaimed "geek rapper," has a knack for combining hip hop with serious literature and science. Last year, we featured his Rap Guide to Evolution, an homage to Charles Darwin that he presented in New York City and TEDxSMU. And, before that, we showcased Brinkman taking on “Professor Elemental" in a no-holds-barred British v. Canadian Linguistics Rap Battle. Fun stuff.

But Brinkman first made his name by staging the The Rap Canterbury Tales, a creative attempt to bring Chaucer's 14th century stories into the 21st century. The show premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2004. Then, Brinkman, a Canadian scholar of medieval literature, performed his show in secondary schools across England, before bringing his act to the United States -- to Off Broadway -- late last year, where he got some glowing reviews.

Above, we have Brinkman rapping the The Miller's Tale, the second of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, at Bede's World, 2009. And now that we have you warmed up, we're going to mention Brinkman's new studio album, The Canterbury Tales Remixed, which brings his retelling of Chaucer's tales to the wider world. You can preview his album online right here, and download original rap songs (in MP3 format) for whatever price you're willing to pay. Or, find the album on iTunes for $9.99.

You can find The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer's version) in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections.

Werner Herzog Reads From Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses

Roughly since the 2005 release of his widely seen documentary Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog has come into great demand. He does so not just as a filmmaker (though he has dozens and dozens of movies of many kinds to his name), or as a writer (though several volumes of his diaries and one long-form interview have appeared as books). Many of Herzog's newest fans, lured into the fold by the distinctive voiceover narration he records for his documentaries, simply want to hear him talk. Having grown up in Bavaria, honed his craft in German-language projects through the seventies, and more recently put down roots in Los Angeles, Herzog communicates in a manner somehow more basic and more intellectual, more and less articulate, than any other public personality alive. In one characteristic line from Grizzly Man, he compares his view of nature to his hapless subject, the late bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell: "What haunts me is that, in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food."

If you've never seen the movie, imagine those sentences spoken with a Teutonically inflected deliberateness and the non-native English speaker's slight hesitancy about word choice. Then imagine it ultimately arriving at the kind of grasp of and reverence for the meaning of those words you tend to have to spend a lot of time staring into the abyss to achieve. Given his interest in the affectless savagery of the world around us, it comes as no surprise that Herzog counts himself as a fan of the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Pulled from an episode of NPR's Science Friday, the above clip features Herzog reading, and thrilling to, a passage from McCarthy's 1992 novel, All the Pretty Horses. "It cannot get any better," he adds, "and for decades we have not had this language in American literature." Criminally, he didn't direct the adaptation of All the Pretty Horses, nor has he directed any other. But until the inevitable day that he does, perhaps he could just record McCarthy's audiobooks?

Related content:

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An Evening With Werner Herzog

Contemporary American Literature: An Open Yale Course

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

The Mystery of Picasso: Landmark Film of a Legendary Artist at Work, by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Pablo Picasso's art emerges in front of our eyes in this remarkable 1956 film by the French master of suspense, Henri-Georges Clouzot.

The Mystery of Picasso (in French Le Mystère Picasso) is a unique collaboration between filmmaker and painter. Pauline Kael called it "One of the most exciting and joyful movies ever made." The film is not so much a documentary as a carefully contrived cinematic depiction of Picasso's creative process. While painting is generally experienced as a fixed art form, in The Mystery of Picasso we watch as it evolves over time.

In the first half of the 75-minute film, Picasso uses color pens to make playful doodles on translucent screens. These sequences bear some resemblance to a 1950 film by Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts called Visite à Picasso (A visit with Picasso), which features Picasso painting on glass. As Clouzot's film progresses, the artworks become more refined. Picasso switches from ink pens to oil brushes and paper collage. A work that took five hours to create unfolds in a ten-minute time-lapse. At the 54-minute mark Picasso says "Give me a large canvas," and the film switches to CinemaScope.

Indeed, in The Mystery of Picasso, the film itself is the artist's canvas. Clouzot draws attention to this fact through a series of contrivances. At one point he highlights the temporal constraints of the medium by creating an element of suspense. He asks  cinematographer Claude Renoir (grandson of the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) how much film is left, and then we watch as the film counter ticks away the time while the 76-year-old painter races to finish a painting. When the The Mystery of Picasso ends, the artist "signs" the film by painting his signature on a canvas large enough to fill the screen. As Clouzot later wrote, "It is someone else's film, that of my friend Pablo Picasso."

The Mystery of Picasso (now added to our collection of Free Online Movies) performed poorly at the box office but won the Special Jury Prize at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. In 1984 the French government declared it a national treasure. Picasso's paintings from the production were reportedly destroyed afterward. They exist only in the film.

Alain de Botton’s Quest for The Perfect Home and Architectural Happiness

In the first episode of The Perfect Home, embedded above, philosophical journalist and broadcaster Alain de Botton contends that we don't live in the modern world. Rather, we do live in the modern world in that we exist in it, but we don't live in the modern world in that few of us choose to make our homes there. As de Botton sees it, the residents of the developed world have, despite keeping up with the latest cars, clothes, and gadgetry, chosen to hole up in shells of aesthetic nostalgia: our mock Tudors, our restored cottages, our Greek Revivals. Having written books and presented television shows on philosophical subjects — you may remember Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness — he even brings in Nietzsche to diagnose this architectural disorder as an abject denial of reality. According to old Friedrich, he who builds himself into a fake reality ultimately pays a much greater price than what enduring real reality would have cost. With that ominous bit of wisdom in mind, de Botton travels the world in search of buildings designed with modern sensibilities and modern technology that nevertheless make us happy without enabling self-delusion.

The search takes de Botton all over the world, from Victorian theme-parkish English suburban developments to a Japanese Dutch village to Egyptian and Scandinavian embassies in Berlin to a helicopter soaring above London with the architect Norman Foster to the concrete-modernist Zurich apartment of his own childhood. Just as Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness grew from the same intellectual soil as de Botton's book The Consolations of Philosophy, so grows The Perfect Home from The Architecture of Happiness. That book's explorations proceeded from the idea that we desire in our architecture whatever we feel we lack in our character: the undisciplined gravitate toward starkness and simplicity, perhaps, while the straight-laced build with more whimsy. What does this say about the lady visited in this first episode who devotes her every domestic impulse to constructing a "cozy" setting, bursting in every direction with teddy bears? Though de Botton demures from that question, he otherwise goes to great lengths to find an escape from tiresome "pastiche" architecture and a way our buildings can embrace our times — a way, that is, we can finally live in the present.


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

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Space Exploration is Good for Our Culture (and More Good Links From Around the Web)

Presenting the keynote speech at the 28th National Space Symposium, the new public face of astrophysics, Neil deGrasse Tyson, continued making his case for funding NASA and funding it well. Here he tried out a new argument. NASA is not just good for scientific progress. It's good for our creativity, imagination and collective culture. His argument begins at the 14:45 mark, which is where we start the video....

Now discover more Culture from Around the Web (which all originally appeared on our Twitter Stream): 

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read

Harvard Biologist E.O. Wilson Explains the Evolution of Culture

Extended Trailer for David Cronenberg's Adaptation of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis Now on the Web

Listen Online: Norah Jones' New Album 'Little Broken Hearts'

Allen Ginsberg Reads “What would you do if you lost it?,” 1973

Raymond Chandler on the Split Infinitive

To Infinity and Beyond: BBC Untangles the Most Exponential Mystery

Alan Turing's WWII papers on Code Breaking Released by British Government

Wish You Could be Jane Eyre? Company Will Reprint Classic Novels Starring You & Your Friends

Parents Were Pushy Too in Ancient Rome, According to Mary Beard, Professor of Classics, Cambridge U

Jennifer Egan and Neil Gaiman Visit Google and Talk Literature.

Kurt Vonnegut Reads the Beginning of "Breakfast of Champions"

The Craft of Verse: The Norton Lectures, 1967-68 by Jorge Luis Borges. Audio

Spike Lee's Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers

A Trove of Rare James Joyce's Unpublished Manuscripts (inc Ulysses & Finnegans Wake) as PDFs

Acclaimed BBC Production of Hamlet, Starring David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Patrick Stewart (Star Trek)

In 2008 the Royal Shakespeare Company drew rave reviews for its production of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, which featured the Scottish actor David Tennant, star of the hit BBC science fiction show Doctor Who, as the tragically indecisive Prince of Denmark.

"Gregory Doran's production is one of the most richly textured, best-acted versions of the play we have seen in years," wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian. "And Tennant, as anyone familiar with his earlier work with the RSC would expect, has no difficulty in making the transition from the BBC's Time Lord to a man who could be bounded in a nutshell and count himself a king of infinite space. He is a fine Hamlet whose virtues, and occasional vices, are inseparable from the production itself."

The cast included Mariah Gale as Ophelia, Peter de Jersey as Horatio, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, Penny Downie as Gertrude, and Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame in what Charles Spencer of The Telegraph called "the strongest, scariest performance as Claudius I have seen. A modern tyrant in a surveillance state full of spies, informers and two-way mirrors in Doran's thriller-like production, he presents a façade of smiling, bespectacled geniality." Stewart also played the Ghost of Hamlet's father.

"This is a Hamlet of quicksilver intelligence, mimetic vigour and wild humour," wrote Billington: "one of the funniest I've ever seen." According to Nicholas de Jongh of The Evening Standard, Tennant brought new insights into his character's unpredictable behavior: "His humorous Hamlet emerges as an undiagnosed manic depressive, whose mood swings render him temperamentally incapable of fulfilling a revenge scenario."

For those of us unable to see the stage production, we're fortunate that Doran held the original cast together long enough to make a film version, first broadcast on BBC Two in 2009. You can watch the complete three-hour movie online over at PBS. A scene where Tennant performs Hamlet's Soliloquy can be viewed above. And for more of Hamlet and Shakespeare, you can access text and audio versions of the great writer's complete works in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.

The BBC production of Hamlet has been added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..


Bruce Springsteen Exhibition Held in Philadelphia; It’s Now Official, The Boss is an American Icon

It's official. Bruce Springsteen has gone from musician to American icon, joining the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Want some proof of his transcendence? Just look to Philadelphia where The National Constitution Center is holding the first major exhibition about the American songwriter. From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen takes a comprehensive look at Springsteen's body of musical work with the help of 15o artifacts. Ask why a Springsteen exhibit deserves to be held in The National Constitution Center, and its CEO/President David Eisner will tell you that the "Constitution Center is about the values [e.g. freedom & equality] and dreams on which America was based, and Springsteen's music is all about achieving the American Dream." What's more, Springsteen's music touches on deeply American political issues, including the First Amendment.

The exhibition runs through September 3rd (tickets available here), and every Friday the Constitution Center plans to publish on its blog articles inspired by Bruce Springsteen and the First Amendment.

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