Watch The Idea, the First Animated Film to Deal with Big, Philosophical Ideas (1932)

A vague sense of disquiet settled over Europe in the period between WWI and WWII. As the slow burn of militant ultranationalism mingled with jingoist populism,  authoritarian leaders and fascist factions found mounting support among a citizenry hungry for certainty. Europe’s growing trepidation fostered some of the 20th century’s most striking painterly, literary, and cinematic depictions of the totalitarianism that would soon follow. It was almost inevitable that this period would see the birth of the first deeply philosophical animated film, known as The Idea.

The Idea first emerged as a wordless novel in 1920, drawn by Frans Masereel. Masereel, a close friend of Dadaist and New Objectivist artist George Grosz, had created a stark, black-and-white story about the indomitable nature of ideas. Employing thick, aggressive lines obtained through woodcut printing, Masereel depicted a conservative political order’s fight against the birth of a new idea, which eventually flourished in spite of the establishment’s relentless attempts to suppress it.




Setting to work in 1930, a Czech film-maker named Berthold Bartosch spent two years animating The Idea. Bartosch’s visual style remained true to Masereel’s  harsh, vivid lines. His version of the story, however, took a decidedly bleaker turn—one that was more reminiscent of the writings of his compatriot, Franz Kafka. Whereas Masereel believed that the purity of good ideas would overwhelm their opposition, Bartosch, working a decade closer to the Nazis' ascendancy, was wary of such idealism.

Above, you can watch what film historian William Moritz has called "the first animated film created as an artwork with serious, even tragic, social and philosophical themes." Paired with a haunting score composed by Arthur Honegger, the 25-minute feature is a powerfully moving meditation on art, struggle, purity of thought, and populist savagery that remains untarnished after eight decades. It will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

via Biblioklept

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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A Short, Animated Defense of Toronto’s Great Public Libraries

If you've been with Open Culture since our early days, you might remember I Met the Walrus, a short Oscar-nominated film that recalls the time when John Lennon granted an interview to a 14-year-old Beatles' fan named Jerry Levitan. The animated film (which we still highly recommend) was the visual creation of Josh Ruskin and James Braithwaite, who have now teamed up to create "Our Public Library," a short animated film that calls attention to the budget cuts that are undermining Toronto's great public library system. Toronto's lawmakers will be making key decisions about the fate of the library soon (something hopefully Mayor Rob Ford won't be involved with, seeing that he seems prefer the pipe and drink to the book). For information on how to help protect Toronto's public libraries, please visit the web site Our Public Library.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 Tips for What to Do with Your Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

fitzgerald turkey

Image by "The World's Work" via Wikimedia Commons

"At this post holiday season, the refrigerators of the nation are overstuffed with large masses of turkey, the sight of which is calculated to give an adult an attack of dizziness. It seems, therefore, an appropriate time to give the owners the benefit of my experience as an old gourmet, in using this surplus material." There writes no less a legend of American letters than F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night (both available in our Free eBooks collection). His words quoted here, from "Turkey Remains and How to Inter Them with Numerous Scarce Recipes," a column found in the Fitzgerald miscellany collection The Crack-Up, hold just as true this day-after-Thanksgiving  as they did during those his lifetime. Lists of Note offers the full piece, which itself offers thirteen potential uses for your leftover bird, some of which, Fitzgerald writes, "have been in my family for generations":

1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.

2. Turkey à la Francais: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage pudding.

3. Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.

4. Turkey Mongole: Take three butts of salami and a large turkey skeleton, from which the feathers and natural stuffing have been removed. Lay them out on the table and call up some Mongole in the neighborhood to tell you how to proceed from there.

5. Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

6. Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn't noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.

7. Turkey à la Crême: Prepare the crême a day in advance. Deluge the turkey with it and cook for six days over a blast furnace. Wrap in fly paper and serve.

8. Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomes bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose—and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.

9. Feathered Turkey: To prepare this, a turkey is necessary and a one pounder cannon to compel anyone to eat it. Broil the feathers and stuff with sage-brush, old clothes, almost anything you can dig up. Then sit down and simmer. The feathers are to be eaten like artichokes (and this is not to be confused with the old Roman custom of tickling the throat.)

10. Turkey à la Maryland: Take a plump turkey to a barber's and have him shaved, or if a female bird, given a facial and a water wave. Then, before killing him, stuff with old newspapers and put him to roost. He can then be served hot or raw, usually with a thick gravy of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol. (Note: This recipe was given me by an old black mammy.)

11. Turkey Remnant: This is one of the most useful recipes for, though not, "chic," it tells what to do with the turkey after the holiday, and how to extract the most value from it. Take the remants, or, if they have been consumed, take the various plates on which the turkey or its parts have rested and stew them for two hours in milk of magnesia. Stuff with moth-balls.

12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

13. For Weddings or Funerals: Obtain a gross of small white boxes such as are used for bride's cake. Cut the turkey into small squares, roast, stuff, kill, boil, bake and allow to skewer. Now we are ready to begin. Fill each box with a quantity of soup stock and pile in a handy place. As the liquid elapses, the prepared turkey is added until the guests arrive. The boxes delicately tied with white ribbons are then placed in the handbags of the ladies, or in the men's side pockets.

What, you expected recipes more... followable than these? And perhaps recipes with less alcohol involved? These all make much more sense if you bear in mind Fitzgerald's formidable creativity, his even more formidable penchant for the drink, and his mordant sense of humor about it all. "I guess that's enough turkey talk," concludes this literary icon of my Thanksgiving-celebrating nation. "I hope I'll never see or hear of another until—well, until next year." If you haven't had enough, and indeed feel like getting the jump on next year, see also the Airship's list of twelve Thanksgiving recipes from favorite authors, including Jonathan Franzen's pasta with kale, Alice Munro's rosemary bread pudding, and Ralph Ellison's sweet yams.

via Lists of Note

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.

T.S. Eliot, as Faber & Faber Editor, Rejects George Orwell’s “Trotskyite” Novel Animal Farm (1944)

animal farm cover

We’ve written recently about that most common occurrence in the life of every artist—the rejection letter. Most rejections are uncomplicated affairs, ostensibly reflecting matters of taste among editors, producers, and curators. In 1944, in his capacity as an editorial director at Faber & Faber, T.S. Eliot wrote a letter to George Orwell rejecting the latter’s satirical allegory Animal Farm. The letter is remarkable for its candid admission of the politics involved in the decision.

From the very start of the letter, Eliot betrays a personal familiarity with Orwell, in the informal salutation “Dear Orwell.” The two were in fact acquainted, and Orwell two years earlier had published a penetrating review of the first three of Eliot’s Four Quartets, writing “I know a respectable quantity of Eliot’s earlier work by heart. I did not sit down and learn it, it simply stuck in my mind as any passage of verse is liable to do when it has really rung the bell.”




Eliot’s apologetic rejection of Orwell’s fable begins with similarly high praise for its author, comparing the book to “Gulliver” in what may have been to Orwell a flattering reference to Jonathan Swift. A mutual admiration for each other's artistry may have been the only thing Eliot and Orwell had in common. “On the other hand,” begins the second paragraph, and then cites the reasons for Faber & Faber’s passing on the novel, the principle one being a dismissal of Orwell’s "unconvincing" “Trotskyite” views. The rejection also may have stemmed from something a little more craven---the desire to appease a wartime ally. As the Encyclopaedia Brittanica blog puts it:

Eliot, that Tory of Tories, did not want to upset the Soviets in those fraught years of World War II. Besides, he opined, the pigs, being the smartest of the critters on the farm in question, were best qualified to run the place.

The decision was probably not Eliot’s alone, and Eliot parenthetically disowns the opinions personally, writing “what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.” Indeed. The full text of Eliot’s letter is below.

13 July 1944

Dear Orwell,

I know that you wanted a quick decision about Animal Farm: but minimum is two directors’ opinions, and that can’t be done under a week. But for the importance of speed, I should have asked the Chairman to look at it as well. But the other director is in agreement with me on the main points. We agree that it is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skilfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one’s interest on its own plane—and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.

On the other hand, we have no conviction (and I am sure none of other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time. It is certainly the duty of any publishing firm which pretends to other interests and motives than mere commercial prosperity, to publish books which go against current of the moment: but in each instance that demands that at least one member of the firm should have the conviction that this is the thing that needs saying at the moment. I can’t see any reason of prudence or caution to prevent anybody from publishing this book—if he believed in what it stands for.

Now I think my own dissatisfaction with this apologue is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not convincing. I think you split your vote, without getting any compensating stronger adhesion from either party—i.e. those who criticise Russian tendencies from the point of view of a purer communism, and those who, from a very different point of view, are alarmed about the future of small nations. And after all, your pigs are far more intelligent than the other animals, and therefore the best qualified to run the farm—in fact, there couldn’t have been an Animal Farm at all without them: so that what was needed, (someone might argue), was not more communism but more public-spirited pigs.

I am very sorry, because whoever publishes this, will naturally have the opportunity of publishing your future work: and I have a regard for your work, because it is good writing of fundamental integrity.

Miss Sheldon will be sending you the script under separate cover.

Yours sincerely,

T. S. Eliot

After four rejections in total, Orwell’s novel eventually saw publication in 1945. Five years later, a Russian émigré in West Germany, Vladimir Gorachek, published a small print run of the novel in Russian for free distribution to readers behind the Iron Curtain. And in 1954, the CIA funded the animated adaptation of Animal Farm by John Halas and Joy Batchelor (see the full film here). Yet another strange twist in the life of a book that could make discerning anti-communists as uncomfortable as it could the staunchest defenders of the Soviet system. You can find Animal Farm listed in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections.

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

What Cultural Icons of the 19th & 20th Centuries Would Have Liked About Life in the 21st Century

hemingway550

At the web site, The Fertile Fact, you can read lists and lists of things you never knew about your favorite cultural figures. Or rather, you can read lists and lists of guesses about what your favorite cultural figures of the 19th and 20th centuries would have enjoyed about life in our 21st century. From Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934 – 1961, we learn that Papa would have liked e-mail ("for a man who wrote letters to tune himself up and cool himself down against the day’s ‘real writing’, email would have been a great outlet for his emotion"). But he would have loved Twitter:

Email squared. Hemingway was the master of ‘cable-ese’, a form of slang developed by journalists in the 1920s to save space (and, as importantly, money) when sending telegraphs, which he learned in his youth as a newspaperman. He would have loved the 140-character limit to write small little novels of rage or love or something in between. If he could write an arc of a story in six words, which went: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” thereby arguably inventing flash fiction, then just imagine the possibilities of the kind of War and Peace epics he might have tried via Twitter. And the possible spats he might have got into, of course.

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From Tom Williams, author of A Mysterious Something In The Light: A Life of Raymond Chandler, we learn that the creator of Philip Marlowe, another potential Twitter enthusiast, would take to the works of Quentin Tarantino, since

The thing that frustrated Chandler most about Hollywood was that his vision as a writer rarely made it onto screen unmediated. For Ray, the studio always got in the way of what he was trying to do. It was a problem that particularly affected The Blue Dahlia. Though a movie beset by problems (a tight schedule meant Chandler had to write the ending in a state of extreme intoxication) one of the most constant laments in his letters is the studio’s persistent meddling with the picture. He wrote to a friend, shortly after finishing the film, "So here was I a mere writer and a tired one at that screaming at the front office to protect the producer and actually going on the set to direct scenes – I know nothing about directing – in order that the whole project be saved from going down the drain."

Studios were more interested in getting punters into the theatre than producing good films as far as Chandler was concerned (see the bitter portrait of a studio boss in The Little Sister who talks of caring only for the number of theatres he owns, not the films shown in them, while letting his dog urinate on his trouser cuff). Though Quentin Tarantino is hardly the first director to work independently of a studio, his determination to make the films he wants (proving the value of letting a film-maker stick to his vision in the process) is something Chandler would have admired deeply. Tarantino is also willing to embrace all levels of culture, and this too is something Ray would have respected; he was never one for literary snobbery.

camusrounded_edited-1

From Robert Zaretsky, author of A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning, we learn that creator of Meursault, the affectless Arab-shooting protagonist of The Stranger, would have approved of The Arab Spring:

The author of The Rebel would find little reason for hope, but none for despair. The instances of non-violent protest in Tunisia and Egypt would serve as illustrations of Camus’ insistence that true rebels never lose sight of the humanity of those who oppress them. Syria? The tragic illustration of what happens when rebels do lose sight of this imperative.

The Fertile Fact offers not only more things these three men would enjoy about our era, but similar lists for such creators as Alfred Hitchcock, Nancy Mitford, Tennessee Williams, and Agatha Christie. How long before they produce one for Virginia Woolf, the writer who, describing "the creative fact," "the fact that engenders and suggests," coined the phrase that gave the site its name?

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.

William Shatner Raps About How to Not Kill Yourself Deep Frying a Turkey

Like many others on Thanksgiving, William Shatner sought a “moister, tastier” turkey experience. The former Star Trek star had purchased a sizable fryer and, turned brash by pangs of hunger, threw caution to the wind; despite knowing Archimedes’ principle full well, Shatner boldly went where no cook should go and deposited the turkey into a vat brimming with oil. Oh, woeful day! The oil, displaced by the turkey, ran over the fryer’s sides and onto the open flame. Flames then shot up, burning Shatner’s arms.

In 2011, Shatner joined forces with the insurance company State Farm to create a cautionary video warning would-be Thanksgiving turkey fryers about the perils of engaging in such a gastronomic enterprise. According to State Farm, insurance claims related to Thanksgiving grease & cooking-accidents dropped by half after this public service announcement came out. In what can only be interpreted as an attempt to tamper with perfection, in 2012, State Farm decided to have YouTube’s melodysheep remix Shatner’s original video, giving it a glistening new coat of Internet virality. We are pleased to say that the endeavor proved to be a resounding success. Please enjoy the video, above, and remember the following frying tips:

1: Avoid oil spillover--don't overfill the pot.

2: Turn off the flame when lowering the turkey into oil.

3: Fry outside, away from the house.

4: Properly thaw the turkey before frying.

5: Keep a grease-fire-approved extinguisher nearby.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

A Guide to Happiness: Alain de Botton’s Documentary Shows How Nietzsche, Socrates & 4 Other Philosophers Can Change Your Life

Alain de Botton is a not a philosopher’s philosopher. This means that his work is given little consideration inside academia. It also means that he speaks to many, many more people---ordinary people hungry for humanist ideas about living---than his peers. In his six-part video series, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, de Botton tells us that he’d always looked to philosophy as a discipline that “has wise things to say about everyday worries…. Philosophy promised something that might sound a little naïve, but was in fact rather profound: A way to learn to be happy.” I’m still not sure if this sounds more naïve or profound, but de Botton’s videos, each nearly 25 minutes long, concern thinkers who surely knew the difference. Each video also functions as a travelogue of sorts, as de Botton visits the cities that produced the thinkers, and tries to square their histories with the modern world around the relics.




Above, de Botton discusses Roman stoic philosopher and tragedian Seneca. An advisor to Nero, Seneca’s life may have been happy, at times, but it was hardly restrained. In any case, he had something to teach us about the futility of anger, and he was also, like de Botton, a great popularizer of other people's ideas. Seneca characterized anger as a rational response that nonetheless relies on false premises, namely that we have more control over our circumstances than we actually do, and that our optimism about outcomes is unfounded and sets us up with unrealistic expectations. De Botton has before professed an affinity for the tragic view, and Seneca’s horribly bloody works, which inspired the Elizabethan genre known as “Revenge Tragedy,” are particularly grotesque explorations of anger. But perhaps it is those who most clearly see the pernicious effects of an emotion, or lack of it, who understand it best.

Take Arthur Schopenhauer, whom de Botton consults as his authority on love. Like Seneca, Schopenhauer seems very much at odds with much of his philosophical writing on love and compassion. His essay “On Women” earned him a permanent reputation as a misogynist, deserved or not. He's rumored to have had a violent temper and wrote approvingly of keeping one's distance from the mass of people, most of whom annoyed him disproportionately. Schopenhauer also famously wrote that it would have been preferable not to have been born at all, a position of extreme misanthropy known as antinatalism.

But there are other aspects of Schopenhauer's romantic life to discuss, both its early successes and later failures. "Nothing in life," says de Botton, "is more important than love for Schopenhauer." Even with all of its pains of rejection, romantic love, Schopenhauer wrote in The World as Will and Representation, "is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it."

Another popular British philosophical thinker, John Gray, has a very different take on the great German pessimist, calling his philosophy “more subversive of humanist hopes than any other.” But de Botton’s technique seems in many ways calculated as a mild subversion of expectation, choosing as he does such contradictory, and often very solitary figures.

One solitary thinker who occupies a treasured place in the library of every humanist is Michel de Montaigne, the genial French essayist who invented the literary term essai, and who some might say also perfected the form. Montaigne has always struck me as the happiest of men, even in, or especially in his long stretches of solitude, punctuated by conscientious public service (despite his lifelong painful kidney stones). While both Schopenhauer and Montaigne engaged in lengthy self-examination, Montaigne seems to have genuinely liked himself and others. He treats himself in his writings as an old and honest friend with whom one can be perfectly candid without any fear of reprisal. This is perhaps why de Botton chose him to illustrate self-esteem.

Montaigne comes from a tradition much friendlier to philosophy as memoir (he invented the tradition). And so, in this age of the memoir, he has seen a great resurgence. In 2011, at least three popular books on Montaigne came out, one titled How to Live and another subtitled Montaigne and Being in Touch With Life. Of all the six philosophers de Botton surveys in his series, which also includes Nietzsche, Epicurus, and Socrates, Montaigne would seem the most complimentary to de Botton’s casual, personal approach to philosophy, which seeks not to dig new ground nor discover distant countries but to confront the vexing human questions that meet us always at home.

You can view all six episodes in the embedded playlist below:

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

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