Fly Through 17th-Century London’s Gritty Streets with Prize-Winning Animations

Critics did not love 2004 film The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp as dissolute 17th century poet and court favorite John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester. The Guardian faulted its grim tone and historical inaccuracies and called it “grimy and pretentious.” I disagree with this take, but a fondness for Rochester (and for the period in general) biases me in the movie’s favor. Additionally, as some admiring critics pointed out, dour scripting aside, the film’s depiction of 17th century London is indeed most convincing. You can almost feel the muck that clings to everything, and smell the rank stench of body odor barely covered by perfume. Writer Katherine Ashenburg has called the 17th century “probably the dirtiest century in Western history” (London didn’t clean up for another couple hundred years), and The Libertine takes pains to bring the period’s filth to vivid, stinking life.

Which brings us to another authentic recreation of 17th century London, one we’ve featured here before and that you can see again at the top of the post. Designed by six plucky students from De Monfort University, the three-minute CGI tour through the city's sooty Tudor streets before The Great Fire of 1666 resembles a video game; but it also gives us a persuasive sense of the city's scale, layout, and, yes, it's griminess. In our previous post, we quoted Londonist, who noted, "Although most of the buildings are conjectural, the students used a realistic street pattern [taken from historical maps] and even included the hanging signs of genuine inns and businesses." Though its unsanitary streets are empty, one can easily imagine walking them in this prize-winning animation. Less inviting, however, are those 17-century London streets at night in another, eight-minute animation below, created by another De Montfort team called Triumphant Goat.

Braziers and lanterns glower in dank alleyways, a foreboding haze hangs in the night air, hand-drawn wanted posters adorn the walls, and pools of muddy water collect among rough cobblestones. Here, I can imagine Johnny Depp's Rochester picking his way along a dusky side street, headed for some clandestine assignation with a stableboy or scullery maid. You can read about the making of this nighttime scene here, where team member James Teeple discusses the research methods and technical objectives of the project, in terms that make it sound as though this is one level of a video game, although it isn't clear what the game is about. "We really pushed the idea of this being a Historical recreation," writes Teeple, "so that meant too much creative license was a bad thing in our eyes."

Finally, in the video below, we see a brightly-lit tour of St. Paul's Cathedral, beautifully rendered, if overall a less polished presentation than the two tours above. This animation was presumably created by De Montfort design students as well, though there's little information on its Vimeo page. Though the city was significantly redesigned after the 1666 fire, in these first two animations especially, we get a sense of the city Samuel Johnson described seventy years after that great conflagration as a place where "malice, rapine, accident, conspire, / And now a rabble rages, now a fire."

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

The Big Ideas Behind Andy Warhol’s Art, and How They Can Help Us Build a Better World

Multicolored Marilyn Monroes, a can of Campbell's soup, that silver wig, some vague but important role in the formation of the Velvet Underground — how much, apart from a scattering of cultural scraps such as these, does any of us really know about Andy Warhol, one of the definers of art in the second half of the twentieth century? Earlier this year, we featured a video from John Green and Sarah Urist Green's The Art Assignment that made the case for Andy Warhol in three minutes. Assuming you accept its argument, where to look next to cultivate a deeper appreciation of the man who produced those Marilyns and Campbell's soup cans, wore that silver wig, and presided over the environment in which the likes of the Velvet Underground could take shape?

Alain de Botton's School of Life, not just an institution but a prolific maker of educational videos, has doubled down on the case for Andy Warhol with a six-minute video of their own, which comes as the first in their series of short primers on figures from art and architecture. (See a complete playlist of those videos below.) "Andy Warhol was the most glamorous figure of 20th-century American art," de Botton unequivocally states, adding that his "great achievement was to develop a generous and helpful view of two major forces in modern society: commerce and celebrity."

Within this framework, the lesson finds "four big ideas behind Andy Warhol’s work, which can teach us a more inspired way of looking at the world and prompt us to build a better society" — and which, in this technological age of which Warhol himself could only dream, have become more easily implementable than ever.

These ideas, on which the video elaborates verbally and visually, have to do with (1) appreciating life by examining the stuff of it — such as a humble soup can — more closely, (2) improving the workings of society by distributing glamor differently, granting higher status to maids and showing the nation the President cleaning a toilet once in a while, (3) approaching business as a particularly fascinating form of art while distributing art more widely by approaching it as a business, and (4) using an open and non-vindictive personality as a kind of "brand" to unite seemingly disparate artistic and commercial ventures into a coherent whole. Will any of this get you shopping for a Marilyn print of your own? It may or may not, but you won't come away without a bit of inspiration for how to take your own pursuits to a new, more Warholian level.

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Animated Bill Murray on the Advantages & Disadvantages of Fame

I could watch Bill Murray in pretty much any film. And, for that matter, any animation too.

So let's queue up the brand new animated video from Blank on Blank, and watch Murray riff on the pros and cons of being rich & famous.

Pro: You get to buy your mother a nice new car.

Con: When her car breaks down, she doesn't just get the car towed. She whips out your Amex card and buys the tow truck too. And so it goes.

The interview from this Blank on Blank episode was recorded in 1988 by writer T.J. English, while writing a profile on Bill Murray for Irish America magazine. Find more Blank on Blank animations listed in the Relateds below.

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Stream the Complete Works of Bach & Beethoven: 250 Free Hours of Music


Has the endless distraction of modern life destroyed our ability to sit with the symphonies of Beethoven and Bach? Do we no longer have the attention span to read novels? These are the kinds of questions scholar Alan Jacobs asks in books like The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, and they’re questions he admits---on his blog Text Patterns---may obtain different answers depending on the age of whom you ask. In a post from this past August, Jacobs wrote of his need to counteract social media with "the more peaceable and orderly music of Bach and Mozart and Handel," and pondered the emotional resilience of younger people exposed pretty much daily to videos of real-life violence online. “It occurs to me,” he concludes, “maybe Twitter—maybe social media more generally—really is a young person’s thing after all. Intrinsically, not just accidentally.”

I admit, Jacobs’ post resonated with me because of the difficulty I sometimes have as I get older in disconnecting from the constant stream of horror and triviality on social media---and of getting lost in a good book or a moving piece of music after witnessing spectacle after spectacle online. Perhaps it is a function of age, as Jacobs surmises, and the young are better equipped to bounce right back. Or perhaps our daily exposure to endless conflict has all of our nervous systems frayed raw, leaving us unable to appreciate the “countervailing forces” of music and literature that demands sustained attention. The Spotify Classical Playlist blog seems to suggest as much in quoting Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s claim, “people whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven Quartet.” Substitute “Twitter tsunami” and “24-hour cable news” for “music in trains, airports, lifts” and the point may apply to our current cultural condition.

So you may think of the Spotify Classical Playlists of all of Beethoven and all of Bach featured here as exercises in increasing your mental stamina, or as therapeutic “coping mechanisms” as Jacobs writes, to keep “emotional balance.” You may think of them as ways to connect fully with composers who lived in a world very different from ours, one that moved much more slowly and demanded much less of our overtaxed senses.

Or you can choose not to apply any kind of framework, and simply revel in the fact that thanks to the internet—be it overall a scourge or a boon to human life—you can now enjoy all of the works of Beethoven and Bach, each in chronological order; 250 hours of enthralling classical music, for free. So enjoy. And learn more about how these playlists were compiled at the the Spotify Classical blog. And if you need Spotify software, get it here.

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

New Film Extraordinary Tales Animates Edgar Poe Stories, with Narrations by Guillermo Del Toro, Christopher Lee & More

Edgar Allan Poe created a body of work that will seemingly never go out of style, especially around Halloween time. Not only do his stories and poems still inspire dread in the 21st century, but so also do the many hundreds of Poe retellings and adaptations created in the 166 years since the author’s mysterious death. But, we might ask, after so many film adaptations from so many classic horror actors and directors, whether we need yet another one? You’ll have to make up your own mind, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll watch the trailer above for Lion King and Aladdin animator Raul Garcia’s Poe anthology Extraordinary Tales and answer “Yes!” and “More please!” And you can see more, in the clips below from Garcia’s incredible-looking film, hitting theaters on October 23rd.

One reason the new treatment of the five stories Garcia animates seems to work so well is that they draw on the talents of actors and directors who have previously delivered classic Poe retellings. For example, "The Fall of the House of Usher," above, is narrated by the late, great Christopher Lee, who joins horror legend Vincent Price as one of the greatest readers of Poe's "The Raven." The voice-over is Lee’s last role, and it’s hard to think of a more fitting final act for the venerable horror maven. (Lee was also at the time recording “a heavy-metal-rock-opera based on Charlemagne’s life”—one of many metal albums he recorded.)

Garcia has created a unique look for each featurette. For “Usher,” he tells Carlos Aguilar at Indiewire, “the idea was for the characters to look as if they were carved out of wood, like if they were figures that belonged to Czech animator Jirí Trnka.” Just hearing Lee above intone the phrase “an unexpected sense of insufferable gloom” is enough to convince me I need to see the rest of this film.

Just above, we have a clip from a much less famous Poe story, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” a chilling detective tale about a man mesmerized in articulo mortis—at the moment of death. Narrated by English actor Julian Sands, who has made his own appearances in several horror films, the animation style comes directly out of classic E.C. horror comics like Tales From the Crypt, which drew many an idea from Poe, basing one story “The Living Death!” on “M. Valdemar.” The "mauve, yellow and mossy green comic-book panels," writes a New York Times review, "prove that you don’t need fancy technology to achieve a third dimension."

You’ll notice the unmistakable visage of Vincent Price in the character of the mesmerist, and you’ll likely know of Price’s own turn as Poe himself in An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. Price also starred in Roger Corman's many Poe adaptations—beginning with House of Usher—and Garcia has tapped the legendary Corman's voice for Extraordinary Tales, as well as contemporary horror director extraordinaire Guillermo Del Toro. And if this weren’t horror royalty enough, Garcia’s animated take on “The Tell-Tale Heart” features none other than Bela Lugosi, in an archival reading of the story the Dracula actor made sometime before his death in 1956. Read more about how Garcia found the Lugosi audio and conceived of Extraordinary Tales in his interview here.

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

Free Documentary View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining Looks at How Kubrick Made “the World’s Scariest Movie”

Only three days remain until Halloween, the evening on which everyone loves a scary movie. If you watch one yourself this Halloween, why settle for a scary movie when you could watch the world's scariest movie? Or rather, when you could watch what resulted when one of the most visionary auteurs in cinema history put his mind to crafting the world's scariest movie: The Shining. Whether or not you think it holds that particular title, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation — or, more accurately, total cinematic re-envisioning — of Stephen King's novel has, since its initial release in 1980, transcended the realm of the "scary movie" and taken a place in the zeitgeist as something more complex, more iconic, and more persistently haunting.

Undead twin girls wanting to play, blood flowing from elevators, a manuscript consisting of a single phrase ceaselessly repeated, "REDRUM" scrawled on a door, a dog-costumed Jazz Age decadent, Jack Nicholson wielding an axe: how did Kubrick and company manage to lodge so permanently into our subconscious these deeply troubling images? Gary Leva's half-hour documentary View from the Overlook: Crafting the Shining tries to answer that question, bringing in a group of interviewees including Kubrick's biographers, his colleagues in filmmaking like Sydney Pollack and William Friedkin, and his collaborators like The Shining's executive producer Jan Harlan, production designer Roy Walker, and screenwriter Diane Johnson. (Jack Nicholson also makes an insightful and non-scary — or at least less scary — appearance as himself.)

View from the Overlook reveals that the visceral impact of The Shining, a formless unease that transforms into sharp-edged horror as the film goes on, came as a result of (and this will surprise no fan of Kubrick's) hard, deliberate work, from the dismantling and rebuilding of King's original story, to the construction of the Overlook Hotel out of a mixture of real locations and elaborate sets modeled on real locations, to the use of new kinds of camera rigs (camera operator Garrett Brown having invented the Steadicam, a device this production more than put through its paces), and Kubrick's infamous, actor-breaking take after take after take. I didn't know about any of this, of course, when I first saw The Shining, popping in a VHS copy late at night during a junior-high Halloween party. But now I won't forget it — or anything else about this (quite possibly) scariest movie ever made.

View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

via Devour

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

55 Covers of Vintage Philosophy, Psychology & Science Books Come to Life in a Short Animation

We all know that toys come alive at night, but what about mid-century vintage paperback covers, such as you might find in the psychology or philosophy sections of a dimly-lit used bookstore?

Watching 55 minimalist covers from graphic and motion designer Henning M. Lederer’s 2200 title-strong collection begin to spin, drift, and seethe in the short animation above, I got the impression that they were the ones dictating the terms. Or perhaps Lederer is the vessel through which the intentions of the original designers---Rudolph de Harak and John + Mary Condon to name a few---flow. Covers is not an act of reimagination or crowd-pleasing irreverence, but rather one logical motion, elegantly applied.

Habitués of used bookstores may find their usual browsing habits slightly altered by the hypnotic results.

Lederer makes no bones about judging books by their covers. Strong graphics, not content, are the primary determining factor as to which titles he acquires. The stately geometrics set in motion here are relics from another age, but the uncluttered abstracts so favored by 60s era publishers are not the only genre to catch his eye.

Shame Drifter, Dusky Desire, and Sinsurance are some of the decidedly non-minimalist titles spicing up his collection’s online gallery. After all of those arrows, angles, and spheres, Lederer might have craved animating something with a bit more…personality.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her post-digital, pre apocalyptic dark comedy, Fawnbook, is now playing in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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