How Chris Marker’s Radical SciFi Film, La Jetée, Changed the Life of Cyberpunk Prophet, William Gibson

Everyone remembers the first time they saw La JetéeFor cyberspace- and cyberpunk-defining writer William Gibson, author of such sui generis science-fiction novels as Neuromancer, Virtual Light, and Pattern Recognition, that life-changing experience came in the early 1970s, during a film history course at the University of British Columbia. "Nothing I had read or seen had prepared me for it," he tells The Guardian in a reflection on the legacy of Chris Marker's "thrilling and prophetic" 1962 short film, a post-apocalyptic time-travel love story told almost entirely with still photos. (You can get a taste of it from the short clip above and a longer one here.) "Or perhaps everything had, which is essentially the same thing."

I can't remember another single work of art ever having had that immediate and powerful an impact, which of course makes the experience quite impossible to describe. As I experienced it, I think, it drove me, as RD Laing had it, out of my wretched mind. I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone. I do know that I knew immediately that my sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.

Part of what I find remarkable about this memory today was the temporally hermetic nature of the experience. I saw it, yet was effectively unable to see it again. It would be over a decade before I would happen to see it again, on television, its screening a rare event. Seeing a short foreign film, then, could be the equivalent of seeing a UFO, the experience surviving only as memory. The world of cultural artefacts was only atemporal in theory then, not yet literally and instantly atemporal. Carrying the memory of that screening's intensity for a decade after has become a touchstone for me. What would have happened had I been able to rewind? Had been able to rent or otherwise access a copy? It was as though I had witnessed a Mystery, and I could only remember that when something finally moved – and I realised that I had been breathlessly watching a sequence of still images – I very nearly screamed.

You'd think that would count as enough Chris Marker-granted astonishment for one lifetime — and whatever inspiration Gibson drew from La Jetée, he's certainly put to good use — but the filmmaker, ever-curious technology and media enthusiast, and "prototype of the twenty-first-century man" had another shock in store. Two years after Marker's death, and about thirty after Gibson's first viewing of La Jetée, the latter found that he had actually appeared, unbeknownst to himself, in one of the former's other movies.

"I was in a Chris Marker film and I never knew until today," tweeted Gibson, appending the entirely understandable tag #gobsmacked. His image pops up at the beginning of Level Five, Marker's story of a computer programmer's search for a way to virtually recreate the Second World War's Battle of Okinawa, released in 1997 in France but not until 2014 in the United States. As a work concerned with reality's relationship to its reconstruction by human memory — a fascination of Marker's all the way through his career — as well as with reality's relationship to its only-just-beginning reconstruction by computer technology, it makes sense that its narration, which takes the form of the protagonist's video diary, would reference Gibson's conception of cyberspace.

Always making maximally creative use of the relationship between their words and their images, Marker doesn't hesitate to flash the author's face onscreen between bursts of gray static (an element famously evoked in Neuromancer's opening) and footage of Japan (another site of deep interest for both creators). Gibson himself always comes off as calm and reflective in person, especially for a craftsman of such stimulatingly realized, information-overloaded, sweepingly influential visions of the intensified present. But could anyone ever fully recover from the astonishment of seeing themselves passing through one of Chris Marker's?

Related Content:

William Gibson Reads Neuromancer, His Cyberpunk-Defining Novel (1994)

Take a Road Trip with Cyberspace Visionary William Gibson, Watch No Maps for These Territories (2000)

The Owl’s Legacy: Chris Marker’s 13-Part Search for Western Culture’s Foundations in Ancient Greece

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. 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.

Hear Harold Bloom Read From Three Sublime American Authors: Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson & Hart Crane

Before Shakespeare, literary characters mostly remained static, representing types rather than psychologically real human beings. At least according to critic and Yale academic Harold Bloom, who published a gargantuan book—Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human—to prove that "in Shakespeare, characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves." Shakespeare, in other words, invented psychological realism: that dynamism of character we recognize as one of the hallmarks of literature. Great books give us fictional people we believe in, suffer with, feel we know intimately when we've lived long with their stories.

For Bloom, Shakespeare's characters often change because "they overhear themselves talking, whether to themselves or to others. Self-overhearing is their royal road to individualism." When we look forward a couple hundred years, we find Herman Melville reaching for Shakespearean heights of tragedy and bombast in Moby Dick, his Ahab as outsized and unforgettable a character as Lear, Macbeth, or Richard II.

But does Ahab change? Perhaps only in that he grows more vehemently single-minded (and unstable) as the novel progresses, though his purpose never wavers from beginning to fateful end.

We can see Ahab's intensification guided by the self-overhearing of his many crazed speeches—to his crew, himself, the whale, no one in particular. In the speech Bloom reads at the top of the post, Ahab addresses the purely elemental—St. Elmo's fire—in Chapter 119, "The Candles," asserting his selfhood against the sublime indifference of nature. "In the midst of the personified impersonal," Ahab shouts at the luminous phenomenon, "a personality stands here." In his critical book on Melville, Bloom interprets this speech as a Gnostic sermon, but we can just as well see it as a manifest refining of Ahab's conscious sense of himself as an avatar of vengeance, animated against the world, though it seems not to recognize in him or anyone else the specialness of personality and its many lists of grievances.

The Melville reading, and the two above—from Hart Crane's The Bridge and Emily Dickinson's "There's a Certain Slant of Light"—come to us from Random House, publisher of Bloom's latest critical opus, The Daemon Knows, a study, as his subtitle states, of "Literary Greatness and the American Sublime." As in nearly all of his popular critical books, in this most recent one, Bloom traces literary genealogies. And while all three of these American greats distantly descend from Shakespeare, "here," writes Cynthia Ozick in her New York Times review, Bloom "invokes the primacy of Emerson as germinating ancestor."

Emerson, writes Bloom, "is the fountain of the American will to know the self and its drive for sublimity." As Bloom has interpreted the Western Canon for over half a century—serving as its self-appointed spokesman time and again—the great drive of literature since the Renaissance accords with the ancient command to know thyself… or, failing that, invent thyself.

Related Content:

Harold Bloom Creates a Massive List of Works in The “Western Canon”: Read Many of the Books Free Online

Harold Bloom Recites ‘Tea at the Palaz of Hoon’ by Wallace Stevens

Harold Bloom on the Ghastly Decline of the Humanities (and on Obama’s Poetry)

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

Hear the Declassified, Eerie “Space Music” Heard During the Apollo 10 Mission (1969)

The above video is a breathless example of American cable television, and how we love a good story and seriously want something to be more fantastic than boring ol’ scientific fact. It also ties into our culture’s perpetual love and nostalgia for the space program of the 1960s.

The anecdote takes place in 1969 during the Apollo 10 mission, when the astronauts on board were in lunar orbit and flying around the dark side of the moon. Having temporarily lost radio contact with earth, they begin to hear “weird music.” Eugene Cernan and John Young can be heard on the recordings asking "You hear that? That whistling sound?” Another astronaut agrees:  "That sure is weird music.” The sound lasted for about 60 minutes.

These recordings were only declassified in 2008 by NASA, which only adds to their mystery, along with the fact that the astronauts never spoke on the matter afterwards because they thought nobody would believe them, according to this BBC article.

So what could it have been? A Star Wars cantina on the moon? Martian ham radio operators? The monolith from 2001?

Well, cut through the internet interference and it seems to be radio interference. This thread on Metafilter has some great non-clickbait-y discussion, including this:

The other likely explanation is that radio noise from the universe resonated with various components in Apollo, and ultimately induced enough current on the radio antenna to generate a signal. On the dark side of the moon, earth-based signals fine tuned for human listeners are absent. Background noise and its impact on Apollo's communication systems would be prominent on the audio signal.

But maybe this comment offers a better explanation:

Space whales.

Meanwhile, you can cut through all that by listening to the full archive of Apollo 10 recordings that NASA posted on on 2012. You can find the “music” on track 7, 10-030702_5-OF-6, starting at 44 minutes in, in all its static-y glory.

And for those who dig the music of sine waves, you could just listen to this:

Related Content:

NASA Puts Online a Big Collection of Space Sounds, and They’re Free to Download and Use

Download Free NASA Software and Help Protect the Earth from Asteroids!

Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘How Much Would You Pay for the Universe?’

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

13 Van Gogh’s Paintings Painstakingly Brought to Life with 3D Animation & Visual Mapping

Earlier this month, we told you how you can download hundreds of Van Gogh paintings in high resolution, courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Now, the question is, what will you do with those images? You're a little tech savvy? Maybe make yourself a nice screensaver. You've got some more serious tech chops? Even better. You can put those Van Gogh images in motion. Last year, Mac Cauley animated Van Gogh’s 1888 painting, “The Night Cafe,” using Oculus virtual reality Software. It's a sight to behold. And above, we have 3D animations of thirteen Van Gogh paintings, all created by Luca Agnani, an Italian artist who specializes in visual mapping and design projections. 

Agnani's animations are painstaking and precise. Explaining the precision of his method, he told the The Creators Project, "To calculate the exact shadows, I tried to understand the position of the sun relative to Arles at different times of the day." And he added: "If the video [above] was projected over [Van Gogh's] paintings, my interpretations would superimpose perfectly, like a mapping of a framework." To create similar animations you will want to get comfortable using software packages like Premiere and 3D Studio Max.

The Van Gogh paintings appearing in the video are as follows:

1. Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
8. Bedroom
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
11. Restaurant
12. First Steps (after Millet)
13. Self-Portrait

h/t Kim L.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content

Watch as Van Gogh’s Famous Self-Portrait Morphs Into a Photograph

Van Gogh’s 1888 Painting, “The Night Cafe,” Animated with Oculus Virtual Reality Software

The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Take a Multimedia Tour of the Buttock Song in Hieronymus Bosch’s Painting The Garden of Earthly Delights

buttock song2

"Not a bum note in sight!" goes the headline, in all the Daily Mail's trademark subtlety. Mark Prigg's straight-to-the-point article tells us of "a musical score discreetly written on the butt of a figure in Garden Of Earthly Delights, the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch," which, thanks to the labor of love of Oklahoma Christian University student Amelia Hamrick, "has become an online hit." The title of her rendition: "The 600-Year-Old Butt Song from Hell."

Going a bit upmarket to Sean Michaels in the Guardian, we find the details that, "posting on her Tumblr, a self-described 'huge nerd' called Amelia explained that she and a friend had been examining a copy of Bosch’s famous triptych, which was painted around the year 1500. "[We] discovered, much to our amusement,” she wrote, “[a] 600-years-old butt song from Hell." You can read about it on her viral post, which describes her project of transcribing Bosch's posterior-written score "into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era."

You can actually hear a rendition of this heroically recovered composition by clicking on the video above. Some fine soul -- presumably a fellow named Jim Spalink -- took Hamrick's notation and turned it into music. When you're done, you can then give the Buttock song a close visual investigation by diving into the virtual tour of The Garden of Earthly Delights, featured here earlier this month. Look for the 13th stop on the guided tour, and you can see the musical notation in incredibly fine detail--finer detail than you could have ever hoped or imagined.

Related Content:

Take a Virtual Tour of Hieronymus Bosch’s Bewildering Masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights

What Ancient Greek Music Sounded Like: Hear a Reconstruction That is ‘100% Accurate’

Listen to the Oldest Song in the World: A Sumerian Hymn Written 3,400 Years Ago

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. 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.

Wes Anderson Movie Sets Recreated in Cute, Miniature Dioramas

A photo posted by Mar Cerdà (@marillustrations) on

Wes Anderson’s perfectionist films often look like dollhouses enlarged to fit in human actors, but Barcelona-based illustrator Mar Cerdà has one-upped the director and created her own miniature dioramas replicating sets from several of his films.

This is meticulous work done in watercolor, then precisely cut and combined into scenes both two- and three-dimensional. For anyone who has tried to cut something very small and fiddly with an x-acto knife, you’ll appreciate her skill. (The artist in me is complete jelly, as they say.) So far she has recreated the concierge desk from The Grand Budapest Hotel, the berth from The Darjeeling Limited, and the bathroom from The Royal Tenenbaums, complete with Margot and her mom Etheline. (If you look deeper, you will also find this mini Margot box.)

A photo posted by Mar Cerdà (@marillustrations) on

Her love of Anderson is no surprise if you look at the other work in her portfolio. Her book Familiari is a series of figures that can be flipped to make “80,000 different families,” all of which give off the Tenenbaum group shot vibe. And her lovingly detailed recreation of an entry in a Menorca-located house shares a love of cute and colorful with the director’s art direction.

Dioramas aside, by the way, her watercolor technique as well as her figurative work is on point.

Currently, Cerdà is working on a Star Wars-themed diorama because, hey why not? Most everybody in the world loves that universe. And she also just finished a recreation of a scene from Zoolander. Follow her on Instagram, because there’s sure to be more to come.

A photo posted by Mar Cerdà (@marillustrations) on

via AV Club

Related Content:

The Perfect Symmetry of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Books in the Films of Wes Anderson: A Supercut for Bibliophiles

What’s the Big Deal About Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel? Matt Zoller Seitz’s Video Essay Explains

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

See The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” Played on the Oldest Martin Guitar in Existence (1834)

You may have heard the recent hubbub over an antique Martin guitar from the 1870s that ended up smashed to bits on the set of Quentin Tarantino's ultraviolent Western The Hateful Eight. Maybe you saw people gnash their teeth online and said, "so what? It's just a guitar!" Fair enough, and a Stradivarius is just a violin. I exaggerate a little, but many guitar lovers who watched the clip of Kurt Russell destroying the priceless artifact (unwittingly, it seems) felt the impact for days afterward. As Colin Marshall wrote in a post featuring that footage, "You can still go out and buy a serviceable guitar from the end of the 19th century without completely wiping out your savings, but you'd be hard pressed to find a Martin made a few decades earlier—such as the one smashed in The Hateful Eight—at any price at all; less than ten may exist anywhere."

You can see one of those relics above; the oldest known Martin in existence, in fact, made decades earlier than the wrecked guitar from Tarantino's set---made, in fact, in 1834, just one year after cabinet maker C.F. Martin moved to New York City from his native Germany, where he had run into trouble with the Violin Maker's Guild who claimed exclusive rights over instrument manufacturing. Martin immediately began producing guitars, like the small-bodied Stauffer-style instrument above, before moving his factory to its current location of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the Martin Museum is located. In the video, folk guitarist Stevie Coyle has the pleasure of picking out The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and an original tune called "Saltflat Rhapsody" on the aged instrument, which sounds just a little bit like a Medieval lute.

Just above, see Chris Martin IV, great-great-great-grandson of the famed guitar maker and current CEO of the company give a tour of the museum, pointing out what guitar historians believe is the earliest guitar with X-bracing, the innovative inner architecture C.F. Martin supposedly invented when coming up with his own designs and moving away from those of his mentor, Johann Stauffer. After the pain of watching a beautiful vintage Martin smashed to bits in Tarantino's film, it's a great consolation---for guitar nerds at least---to see how well the Martin Museum has preserved so much of the company's history and kept such early models in playable condition.

Related Condition:

Priceless 145-Year-Old Martin Guitar Accidentally Gets Smashed to Smithereens in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

Musician Plays the Last Stradivarius Guitar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

How Fender Guitars Are Made, Then (1959) and Nowadays (2012)

The Story of the Guitar: The Complete Three-Part Documentary

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

« Go BackMore in this category... »