Spike Jonze’s Stop Motion Film Hauntingly Animates Paris’ Famed Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

Since his breakout early days directing commercials and music videos for the likes of Fatboy Slim, Weezer, Daft Punk, and the Breeders, Spike Jonze has honed a quirky visual sensibility that translated almost seamlessly to feature film. But even at his quirkiest, Jonze hasn’t been about quirk for quirk’s sake. His characters—highly emotional robots, dog-headed men with broken legs, tormented puppeteers, enthusiastic amateur dance troops—are underdogs, weirdos, figures on the fringes who make us question what it means to be people: to be lonely, in love, creatively obsessed, and emotionally scrambled....

There is a paradox inherent in Jonze’s films and videos. Their oddball plots and characters cut through the cynical veneer of cool that keeps us from asking hard questions about our emotional lives, but they do so in stylistic exercises that in some cases themselves become emblems of pop-culture cool. Not so the short film “Mourir auprès de toi” (“To Die by Your Side”), which takes its title from one of the most achingly heartbreaking of Smiths’ songs. This is a love story for the bookish and the crafty, set in Paris’ famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore and featuring animated book covers made from embroidered felt cutouts.

Co-written and with a look inspired by designer Olympia Le-Tan, the short is “an absolutely beautiful stop-motion animation for book-lovers that’s part This Is Where We Live, part Going West, part creative magic only Spike Jonze can bring.” So writes Maria Popova at The Atlantic, summarizing the ups and downs of the plot and alluding to a "happily-ever-after ending" that "comes only after an appropriately dark and grim twist."

Watch “To Die by Your Side” at the top of the post, then, just above, see a short behind-the-scenes teaser video. “You just start with what the feeling is,” Jonze told Nowness in an interview, “Me and Olympia both wanted to make a love story.... It evolved naturally and it all just started with the feeling. From there you entertain yourself with ideas that excite you.” The quote explains why Jonze’s films and videos—for all their visual inventiveness and imaginative whimsy—nearly always stay grounded in candid emotional realism. However far and wide Jonze' cinematic and narrative  imagination takes us, his films always start with the feeling.

“Mourir auprès de toi” (“To Die by Your Side”) first appeared on our site in October, 2011.

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

Watch an Avant-Garde Bauhaus Ballet in Brilliant Color, the Triadic Ballet, First Staged by Oskar Schlemmer in 1922

We credit the Bauhaus school, founded by German architect Walter Gropius in 1919, for the aesthetic principles that have guided so much modern design and architecture in the 20th and 21st centuries. The school’s relationships with artists like Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe means that Bauhaus is closely associated with Expressionism and Dada in the visual and literary arts, and, of course, with the modernist industrial design and glass and steel architecture we associate with Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles and Ray Eames, among so many others.

We tend not to associate Bauhaus with the art of dance, perhaps because of the school’s founding ethos to bring what they saw as enervated fine arts and crafts traditions into the era of modern industrial production. The question of how to meet that demand when it came to perhaps one of the oldest of the performing arts might have puzzled many an artist. But not Oskar Schlemmer. A polymath, like so many of the school’s avant-garde faculty, Schlemmer was a painter, sculptor, designer, and choreographer who, in 1923, was hired as Master of Form at the Bauhaus theatre workshop.


Before taking on that role, Schlemmer had already conceived, designed, and staged his most famous work, Das Triadische Ballet (The Triadic Ballet). “Schlemmer’s main theme,” says scholar and choreographer Debra McCall, “is always the abstract versus the figurative and his work is all about the conciliation of polarities—what he himself called the Apollonian and Dionysian. [He], like others, felt that mechanization and the abstract were two main themes of the day. But he did not want to reduce the dancers to automatons.” These concerns were shared by many modernists, who felt that the idiosyncrasies of the human could easily become subsumed in the seductive orderliness of machines.


Schlemmer's intentions for The Triadic Ballet translate—in the descriptions of Dangerous Minds’ Amber Frost—to “sets [that] are minimal, emphasizing perspective and clean lines. The choreography is limited by the bulky, sculptural, geometric costumes, the movement stiflingly deliberate, incredibly mechanical and mathy, with a rare hint at any fluid dance. The whole thing is daringly weird and strangely mesmerizing.” You can see black and white still images from the original 1922 production above (and see even more at Dangerous Minds). To view these bizarrely costumed figures in motion, watch the video at the top, a 1970 recreation in full, brilliant color.


For various reasons, The Triadic Ballet has rarely been restaged, though its influence on futuristic dance and costuming is considerable. The Triadic Ballet is “a pioneering example of multi-media theater,” wrote Jack Anderson in review of a 1985 New York production; Schlemmer “turned to choreography,” writes Anderson, “because of his concern for the relationships of figures in space." Given that the guiding principle of the work is a geometric one, we do not see much movement we associate with traditional dance. Instead the ballet looks like pantomime or puppet show, with figures in awkward costumes tracing various shapes around the stage and each other.


As you can see in the images further up, Schlemmer left few notes regarding the choreography, but he did sketch out the grouping and costuming of each of the three movements. (You can zoom in and get a closer look at the sketches above at the Bauhaus-archiv Museum.) As Anderson writes of the 1985 revived production, “unfortunately, Schlemmer’s choreography for these figures was forgotten long ago, and any new production must be based upon research and intuition.” The basic outlines are not difficult to recover. Inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Schlemmer began to see ballet and pantomime as free from the baggage of traditional theater and opera. Drawing from the stylizations of pantomime, puppetry, and Commedia dell’Arte, Schlemmer further abstracted the human form in discrete shapes—cylindrical necks, spherical heads, etc—to create what he called “figurines.” The costuming, in a sense, almost dictates the jerky, puppet-like movements of the dancers. (These three costumes below date from the 1970 recreation of the piece.)


Schlemmer’s radical production has somehow not achieved the level of recognition of other avant-garde ballets of the time, including Schoenberg's  Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s, Nijinsky-choreographed The Rite of SpringThe Triadic Ballet, with music composed by Paul Hindemith, toured between 1922 and 1929, representing the ethos of the Bauhaus school, but at the end of that period, Schlemmer was forced to leave “an increasingly volatile Germany,” writes Frost. Revivals of the piece, such as a 1930 exhibition in Paris, tended to focus on the “figurines” rather than the dance. Schlemmer made many similar performance pieces in the 20s (such as a “mechanical cabaret”) that brought together industrial design, dance, and gesture. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the bizarre costumes, which were worn and copied at various Bauhaus costume parties and which went on to directly inspire the look of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the glorious excesses of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust stage show.


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

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beauty of Traditional Japan

We've featured the work of Spanish filmmaker Cristóbal Vila before: His short film "Inspirations" celebrated the mathematical art of M.C. Escher. "Fallingwater" animated one of Frank Lloyd Wright's finest creations. And "Nature by Numbers" showed us geometrical and mathematical formulas found in nature.

Today, we bring you Vila's latest "Wabi-Sabi: A Handful of Memories from Traditional Japan." As he notes on his site, the animation captures the "aspects that interest me the most about traditional Japan," featuring "scenes inspired by nature, gardens, architecture, interior scenes, etc." And it attempts to "create a calm and balanced atmosphere through the use of light, composition, materials, movement… and the choice of the motifs themselves."

Above, you can watch "Wabi-Sabi," a Japanese term that refers to "the [aesthetic] beauty of the impermanent, the imperfect, the rustic, and the melancholy," as explains The School of Life video below. If you're entranced by Vila's short film, also watch the "Making of" video (middle).

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.

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Odd Vintage Postcards Document the Propaganda Against Women’s Rights 100 Years Ago


The vicious, vitriolic imagery and rhetoric of this election season can seem overwhelming, but as even casual students of history will know, it isn’t anything new. Each time historic social change occurs, reactionary counter-movements resort to threats, appeals to fear, and demeaning caricatures---whether it’s anti-Reconstruction propaganda of the 19th century, anti-Civil Rights campaigns 100 years later, or anti-LGBT rights efforts today.


At the turn of the century, the women’s suffrage movement faced significant levels of abuse and resistance. One photograph has circulated, for example, of a suffrage activist lying in the street as police beat her. (The woman in the photo is not Susan B. Anthony, as many claim, but a British suffragist named Ada Wright, beaten on “Black Friday” in 1910.) It’s an arresting image that captures just how violently men of the day fought against the movement for women's suffrage. [It’s also worth noting, as many have: the early suffrage movement campaigned only for white women’s right to vote, and sometimes actively resisted civil rights for African-Americans.]


As you can see from the sample anti-suffrage postcards here---dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries--- propaganda against the women’s vote tended to fall into three broad categories: Disturbingly violent wish-fulfillment involving torture and physical silencing; characterizations of suffragists as angry, bitter old maids, hatchet-wielding harridans, or domineering, shrewish wives and neglectful mothers; and, correspondingly, depictions of neglected children, and husbands portrayed as saintly victims, emasculated by threats to traditional gender roles, and menaced by the suggestion that they may have to care for their children for even one day out of the year!


These postcards come from the collection of Catherine Palczewski, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Northern Iowa. She has been collecting these images, from both the U.S. and Britain, for 15 years. On her website, Palczewski quotes George Miller’s comment that postcards like these “offer a vivid chronicle of American political values and tastes.” Palczewski describes these particular images as “a fascinating intersection [that] occurred between advocacy for and against woman suffrage, images of women (and men), and postcards. Best estimates are that approximately 4,500 postcards were produced with a suffrage theme.”


As she notes in the quote above, the postcards printed during this period did not all oppose women’s suffrage. “Suffrage advocates,” writes Palczewski, “recognized the utility of the postcard as a propaganda device” as well. Pro-suffrage postcards tended to serve a documentary purpose, with “real-photo images of the suffrage parades, verbal messages identifying the states that had approved suffrage, or quotations in support of extending the vote to women.” For all their attempts at presenting a serious, informative counterweight to incendiary anti-suffrage images like those you see here, suffrage activists often found that they could not control the narrative.


As Lisa Tickner writes in The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-1914, postcard producers without a clear agenda often used photos and illustrations of suffragists to represent “topical or humorous types” and “almost incidentally” undercut advocates’ attempts to present their cause in a newsworthy light. The image of the suffragette as a trivial figure of fun persisted into the mid-twentieth century (as we see in Glynis Johns’ comically neglectful Winifred Banks in Walt Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins adaptation).


Palczewski’s site offers a brief history of the “Golden Age” (1893-1918) of political postcards and organizes the collection into categories. One variety we might find particularly charming for its use of cats and kittens actually has a pretty sinister origin in the so-called “Cat-and-Mouse Act” in the UK. Jailed suffragists had begun to stage hunger strikes, and journalists provoked public outcry by portraying force-feeding by the government as a form of torture. Instead, striking activists were released when they became weak. "If a woman died after being released," Palczewski explains, "then the government could claim it was not to blame." When a freed activist regained her strength, she would be rearrested. “On November 29, 1917,” Palczewski writes, “the US government announced it plans to use Britain’s cat and mouse approach.”


You can see many more historical pro- and anti-suffrage postcards at Palczewski’s website, and you are free to use them for non-commercial purposes provided you attribute the source. You are also free, of course, to draw your own comparisons to today’s hyperbolic and often violently misogynist propaganda campaigns.


via Dangerous Minds

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

“Alexander Hamilton” Performed with American Sign Language

Back in 2011, the Los Angeles Times ran a profile on Sarah Tubert, then a 17-year-old student who lost her hearing as a young child. With the help of her family, Sarah persevered, became a star water polo and volleyball player in high school, and earned a full scholarship to Gallaudet University--all with the hope of one day becoming an instructor for deaf and hearing-impaired students.

Five years later, Sarah is making good on her promise. Above, Sarah performs "Alexander Hamilton," the opening number of the Broadway show, in American Sign Language (ASL). On Twitter, the Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda called it "beautiful." And it's hard not to agree.

You can find ASL lessons in our collection, Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More.

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. 


via Kottke

The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook Collects Recipes From T.C. Boyle, Marina Abramović, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates & More


The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories with Recipes © 2016, edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, illustrated by Amy Jean Porter, published by powerHouse Books..

There will never not be a market for the cookbook, with all its various subcategories, from fad diet to celebrity chef. While The Onion’s proposed “Nietzschean Diet” (which “lets you eat whatever you fear most”) may never catch on, one unusual cookbook niche does involve the recipes of famous writers, artists, musicians and other high- and pop-culture figures. The genre flourished in the sixties and seventies, with Swingers & Singers in the Kitchen in 1967, Salvador Dalí’s Les Diners de Gala in 1973, and the MoMA’s Artists’ Cookbook in 1978.


Predating these celebrity recipe books, The Artists’ & Writers’ Cookbook appeared in 1961. Brain Pickings describes the book as “a lavish 350-page vintage tome, illustrated with 19th-century engravings and original drawings by Marcel Duchamp, Robert Osbourn, and Alexandre Istrati.” It featured 220 recipes by painters, novelists, poets, and sculptors like Man Ray, John Keats, Robert Graves, Harper Lee, Georges Simenon, and more. What’s old has become new again, with the recent reprinting of Dalí’s cookbook by Taschen and, on October 11th, the publication of an updated Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, edited by Natalie Eve Garrett and illustrated by Amy Jean Porter.


The 2016 version includes recipes from such living artists as Edwidge Danticat, Ed Ruscha, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, James Franco, Nikki Giovanni, Marina Abramović, and many more. The recipes range from the whimsical (see T.C. Boyle’s “Baked Camel (Stuffed)” further up) to the thoroughly metaphorical (as in Abramović’s “Essential Aphrodisiac Recipes,” above). In-between, we have such standard fare as “The Utilitarian, American-Style PB&J: An Artist’s Best Friend,” courtesy of Franco, which calls for the following ingredients:

wheat bread
peanut butter
ginger ale (optional)
pickles (optional)

Haitian novelist Edwidge Danticat takes a serious approach with a traditional recipe for “Soup Joumou." She prefaces this more extensive dish with a poetic description of its national importance, concluding that it is consumed “as a sign of our independence, as a celebration of a new beginning....” The recipe may send you to the grocery, but—especially this time of year—you’ll find all of the ingredients at your nearest chain store:

1 pumpkin between 2-3 pounds, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 pound cabbage, sliced and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced and chopped
1 large onion, cut into small pieces
5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 turnips, peeled and cubed (optional)
1 lime cut in half and squeezed for a much juice as you can get from it
¼ pound macaroni
3 garlic cloves, crushed or cut into small pieces
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig parsley
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 Scotch bayonet pepper

Sounds delicious.

Neil Gaiman keeps things very simple with “Coraline’s Cheese Omelette,” introduced with an excerpt from that dark children’s fantasy. For this, you likely have all you need on hand:

2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
a pinch of salt

The essays and narratives in the new The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook are “at turns,” writes editor Natalie Eve Garrett, “comedic and heart-wrenching, personal and apocalyptic, with recipes that are enchanting to read and recreate.” As you can see from the small sampling here, you need not have any pretentions to haute cuisine to follow most of them. And as the book's subtitle---"A Collection of Stories with Recipes"---suggests, you needn’t cook at all to find joy in this diverse assemblage of artists and writers' associations with food, that most personal and intimate, yet also culturally defining and communal of subjects. Pick up a copy of The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook on Amazon.

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

Stephen Fry Narrates 4 Philosophy Animations On the Question: How to Create a Just Society?

How do we create a just society? 50,000 years or so at it and humanity still has a long way to go before figuring that out, though not for lack of trying. The four animated videos of "What Is Justice?"---a miniseries within BBC Radio 4 and the Open University's larger project of animating the ideas of philosophers throughout history and explaining them in the voices of various famous narrators---tell us what John Rawls, Henry David Thoreau, and the Bible, among other sources, have to say on the subject of justice. Stephen Fry provides the voice this time as the videos illustrate the nature of these ideas, as well as their complications, before our eyes.

Imagine you had to create a just society yourself, but "you won't know what kind of a person you'll be in the society you design." This thought experiment, first described by Rawls in his 1971 book A Theory of Justice as the "veil of ignorance," supposedly encourages the creation of "a much fairer society than we now have. There would be extensive freedom and equality of opportunity. But there wouldn't be extremes of high pay, unless it could be shown that the poorest in society directly benefited as a result." An intriguing idea, but one easier articulated than agreed upon, let alone realized.

Much earlier in history, you find the simpler principle of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," an "ancient form of punishment known as lex talionis, or the law of retaliation." Any reader of the Bible will have a strong sense of this idea's importance in the ancient world, though we'd do well to remember that back then, it "was a way of encouraging a sense of proportion — not wiping out a whole community in retaliation for the killing of one man, for example." While harsh punishment could, in theory, deter potential criminals, "severe legal violence can create martyrs and increase society's problems." The rule of law, naturally, has everything to do with the creation and maintenance of a just society, though not every law furthers the cause.

But you've no doubt heard of one that has: habeas corpus, the legal principle mandating that "no one, not even the president, monarch, or anyone else in power, can detain someone illegally." Instead, "they need to bring the detainee in question before a court and allow that court to determine whether or not this person can legally be held." Yet not every authority has consistently implemented or upheld habeas corpus or other justice-ensuring laws. At times like those, according to Thoreau, you must engage in civil disobedience: "follow your conscience and break the law on moral grounds rather than be a cog in an unjust system." It's a dirty job, creating a just society, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And though we may not all have given it as much thought as a Rawls or a Thoreau, we've all got a role to play in it.

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

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