Alan Turing Algorithmically Approximated by Ellipses: A Computer Art Project

Just a cool find on Twitter, a work of computer art created by Jeremy Kun, a math PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and now an engineer at Google.

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Ingmar Bergman’s 1950s Soap Commercials Wash Away the Existential Despair

Ingmar Bergman is usually remembered for the intensely serious nature of his films. Death, anguish, the absence of God--his themes can be pretty gloomy. So it might come as a surprise to learn that Bergman once directed a series of rather silly soap commercials.

The year was 1951. Bergman was 33 years old. The Swedish film industry, his main source of income, had just gone on strike to protest high government taxes on entertainment. With two ex-wives, five children, a new wife and a sixth child on the way, Bergman needed to find another way to make money.




A solution presented itself when he was asked to create a series of commercials for a new anti-bacterial soap called Bris ("Breeze," in English). Bergman threw himself into the project. He later recalled:

Originally, I accepted the Bris commercials in order to save the lives of my self and my families. But that was really secondary. The primary reason I wanted to make the commercials was that I was given free rein with money and I could do exactly what I wanted with the product's message. Anyhow, I have always found it difficult to feel resentment when industry comes rushing toward culture, check in hand.

Bergman enlisted his favorite cinematographer at that time, Gunnar Fischer, and together they made nine miniature films, each a little more than one minute long, to be screened in movie theaters over the next three years. Bergman used the opportunity to experiment with visual and narrative form.

Many of the stylistic devices and motifs that would eventually figure into his masterpieces can be spotted in the commercials: mirrors, doubles, the telescoping in or out of a story-within-a-story. You don't need to understand Swedish to recognize the mark of the master.

In the window above we feature Episode 1, "Bris Soap," which is perhaps the most basic of the commercials. They become progressively more imaginative as the series moves along:

  • Episode 2, Tennis Girl: An innocent game of tennis sets the stage for an epic battle between good (Bris soap) and evil (bacteria). Can you guess which side wins?
  • Episode 3, Gustavian: Bad hygiene in the 17th century court of King Gustav III. Plenty of foppishness, but no Bris.
  • Episode 4, Operation: "Perhaps the most intriguing of the commercials," writes Swedish film scholar Fredrik Gustafsson. "In this one Bergman is deconstructing the whole business of filmmaking, using all the tricks of his disposal to trick and treat us."
  • Episode 5, The Magic Show: Another battle between good and evil, this time in miniature.
  • Episode 6, The Inventor: A man heroically invents anti-bacterial soap, only to awaken and realize it was all a dream. (And anyway, the makers of Bris had already done it.)
  • Episode 7, The Rebus: Bergman uses montage to create a game of "rebus," a heraldic riddle (non verbis, sed rebus: "not by words but by things"), to piece together the slogan, "Bris kills the bacteria--no bacteria, no smell."
  • Episode 8, Three-Dimensional: Bergman thought 3-D films were "ridiculously stupid," and in this episode he takes a few playful jabs.
  • Episode 9, The Princess and the Swineherd: In this reinvention of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Swineherd," a 15-year-old Bibi Andersson, who went on to star in many of Bergman's greatest films, makes her screen debut as a beautiful princess who promises a swineherd 100 kisses in exchange for a bar of soap. Not a bad deal for the swineherd.

To learn more about Bergman's soap commercials you can watch a 2009 report by Slate film critic Dana Stevens here. (Note the video requires a flash player.)

Note: This post first appeared on our site in 2011. It's one of our favorites. So we're bringing it back.

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Hallelujah!: You Can Stream Every Leonard Cohen Album in a 22-Hour Chronological Playlist (1967-2016)

Everybody knows the war is over. Everybody knows the good guys lost.

Perhaps no one since Thomas Hardy has matched Leonard Cohen in the dogged persistence of literary bleakness. Cohen’s entry into a Zen monastery in 1996 was a “response to a sense of despair that I’ve always had,” he said in an interview that year. Ten years later, Cohen told Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, “I had a great sense of disorder in my life of chaos, of depression, of distress. And I had no idea where this came from. And the prevailing psychoanalytic explanations at the time didn’t seem to address the things I felt.”

Only a handful of people on the planet have experienced the “life of chaos” Leonard Cohen lived as an acclaimed poet, novelist, singer, and one of the most beloved songwriters of the last several decades. But millions identify with his emotional turmoil. Cohen’s expressions of despair—and of reverence, defiance, love, hatred, and lust—speak across generations, telling truths few of us confess but, just maybe, everybody knows. Cohen's death last year brought his career back into focus. And despite the mournful occasion for revisiting his work, he may be just the songwriter many of us need right now.




The great themes in Cohen’s work come together in his most famous song, “Hallelujah,” which has, since he first recorded it in 1984 to little notice, become “everybody’s ‘Hallelujah,’” writes Ashley Fetters at The Atlantic, in a succession of covers and interpretations from Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright to Shrek and The X Factor. It is here that the depths of despair and heights of transcendence meet, the sexual and the spiritual reach an accord: “This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled,” Cohen has said of the song. “But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.’”

Everybody knows it’s a mess. But it often takes a Leonard Cohen to convince us that—at least sometimes—it’s a beautiful one. If you feel you need more Leonard Cohen in your life, we bring you the playlist above, a complete chronological discography available on Spotify—from the sparse, haunting folk melodies of Cohen’s first album, 1967’s The Songs of Leonard Cohen to last year’s gripping swan song, You Want It Darker. In-between the legendary debut and masterful summation are several live albums, the classics Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate, and others, as well as that odd 1988 album I’m Your Man, in which Cohen set his grim ironies and universal truths to the sounds of eighties synth-pop, intoning over slap bass and drum machine the indelible, gently mocking lyrics he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Sharon Robinson:

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows

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

The Art of Hand-Drawn Japanese Anime: A Deep Study of How Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira Uses Light

Animation before the days of modern computer graphics technology may impress today for the very reason that it had no modern computer graphics technology, or CGI, at its disposal. But if we really think about it — and we really watch the animated masterpieces of those days — we'll realize that much of it should impress us on many more levels than it already does. Take, for instance, Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 cyberpunk vision Akira, one of the most beloved Japanese animated films of all time and the subject of the Nerdwriter video essay above, "How to Animate Light."

Akira, says Nerdwriter Evan Puschak, "is well known for its painstaking animation. Every frame of the film was composed with the closest attention to detail, and that gives it an unmatched richness and soul."




But he points up one quality of the production in particular: "I see the film's many lights, their different qualities and textures, as a powerful motif and symbol, and a vital element of its genius." But animators, especially animators using traditional hand-painted cels, can't just tell their directors of photography to set up a scene's lighting in a certain way; they've got to render all the different types of light in the world they create by hand, manually creating its play on every face, every object, every surface.

"The lines between shadow and light are distinct and evocative in the same way that film noir lighting is," Puschak elaborates, "and like in film noir, light in Akira is intimately connected to the city at night." In the dystopian "Neo-Tokyo" of 2019, elaborately crafted by Otomo and his collaborators, "authority is as much a blinding spotlight as it is a gun or a badge" and neon "is the bitter but beautiful light that signifies both the colorful radiance and the gaudy consumerism of modernity." And then we have Tetsuo, "at once the protagonist and the antagonist of the film, a boy who gains extraordinary psychic power" that "so often produces a disruption in the light around him." When the end comes, it comes in the form of "a giant ball of light, one single uniform white light that erases the countless artificial lights of the city," and Akira makes us believe in it. Could even the most cutting-edge, spectacularly big-budgeted CGI-age picture do the same?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Power of Introverts: Author Susan Cain Explains Why We Need to Appreciate the Talents & Abilities of the Quiet Ones

Ours is a loud culture of nonstop personal sharing, endless chatter, and 24-hour news, opinion, and entertainment. Even those people who prefer reading alone to the overstimulating carnival of social media feel pressured to participate. How else can you keep up with your family—whose Facebook posts you’d rather see die than have to read? How else to build a profile for employers—whom you desperately hope won’t check your Twitter feed?

For the introvert, maintaining an always-on façade can be profoundly enervating—and the problem goes far beyond the personal, argues author Susan Cain, reaching into every area of our lives.

“If you take a group of people and put them into a meeting,” says Cain in the short RSA video above, “the opinions of the loudest person, or the most charismatic person, or the most assertive person—those are the opinions that the group tends to follow.” This despite the fact that research shows “zero correlation” between being the loudest voice in the room and having the best ideas. Don’t we know this all too well.




Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a book about leadership for introverts, the group least likely to want the social demands leadership requires. And yet, she argues, we nonetheless need introverts as leaders. “We’re living in a society now that is so overly extroverted,” she says. Cain identifies the phenomenon as a symptom of corporate capitalism overcoming predominantly agricultural ways of life. Aside from the significant question of whether we can change the culture without changing the economy, Cain makes a timely and compelling argument for a society that values different personality types equally.

But can there be a “world where it’s yin and yang” between introverts and extroverts? That depends, perhaps on how much credence we lend these well-worn Jungian categories, or whether we think of them as existing in binary opposition rather than on a spectrum, a circle, a hexagram, or whatever. Cain is not a psychologist but a former corporate lawyer who at least seems to believe the balancing act between extroverted and introverted can be achieved in the corporate world. She has given talks on “Networking for Introverts,” addressed the engineers at Google, and taken to the TED stage, the thought leader arena that accommodates all kinds of personalities, for better or worse.

Cain's TED talk above may be one of the better ones. Opening with a moving and funny personal narrative, she walks us through the barrage of messages introverts receive condemning their desire for quietude as somehow perverse and selfish. Naturally solitary people are taught to think of their introversion as "a second-class personality trait," Cain writes in her book, "somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology." Introverts must swim against the tide to be themselves. “Our most important institutions," she says above, "our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts, and for extroverts' need for stimulation.”

The bias is deep, reaching into the classrooms of young children, who are now forced to do most of their work by committee. But when introverts give in to the social pressure that forces them into awkward extroverted roles, the loss affects everyone. “At the risk of sounding grandiose,” Cain says, “when it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best.” Paradoxically, that can look like introverts taking the helm, but out of a genuine sense of duty rather than a desire for the spotlight.

Introverted leaders are more likely to share power and give others space to express ideas, Cain argues. Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks exemplify such introverted leadership, and a quieter, more balanced and thoughtful culture would produce more leaders like them. Maybe this is a proposition anyone can endorse, whether they prefer Friday nights with hot tea and a novel or in the crush and bustle of the crowds.

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

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

A vague sense of disquiet settled over Europe in the period between World War I and World War II. 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 animation is a powerfully moving meditation on art, struggle, purity of thought, and populist savagery that remains untarnished after eight decades.

You can find other great animations in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in November, 2013. It was written by Ilia Blinderman. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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Criterion Collection Films 50% Off for the Next 13 Hours: Get Great Films at Half Price

FYI. For the next 13 hours, the Criterion Collection is running a flash sale (click here), giving you a chance to purchase "all in-stock Blu-rays & DVDs at 50% off." Just use the promo code COOP and get classic films by Hitchcock, Lynch, Welles, Kubrick, the Coen Brothers, and many others.

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