M.I.T. Computer Program Alarmingly Predicts in 1973 That Civilization Will End by 2040

In 1704, Isaac Newton predicted the end of the world sometime around (or after, "but not before") the year 2060, using a strange series of mathematical calculations. Rather than study what he called the “book of nature,” he took as his source the supposed prophecies of the book of Revelation. While such predictions have always been central to Christianity, it is startling for modern people to look back and see the famed astronomer and physicist indulging them. For Newton, however, as Matthew Stanley writes at Science, “laying the foundation of modern physics and astronomy was a bit of a sideshow. He believed that his truly important work was deciphering ancient scriptures and uncovering the nature of the Christian religion.”

Over three hundred years later, we still have plenty of religious doomsayers predicting the end of the world with Bible codes. But in recent times, their ranks have seemingly been joined by scientists whose only professed aim is interpreting data from climate research and sustainability estimates given population growth and dwindling resources. The scientific predictions do not draw on ancient texts or theology, nor involve final battles between good and evil. Though there may be plagues and other horrible reckonings, these are predictably causal outcomes of over-production and consumption rather than divine wrath. Yet by some strange fluke, the science has arrived at the same apocalyptic date as Newton, plus or minus a decade or two.

The “end of the world” in these scenarios means the end of modern life as we know it: the collapse of industrialized societies, large-scale agricultural production, supply chains, stable climates, nation states…. Since the late sixties, an elite society of wealthy industrialists and scientists known as the Club of Rome (a frequent player in many conspiracy theories) has foreseen these disasters in the early 21st century. One of the sources of their vision is a computer program developed at MIT by computing pioneer and systems theorist Jay Forrester, whose model of global sustainability, one of the first of its kind, predicted civilizational collapse in 2040. “What the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true,” claims Paul Ratner at Big Think.

Those predictions include population growth and pollution levels, “worsening quality of life,” and “dwindling natural resources.” In the video at the top, see Australia's ABC explain the computer’s calculations, “an electronic guided tour of our global behavior since 1900, and where that behavior will lead us,” says the presenter. The graph spans the years 1900 to 2060. "Quality of life" begins to sharply decline after 1940, and by 2020, the model predicts, the metric contracts to turn-of-the-century levels, meeting the sharp increase of the “Zed Curve" that charts pollution levels. (ABC revisited this reporting in 1999 with Club of Rome member Keith Suter.)

You can probably guess the rest—or you can read all about it in the 1972 Club of Rome-published report Limits to Growth, which drew wide popular attention to Jay Forrester’s books Urban Dynamics (1969) and World Dynamics (1971). Forrester, a figure of Newtonian stature in the worlds of computer science and management and systems theory—though not, like Newton, a Biblical prophecy enthusiast—more or less endorsed his conclusions to the end of his life in 2016. In one of his last interviews, at the age of 98, he told the MIT Technology Review, “I think the books stand all right.” But he also cautioned against acting without systematic thinking in the face of the globally interrelated issues the Club of Rome ominously calls “the problematic”:

Time after time … you’ll find people are reacting to a problem, they think they know what to do, and they don’t realize that what they’re doing is making a problem. This is a vicious [cycle], because as things get worse, there is more incentive to do things, and it gets worse and worse.

Where this vague warning is supposed to leave us is uncertain. If the current course is dire, “unsystematic” solutions may be worse? This theory also seems to leave powerfully vested human agents (like Exxon's executives) wholly unaccountable for the coming collapse. Limits to Growth—scoffed at and disparagingly called “neo-Malthusian” by a host of libertarian critics—stands on far surer evidentiary footing than Newton’s weird predictions, and its climate forecasts, notes Christian Parenti, “were alarmingly prescient.” But for all this doom and gloom it’s worth bearing in mind that models of the future are not, in fact, the future. There are hard times ahead, but no theory, no matter how sophisticated, can account for every variable.

via Big Think

Related Content:

In 1704, Isaac Newton Predicts the World Will End in 2060

A Century of Global Warming Visualized in a 35 Second Video

A Map Shows What Happens When Our World Gets Four Degrees Warmer: The Colorado River Dries Up, Antarctica Urbanizes, Polynesia Vanishes

It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Apocalypse Gets Visualized in an Inventive Map from 1486

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

V.S. Naipaul Creates a List of 7 Rules for Beginning Writers

Photo by Faizul Latif Chowdhury, via Wikimedia Commons

As even his harshest critics admitted, V.S. Naipaul knew how to write. The death earlier this month of the author of A House for Mr Biswas, A Bend in the River, and The Enigma of Arrival got readers thinking again about the nature of his art. A Trinidad-born Indian who went to England on a government scholarship to Oxford, he eventually achieved a literary mastery of the English language that few of his peers in England — or anyone else there, for that matter — could hope to match.

Like any celebrated creator, Naipaul has long had his imitators. But instead of trying to replicate what they read in his books, they would do better to replicate how he made himself a writer. "It took a lot of work to do it," Naipaul once told an interviewer. "In the beginning I had to forget everything I had written by the age of 22. I abandoned everything and began to write like a child at school. Almost writing ‘the cat sat on the mat.’” Amitava Kumar quotes that line in an essay on his own development as a writer, influenced not just by Naipaul's memories of starting out but Naipaul's seven rules.

"There was a pen-and-ink portrait of Naipaul on the wall," writes Kumar about his first day working at the Indian newspaper Tehelka. "High above someone’s computer was a sheet of paper that said 'V. S. Naipaul’s Rules for Beginners.'" Tehelka reporters had asked the famed writer "if he could give them some basic suggestions for improving their language. Naipaul had come up with some rules. He had fussed over their formulation, corrected them, and then faxed back the corrections." Kumar decided to follow the rules and found they were "a wonderful antidote to my practice of using academic jargon, and they made me conscious of my own writing habits. I was discovering language as if it were a new country."

Naipaul's list of rules for beginning writers runs as follows:

Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than 10 or 12 words.

Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

Never use words whose meanings you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of color, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

If you've read other writers' tips, especially those we've featured before here on Open Culture, some of Naipaul's rules may sound familiar. "Never use a long word where a short one will do," says George Orwell. "The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses," says Nietzsche. "The adverb is not your friend," says Stephen King. Naipaul's rules may strike you as overly restrictive, but bear in mind that he composed them for newspapermen looking to make improvements in their prose, and recommended following them for six months as a kind of course of treatment to rid themselves of "bad language habits."

The seasoned writer, however, can work according to rules of his own. Naipaul once explained this in no uncertain terms to Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta. "It happens that English — the history of the language — was my subject at Oxford," he wrote in a letter reprimanding the house for its overzealous copy editing, laboriously adherent to French-style "court rules," of one of his manuscripts. "The glory of English is that it is without these court rules: it is a language made by the people who write it. My name goes on my book. I am responsible for the way the words are put together. It is one reason why I became a writer."

via Lithub

Related content:

V.S. Naipaul Writes an Enraged Letter to His Publisher After a Copy-Editor Revises His Book, A Turn in the South

Writing Tips by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman & George Orwell

George Orwell’s Six Rules for Writing Clear and Tight Prose

Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writing with Style (1882)

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

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 New York Public Library Puts Classic Stories on Instagram: Start with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis Soon

I'd be happy if I could think that the role of the library was sustained and even enhanced in the age of the computer. —Bill Gates

The New York Public Library excels at keeping a foot in both worlds, particularly when it comes to engaging younger readers.

Visitors from all over the world make the pilgrimage to see the real live Winnie-the-Pooh and friends in the main branch’s hopping children’s center.

And now anyone with a smartphone and an Instagram account can “check out” their digital age take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandno library card required. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Working with the design firm Mother, the library has found a way to make great page-turning use of the Instagram Stories platformmore commonly used to share blow-by-blow photographic evidence of road trips, restaurant outings, and hash-tagged weddings.

The Wonderland experience remains primarily text-based.

In other words, sorry, harried caregivers! There’s no handing your phone off to the pre-reading set this time around!

No trippy Disney teacups...

Sir John Tenniel’s classic illustrations won’t be springing to animated life. Instead, you’ll find conceptual artist Magoz’s bright minimalist dingbats of keyholes, teacups, and pocket watches in the lower right hand corner. Tap your screen in rapid succession and they function as a crowd-pleasing, all ages flip book.

Elsewhere, animation allows the text to take on clever shapes or reveal itself line by linea pleasantly theatrical, Cheshire Cat like approach to Carroll’s impudent poetry.

Remember the famous scene where the Duchess and the Cook force Alice to mind a baby who turns into a pig? Grab some friends and hunch over the phone for a communal read aloud! (It’s on page 75 of part 1)

Speak roughly to your little boy,

 And beat him when he sneezes:

 He only does it to annoy,

 Because he knows it teases


 (In which the cook and the baby joined)

 ‘Wow! wow! wow!’ 

Navigating this new media can be a bit confusing for those whose social media fluency is not quite up to speed, but it’s not hard once you get the hang of the controls.

Tapping the right side of the screen turns the page.

Tapping left goes back a page.

And keeping a thumb (or any finger, actually) on the screen will keep the page as is until you’re ready to move on. You’ll definitely want to do this on animated pages like the one cited above. Pretend you’re playing the flute and you’ll save a lot of frustration.

The library plans to introduce your phone to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis via Instagram Stories over the next couple of months. Like Alice, both works are in the public domain and share an appropriate common theme: transformation.

Use these links to go directly to part 1 and part 2 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Instagram Stories. Both parts are currently pinned to the top of the library’s Instagram account.

Related Content:

Behold Lewis Carroll’s Original Handwritten & Illustrated Manuscript for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1864)

Alice in Wonderland: The Original 1903 Film Adaptation

The Psychological & Neurological Disorders Experienced by Characters in Alice in Wonderland: A Neuroscience Reading of Lewis Carroll’s Classic Tale

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Salvador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Short Animated Film, Destino, Set to the Music of Pink Floyd

In 1945, Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí began collaborating on an animated film. 58 years later, with Dalí long gone and Disney gone longer still, it came out. The delayed arrival of Destino had to do with money trouble at the Walt Disney Studios not long after the project began, and it seems that few laid eyes on its unfinished materials again until Disney's nephew Roy E. Disney came across them in 1999. Completed, it premiered at the 2003 New York Film Festival and received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film. Now, fifteen years later, we know for sure that Destino has found a place in the culture, because someone has mashed it up with Pink Floyd.

Unlike The Wizard of Oz, which has in Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon the best-known inadvertent soundtrack of all time, the seven-minute Destino can hardly accommodate an entire album. But it does match nicely with "Time," Dark Side of the Moon's fourth track, in length as well as in theme.

Though in many ways a more visual experience than a narrative one — if completed in the 1940s, it might have become part of a Fantasia-like "package film" — Destino does tell a story, showing a graceful woman who catches the eye of Chronos, the mythical personification of time itself. This allows the film to indulge in some clock imagery, which one might expect from Dalí, though it also includes clocks of the non-melting variety.

Only with "Time" as its soundtrack does Destino include the sound of clocks as well. All the ringing and bonging that opens the song came as a contribution from famed producer Alan Parsons, who worked on Dark Side of the Moon as an engineer. Before the album's sessions, he'd happened to go out to an antique shop and record its clocks as a test of the then-novel Quadraphonic recording technique. The transition from Parsons' clocks to Nick Mason's drums fits uncannily well with the opening of Destino, as does much that follows. "Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time," sings David Gilmour. "Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines." Though Disney and Dalí came up with much more than half a page of scribbled lines, both of them probably assumed Destino had come to naught. Or might they have suspected that the project would find its way in time?

Related Content:

Salvador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Destino: See the Collaborative Film, Original Storyboards & Ink Drawings

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wizard of Oz in One of the Earliest Mash-Ups

The “Lost” Pink Floyd Soundtrack for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Only American Film, Zabriskie Point (1970)

Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” Provides a Soundtrack for the Final Scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

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.

Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads & More Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers

As David Bowie himself implied in a 1975 interview, "Young Americans" doesn't have much of a narrative.

Rather, it’s a portrait of ambivalence, viewed at some remove.

The same cannot be said for Young Americans, the wholly imaginary midcentury pulp novel.

One look at the lurid cover, above, and one can guess the sort of steamy passages contained within. Bowie’s sweaty palmed classmates at Bromley Technical High School could probably have recited them from memory!

Ditto Alison. The tawdry paperback, not Elvis Costello’s evergreen 1977 ballad. There’s a reason its spine is falling apart, and it’s not because young lads like Elvis Costello are fearful their hearts might prove untrue. That skimpy pink bikini top and hip huggers get-up is appealing to an entirely different organ.

Here we must reiterate that these books do not exist and never did.

Though there’s a lot of fun to be had in pretending that they do.

Screenwriter Todd Alcott, the true author of these digital mashups, is keenly attuned to the overripe visual language of midcentury paperbacks.

He’s also got quite a knack for extracting lyrics from their original context and rendering them in the period font, magically retooling them as the sort of suggestive quotes that once beckoned from drugstore book racks.

Font has been important to him since the age of 13, when a school art project required him to combine text with an image:

I decided that I wanted the text to look like the text I'd seen in an ad for a John Lennon album, so I copied that font style. I didn't know that the font style had a name, but I knew that my instincts for how to draw those letters didn't match how the letters ended up looking. The font, as it turns out, was Franklin Gothic, and, as a 13-year-old, all I remember was that I would start to draw the "S" and then realize that my "S" didn't look like Franklin Gothic's "S," and that the curvy letters, like "G" and "O," didn't look right when they sat on the lines I'd made for the other letters, because of course for a font, the curvy letters have to be a little bit bigger than the straight letters, or else they end up looking too small. I became fascinated with that kind of thing, how one font would give off one kind of feeling, and other one would give off a completely different feeling. And it turns out there's a reason for all of that, that every font carries with it a specific cultural connotation whether the reader is aware of it or not. When I drive down the street in LA, I see billboards and I can't just look at one and say "Okay, got it," I get a whole other layer of meaning from them because their design and font choices tell me a whole history of the people who designed them.

While Alcott discovers many of his visuals online, he has a soft spot for the battered originals he finds in second hand shops. Their wear and tear confers the sort of verisimilitude he seeks. The rest is equal parts inspiration, Photoshop, and a growing understanding of a design form he once dismissed as the tawdry fruit of Low Culture:

I'd never understood pulp design until I started this project.  As I started looking at it, I realized that  the aesthetic of pulp is so deeply attached to its product that it's impossible to separate the two. And that's what great design is, a graphic representation of ideas. When I started examining the designs, to see why some work and some don't, I was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of artistry involved in the covers. Pulp was a huge cultural force, there were dozens of magazines and publishers, cranking out stuff every month for decades, detective stories and police stories and noir stories and mysteries. It employed thousands of artists, writers and painters and illustrators. And the energy of the paintings is just off the charts. It had to be, because any given book cover had to compete with the ten thousand other covers that were on display. It had to grab the viewer fast, and make that person pick up the book instead of some other book. I love all kinds of midcentury stuff, but nothing grabs you the way a good pulp cover does.

Not all of his mash ups traffic in mid-century drugstore rack nymphomania.

New Order’s "Bizarre Love Triangle" is the ideal recipient of the abstract approach so common to psychology and philosophy titles of the period.

Needless to say, Alcott’s covers are also a tribute to the musicians he lists as authors, particularly those dating to his New Wave era youth—Bowie, Costello, Joy Division, Talking Heads, King Crimson

I know I could find more popular contemporary artists to make tributes for, but these are the artists I love, I connect to their work on a deep level, and I try to make things that they would see and think "Yeah, this guy gets me.” 

My favorite thing is when people think the pieces are real. That's the highest compliment I can receive. I've had band members contact me and say "Where did you find this?" or "I don't even remember doing this album" or "Where did you find this?" That's when I know I've successfully combined ideas.

Todd Alcott’s Mid-Century Mash Up Book Covers can be purchased as prints from his Etsy store.

All images published with the permission of Todd Alcott.

Related Content:

7 Rock Album Covers Designed by Iconic Artists: Warhol, Rauschenberg, Dalí, Richter, Mapplethorpe & More

French Bookstore Blends Real People’s Faces with Book Cover Art

36 Abstract Covers of Vintage Psychology, Philosophy & Science Books Come to Life in a Mesmerizing Animation

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 24 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

V.S. Naipaul Writes an Enraged Letter to His Publisher After a Copy-Editor Revises His Book, A Turn in the South

Photo by Faizul Latif Chowdhury, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many ways for travel writers to get their subject badly wrong. Perhaps the worst is solely relying on uninformed observation rather than seeking the wisdom and experience of knowledgeable locals. To his credit, celebrated Nobel prize-winning novelist V.S. Naipaul—who passed away on August 11th at age 85—met, mingled, and spoke freely with individuals from every walk of life (including Eudora Welty) in the process of writing A Turn in the South, a travelogue of his sojourn through the much-mythologized and maligned Southern states of the U.S.

Naipaul’s voice alone might have overwhelmed the work with the extremely harsh, some have said bigoted, judgments he became known for in novels like A Bend in the RiverGuerillas, and The Enigma of Arrival. Instead, he won praise from reviewers like Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, who wrote that Naipaul “brings new understanding of the subject to his reader.” Woodward also noted that Naipaul “confesses to ‘writing anxieties’ about undertaking this book on people unknown to him.”

Though he consulted and quoted local voices in his survey of the South, it is ultimately Naipaul’s voice that organizes the work, and his precise, erudite prose the reader hears. It was a voice he took great pride in, as he should. For his many faults, Naipaul was a masterful literary stylist. One wonders, then, why a copy editor at Knopf would feel it necessary to make extensive revisions to the manuscript of A Turn in the South before its publication.

Copy-editing is an essential function, writes Letters of Note, without which many books would go to print “peppered with redundant hyphens, needless repetition, misplaced semicolons,” etc. But it is also a task that should interfere as little as possible with the matters of diction, style, and syntax that characterize an authorial voice. Like a conscientious backpacker, a good copy editor should endeavor to leave almost no trace unless the text is full of serious problems.

Clearly, as Naipaul’s irritated letter below shows, something went wrong. Upon receiving the copy-edited text, he writes, he was obliged to restore the original from memory. Naipaul assures Knopf’s editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta that he understands the English language and its history very well, and knows that, unlike French, it has no “court rules,” and can be bent any number of ways without breaking. He implies it is the job of every “serious or dedicated” writer in English to use the language as they see fit, and the job of an editor to mostly get out of the way.

No doubt this relationship can prove complicated and frustrating for both parties. Still, though we only get Naipaul’s side of the story, it’s hard not to take it when he points out he had written 20 books by that time, all of them acclaimed for the quality of their writing. "My name goes on my book," he declares. (So does the name "Knopf," Mehta might have replied.) "I am responsible for the way the words are put together." Read the letter in full below. And see Literary Hub for Naipaul’s Ten Rules of Writing if you’re interested in his prescriptions for clear English prose—advice he had earned license to take or leave in his own work.


10 May 1988

Dear Sonny,

The copy-edited text of A Turn in the South came yesterday; it is such an appalling piece of work that I feel I have to write about it. This kind of copy-editing gets in the way of creative reading. I spend so much time restoring the text I wrote (and as a result know rather well). I thought it might have been known in the office that after 34 years and 20 books I knew certain things about writing and didn’t want a copy-editor’s help with punctuation or the thing called repetition; and certainly didn’t want help with ways of getting round repetition. It is utterly absurd to have someone pointing out to me repetitions in the use of “and” or “like” or “that” or “she”. I didn’t want anyone undoing my semi-colons; with all their different ways of linking.

It happens that English - the history of the language - was my subject at Oxford. It happens that I know very well that these so-called “rules” have nothing to do with the language and are really rules about French usage. The glory of English is that it is without these court rules: it is a language made by the people who write it. My name goes on my book. I am responsible for the way the words are put together. It is one reason why I became a writer.

Every writer has his own voice. (Every serious or dedicated writer.) This is achieved by the way he punctuates; the rhythm of his phrases; the way the writing reflects the processes of the writer’s thought: all the nervousness, all the links, all the curious associations. An assiduous copy-editor can undo this very quickly, can make A write like B and Ms C.

And what a waste of spirit it is for the writer, who is in effect re-doing bits of his manuscript all the time instead of giving it a truly creative, revising read. Consider how it has made me sit down this morning, not to my work, but to write this enraged letter.



via Letters of Note

Related Content:

Kurt Vonnegut Explains “How to Write With Style”

Cormac McCarthy’s Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

Oscar Wilde Offers Practical Advice on the Writing Life in a Newly-Discovered Letter from 1890

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

10 Great German Expressionist Films: From Nosferatu to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

In 1913, Germany, flush with a new nation’s patriotic zeal, looked like it might become the dominant nation of Europe and a real rival to that global superpower Great Britain. Then it hit the buzzsaw of World War I. After the German government collapsed in 1918 from the economic and emotional toll of a half-decade of senseless carnage, the Allies forced it to accept draconian terms for surrender. The entire German culture was sent reeling, searching for answers to what happened and why.

German Expressionism came about to articulate these lacerating questions roiling in the nation’s collective unconscious. The first such film was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), about a malevolent traveling magician who has his servant do his murderous bidding in the dark of the night. The storyline is all about the Freudian terror of hidden subconscious drives, but what really makes the movie memorable is its completely unhinged look. Marked by stylized acting, deep shadows painted onto the walls, and sets filled with twisted architectural impossibilities -- there might not be a single right angle in the film – Caligari’s look perfectly meshes with the narrator's demented state of mind.

Subsequent German Expressionist movies retreated from the extreme aesthetics of Caligari but were still filled with a mood of violence, frustration and unease. F. W. Murnau’s brilliantly depressing The Last Laugh (1924) is about a proud doorman at a high-end hotel who is unceremoniously stripped of his position and demoted to a lowly bathroom attendant. When he hands over his uniform, his posture collapses as if the jacket were his exoskeleton. You don’t need to be a semiologist to figure out that the doorman’s loss of status parallels Germany’s. Fritz Lang’s M (1931), a landmark of early sound film, is the first serial killer movie ever made. But what starts out as a police procedural turns into something even more unsettling when a gang of distinctly Nazi-like criminals decide to mete out some justice of their own.

German Expressionism ended in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. They weren’t interested in asking uncomfortable questions and viewed such dark tales of cinematic angst as unpatriotic. Instead, they preferred bright, cheerful tales of Aryan youths climbing mountains. By that time, the movement’s most talented directors -- Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau -- had fled to America. And it was in America where German Expressionism found its biggest impact. Its stark lighting, grotesque shadows and bleak worldview would go on on to profoundly influence film noir in the late 1940s after another horrific, disillusioning war. See our collection of Free Noir Films here.

You watch can 10 German Expressionist movies – including Caligari, Last Laugh and M -- for free below.

  • Nosferatu - Free - German Expressionist horror film directed by F. W. Murnau. An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. (1922)
  • The Student of Prague - Free - A classic of German expressionist film. German writer Hanns Heinz Ewers and Danish director Stellan Rye bring to life a 19th-century horror story. Some call it the first indie film. (1913)
  • Nerves - Free - Directed by Robert Reinert, Nerves tells of "the political disputes of an ultraconservative factory owner Herr Roloff and Teacher John, who feels a compulsive but secret love for Roloff's sister, a left-wing radical." (1919)
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Free - This silent film directed by Robert Wiene is considered one of the most influential German Expressionist films and perhaps one of the greatest horror movies of all time. (1920)
  • Metropolis - Free - Fritz Lang’s fable of good and evil fighting it out in a futuristic urban dystopia. An important classic. An alternate version can be found here. (1927)
  • The Golem: How He Came Into the World - Free - A follow-up to Paul Wegener's earlier film, "The Golem," about a monstrous creature brought to life by a learned rabbi to protect the Jews from persecution in medieval Prague. Based on the classic folk tale, and co-directed by Carl Boese. (1920)
  • The Golem: How He Came Into the World - Free - The same film as the one listed immediately above, but this one has a score created by Pixies frontman Black Francis. (2008)
  • The Last Laugh Free - F.W. Murnau's classic chamber drama about a hotel doorman who falls on hard times. A masterpiece of the silent era, the story is told almost entirely in pictures. (1924)
  • Faust - Free - German expressionist filmmaker F.W. Murnau directs a film version of Goethe's classic tale. This was Murnau's last German movie. (1926)
  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans - Free - Made by the German expressionist director F.W. Murnau. Voted in 2012, the 5th greatest film of all time. (1927)
  • M - Free - Classic film directed by Fritz Lang, with Peter Lorre. About the search for a child murderer in Berlin. (1931)

For more classic films, peruse our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December, 2014.

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:

Metropolis Restored: Watch a New Version of Fritz Lang’s Masterpiece

Fritz Lang’s “Licentious, Profane, Obscure” Noir Film, Scarlet Street (1945)

Free: F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise, the 1927 Masterpiece Voted the 5th Best Movie of All Time

Watch Nosferatu, the Seminal Vampire Film, Free Online (1922)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.


« Go BackMore in this category... »