Joni Mitchell Publishes a Book of Her Rarely Seen Paintings & Poetry

Self Portrait.”Art work by Joni Mitchell, from "Morning Glory on the Vine" / Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Joni Mitchell is a woman of many talents—too many for the label “singer-songwriter” to encompass. It does not capture the literary depth of her lyricism, the unique strength of her distinctive voice, or the deftness and versatility of her guitar playing. Nor the fact that she’s one of the most interesting personalities in rock (or folk-rock/folk/folk-jazz, whatever). Mitchell’s biography is riveting; her chatty and cantankerous interviews a treat.

And, if you somehow didn’t know from her many album covers, Mitchell is also an accomplished visual artist. “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance,” she said in 2000. “I sing my sorrow and I paint my joy.” It’s a great quote, though she also sings her joy and paints sorrow—as in the portrait of her hero, Miles Davis, made just after his death. (Davis was a painter too, and they bonded over art.)

Mitchell began selling her work “when I was in high school to dentists, doctors—small time,” she told Rolling Stone in 1990. She has written poetry since her teenage years. Her imagistic songwriting came from a love of literary language. “I wrote poetry,” she says, “and I always wanted to make music. But I never put the two things together,” until she heard Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” and realized “you could make your songs literature.”

Painter, poet, singer, songwriter, guitarist—all of the artistic sides of Mitchell have mingled throughout her career in the visual splendor of her covers, compositions, and lyrics. They also came together in a rare 1971 book. After the release of Blue, Mitchell “gathered more than thirty drawings and watercolors in a ring binder and paired them with handwritten lyrics and bits of poetry,” writes Amanda Petrusich at The New Yorker.

She had the book handbound in an edition of 100 copies and gave it to friends for the holidays, calling it “The Christmas Book.” Now it has a different title, Morning Glory on the Vine, for a new edition to be released October 22nd. Part of the extensive celebrations for Mitchell’s 75th birthday, this edition fulfills a decade-long desire for the artist. “I always wanted to redo it and simplify the presentation,” she tells Petrusich. “Work is meant to be seen.”

The collection “feels consonant with Mitchell’s songwriting” in that it captures “tantalizing details about home,” in this case the home in Laurel Canyon that she shared with Graham Nash, the inspiration for the Crosby, Stills & Nash song “Our House.” Still life compositions and self-portraits, both “vivid" and "intimate,” complement her vulnerable, playful, “funny and weird,” lyrics and verses. You can see more of the paintings from Morning Glory on the Vine at The New Yorker and preorder a copy of the book here.

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

The Politics & Philosophy of the Bauhaus Design Movement: A Short Introduction

This year marks the centennial of the Bauhaus, the German art-and-design school and movement whose influence now makes itself felt all over the world. The clean lines and clarity of function exhibited by Bauhaus buildings, imagery, and objects — the very definition of what we still describe as "modern" — appeal in a way that transcends not just time and space but culture and tradition, and that's just as the school's founder Walter Gropius intended. A forward-looking utopian internationalist, Gropius seized the moment in the Germany left ruined by the First World War to make his ideals clear in the Bauhaus Manifesto: "Together let us call for, devise, and create the construction of the future, comprising everything in one form," he writes: "architecture, sculpture and painting."

In about a dozen years, however, a group with very little time for the Bauhaus project would suddenly rise to prominence in Germany: the Nazi party. "Their right-wing ideology called for a return to traditional German values," says reporter Michael Tapp in the Quartz video above, "and their messaging carried a typeface: Fraktur." Put forth by the nazis as the "true" German font, Fraktur was "based on Gothic script that had been synonymous with the German national identity for 800 years." On the other end of the ideological spectrum, the Bauhaus created "a radical new kind of typography," which Museum of Modern Art curator Barry Bergdoll describes as "politically charged": "The Germans are probably the only users of the Roman alphabet who had given typescript a nationalist sense. To refuse it and redesign the alphabet completely in the opposite direction is to free it of these national associations."

The culture of the Bauhaus also provoked public discomfort: "Locals railed against the strange, androgynous students, their foreign masters, their surreal parties, and the house band that played jazz and Slavic folk music," writes Darran Anderson at Citylab. "Newspapers and right-wing political parties cynically tapped into the opposition and fueled it, intensifying its anti-Semitism and emphasizing that the school was a cosmopolitan threat to supposed national purity." Gropius, for his part, "worked tirelessly to keep the school alive," preventing students from attending protests and gathering up leaflets printed by fellow Bauhaus instructor Oskar Schlemmer calling the school a "rallying point for all those who, with faith in the future and willingness to storm the heavens, wish to build the cathedral of socialism." In their zeal to purge "degenerate art," the Nazis closed the Bauhaus' Dessau school in 1932 and its Berlin branch the following year.

Though some of his followers may have been firebrands, Gropius himself "was typically a moderating influence," writes Anderson, "preferring to achieve his socially conscious progressivism through design rather than politics; creating housing for workers and safe, clean workplaces filled with light and air (like the Fagus Factory) rather than agitating for them." He also openly declared the apolitical nature of the Bauhaus early on, but historians of the movement can still debate how apolitical it remained, during its lifetime as well as in its lasting effects. A 2009 MoMA exhibition even drew attention to the Bauhaus figures who worked with the Nazis, most notably the painter and architect Franz Ehrlich. But as Anderson puts it, "there are many Bauhaus tales," and together "they show not a simple Bauhaus-versus-the-Nazis dichotomy but rather how, to varying degrees of bravery and caprice, individuals try to survive in the face of tyranny."

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

Stream Dozens of Classic & Contemporary Horror Movies Free Online in October

There is a paradox in the genre we call horror. Its main engine has remained constant for millennia—primal fears of death (and afterlife), and relatedly inescapable phenomena like birth, aging, and sickness. At the same time, horror is always contemporary, reflecting “society’s collective anxieties throughout the decades,” writes Lauren McGrail at the Lights Film School blog.

We can see this in horror movies, dividing them by decade according to their most pressing concerns. 1920s German expressionism recoiled from the growing threat of fascism. The 1930s and 40s created a cult of personality around deathless horror icons.

“In the 1950s,” McGrail writes, “the fear of invasion and atomic war fueled films in which the effects of radiation created larger-than-life monsters.” The 60s saw deviancy everywhere, especially among the supposedly normal.

“In the 1970s, Hollywood looked inward, inventing threats that sprung from within," sometimes quite literally. The ‘80s dealt in panic over satanism, teenage promiscuity, and childhood abuse. The ‘90s gave us charming sociopathic killers, horror parodies, (and bees). “More recently, an uptick in prestigious ‘elevated horror’ films is tackling modern social issues head-on.” Get Out uses disorienting shocks and scares for a heady examination of racism. Midsommer represents the fear of isolationist, homogeneous communities (ethnostate horror, if you will).

Kanopy, the free film streaming service, has made its horror film catalogue available online, allowing us to test this theory by watching classic movies from nearly every decade of cinema history. They’ve included a generous portion of recent highly acclaimed horror films, like Ari Aster’s Hereditary, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. There are classic subgenre-defining films like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Robert Wiene’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Even the oldest of horror movie tropes get updated every few years to illustrate contemporary social conflicts. Frankenstein and his monster, Dracula: such 19th century literary characters came to life on celluloid again and again in the first half of the 20th century, when Hollywood horror was still figuring itself out. These oft-campy characters aren’t well-represented in the Kanopy collection. But there are offbeat psychological thrillers like Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, crime thrillers about real monsters like David Fincher’s Zodiac, and horror comedies like Kevin Smith’s Tusk.

The horror film arrived before the 19th century ended, with Georges Méliès’ 1896 The Haunted Castle, a visual effects feast for 1890s filmgoers’ eyes. Its imagery now calls to mind a seasonal candy aisle—bats, witches, devils, skeletons, and a bubbling cauldron. Fall is a commercial bonanza for fun-sized candy bars and scary movies. Like pharmacies stocking giant bags of candy come summer's end, no major studio should find itself without a horror release—or re-release—this time of year.

Halloween—the harvest-festival-turned-quasi-Christian/occult-ceremony-turned-major-shopping-season—may do as much to keep horror alive in popular culture as Christmas does for films about family dysfunction. Whether they’re digging up the corpses of ancient evils or inventing new metaphors for old-fashioned fears, horror films give Halloween its best costume ideas, and the best reason to gather up friends and family and get scared out of your wits together (ideally).

Should you be hosting such a gathering, or looking to freak yourself out, you’ll find contemporary horror aplenty free to stream at Kanopy. All you’ll need is your local library card. (To check and see whether your library--or university--is among Kanopy's partners, just type it into the search window on this page.) "We stream thoughtful entertainment to your preferred device with no fees and no commercials by partnering with public libraries and universities," says Kanopy's about page, explaining that you need only "log in with your library membership and enjoy our diverse catalog with new titles added every month." A very small price to pay indeed for such high-quality content. Enter Kanopy’s horror collection here.

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

How Magazine Pages Were Created Before Computers: A Veteran of the London Review of Books Demonstrates the Meticulous, Manual Process

The London Review of Books is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but somehow the magazine has always felt older than that: not like the product of a stuffier age, but of a more textually and intellectually lavish one than the late 1970s. Pick up an early issue and you'll see that, as much as it has evolved in the details, the basic project of the LRB remains the same: publishing essays of the highest quality on a variety of subjects literary, political, and otherwise, allowing their writers a length sufficient for proper engagement of both subject and reader, and — perhaps most admirably of all — refusing, in this age of internet media, to burden them with semi-relevant pictures and clickbait headlines.

"Much in those early numbers still looks fresh," writes Susannah Clapp, who worked at the LRB during its first thirteen years. "But the apparatus and surroundings that produced them seem antique. Typewriters. Letters covered in blotches of Tipp-Ex, for which the office name was 'eczema.' No screens; hand-drawn maps for layout; tins of Cow Gum." The cow gum was an essential tool of the trade for Bryony Dalefield, who since 1982 has worked "pretty near continuously" for the LRB as what's called a "paste-up artist." In the video above, she describes how her job — whose title remains "pleasingly still in the vocabulary in the digital age" — once involved "literally cutting up copy and pasting it onto a board so it could be sent to the printers and photographed for printing."

Dalefield doesn't just recount the process but performs it, summoning a presumably long-dormant but well-honed suite of skills to paste up a current page of the LRB just as she did it in the 80s. First she takes the text of an article, fresh from the print shop, and cuts it into columns with scissors. Then she spreads the Cow Gum, with its "strong petrol smell," to fix the columns to the board, fearing all the while that she'll stick them on out of order. Even in order, they usually require the addition or removal of words to fit just right on the page, and at the LRB, a publication to whose meticulous editing process each and every contributor can attest, another round of edits follows the first pasting. We then see why X-ACTO knives are called that, since using one to replace individual words and phrases on paper demands no small degree of exactitude.

With the wrong bits cut out and the right ones pasted in and held down with Magic Tape, the completed page is ready to be sent back to the printer. Pasting-up, which Dalefield frames as a marrying of the work of editors and typographers, will seem astonishingly labor-intensive to most anyone under the age of 50, few of whom even know how magazines and newspapers put together their pages before the advent of desktop publishing. But the very word "desktop," in the computer-interface sense, speaks to the metaphorical persistence of the old ways through what Dalefield calls the "falling out of trades" in the digital age. I myself have done a fair bit of "cutting," "copying," and "pasting" writing this very post — but I suppose I never did say, "Oh, that's very sticky" while doing so.

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

Watch a Newly-Created “Epilogue” For Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

If after watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, you immediately want more 2001: A Space Odyssey, then you are a true fan—especially if you don’t consider the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, to be anything of the kind, Arthur C. Clarke’s imprimatur notwithstanding.

But how will true fans react to the three-and-a-half minute, “epilogue” to Kubrick's film, above, set 203 years after 2001 and following astronaut Frank Poole’s body as it traverses Jupiter’s space and encounters a monolith?

Poole (played by Gary Lockwood), you’ll remember, was killed by the HAL 9000 computer when he became an inconvenience to the AI. In 3001the final book of Clarke’s trilogy, his body is found, preserved, 1000 years later and brought to life. Here, things turn out a little differently. No fan of Kubrick’s film will care much about the departure from canon.

But what about the cinematic language? Is the epilogue’s creator, Steve Begg, a professional visual effects artist, able to convincingly mimic the master’s touch? I’d say he comes as close as anyone could, though the final shot does not feel particularly Kubrickian to me. This labor of love was also a labor of cinematic art, “using practical models and digital versions of the tricks used in the original,” as Begg writes on the project’s Vimeo page.

He offers his imaginative addendum “with respect to Stanley K., Wally Veevers and Doug Trumbull” (the practical visual effects masterminds of the original film). Begg also admits to “ignoring 2010 and 3001 sorry, A.C. Clarke.” You’ll recognize the music as that of Richard Strauss and Gyorgi Ligeti from Kubrick’s original score. The musical cues, silences, abrupt edits and shifts in perspective, rhythm, and tempo, and the ambitious grandeur all ring true.

If you don’t consider it a sacrilege (and if so, fair enough), you might see Begg’s epilogue as a work of art all its own, one that impressively resurrects the chilly epic feel of the 1968 classic using digital tools from fifty years later.

via Kottke

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

Fight Club Came Out 20 Years Ago Today: Watch Five Video Essays on the Film’s Philosophy and Lasting Influence

"Kipling is in the peculiar position of having been a byword for fifty years," writes George Orwell in a 1942 essay on the author of The Jungle Book and "Mandalay." "During five literary generations every enlightened person has despised him, and at the end of that time nine-tenths of those enlightened persons are forgotten and Kipling is in some sense still there." A similar truth holds for Fight Club, David Fincher's film adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novelwhich over the past twenty years to the day since its wide release has outlasted all the serious, intelligent, and indeed enlightened critiques mounted against it. Fight Club has long been a byword, if not since its financially disappointing run in the theaters, then at least since its deluxe DVD release. But what does that byword signify?

For many, it signifies the tastes and attitudes of a certain kind of twentysomething male — and given the unabated prevalence of Fight Club posters in freshman dorm rooms and fraternity houses, hardly without cause. At first glance, its subject matter also looks geared straight toward angry young men, telling as it does of a white-collar corporate drone who breaks out of his office dystopia by getting together with similarly alienated late-20th-century men and beating one another senseless. Before long, these "fight clubs" cohere into a nationwide terrorist organization bent on destroying consumer society. For some viewers, the movie would seem to have it all: violence, of course, but also sex, special effects, and satire aplenty, particularly at the icons of so-called "late capitalism." (Legend has it that Fincher worked a Starbucks cup into nearly every scene.)

Other viewers argue — making what Orwell, writing on Kipling, calls a "shallow and familiar charge" — that Fight Club is "fascist." They see it as glorifying the act of raising a shaven-headed, black-clad, repetitively chanting army under a charismatic leader, in this case a Nietzschean Übermensch by the name of Tyler Durden. Portrayed by Brad Pitt in perhaps the most memorable role of his career, Durden emerges from the mind of Fight Club's nameless narrator (an increasingly pale and wasted Edward Norton) in order to set him on his journey. "He's tried to do everything he was taught to do, tried to fit into the world by becoming the thing he isn't," Fincher has said of that narrator's journey. "He cannot find happiness, so he travels on a path to enlightenment in which he must 'kill' his parents, god, and teacher."

The narrator creates Tyler, his teacher, and "kills his god by doing things they are not supposed to do. To complete the process of maturing, the narrator has to kill his teacher." Writing at philosophical subreddit The Motte, Redditor Dormn111 sums up Tyler's worldview as follows: "Men are suffering today because they are inherently unsuited for the social demands of modernity." Evolved to be "violent, aggressive, and driven by their very real biological urges," men are now "told that these aspects of themselves are barbaric, evil, and worthy of condemnation." There is no place in Francis Fukuyama's post-struggle "end of history" for "the gut-level desires that men feel in their bones. There is no victory, no power, no dominance. Everything the man is supposed to do builds towards some sort of higher status, but the gains are illusory."

Participation in a fight club is "an act of self-destruction to counter the societal obsession with self-improvement," since it "makes men ugly, injured, tired, late for work, and shifts their priorities from the feminine social hierarchy treadmill to a narcotic-like rush of masculine gratification." It gives them "a real sense of stakes in their lives, like the sort that mortal combat would have given them in the past." In the words of the Wisecrack video on the philosophy of Fight Club at the top of the post, which draws on thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer, these men rebel against a system that "favors efficiency over tradition, custom, or individual desires" and produces stultifying lives in which is everything is "designed for a specific purpose, mass-produced and unrelentingly predictable."

The same creators break down the act of interpretation, using the tools of semiotics and pragmatism, in their video on the meaning of Fight Club and why we still can't agree on it. Fans and detractors alike come to especially different conclusions about the film's ending in which the narrator kills his teacher, a scene The Take attempts to explain in its own video essay. And despite being idea-driven, Fight Club also offers one of the more visceral viewing experiences (and for some, an entirely too-visceral viewing experience) in all of cinema, thanks not only to visuals that struggle against containment by the very medium of film, but also to the work of foley artists revealed in Film Radar's video on the movie's sound design — the craftsmen tasked with making the impact of a punch sound, unlike in most Hollywood pictures, as if it actually hurts.

Fight Club continues to make an impact of its own, as examined in the Fandor video just above. It names among the film's lovers Quentin Tarantino and among its haters Paul Thomas Anderson, so whichever side you take on it, you'll share an opinion with one of the most respected filmmakers alive today. But then, Fincher's own auteur status should give pause to anyone who dismisses Fight Club out of hand. As the relevant chapter of Cameron Beyl's Directors Series video essay tells it, making the movie was itself an act of rebellion against "the system," specifically the studio system, and even more specifically 20th Century Fox, the studio that ruined his feature debut Alien 3 with its interference. After Fincher bounced back with hits Seven and The Game, Fox wanted him back to direct an adaptation of Palahniuk's novel. Despite describing himself as a"non-reader," Fincher devoured the book, which shared some of his own pet themes, including nihilism and anti-commercialism.

Fox, seeing the benefit in smoothing out their relationship with a filmmaker who showed signs of becoming a box office-friendly Alfred Hitchcock crossed with Stanley Kubrick, allowed Fincher a near-carte blanche, creatively speaking. "Once Fincher knew how to play his meddlesome executives to his benefit," Beyl says, "he became truly unstoppable." Fincher and his collaborators, most notably screenwriter Jim Uhls, didn't make the kind of radical changes to Palahniuk's novel that film adaptations usually do to their source material. The CineFix video below goes point-by-point through all the differences between book and film, many of which have to to with the character of Tyler Durden: the book presents him as more of a psychotic killer, while the film presents him as a kind of an idealist: down-and-dirty yet high-minded.

But does it also make him too handsome, too cool, too quotable? No examination of Fight Club, no matter how close, conclusively determines the film's own position on Tyler or any other character, let alone its judgment of broad economic, political, and ideological concepts like capitalism and fascism (put on screen, in one of the film's many ironies, by a former commercial director and a Hollywood heartthrob). "I love this idea that you can have fascism without offering any direction or solution," Fincher once said. Fascism insists on going in one particular direction, "but this movie couldn't be further from offering any kind of solution." Fight Club endures because it resists straightforward interpretation, ensuring that disagreements about it will never be settled. And indeed, now that its themes happen to dovetail with so many of today's vogue terms — "patriarchy," "bro culture," "toxic masculinity" — the arguments have grown more heated than ever. 

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

Watching Nature Documentaries Can Produce “Real Happiness,” Finds a Study from the BBC and UC-Berkeley

Hollywood science fiction films imagine future humans in worlds that are no longer green, or never were—from Soylent Green’s dying Earth to that of Interstellar. And from Soylent Green to Ad Astra, humans in the future experience plant and animal life as simulations on a screen, in hyperreal photography and video meant to pacify and comfort. Maybe we live in that world already, to some extent, with apocalyptic films and science fiction expressing a collective mourning for the extinctions brought on by climate change.

“Over the course of my lifetime—I’m 46,” writes Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee, “the planet has lost more than half of its wildlife populations, according to the World Wildlife Fund.” Surely this brute fact explains the immense popularity of high production-value nature documentaries, the antidote to apocalyptic futurism. They have become “blockbuster events,” argues Ed Yong at The Atlantic, with fandoms as fierce as any.

Viewed “from the perspective of the future,” writes Smee, nature documentaries “are great art. Maybe the greatest of our time.” But can viewing film and photographs of nature produce in us the feelings of awe and wonder that poets, artists, and philosophers have described feeling in actual nature for centuries? BBC Earth, producer of several major blockbuster nature documentary series, undertook some psychological research to find out, partnering with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.

The team examined the effects of watching the BBC’s Planet Earth II documentary series relative to other kinds of programs. “It is a deep human intuition that viewing nature and being in nature is good for the mind and body,” they write in the study, titled “Exploring the Emotional State of ‘Real Happiness.’” (Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson coined the term “biophilia” to describe the evolved preference for natural beauty.) Does screentime equal physical time spent outdoors? Not exactly, but nature documentaries can lower stress levels and, yes, produce feelings of "real happiness."

There have been several previous such studies. The authors cite one in which a few minutes of the original series Planet Earth “led people, compared to control participants, to feel 45.6% more awe and 31.4% more gratitude, but no shifts in feelings of negative emotions such as fear and sadness.” The Planet Earth II study may be the largest of its kind, with almost 3,500 participants in the U.S., around a thousand in the U.K., India, and Australia, each, and around 500 in both South Africa and Singapore for a total of approximately 7,500 viewers.

Participants across a range of age groups, from 16 to 55 and over, were shown short clips of a variety of TV programs, including clips from Planet Earth II. They were surveyed on an array of emotional responses before and after each viewing. The study also measured stress levels using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), and used a facial mapping technology called CrowdEmotion to track physical responses. The researchers aggregated the data and controlled for population size in each country.

The findings are fascinating. Across the scale, Planet Earth II clips generated more feelings of happiness and awe, with clips from news and entertainment shows causing more fear. In most of the study’s measures, these good feelings peaked highest at the lower demographic age range of 16-24. Younger viewers showed greater positive emotional responses in facial mapping and survey data, a fact consistent with BBC ratings data showing that 16-34 year-olds make up around 41% of the audience share for Planet Earth II.

“This younger group,” note the authors, “was more likely to experience significant positive shifts in emotion.” They also started out, before viewing the clips, with significantly more environmental anxiety, scoring highly on the stress scale. 71% described themselves as “extremely worried about the state of the world’s environment and what it will mean for my future.” A smaller percentage showed the lowest level of agreement with the statement “I regularly get outside and enjoy spending time with nature.”

For nearly all of the study’s viewers, nature documentaries seemed to produce at least fleeting feelings of “real happiness.” For many, they may also be a way of countering fears of the future, and compensating in advance for a loss of the natural beauty that remains. Unfortunately, the study did not measure the number of participants who viewed Planet Earth II and other “blockbuster” nature documentaries as a call to action against environmental destruction. Maybe that's a subject for another study. Read the full Planet Earth II study results here. And if you're feeling stressed, watch thirty minutes of "Visual Soundscapes," presented by Planet Earth II, above.

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

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