Orson Welles Narrates Animations of Plato’s Cave and Kafka’s “Before the Law,” Two Parables of the Human Condition

You're held captive in an enclosed space, only able faintly to perceive the outside world. Or you're kept outside, unable to cross the threshold of a space you feel a desperate need to enter. If both of these scenarios sound like dreams, they must do so because they tap into the anxieties and suspicions in the depths of our shared subconscious. As such, they've also proven reliable material for storytellers since at least the fourth century B.C., when Plato came up with his allegory of the cave. You know that story nearly as surely as you know the ancient Greek philosopher's name: a group of human beings live, and have always lived, deep in a cave. Chained up to face a wall, they have only ever seen the images of shadow puppets thrown by firelight onto the wall before them.

To these isolated beings, "the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images." So Orson Welles tells it in this 1973 short film by animator Dick Oden. In his timelessly resonant voice that complements the production's hauntingly retro aesthetic, Wells then speaks of what would happen if a cave-dweller were to be unshackled.




"He would be much too dazzled to see distinctly those things whose shadows he had seen before," but as he approaches reality, "he has a clearer vision." Still, "will he not be perplexed? Will he not think that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?" And if brought out of the cave to experience reality in full, would he not pity his old cavemates? "Would he not say, with Homer, better to be the poor servant of a poor master and to endure anything rather than think as they do and live after their manner?"

Plato's cave wasn't the first parable of the human condition Welles narrated. Just over a decade earlier, he engaged pinscreen animator Alexandre Alexeieff (he of Night on Bald Mountain and and "The Nose," previously featured here on Open Culture) to illustrate his reading of Franz Kafka's story "Before the Law." The law, in Kafka's telling, is a building, and before that building stands a guard. "A man comes from the country, begging admittance to the law," says Welles. "But the guard cannot admit him. May he hope to enter at a later time? That is possible, said the guard." Yet somehow that time never comes, and he spends the rest of his life awaiting admission to the law. "Nobody else but you could ever have obtained admittance," the guard admits to the man, not long before the man expires of old age. "This door was intended only for you! And now, I'm going to close it."

"Before the Law" describes a grimly absurd situation, as does Welles' The Trial, the film to which it serves as an introduction. Adapted from another work of Kafka's, specifically his best-known novel, it also concerns itself with the legal side of human affairs, at least on the surface. But when it becomes clear that the crime with which its bureaucrat protagonist Josef K. has been charged will never be specified, the story plunges into an altogether more troubling realm. We've all, at one time or another, felt to some degree like Joseph K., persecuted by an ultimately incomprehensible system, legal, social, or otherwise. And can we help but feel, especially in our highly mediated 21st century, like Plato's immobilized human, raised in darkness and made to build a worldview on illusions? As for how to escape the cave — or indeed to enter the law — it falls to each of us individually to figure out.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The World According to Le Corbusier: An Animated Introduction to the Most Modern of All Architects

Among modern architects, was any architect ever so modernity-minded as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known a Le Corbusier? Like many cultural figures well-known outside their field — Franz Kafka, George Orwell, David Lynch — his name has long since been adjectivized, though nowadays the term "Corbusian" is seldom used as a compliment. Many a self-described opponent of modern architecture, whatever they consider modern architecture to be, points to Le Corbusier as the originator of all the inhumanity of buildings designed over the past 90 years, and especially the second half of the 20th century: their drab colors (or lack thereof), their depressing austerity, their forbidding scale, their dark corridors, their leaky roofs. But how much, really, is he to blame?

"Le Corbusier recommended that the houses of the future be ascetic and clean, disciplined and frugal," says The Book of Life, the companion site to Alain de Botton's School of Life. Remembered as an architect but both an artist and engineer at heart, he thought that "true, great architecture – meaning, architecture motivated by the quest for efficiency – was more likely to be found in a 40,000-kilowatt electricity turbine or a low-pressure ventilating fan" than in the capitals of old Europe. For inspiration he looked to modern machines, especially those that had begun appearing in the sky in his youth: "he observed that the requirements of flight of necessity rid airplanes of all superfluous decoration," says de Botton in the animated School of Life primer above, "and so unwittingly transformed them into successful pieces of architecture."




Hence Le Corbusier's infamous pronouncement that "a house is a machine for living in," which first appeared in his 1923 manifesto Vers une architecture (Towards an Architecture). Le Corbusier was a writer — and a painter, and a furniture designer, and an urban planner — as much as he was an architect. "The problem is that both his detractors and his acolytes want to believe that his written manifestos, urbanistic visions, utopian ideologies and theories are compatible with his buildings," writes Jonathan Meades, sometime architectural critic and full-time resident of Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation apartment block in Marseilles. But "Le Corbusier, writer, has little in common with Le Corbusier, maker of the century’s most profoundly sensuous, most moving architecture": one was a "self-advertising propagandist," the other "an artist-craftsman of peerless originality."

Le Corbusier's headline-making urban-renewal proposals included, Meades writes, "the destruction of the Right Bank in Paris and its replacement with ranks of cruciform skyscrapers"; he also proposed demolishing Manhattan, as de Botton says, "to make way for a fresh and more ‘Cartesian’ attempt at urban design." Le Corbusier's utopian dreams of colossal skyscrapers placed in the middle of vast green parkland and surrounded by elevated freeways led, in this telling, to "the dystopian housing estates that now ring historic Paris, the wastelands from which tourists avert their eyes in confused horror and disbelief on their way into the city." But if cities can still use Le Corbusier's planning ideas as a negative example, they have more to learn from the positive example of his aesthetic sensibility, which remains exhilarating today, even amid a kind of modernity the man himself could never have imagined.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Studio Ghibli Producer Toshio Suzuki Teaches You How to Draw Totoro in Two Minutes

This is something you can do at home. Everyone, please draw pictures —Toshio Suzuki

There’s no shortage of online tutorials for fans who want to draw Totoro, the  enigmatic title character of Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated feature, My Neighbor Totoro:

There’s a two-minute, non-narrated, God's-Eye-view with shading...

A detailed geometry-based step-by-step

A ten-minute version for kids that utilizes a drinking glass and a bottle cap to get the proportions right prior to penciling, inking, and coloring...




But none has more heart than Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki’s simple demonstration, above.

The paper is oriented toward the artist, rather than the viewer.

His only instruction is that the eyes should be spaced very far apart.

His brush pen lends itself to a freer line than the tightly controlled outlines of Studio Ghibli’s carefully rendered 2-D character designs.

This is Totoro as Zen practice, offered as a gift to cooped-up Japanese children, whose schools, like so many worldwide, were abruptly shuttered in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Lynch Releases an Animated Film Online: Watch Fire (Pozar)

David Lynch began his artistic career as a painter. Before long his paintings became animations, of a kind, as exemplified by 1967's Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) and 1968's The Alphabet. By 1977, when the years-in-the-making Eraserhead finally saw the light of day, Lynch's transformation into a live-action filmmaker must have seemed complete. But his imagination has never accepted confinement to one medium: even while working on ever higher-profile projects — The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks — he continued to paint, to draw, to take photographs. Lynch's completely static comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World was a compelling fixture in the LA Reader during the 1980s, but apart from the online series Dumbland and the Interpol collaboration I Touch a Red Button Man, little Lynchian in the way of animation has appeared over the past few decades.

This past Monday, however, Lynch announced the release of one such rarity free to watch on Youtube. Like I Touch a Red Button Man, Fire (Pozar) is a joint effort between filmmaker and musician, in this case composer Marek Zebrowski. "The whole point of our experiment was that I would say nothing about my intentions and Marek would interpret the visuals in his own way,” said Lynch in a USC School of Music interview.




As collaborators, Lynch and Zebrowski go back to Inland Empire, the 2006 feature Lynch shot partially in Poland. This necessitated a translator, and the Polish-American Zebrowski stepped up to the job. In 2007 the two continued down that cultural avenue, recording an album called Polish Night MusicFire (Pozar)'s bilingual title also honors Zebrowski's ancestral homeland, though the film itself may lack any direct reference to Poland — or to any real place, for that matter.

Lynch is credited with having "written, drawn, and directed" the short (its animator, Noriko Miyakawa, was an editor on 2017's Twin Peaks: The Return), and on the visual level it plays out like a journey through what will feel, to many of us, like the familiar realm of the Lynchian imagination. The titular fire — or rather, pozar — starts early on. Then we're transported to a silhouette landscape that brings to mind David Foster Wallace's description of one of Lynch's painting's, "the sort of diagnostic House-Tree-Person drawing that gets a patient institutionalized in a hurry." But there are no people here, or at least no whole people: the first even faintly humanoid figure to emerge brings to mind the menacing baby in Eraserhead, and by the end the scene will have been overtaken by creatures neither properly animal nor man. Zebrowski's score gets thoroughly enough into this stark but frenetic spirit to make Lynch fans believe that further collaborations must surely be on the way.

This short film will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Virtual Tour Inside the Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Museum

Let us pray that organization expert Marie Kondo never comes within spitting distance of A Boy’s Room, part of the Studio Ghibli museum’s Where a Film is Born installation.

It’s not likely that every single item in the massive (and no doubt well dusted) collection of books, postcards, hand tools, pictures, figurines, and other assorted tchotchkes pictured above sparks joy, but the suggestion is that any one of them might prove the gateway to a fantastical tale, such as those spun by the museum’s executive director, master animator Hayao Miyazaki:

The room seems to belong to someone who was sketching at the desk just a few minutes ago. The room is filled with books and toys. The walls are all covered with illustrations and sketches. Hanging from the ceiling are a model of an airplane and a model of a Pteranodon. It's a place where the owner of the room has stored his favorite things. This room provides lots of inspiration for what will go on to the blank piece of paper on the desk to become the origin of an actual film.

The Museum, which announced it would delay its reopening out of ongoing concerns related to social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, recently shared some brief video tours of the Miyazaki-designed space, perhaps all the more magical for being empty.




One lucky viewer, who had trekked to the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka for an in-person visit, recalled the experience of actually being in A Boy’s Room:

Open up the drawers in this room, take the books off shelves to look at them, touch things, look through trunks—you might find little secrets to be discovered. One time I took an art book from the shelf and one of the employees came over to me. I was expecting to get reprimanded, but instead she kindly guided me over to a couch so that I could read the book. Miyazaki took care to design the space to be friendly to the exploratory nature of children, making sure that they could play unobstructed. It's one of the reasons why you aren't allowed to take photos inside—he didn't want parents interrupting their experience to pose for photos they could care less about.

That philosophy is enacted throughout the museum. Kids can climb all over a life-size plush recreation of My Neighbor Totoro’s cat bus, but would-be Instagrammers are S.O.L.

A peek at the Space of Wonder room reveals Thumbelina-sized characters from My Neighbor TotoroNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Kiki's Delivery Service frolicking in a fresco of fruit, flowers, and vines.

The architectural elements are a particular treat, and suggest that there’s serious bank to be made, should Miyazaki ever consider extending the brand into a theme park-style hotel. (Something tells us he won’t.)

Once having seen a photo essay featuring some of the fancy refreshments others have enjoyed there, the tour of the empty Straw Hat Café does underwhelm a bit. Those cute little plates are just calling out for a slice of strawberry shortcake…

We’re unsure if museum staffers will be releasing more videos during their downtime, though we’re hopeful, especially since several in-person visitors have noted that the museum’s toilets are pretty noteworthy.

That said we’d happily settle for some of the short films that screen in the museum’s Saturn Theater.

You can follow the Museum’s YouTube channel just in case.

Meanwhile, here is Miyazaki’s manifesto detailing the kind of museum he wanted to make, right down to the café and the gift shop:

A museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul
A museum where much can be discovered
A museum based on a clear and consistent philosophy
A museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy, those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel
A museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!

To make such a museum, the building must be...
Put together as if it were a film
Not arrogant, magnificent, flamboyant, or suffocating
Quality space where people can feel at home, especially when it's not crowded
A building that has a warm feel and touch
A building where the breeze and sunlight can freely flow through

The museum must be run in such a way that...
Small children are treated as if they were grown-ups
Visitors with disabilities are accommodated as much as possible
The staff can be confident and proud of their work
Visitors are not controlled with predetermined courses and fixed directions
It is suffused with ideas and new challenges so that the exhibits do not get dusty or old, and that investments are made to realize that goal

The displays will be...
Not only for the benefit of people who are already fans of Studio Ghibli
Not a procession of artwork from past Ghibli films as if it were "a museum of the past"
A place where visitors can enjoy by just looking, can understand the artists' spirits, and can gain new insights into animation

Original works and pictures will be made to be exhibited at the museum
A project room and an exhibit room will be made, showing movement and life
(Original short films will be produced to be released in the museum!)
Ghibli's past films will be probed for understanding at a deeper level

The café will be...
An important place for relaxation and enjoyment
A place that doesn't underestimate the difficulties of running a museum café
A good café with a style all its own where running a café is taken seriously and done right

The museum shop will be...
Well-prepared and well-presented for the sake of the visitors and running the museum
Not a bargain shop that attaches importance only to the amount of sales
A shop that continues to strive to be a better shop
Where original items made only for the museum are found

The museum's relation to the park is...
Not just about caring for the plants and surrounding greenery but also planning for how things can improve ten years into the future
Seeking a way of being and running the museum so that the surrounding park will become even lusher and better, which will in turn make the museum better as well!

This is what I expect the museum to be, and therefore I will find a way to do it.

This is the kind of museum I don't want to make!
A pretentious museum
An arrogant museum
A museum that treats its contents as if they were more important than people
A museum that displays uninteresting works as if they were significant

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Releases Free Backgrounds for Virtual Meetings: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away & More

To a degree that surpasses any other studio in animation history, Studio Ghibli has created a reality of its own. All of its fans around the world appreciate the artistry of its films, directed by such luminaries of Japanese animation as Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and many appreciate it so fervently that they'd prefer to occupy any of Ghibli's worlds to this one. The studio has responded to their desires by not just continuing to produce motion pictures — the "retired" Miyazaki is now at work on his latest, How Do You Live? — but by authorizing a wide and ever-changing range of merchandise, and even building a museum outside Tokyo and a theme park outside Nagoya.

Alas, like most museums, Ghibli's is temporarily closed. Neither the Ghibli theme park nor How Do You Live? will open any time soon, and even if they could open today, it would hardly be an opportune time to do so. With so few of us anywhere able to go to movie theaters, let alone theme parks (though we can now, at long last, stream Ghibli movies online), we have to enter the realm of Ghibli in a digital fashion.




To make this a bit more possible, the studio has officially released a set of eight backgrounds, suitable for use as backdrops on Zoom or other video-conferencing applications. You'll find them all at Ghibli's web site: in Japanese only, true to form, but even non-Japanese speakers can easily click and save the images. (For instructions on how to set one as your background, see our previous post on the subject.)

Drawn from the sweep of Studio Ghibli's history, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind to Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, Arrietty, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the backdrops show the wide aesthetic range of its work. Some of them depict memorable settings from these films (any Ghibli fan will know exactly where you "are" the moment you connect) but others capture a character, an icon, or an atmosphere.

Whichever Ghibli background you pick, it will remind your interlocutors of the formidable imagination exercised by each and every one of the studio's films, whether its characters soar across the sky, live beneath the sea, or plunge into an unseen underworld — do anything, essentially, but stay at home making calls.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch the Oscar-Winning Animated Short “Hair Love”

African-American hair has been making headlines for the last few years, usually because another black student has been deemed in violation of the dress code for sporting braids, dreads, or a natural afro.

This year’s Oscar-winning animated short, "Hair Love," about an African-American dad’s attempt to stay on top of his 5-year-old daughter’s abundant locks, is the sweet alternative to these upsetting news stories.




Little Zuri’s dad, Stephen, doesn’t have to battle clueless or unfair administrators on his daughter’s behalf, but he does need to gain the upper hand on an adversary with whose ways he’s unfamiliar. (His own hair is styled in tidy dreadlocks.)

It’s implied that tending to Zuri’s hair is not exactly something he volunteered for, and indeed we learn that the task was previously the domain of her mother

In desperation, Stephen seeks advice in the form of YouTube videos, finding a plethora, as did filmmaker and former NFL wide receiver Matthew A Cherry, who referenced some of his actual inspirations in the film, like the viral video of DJ Hines’ attempt to contain daughter Chloe’s thick hair with a ponytail holder, below.

Cherry raised the necessary funding on Kickstarter, and completed the film in about six weeks after posting a call for collaborators on Twitter:

Any 3D artists follow me? I got an Oscar worthy short film idea to go with this image. Get at me 

As Cherry points out in the trailer for "Hair Love"’s accompanying book, Zuri’s robust, kinky curls—almost a third character according to illustrator Vashti Harrison—are a marvelous excuse to bust stereotypes by placing an involved, African-American dad front and center.

The tale has also won a lot of fans in the cancer survivor community for its deft portrayal of the effects of Zuri’s mom’s illness and recovery on the family.

Read the San Francisco Film Festival’s teaching guide to "Hair Love" here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this month for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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