India on Film, 1899-1947: An Archive of 90 Historic Films Now Online

India, the largest democracy in the world, is a rising economic powerhouse, and a major player in the fields of media, entertainment, and telecommunications.

But for many armchair travelers, subcontinental modernity takes a backseat to postcard visions of elephants, teeming rustic streets, and snake charmers.

Fans of Rudyard Kipling and E.M. Forster will thrill to the vintage footage in a just released British Film Institute online archive, India on Film (see a trailer above).




1914’s The Wonderful Fruit of the Tropics, a stencil-coloured French-produced primer on the edible flora of India offers just the right blend of exoticism and reassurance (“the fruit of a mango is excellent as a food”) for a newly arrived British housewife.

A Native Street in India (1906) speaks to the populousness that continues to define a country scheduled to outpace China’s numbers within the next 10 years.

An Eastern Market follows a Punjabi farmer’s trek to town, to buy and sell and take in the big city sights.

The archive’s biggest celeb is surely activist Mahatma Gandhi, whose great nephew, Kanu, enjoyed unlimited filming access on the assurance that he would never ask his uncle to pose.

The Raj makes itself known in 1925's King Emperor's Cup Race, a Handley Page biplane arriving in Calcutta in 1917, and several films documenting Edward Prince of Wales’ 1922 tour

Explore the full BFI’s full India on Film: 1899-1947 playlist here. It features 90 films in total, with maybe more to come.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated Look at Vladimir Nabokov’s Passion for Butterfly Collecting: “Literature & Butterflies Are the Two Sweetest Passions Known to Man”

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man. - Vladimir Nabokov

A 1941 family road trip along Route 66 planted the seeds for Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita.

It also enriched the American Museum of Natural History’s butterfly collection by some 300 North American specimens.

The author, an avid amateur lepidopterist, indulged his hobby along the way, depositing butterflies collected on this and other trips in glassine envelopes labeled with the name of the towns where the creatures encountered his net. Upon his return, he decided to donate most of his haul to the museum’s Lepidoptera collection, where he was as an eager volunteer.




Years later, Suzanne Rab Green, a Tiger Moth specialist and assistant curator at the museum, uncovered Nabokov’s specimens packed in a vintage White Owl cigar box.

Recognizing that this collection had literary value as well as scientific, Green decided to sort it by location rather than species, preserving the carefully hand-lettered envelopes along with the fragile wings and thoraxes.

Using Google Earth, she retraced Nabokov’s 3-week journey for the museum’s Shelf Life series, digitally pinning his finds alongside vintage postcards of Gettysburg, Yosemite National Park, and the Grande Tourist Lodge in Dallas, Texas—all fertile collection sites, at least in 1941.

Butterflies remained a lifelong obsession for the author. He served for six years as curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Lepidoptera wing and developed an evolutionary theory related to his study of the Polyommatus blues Green mentions in the 360° video above. (Be aware, the 360° feature will not work in Safari).

He also wooed his wife, Vera, by making charming and keenly observed drawings of butterflies for her.

An avowed enemy of symbols and allegory, Nabokov prevented butterflies from occupying too significant a role in his fictional oeuvre, though he gushed unabashedly in his memoir, Speak, Memory:

Let me also evoke the hawkmoths, the jets of my boyhood! Colors would die a long death on June evenings. The lilac shrubs in full bloom before which I stood, net in hand, displayed clusters of a fluffy gray in the dark—the ghost of purple. A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow. In many a garden have I stood thus in later years—in Athens, Antibes, Atlanta—but never have I waited with such a keen desire as before those darkening lilacs. And suddenly it would come, the low buzz passing from flower to flower, the vibrational halo around the streamlined body of an olive and pink Hummingbird moth poised in the air above the corolla into which it had dipped its long tongue…. Through the gusty blackness, one’s lantern would illumine the stickily glistening furrows of the bark and two or three large moths upon it imbibing the sweets, their nervous wings half open butterfly fashion, the lower ones exhibiting their incredible crimson silk from beneath the lichen-gray primaries. “Catocala adultera!” I would triumphantly shriek in the direction of the lighted windows of the house as I stumbled home to show my captures to my father.

Despite the author’s stated distaste for overt symbolism, a few butterflies did manage to flutter onto the pages of his best known work, resulting in at least one thesis papers that makes a case for Lolita as butterfly—irresistible, beautiful, easily ensnared….

Did I ever mention that her bare arm bore the 8 of vaccination? That I loved her hopelessly? That she was only fourteen? An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us.

- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955

Track Nabokov's cross-country butterfly collecting trip, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Randy Newman’s Tour of Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, and You’ll Love L.A. Too

"The longer I live here," a Los Angeles-based friend recently said, "the more 'I Love L.A.' sounds like an unironic tribute to this city." That hit single by Randy Newman, a singer-songwriter not known for his simple earnestness, has produced a multiplicity of interpretations since it came out in 1983, the year before Los Angeles presented a sunny, colorful, forward-looking image to the world as the host of the Summer Olympic Games. Listeners still wonder now what they wondered back then: when Newman sings the praises — literally — of the likes of Imperial Highway, a "big nasty redhead," Century Boulevard, the Santa Ana winds, and bums on their knees, does he mean it?

"I Love L.A."'s both smirking and enthusiastic music video offers a view of Newman's 1980s Los Angeles, but fifteen years later, he starred in an episode of the public television series Great Streets that presents a slightly more up-to-date, and much more nuanced, picture of the city. In it, the native Angeleno looks at his birthplace through the lens of the 27-mile Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles' most famous street — or, in his own words, "one of those places the movies would've had to invent, if it didn't already exist."




Historian Leonard Pitt (who appears alongside figures like filmmaker Allison Anders, artist Ed Ruscha, and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek) describes Sunset as the one place along which you can see "every stratum of Los Angeles in the shortest period of time." Or as Newman puts it, "Like a lot of the people who live here, Sunset is humble and hard-working at the beginning," on its inland end. "Go further and it gets a little self-indulgent and outrageous" before it "straightens itself out and grows rich, fat, and respectable." At its coastal end "it gets real twisted, so there's nothing left to do but jump into the Pacific Ocean."

Newman's westward journey, made in an open-topped convertible (albeit not "I Love L.A."'s 1955 Buick) takes him from Union Station (America's last great railway terminal and the origin point of "L.A.'s long, long-anticipated subway system") to Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple, now-gentrified neighborhoods like Silver Lake then only in mid-gentrification, the humble studio where he laid tracks for some of his biggest records, the corner where D.W. Griffith built Intolerance's ancient Babylon set, the storied celebrity hideout of the Chateau Marmont, UCLA ("almost my alma mater"), the Lake Shrine Temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and finally to edge of the continent.

More recently, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne traveled the entirety of Sunset Boulevard again, but on foot and in the opposite direction. The east-to-west route, he writes, "offers a way to explore an intriguing notion: that the key to deciphering contemporary Los Angeles is to focus not on growth and expansion, those building blocks of 20th century Southern California, but instead on all the ways in which the city is doubling back on itself and getting denser." For so much of the city's history, "searching for a metaphor to define Sunset Boulevard, writers" — or musicians or filmmakers or any number of other creators besides — "have described it as a river running west and feeding into the Pacific. But the river flows the other direction now."

Los Angeles has indeed plunged into a thorough transformation since Newman first simultaneously celebrated and satirized it, but something of the distinctively breezy spirit into which he tapped will always remain. "There‘s some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I’m proud of. The open car and the redhead and the Beach Boys, the night just cooling off after a hot day, you got your arm around somebody," he said to the Los Angeles Weekly a few years after taping his Great Streets tour. ”That sounds really good to me. I can‘t think of anything a hell of a lot better than that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

11,700 Free Photos from John Margolies’ Archive of Americana Architecture: Download, Use & Re-Mix

Many connoisseurs of architecture are enthralled by the modernist philosophy of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and I M Pei, who shared a belief that form follows function, or, as Wright had it, that form and function are one.

Others of us delight in gas stations shaped like teapots and restaurants shaped like fish or doughnuts. If there’s a philosophy behind these insistently playful visions, it likely has something to do with joy…and pulling in tourists.

Art historian John Margolies (1940-2016), responding to the beauty of such quirky visions, scrambled to preserve the evidence, transforming into a respected, self-taught photographer in the process. A Guggenheim Foundation grant and the financial support of architect Philip Johnson allowed him to log over four decades worth of trips on America’s blue highways, hoping to capture his quarry before it disappeared for good.

Despite Johnson’s patronage, and his own stints as an Architectural Record editor and Architectural League of New York program director, he seemed to welcome the ruffled minimalist feathers his enthusiasm for mini golf courses, theme motels, and eye-catching roadside attractions occasioned.




On the other hand, he resented when his passions were labelled as “kitsch,” a point that came across in a 1987 interview with the Canadian Globe and Mail:

People generally have thought that what’s important are the large, unique architectural monuments. They think Toronto’s City Hall is important, but not those wonderful gnome’s-castle gas stations in Toronto, a Detroit influence that crept across the border and polluted your wonderfully conservative environment.

As Margolies foresaw, the type of commercial vernacular architecture he’d loved since boyhood–the type that screams, “Look at me! Look at me”–has become very nearly extinct.

And that is a maximal shame.

Your children may not be able to visit an orange juice stand shaped like an orange or the Leaning Tower of Pizza, but thanks to the Library of Congress, these locales can be pitstops on any virtual family vacation you might undertake this July.

The library has selected the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive as its July “free to use and reuse” collection. So linger as long as you’d like and do with these 11,700+ images as you will–make postcards, t-shirts, souvenir placemats.

(Or eschew your computer entirely–go on a real road trip, and continue Margolies’ work!)

Whatever you decide to do with them, the archive’s homepage has tips for how to best search the 11,710 color slides contained therein. Library staffers have supplemented Margolies’ notes on each image with subject and geographical headings.

Begin your journey through the Library of Congress’ John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive here.

We’d love to see your vacation snaps upon your return.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A New Theme Park Based on Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro Set to Open in 2020

Is a frame of reference necessary to appreciate Disney World? Can you enjoy a ride in a spinning teacup if you have no working knowledge of Alice in Wonderland? What sort of magic might the Magic Kingdom hold for those who’ve never heard of Cinderella or Peter Pan?

Now imagine if the theme park’s scope was narrowed to a single film.

You’ve got until 2020 to sneak in a viewing of the Hayao Miyazaki film, My Neighbor Totoro, before Ghibli Park, a 500-acre amusement park on the grounds of Japan's 2005 World’s Fair site, opens.




To date, Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has produced more than a dozen feature-length animated films. That’s a lot of raw material for attractions.

Porco Rosso’s 1930s seaplanes have ride written all over them, and think of the Haunted Mansion-esque thrills that could be wrung from Spirited Away’s bathhouse.

How about a Jungle Cruise-style ramble through the countryside in Howl's Moving Castle?

An underwater adventure with goldfish princess Ponyo?

Prepare for a very long wait if you’re joining the queue for those. It’s being reported that Ghibli Park will focus exclusively on a single film, 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro.

(Care to take a guess what its Mouse Ears will look like?)

The film’s theme of respect for the natural world is good news for the area’s existing flora. The governor of Japan's Aichi Prefecture, where Ghibli Park is to be situated, has announced that it will be laid out in such a way as to preserve the trees.

Presumably the film’s iconic cat bus and fast growing camphor tree, above, will be powered by the greenest of energies.

Preview the sort of wonders in store by touring the lifesize house of My Neighbor Totoro's human characters, Satsuki and Mei, below.

via NPR

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City in Paul David Young’s Faust 3, opening later this week. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

New Film Project Features Citizens of Alabama Reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” a Poetic Embodiment of Democratic Ideals

In times of national anxiety, many of us take comfort in the fact that the U.S. has endured political crises even more severe than those at hand. History can be a teacher and a guide, and so too can poetry, as Walt Whitman reminds us again and again. Whitman witnessed some of the greatest upheavals and revolutionary changes the country has ever experienced: the Civil War and its aftermath, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the failure of Reconstruction, the massive industrialization of the country at the end of the 19th century....

Perhaps this is why we return to Whitman when we make what critics call a “poetic turn." His expansive, multivalent verse speaks for us when beauty, shock, or sadness exceed the limits of everyday language. Whitman contained the nation’s warring voices, and somehow reconciled them without diluting their uniqueness. This was, indeed, his literary mission, to “create a unified whole out of disparate parts,” argues Karen Swallow Prior at The Atlantic. “For Whitman, poetry wasn’t just a vehicle for expressing political lament; it was also a political force in itself.” Poetry’s importance as a binding agent in the fractious, fragile coalition of states, meant that for Whitman, the country’s “Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall.”

Whitman wrote as a gay man who, by the time he published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, had gone from being an “ardent Free-Soiler” to fully supporting abolition. His poetry proclaimed a “radically egalitarian vision,” writes Martin Klammer, “of an ideal, multiracial republic.” A country that was, itself, a poem. “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem,” wrote Whitman in his preface. The nation’s contradictions inhabit us just as we inhabit them. The only way to resolve our differences, he insisted, is to embody them fully, with openness toward other people and the natural world. Understanding Whitman’s mission makes filmmaker Jennifer Crandall’s project Whitman, Alabama all the more poignant.

For two years, Crandall “crisscrossed this deep Southern state, inviting people to look into a camera and share part of themselves through the words of Walt Whitman.” To the question “Who is American?,” Crandall---just as Whitman before her---answers with a multitude of voices, weaving in and out of a collaborative reading of the epic “Song of Myself,” beginning with 97-year-old Virginia Mae Schmitt of Birmingham, at the top, who reads Whitman’s lines, “I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin / Hoping to cease not till death.” No one watching the video, Crandall remarks, should ask, “Why isn’t’ a thirty-seven year old man reading this?” To do so is to ignore Whitman’s design for the universal in the particular.

When Whitman penned the first lines of “Song of Myself,” the country had not yet “Unlimber’d” the cannons “to begin the red business,” as he would later write, but the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act had clearly lain the foundation for civil war. The poet's many revisions, additions, and subsequent editions of Leaves of Grass after his first small run in 1855 continued until his death in 1892. He was obsessed with the hugeness and dynamism of the country and its people, in their darkest, bloodiest moments and at their most flourishing. His vision lets everyone in, without qualification, constantly rewriting itself to meet new faces in the ever-changing nation.

As Mariam Jalloh, a 14-year old Muslim girl from Guinea, recites in her short portion of the reading further up, “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Jollah quite literally makes Whitman’s language her own, translating into her native Fulani the line, “If they are not just as close as they are distant, they are nothing.” Jalloh “may seem like a surprising conduit for the writing of Whitman, a long-dead queer socialist poet from Brooklyn,” writes Christian Kerr at Hyperallergic, “but such incongruity is the active agent in Whitman, Alabama’s therapeutic salve.” It is also, Whitman suggested, the matrix of American democracy.

See more readings from the project above from Laura and Brandon Reeder of Cullman, the Sullivan family of Mobile, and by Demetrius Leslie and Frederick George, and Patricia Marshall and Tammy Cooper, inmates at mens’ and womens’ prisons in Montgomery. Whitman’s voice winds through these bodies and voices, settling in, finding a home, then, restless, moving on, inviting us all to join in the chorus, yet also—in its contrarian way—telling us to find our own paths. “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand....,” wrote Whitman, “nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, / You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.”

Find many more readings at the Whitman, Alabama website. And stay tuned for new readings as they come online.

Also find works by Walt Whitman on our lists of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.

via Hyperallergic

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

Banksy Opens a Hotel with the Worst View in the World: Visit the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Quirky, artist-customized guest rooms equipped with wifi, fridge, and safes...

Leather couches and “an air of undeserved authority” in the communal areas…

VIPs who spring for the Presidential suite will enjoy access to a tiki bar, library, and Dead Sea minerals for use in a plunge bath spacious enough for four…

Sounds like the sort of hotel catering to well-heeled hipsters in San Francisco, Brooklyn, or Shoreditch…

…but Bethlehem?

The artist Banksy’s latest massive-scale project may never find its way onto Palestine’s official tourism site, but it’s no joke. The fully functioning hotel is set to open for online bookings on March 11.

Visitors should be prepared to put a $1000 deposit on their credit cards at check in, a security measure aimed at those who might be tempted to walk off with artwork by Sami Musa, Dominique Petrin, or the hotel’s famous founder.

Guests are also cautioned to contain their excitement about their upcoming stay when passing through customs at Tel Aviv airport, where travelers who blab about their intentions to visit the West Bank are often subjected to extra scrutiny. One wonders how many Tel Aviv TSA officers would get the appeal of staying in a hotel that boasts of its terrible views of the wall dividing Palestine from Israel.

The hotel’s proximity to the wall provides both its name and its raison-d’etre. Banksy is marking the centenary of British control of Palestine by enticing visitors to educate themselves, using his customary humor and lack of polemic as the launching pad.

To that end, a museum and gallery on the premises will be open to the public, offering “a warm welcome to people from all sides of the conflict and across the world.” (The hotel’s FAQ counters the notion that the project is an anti-Semitic statement, issuing a zero-tolerance policy where fanaticism is concerned.)

One of the hotel's most original amenities is its in-house graffiti supplies store, staffed by experts ready to dispense “local advice and guidance” to visitors eager to contribute to the Wall’s proliferating street art. (For inspiration, refer to Banky’s work from a 2015 trip to Gaza, below.)

Armchair travelers can check out Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel here.

The online reservations desk will open for business on March 11, the same day the gallery and museum open to the public.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker.  Her play Zamboni Godot is now playing in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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