Watch the Celebrated Ballerina Anna Pavlova Perform “The Dying Swan” (1925)

Prepare my swan costume.

--- alleged last words of ballerina Anna Pavlova, as reported by her husband

The Internet suggests that swans are fairly tough specimens, quick to hiss and flap at any YouTuber unwise enough to violate their personal space with a video camera.

The celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) paints a different picture in her signature piece, The Dying Swan.

Choreographer Mikhail Fokine created the four minute solo in 1905 at Pavlova’s request, drawing on her admiration for some resident swans in a Leningrad public park and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Dying Swan.”

It was perhaps a happy accident that he had just learned how to play Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux on his mandolin. Performed on cello, as originally intended, it supplies a mood of gorgeous melancholy with which to observe the titular character's en pointe death throes.

Fokine’s description of the work’s creation in Dance Magazine’s August 1931 issue speaks to the rigor of these practitioners and their art form:

It was almost an improvisation. I danced in front of her [Pavlova], she directly behind me. Then she danced and I walked alongside her, curving her arms and correcting details of poses. Prior to this composition, I was accused of barefooted tendencies and of rejecting toe dancing in general. The Dying Swan was my answer to such criticism...The dance is technically more difficult than it may appear. The dancer moves constantly using  different bourrees. The feet must be beautiful, expressing a trembling. All pauses in sus-sous must show legs brought to one point. The arms and the back work independently of the feet which continue to move regularly.

The archival footage from 1925, above, conveys what Fokine's words cannot---the deep emotion for which this particular interpreter was known. It’s a visceral experience to watch this broken animal fighting for its survival, quivering and heaving, before crumpling at last. (A pity that this version cuts off so abruptly... that final note should linger.)

Pavlova performed The Dying Swan around 4000 times over the course of her career, never sickening of it, or of the beasts who inspired it. Swans populated a small pond at her English country home. You can witness her fondness for them, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Spellbinding Supercut of the First & Final Frames of 70 Iconic Films, Played Side by Side

Filmmaker Jacob T. Swinney’s First and Final Frames, Part II, above, is a rare sequel that upholds the quality of the original.

As he did in its predecessor, Swinney screens the opening and closing shots of dozens of recent and iconic films side by side, providing viewers with a crash course in the editorial eye.

What is being communicated when the closing shot replicates---or inverts---the opening shot?

Will the opening shot become freighted with portent on a second viewing, after one has seen how the film will end?

(Shakespeare would say yes.)

Swinney is deeply conversant in the nonverbal language of film, as evidenced by his numerous compilations and video essays for Slate on such topics as the Kubrick Stare and the facial expressions of emotionally revelatory moments.

Most of the films he chooses for simultaneous cradle-and-grave-shot replay qualify as art, or serious attempts thereat. You’d never know from the formalism of its opening and closing shots that Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train at the 1:00 mark is a comedy.

To be fair, Clint Mansell’s universally applied score could cloak even Animal House in a veil of wistful, cinematic yearning.

Given the comic sensibility Swinney’s brought to such supercuts as a Concise Video History of Teens Climbing Through Each Others’ Windows  and a Tiny History of Shrinking Humans in Movies, I’m hoping there will be a third installment wherein he considers the first and final moments of comedies.

Any you might recommend for inclusion? (Hold the Pink Flamingos, por favor…)

Films featured in First and Final Frames, Part II in order of appearance:




21 Grams

The Prestige

All is Lost

Take Shelter

The Impossible

United 93

Vanilla Sky

Ex Machina

Inside Llewyn Davis

Dead Man

Mystery Train

Melvin and Howard


Full Metal Jacket

A Clockwork Orange

Eyes Wide Shut


The Elephant Man

The Fall

The Thin Red Line

The New World

Road to Perdition

Snow Falling on Cedars

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Imitation Game


Hard Eight

Inherent Vice

World War Z


The Double

The Machinist

Born on the Fourth of July

Brideshead Revisited

Maps to the Stars

The Skeleton Twins


A Scanner Darkly

10 Years


Lost Highway

Boxcar Bertha


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai



Raise the Red Lantern



Bringing Out the Dead

A Most Wanted Man

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Social Network

Jack Goes Boating


Half Nelson

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Django Unchained

True Grit




Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Mad Max: Fury Road

World's Greatest Dad

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, is now playing at The Brick Theater in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday

M.C. Escher’s Perpetual Motion Waterfall Brought to Life: Real or Sleight of Hand?

Since M.C. Escher bent minds in the 20th century with his Möbius strips, metamorphoses, and impossible objects, other artists have been trying to bring his creations to life. And the advent of computer illustration, then animation, has made it all the more possible.

In the real, “meatspace” world of organic things, it’s a little bit harder. In January 2011, a YouTuber by the name of "mcwolles" posted the video above. In it, a man pours water in a scale model of Escher’s 1961 Waterfall. The contraption, using blue water, actually seems to work. The water runs uphill through several sharp angles and finishes by tumbling off the top into the paddlewheel below, where its begins its journey again. "Mcwolles" ends the video staring into the camera as he tries to find the off switch…but also dares viewers to figure out how he did it.

Escher, Waterfall 1961

Creative Commons image via Wikipedia

The Internet had a viral freakout—check out the 9.3 million views—and promptly set about trying to offer solutions. "Look how the shadows fall!" several people pointed out. The locked-down camera was another clue.

In May of 2011, "mcwolles" offered a 360 tour of the creation in his garage that offered some suggestions, and that was all that was needed for user "LookingMercury3D" to offer their explanation of how the trick was done. (Hint: editing).

Since then, "mcwolles" has only posted two more videos: one of him losing weight and one of a dog having its way with a stuffed animal. Maybe he's busy working on his next piece of Escher-inspired art.


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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Watch La Linea, the Popular 1970s Italian Animations Drawn with a Single Line

Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations.

Thus spake designer Paul Rand, a man who knew something about making an impression, having created iconic logos for such immediately recognizable brands as ABC, IBM, and UPS.

An example of Rand's observation, La Linea, aka Mr. Line, a beloved and deceptively simple cartoon character drawn with a single unbroken line, began as a shill for an Italian cookware company. No matter what he manages to get up to in two or three minutes, it’s determined that he’ll eventually butt up against the limitations of his lineal reality.

His chattering, apoplectic response proved such a hit with viewers, that a few episodes in, the cookware connection was severed. Mr. Line went on to become a global star in his own right, appearing in 90 short animations throughout his 15-year history, starting in 1971. Find many of the episodes on Youtube here.

The formula does sound rather simple. Animator Osvaldo Cavandoli starts each episode by drawing a horizontal line in white grease pencil. The line takes on human form. Mr. Line’s a zesty guy, the sort who throws himself into whatever it is he’s doing, whether ogling girls at the beach (top), playing classical piano (above) or ice skating (below).

Whenever he bumps up against an obstacle---an uncrossable gap in his baseline, an inadvertently exploded penis (NSFW, below)---he calls upon the godlike hand of the animator to make things right.

(Bawdy humor is a staple of La Linea, though the visual format keeps things fairly chaste. Innuendo aside, it’s about as graphic as a big rig's silhouetted mudflap girl.)

Voiceover artist Carlo Bonomi contributes a large part of the charm. Mr. Line may speak with an Italian accent, but his vocal track is 90% improvised gibberish, with a smattering of Lombard dialect. Watch him channel the character in the recording booth, below.

I love hearing him take the even-keeled Cavandoli to task. I don’t speak Italian, but I had the sensation I understood where both players are coming from in the scene below.

Watch the complete collection here.

via E.D.W. Lynch on Laughing Squid

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

20-Year-Old Louis CK Performs Stand Up (1987)

Ever been taken aback by a vintage photo of a Facebook friend? "Look how young he was! An infant!" If you're a member of comedian Louis CK’s generation, it's likely that at some point, the person in the photo was you.

Louis model 1987, above, is close to unrecognizable, with a full head of red hair and a trim belly. His joke-based routine isn't howlingly funny, but neither is it shameful. He's confident, at his ease with the audience, but the life experience that would inform his later work was not yet a thing.

A few years further along, above, one can see that comic persona coming into focus. The sad sack physicality that gives it weight came later. Suffice to say, that hairbrush joke is no longer a present tense proposition.

What struck me were the familiar back walls of those little comedy club stages. Louis has been working those crummy little stages for such a long time. No wonder he's on familiar terms with the door guys at the Comedy Cellar, the club he's most often shown frequenting in his character-driven, self-produced, largely autobiographical TV show.

As he generously advised an 18-year-old aspirant on the Google newsgroup “alt.comedy.standup":

Go on stage as often as possible.  Any stage anywhere.  Don't listen to anyone about anything.  Just keep getting up there and try to be funny, honest and original.

Know that it's not going to be easy.  Know that it's going to take a long time to be good or great. Don't focus on the career climbing.  Focus on the getting funnier.  The second you are bitching about what another comic is getting you are going in the completely wrong direction.  No one is getting your gig or your money.

Keep in mind that you are in for a looooong haul of ups and downs and nothing and something.  It takes at least 15 years, usually more, to make a great comic.  Most flame out before they get there.

And yes, be polite and courteous to every single person you deal with. Not because that will make you a better comedian, but because you're supposed to do that.

- Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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How British Codebreakers Built the First Electronic Computer

It was only a matter of time before the folks at Google Cultural Institute wandered down the road in Mountain View to visit the Computer History Museum. Together they’ve taken on a slim little subject, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing

Unlike the best Cultural Institute exhibits (the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dazzling array of other art and history collections come to mind) this one doesn’t do enough to leverage video to bring the material to life. It’s a breezy little tour from the humble (but effective) abacus to punched cards, magnetic discs and the dawn of miniaturization and networking.

But nothing about how the Internet developed, leading to the Web and, now, the Internet of Everything?

I’ll admit that I learned a few things. I hadn’t heard of the design-forward Cray 1 supercomputer with its round tower (to minimize wire lengths) and bench to discretely hide power supplies. The Xerox Alto came with consumer friendly features including a mouse, email and the capacity to print exactly what was on the screen. The unfortunate acronym for this asset wasWYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).

I had also never heard about the Utah teapot, a picture of a gleaming white ceramic urn used for 20 years as the benchmark for realistic light, shade and color in computer-generated images.


More interesting, and up to the Cultural Institute’s standards, is the exhibit built in partnership with the National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, England. It’s a fascinating piece of history, focusing on Hitler’s efforts to encrypt messages during the war and stump the Allied forces. He commissioned construction of a super-sophisticated machine (not Enigma, if you’re thinking of that). The machine was called Lorenz and it took encryption to an entirely new level.


British linguists and others labored to manually decipher the messages. Attempts to speed the process led to development of Colossus, the world’s first electronic comuter. The project was kept secret by the British government until 1975.

Kate Rix writes about education and digital media. Follow her on Twitter.

The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

Michael Jackson took one giant leap for pop history on March 25, 1983 when he gave an adoring public their first taste of his signature moonwalk in honor of Motown Records' 25th birthday. (See below)

Novelty-wise, it wasn't quite a Neil Armstrong moment. Like many artists, Jackson had many precedents from which he could and did draw. He can be credited with bringing a certain attitude to the proceedings. The expert practitioners in the video above are more ebullient, tapping, sliding and proto-moonwalking themselves into a state of rapture that feeds off the audience's pleasure.

The line-up includes artists lucky enough to have left lasting footprints---Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, as well as those we'd do well to rediscover: Rubberneck Holmes, Earl "Snakehips" Tucker, Buck and Bubbles....

Lacking the Internet, however, it does seem unlikely that Jackson would've spent much time poring over the footwork of these masters. (He may have taken a sartorial cue from their socks.)

Instead, he invested a lot of time breaking down the street moves, what he referred to in his autobiography as "a 'popping' type of thing that black kids had created dancing on the street corners in the ghetto."

Jackson's sister, LaToya, identified former Soul Train and Solid Gold dancer Jeffrey Daniel, below, as her brother's primary tutor in this endeavor. (He went on to co-choreograph Jackson's videos for "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal".) As to the story behind his moonwalk, or backslide as he called it before Jackson's version obliterated the possibility of any other name, Daniel gave props to the same kids Jackson did.

For those of you who mentioned it on Twitter and in our comments, we've added Charlie Chaplin's scene in Modern Times.

via Metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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