The Crazy, Iconic Life of Nico; Andy Warhol Muse, Velvet Underground Vocalist, Enigma in Amber

There’s no denying that train wrecks make great documentary subjects.

Not that Abraham Lincoln doesn’t, but watching someone come unglued is a whole ‘nother sort of compelling. Upsetting, even.

Docs in this genre usually require the subject to have left the building in order to reach a satisfying conclusion. The final word belongs to an assortment of friends, colleagues, admirers, enemies…some of whom may be harboring ulterior motives.

Surely German chanteuse Nico’s appearance factored into Andy Warhol’s decision to elevate her to Factory superstar status. (See his video of her immediately above.) She was a model after all, arresting enough to have appeared as herself in La Dolce Vita. She romanced rock gods, film directors, and movie stars, many of whom have their say in Susanne Ofteringer’s documentary Nico-Icon, viewable in its entirety up top.

It’s a fascinating, cautionary portrait, but as the backseat psychoanalysis mounted, I found myself wanting to hear from the subject more.  With apologies to Neil Diamond fans, we decided  it was only fitting to show you Nico having her own say.

Maybe she was a nightmare. Former keyboardist, James Young, wrote a book about his time on tour with her. He’s in the documentary, of course. Aspiring icons, you’ve been forewarned:

When I worked with her her looks were gone and she wasn’t this Chelsea Girl creature, this peroxide blonde Marlene Dietrich moon goddess vamp. She was a middle aged junkie.

Nice. You reckon he might have gone easier on her, had she been one of John Waters’ superstars, the late Edith Massey or the still-thriving Mink Stole?

Forget sticks and stones. It takes a lot more heroin and hard living to kill the looks of anyone with her bone structure.

Did Nico really have such little use for anyone’s approval but her own? The art she made after her iconic work with the Velvet Underground convinces me that her embrace of ugly–what Chelsea Girls director referred to as her “stupid German perversity”–was sincere.

She’s still an enigma trapped in amber. She’ll be your mirror.

Find 200 free documentaries in our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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

Literary Remains of Gabriel García Márquez Will Rest in Texas

marquez ransom
Gabriel García Márquez’s notes for The General in His Labyrinth (1989) via The Ransom Center & The New York Times

Quick note: The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library at UT-Austin, announced this morning that it has acquired the archive of Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning, Colombian novelist who passed away earlier this year. His literary remains include “original manuscript materials for 10 books …; more than 2,000 pieces of correspondence, including letters from Carlos Fuentes and Graham Greene; drafts of his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech; more than 40 photograph albums documenting all aspects of his life over nearly nine decades; the Smith Corona typewriters and computers on which he wrote some of the 20th century’s most beloved works; and scrapbooks meticulously documenting his career via news clippings from Latin America and around the world.”

All of this material, The Harry Ransom Center goes on to say, will conveniently site alongside archives of others authors who inspired García Márquez — most notably, Jorge Luis Borges, William Faulkner and James Joyce.

The New York Times has a small gallery of images showcasing photos in the newly acquired collection. Take a quick spin through it here.

via The New York Times

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Shelf Life: American Museum of Natural History Creates New Video Series on Its 33 Million Artifacts

I once spent a summer as a security guard at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. A wonderful place to visit, but my workday experience proved dreadfully dull. By far the highlight was being pulled off whatever exhibit I happened to be guarding to assist in collections, a cavernous backstage area where untold treasures were shelved without ceremony. The head conservator confided that many of these items would never be singled out for display. The thrift store egalitarianism that reigned here was far more appealing than the eye-catching, educational signage in the public area. From the oblivion of deep storage springs the potential for discovery.

How gratifying to learn that the 200 plus scientists employed by the American Museum of Natural History feel the same. As palentologist Mike Novacek, puts it in Shelf Life, the museum’s just launched monthly video series:

You can make new discoveries in Collections just like you can out in the field. You can walk around the corner and see something that no one’s quite observed that way before, describe a new species or a new feature that’s important to science.

The institution can choose from among more than 33,430,000 goodies, from ancient objects they’ve been carefully tending for more than two centuries to the samples of frozen tissue and DNA comprising the barely 13-year-old Ambrose Monell Cryo Collection for Molecular and Microbial Research.

Gems and meteorites!

Arrowheads and gourds!

Vertebrates and invertebrates!

There’s truly something here for…


Wasp enthusiasts (you know who you are) can thrill to the seven and a half million specimens in sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s Cynipidae collection. (They’re ready for their close up, Mr. DeMille. Famous as they are, the first episode passed them over in favor of a more photogenic mock bee from the genus Criorhina.)

Future episodes will call upon in-house ichthyologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, astrophysicists, and herpetologists to discuss such topics as specimen preparation, taxonomy, and curation. Stay abreast (and – bonus!- celebrate Nero’s birthday with turtles) by subscribing to the museum’s youtube channel.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She goes into more detail about her short-lived stint as a museum security guard in her third book, Job Hopper. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Hear 130 Minutes of Charles Bukowski’s First-Ever Recorded Readings (1968)

Charles_Bukowski_smokingCharles Bukowski smoking by Tyrenius

We enjoy the work of Charles Bukowski here at Open Culture, but recently we’ve weighted our attention toward his late work. And I mean his very late work, like the last poem he ever faxed. So today we turn to the very back of Bukowski’s back pages, for 130 minutes of the cantankerous yet oddly hope-filled poet and novelist’s first-ever recorded readings, all available at Ubuweb. They come, as the site says, “culled from tapes made by Bukowski at his Los Angeles home in 1968 for biographer and rock critic Barry Miles, long before the author had begun regular public readings.” Few would expect the behavior of a shrinking violet from the likes of Bukowski, but this occasion found him “so shy he insisted that he record alone. He reads both poetry and prose, gets thoroughly drunk during the recording, and bitches about his life, his landlord, and his neighbors.”

This material all comes the album At Terror Street and Agony Way, commercially issued in 2000 but now out of print. Now that it has made its way to the internet, you can enjoy such vintage, lean Bukowski cuts  as “The State of World Affairs” (“The Hollywood hills stand there, stand there, full of drunks and insane people and much kissing and automobiles”), “I Cannot Stand Tears” (“There were several hundred fools around the goose who broke his leg, trying to decide what to do, when the guard walked up and pulled out his cannon”), and “I Wanted to Overthrow the Government” (“The weakness was not Government but Man, one at a time, that men were never as strong as their ideas, and that ideas were governments turned into men; and so it began on a couch with a spilled martini and it ended in the bedroom”).

You can hear the whole thing, in all its spirited (in both senses of the word) glory on Ubuweb’s Bukowski page, which also offers such choice recordings as 1969’s 70 Minutes in Hell, 1973’s Poems and Insults, and 1980’s Hostage.

We also have a few more 1968 recordings for your pleasure below:

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Cabinet of Curiosities: Discover The Public Domain Review’s New Book of Essays


Many of the regulars to the glorious pages of Open Culture might be familiar with The Public Domain Review project, having been featured on OC a fair few times. From sixteenth-century woodcuts on how to swim to hand-colored photographs of nineteenth-century Japan, you will have seen links to all sorts of historical oddities and delights that we’ve gathered from various archives and highlighted on The Public Domain Review. In addition to these shorter collection posts, since we started in 2011, we’ve also published a steady stream of long-form essays on similar wonders from the historical record. It is with great pleasure this week to announce that The Public Domain Review has compiled a selection of these essays into a brand-new beautiful book!

Spread across six themed chapters – Animals, Bodies, Words, Worlds, Encounters and Networks – the collection includes a total of thirty-four essays from a stellar line up of contributors, including Jack Zipes, Frank Delaney, Colin Dickey, George Prochnik, Noga Arikha, and Julian Barnes.


There’s a whole host of weird and wonderful topics explored: from the case of Mary Toft, the woman who claimed to give birth to rabbits, to William Warren’s search for the coordinates of Eden; from Thomas Browne’s odd litany of imagined artefacts, to the phrasebooks of the invented language Volapük; from the strange literary fruits of the “it-narrative” fad, to epic verse in praise of a cat named Jeoffry; from a history of the painted smile, to the bizarre world of medieval animals trials.

The collection is not all obscurities and unknown tales. We have some big hitters in there too. Great essays on figures you will no doubt have heard of – the Brothers Grimm, Proust , Flaubert, Joyce – but all approached from new angles and illuminated by unfamiliar lights.

With 146 illustrations, more than half of which have been newly sourced especially for the book, this is very far from simply the website in print form. It is a beautiful object in and of itself, lovingly designed by writer and designer Nicholas Jeeves.

Anyhow, I hope I’ve enticed you all sufficiently to check out the page on the site for more details, and perhaps even to place an order or two! If you would like to grab yourself a copy then do make sure to put your order in before midnight on November 26th as up until then we’ll be offering the book for a special discounted rate and also ensuring delivery by Christmas.

Adam Green is the co-founder and editor of The Public Domain Review.

French Couple Sings an Achingly Charming Version of VU’s “Femme Fatale”

Day in, day out, we rummage around the internet, looking for new material to bring your way. I start searching, and I never quite know where the search will take me. Some paths lead to dead ends, others to interesting side streets. Speaking of interesting side streets…. Yesterday a trip through some old Velvet Underground material (more on that tomorrow) led me to this small, unexpected delight. Above, we have Mathieu and Pauline, two young French musicians, singing an achingly charming version of VU’s “Femme Fatale”. There’s so much beauty and youth in it, it kinda hurts. Below, see them sing a cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Elisa.”

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Related Content:

Andy Warhol Shoots the Only Color Film of The Velvet Underground Playing Live in Concert (1967)

Hear Newly-Released Material from the Lost Acetate Version of The Velvet Underground & Nico (1966)

A Symphony of Sound (1966): Velvet Underground Improvises, Warhol Films It, Until the Cops Turn Up

The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

If you’ve taken a good art history course on the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, you’ve inevitably encountered Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece “Starry Night,” which now hangs in the MoMA in New York City. The painting, the museum writes on its web site, “is a symbolic landscape full of movement, energy, and light. The quietness of the village contrasts with the swirling energy of the sky…. Van Gogh’s impasto technique, or thickly applied colors, creates a rhythmic effect—the picture seems to constantly move in its frame.” Artistically, van Gogh managed to capture movement in a way that no artist had ever quite done it before. Scientifically, it turns out, he was on to something too. Just watch the new TED-ED lesson above, The Unexpected Math Behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Created by math artist/teacher Natalya St. Clair and animator Avi Ofer, the video explores how “Van Gogh captured [the] deep mystery of movement, fluid and light in his work,” and particularly managed to depict the elusive phenomenon known as turbulence. In Starry Night, the video observes, van Gogh depicted turbulence with a degree of sophistication and accuracy that rivals the way physicists and mathematicians have best explained turbulence in their own scientific papers. And, it all happened, perhaps by coincidence (?), during the turbulent last years of van Gogh’s life.

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David Lynch Takes Aspiring Filmmakers Inside the Art & Craft of Making Indie Films

As a couple of generations of film students have shown us, you shouldn’t try to imitate David Lynch. You should, however, learn from David Lynch. At his best, the director of EraserheadBlue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive has managed, in the words of David Foster Wallace, to “single-handedly broker a new marriage between art and commerce in U.S. movies, opening formula-frozen Hollywood to some of the eccentricity and vigor of art film.” How has Lynch brought his enduringly strange and richly evocative visions to the screen, and to a surprising extent into the mainstream, without much apparent compromise?

You can get an idea of his method in Room to Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker, the twenty-minute documentary above. Since Lynch hasn’t released a feature film since 2006’s Inland Empire — an especially uncompromising work, admittedly — some fans have wondered whether he’s put the movies, per se, behind him. But Room to Dream shows the director in recent years, very much engaged in both the theory and process of filmmaking — or rather, his distinctive interpretations of the theory and process of filmmaking.

This touches on his childhood obsession with drawing weapons, his discovery of “moving paintings,” his endorsement of learning by doing, how he uses digital video, his enjoyment of 40-minute takes, why people fear the “very dark,” conveying meaning without explaining meaning (especially to actors), the process of “rehearsing-and-talking, rehearsing-and-talking,” how Avid (the short’s sponsor, as it would happen) facilitates the  “heavy lifting” of editing his footage, how he finesses “happy accidents,” how he composes differently for different screens, and the way that “sometimes things take strange routes that end up being correct.” Take Lynch’s words to heart, and you, too, can enjoy his experience of crafting what he calls “sound and picture moving along in time” — with or without an Avid of your own.

Room to Dream will be added to our collection, 200 Free Documentaries Online.

via NoFilmSchool

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Plays “Hey Joe” & “Wild Thing” on The Band’s Very First Tour: Paris, 1966

Jimi Hendrix lived fast, and I don’t just mean to evoke a rock star cliché, but to get at the speed at which his career moved. He arrived in England near the end of September, 1966, at the tender age of 23. In less than a month, he and his manager Chas Chandler had recruited Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell into the Experience and booked the band’s first gig on October 13 across the channel in Évreux, France, one of four French bookings as a supporting act for The Blackbirds and Johnny Hallyday. They played mostly covers, including Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Don Covay’s “Mercy, Mercy,” and Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances,” and traditional song “Hey Joe,” soon to become the band’s first single. It’s unclear whether anyone recorded that first gig, but we do have some audio of the fourth, on October 18 at the Olympia in Paris. Just above hear them play “Hey Joe” from that night, and below, they do The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”

Hendrix was already a highly seasoned performer by this time, having blown minds all over the South while touring with, among others, the Isley Brothers, Little Richard, and King Curtis in the early sixties. He had been highly in demand as a backing and session player, but he grew tired of standing in the back and wanted to go solo. He met manager Chandler, then bassist for the Animals, while fronting his own band in New York. Chandler, writes PRI, “knew just what to do with the young guitarist” upon their arrival in England.

Six days after the short tour through France, the band played its first official show in the UK, at the Scotch of St. James, where the Beatles had a private booth. Hendrix proceeded to blow minds all over England, including, of course, those of all the British guitar greats: “Everyone’s eyes were glued to him,” remembers then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, “He looked different. His guitar playing was superb. People in England hadn’t seen anything like it before. It was quite… out of this world.”

People in the U.S. hadn’t seen anything like it either. While Hendrix had honed many of his signature stage tricks on the soul circuit, by the time he appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, he had fully come into his own as a charismatic singer as well as a “near miraculous” guitarist. But in his move from R&B to rock and roll, he never lost his blues roots. “Hendrix wasn’t a typical pop or rock musician,” says Hendrix scholar and English professor Joel Brattin. He “was an improviser. So, if there are 100 different recorded versions of Purple Haze, it’s really worth listening to all 100 because he does something different each time.” The same can be said of the songs he covered, and made his own. Just above, see them play “Hey Joe” at The Marquee for German TV show Beat Club just months before the release of their 1967 debut album. And below, Hendrix exhorts the crowd to sing along before launching into “Wild Thing,” in a Paris appearance one full year after the recording above at the Olympia. Compare, contrast, get your mind blown.

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

Stephen Fry Reads You Have To F**king Eat, the New Mock Children’s Book by Adam Mansbach

The sequel to Adam Mansbach’s best-selling mock children’s book, Go the F**k to Sleep is out. Say hello to You Have to F**king Eat.

As mentioned last week, you can download a free audio version read by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston over at through December 12th. This week, we present a slightly more posh version read by Stephen Fry — the very same Stephen Fry who narrated the UK version of the Harry Potter series, not to mention an audio version of Oscar Wilde’s children’s story “The Happy Prince.”  Find more Fry favorites below.

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