Watch Bob Dylan Play a Private Concert for One Lucky Fan

On November 23rd, Bob Dylan played a live concert for one awed fan. As Rolling Stone described it, “Fredrik Wikingsson walked into Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, took a seat in the [sixth] row and prepared to watch his hero play a concert just for him.” “At this point,” Wikingsson said, “I still thought I was about to get Punk’d.” “I thought some asshole would walk onstage and just laugh at me. I just couldn’t fathom that Dylan would actually do this.”

But it wasn’t a joke. Dylan treated the superfan to a personal concert, playing covers of songs from the early days of American rock n roll. And it was all filmed for a Swedish TV series called Experiment Ensam (Experiment Alone), where individuals take part, alone, in activities usually meant for groups. The video of the experimental concert went online yesterday. You can watch it above.

For more news bringing together Bob Dylan and Sweden, see our recent post: Swedish Scientists Sneak Bob Dylan Lyrics Into Their Academic Publications For Last 17 Years.

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Lou Reed Reads Delmore Schwartz’s Famous Story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”



In a galloping vignette in Tablet, writer Lee Smith manages to evoke the essences of both sentimental tough guy Lou Reed and his literary mentor and hero, “Brooklyn Jewish Troubadour” Delmore Schwartz. Although Schwartz’s “poetry is his real legacy,” Smith writes, that rich body of work is often obscured by the fact that “his most famous work is a short story,” the much-anthologized “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” (1935) It’s a story written in prose as lyrical as can be—with sentences one wants to pause and linger over, reading again and again, out loud if possible. It’s also a story in which we see “a direct line… between Schwartz and Reed,” whose song “Perfect Day” performs similar kind of magical cataloguing of urban impermanence. For Reed, onetime student of Schwartz at Syracuse University, “Delmore Schwartz is everything.”

Reed dedicated the last song, “European Son,” on the first Velvet Underground album to Schwartz, and wrote an eloquent forward to a reissue of Schwartz’s first collection of stories and poems, also titled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. And just above, you can hear Reed himself read the story aloud, savoring those lyrical sentences in his Brooklyn deadpan. It’s easy to imagine Reed writing many of these sentences, such was Schwartz’s influence on him. They shared not only common origins, but also a common sensibility; in Reed’s songs we hear the echo of Schwartz’s voice, the satirical world-weariness and the lyricism and longing. In the biographical documentary Rock and Roll Heart, Reed says that Schwartz showed him how, “with the simplest language imaginable, and very short, you can accomplish the most astonishing heights.” Reading, and listening to Schwartz’s astonishing “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” may help you understand just what he meant.

This reading has been added to our collection, 550 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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

Eastern Philosophy Explained with Three Animated Videos by Alain de Botton’s School of Life

“Among the founders of religions,” writes Walpola Rahula in his book What the Buddha Taught, “the Buddha…was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. […] He attributed all his realization, attainment and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence.” Rahula’s interpretation of Buddhism is only one of a great many, of course. In some traditions, the Buddha is miraculous and more or less divine. But this quote sums up why the generally non-theistic system of Eastern thought is often called a psychology or philosophy rather than a religion. With the video above, Alain de Botton—whose School of Life has recently brought us a survey of Western philosophers—begins his introduction to Eastern thought with Buddhism. The Buddha’s story, de Botton says, “is a story about confronting suffering.”

Born the son of a wealthy Indian king and destined for greatness by a prophecy—or so the story goes—Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, discovered human suffering during brief excursions from his palace. Appalled and disturbed by sickness, aging, and death, the Buddha left his luxurious life (and his wife and son) and practiced many rituals and austerities before finding his own path to enlightenment and Nirvana—the extinguishing of desire. One fruit of his realization is the doctrine of “the Middle Way,” a mediation between extremes that one source compares to Aristotle’s golden mean, “whereby ‘every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice.’” The Buddha’s enlightened understanding of the essential continuity of life gave him compassion for all living beings; of the thousands of sutras, or sayings, attributed to him, his teaching can be concisely summed up in what he called “the Four Noble Truths,” the acknowledgement, cause, and remedy of inevitable pain and discontent.

Most of what de Botton does in his introduction to the Buddha will be familiar to anyone who has taken a comparative religions class. But true to his task of approaching Buddhism philosophically, he avoids Buddhist metaphysics, cosmology, and questions of rebirth, instead interpreting the Buddha’s teachings as a kind of Eastern Aristotelian ethics: “We must change our outlook (not our circumstances). We are unhappy not because we don’t have enough money, love, or status, but because we’re greedy, vain, and insecure. By reorienting our minds we can become content. By reorienting our behavior, and adopting what we now term a ‘mindful’ attitude, we can also become better people.”

While Buddhist scholars and sages would argue that enlightenment entails a great deal more than self-improvement, the summation suits the purposes of de Botton’s School of Life—to help people “live wisely and well.” These videos—like his others, animated by Mad Adam films with Monty Pythonesque whimsy—distill Eastern thought into fun, bite-sized nuggets. Just above, we have a short introduction to the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, purported author of the Tao Te Ching, the founding text of Daoism. Whereas de Botton seems to take the Buddha’s story more or less for granted, he admits above that Lao Tzu may well be a mythical character, “like Homer,” and that the Tao is likely the work “of many authors over time.”

Daoism is often intertwined with Buddhism and Confucianism, but its own particular philosophy is distinct from either tradition. At the heart of Daoism is wu wei, which translates to “non-action” or “non-doing,” a mode of being that seeks harmony with the rhythms of nature and a ceasing of preoccupation and ambition. Another “key point” of Lao Tzu’s instructions for realizing the “Tao,” or “the way,” is getting “in touch with our real selves,” something we can only accomplish through receptivity to nature—our own and that outside us—and through freedom from distraction, a most difficult demand for technology-obsessed 21st century people.

The third video in de Botton’s series surveys a Japanese Zen Buddhist sage and contrasts him with Western philosophers, who generally write long, obscure books and cloister themselves in lecture halls and offices. In the Zen tradition, de Botton says, “philosophers write poems, rake gravel, go on pilgrimages, practice archery, write aphorisms on scrolls, chant, and in the case of one of the very greatest Zen thinkers, Sen no Rikyu, teach people how to drink tea in consoling and therapeutic ways.” Born in 1522 near Osaka, Rikyu reformed and refined the chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, into a rigorous but elegant meditative practice. Rikyu coined the term wabi-sabi, a compound of words for “satisfaction with simplicity and austerity” and “appreciation for the imperfect.” Wabi-sabi offers not only the foundation for a way of life, but also for a way of design and architecture, and its practice informs a great deal of traditional Japanese aesthetics.

Like Lao Tzu, Rikyu intended his practices to help people reconnect with the simplicity and harmony of nature, as well as with each other, inspiring mutual respect free of status-consciousness and competition. Rikyu’s wabi-sabi philosophy is premised on Zen’s understanding of the impermanence, imperfection, and incompleteness of everything. Therefore he eschewed the trappings of luxury and preferred worn and humble objects in his ceremonial instructions. Whether we call Rikyu’s practices religious or philosophical seems to make little difference. In the case of the three thinkers profiled here, the distinction may be meaningless and introduce Western conceptual divisions that only obscure the meaning of Buddhism, Daoism, and Japanese Zen. When it comes to the latter, another Western interpreter, Alan Watts, once delivered an excellent talk called “The Religion of No Religion” that helps to explain practices like Rikyu’s chanoyu.

All of the videos here are part of the School of Life’s “Curriculum.” Visit de Botton’s Youtube channel for more, and for short videos offering advice on everything from anxiety to relationships to “the dangers of the internet.”

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

Wittgenstein and Hitler Attended the Same School in Austria, at the Same Time (1904)

hitler wittgenstein 2

One thing is for sure: Before Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolf Hitler took very different paths in life, they were, as young teenagers, students at the same school — the Realschule in Linz, Austria. According to the Historical Dictionary of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, the young philosopher and dictator crossed over at the Realschule in 1904. (The overlap is also cited in Brian McGuinness’ 2005 biography, Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein’s Life, 1889-1921. Ditto A.C. Grayling’s short bio of the philosopher.) Although born only six days apart, Wittgenstein and Hitler weren’t in the same grade. Wittgenstein was already academically a year ahead of other students his age, and Hitler, a year behind. As for whether they knew one another, opinions vary. In a controversial 1998 book, The Jew of Linz, Kimberley Cornish argues that Hitler got into a schoolboy spat with Wittgenstein (whose ancestry was 3/4 Jewish), and somehow that spat proved to be a defining moment in the development of Hitler’s anti-semitism. Scholars like University of Michigan’s Laurence Goldstein have put a certain amount of stock in Cornish’s argument. However, Ray Monk, author of Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, discredits it, saying there’s no proof the two ever crossed paths. And Monk is the most knowledgeable and credible authority in this area.

Then there’s the photo above. Some say it shows Wittgenstein and Hitler separated by just one student. A tantalizing thought, to be sure. But the historical record casts that into doubt. If you head over to the German Federal Archives, then type “Hitler” and “1901” and “1902” into the search boxes, you will see that the image was taken in 1901 — two years before Wittgenstein first started attending the school. Wikipedia has more on the photo. A copy of the complete school picture appears here.

So where does this leave us? It looks like Wittgenstein and Hitler did indeed walk the same halls for a year (circa 1904), but most likely without ever taking real notice of one another, or posing in the same photograph. Ultimately it’s not a sensational historical factoid, but still intriguing enough.

Addendum: I did some additional research and it appears that Hitler attended the Realschule in Linz from 1901 through the end of the school year in 1904. The troubled student was then expelled. Meanwhile, scholars consistently put Wittgenstein’s time at the school from 1903-1906. If there’s a crossover year, it looks to me like it was the academic year 1903-1904.

via Leiter Reports

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Blade Runner Spoofed in Three Japanese Commercials (and Generally Loved in Japan)

Blade Runner‘s vision of a thoroughly Japanified Los Angeles in the year 2019 reflects the western economic anxieties of the early 1980s. And while that once far-flung year may not have come quite yet, Japan — given the bursting of its postwar financial bubble and the “lost decade” of the 1990s that followed — looks unlikely to own a fraction as much of the United States as Ridley Scott’s Philip K. Dick adaptation (and many other futuristic stories besides) assumed it eventually would. Still, the film’s cultural prophesy came true: even during its economic stagnation, Japan exercised more “soft power” than ever before, turning the world to the unique claims of its culture, from the refinement of its cuisine to the hyperactive exuberance of its music and animation to the matchless elegance of its traditional aesthetics.

Even as Blade Runner showed us how much Japanese style would one day influence, the style of the film had, for its part, an immediate influence on Japan. Though famously unappreciated by westerners on its initial release (“a waste of time,” said Siskel and Ebert), its proto-cyberpunk sensibility won the hearts of Japanese viewers, and Japanese creators, right away. The video at the top of the post collects three Japanese television commercials that both spoof and pay homage to Blade Runner: the first for the Honda Beat, a Japan-only roadster; the second (an astute parody of a particularly memorable scene) for Menicon contact lenses; and the third for mobile service provider J-Phone.

But the movie’s effect on Japan didn’t stop at the advertising industry. The 1987 animated series Bubblegum Crisis, which follows the adventures of a cyborg-battling team in the “Mega Tokyo” of 2032, plays so much like a homegrown Blade Runner that a fan could create the second video above: an animated recreation of Blade Runner‘s trailer, using all its original sound, with Bubblegum Crisis‘ footage. The 1988 video game Snatcher stars the decidedly Harrison-Fordian Gillian Seed, a detective in pursuit of the titular killer androids in the “Neo Kobe” of 2044. You can still semuch of what the film inspired, and what inspired in the film, in major Japanese cities today. Even Los Angeles has made strides here and there toward the Blade Runner future, though I regret to admit that we still await our tower-side geisha.

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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 Swing Wing: From the Annals of Bad Toys for Kids (1965)

During the 1950s, when a hula hoop craze swept across America, the Carlon Products Corp. (a company that specialized in making lightweight plastic pipes), managed to produce some 50,000 hula hoops per day. That got other companies thinking. How could they capitalize on this mania, if not directly, then indirectly? When a second hula hooping craze gripped the country during the mid-1960s, Transogram Games introduced the “Swing Wing,” possibly the worst idea for a kids’ toy until Bag O’ Glass (who here remembers that classic SNL skit?). It’s a dizzying toy, backed by a dizzying — but you have to admit catchy — commercial. Buyer beware, there’s a Swing Wing on ebay. Never opened and ready to go for 53 clams.

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Watch 10 Classic German Expressionist Films: From Fritz Lang’s M to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

In 1913, Germany, flush with a new nation’s patriotic zeal, looked like it might become the dominant nation of Europe and a real rival to that global superpower Great Britain. Then it hit the buzzsaw of World War I. After the German government collapsed in 1918 from the economic and emotional toll of a half-decade of senseless carnage, the Allies forced it to accept draconian terms for surrender. The entire German culture was sent reeling, searching for answers to what happened and why.

German Expressionism came about to articulate these lacerating questions roiling in the nation’s collective unconscious. The first such film was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), about a malevolent traveling magician who has his servant do his murderous bidding in the dark of the night. The storyline is all about the Freudian terror of hidden subconscious drives, but what really makes the movie memorable is its completely unhinged look. Marked by stylized acting, deep shadows painted onto the walls, and sets filled with twisted architectural impossibilities — there might not be a single right angle in the film – Caligari’s look perfectly meshes with the narrator’s demented state of mind.

Subsequent German Expressionist movies retreated from the extreme aesthetics of Caligari but were still filled with a mood of violence, frustration and unease. F. W. Murnau’s brilliantly depressing The Last Laugh (1924) is about a proud doorman at a high-end hotel who is unceremoniously stripped of his position and demoted to a lowly bathroom attendant. When he hands over his uniform, his posture collapses as if the jacket were his exoskeleton. You don’t need to be a semiologist to figure out that the doorman’s loss of status parallels Germany’s. Fritz Lang’s M (1931), a landmark of early sound film, is the first serial killer movie ever made. But what starts out as a police procedural turns into something even more unsettling when a gang of distinctly Nazi-like criminals decide to mete out some justice of their own.

German Expressionism ended in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. They weren’t interested in asking uncomfortable questions and viewed such dark tales of cinematic angst as unpatriotic. Instead, they preferred bright, cheerful tales of Aryan youths climbing mountains. By that time, the movement’s most talented directors — Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau — had fled to America. And it was in America where German Expressionism found its biggest impact. Its stark lighting, grotesque shadows and bleak worldview would go on on to profoundly influence film noir in the late 1940s after another horrific, disillusioning war. See our collection of Free Noir Films here.

You watch can 10 German Expressionist movies – including Caligari, Last Laugh and M — for free below.

  • Nosferatu – Free – German Expressionist horror film directed by F. W. Murnau. An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (1922)
  • The Student of Prague – Free – A classic of German expressionist film. German writer Hanns Heinz Ewers and Danish director Stellan Rye bring to life a 19th-century horror story. Some call it the first indie film. (1913)
  • Nerves – Free – Directed by Robert Reinert, Nerves tells of “the political disputes of an ultraconservative factory owner Herr Roloff and Teacher John, who feels a compulsive but secret love for Roloff’s sister, a left-wing radical.” (1919)
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Free – This silent film directed by Robert Wiene is considered one of the most influential German Expressionist films and perhaps one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Watch the restored version. (1920)
  • Metropolis – Free – Fritz Lang’s fable of good and evil fighting it out in a futuristic urban dystopia. An important classic. An alternate version can be found here. (1927)
  • The Golem: How He Came Into the World – Free – A follow-up to Paul Wegener’s earlier film, “The Golem,” about a monstrous creature brought to life by a learned rabbi to protect the Jews from persecution in medieval Prague. Based on the classic folk tale, and co-directed by Carl Boese. (1920)
  • The Golem: How He Came Into the World – Free – The same film as the one listed immediately above, but this one has a score created by Pixies frontman Black Francis. (2008)
  • The Last Laugh Free – F.W. Murnau’s classic chamber drama about a hotel doorman who falls on hard times. A masterpiece of the silent era, the story is told almost entirely in pictures. (1924)
  • Faust – Free - German expressionist filmmaker F.W. Murnau directs a film version of Goethe’s classic tale. This was Murnau’s last German movie. (1926)
  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – Free – Made by the German expressionist director F.W. Murnau. Voted in 2012, the 5th greatest film of all time. (1927)
  • M – Free – Classic film directed by Fritz Lang, with Peter Lorre. About the search for a child murderer in Berlin. (1931)

For more classic films, peruse our larger collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.


Salvador Dalí’s Avant-Garde Christmas Cards


If ever you find yourself looking down on the Christmas card as a bland, mainstream art form, remember that John Waters makes them. So did Andy Warhol. But we’ve told you about those two countercultural creators’ appreciation for the imagery of Christmas before. This holiday season, we submit for your approval a series of Christmas cards from the hand of none other than Salvador Dalí. They came our way via Spanish literature professor Rebecca M. Bender, who writes that the surrealist painter “designed 19 unique Christmas cards between 1958-1976 for the Barcelona-based company Hoechst Ibérica,” a chapter in a commercial career that also included “artwork for advertisements (Bryan’s Hosiery) and magazine covers during the mid-20th century.”


Bender, a Dalí enthusiast who teaches at Grinnell, has assembled an impressive collection of images that give Christmas the surreal touch that I think we can all agree the holiday has always needed. The sketch for a 1948 Vogue magazine cover just above “exhibits tell-tale characteristics of Dalí’s surrealist style, including the barren, expansive landscape and the incorporation of double-images (which also characterize his depiction of the Spanish Civil War).” While that image has today become a specialty Christmas card, the art he created specifically for cards “did not incorporate traditional Mediterranean, Catholic Christmas imagery such as the Nativity scene or the Reyes magos (Wise men), but rather they appropriated more American and Central European elements, such as the Christmas Tree,” which he sometimes used as “an allegorical depiction of the year’s events” or infused “with distinctive elements of Spanish culture.”


When Dalí did try his hand at more traditional Christmas iconography, he did it for American greeting-card titan Hallmark. You can see one fruit of this commission in the 1959 nativity scene at the top of the post. Bender cites Patrick Regan’s book Hallmark: A Century of Caring as describing Dalí’s “take on Christmas [being] a bit too avant garde for the average greeting card buyer.” But tastes, even mainstream tastes, seem to have broadened quite a bit over the past 55 years. The time may have come where every man, woman, and child in America could do with a little surrealism stirred into their Christmas spirit. If you agree, make sure to read and see everything else Bender has gathered from Dalí’s Christmas-card career, all of which will inspire you to make the Yuletide more aesthetically daring.

dali xmas card 4

via Rebecca Bender

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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.

Patti Smith’s Passionate Covers of Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Jefferson Airplane & Prince

In 1966, Jimi Hendrix released his first single, “Hey Joe,” a cover song, and, in a certain sense, reclaimed American rock ‘n’ roll from the British invasion. Eight years later in ‘74, it may have seemed like rock ‘n’ roll was dead and gone. Nostalgia set in; Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” hit the charts again thanks to American Graffiti and Happy Days. And then, a skinny poet from New Jersey and four kids from Queens more or less invented punk and resurrected the moldering corpse of rock. The Ramones appeared at CBGB’s for the first time in August. (See one of their earliest recorded performances here.) That same month saw the release of Patti Smith’s first single—“Hey Joe”—arguably the first punk release in history, though she sings it like a torch song. (The B-side, the spoken word “Piss Factory,” set the tone for punk rock naming practices for decades to come).

At the top, hear Smith’s version of “Hey Joe,” which she introduces with an original piece of transgressive poetry about Patty Hearst, then still a captive member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. In the still image, Smith wears a t-shirt that seems to answer the echo of Bill Haley’s ghost: “F*ck the Clock. “ Just above, see Smith and band play “Hey Joe” live on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1976, just after an abridged version of “Horses.”

One of Smith’s biggest hits, “Gloria,” was also a cover, of a song by Van Morrison’s former band Them. She memorably made that song her own as well with the opening line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” She went on to cover a host of artists—Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, U2. In fact her 10th studio album, 2007’s Twelve, consists entirely of covers. Just above from that record, hear her folky take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” recorded with stand-up bass and banjo. And below, she delivers a spooky rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

While her stage persona may have mellowed with age, Smith’s voice has remained as powerful and captivating as ever. Below she belts out the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” live on the BBC’s Later… with Jool Holland, a song she also covers on Twelve.

Her tastes are eclectic, her range wide, and though she’ll always get the credit as the “Godmother of Punk,” she’s able to work in almost any style, even a kind of adult contemporary that doesn’t seem very Patti Smith at all. But she owns it in her cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” below, from her two-disc compilation album Land (1975-2002). It’s a long way from “Piss Factory,” but it’s still Smith doing what she’s always done—paying homage to the artists who inspire her. Whether it’s Smokey Robinson, Bruce Springsteen, or Virginia Woolf, she’s able to channel the genius of her influences while infusing their work with her own passionate sexual energy and poetic intensity.

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

John Waters Narrates Offbeat Documentary on an Environmental Catastrophe, the Salton Sea

In 2004, John Waters narrated Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, a humorous documentary on the accidental lake created in the desert of Southern California. You can now find the film hosted on the YouTube channel of KQED, the public television outfit in San Francisco (where we’re getting heavy, heavy rains today). They lay the foundation for watching the film as follows:

Once known as the “California Riviera,” the Salton Sea is now considered one of America’s worst ecological disasters: a fetid, stagnant, salty lake, coughing up dead fish and birds by the thousands. Narrated by cult-movie legend John Waters, Plagues & Pleasures is an epic western tale of real estate ventures and failed boomtowns.

Find Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea listed in our collection, 200 Free Documentaries Online.

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

via @Wfmu

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