How Edward Hopper “Storyboarded” His Iconic Painting Nighthawks


Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942) doesn’t just evoke a certain stripe of mid-century, after-hours, big-city American loneliness; it has more or less come to stand for the feeling itself. But as with most images that passed so fully into the realm of iconhood, we all too easily forget that the painting didn’t simply emerge complete, ready to embed itself in the zeitgeist. Robin Cembalest at ARTnews has a post on how Edward Hopper “storyboarded” Nighthawks, finding and sketching out models for those three melancholic customers (one of whom you can see in an early rendering above), that wholesome young attendant in white, and the all-night diner (which you can see come together in chalk on paper below) in which they find refuge.


These “19 studies for Nighthawks,” writes Cembalest, “reveal how Hopper choreographed his voyeuristic scene of the nighttime convergence of the man, a couple, and a server in the eerie Deco diner, refining every nuance of the countertop, the figures, the architecture, and the effects of the fluorescent lighting.” In each sketch, more pieces have fallen into place: a diner assumes their position, the light finds its angle, the perspective shifts to that of an outsider on the darkened street. Cembalest quotes Whitney curator Carter Foster describing the final product as a “marvelous demonstration of both extreme specificity and near abstract compositional summation on the same surface beguilingly [which] reflects how empirical observation and imagination coexisted in Hopper’s head.”


Despite how many elements of the real world Hopper studied to create Nighthawks, it ultimately depicts no real place. The painter himself posed for the male figures, and his wife modeled for the female. As for the locale, seen in the final drawing just above, Cembalest notes that “after years of research and scholarship, experts have determined that Nighthawks was not inspired by one specific diner. Rather, it was a composite of wedge-shaped intersections around Greenwich Avenue. Its curving prow seems partly inspired by the Flatiron Building.” In a way, it almost seemed too realistically New York to actually exist in New York. Hopper painted a distillation of a sense of American place, and like many American places, I’ve never quite known whether I’d love to drop in at the Nighthawks diner (though I’d have to find a front door first), or whether I should count myself lucky that life hasn’t relegated me to it. You can learn more about the fascinating storyboarding of Nighthawks at Art News and see many more sketches. Speaking of the sketches, they come courtesy of The Whitney Museum of American Art.


via ARTNews

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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 Sneak Preview of Haruki Murakami’s Forthcoming Illustrated Novel, The Strange Library

illustrated murkami

Quick note: If you just finished reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and if you’re now hankering for some more Murakami, you won’t have to wait very long. In December, his next book, a 96 page novella called The Strange Library, will be published by Knopf. And already, thanks to The Guardian, you can get a sneak preview of the illustrated edition. When you enter the Guardian gallery, make sure you click the arrows in the top right corner of the first image to see the illustrations in a larger format. The book can be pre-ordered here.

In the meantime, we have a few Murakami items (stories, music, film, etc.) to keep you busy this fall.

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Art Garfunkel Lists 1195 Books He Read Over 45 Years, Plus His 157 Favorites (Many Free)


If you’ve been wondering what Art Garfunkel has been up to lately, the answer is that it seems that he’s been reading. A lot.

The lanky, curly-haired number two guy for the seminal folk-rock band Simon & Garfunkel has been keeping track of every single thing he has read from June 1968 until October 2013 and he’s posted all of them  — 1,195 texts — on his website. The first item on his list is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and the last is Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos. In between, Garfunkel has knocked through some seriously daunting tomes –War and Peace, Ulysses, Middlemarch, Remembrance of Things Past and Immanuel Kant’s Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. He even reportedly read the entire Random House Dictionary.

His tastes generally run towards the greats of the Western Canon with some more pulpy works thrown in along the way. J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and Dan Brown make appearances, as does E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. For those who find it daunting to look at a list of 1,1195 books, Garfunkel also provides a list of his 157 favorites, which includes many great public domain works found in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections. You can 15 of Art’s favorites here:

“I read for the reading pleasure, not for the gold star,” Garfunkel told Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker in an interview a few years back. “Reading is a way to take downtime and make it stimulating. If you’re in the waiting room of a dentist’s office and don’t want to twiddle your thumbs, you turn to Tolstoy.”
Garfunkel’s list, or “library” as his website calls it, creates an expectantly intimate portrait of the artist. In the winter 1970, when Simon & Garfunkel released their biggest selling album, Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water, just as the duo was breaking up, Garfunkel blew through Moby Dick and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther before moving on to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea and then later Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness. When the duo reunited to play their famous concert in Central Park in 1981, Garfunkel polished off Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. And when Simon & Garfunkel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1990, he was reading Anthony Trollope’s An Autobiography.

The one type of book he doesn’t read is postmodern literature. His list of some 1195 books contains no mention of the likes of Don DeLillo, Donald Barthelme or Thomas Pynchon. “I tried Gravity’s Rainbow, and I thought it was fraudulent,” Garfunkel said.

Image above taken by Eddie Mallin.

via @pickover

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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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.


Watch George Harrison’s Final Interview and Performance (1997)

Before John Fugelsang was a well-known political commentator regularly opining at Huffington Post, MSNBC, and CNN, he caught a big break as a host on VH1 in the 90s, where he was, in his own words, “their de facto classic rock guy.” Interviewing the illustrious likes of Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Robbie Robertson, and Willie Nelson, Fugelsang had the chance to host “the most incredible all-star concerts that nobody would watch.” At least one of those concerts became tremendously significant in hindsight—on July 24, 1997, George Harrison came by the studio, talked at length about the Beatles, his own music, and spirituality, giving what would turn out to be his very last public interview and performance. Watch it above in a re-broadcast. That same year, Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer. He died in 2001.

Harrison appeared with his old friend Ravi Shankar—he had just produced Shankar’s Chants of India—and had only planned to stop by, Fugelsang says, and “give us a little 10-minute sound byte.” Instead they talked for twice that long and Harrison played, among other things, his classic “All Things Must Pass” from his 1970 solo record of the same name (above). The interview was, of course, a high point for the show’s host, who did everything he could to keep Harrison talking, connecting with him over their shared interest in religious faith. For Harrison, there was no separating music and spirituality. Reflecting on Shankar’s album, he says

And that’s really why for me this record’s important, because it’s another little key to open up the within. For each individual to be able to sit and turn off, um…”turn off your mind relax and float downstream” and listen to something that has its root in a transcendental, because really even all the words of these songs, they carry with it a very subtle spiritual vibration. And it goes beyond intellect really. So if you let yourself be free to let that have an effect on you, it can have an effect, a positive effect.

Harrison and Fugelsang also discussed the 1970 Concert for Bangladesh, which was partly set in motion by Shankar. In a life that included playing in the most famous band in the world then sustaining one of the most productive and successful solo careers in rock, 1970 was a watershed year for Harrison. The Bangladesh benefit marked the live debut of many of Harrison’s first solo compositions; and for a great many George Harrison fans, the Phil Spector-produced All Things Must Pass is the purest expression of the soft-spoken musician’s genius.

I only speak for myself in pointing to the haunting, hypnotic “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” (above) as the most beautiful and mysterious song on that album. Last night—it being George Harrison week on Conan O’Brien—Harrison’s son Dhani came on the show to play that song and “Let It Down,” also from All Things Must Pass. His appearance follows Paul Simon’s Tuesday night rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” and Beck’s cover of Harrison’s “Wah Wah” on Monday. These performances mark the release of a new Harrison box set, which has also occasioned a September 28th all-star tribute concert at L.A.’s Fonda Theater. Learn more about that event and other Harrison tributes and happenings at Consequence of Sound.

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

Henri Matisse Illustrates Baudelaire’s Censored Poetry Collection, Les Fleurs du Mal


We previously featured Henri Matisse’s illustrations for a 1935 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. If the Odyssey-themed etchings he did for that book surprised you, have a look at his illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection Les Fleurs du mal, first published in 1857. According to, the book (available in French and English in our collection of 600 Free eBooks) had “been illustrated over the years by a variety of major artists, including Emile Bernard, Charles Despiau, Jacob Epstein, Gustave Rodin, Georges Rouault, and Pierre-Yes Trémois. Each interpreted selected poems more or less faithfully. Matisse took a different approach in the 1947 edition published by La Bibliothèque Française.” As you can see from the examples provided here, he went an even more unconventional route this time, accompanying Baudelaire’s poems with nothing but portraiture.


The edition’s 33 portraits, including one of Matisse himself and one of Baudelaire, capture a variety of subjects, mostly women — also a source of inspiration for the poet. However, as the site that bears his name makes clear, “Matisse did not indulge in the biographical fallacies of the literary critics of his day who attempted to understand Baudelaire by associating each poem with the woman who may have inspired it. Thus, his gallery of facial portraits provides an accompaniment rather than an imitative rendition of selected poems.” Would that more illustrators of literature follow his example and make a break from pure literalism, allowing the meaning of the relationship between text and image to cohere in the reader-viewer’s mind. You might say that Matisse pioneered, in other words, the most poetic possible method of illustrating poetry.


Since it is Banned Books Week, it’s perhaps worth noting that Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal was quickly censored in France. Yale’s Modernism Lab website notes that, two months after its publication in 1857, a French court “banned six of Baudelaire’s erotic poems, two of them on lesbian themes and the other four heterosexual but mildly sado-masochistic. The ban was not officially lifted until 1949, by which time Baudelaire had achieved ‘classic’ status as among the most important influences on modern literature in France and throughout Europe.” A second expurgated (or as Baudelaire called it “mutilated“) edition was published in 1861. Presumably Matisse illustrated that edition in 1947. If you want to buy one of the 300 copies with Matisse’s illustrations, you will have to shell out about $7500.

matisse portrait

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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.

Cartoonists Draw Their Famous Cartoon Characters While Blindfolded (1947)


At some point in your life, no doubt, you’ve thought that you have done something so many times that you could do it with your eyes closed — be it change a diaper, make coffee, drive to work or perform a minor surgical procedure. Not that this would necessarily be a good idea (especially that last one) but there’s something about repetition, routine and muscle memory that makes a task so familiar that sight seems superfluous.

dick tracy

In 1947, LIFE Magazine asked some of the most famous cartoonists around to draw their comic strip characters blindfolded. The results are fascinating, looking a bit like the outcome of a clinical test on artists before and after taking illicit substances. (See our previous post: Artist Draws Nine Portraits on LSD During 1950s Research Experiment.)


Chic Young’s blindfolded version of Dagwood Bumstead is all dynamic lines and spirals, looking a bit like a doodle from an Italian Futurist. Chester Gould’s blind attempt at Dick Tracy’s chiseled profile looks not all that different from the sighted version. And Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon has all the elements there — the flinty eyes, the wavy hair – but it’s all jumbled together.

steve canyon

You can see more such drawings here.

via BoingBoing

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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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.


Monty Python and the Holy Grail Censorship Letter: We Want to Retain “Fart in Your General Direction”

Python Letter

If anyone could make toilet humor funny past the age of 14, it was Monty Python. Mining equally the halls of academia and the grade school yard, there was no register too high or too low for the masterful British satirists. And when it came time for them to release their second film in 1975—Arthurian spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail—the troop fought in vain to reach an audience of all ages. Unlike today’s many ratings gradations, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) then had a very simple classification system: AA for 14 and over, and A for ages 5-14. Hoping to increase the film’s audience, producer Mark Forstater wrote the letter above to fellow producer Michael White a few days after a Twickenham screening attended by BBFC member Tony Kerpel, who suggested a few cuts to bring the film an A rating.

In the letter, Forstater lists Kerpel’s recommendations:

Lose as many shits as possible
Take Jesus Christ out, if possible
Lose “I fart in your general direction”
Lose “the oral sex”
Lose “oh, fuck off”
Lose “We make castanets out of your testicles”

Two of these lines you no doubt recognize as uttered by the obnoxious mocking French guard the Grail questers encounter on their journey. Played by John Cleese, the Frenchman gets some of the best lines in the film, including the offending “fart” and “testicles” bits (at 2:15 and 6:05 in the clip above). Forstater must have had a keen sense of just how funny—therefore how necessary—these lines were. In his suggestions to White, he writes,

I would like to get back to the Censor and agree to lose the shits, take the odd Jesus Christ out and lose Oh fuck off, but to retain ‘fart in your general direction’, ‘castanets of your testicles’ and ‘oral sex’ and ask him for an ‘A’ rating on that basis.

Unfortunately for Britain’s Python-loving kids and for the film’s investors, the AA rating stuck, at least until 2006, when it was re-rated for ages 12 and above in a theatrical re-release. This by contrast to its U.S. status, where the movie first scored a PG rating and was later upgraded to PG-13 (which didn’t exist in 1975) for its Blu-ray release. Monty Python and the Holy Grail has received a variety of mature ratings in various countries and—we should mention, since it’s Banned Books Week—has been entirely banned in Malaysia.

Another comedy team encountered similar difficulties with film ratings. The South Park duo—similarly adept at pitching potty jokes to grown-ups—ended up with an R for the feature length Bigger, Longer & Uncut, though censors originally wanted an NC-17. See the cuts the MPAA recommended for that film in Matt Stone’s legendary response memo to the ratings board and read the full transcript of the Python letter at Letters of Note.

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

Steven Soderbergh Creates Silent, Black & White Recut of Raiders of the Lost Ark to Explain the Art of “Staging”

raiders silent

Since officially retiring from filmmaking last year, Steven Soderbergh has filled his time writing Twitter novellas, creating mashups of Alfred Hitchcock and Gus Van Sant Psycho films, and posting a log of all the films, TV shows and books he immersed himself in in 2009.

Now comes his latest side project: On his web site,, Soderbergh presents a short lesson in “staging,” a term that refers in cinema “to how all the various elements of a given scene or piece are aligned, arranged, and coordinated.” He tells us: “I operate under the theory a movie should work with the sound off, and under that theory, staging becomes paramount.”

To illustrate his point, he takes the entirety of Steven Spielberg’s 1981 film, The Raiders of the Lost Ark; turns it into a silent, black & white film (watch it here); and then adds this commentary:

So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me. Oh, and I’ve removed all sound and color from the film, apart from a score designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect. Wait, WHAT? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Well, I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this, I’m just saying this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math shit).

Ok, that’s probably enough film school for today…

via Metafilter

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Longform’s New, Free App Lets You Read Great Journalism from Your Favorite Publishers


If you have managed to keep your attention span intact during this distracting information age, then you’re almost certainly familiar with, a web site that makes it easy to find something great to read online, especially if you like reading informative, well-crafted works of non-fiction. Last week, Longform enhanced its service with the release of a new, free app for iPhone and iPad. It’s the “only 100% free app that filters out the internet junk and delivers nothing but smart, in-depth reads.” And, drawing on material from 1,000 publishers, the app lets readers “create their own custom feeds of high quality, feature-length journalism,” and then read it all on the go. It’s a mission that certainly aligns with ours, so we’re more than happy to give the new app a plug.

Sign up for our daily email and, once a day, we’ll bundle all of our daily posts and drop them in your inbox, in an easy-to-read format. You don’t have to come to us; we’ll come to you!

Read 14 Great Banned & Censored Novels Free Online: For Banned Books Week 2014


We well know of the most famous cases of banned books: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. In fact, a full 46 of Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” have been suppressed or challenged in some way. The American Library Association maintains a page that details the charges against each one. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird saw a challenge in the Vernon Verona Sherill, New York school district in 1980 as a “filthy, trashy novel” and in 1996, Lindale, Texas banned it from the advanced placement English reading list because it “conflicted with the values of the community.” Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has a lengthy rap sheet, including total banning in Ireland (1953), Morris, Manitoba (1982), and all high school classes in Kanawha, Iowa (1980). The list of censored undisputed classics—every one of which surely has its own piece of giant store art in Barnes & Nobles nationwide—goes on.

In many ways this is typical. “The banned books lists you’ll find in many libraries and bookstores,” writes John Mark Ockerbloom at Everybody’s Libraries, “doesn’t [sic] focus much on the political samizdat, security exposés, or portrayals of Mohammed that are the objects of forcible suppression today. Instead, they’re often full of classics and popular titles sold widely in bookstores and online—or dominated by books written for young readers, or assigned for school reading.” Are these lists—and the banned books celebrations that occasion them—just “shameless propaganda” as conservative Thomas Sowell alleges? “Is it wrong to call these books banned?” asks Ockerbloom in his essay “Why Banned Books Week Matters.” Of course he answers in the negative; “not if you take readers seriously. An unread book, after all, has as little impact as an unpublished book.” Books that don’t pass muster with administrators, school boards, library associations, and legislators of all kinds, argues Ockerbloom, can be as inaccessible to young readers as those that get destroyed or fully suppressed in parts of the world without legal provisions for free speech.

This situation is in great part remediated by the free availability of texts on the internet, whether those currently under a ban or those that—even if they line the shelves in brick and mortar stores and Amazon warehouses—still meet with frequent challenges from community organizations eager to control what their citizens read. Today, in honor of this year’s Banned Books Week, we bring you free online texts of 14 banned books that appear on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list. Next to each title, see some of the reasons these books were challenged, banned, or, in many cases, burned.

This staple of high school English classes everywhere seems to mostly get a pass. It did, however, see a 1987 challenge at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC for “language and sexual references.”

Seized and burned by postal officials in New York when it arrived stateside in 1922, Joyce’s masterwork generally goes unread these days because of its legendary difficulty, but for ten years, until Judge John Woolsey’s decision in its favor in 1932, the novel was only available in the U.S. as a bootleg. Ulysses was also burned—and banned—in Ireland, Canada, and England.

Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare often seems like one of the very few things liberals and conservatives can agree on—no one wants to live in the future he imagines. Nonetheless, the novel was challenged in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 for its supposedly “pro-communist” message, in addition to its “explicit sexual matter.”

Again the target of right-wing ire, Orwell’s work was challenged in Wisconsin in 1963 by the John Birch Society, who objected to the words “masses will revolt.” A 1968 New Survey found that the novel regularly appeared on school lists of “problem books.” The reason most often cited: “Orwell was a communist.”

  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (Audio)

Vonnegut’s classic has been challenged by parents and school boards since 1973, when it was burned in Drake, North Dakota. Most recently, it’s been removed from a sophomore reading list at the Coventry, RI high school in 2000; challenged by an organization called LOVE (Livingstone Organization for Values in Education) in Howell, MI in 2007; and challenged, but retained, along with eight other books, in Arlington Heights, IL in 2006. In that case, a school board member, “elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the internet.” Hear Vonnegut himself read the novel here.

London’s most popular novel hasn’t seen any official suppression in the U.S., but it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929. The book was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933; something of a historical irony given London’s own racist politics.

The Nazis also burned Sinclair’s novel because of the author’s socialist views. In 1959, East Germany banned the book as “inimical to communism.”

Lawrence courted controversy everywhere. Chatterly was banned by U.S. customs in 1929 and has since been banned in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), Canada (1960) and, most recently, China in 1987 because it “will corrupt the minds of young people and is also against the Chinese tradition.”

This true crime classic was banned, then reinstated, at Savannah, Georgia’s Windsor Forest High School in 2000 after a parent “complained about sex, violence, and profanity.”

Lawrence endured a great deal of persecution in his lifetime for his work, which was widely considered pornographic. Thirty years after his death, in 1961, a group in Oklahoma City calling itself Mothers Unite for Decency “hired a trailer, dubbed it ‘smutmobile,’ and displayed books deemed objectionable,” including Sons and Lovers.

  • Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs (Audio)

If anyone belongs on a list of obscene authors, it’s Burroughs, which is only one reason of the many reasons he deserves to be read. In 1965, the Boston Superior Court banned Burroughs’ novel. The State Supreme Court reversed that decision the following year. Listen to Burroughs read the novel here.

Poor Lawrence could not catch a break. In one of many such acts against his work, the sensitive writer’s fifth novel was declared obscene in 1922 by the rather unimaginatively named New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

American literature’s foremost master of melodrama, Dreiser’s novel was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazi bonfires because it “deals with low love affairs.”

You can learn much more about the many books that have been banned, suppressed, or censored at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Banned Books Online” page, and learn more about the many events and resources available for Banned Books Week at the American Library Association’s website.

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