I suspect many fewer people are assigned John Hersey’s Hiroshima, a book most everyone in my cohort read at some stage in their education. And certainly, far fewer people are subjected to the kind of alarmist (and reasonably so) propaganda films that dramatized the grisly details of fallout and nuclear winter. Even the recent HBO miniseries Chernobyl, with its grotesque depiction of radiation poisoning, prompted a wave of tourism to the site, drawing Instagram generation gawkers born too late to have heard the terrifying news firsthand.
Yet, the threat of a nuclear disaster and its attendant horrors has hardly gone away. The UN General Assembly issued a statement this year warning of the highest potential for a devastating incident since the Cuban Missile Crisis. We are entering a new era of nuclear proliferation, with many countries who have no love for each other joining the race. “As the risk of nuclear confrontation grows,” writes Simon Tisdall at The Guardian, “the cold war system of treaties that helped prevent Armageddon is being dismantled, largely at Trump’s behest.” Calls for a No-First-Use policy in the U.S. have grown more urgent.
Living memory of the period in which two global superpowers almost destroyed each other, and took everyone else with them, has not deterred the architects of today’s geopolitics. But remembering that history should nonetheless be required of us all. In the Business Insider video above, you can get a sense of the scope of nuclear testing that escalated throughout the Cold War, in an animated timeline showing every single explosion in Japan and the various testing sites in Russia, New Mexico, Australia, and the Pacific Islands from 1945 into the 1990s, when they finally drop off. As the decades progress, more countries amass arsenals and conduct their own testing.
Despite the expert warnings, something certainly has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Over a forty year period, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. trained to annihilate the other, and the prospect of nuclear war became an extinction-level event. That may not be the case in a fragmented, multipolar world with many smaller countries vying for regional supremacy. But a nuclear event, intention or accidental, could still be catastrophic on the order of thousands or millions of deaths. The animation shows us how we got here, through decades of normalizing the stockpiling and testing of the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.
The origin of dramatic storytelling in cinema is often traced to a single movie, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. It also happens to be a film that celebrates the racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan, based on a novel, The Clansman, that does the same. The film’s technical achievements and its racism became integral to Hollywood thereafter. Only relatively recently have black filmmakers begun entering the mainstream with very different kinds of stories, winning major awards and making record profits.
This would have been unthinkable in the 1920s, a period of intense racial violence when black WWI veterans came home to find their country armed against them. “When the soldiers returned,” writes Megan Pugh for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, “Jim Crow still reigned supreme and lynch mobs continued to terrorize the South.” Hollywood placated white audiences by only ever featuring black characters in subservient, stereotypical roles, or casting white actors in blackface.
Against these oppressive representations, black filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux and George and Noble Jackson “used cinema to confront American racism,” responding to Griffith with films like Micheaux’s Within Our Gates and the Jacksons’ uplifting The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition. There were also several white filmmakers who made so-called “race movies.” But most of their films avoid any explicit political commentary.
These include the films of Richard Norman, who between 1920 and 1928 made seven feature-length silent movies with all-black casts, “geared toward black audiences.” He made romances, comedies, and adventure films, casting black actors in serious, “dignified” roles. “Instead of tackling discrimination head-on in his films,” writes Pugh, “Norman created a kind of world where whites—and consequently racism—didn’t even exist.”
Though we may see this as a cynical commercial decision, and its own kind of appeasement to segregation, the approach also enabled Norman to tell powerful, alternate-universe stories that a more realist bent would not allow. 1926’s The Flying Ace, for example, Norman’s only surviving film, is about a black fighter pilot returning home to “resume his civilian career as a railroad detective—without removing his Army Air Service uniform, a constant reminder of his patriotism and valor.”
Norman tells the moving story of Captain Billy Stokes (see Part 1 at the top), “a model for the ideals of racial uplift,” despite the fact that “African-Americans were not allowed to serve as pilots in the United States Armed Forces until 1940.” One might say that rewriting recent history as wish-fulfillment has always been a function of cinema since… well, at least since The Birth of a Nation, if not further back to The Great Train Robbery.
Norman takes this impulse and dramatizes the life of an impossibly heroic black WWI serviceman, at a time when such men faced widespread abuse and discrimination in reality. While he insisted that he only made genre films, and avoided what he called the “propaganda nature” of Micheaux’s films, it’s hard not to read The Flying Ace as a political statement of its own, and not only for its oblique topical commentary.
The film centers on positive, complex black characters at a time when studios made quite a bit of money doing exactly the opposite. Norman gave black audiences heroes of their own to root for. In The Flying Ace, Captain Stokes not only returns from flying dangerous missions for his country, but he then goes on to capture a band of thieves who stole his employer’s payroll. The character “never would have made it onscreen in a Hollywood movie of the time.”
Norman established his studio in Jacksonville Florida, at the time considered “the Winter Film Capital of the World.” Many major studios decamped there from New York until WWI, when they moved west to L.A. Norman, who grew up in Middleburg, Florida, made a fortune inventing soft drinks before turning to movies. He returned to his home state to find little competition left in Jacksonville in the 1920s.
His studio would become “one of the three leading producers of race films in America,” next to the Micheaux Film Corporation and the Jacksons’ Lincoln Motion Picture Company. In 2016, Norman Studios was designated a National Historic Landmark. The filmmaker’s son, Richard Norman Jr. became a pilot, inspired by The Flying Ace, and has plans to turn the building into a museum celebrating Jacksonville's, and Norman's, cinema legacy.
The image of America is an image bound up with the movies. That even goes for America as represented in media other than film, suggesting a certain cinematic character in American life itself. No painter understood that character more thoroughly than Edward Hopper, an avid filmgoer who worked for a time creating movie posters. He even "storyboarded" his most famous 1942 Nighthawks, whose late-night diner remains the visual definition of U.S. urban alienation. And though Hopper's America also encompasses the countryside, never would his views of it feel out of place in a work of film noir. His cinematic paintings have in turn influenced cinema itself, shaping the visual sensibilities of auteurs across countries and generations.
Nighthawks, cited as an influence on urban visions like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, has also been faithfully recreated in films like Herbert Ross' Pennies from Heaven, Wim Wenders' The End of Violence, and Dario Argento' Deep Red. 1952's House by the Railroad has inspired directors from Alfred Hitchcock in Psycho to Terrence Malick in Days of Heaven.
A glance across the rest of Hopper's body of work reminds each of us of countless shots from throughout cinema history, American and otherwise. Perhaps even more films will be brought to mind by the Hopper-paintings-turned-animated GIFs commissioned by travel site Orbitz as "a 21st-century tribute to this titan of 20th-century art, for the younger generation who may not have been directly introduced to his work."
The ten of Hopper's works thus brought to life include, of course, Nighthawks and House by the Railroad, as well as other of his paintings both early and late, such as 1927's Automat and 1952'sMorning Sun. Both paintings depict a woman alone, a motif emphasized by the notes accompanying the animations. In the nighttime of Automat, she "has an empty plate in front of her, suggesting she’s already had something to eat with her coffee," and the window's reflection of lamps extending into the darkness suggests her "possible loneliness." In the daytime of Morning Sun, the building outside the window "suggests that the woman’s view is not a particularly scenic one," and "the fact that she is sitting merely to enjoy the sun could be interpreted as her desire to be closer to the outdoors, to nature, and escape the bleakness of urban life."
Even in a more scenic setting, like the Cape Elizabeth, Maine of 1927's Lighthouse Hill, an enriching touch of bleakness nevertheless comes through. "Both the lighthouse and cottage are the focal points of the painting, yet despite the blue sky and calm scenery displayed, the shadows bring an ominous feeling to what one would assume is an inviting house." Befitting the work of a painter whose use of light and shadow still inspires artists of all kinds today, these GIFs mostly animate light sources: the blink of a neon sign, the sun's daily arc across the sky.
The GIF of 1939's New York Movie, Hopper's most overt tribute to the cinema, introduces the flickering of the film projector. Purists may not appreciate these touches, but many of us will realize that Hopper's projectors have always been flickering, his neon signs always blinking, his cups of coffee always steaming, and his suns always setting, at least in our minds. See all of the animated gifs here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
Alice Babette Toklas met Gertrude Stein in 1907, the day she arrived in Paris. They remained together for 39 years until Stein’s death in 1946. While Stein became the center of the avant-garde art world, hosting an exclusive salon that welcomed the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toklas largely preferred to stay in Stein’s shadow, serving as her secretary, editor and assistant.
That changed in 1933 when Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas -- a retelling of the couple’s life together with Toklas serving as narrator. The book is Stein’s most accessible and best-selling work. It also turned the shy, self-effacing Toklas into a literary figure.
After Stein’s death, Toklas published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, which combined personal recollections of her time with Stein along with recipes and musings about French cuisine. Yet it wasn’t her stories about tending to the wounded during WWI or her opinions on mussels that made the book famous. Instead, it was the inclusion of a recipe given to her by Moroccan-based artist Brion Gysin called “Hashish Fudge.”
In this 1963 recording from Pacifica Radio, Toklas reads her notorious recipe. The snack “might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR,” Toklas notes in her reedy, dignified voice. Then she gets on to the recipe itself:
Take one teaspoon black peppercorns, one whole nutmeg, four average sticks of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of Cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
Toklas concedes that getting the key ingredient “can present certain difficulties” and recommends finding the stuff in the wild, which might have been possible to do in the early 1960s. Nowadays, the best course of action is to move to Washington, Colorado or Uruguay.
In the recording, Toklas then goes on to recall how hashish fudge came to be included into her book.
“The recipe was innocently included without my realizing that the hashish was the accented part of the recipe,” she says without a trace of facetiousness. “I was shocked to find that America wouldn’t accept it because it was too dangerous.”
“It never went into the American edition,” she says. “The English are braver. We’re not courageous about that sort of thing.”
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January 2014.
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.
What role does improv comedy play in popular culture? It shows up in the work of certain film directors (like Christopher Guest, Adam McKay, and Robert Altman) and has surfaced in some of the TV work of Larry David, Robin Williams, et al. But only in the rare case of a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway? is the presence of improvisation obvious. So is this art form doomed to live on the fringes of entertainment? Is it maybe of more apparent benefit to its practitioners than to audiences?
Here are more improv podcasts; Paul F. Tompkins has probably been a guest on all of them. Though really, aren’t nearly all podcasts (and reality TV shows, for that matter) improv? There are several other lists of best improv podcasts you can easily find with a quick web search.
Certain cult historical figures have served as prescient avatars for the techno-visionaries of the digital age. Where the altruistic utopian designs of Buckminster Fuller provided an ideal for the first wave of Silicon Valley pioneers (a group including computer scientist and philosopher Jaron Lanier and Wired editor Kevin Kelly), later entrepreneurs have hewn closer to the principles of brilliant scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, who believed, as he told Liberty magazine in 1935, that “we suffer the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age.”
Such an adjustment would come, Tesla believed, only in “mastering the machine”—and he seemed to have supreme confidence in human mastery—over food production, climate, and genetics. We would be freed from onerous labor by automation and the creation of “a thinking machine” he said, over a decade before the invention of the computer. Tesla did not anticipate the ways such machines would come to master us, even though he cannily foresaw the future of wireless technology, computing, and telephony, technologies that would radically reshape every aspect of human life.
In an earlier, 1926, interview in Colliers magazine, Tesla predicted, as the editors wrote, communicating “instantly by simple vest-pocket equipment.” His actual words conveyed a much grander, and more accurate, picture of the future.
When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is…. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.
The complexity of smart phones far outstrips that of the telephone, but in every other respect, Tesla’s picture maps onto the reality of almost 100 years later. Other aspects of Tesla’s future scenario for wireless also seem to anticipate current technologies, like 3D printing, though the kind he describes still remains in the realm of science fiction: “Wireless will achieve the closer contact through transmission of intelligence, transport of our bodies and materials and conveyance of energy.”
But Tesla’s vision had its limitations, and they lay precisely in his techno-optimism. He never met a problem that wouldn’t eventually have a technological solution (and like many other techno-visionaries of the time, he heartily endorsed state-sponsored eugenics). “The majority of the ills from which humanity suffers,” he said, “are due to the immense extent of the terrestrial globe and the inability of individuals and nations to come into close contact.”
Wireless technology, thought Tesla, would help eradicate war, poverty, disease, pollution, and general discontent, when were are “able to witness and hear events—the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle—just as though we were present.” When international boundaries are “largely obliterated” by instant communication, he believed, “a great step will be made toward the unification and harmonious existence of the various races inhabiting the globe.”
Tesla did not, and perhaps could not, foresee the ways in which technologies that bring us closer together than ever also, and at the same time, pull us ever further apart. Read Tesla's full interview here, in which he also predicts that women will become the "superior sex," not by virtue of "the shallow physical imitation of men" but through "the awakening of the intellect."
With his first three features Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino claimed 1990s Los Angeles as his own. Then he struck boldly out into not just new geographical and cultural territories, but other time periods. With his first full-on period piece, 2009's Inglourious Basterds, he showed audiences just how he intended to use history: twisting it for his own cinematic purposes, of course, but only making his departures after steeping himself in accounts of the time in which he envisioned his story taking place. This naturally involves plenty of reading, and Tarantino recently provided HistoryNet with a few titles that helped him properly situate Inglourious Basterds in the Europe of the Second World War.
Tarantino calls Ian Ousby'sOccupation:The Ordeal of France 1940–1944 "a very good overview that answered all of my questions about life in Nazi-occupied France." Ulysses Lee's The Employment of Negro Troopsis "the most profound thing I’ve ever read on both the war and racist America of the 1940s, commissioned by the U.S. Army to examine the effectiveness of their employment of black soldiers." And for Tarantino, who doesn't just make films but lives and breathes them, understanding Nazi Germany means understanding its cinema, beginning with Eric Rentschler'sMinistry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife, "a wonderful critical reexamination of German cinema under Joseph Goebbels" that "goes far beyond the demonizing approach employed by most writers on this subject," including even excerpts from Goebbels' diaries.
Rentschler also "dares to make a fair appraisal of Nazi filmmaker Veit Harlan," who made antisemitic blockbusters as one of Goebbels' leading propaganda directors. But the work of no Nazi filmmaker had as much of an impact as that of Leni Riefenstahl, two books about whom Tarantino puts on his World War II reading list: Glenn B. Infield's Leni Riefenstahl: The Fallen Film Goddess, the first he ever read about her, as well as Riefenstahl's eponymous memoir, which he calls "mesmerizing. Though you can’t believe half of it. That still leaves half to ponder. Her descriptions of normal friendly conversations with Hitler are amazing and ring of truth" — and that praise comes from a filmmaker who made his own name with good dialogue.
In a recent DGA Quarterly conversation with Martin Scorsese, Tarantino revealed that he's also at work on a book of his own about that era: "I've got this character who had been in World War II and he saw a lot of bloodshed there. Now he's back home, and it's like the '50s, and he doesn't respond to movies anymore. He finds them juvenile after everything that he's been through. As far as he's concerned, Hollywood movies are movies. And so then, all of a sudden, he starts hearing about these foreign movies by Kurosawa and Fellini," thinking "maybe they might have something more than this phony Hollywood stuff." He soon finds himself drawn inexorably in: "Some of them he likes and some of them he doesn't like and some of them he doesn't understand, but he knows he's seeing something." This is hardly the kind of premise that leads straight to the kind of violent catharsis in which Tarantino specializes, but then, he's pulled off more unlikely artistic feats in his time.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
Given the history of New York’s East Village as the first foreign language neighborhood in the country after waves of European immigration, perhaps it’s only natural that Klaus Nomi, opera-singing German performance artist who made a name for himself in the punk clubs of the late 70s, would find a home there.
By his time, the tenements had given way to other demographic waves: including Beatniks, writers, actors, Warholian Factory superstars, and punk and New Wave scenesters, whom Dangerous Mind’s Richard Metzger calls a “second generation” after Warhol, “drawn in by that Warhol myth but doing their own things.”
Even amidst the thriving DIY experimentalism of Post-Warholian art, fashion, and music, of a scene including Talking Heads, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, Nomi stood out. It was the way he seemed to inhabit two time periods at once. He arrived both as a cabaret performer from Weimar Germany—a tragic clown with the voice of an angel—and as a thoroughly convincing intergalactic traveler, teleporting in briefly from the future.
No one was prepared for this when he made his New York debut at Irving Plaza’s New Wave Vaudeville show in 1978, evoking an even earlier era by singing “Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix,” from Camille Saint-Saëns' 1877 opera Samson et Dalila. After his stunning performance, he would disappear from the stage in a confusion of strobe lights and smoke. East Village artist Joey Arias remembers, “It was like he was from a different planet and his parents were calling him home.”
Other acts at New Wave Vaudeville, a four-night East Village variety show, were “doing a punk version of Mickey Rooney, ‘We’re going to do a goofy show,’” says Kristian Hoffman, the musician who became Nomi’s musical director. In came Nomi with “a whole different level of accomplishment.” MC David McDermott was obliged to announce that he was not singing to a recording. You can see Nomi debut at New Wave Vaudeville above, in a clip from the 2004 film The Nomi Song.
The significance of these early performances goes far beyond the immediate shock of their first audiences. At these shows, Nomi met Hoffman, who would form his band and write the songs for which he became best known. Producer and director of the New Wave Vaudeville show Susan Hannaford and Ann Magnuson were also the owner and bartender at Club 57, where Nomi would help them organize exhibits by artists like Kenny Scharf.
Seeing Nomi’s debut can still feel a bit like watching a visitor arrive from both the past and the future at once. And it is lucky we have this early footage of an artist who would to on to perform with David Bowie and become a gay icon and pioneer of theatrical New Wave. But we should also see his arrival on the scene as an essential document of the history of the East Village, and its transformation into “a playground,” as Messy Nessy writes, “for artistic misanthropes, anarchists, exhibitionists, queers, poets, punks and everything in between,” including opera-singing aliens from West Berlin.
Were Ebert alive today would he still express himself thusly in a recorded interview? His remarks are specific to his cinematic passion, but still. As a smart Midwesterner, he would have realized that the corn has ears and the potatoes have eyes. Remarks can be taken out of context. (Witness the above.)
Recent history has shown that not everyone is keen to roll back the clock—women, people of color, and gender non-conforming individuals have been reclaiming their narratives in record numbers, airing secrets, exposing injustice, and articulating offenses that can no longer stand.
If powerful, older, white heterosexual men in the entertainment business are exercising verbal caution these days when speaking as a matter of public record, there’s some goodly cause for that.
His musings on how differently the public would have viewed him had he been born white seem even more relevant today. Readers who are only passingly acquainted with his artistic output and legend may be surprised to hear him tracing his allegiance to “thug life” to the positive role he saw the Black Panthers playing in his single mother’s life when he was a child.
On the other hand, Shakur’s lavish and freely expressed self pity at the way the press reported on his rape charge (for which he eventually served 9 months) does not sit at all well in 2019, nor did it in 1994.
Like the majority of Blank on Blank entries, the recording was not the interview’s final form, but rather a journalistic reference. Animator Patrick Smith may add a layer of visual editorial, but in terms of narration, every subject is telling their own undiluted truth.
It is interesting to keep in mind that this was one of the first interviews the Blank on Blank team tackled, in 2013.
Six years later, it’s hard to imagine they would risk choosing that portion of the interview to animate. Had Shakur lived, would he be cancelled?
Broadcaster and television host Larry King. While King has steadfastly rebutted accusations of groping, we suspect that if the Blank on Blank team was just now getting around to this subject, they’d focus on a different part of his 2001 Esquire profile than the part where he regales interviewer Cal Fussman with tales of pre-cellphone “seduction.”
It’s only been six years since the series’ debut, but it’s a different world for sure.
If you’re among the easily triggered, living legend Meryl Streep’s thoughts on beauty, harvested in 2014 from a 2008 conversation with Entertainment Weekly’s Christine Spines, won’t offer total respite, but any indignation you feel will be in support of, not because of this celebrity subject.
For even more evidence of “a different world,” check out interviewer Howard Smith’s remark to Janis Joplin in her final interview-cum-Blank-on-Blank episode, four days before here 1970 death:
A lot of women have been saying that the whole field of rock music is nothing more than a big male chauvinist rip off and when I say, “Yeah, what about Janis Joplin? She made it,” they say, “Oh…her.” It seems to bother a lot of women’s lib people that you’re kind of so up front sexually.
Joplin, stung, unleashes a string of invectives against feminists and women, in general. One has to wonder if this reaction was Smith’s goal all along. Or maybe I’m just having flashbacks to middle school, when the popular girls would always send a delegate disguised as a concerned friend to tell you why you were being shunned, preferably in a highly public gladiatorial arena such as the lunchroom.
I presume that sort of stuff occurs primarily over social media these days.
Good on the Blank on Blank staff for picking up on the tenor of this interview and titling it “Janis Joplin on Rejection.”
Two years ago, a scandalous “art heist” at the Neues Museum in Berlin—involving illegally made 3D scans of the bust of Nefertiti—turned out to be a different kind of crime. The two Egyptian artists who released the scans claimed they had made the images with a hidden “hacked Kinect Sensor,” reports Annalee Newitz at Ars Technica. But digital artist and designer Cosmo Wenman discovered these were scans made by the Neues Museum itself, which had been stolen by the artists or perhaps a museum employee.
The initial controversy stemmed from the fact that the museum strictly controls images of the artwork, and had refused to release any of their Nefertiti scans to the public. The practice, Wenman pointed out, is consistent across dozens of institutions around the world. “There are many influential museums, universities, and private collections that have extremely high-quality 3D data of important works, but they are not sharing that data with the public.” He lists many prominent examples in a recent Reason article; the long list includes the Venus de Milo, Rodin’s Thinker, and works by Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo.
Whatever their reasons, the aggressively proprietary attitude adopted by the Neues seems strange considering the controversial provenance of the Nefertiti bust. Germany has long claimed that it acquired the bust legally in 1912. But at the time, the British controlled Egypt, and Egyptians themselves had little say over the fate of their national treasures. Furthermore, the chain of custody seems to include at least a few documented instances of fraud. Egypt has been demanding that the artifact be repatriated “ever since it first went on display.”
This critical historical context notwithstanding, the bust is already "one of the most copied works of ancient Egyptian art," and one of the most famous. “Museums should not be repositories of secret knowledge,” Wenman argued in his blog post. Prestigious cultural institutions “are in the best position to produce and publish 3D data of their works and provide authoritative context and commentary.”
Wenman waged a “3-year-long freedom of information effort” to liberate the scans. His request was initially met with “the gift shop defense”—the museum claimed releasing the images would threaten sales of Nefertiti merchandise. When the appeal to commerce failed to dissuade Wenman, the museum let him examine the scans "in a controlled setting"; they were essentially treating the images, he writes, "like a state secret." Finally, they relented, allowing Wenman to publish the scans, without any institutional support.
He has done so, and urged others to share his Reason article on social media to get word out about the files, now available to download and use under a CC BY-NC-SA license. He has also taken his own liberties with the scans, colorizing and adding the blue 3D mapping lines himself to the image at the top, for example, drawn from his own interactive 3D model, which you can view and download here. These are examples of his vision for high-quality 3D scans of artworks, which can and should "be adapted, multiplied, and remixed."
"The best place to celebrate great art," says Wenman, "is in a vibrant, lively, and anarchic popular culture. The world's back catalog of art should be set free to run wild in our visual and tactile landscape." Organizations like Scan the World have been releasing unofficial 3D scans to the public for the past couple years, but these cannot guarantee the accuracy of models rendered by the institutions themselves.
Whether the actual bust of Nefertiti should be returned to Egypt is a somewhat more complicated question, since the 3,000-year old artifact may be too fragile to move and too culturally important to risk damaging in transit. But whether or not its virtual representations should be given to everyone who wants them seems more straightforward.
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