The Mechanical Monsters: Seminal Superman Animated Film from 1941

In 1941, director Dave Fleischer and Paramount Pictures animators Steve Muffati and George Germanetti produced Superman: The Mechanical Monsters -- a big-budget animated adaptation of the popular Superman comics of that period, in which a mad scientist unleashes robots to rob banks and loot museums, and Superman, naturally, saves the day. It was one of seventeen films that raised the bar for theatrical shorts and are even considered by some to have given rise to the entire Anime genre.

More than a mere treat of vintage animation, the film captures the era's characteristic ambivalence in reconciling the need for progress with the fear of technology in a culture on the brink of incredible technological innovation. It was the dawn of the techno-paranoia that persisted through the 1970s, famously captured in the TV series Future Shock narrated by Orson Welles, and even through today. Take for example books like Nicholas Carr's The Shallows and Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Superman: The Mechanical Monsters is available for download on The Internet Archive, and Toonami Digital Arsenal has the complete series of all seventeen films. Find more vintage animation in Open Culture's collection of Free Movies Online.

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.

How Large is the Universe?

For centuries, humanity has been utterly transfixed by the cosmos, with generations of astronomers, philosophers and everyday ponderers striving to better understand the grand capsule of our existence. And yet to this day, some of the most basic, fundamental qualities of the universe remain a mystery. How Large is the Universe? is a fascinating 20-minute documentary by Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody exploring the universe's immense scale of distance and time.

"Recent precision measurements gathered by the Hubble space telescope and other instruments have brought a consensus that the universe dates back 13.7 billion years. Its radius, then, is the distance a beam of light would have traveled in that time – 13.7 billion light years. That works out to about 1.3 quadrillion kilometers. In fact, it's even bigger – much bigger. How it got so large, so fast, was until recently a deep mystery."

For more on the subject, see these five fascinating ways to grasp the size and scale of the universe.

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.

Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man

In 1900, L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which went on to become one of the most beloved children's books of all time, reprinted and reinvented in a myriad stage plays, films, TV series, musicals and other adaptations. But Baum's original tale featured a little-known backstory about the Tin Woodsman – a morality tale about a man who gets so caught up in his work that he loses sight of what really matters in life.

Director Brian McCormick decided to capture this poetic tale and the hidden love story about a simple woodsman and a beautiful maiden in Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man -- an artfully shot short film, viewable for free online.

Additional behind-the-scenes footage reveals the production process and meticulous craftsmanship of the film's art direction, sound design and cinematography.

Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of eclectic interestingness and indiscriminate curiosity. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine, BigThink and Huffington Post, and spends too much time curating interestingness on Twitter.

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