Behold James Sowerby’s Strikingly Illustrated New Elucidation of Colours (1809)

James Sower­by was an artist ded­i­cat­ed to the nat­ur­al world. It thus comes as no sur­prise that he was also enor­mous­ly inter­est­ed in col­or, espe­cial­ly giv­en the era in which he lived. Born in 1757, he made his pro­fes­sion­al start as a painter of flow­ers: a viable career path in those days, at least to those with Sower­by’s tal­ent and ded­i­ca­tion. It was in 1790 that he began what would end up being the 23-years-in-the-mak­ing Eng­lish Botany, the land­mark 36-vol­ume work for which he remains best known today. Its 2,592 images cap­tured the full range of his coun­try’s flo­ra, some of them in hues that read­ers had nev­er before encoun­tered in real life.

Alas, writes Joyce Dixon at Shap­ing Colour, “as the years passed, Sower­by watched with dis­may as the bright hues of his hand-col­ored engrav­ings began to fade and decay — the inevitable action of time and chem­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty work­ing away at his water­col­or pig­ments.” This inspired anoth­er ambi­tious artis­tic-sci­en­tif­ic project: “to devel­op a stan­dard, uni­ver­sal and per­ma­nent method of rep­re­sent­ing nat­ur­al col­or.” In 1809, he invent­ed a device he called the “Chro­matome­ter,” which “pre­sent­ed a stan­dard, mea­sur­able pris­mat­ic spec­trum to the user.” Look­ing through a prism, that user could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly “pin­point spe­cif­ic col­ors in the spec­trum revealed by the prism, offer­ing a stan­dard ref­er­ence for a spe­cif­ic hue” iden­ti­fied in real­i­ty.

The Chro­matome­ter nev­er proved viable, writes Paul Sorene at Flash­bak, “because it was too fid­dly and botanists often worked at night,” but the work that doc­u­ment­ed it lives on. A New Elu­ci­da­tion of Colours, Orig­i­nal, Pris­mat­ic and Mate­r­i­al: Show­ing Their Con­cor­dance in the Three Prim­i­tives, Yel­low, Red and Blue: and the Means of Pro­duc­ing, Mea­sur­ing and Mix­ing Them: with some Obser­va­tions on the Accu­ra­cy of Sir Isaac New­ton presents a sys­tem of col­or the­o­ry based on red, yel­low, and blue (unlike mod­ern sys­tems, not red, green, and blue). At the same time that Sower­by was devel­op­ing it, his coun­try­man Thomas Young was putting togeth­er a sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry of his own about how all per­cep­tion of col­or aris­es from the eye com­bin­ing just three wave­lengths — a the­o­ry that turned out to be true.

You can read or down­load A New Elu­ci­da­tion at the Well­come Col­lec­tion or the Inter­net Archive. These dig­i­tized ver­sions include all of Sower­by’s orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions, for use with the Chro­matome­ter and oth­er­wise, which remain aes­thet­i­cal­ly com­pelling these two cen­turies lat­er. But as under­scored by the copi­ous amounts of text, they reflect a time when human­i­ty was com­ing into an under­stand­ing of not just how to repli­cate col­ors reli­ably and accu­rate­ly, but of the nature of col­or itself. Sower­by may not have had the last word on the sub­ject, despite hav­ing cor­rect­ed no less a fore­bear than New­ton, but his inves­ti­ga­tions can only have helped him look even more close­ly at the nat­ur­al king­doms he meant to cap­ture — includ­ing that of min­er­als, which was also beck­on­ing at the time.

via Flash­bak

Relat­ed con­tent:

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete High-Res­o­lu­tion Dig­i­tal Scan

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors: The 1810 Trea­tise That Inspired Kandin­sky & Ear­ly Abstract Paint­ing

A Vision­ary 115-Year-Old Col­or The­o­ry Man­u­al Returns to Print: Emi­ly Noyes Vanderpoel’s Col­or Prob­lems

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

The Book of Colour Con­cepts: A New 800-Page Cel­e­bra­tion of Col­or The­o­ry, Includ­ing Works by New­ton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The “Nonsense” Botanical Illustrations of Victorian Artist-Poet Edward Lear (1871–77)

Since the Vic­to­ri­an era, Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” has been, for gen­er­a­tion upon gen­er­a­tion in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world, the kind of poem that one sim­ply knows, whether one remem­bers actu­al­ly hav­ing read it or not. As with most such works that seep so per­ma­nent­ly into the cul­ture, it does­n’t quite rep­re­sent its author in full. Though more or less of a piece with his cel­e­brat­ed “non­sense” verse (which I myself read in child­hood, more than a cen­tu­ry after its ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion), it hints only vague­ly at his intense artis­tic engage­ment with the nat­ur­al world, through the obser­va­tion and live­ly por­tray­al of which he made his name as an illus­tra­tor.

“Lear was an atten­tive and informed read­er of Dar­win; he worked with John Gould, the nat­ur­al-his­to­ry entre­pre­neur who had actu­al­ly picked apart the vari­eties of finch that Dar­win had brought back from the Galá­pa­gos Islands,” writes the New York­er’s Adam Gop­nik, not­ing that his work evi­dences a Lin­naean obses­sion “with the pow­er of nam­ing, with stick­ing a tag on a thing which gives it a place at, and on, the table.” Lear gave Latin names to at least two real species of par­rots, but he also fab­ri­cat­ed such chimeras as Phat­tfa­cia Stu­pen­da, Arm­chairia Com­fort­a­bilis, Tigerlil­ia Ter­ri­bilis, exam­ples of which he also illus­trates in his Non­sense Botany series of the eigh­teen-sev­en­ties.

Lear’s “pen­chant for the nat­ur­al world,” says The Dilet­tante, shaped his “knack for invent­ing ridicu­lous land­scapes and anthro­po­mor­phiz­ing all kind of crea­tures and objects. The result is a sur­re­al Leare­an world of Scroobi­ous Pips, Quan­gle Wan­gles, and Great Grom­boo­lian Plains.” His “fan­ci­ful re-sculpt­ing of the phys­i­cal world is bril­liant­ly exem­pli­fied” in his Non­sense Botany, with its “sketch­es and enter­tain­ing cap­tions read as a tax­on­o­my of incon­gru­ous plant-crea­tures.” Whether at the Pub­lic Domain Review or Project Guten­berg, you can gaze upon them all and expe­ri­ence not just light amuse­ment, but also a kind of aston­ish­ment at Lear’s pecu­liar tal­ent: he does­n’t “find the amaz­ing in the ordi­nary,” as Gop­nik puts it; “he finds the ordi­nary in the amaz­ing.”

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold an Inter­ac­tive Online Edi­tion of Eliz­a­beth Twining’s Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants (1868)

Emi­ly Dickinson’s Herbar­i­um: A Beau­ti­ful Dig­i­tal Edi­tion of the Poet’s Pressed Plants & Flow­ers Is Now Online

Hor­tus Eystet­ten­sis: The Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Book of Plants That Changed Botan­i­cal Art Overnight (1613)

The Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library Makes 150,000 High-Res Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al World Free to Down­load

An Ani­mat­ed Read­ing of “The Jab­ber­wocky,” Lewis Carroll’s Non­sense Poem That Some­how Man­ages to Make Sense

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Simone de Beauvoir Explains “Why I’m a Feminist” in a Rare TV Interview (1975)

In Simone de Beau­voir’s 1945 nov­el The Blood of Oth­ers, the nar­ra­tor, Jean Blo­mart, reports on his child­hood friend Marcel’s reac­tion to the word “rev­o­lu­tion”:

It was sense­less to try to change any­thing in the world or in life; things were bad enough even if one did not med­dle with them. Every­thing that her heart and her mind con­demned she rabid­ly defended—my father, mar­riage, cap­i­tal­ism. Because the wrong lay not in the insti­tu­tions, but in the depths of our being. We must hud­dle in a cor­ner and make our­selves as small as pos­si­ble. Bet­ter to accept every­thing than to make an abortive effort, doomed in advance to fail­ure.

Marcel’s fear­ful fatal­ism rep­re­sents every­thing De Beau­voir con­demned in her writ­ing, most notably her ground­break­ing 1949 study, The Sec­ond Sex, often cred­it­ed as the foun­da­tion­al text of sec­ond-wave fem­i­nism. De Beau­voir reject­ed the idea that women’s his­tor­i­cal sub­jec­tion was in any way natural—“in the depths of our being.” Instead, her analy­sis fault­ed the very insti­tu­tions Mar­cel defends: patri­archy, mar­riage, cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion.

In the 1975 inter­view above with French jour­nal­ist Jean-Louis Ser­van-Schreiber—“Why I’m a Feminist”—De Beau­voir picks up the ideas of The Sec­ond Sex, which Ser­van-Schreiber calls as impor­tant an “ide­o­log­i­cal ref­er­ence” for fem­i­nists as Marx’s Cap­i­tal is for com­mu­nists. He asks De Beau­voir about one of her most quot­ed lines: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” Her reply shows how far in advance she was of post-mod­ern anti-essen­tial­ism, and how much of a debt lat­er fem­i­nist thinkers owe to her ideas:

Yes, that for­mu­la is the basis of all my the­o­ries…. Its mean­ing is very sim­ple, that being a woman is not a nat­ur­al fact. It’s the result of a cer­tain his­to­ry. There is no bio­log­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal des­tiny that defines a woman as such…. Baby girls are man­u­fac­tured to become women.”

With­out deny­ing the fact of bio­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence, De Beau­voir debunks the notion that sex dif­fer­ences are suf­fi­cient to jus­ti­fy gen­der-based hier­ar­chies of sta­tus and social pow­er. Wom­en’s sec­ond-class sta­tus, she argues, results from a long his­tor­i­cal process; even if insti­tu­tions no longer inten­tion­al­ly deprive women of pow­er, they still intend to hold on to the pow­er men have his­tor­i­cal­ly accrued.

Almost 50 years after this interview—and 75 years since The Sec­ond Sex—the debates De Beau­voir helped ini­ti­ate rage on, with no sign of abat­ing any­time soon. Although Ser­van-Schreiber calls fem­i­nism a “ris­ing force” that promis­es “pro­found changes,” one won­ders whether De Beau­voir, who died in 1986, would be dis­mayed by the plight of women in much of the world today. But then again, unlike her char­ac­ter Mar­cel, De Beau­voir was a fight­er, not like­ly to “hud­dle in a cor­ner” and give in. Ser­van-Schreiber states above that De Beau­voir “has always refused, until this year, to appear on TV,” but he is mis­tak­en. In 1967, she appeared with her part­ner Jean-Paul Sartre on a French-Cana­di­an pro­gram called Dossiers.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Fem­i­nist Phi­los­o­phy of Simone de Beau­voir

Simone de Beau­voir Speaks on Amer­i­can TV (in Eng­lish) About Fem­i­nism, Abor­tion & More (1976)

Simone de Beau­voir Tells Studs Terkel How She Became an Intel­lec­tu­al and Fem­i­nist (1960)

Simone de Beauvoir’s Phi­los­o­phy on Find­ing Mean­ing in Old Age

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

How Rome Began: The History As Told by Ancient Historians

Much atten­tion has been paid to the fall of the Roman Empire, by every­one from august his­to­ri­ans like Edward Gib­bon to mod­ern-day observers wring­ing their hands over the fate of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. But as every Rome enthu­si­ast knows, that long col­lapse con­sti­tutes just one chap­ter — or rather, a series of chap­ters at the very least — of a sto­ry with much more to it. And as with any sto­ry, nobody can hope to under­stand how it ends unless they under­stand how it begins: hence the new Voic­es of the Past video above, “How Did Rome Begin?”

If you’re at all famil­iar with Roman mythol­o­gy (or if you, like me, played Cen­tu­ri­on: Defend­er of Rome grow­ing up), you’ll have seen the image of the twins broth­ers Romu­lus and Remus being nursed by a giant she-wolf, la Lupa Capi­toli­na, on the banks of the Tiber riv­er. Accord­ing to one ver­sion of events, Rome was found­ed by Romu­lus on April 21st in 753 BCE, after he killed Remus and named the Eter­nal City-to-be after him­self.

What rela­tion­ship this dra­mat­ic tale has to his­tor­i­cal events is a mat­ter of schol­ar­ly inter­est, but Voic­es of the Past’s inves­ti­ga­tion has a wider scope, begin­ning four and a half cen­turies ear­li­er with the fall of Troy as told by Homer, one of the many sources cit­ed along the video’s two-hour his­tor­i­cal jour­ney.

To make vivid the con­di­tions under which Rome arose, the video close­ly exam­ines the ruins of the ancient world while quot­ing the words of his­to­ri­ans who lived under the actu­al Roman Empire, like Livy and Diony­sius of Hali­car­nas­sus. While they may come with cer­tain embell­ish­ments, and even fab­ri­ca­tions, these texts togeth­er offer a coher­ent nar­ra­tive of Rome’s rise, which in this video stretch­es to eight tur­bu­lent cen­turies. Its final chap­ter opens in 387 BC, with the storm of Rome’s sack by the Gauls quick­ly gath­er­ing. For Roman cit­i­zens at the time, it would have seemed that their long-estab­lished city had met its end. Lit­tle did they know, it still had — if not an eter­ni­ty — cen­turies and cen­turies still to go.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear an Ancient Chi­nese His­to­ri­an Describe The Roman Empire (and Oth­er Voic­es of the Past)

What the Romans Saw When They Reached New Parts of the World: Hear First-Hand Accounts by Appi­an, Pliny, Tac­i­tus & Oth­er Ancient His­to­ri­ans

The His­to­ry of Ancient Japan: The Sto­ry of How Japan Began, Told by Those Who Wit­nessed It (297‑1274)

The His­to­ry of Ancient Rome in 20 Quick Min­utes: A Primer Nar­rat­ed by Bri­an Cox

Do You Think About Ancient Rome Every Day? Then Browse a Wealth of Videos, Maps & Pho­tos That Explore the Roman Empire

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Martin Scorsese Plays Vincent Van Gogh in a Short, Surreal Film by Akira Kurosawa

The idea of the auteur direc­tor has been a con­tro­ver­sial one at times giv­en the sheer num­ber of peo­ple required at every stage to pro­duce a film. But it hangs togeth­er for me when you look at the films of say, Mar­tin Scors­ese or Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, both direc­tors with very dis­tinc­tive visu­al lan­guages and ways of mov­ing the cam­era. Grant­ed, nei­ther direc­tor would be who he is with­out their crack teams of actors, writ­ers, com­posers, cin­e­matog­ra­phers, etc. But it is part of their genius to con­sis­tent­ly pull those teams togeth­er to real­ize visions that none of the indi­vid­u­als involved could ful­ly see on their own. Though the final prod­uct may be the result of mil­lions of dol­lars and thou­sands of hours of work by hun­dreds of peo­ple, the films of an auteur take shape fore­most in the direc­tors’ mind’s eye (and paint­ings and sto­ry­boards) rather than the writer’s script or pro­duc­er’s con­fer­ence room.

These direc­tors are dri­ven, like painters, to real­ize their visions, and in Kuro­sawa’s case, that dri­ve last­ed right up until the end of his life. (It was his wish to die on set, though an acci­dent left him unable to walk and put an end to his direct­ing career three years before the end of his life.) A painter him­self, his films have always been col­or­ful and painter­ly, and his final few projects were intense­ly so. One of those last films, 1990’s Dreams, the first of his films for which he alone wrote the screen­play, not only orig­i­nat­ed ful­ly in Kuro­sawa’s mind, but in his uncon­scious. A depar­ture from his typ­i­cal­ly epic nar­ra­tives, the film fol­lows var­i­ous Kuro­sawa sur­ro­gates through eight vignettes, based on eight recur­ring dreams, each one unfold­ing with a sur­re­al log­ic all of its own. In the fifth short episode, “Crows,” Kuro­sawa casts Scors­ese, his fel­low auteur and his equal as a visu­al styl­ist, as Vin­cent Van Gogh.

The cam­era begins in a gallery, mov­ing rest­less­ly before sev­er­al Van Gogh paint­ings and behind an art student—identifiable as a Kuro­sawa stand-in by the flop­py white hat he puts on in the next scene, when he wan­ders into the French coun­try­side of the paint­ings. The fields, bridge, and barns are ren­dered in Van Gogh’s bril­liant col­ors and skewed lines—and the stu­dent jour­neys fur­ther in to meet the artist him­self: Scors­ese in red beard and ban­daged ear. This is the only episode in the film not in Japan­ese; the stu­dent speaks French to a group of women, and Van Gogh speaks Scors­ese’s New York-accent­ed Eng­lish, giv­ing a les­son on “nat­ur­al beau­ty” (the video above adds Span­ish sub­ti­tles). It is not the most con­vinc­ing per­for­mance from Scors­ese, but that hard­ly seems to be the point. This is not so much Scors­ese as Van Gogh, but rather Van Gogh as Scors­ese, and Kuro­sawa dreams him­self as a younger acolyte of his Amer­i­can coun­ter­part.

“Crows,” writes Vin­cent Can­by, is the “least char­ac­ter­is­tic seg­ment ” of Dreams—the oth­ers man­i­fest much more famil­iar, more Japan­ese, scenes and themes. But it is for that rea­son that “Crows” is per­haps the most reveal­ing of Kuro­sawa’s state­ments on his sta­tus as an auteur and his rela­tion­ship with his peers. He approach­es Van Gogh/Scorsese not as a rival or even an equal, but as a stu­dent, filled with ques­tions and a desire to under­stand the artist’s meth­ods and motives. The short seg­ment speaks to the way Kuro­sawa eager­ly learned much from West­ern artists even as he mas­tered his own cin­e­mat­ic lan­guage with dis­tinct­ly Japan­ese sto­ries. In this way, he man­i­fest­ed yet anoth­er qual­i­ty of the auteur: a tru­ly inter­na­tion­al approach to film that tran­scends bar­ri­ers of lan­guage and cul­ture.

You can pur­chase a copy of Kuro­sawa’s com­plete film here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Paint­ings of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa

Revis­it Mar­tin Scorsese’s Hand-Drawn Sto­ry­boards for Taxi Dri­ver

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

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Oscar-Winning Director Frank Capra Made an Educational Science Film Warning of Climate Change in 1958

In 2015, we high­light­ed for you The Strange Case of the Cos­mic Rays, a large­ly-for­got­ten 1957 edu­ca­tion­al sci­ence film. The pro­duc­tion is notable part­ly because it was shot by Frank Capra, the influ­en­tial direc­tor who had won not one, not two, but three Oscars for best direc­tor. And also because the film fea­tured pup­pets of Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky, Charles Dick­ens & Edgar Allan Poe. Don’t believe me? Then watch here.

But the sub­ject of today’s post is not The Strange Case of the Cos­mic Rays. It’s anoth­er of the four films that Capra cre­at­ed for “The Bell Lab­o­ra­to­ry Sci­ence Series.” It’s called The Unchained God­dess, and it has its own rea­sons for get­ting high­light­ed here.

Shown on Amer­i­can TV and lat­er in US class­rooms, The Unchained God­dess explains what weath­er is, and how weath­er works. And, real­ly quite pre­scient­ly, it talks about the risk of man-made cli­mate change … in 1958. One of the nar­ra­tors declares:

Even now, man may be unwit­ting­ly chang­ing the world’s cli­mate through the waste prod­ucts of its civ­i­liza­tion. Due to our releas­es in fac­to­ries and auto­mo­biles every year of more than six bil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide, which helps the air absorb heat from the sun, our atmos­phere may be get­ting warmer.

And is that bad, the ques­tion gets asked?:

Well, it’s been cal­cu­lat­ed a few degrees rise in the Earth’s tem­per­a­ture would melt the polar ice caps. And if this hap­pens, an inland sea would fill a good por­tion of the Mis­sis­sip­pi val­ley. Tourists in glass bot­tom boats would be view­ing the drowned tow­ers of Mia­mi through 150 feet of trop­i­cal water. For in weath­er, we’re not only deal­ing with forces of a far greater vari­ety than even the atom­ic physi­cist encoun­ters, but with life itself.

Inter­est­ing dia­logue, to be sure. But what makes it all the more intrigu­ing is this: Frank Capra co-wrote the script for the film, and he was no lib­er­al. He was a con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can, who strong­ly opposed F.D.R. and cel­e­brat­ed Amer­i­can indi­vid­u­al­ism. But Capra stud­ied chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing at Cal­tech and put stock in sci­en­tif­ic research — before it became ide­o­log­i­cal­ly anath­e­ma to do so.

You can watch the key cli­mate change scene from The Unchained God­dess up top, and the full film below. It’s also added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

Pup­pets of Dos­to­evsky, Dick­ens & Poe Star in 1950s Frank Capra Edu­ca­tion­al Film

Open Plan­et Lets You Down­load & Use 4,500 Free Videos That Doc­u­ment Nature & Cli­mate Change

 

Eno: The New “Generative Documentary” on Brian Eno That’s Never the Same Movie Twice

Bri­an Eno once wrote that “it’s pos­si­ble that our grand­chil­dren will look at us in won­der and say, ‘You mean you used to lis­ten to to exact­ly the same thing over and over again?’ ” That spec­u­la­tion comes from an essay on what he calls “gen­er­a­tive music,” which is auto­mat­i­cal­ly pro­duced by dig­i­tal sys­tems in accor­dance with human-set rules and pref­er­ences: “like live music, it is always dif­fer­ent. Like record­ed music, it is free of time-and-place lim­i­ta­tions.” These words were first pub­lished near­ly 30 years ago, in his book A Year with Swollen Appen­dices. Today, he has at least one grand­child, whose hand­writ­ing fig­ures in one of the music videos from his lat­est solo album. That par­tic­u­lar work may be non-gen­er­a­tive, but his inter­est in the con­cept of the gen­er­a­tive in art endures.

This year, Eno even stars in a gen­er­a­tive doc­u­men­tary about his life as an artist, music pro­duc­er, and “son­ic land­scap­er” direct­ed by Gary Hus­twit, best known for Hel­veti­ca and oth­er non-fic­tion films on design. The New York Times’ Rob Tan­nen­baum writes that Eno “is unlike any oth­er por­trait of a musi­cian. It’s not even a por­trait, because it isn’t fixed or sta­t­ic. Instead, Hus­twit used a pro­pri­etary soft­ware pro­gram that recon­fig­ures the length, struc­ture and con­tents of the movie.” This suit­ed both Eno’s pro­fes­sion­al phi­los­o­phy and his antipa­thy to the con­ven­tion­al doc­u­men­tary form. “Our lives are sto­ries we write and rewrite,” Tan­nen­baum quotes him as writ­ing in an e‑mail. ‘There is no sin­gle reli­able nar­ra­tive of a life.”

In fact, there are about 52 quin­til­lion dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives, to go by the esti­mate of pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tions of Eno Hus­twit has giv­en in inter­views. “We could make a 10-hour series about Bri­an, and we still wouldn’t be scratch­ing the sur­face of every­thing he’s done,” he told The Verge. “I just added a bunch of footage this past week that’s going into the Film Forum week two runs, which has nev­er been in the sys­tem before.” Not only do “we get to keep dig­ging into the footage and bring­ing new things into it, but we also get to keep chang­ing the soft­ware. And I don’t know, in a year from now, what the film will look like or what the stream­ing ver­sions of it will be.”

What Eno did­n’t have to clar­i­fy in 1996, but Hus­twit has to clar­i­fy in 2024, is that this kind of gen­er­a­tive film isn’t gen­er­at­ed by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Empha­siz­ing that “the data set is all our mate­r­i­al,” includ­ing 30 hours of inter­views and 500 hours of con­ven­tion­al­ly shot film, Hus­twit frames his enter­prise’s cus­tom soft­ware, acronymi­cal­ly called Brain One, “as more like gar­den­ing.” That metaphor could have come straight from Eno him­self, who’s spo­ken about “chang­ing the idea of the com­pos­er from some­body who stood at the top of a process and dic­tat­ed pre­cise­ly how it was car­ried out, to some­body who stood at the bot­tom of a process who care­ful­ly plant­ed some rather well-select­ed seeds.” Even­tu­al­ly, “you stop think­ing of your­self as me, the con­troller, you the audi­ence, and you start think­ing of all of us as the audi­ence, all of us as peo­ple enjoy­ing the gar­den togeth­er.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Eno: A 1973 Mini-Doc Shows Bri­an Eno at the Begin­ning of His Solo Career

Watch Bri­an Eno’s “Video Paint­ings,” Where 1980s TV Tech­nol­o­gy Meets Visu­al Art

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

How David Byrne and Bri­an Eno Make Music Togeth­er: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

Watch Anoth­er Green World, a Hyp­not­ic Por­trait of Bri­an Eno (2010)

Watch Bri­an Eno’s Exper­i­men­tal Film “The Ship,” Made with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Choose Your Own Adventure Books Became Beloved Among Generations of Readers

We’ve all read plen­ty of lit­er­a­ture writ­ten in the first per­son, and plen­ty of lit­er­a­ture writ­ten in the third per­son. The sec­ond per­son, with its main sub­ject of nei­ther “I” nor “he” or “she” but “you,” is con­sid­er­ably hard­er to come by, and the writ­ers who take it up tend to be exper­i­menters (like B. S. John­son or Georges Perec) or brazen in some oth­er sense (like the Jay McIn­er­ney of Bright Lights, Big City). But if you grew up in the Amer­i­ca of the nine­teen-eight­ies or nineties, there’s a decent chance you absorbed a mega-dose of sec­ond-per­son nar­ra­tive with­out even real­iz­ing it. It would have come in the form of Choose Your Own Adven­ture books, with that tan­ta­liz­ing promise on their cov­ers: “YOU’RE THE STAR OF THE STORY!”

You can hear the sto­ry of Choose Your Own Adven­ture books them­selves told in the Galaxy Media Video at the top of the post — or, with greater homage paid to the branch­ing-text form, in this recent New York­er piece by Leslie Jami­son. Read­ing a “Choose book,” she writes, “you got to imag­ine that you were get­ting into trou­ble in out­er space, or in the future, or under the sea. You got to make choic­es every few pages: Do you ask the ghost about her inten­tions, or run away? Do you rebel against the alien over­lords, or blind­ly obey them?”

The sec­ond-per­son voice gave these books a brac­ing imme­di­a­cy, but their real appeal lay, of course, in the choic­es they offered, and even more so in the con­se­quences: some­times glo­ry, some­times death, and more often a fate unset­tling­ly in between.

The con­cept from which Choose Your Own Adven­ture books evolved was first con­ceived in the sev­en­ties by Edward Packard, a lawyer with a habit of con­sult­ing his chil­dren about what should hap­pen next in their bed­time sto­ries. His name will sound famil­iar indeed to any­one who lived a Choose books-laden child­hood. He wrote the very first vol­ume, The Cave of Time from 1979, as well as many that fol­lowed, includ­ing such mem­o­rably fright­en­ing or bizarre ear­ly issues as The Mys­tery of Chim­ney Rock, with its per­ilous haunt­ed house, and Inside UFO 54–40, which offered a glimpse of par­adise only to read­ers who “cheat­ed” by ignor­ing its fixed deci­sion paths.

Back in the ear­ly nineties, when I was comb­ing sec­ond-hand shops for Choose Your Own Adven­ture books, I quick­ly came to pre­fer the vol­umes from the late sev­en­ties and ear­ly eight­ies, with their exot­i­cal­ly passé aes­thet­ics and their rel­a­tive­ly unsan­i­tized con­tent. In the video just above, writer-Youtu­ber Jason Arnopp looks at The Mys­tery of Chim­ney Rock and the lat­er The Hor­ror of High Ridge, whose illus­tra­tions of mur­der­ous Old West appari­tions (none of whom have any regard for the lives of the whole­some-look­ing, sweater-clad teens at the cen­ter of the sto­ry) have stuck with me to this day. Adult­hood has turned out to involve no con­fronta­tions with blood­thirsty ghosts wield­ing tom­a­hawks and hot pok­ers. Nev­er­the­less, Choose Your Own Adven­ture books taught gen­er­a­tions of us the impor­tant les­son that there’s no such thing as a clear-cut deci­sion; you’ve just got to turn the page and hope for the best.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The 100 Great­est Children’s Books of All Time, Accord­ing to 177 Books Experts from 56 Coun­tries

Dig­i­tal Archives Give You Free Access to Thou­sands of His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books

Enter an Archive of 7,000 His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books, All Dig­i­tized & Free to Read Online

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Dou­glas Adams in 1984

Star­ship Titan­ic: The Video Game Cre­at­ed by Dou­glas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with Help from John Cleese & Ter­ry Jones

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

You Can Buy Historic Italian Houses for €1 — But What’s the Catch?

From Abruz­zo to Verge­moli, small Ital­ian towns and vil­lages have recent­ly been mak­ing their his­toric homes avail­able for pur­chase for as low as €1. Giv­en the pic­turesque nature of many of these places, such offers have proven prac­ti­cal­ly irre­sistible to for­eign buy­ers who’ve made their mon­ey and are look­ing to escape the big-city rat race, or even those sim­ply prone to Under the Tus­can Sun-type fan­tasies. But this is, of course, more than just a mat­ter of wiring a sin­gle Euro and jet­ting off to a life of rus­tic beau­ty and sim­plic­i­ty. As shown in these videos from Explained with Dom and Insid­er News, you’ve got to put much more mon­ey into the acqui­si­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of these hous­es, not to men­tion the sweat equi­ty involved.

“As young Ital­ians increas­ing­ly migrate to the city” — if not to oth­er coun­tries entire­ly — “and choose cos­mopoli­tan jobs over rur­al and com­mu­ni­ty voca­tions, many of Italy’s pret­ti­est remote vil­lages are becom­ing aban­doned, with tiny, age­ing pop­u­la­tions that are begin­ning to die off,” write the Inde­pen­dent’s Lucy Thack­ray.

“Some elder­ly Ital­ians have found them­selves with no one to leave their house to, bequeath­ing it instead to the local author­i­ties, who have to decide what to do with it, while some younger cit­i­zens have inher­it­ed prop­er­ties in areas they have no inten­tion of mov­ing to.” And so “around 25 Ital­ian munic­i­pal­i­ties are mak­ing prospec­tive home­own­ers an offer they can’t refuse,” though cer­tain con­di­tions do apply.

Old and less than immac­u­late­ly main­tained on the whole, these hous­es tend to require ren­o­va­tions “in the region of €20,000–50,000 depend­ing on the size of the prop­er­ty.” And the author­i­ties do make sure you’ll actu­al­ly per­form the work: “new own­ers are required to sub­mit details of a ren­o­va­tion project with­in two to 12 months of pur­chase (depend­ing on the loca­tion), start work with­in one year, and com­plete it with­in the next three.” Add on all the addi­tion­al (and often unex­pect­ed) fees, and even a best-case sce­nario starts to look pricey. Still, if you’re total­ly com­mit­ted to reha­bil­i­tat­ing a ven­er­a­ble Ital­ian home — and not just to rent it out to vaca­tion­ers, which some areas explic­it­ly pro­hib­it — it might sound like a fair enough deal.

One thing is cer­tain: any­one look­ing to buy into one of Italy’s cheap-house schemes (at a price of €1 or oth­er­wise) should go in with not just suf­fi­cient knowl­edge of domes­tic archi­tec­ture and remod­el­ing, but also a famil­iar­i­ty with Ital­ian ways of doing busi­ness — which have done their part to con­tribute to the so-called “Ital­ian dis­ease” that has sad­dled the coun­try with decades of eco­nom­ic stag­na­tion, but aren’t like­ly to change any time soon. And above all, it should go with­out say­ing that the first step of act­ing on a desire to play a part in bring­ing one of Italy’s “ghost towns” back to life is learn­ing the Ital­ian lan­guage — a task you can start right here on Open Cul­ture. Buona for­tu­na to you.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Explor­ing the Great­est of Italy’s 6,000 Ghost Towns: Take a Tour of Cra­co, Italy

Dis­cov­er the Ghost Towns of Japan — Where Scare­crows Replace Peo­ple, and a Man Lives in an Aban­doned Ele­men­tary School Gym

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes–As They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

Free Ital­ian Lessons

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Jimi Hendrix Unplugged: Two Great Recordings of Hendrix Playing Acoustic Guitar

As a young gui­tar play­er, per­haps no one inspired me as much as Jimi Hen­drix, though I nev­er dreamed I’d attain even a frac­tion of his skill. But what attract­ed me to him was his near-total lack of formality—he didn’t read music, wasn’t trained in any clas­si­cal sense, played an upside-down right-hand­ed gui­tar as a lefty, and ful­ly engaged his head and heart in every note, nev­er paus­ing for an instant (so it seemed) to sec­ond-guess whether it was the right one. I knew his raw emo­tive play­ing was firm­ly root­ed in the Delta blues, but it wasn’t until lat­er in my musi­cal jour­ney that I dis­cov­ered his return to more tra­di­tion­al form after he dis­band­ed The Expe­ri­ence and formed Band of Gyp­sys with Bil­ly Cox and Bud­dy Miles. While most of the record­ings he made with them didn’t see offi­cial release, they’ve appeared since his death in com­pi­la­tion after boxset after com­pi­la­tion, includ­ing one of the most beloved of Hendrix’s blues songs, “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

Orig­i­nal­ly titled “Get My Heart Back Togeth­er” when he played it at Wood­stock in 1969, the song is pure roots, with lyrics that bespeak of both Hendrix’s lone­li­ness and his play­ful dreams of great­ness. (“I’m gonna buy this town / And put it all in my shoe.”) Sev­er­al ver­sions of the song float around on var­i­ous posthu­mous releases—both live and as stu­dio out­takes (includ­ing two dif­fer­ent takes on the excel­lent 1994 Blues).

But we have the rare treat, above, of see­ing Hen­drix play the song on a twelve-string acoustic gui­tar, Lead Belly’s instru­ment of choice. The footage comes from the 1973 doc­u­men­tary film Jimi Hen­drix (which you can watch on YouTube for $2.99). Hen­drix first plays the intro, seat­ed alone in an all-white stu­dio, play­ing folk-style with the fin­gers of his left hand. It is, of course, flaw­less, yet still he stops and asks the film­mak­ers for a redo. “I was scared to death,” he says, betray­ing the shy­ness and self-doubt that lurked beneath his mind-blow­ing abil­i­ty and flam­boy­ant per­sona. His play­ing is no less per­fect when he picks up the tune again and plays it through.

Solo acoustic record­ings of Hendrix—film and audio—are incred­i­bly rare. If like me you’re a fan of Hen­drix, acoustic blues, or both, this video will make you hunger for more Jimi unplugged. While Hen­drix did more than any­one before him to turn gui­tar amps into instru­ments with his squalls of elec­tric feed­back and dis­tort­ed wah-wah squeals, when you strip his play­ing down to basics, he’s still pret­ty much as good as it gets.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jimi Hen­drix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band” Days After the Song Was Released (1967)

Jimi Hen­drix Opens for The Mon­kees on a 1967 Tour; Then After 8 Shows, Flips Off the Crowd and Quits

Behold Moe­bius’ Many Psy­che­del­ic Illus­tra­tions of Jimi Hen­drix

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

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Watch Hardware Wars, the Original Star Wars Parody, in HD (1978)

This past May, YouTu­ber Jen­ny Nichol­son set off waves of social-media dis­course with “The Spec­tac­u­lar Fail­ure of the Star Wars Hotel,” a four-hour-long video cri­tique of Dis­ney’s huge­ly expen­sive, now-shut­tered Star Wars: Galac­tic Star­cruis­er in Orlan­do, Flori­da. Hav­ing gone viral enough to rack up over nine mil­lion views in less than two months, it’s arguably become more of a suc­cess than some recent Star Wars movies. In part, that owes to Nichol­son’s hav­ing tapped into a grow­ing dis­com­fort, felt even among die-hard fans, with the trans­for­ma­tion of an escapist space opera into an ever-vaster and less account­able busi­ness empire. The time has come, many seem to feel, to pop the Star Wars bub­ble.

Some, of course, have felt that way for a long time. “I duti­ful­ly thrilled to the ear­li­er films, to their con­trast of black-vel­vet skies and blind­ing white sands, but I was a lit­tle too old to wor­ship them or study their var­i­o­rum edi­tions,” writes New York­er film crit­ic Antho­ny Lane in his review of The Phan­tom Men­ace, from 1999.

“Even in the late sev­en­ties, we had a sus­pi­cion that Star Wars was nerd ter­ri­to­ry.” That sus­pi­cion inspired such works as the Hard­ware Wars, the very first Star Wars par­o­dy. Released in 1978, this micro-bud­get pro­duc­tion shot on Super 8 film spoofs the ram­shackle bom­bast of the orig­i­nal Star Wars, then still play­ing in the­aters, in the form of a thir­teen-minute-long fic­tion­al trail­er.

“Steam irons and toast­ers sus­pend­ed by clear­ly vis­i­ble strings were the space­ships, a bas­ket­ball was a plan­et on the brink of destruc­tion, and the robot Artie Decko was a defunct vac­u­um clean­er,” writes Salon’s Bob Cal­houn. But “from its card­board sets to the cos­tumes, Hard­ware Wars is an amaz­ing fac­sim­i­le of its source mate­r­i­al, despite obvi­ous bud­get and time con­straints.” The goal of its cre­ators Ernie Fos­selius and Michael Wiese had been to meet Star Wars cre­ator George Lucas, who lat­er called it his favorite Star Wars par­o­dy. And indeed, its humor holds up these 46 years lat­er, though younger view­ers may need some help under­stand­ing the joke in a name like Augie Ben-Dog­gie, to say noth­ing of the final line, deliv­ered by famed voice actor Paul Frees: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss three bucks good­bye.” Above, you can watch Hard­ware Wars in a brand new HD trans­fer.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Com­plete Star Wars “Fil­mu­men­tary”: A 6‑Hour, Fan-Made Star Wars Doc­u­men­tary, with Behind-the-Scenes Footage & Com­men­tary

Watch the Very First Trail­ers for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi (1976–83)

Fans Recon­struct Authen­tic Ver­sion of Star Wars, As It Was Shown in The­aters in 1977

The Mak­ing of Star Wars as Told by C‑3PO & R2-D2: The First-Ever Doc­u­men­tary on the Film (1977)

A Star Wars Film Made in a Wes Ander­son Aes­thet­ic

NASA Cre­ates Movie Par­o­dy Posters for Its Expe­di­tion Flights: Down­load Par­o­dies of Metrop­o­lis, The Matrix, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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