The White House’s Forgotten 1970s Vinyl Record Collection: Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Captain Beefheart, Donna Summer & More




Though it may not be for everyone, the job of President of the United States of America does have its perks. Take, for example, the ability to screen any film you like at the White House: here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured lists of movies watched by Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. But for Carter in particular, music seems to have been even more important than cinema. So explains John Chuldenko, stepson of that former president’s son Jack, in the episode of The 1600 Sessions above. In it, he tells of his rediscovery of an institution created under Nixon, greatly expanded under Carter, and packed away under Reagan: the White House Record Library.

“The Library, begun by First Lady Pat Nixon, was curated by a volunteer commission of noted music journalists, scholars, and other experts,” says the White House Historical Association. When it came time to update it at the end of the nineteen-seventies, writes Washingtonian’s Rob Brunner, “the selection process would be headed by John Hammond, a hugely influential figure who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen.” Hammond also enlisted genre experts like “Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was responsible for jazz, and Boston music critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks.”


The resulting collection of more than 2,000 LPs contains more than a few albums you wouldn’t expect to hear at the White House. These include Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys (which contains “one of the greatest critiques of both Southern and Northern racism,” as Blumenthal recalls), Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. On the more danceable end of the spectrum, the White House Record Library also includes Funkadelic’s, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Donna Summer — all of their work selected expressly for presidential use.

Having last been updated in 1981 and summarily carted off to “a secure undisclosed storage facility,” the Library remains a musical time capsule of that era. So Chuldenko discovered when, following a thread of family lore, he managed to track down a curator who could arrange a listening session for him. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” he said to Washingtonian. “There’s no electronic music. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson!” Having succeeded in his mission of finding the White House Record Library, he’s set for himself the even more formidable challenge of bringing it up to date. Certainly its geographical purview will have to widen, given how America now listens to so much music from beyond its borders. Would the White House care to hear any K-pop recommendations?

Related content:

Haruki Murakami Announces an Archive That Will House His Manuscripts, Letters & Collection of 10,000+ Vinyl Records

Google Gives 360° Tour of the White House

Listen to James Baldwin’s Record Collection in a 478-track, 32-Hour Spotify Playlist

The Library of Congress Makes Its Archives Free for DJs to Remix: Introducing the “Citizen DJ” Project

David Bowie Lists His 25 Favorite LPs in His Record Collection: Stream Most of Them Free Online

The Internet Archive Is Digitizing & Preserving Over 100,000 Vinyl Records: Hear 750 Full Albums Now

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Helen Keller Was a “Firebrand” Socialist (or How History Whitewashed Her Political Life)




We expect that histories of famous figures will prune their lives, sand down rough edges, rewrite and revise awkward and inconvenient facts. What we may not expect – at least in the U.S. – is that decades of a famous person’s life will be redacted from the record. This is essentially what happened, however, to the biography of Helen Keller even before her death in 1968. Perhaps the main offender remains playwright William Gibson’s 1957 The Miracle Worker, adapted from the 1903 autobiography she wrote at 23. Ostensibly about Keller, the story centers instead, beginning with its title, on her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

The play (and 1962 film with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke reprising their stage parts), portrays Keller as a child, a role she was perpetually assigned by her critics throughout her adult life. She authored and published 14 books and dozens of essays during her 87 years, delivered hundreds of speeches, and maintained a friendship and correspondence with many important figures of the day. But in addition to the usual sexism, she had to contend with those who thought her disability rendered her unfit to express opinions on matters such as politics. They asked that she “confine my activities to social service and the blind,” she wrote in a sardonic reply.


Keller’s political vision was written off as “a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.” What did she see in her mind that made critics rush to belittle her? An end to war and Jim Crow; women’s suffrage, labor rights; an end to poverty and the preventable childhood illnesses it engendered…. In a word, Helen Keller was a socialist — and a publicly committed one. “That we know so little of her avowed socialism is astonishing, because she was an extroverted firebrand who delivered hundreds of radical speeches during” — writes Eileen Jones at Jacobin, quoting the 2020 documentary Her Socialist Smile — “‘a fifty-year run on the lecture circuit.'”

Keller published frequent articles on the newly formed Soviet Union, Eugene Debs and the IWW (including “Why I Became an IWW” in 1916), and “Why Men Need Woman Suffrage” (in 1913). “Turning the yellowing pages of radical newspapers and magazines from 1910 to the early 1920’s,” writes historian Philip Foner in an introduction to her collected socialist writings, “one frequently finds the name Helen Keller beneath speeches, articles, and letters dealing with major social questions of the era. The vision which runs through most of these writings is the vision of socialism.”

Mark Twain may have been the first to call Anne Sullivan a “miracle worker” and Keller “a miracle,” but he treated Keller “not as a freak,” she wrote, but as an equal and shared many of her views. He helped fund her education at Radcliffe College (then a part of Harvard ) and encouraged her to speak and publish. Keller joined the socialist party at age 29, in 1909, and in 1912, she published an article in The New York Call titled “How I Became a Socialist.” The answer, she writes: “by reading.” As would be the case throughout her life, Keller felt the need to take a defensive posture: critics had accused John and Anne Macy (formerly Sullivan) of corrupting her, to which she replied that she neither shared Mr. Macy’s propagandistic variety of Marxism nor did Mrs. Macy share either of their views.

Keller’s political writing is now widely available thanks to the internet, and can no longer be suppressed by educators who want to use her childhood and disability but ignore most of her adult life. Even students watching the PBS American Masters documentary Becoming Helen Keller (see clip at the top) will learn that, gasp, yes, she was a socialist. Dig deeper, and they’ll find her views were unique and significant to the U.S. left: Keith Rosenthal writes at International Socialist Review:

She was a serious political thinker who made important contributions in the fields of socialist theory and practice…. [S]he was a pioneer in pointing the way toward a Marxist understanding of disability oppression and liberation—this reality has been overlooked and censored. The mythological Helen Keller that we are familiar with has aptly been described as a sort of “plaster saint;” a hollow, empty vessel who is little more than an apolitical symbol for perseverance and personal triumph.

Get to know the real Helen Keller — or a seriously overlooked (at least) side of her life — in her political writings herehere, and here and watch a video introduction to her politics by Historically Fantastic further up.

via Jacobin

Related Content: 

A New Massive Helen Keller Archive Gets Launched: Take a Digital Look at Her Photos, Letters, Speeches, Political Writings & More

Watch Helen Keller & Teacher Annie Sullivan Demonstrate How Helen Learned to Speak (1930)

Mark Twain & Helen Keller’s Special Friendship: He Treated Me Not as a Freak, But as a Person Dealing with Great Difficulties

Helen Keller Writes a Letter to Nazi Students Before They Burn Her Book: “History Has Taught You Nothing If You Think You Can Kill Ideas” (1933)

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

How Hans Zimmer Created the Otherworldly Soundtrack for Dune




Many emotional moments were made at this year’s big awards shows. The Slap, amidst so many historic wins; poignant tributes and criminal omissions; former actor-turned-wartime-hero-president Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech, the return of Louis C.K…. Everybody’s got a lot to process. Pop culture can feel like a St. Vitus dance. One half-expects celebrities to start dropping from exhaustion. But then there’s Hans Zimmer’s Oscar acceptance speech, delivered in a white terry bathrobe, a miniature Oscar statuette in his pocket, a big goofy, 2 a.m. grin on his face. The man could not have looked more relaxed, winning his second Oscar 30 years after The Lion King.

Was he still in lockdown? No. On the night in question, Zimmer was in a hotel in Amsterdam, on tour with his band. “His category was among the eight that were handed out before the televised broadcast began,” Yahoo reports, “but he made sure his fans knew just how thrilled he was.” Zimmer posted a mini-acceptance speech to social media. “Who else has pajamas like this?” he joked to the other musicians gathered in the room. “Actually, let me say this, and this is for real. Had it not been for you, most of the people in this room, this would never have happened.” He is, as he says, “for real.”


As the musicians who worked with Zimmer on his Oscar-winning Dune soundtrack (stream it here) have gone on the record to say, the process was highly collaborative. “He’ll outline the desired end result rather than prescribing a specific means of getting there,” guitarist Guthrie Govan told The New York Times. “For one cue, he just said, ‘This needs to sound like sand.'” Zimmer’s methods offer new ways out of the cul-de-sac much of the creative industry seems to find itself in, repeating the same unhealthy compulsions. “If someone has a great idea,” he says, “I’m the first one to say, yes. Let’s go on that adventure.”

Along with collaboration, there is vision, and the willingness–as Zimmer says in Vanity Fair video interview at the top–to “invent instruments that don’t exist. Invent sounds that don’t exist.” Such future-thinking has always characterized his approach, from his synth pop and new wave work in the late 70s, including a stint killing the radio star with the Buggles, to his groundbreaking film composition work on Rain Man, The Thin Red Line, and the gritty blockbusters of Christopher Nolan. Though he’s scored action and adventure films unlikely to ever be considered art, Zimmer’s own way of working is thoroughly avant-garde.

As he tells it above, the point, in composing for Dune, was to throw out the science fiction boilerplate, the “orchestral sounds, romantic period tonalities” that have dominated at least since Kubrick’s 2001. On the other hand, Zimmer says, he wanted to get rid of modern syncopation. “Maybe in the future, we will not have regular beats. Maybe we will have actually progressed as human beings that we don’t need disco beats to enjoy ourselves,” he says laughing, before going on to demonstrate how he and his collaborators created some of the most original music in film history. Of course, the disco beat is comforting because it mimics the human heart. In making his Dune score, Zimmer was composing for a kind of post-human future, one dominated not by award-show drama but by giant sandworms.

Related Content: 

Hear Hans Zimmer’s Experimental Score for the New Dune Film

Hear 9 Hours of Hans Zimmer Soundtracks: Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight & Much More

Why You Should Read Dune: An Animated Introduction to Frank Herbert’s Ecological, Psychological Sci-Fi Epic

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

How to Enter a ‘Flow State’ on Command: Peak Performance Mind Hack Explained in 7 Minutes

You can be forgiven for thinking the concept of “flow” was cooked up and popularized by yoga teachers. That word gets a lot of play when one is moving from Downward-Facing Dog on through Warrior One and Two.

Actually, flow – the state of  “effortless effort” – was coined by Goethe, from the German “rausch”, a dizzying sort of ecstasy.

Friedrich Nietzsche and psychologist William James both considered the flow state in depth, but social theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, is the true giant in the field. Here’s one of his definitions of flow:

Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

Author Steven Kotler, Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective, not only seems to spend a lot of time thinking about flow, as a leading expert on human performance, he inhabits the state on a fairly regular basis, too.


Chalk it up to good luck?

Good genes? (Some researchers, including retired NIH geneticist Dean Hamer and psychologist C. Robert Cloninger, think genetics play a part…)

As Kotler points out above, anyone can hedge their bets by clearing away distractions – all the usual baddies that interfere with sleep, performance, or productivity.

It’s also important to know thyself. Kotler’s an early bird, who gets crackin’ well before sunrise:

I don’t just open my eyes at 4:00 AM, I try to go from bed to desk before my brain even kicks out of its Alpha wave state. I don’t check any emails. I turn everything off at the end of the day including unplugging my phones and all that stuff so that the next morning there’s nobody jumping into my inbox or assaulting me emotionally with something, you know what I mean?… I really protect that early morning time.

By contrast, his night owl wife doesn’t start clearing the cobwebs ’til early evening.

In the above video for Big Think, Kotler notes that 22 flow triggers have been discovered, pre-conditions that keep attention focused in the present moment.

His website lists many of those triggers:

  • Complete Concentration in the Present Moment
  • Immediate Feedback
  • Clear Goals
  • The Challenge-Skills Ratio (ie: the challenge should seem slightly out of reach
  • High consequences 
  • Deep Embodiment 
  • Rich Environment 
  • Creativity (specifically, pattern recognition, or the linking together of new ideas)

Kotler also shares University of North Carolina psychologist Keith Sawyer’s trigger list for groups hoping to flow like a well-oiled machine:

  • Shared Goals
  • Close Listening 
  • “Yes And” (additive, rather than combative conversations)
  • Complete Concentration (total focus in the right here, right now)
  • A sense of control (each member of the group feels in control, but still
  • Blending Egos (each person can submerge their ego needs into the group’s)
  • Equal Participation (skills levels are roughly equal everyone is involved)
  • Familiarity (people know one another and understand their tics and tendencies)
  • Constant Communication (a group version of immediate feedback)
  • Shared, Group Risk

One might think people in the flow state would be floating around with an expression of ecstatic bliss on their faces. Not so, according to Kotler. Rather, they tend to frown slightly. Good news for anyone with resting bitch face!

(We’ll thank you to refer to it as resting flow state face from here on out.)

Related Content

Creativity, Not Money, is the Key to Happiness: Discover Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s Theory of “Flow”

David Lynch Explains How Simple Daily Habits Enhance His Creativity

“The Philosophy of “Flow”: A Brief Introduction to Taoism

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

This Is Spinal Tap Will Get a Sequel 40 Years Later, Reuniting Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest & Harry Shearer

Fans of James Cameron’s Avatar are expressing astonishment that its long-expected sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, will have taken thirteen years to get to theaters. That delay, of course, is nothing next to the 35 years that separated Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, or the 36 between Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick, which comes out next month. But the recently announced sequel to This Is Spinal Tap tops them all: “Spinal Tap II will see Rob Reiner return as both film-maker on and off the screen along with Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest,” writes the Guardian‘s Benjamin Lee. “The film will be released in 2024 on the 1984 original’s 40th anniversary.”

Critics praised This Is Spinal Tap back in 1984, but it took time to become a revered classic of the improvised-mockumentary genre. In fact that genre hadn’t exist at all, which resulted in some viewers not quite getting the joke. “When the film first came out, we showed it in Dallas and people came up to me and said, why would you make a movie about a band nobody’s ever heard of?” says director Rob Reiner. “And one that’s so bad?”


Or as Christopher Guest remembers a couple girls at the concession counter observing: “These guys are so stupid.” The befuddlement extended even to collaborators in the filmmaking process: “I don’t understand this,” said cinematographer Peter Smokler, who’d worked on the Altamont documentary Gimme Shelter. “This isn’t funny. This is exactly what they do.”

Such reactions pay indirect but great tribute to the painstaking craft and observatory wit of Spinal Tap’s creators. Those creators — Reiner, Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer — tell these stories in the Today interview above, conducted in 2019 to mark This Is Spinal Tap‘s 35th anniversary. In that time they’d occasionally reunited as Spinal Tap for live performances and real albums, the last of which came out in 2009. Perhaps that’s kept them ready to get back into character, pitch-perfect English accents and all, and put on — as they’ll be forced to in a plot shaped by realistic-sounding music-industry vagaries — one last concert. But like any belated sequel, it brings proportionally inflated fan expectations: specifically, about whether they’ll be able to go up to twelve.

Related content:

The Origins of Spinal Tap: Watch the 20 Minute Short Film Created to Pitch the Classic Mockumentary

The Spinal Tap Stonehenge Debacle

Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel Promotes World’s Largest Online Guitar Lesson

Ian Rubbish (aka Fred Armisen) Interviews the Clash in Spinal Tap-Inspired Mockumentary

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Google Unveils a Digital Marketing & E-Commerce Certificate: 7 Courses Will Help Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

During the pandemic, Google launched a series of Career Certificates that will “prepare learners for an entry-level role in under six months.” Their first certificates focused on Project Management, Data Analytics, User Experience (UX) Design, IT Support and IT Automation. Now comes their latest–a certificate dedicated to Digital Marketing & E-commerce.

Offered on the Coursera platform, the Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate consists of seven courses, all collectively designed to help students “develop digital marketing and e-commerce strategies; attract and engage customers through digital marketing channels like search and email; measure marketing analytics and share insights; build e-commerce stores, analyze e-commerce performance, and build customer loyalty.” The courses include:

In total, this program “includes over 190 hours of instruction and practice-based assessments, which simulate real-world digital marketing and e-commerce scenarios that are critical for success in the workplace.” Along the way, students will learn how to use tools and platforms like Canva, Constant Contact, Google Ads, Google Analytics, Hootsuite, HubSpot, Mailchimp, Shopify, and Twitter. You can start a 7-day free trial and explore the courses. If you continue beyond that, Google/Coursera will charge $39 USD per month. That translates to about $235 after 6 months.

If you don’t want to pay, you can audit each course for free, without ultimately receiving the certificate.

Explore the Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

Related Content 

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Become a Project Manager Without a College Degree with Google’s Project Management Certificate

Google Data Analytics Certificate: 8 Courses Will Help Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

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Quentin Tarantino Names His 20 Favorite Movies, Covering Two Decades

Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking career began thirty years ago — at least if you place its starting point at his first feature Reservoir Dogs in 1992. But even then he had been working toward auteurhood for quite some time, a period characterized by projects like My Best Friend’s Birthday, previously featured here on Open Culture. Throughout the three decades since he hit it big, there can be no doubt that Tarantino has consistently made just the films he himself has most wanted to see. But he’s also remained a sufficiently honest cinephile to admit that other directors have made films he would have wanted to make: Fukasaku Kinji, for instance, whose Battle Royale he praises in just such personal terms in the video above.

In six minutes Tarantino runs down the list of his twenty favorite movies between 1992, when he became a director, and 2009. After giving pride of place to Battle Royale — a Japanese comedic thriller of high-school ultraviolence that set off a wave of transgressive thrill through a worldwide “cult” audience — he presents his choices in alphabetical rather than preferential order. The complete list runs as follows:

  • Fukasaku Kinji, Battle Royale
  • Woody Allen, Anything Else (“the Jason Biggs one”)
  • Miike Takashi, Audition
  • Tsui Hark, The Blade
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights
  • Richard Linklater, Dazed and Confused (“the greatest hangout movie ever made”)
  • Lars von Trier, Dogville
  • David Fincher, Fight Club
  • F. Gary Gray, Friday
  • Bong Joon-ho, The Host
  • Michael Mann, The Insider
  • Park Chan-wook, Joint Security Area
  • Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
  • The Wachowskis, The Matrix (though its sequels “ruined the mythology for me”)
  • Bong Joon-ho, Memories of Murder
  • Stanley Tong, Police Story 3/Supercop (contains “the greatest stunts ever filmed in any movie”)
  • Edgar Wright, Shaun of the Dead
  • Jan de Bont, Speed (there have been “few exhilaration movies quite like it”)
  • Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Team America: World Police
  • M. Night Shyamalan, Unbreakable

Tarantino may refer to Shyamalan as “M. Night Shamalamadingdong,” but he clearly has a good deal of respect for the man’s films. And he seems to have even more for Bruce Willis’ work in Unbreakable, which contains his “best performance on film” — better, evidently, than the not-inconsiderable one he gave in a nineteen-nineties hit called Pulp Fiction.

It comes as no surprise that Tarantino names movies by his peers in the “Indiewood” generation like Anderson, Linklater, and Coppola. But watched thirteen years later, this video also suggests a certain cinematic prescience on his part. Speed, for example, once seemed like a brain-dead blockbuster but now stands as a classic of Los Angeles cinema. And we’d do well to remember how far ahead of his peers Tarantino was in his consciousness of Asian cinema. That we all watch films from Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea today owes something to Tarantino’s advocacy. More than a decade before Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite dominated the Academy Awards, Tarantino gave him alone not one but two entries on this top-twenty list — which surely makes up for his obviously having forgotten Bong’s name.

Related content:

Quentin Tarantino Picks the 12 Best Films of All Time; Watch Two of His Favorites Free Online

Quentin Tarantino Lists His 20 Favorite Spaghetti Westerns

Quentin Tarantino’s Handwritten List of the 11 “Greatest Movies”

Quentin Tarantino’s Top 20 Grindhouse/Exploitation Flicks: Night of the Living Dead, Halloween & More

Quentin Tarantino Lists the 12 Greatest Films of All Time: From Taxi Driver to The Bad News Bears

Quentin Tarantino Gives a Tour of Video Archives, the Store Where He Worked Before Becoming a Filmmaker

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Forgotten Women of Surrealism: A Magical, Short Animated Film

“The problem of woman is the most marvelous and disturbing problem in all the world,” — Andre Breton, 1929 Surrealist Manifesto.

“I warn you, I refuse to be an object.” — Leonora Carrington

Fashion model, writer, and photographer Lee Miller had many lives. Discovered by Condé Nast in New York (when he pulled her out of the path of traffic), she became a famous face of Vogue in the 1920s, then launched her own photographic career, for which she has been justly celebrated: both for her work in the fashion world and on the battlefields (and Hitler’s tub!) in World War II. One of Miller’s achievements often gets left out in mentions of her life, the Surrealist work she created as an artist in the 1930s.

Hailed as a “legendary beauty,” writes the National Galleries of Scotland, Miller studied acting, dance, and experimental theater. “She learned photography first through being a subject for the most important fashion photographers of her day, including Nickolas Muray, Arnold Genthe and Edward Steichen.” Her apprenticeship and affair with Man Ray is, of course, well-known. But rather than calling Miller an active participant in his art and her own (she co-created the “solarization” process he used, for example) she’s mostly referred to only as his muse, lover, and favorite subject.


“Surrealism had a very high proportion of women members who were at the heart of the movement, but who often get cast as ‘muse of’ or ‘wife of,'” says Susanna Greeves, curator of an all-women Surrealist exhibit in South London. The marginalization of women Surrealists is not a historical oversight, many critics and scholars contend, but a central feature of the movement itself. When British Surrealist Eileen Agar said in a 1990 interview, “In those days, men thought of women simply as muses,” she was too polite by half.

Despite their radical politics, male Surrealists perfected turning women into disfigured objects. “While Dalí used the female figure in optical puzzles, Magritte painted pornified faces with breasts for eyes, and Ernst simply decapitated them,” Izabella Scott writes at Artsy. Surrealist artist René Crevel wrote in 1934, “the Noble Mannequin is so perfect. She does not always bother to take her head, arms and legs with her.” Edgar Allan Poe’s love for “beautiful dead girls” escalated into dismemberment.

Dalí employed no lyrical obfuscation in his thoughts on the place of women in the movement. He called his contemporary, Argentine/Italian artist Leonor Fini (who never considered herself a Surrealist), “better than most, perhaps.” Then he felt compelled to add, “but talent is in the balls.”

When writing her dissertation on Surrealism in the 1970s at New York University, Gloria Feman Orenstein found that all of the women had been totally left out of the record. So she found them — tracking down and becoming “a close friend to many influential female surrealists,” notes Aeon, “including Leonora Carrington and Meret Elisabeth Oppeneim” (another Man Ray model and the only Surrealist of any gender to have actual training and experience in psychoanalysis).

Through her research, Orenstein “became the academic voice of feminist surrealism,” recovering the work of artists who had always been part of the movement, but who had been shouldered aside by male contemporaries, lovers, and husbands who did not see them on equal terms. In the short film above, Gloria’s Call, L.A.-based artist Cheri Gaulke “manifests Orenstein’s journey into the surreal with collage-like animations.” It was a quest that took her around the world, from Paris to Samiland, and it began in Mexico City, where she met the great Leonora Carrington.

See how Orenstein not only rediscovered the women of Surrealism, but helped recover the essential roots of Surrealism in Latin America, also erased by the art historical scholarship of her time. And learn more about the artists she befriended and brought to light at Artspace and in Penelope Rosemont’s 1998 book, Surrealist Women: An International Anthology.

via Aeon

Related Content: 

An Introduction to Surrealism: The Big Aesthetic Ideas Presented in Three Videos

Salvador Dalí Gets Surreal with 1950s America: Watch His Appearances on What’s My Line? (1952) and The Mike Wallace Interview (1958)

David Lynch Presents the History of Surrealist Film (1987)

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

Real Interviews with People Who Lived in the 1800s

The nineteenth century is well and truly gone. That may sound like a trivial claim, given that we’re now living in the 2020s, but only in recent years did we lose the last person born in that time. With Tajima Nabi, a Japanese woman who died in 2018 at the age of 117 years, went our last living connection to the nineteenth century (1900, the year of Tajima’s birth, technically being that century’s last year.) Luckily that same century saw the invention of photography, sound recording, and even motion pictures, which offered certain of its inhabitants a means of preserving not just their memories but their manner. You can view a collection of just such footage, restored and colorized, at the Youtube channel Life in the 1800s.

In the channel’s playlist of interview clips you’ll find first-hand memories of, if not the particular decade of the eighteen-hundreds, then at least of the eighteen-fifties through the eighteen-nineties. Take the inventor Elihu Thomson, interview subject in the video at the top of the post. Born in England in 1853, Thomson emigrated with his family to the United States in 1857.


They settled in Philadelphia, where Thomson found himself “forced out of school at eleven” because he wasn’t yet old enough to enter high school. Some advisors said, “Keep him away from books and let him develop physically.” To which the young Thompson responded, “If you do that, you might as well kill me now, because I’ve got to have my books.”

One of those books was full of “chemistry experiments and electrical experiments,” and carrying them out himself gave Thomson his “first knowledge of electricity” — a phenomenon of great importance to the development that would happen throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Albert L. Salt also got in on the ground floor, having started working for Western Electric at age fourteen in 1881 and eventually become the president of Western Electric’s appliance subsidiary Graybar. But of course, not everyone had such a professional ladder available: take the elderly interviewees in the footage just above, who were born into slavery the eighteen-forties and eighteen-fifties.

The more distant a time grows, the more it tends to flatten in our perception. In the absence of deliberate historical research, we lack a sense of the various texture of eras out of living memory. In the United States of America alone, the nineteenth century encompassed both great technological innovation and the days of the Wild West. The latter was the realm known to Civil War veteran and photographer William Henry Jackson, who in the interview above remembers the American west “before the cowboys came in” — not the time of the cowboys, but before. Could Florence Pannell, whose memories of Victorian England we previously featured here on Open Culture, have imagined his world? Could he have imagined hers? See more interviews here.

Related content:

A 108-Year-Old Woman Recalls What It Was Like to Be a Woman in Victorian England

The Earliest Known Motion Picture, 1888’s Roundhay Garden Scene, Restored with Artificial Intelligence

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

When Orson Welles Became a Speech & Joke Writer for Franklin Delano Roosevelt

As someone who had mastered radio, film, and stage at such a young age, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Orson Welles once flirted with the idea of running for office. It never happened, but Welles got pretty close in 1944 by ghost-writing speeches for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-election campaign. This in-depth article at Smithsonian by Erick Trickey goes into greater detail about this mix of entertainment and politics, and shows how both have always influenced each other.

In the final four months of 1944, America was still at war with Japan and Germany, and Roosevelt was seeking an unprecedented fourth term to bring the war to a close. Roosevelt’s Republican challenger Thomas Dewey questioned the ailing president’s stamina and wellness for the job, along with accusations of corruption and incompetence.


Welles was still Hollywood’s golden boy, with a career that had taken off during Roosevelt’s second term with his infamous War of the Worlds radio play, picking up on America’s pre-war paranoia. It had continued through 1941’s Citizen Kane and its thinly veiled attack on William Randolph Hearst and other oligarchs. Welles’ voice carried authority and gravitas. He was also married to Rita Hayworth at the time, and enjoying the upside of Hollywood success.

Roosevelt engaged the left-wing Welles in the last month of the campaign and soon the actor was traveling the country and delivering speeches at rallies for FDR. In one stop he called Republicans “the partisans of privilege, the champions of monopoly, the old opponents of liberty, the determined adversaries of the small business and the small farm.”

Welles also supplied ideas and jokes for FDR’s speeches. When Dewey and other Republicans attacked FDR’s dog Fala, Welles’ penned this: “Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks — but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of 2 or 3 or 8 or $20 million — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.”

The American public seemed to agree that going after a pet was a bit too much. The nationally broadcast speech turned FDR’s fortunes around. And at FDR’s final rally at Fenway Park in Boston, the president introduced both Welles (“The Dramatic Voice”) and Frank Sinatra (“The Voice”). Welles spoke out against GOP elitism: “By free enterprise they want exclusive right to freedom. They are stupid enough to think that a few can enjoy prosperity at the expense of the rest.”

Days later, FDR won 53 percent of the popular vote and took the electoral college, 432-99. In one sense though, Dewey’s attacks on FDR’s health were founded: Roosevelt died five months later on April 12, 1945.

FDR had written to Welles to thank him for the rally, but also wrote about that April’s meeting of the United Nations. The man had the weight of the free world upon his shoulders, and Welles felt it. The artist wrote a eulogy for FDR for the New York Post:

Desperately we need his courage and his skill and wisdom and his great heart. He moved ahead of us showing a way into the future. If we lose that way, or fall beside it, we have lost him indeed. Our tears would mock him who never wept except when he could do no more than weep. If we despair. because he’s gone — he who stood against despair — he had as well never have lived, he who lived so greatly.

You can read it online here.

Related Content:

Hear Orson Welles’ Iconic War of the Worlds Broadcast (1938)

Rare Video Shows FDR Walking: Filmed at the 1937 All-Star Game

When American Financiers and Business Leaders Plotted to Overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and Install a Fascist Government in the U.S. (1933)

Listen to Eight Interviews of Orson Welles by Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (RIP)

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Surrealist First Film (1934)

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell Talks About the Time When His Grandfather Met Napoleon

Maybe our generational enmity has grown too great these days, but once upon a time, primary school teachers would ask students to interview an elder as an eyewitness to history. Most of our elders didn’t participate in History, big H. Few of them were (or stood adjacent to) world leaders. But in some way or another, they experienced events most of us only see in photographs and film: the Vietnam War, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War and its end…. It’s not hard to see how this relatively recent history has shaped the world we live in.

Hearing from people who lived through such world-historical events can give us needed perspective, if they’re still living and willing to talk. It offers a sense that the apocalyptic dread we often feel in the face of our own crises – climate, virus, war, the seeming end of democratic institutions – was also acutely felt, and often with as much good reason, by those who lived a generation or two before us. And yet, they survived — or did so long enough to make children and grandchildren. They saw global catastrophes pass and change and sometimes witnessed turns of fortune that brought empires to their knees.


Indeed, when we step back just a generation or two before the oft-maligned boomers, we find people whose elders lived through the event that has come to stand for the hubristic fall of empires — Napoleon’s defeat and capture at Waterloo on March, 20, 1815. The philosopher, writer, social critic, and public figure Bertrand Russell was such a person. Both of Russell’s parents died when he was very young, and his grandparents raised him. In the restored, colorized and “speech adjusted” 1952 interview just above, you can hear Russell reminisce about his grandfather, the 1st Earl Russell, who was born in 1792.

Russell’s grandfather was a world leader. He served as prime minister between 1846 and 1856 and again from 1865 to 1866. Or as Russell puts it to his American interviewer, “He was prime minister during your Mexican War, during the Revolutions of 1848. I remember him quite well. But as you can see, he belonged to an age that now seems rather removed.” A time when one man could and did, in just a few years time, place nearly all of Europe under his direct control or the control of his subordinates; before modern warfare, guerrilla warfare, cyber and drone war….

Earl Russell not only met Napoleon, but became a late ally. After a 90-minute meeting with Bonaparte during the self-proclaimed Emperor’s exile, “Russell denounced the Bourbon Restoration and Britain’s declaration of war against the recently-returned Napoleon,” notes the video’s poster, “by arguing in the House of Commons that foreign powers had no right to dictate France’s form of government.” The younger Russell, himself born in 1872, also saw history swept away. He lived in “a world where all kinds of things that have now disappeared were thought to be going to last forever,” he says.

One may be reminded of the Communist Manifesto’s “all that is solid melts into air.” Russell gives no indication that his grandfather, a contemporary of that world-historical document’s author, ever interacted with Karl Marx. But Russell himself met an imposing historical figure who looms just as large in world history. Hear him above, in 1961, describe how he met Vladimir Lenin in 1920.

via @TamasGorbe

Related Content:

When Orson Welles Crossed Paths With Hitler (and Churchill): “He Had No Personality…. I Think There Was Nothing There.”

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy

Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Interests Gradually Wider and More Impersonal”

Bertrand Russell’s Advice to People Living 1,000 Years in the Future: “Love is Wise, Hatred is Foolish”

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


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