Fantastic BBC Footage of J.R.R. Tolkien in 1968

The high points of this documentary on the great J.R.R. Tolkien, from the BBC Series In Their Own Words: British Novelists, are the moments that fulfill the promise of the series’ title. Skip over the distracting “man on the street” interviews and long pans of the landscape, meant perhaps to invoke Middle Earth. In fact, you can skip over every scene that isn’t just the author’s magnificent talking head.

Start at minute 2:49, where he describes first writing the immortal words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The anecdote should inspire beleaguered graduate students and teachers everywhere: He came up with the line while grading exams.

We also loved Tolkien’s confession about trees, starting at the 7:00 minute mark: “I should have liked to make contact with a tree and find out how it feels about things.”

You can watch the documentary on YouTube in two parts. The first part is above, the second here. The material also appears in our collection of 250 Cultural Icons.

via Biblioklept

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Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

Google App Enhances Museum Visits; Launched at the Getty

Earlier this year, Google rolled out “Art Project,” a tool that lets you access 1,000 works of art appearing in 17 great museums across the world, from the Met in New York City to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. (More on that here.) Now, as part of a broader effort to put art in your hands, the company has produced a new smartphone app (available in Android and iPhone) that enriches the museum-going experience, and it’s being demoed at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The concept is pretty simple. You’re wandering through the Getty. You spot a painting that deeply touches you. To find out more about it, you open the Google Goggles app on your phone, snap a photo, and instantly download commentary from artists, curators, and conservators, or even a small image of the work itself. Sample this, and you’ll see what we mean. And, for more on the story, turn to Jori Finkel, the ace arts reporter for the LA Times.

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Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” for Eight Pianos

This fantastic rendition of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” was recorded at the tenth anniversary celebration of the prestigious Verbier Festival, and features eight of the world’s most respected pianists — Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax, Leif Ove Andsnes, Claude FrankMikhail Pletnev, Staffan Scheja, and James Levine. It’s just one of many stellar performances available on this very well-regarded concert dvd.

Give the piece a listen, especially if you’ve ever considered “Valkyries” too overbearing. The all-piano arrangement does full justice to the music’s power, while also relieving some of its bombast. A definite winner. H/T @brainpicker

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Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

Buddy Holly at Age 12: His First Recording

If you’re looking forward to this week’s release of the Buddy Holly cover album Rave On (and you should be, if only for John Doe’s awesome take on Peggy Sue Got Married), then you’ll definitely get a kick out of the crooner’s first ever known recording. The song is from 1949, and the sound quality isn’t great, but no amount of static can block out the kid’s familiar warble. His voice may not have changed yet, but he’s already Buddy Holly.

We have added this Buddy Holly clip to our collection of 250 Cultural Icons. There you’ll find great writers, dazzling filmmakers and musicians, brilliant philosophers and scientists presented in video and audio.

via Flavorwire

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

The 25 Best Non-Fiction Books Ever: Readers’ Picks

Last week, we asked Open Culture readers to write in with your favorite non-fiction titles of all time, and you didn’t disappoint. We had a hard time culling from the more than 100 suggestions, but we did have a few criteria to guide us:

1. Priority went to repeat nominees (Bill Bryson, Hunter S. Thompson, and Richard Dawkins, to name a few).

2. We leaned toward books that are available for free online.

3. When all else failed, we relied on our own preferences — or prejudices.

Thanks again for all of your recommendations, and may we congratulate you on your excellent taste in non-fiction, equalled by only your excellent taste in websites.

The List

Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Friedrich Nietzsche – The Gay Science

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene

Wendell Berry – The Way of Ignorance

Joseph Mitchell – Up in the Old Hotel

Brian Greene – The Elegant Universe

Norman Lewis – Voices of the Old Sea

Joan Didion – The White Album

Benjamin Franklin – The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Tony Judt – Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods

George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia

Hannah Arendt – Eichmann in Jerusalem

Booker T. Washington – Up From Slavery

Jorge Luis Borges – Other Inquisitions (1937-1952)

Marcus Rediker – Villains of all Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell, trans. Tao Te Ching

Victor Klemperer – I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years (1933-1941)

Greil Marcus – Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

Philip Gourevitch – We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families

Winston Churchill – A History of the English Speaking Peoples

Lastly, and only in part because we’ve been warned that we would be roundly scolded for the omission: The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

Thanks again, and happy reading!

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

8,000 Chinese Lanterns over Poland

Last Tuesday, the residents of Poznan, Poland set a world record when they released 8,000 Chinese lanterns into the sky to mark the shortest night of the year — or what’s otherwise called Midsummer Night. The video above lets you see the lanterns in full flight. The image below offers a close-up view of a lantern before heading into the night sky…

via @pourmecoffee

Peter Falk (RIP) in Wings of Desire

Peter Falk made his career playing a quirky detective in the 1960s and 70s television show Columbo. But the art world will remember a moment when Falk played himself in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film, Wings of Desire. In the credits, he was listed simply as ‘Der Filmstar.’ This is our 1:46 tribute to Falk, who passed away Friday at age 83. H/T @SteveSilberman


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Andy Warhol Eats a Burger King Whopper, and We Watch … and Watch

In 1982, Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth directed 66 Scenes from America, a film that stitched together a series of lengthy shots, each a visual postcard from a journey across America. And, taken together, you have a tableau of the American experience.

Along the way, the pop artist Andy Warhol makes his appearance. The man who coined the expression “15 Minutes of Fame” takes four minutes to eat a hamburger, mostly without saying a word. And simply because of his fame, we watch … and watch. About this scene Leth gives a few details:

[Warhol] is told that he has to say his name and that he should do so when he has finished performing his action, but what happens is that the action takes a very long time to perform; it’s simply agonizing. I have to admit that I personally adore that, because its a pure homage to Warhol. It couldn’t be more Warholesque. That’s of course why he agreed to do it.

This was presumably not a paid placement by Burger King.

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