War & Peace: An Epic of Soviet Cinema


It’s hard to do cin­e­mat­ic jus­tice to any good nov­el, let alone the great­est of Rus­si­a’s many great nov­els, Leo Tol­stoy’s War & Peace. But Sovi­et direc­tor Sergei Bon­darchuk some­how man­aged to pull it off. Review­ing Bon­darchuk’s film back in 1969, a young Roger Ebert wrote:

“War and Peace” is the defin­i­tive epic of all time. It is hard to imag­ine that cir­cum­stances will ever again com­bine to make a more spec­tac­u­lar, expen­sive, and — yes — splen­did movie. Per­haps that’s just as well; epics seem to be going out of favor, replaced instead by small­er, more per­son­al films. Per­haps this great­est of the epics will be one of the last, bring­ing the epic form to its ulti­mate state­ment and at the same time sup­ply­ing the epi­taph.

No cor­ners were cut, and no expens­es spared, in mak­ing the film. Indeed, the film (avail­able on DVD here) was made “at a cost of $100,000,000, with a cast of 120,000, all clothed in authen­tic uni­forms, and the Red Army was mobi­lized to recre­ate Napoleon’s bat­tles exact­ly (it is claimed) as they hap­pened.” What’s more, 35,000 cos­tumes were made for the pro­duc­tion, and many Sovi­et muse­ums con­tributed arti­facts for the pro­duc­tion design. That’s stag­ger­ing, even by today’s stan­dards.

Released in four parts between 1965 and 1967, the Acad­e­my Award-win­ning film runs more than sev­en hours and you can now find it play­ing on YouTube. You can watch Part 1 here, and here you have Part 2Part 3 and Part 4. And if you need sub­ti­tles, click CC at the bot­tom of the videos. The film is, of course, list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Thanks Ammar for the heads up on this film!

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How Shea Hembrey Became 100 Artists

Arkansas-born artist Shea Hem­brey kicks off his TED talk by con­fess­ing to a hick child­hood in which he and his sis­ter “would com­pete to see who could eat the most squir­rel brains.” That mod­est joke sets the stage for his intro­duc­tion of Seek, a project Hem­brey con­ceived in response to his dis­ap­point­ment with sev­er­al exhibits of con­tem­po­rary art in Europe, includ­ing the Venice Bien­nale. Find­ing much of the work he encoun­tered too obtuse and inac­ces­si­ble, Hem­brey decid­ed to cre­ate an inter­na­tion­al bien­ni­al of his own, fea­tur­ing the 100 most inspir­ing artists he could find.

The twist, of course, is that all 100 artists (and art­works) were cre­at­ed by Hem­brey him­self, in strict accor­dance with two per­son­al cri­te­ria:  First, the work must be some­thing he could explain to his grand­ma in less than five min­utes; next, its process must engage the three “H’s” of head, heart, and hand.

All 100 pieces fea­ture dis­tinct mate­ri­als, char­ac­ter and craft, and tak­en togeth­er they pro­vide an impres­sive show­case for Hem­brey’s humor and vir­tu­os­i­ty. But that grand­ma of his had bet­ter be hid­ing a degree in semi­otics, or at least an old copy of the The Post­mod­ern Con­di­tion, because the suc­cess of Seek’s joke is large­ly depen­dent on our knowl­edge of the world it lam­poons.  And for all the deter­mined folksi­ness of his man­i­festo, the posi­tion Hem­brey stakes out — some­where between par­o­dy and homage — would not be unfa­mil­iar to the cura­tors of the Venice Bien­nale.

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.

Sylvia Plath Reads “Daddy”

What do you get for the father who has every­thing? How about a healthy dose of canon­i­cal resent­ment, in the form of Sylvia Plath’s most famous poem, read by Plath her­self, from our list of Cul­tur­al Icons?

Or, if you’d pre­fer some­thing that says “I love you” with a lit­tle less ran­cor, you might want to go with a video that’s guar­an­teed to make him smile.

Hap­py Father’s Day!!!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Antho­ny Hop­kins Reads Dylan Thomas

Vir­ginia Woolf: Her Voice Recap­tured

Ernest Hem­ing­way Reads “In Harry’s Bar in Venice”

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.

My Water’s On Fire Tonight: The Fracking Song

In 2005, Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney per­son­al­ly engi­neered a loop­hole in the U.S. ener­gy bill exempt­ing com­pa­nies that use an oil- and gas-drilling pro­ce­dure known as hydraulic frac­tur­ing, or “frack­ing,” from reg­u­la­tion under the Safe Drink­ing Water Act. As a result, tons of diesel fuel and assort­ed chemicals–some of them tox­ic, like benzyne–are inject­ed at high pres­sure into the earth at the sole dis­cre­tion of the com­pa­nies doing the inject­ing. One of the chief ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Cheney’s string-pulling is the com­pa­ny that invent­ed the pro­ce­dure, Hal­libur­ton, which employed Cheney as chair­man and CEO just pri­or to his becom­ing vice pres­i­dent. (A coin­ci­dence?)

In the wake of the Hal­libur­ton Loop­hole, as it has come to be known, there have been a grow­ing num­ber of water pol­lu­tion cas­es, from Penn­syl­va­nia to Col­orado, asso­ci­at­ed with frack­ing. Some of those cas­es were doc­u­ment­ed in last year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary, Gasland, by Josh Fox, who said in a PBS inter­view, “I could take a car bat­tery and throw it in the water­shed and go to fed­er­al prison, but these guys can take the same chem­i­cals and inject it by the thou­sands of gal­lons, and they’re exempt. It makes no sense.”

It’s a seri­ous issue involv­ing two of Amer­i­ca’s vital interests–the need for ener­gy and the need for safe drink­ing water–but a group of jour­nal­ism stu­dents in New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Stu­dio 20 mas­ter’s pro­gram, in asso­ci­a­tion with the pub­lic-inter­est jour­nal­ism group ProP­ub­li­ca, has tak­en a light-heart­ed approach, cre­at­ing a music video to raise aware­ness of frack­ing. It’s called “My Water’s on Fire Tonight (The Frack­ing Song).”  The pur­pose of the project, accord­ing to group leader David Holmes, is to encour­age peo­ple to read ProP­ub­li­ca’s report­ing on the issue. “We were con­cerned with build­ing a bet­ter entry­way into that inves­ti­ga­tion,” Holmes told Poynter.org, “and we fig­ured a song would be the per­fect way to do it–especially since it’s called frack­ing.”

via Explainer.net

A Year of the Moon in 2.5 Minutes

If you were stuck some­where far away from yes­ter­day’s lunar eclipse, here’s some con­so­la­tion cour­tesy of NASA. The Sci­en­tif­ic Visu­al­iza­tion Stu­dio at the God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter has com­piled this two and a half minute video from over a year’s worth of data record­ed by the Lunar Recon­nais­sance Orbiter (LRO), which has been orbit­ing the moon at 50 kilo­me­ters above its sur­face for over a year.

The results are pret­ty spec­tac­u­lar, and might ren­der the pain of miss­ing a chance to watch the moon turn red a lit­tle more bear­able, espe­cial­ly for all you heart­bro­ken Can­cers (we’ll get through this.)

via Wired News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tour­ing the Earth from Space (in HD)

The Best of NASA Space Shut­tle Videos (1981–2010)

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.

Un Chien Andalou: Revisiting Buñuel and Dalí’s Surrealist Film

The New York Times has post­ed A.O. Scot­t’s 3‑minute look back at the 1929 short film Un Chien Andalou. Scott describes the sur­re­al­ist clas­sic, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between painter Sal­vador Dalí and a very young first-time film­mak­er Luis Buñuel, as an “old dog with an end­less sup­ply of new tricks.” The short­’s pro­ces­sion of seem­ing­ly absurd, uncon­nect­ed images, he adds, does not fol­low the log­ic of nar­ra­tive but rather the “log­ic of dreams.”

Even though its most famous (or infa­mous) images — a sev­ered hand, a hand cov­ered with ants, and most final­ly a hand slic­ing into a wom­an’s eye­ball with a razor blade —  seem less shock­ing now than they did 80 years ago, Un Chien Andalou is still a plea­sure. Our real­i­ty has changed since the 20s. Our dreams, less so.

You can watch Un Chien Andalou in its entire­ty, along with L’Âge d’Or, anoth­er Buñuel/Dalí pro­duc­tion, in our col­lec­tion of Free Online Movies. But pro­ceed with cau­tion: About 25 years ago, I slipped a copy into the fam­i­ly VCR, expect­ing a cute car­toon about an Andalu­sian dog. I’m still recov­er­ing.


Sal­vador Dali (and Oth­er VIPs) on “What’s My Line?”

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.

Werner Herzog Reads “Go the F**k to Sleep” in NYC (NSFW)

Sev­er­al weeks back, Go the F**k to Sleep, the irrev­er­ent new chil­dren’s book, gained nation­al atten­tion when pirat­ed PDF copies went viral on the inter­net. But don’t feel sor­ry for the author and illus­tra­tor. The book is now #1 on the Ama­zon best­seller list; Samuel Jack­son has nar­rat­ed the offi­cial audio book (you can prob­a­bly snag a free copy through this Audible.com deal); and Wern­er Her­zog delight­ed fans when he read the (not safe for work) book at the New York Pub­lic Library book par­ty held ear­li­er this week. And, yes, this is the real Wern­er Her­zog — not the imper­son­ator who passed around pop­u­lar read­ings of Curi­ous George and Twas the Night Before Christ­mas on YouTube …

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A Tour of Earth from Outer Space (in HD).

A new way to see the world. Give NASA sev­en min­utes, and they’ll show you the Earth­’s most impres­sive land­scapes — as seen from space, in HD. The coasts of Namib­ia, Tunisia and Mada­gas­car, they’re all on the itin­er­ary, along with Sici­ly, Chi­na, Iran, and Utah. Plus you will see a giant hur­ri­cane over the Atlantic ocean. Not to be missed.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Endeavour’s Launch Viewed from Boost­er Cam­eras

NASA Cap­tures Giant Solar Storm

The Best of NASA Space Shut­tle Videos (1981–2010)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.