Mathematics in Movies: Harvard Prof Curates 150+ Scenes

Oliver Knill teaches calculus, linear algebra and differential equations at Harvard, and, several years back, he pulled together a fairly nifty collection of Mathematics Scenes in Movies. Over 150 films are represented here, everything from Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind, Jurassic Park (above) to Alice in Wonderland (1951), The Maltese Falcon and Apocalypse Now. You can watch each scene in flash format on Knill’s site, or download them as a quicktime file. And, math buffs, don’t miss our collection of Free Online Math Courses, a subset of our meta list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Stephen Fry & Friends Pay Tribute to Christopher Hitchens

On November 9th, Stephen Fry and friends came together in London to celebrate Christopher Hitchens’ life, loves and hates — all while Hitch watched from his hospital bed. Staged in London by Intelligence², the event brought together Richard Dawkins, Christopher Buckley, Salman Rushdie, Lewis Lapham, Martin Amis, poet James Fenton and actor Sean Penn, with some paying tribute in person, others via satellite.

Originally, the sell-out audience of 2,500 expected to see Hitchens and Fry talking together about politics, literature, and ‘the things that make life worth defending — foes like faith and false consolation.’ But at the last moment, Hitchens, already suffering from esophageal cancer, fell ill with pneumonia and plans changed. Now, instead of being an interlocutor, Fry became master of ceremonies, coordinating what oddly felt like a eulogy before the fact.

The program runs 45 minutes, and you can watch it for free. Also don’t miss a previous Intelligence Squared Debate where Fry and Hitchens take positions on the Catholic church and whether it’s a force for good.

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A Big Bach Download: The Complete Organ Works for Free

We mentioned this one long ago, and it’s time to mention it again: You can download for free the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach. They were recorded by Dr. James Kibbie (University of Michigan) on original baroque organs in Leipzig, Germany. Feel free to start with a collection of Favorite Masterworks, or get the complete works that have been divided into 13 groups for easy download. Once you download these zip files, you will need to unzip them before playing the tracks. Enjoy, and don’t miss our related post: How a Bach Canon Works. It’s rather brilliant.

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The Battle for LA’s Murals

Los Angeles has long been known as the street mural capital of the world. But in the past few years the city has painted over more than 300 murals, according to the Los Angeles Times, enforcing a decade-old ordinance that makes it a crime to create murals on most private properties. “The mural capital of the world is no more,” street artist Saber told the Times. “They buff beautiful pieces, harass property owners and threaten us like we are in street gangs.”

Some of the problems started in 1986, when the city was looking for a way to alleviate the growing scourge of billboard blight. The city was being blanketed with unsightly commercial advertising, so the Los Angeles City Council adopted a code to reduce commercial billboards. The new restrictions exempted artwork. Advertisers responded by suing the city, arguing that they had the same right of free speech as the muralists. So in 2002 the Council “solved” the matter by amending the code to include works of art. “The law left many murals technically illegal,” wrote the Times in an Oct. 29 editorial, “no matter how talented the artist or how willing the owner of the wall or how inoffensive the subject matter.”

Since then, murals that were already in existence have come under increasing threat from two sides: from graffiti “artists” who mark their territory by defacing murals, and from a city that seems determined to find any pretext to paint over them. This is the subject of Behind the Wall: The Battle for LA’s Murals (above), a six-minute documentary by students in the Film and TV Production MFA program at the University of Southern California. It was directed by Oliver Riley-Smith, shot by Qianbaihui Yang, and produced and edited by Gavin Garrison.

Without addressing the issue head-on, the film makes some progress toward illuminating the distinction between street art and vandalism. Muralists like Ernesto De La Loza, who is featured in the film, receive permission from property owners and then spend months creating their art. Later, someone comes along with a can of spray paint and tags it. Should the muralist and the graffiti artist have equal cultural status?

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Lt. John Pike Pepper Sprays His Way Into Art History

Pepper spray students in the face on Friday, and you wake up the face of evil on Saturday. Then, the brunt of some clever jokes on Monday. Look! There’s Lieutenant John Pike popping into the famous painting, The Spirit of ’76, and macing a wounded soldier while he’s down. That’s low.

Now the symbol of French freedom, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Is Pike using pepper spray? Or, on closer inspection, is that a shot of deodorant? Quel con ce mec.

Freedom from Want is part of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series of paintings. And guess who is ruining freedom, Thanksgiving and everything wholesome?

Yes, he eventually desecrates Picasso’s anti-war mural, Guernica, too.

A baby seal? WTF Pike?!!

More art history fun awaits you at the PepperSprayingCop Tumblr site.

H/T Heather and WashPo

Iconic Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson Takes You Inside His Creative World: Watch “The Decisive Moment”

The great artists are often the ones who are best at recognizing and exploiting the unique character of their medium.

In the early 20th century, photography was mired in an intentionally fuzzy Pictorialism. The prevailing view was that photography had to imitate painting, or it wasn’t “art.” So in the early 1930s Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and a few others on the West Coast formed Group f/64 in protest. They embraced their medium’s inherent strength by placing large format cameras on tripods and stopping the lenses way down (all the way to f/64) to capture scenes with a level of detail and clarity that a painter could only dream of achieving.

Across the Atlantic an even greater revolution was taking place. With the introduction of the 35mm Leica camera and fast films, European photographers in the late 1920s and early 1930s were beginning to explore the medium’s astonishing ability to freeze time. Not only could photography render a static scene with more detail than painting, it could isolate and preserve an otherwise transitory moment from the flux of life. No artist seized upon this essential aspect of photography with greater brilliance and consistency than the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“In photography,” wrote Cartier-Bresson, “there is a new kind of plasticity, the product of instantaneous lines made by movements of the subject. We work in unison with movement as though it were a presentiment of the way in which life itself unfolds. But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.”

Cartier-Bresson would often say that his greatest joy was geometry. When he was 20 years old he studied painting under the cubist André Lhote, who adopted for his school the motto of Plato’s Academy: “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.” Cartier-Bresson took an early interest in mathematically sophisticated painters. “He loved Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca because they were the painters of divine proportions,” writes Pierre Assouline in his book, Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Biography. “Cartier-Bresson was so immersed in their works that his mind filled with protractors and plumb lines. Like them, he dreamed of diagonals and proportions, and became obsessed with the mystique of measurements, as if the world was simply the product of numerical combinations.”

At the same time the young artist fell under the sway of a teacher whose approach was decidedly less rational. While still in his teens, Cartier-Bresson began sitting in on André Breton’s legendary Surrealist gatherings at the Café de la Place Blanche. He had little regard for Surrealist painting, but was intoxicated with the Surrealist philosophy of life: the emphasis on chance and intuition, the role of spontaneous expression, the all-encompassing attitude of revolt. It made a profound impression. In  Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Early Work, Peter Galassi describes the Surrealist approach to life in a way that also neatly captures Cartier-Bresson’s eventual modus operandi as a photographer: “Alone, the Surrealist wanders the streets without destination but with a premeditated alertness for the unexpected detail that will release a marvelous and compelling reality just beneath the banal surface of ordinary existence.”

The geometric formalism of Renaissance painting and the serendipity of Surrealism were two key influences on Cartier-Bresson’s photography. A third came as an epiphany when he stumbled upon a reproduction of Martin Munkácsi‘s “Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika.” The picture showed a group of African boys frolicking in the water. If the photographer had pressed the shutter a millisecond earlier or later, the beautifully balanced, interlocking composition would not have existed. “I suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment,” Cartier-Bresson later said. He gave up painting and bought his first Leica.

Over the next half century Cartier-Bresson would travel the world with a Leica in one hand, the strap twisted around his wrist, ready to raise it to his eye and fix eternity at any moment. Inwardly he held onto the spirit of Surrealism while outwardly calling himself a photojournalist. As a photojournalist he witnessed some of the biggest events of the 20th century. He was with Gandhi a few minutes before he was assassinated in 1948. He was in China when the communists took over in 1949. “He was the Tolstoy of photography,” said Richard Avedon shortly after Cartier-Bresson’s death in 2004 at the age of 95. “With profound humanity, he was the witness of the 20th Century.”

“To take photographs,” Cartier-Bresson once said, “is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment (above) is an 18-minute film produced in 1973 by Scholastic Magazines, Inc. and the International Center of Photography. It features a selection of Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photographs, along with rare commentary by the photographer himself.

Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey (Free Online Course)

David Harvey, an important social theorist and geographer, has got the right idea. Take what you know. Teach it in the classroom. Capture it on video. Then distribute it to the world. Keep it simple, but just do it.

Harvey is now making available 26 hours of lectures, during which he gives a close reading of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (1867). This work, often considered to be Marx’s masterpiece, is where he elaborated a critique of capitalism and laid the groundwork for an ideology that took the 20th century by storm. Harvey is no stranger to this text. He has taught this class for over 40 years now, both in universities (Johns Hopkins and CUNY) and in the community as well.

The first lecture, preceded by an introductory interview lasting roughly six minutes, appears above. The rest of the lectures can be accessed via Harvey’s web site, YouTube, and iTunes. Also, we have placed the course in our collection of Free Online Courses, which keeps on growing. Find it under the Economics section.

UPDATE:  David Harvey is looking for volunteers to translate his lectures into 36 languages. If you want to help you, you can get started here.

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A 3D Tour of Picasso’s Guernica

In June 1937 Pablo Picasso painted Guernica, a mural that memorialized the events of April 27, 1937, the date when Germany supported its fascist ally Francisco Franco and bombed Guernica, a rather remote town in the Basque region of northern Spain. For the Nazis, the military strike was an excuse to try out their latest military hardware, establish a blueprint for terror bombings of civilian populations, and pull Spain into the fascist fold. After the bombing, the republican government on the other side of the Spanish Civil War commissioned Picasso to create the mural for display at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

You can learn more about the famous anti-war painting, now housed at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, by checking out the Smarthistory primer posted below. In the meantime, we’re highlighting today a digitally-rendered 3D tour of Picasso’s landmark work. It’s the creation of Lena Gieseke, a visual effects artist who, once upon a time, was married to the filmmaker Tim Burton. Some will consider the idea of putting Guernica in 3D downright blasphemous. Others will find it instructive, a chance to see parts of the mural from a new perspective. The video above runs three minutes.

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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!

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