Man Ray and the Cinéma Pur: Four Surrealist Films From the 1920s

Man Ray was one of the leading artists of the avant garde of 1920s and 1930s Paris. A key figure in the Dada and Surrealist movements, his works spanned various media, including film. He was a leading exponent of the Cinéma Pur, or “Pure Cinema,” which rejected such “bourgeois” conceits as character, setting and plot. Today we present Man Ray’s four influential films of the 1920s.

Le Retour à la Raison (above) was completed in 1923. The title means “Return to Reason,” and it’s basically a kinetic extension of Man Ray’s still photography. Many of the images in Le Retour are animated photograms, a technique in which opaque, or partially opaque, objects are arranged directly on top of a sheet of photographic paper and exposed to light. The technique is as old as photography itself, but Man Ray had a gift for self-promotion, so he called them “rayographs.” For Le Retour, Man Ray sprinkled objects like salt and pepper and pins onto the photographic paper. He also filmed live-action sequences of an amusement park carousel and other subjects, including the nude torso of his model and lover, Kiki of Montparnasse.

Emak-Bakia (1926):

The 16-minute Emak-Bakia contains some of the same images and visual techniques as Le Retour à la Raison, including rayographs, double images and negative images. But the live-action sequences are more inventive, with dream-like distortions and tilted camera angles. The effect is surreal. “In reply to critics who would like to linger on the merits or defects of the film,” wrote Man Ray in the program notes, “one can reply simply by translating the title ‘Emak Bakia,’ an old Basque expression, which was chosen because it sounds prettily and means: ‘Give us a rest.'”

L’Etoile de Mer (1928):

L’Etoile de Mer (“The Sea Star”) was a collaboration between Man Ray and the surrealist poet Robert Desnos. It features Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin) and André de la Rivière. The distorted, out-of focus images were made by shooting into mirrors and through rough glass. The film is more sensual than Man Ray’s earlier works. As Donald Faulkner writes:

In the modernist high tide of 1920s experimental filmmaking, L’Etoile de Mer is a perverse moment of grace, a demonstration that the cinema went farther in its great silent decade than most filmmakers today could ever imagine. Surrealist photographer Man Ray’s film collides words with images (the intertitles are from an otherwise lost work by poet Robert Desnos) to make us psychological witnesses, voyeurs of a kind, to a sexual encounter. A character picks up a woman who is selling newspapers. She undresses for him, but then he seems to leave her. Less interested in her than in the weight she uses to keep her newspapers from blowing away, the man lovingly explores the perceptions generated by her paperweight, a starfish in a glass tube. As the man looks at the starfish, we become aware through his gaze of metaphors for cinema, and for vision itself, in lyrical shots of distorted perception that imply hallucinatory, almost masturbatory sexuality.

Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929):

The longest of Man Ray’s films, Les Mystères du Château de Dé (the version above has apparenlty been shortened by seven minutes) follows a pair of travelers on a journey from Paris to the Villa Noailles in Hyères, which features a triangular Cubist garden designed by Gabriel Geuvrikain. “Made as an architectural document and inspired by the poetry of Mallarmé,” writes Kim Knowles in A Cinematic Artist: The Films of Man Ray, “Les Mystères du Château de Dé is the film in which Man Ray most clearly demonstrates his interdisciplinary attitude, particularly in its reference to Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard.”

The films will be listed in our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Venice in a Day: From Daybreak to Sunset in Timelapse

It’s not the first timelapse video of Venice, and it certainly won’t be the last. You can bank on that. But what distinguishes this clip from the others is its continual focus on the canals that make Venice, Venice. Gives this video three minutes and it will give you a full day in the life of Venetian waterways. And when you’re done, don’t miss How Venice Works, an impressive 18 minute video that explains the complex inner-workings of the city made up of 124 islands, 183 canals, 438 bridges and the rest. How it all hangs together is pretty amazing.

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Neuroscience and Propaganda Come Together in Disney’s World War II Film, Reason and Emotion

Last Friday, we posted Saul Bass’ Why Man Creates. For another short film which drew Academy recognition by using animation to illuminate basic human impulses, you could do worse than Disney’s Reason and Emotion. Just as Bass’ picture, a product of 1968, bears the mark of that era’s ascendant free-your-mind counterculture, Disney’s picture reflects the concerns of 1943 America. Mankind has always and probably will always struggle with the conflicts between what we consider our rational minds and what we consider our emotional impulses, but at that particular time and in that particular nation, mankind found itself even more concerned with the conflict between the Axis and the Allies. Understanding how persuasive a message they could send by uniting the current with the eternal, Disney’s wartime propaganda came up with this eight-minute comedic illustration of how our reason and emotion coexist, what an ideal balance between them looks like, and why you, a good American, should hold your emotion in check. “That’s right, emotion,” insists the narrator, “go ahead, put reason out of the way. That’s great, fine — for Hitler.”

Enlightened 21st-century viewers will find plenty of the stiff, the square, and the stereotypical to object to here. Venturing inside the head of an average American man, the film sees a sober, bespectacled embodiment of Reason at the steering wheel. Behind him sits the jittery, club-swinging caveman Emotion. When our man spies a “classy dish” on the sidewalk, Emotion wrests control from Reason, but succeeds only in getting their humanoid vehicle slapped.

We then enter the mind of the slapper to find Reason’s female equivalent, a synthesis of all characters ever named “Prudence,” at the wheel. Back-seat driving is a rotund, excitable, (relatively) skimpily dressed Emotion. Reason believes she has done justice with the slap, but Emotion argues, “He was cute! You wanna be an old maid?” She then proposes an eating binge, while Reason looks on in horror at their control room’s rapidly ballooning, sagging, “CHIN,” PROFILE,” and “FIGURE” charts.

Yet in its old-fashioned, supercilious, and simplistic way, Reason and Emotion looks frankly at the challenges we all face on a regular basis when deciding, whether we be male or female, what to do, which foods to eat, and whom to try to meet. Research on what our centers of reason and emotion actually are and how they determine our choices has risen to the height of neuroscientific fashion, and as for the film’s indictment of the Third Reich as a vast emotion-manipulation machine, the unsettling but substantial field of dictatorial mind control in all its forms has accumulated its own enormous body of academic study. We’ve grown just a little smarter about reason and emotion, war and peace, and men and women in the past 69 years, which makes Reason and Emotion a richer and more fascinating watch now than it would have been then. The film has been added to the Animation section of our collection of Free Movies Online.

Find more Disney Propaganda Films Here:

The Making of a Nazi: Disney’s 1943 Animated Short

Donald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream (1942)

Donald Duck Wants You to Pay Your Taxes (1943)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

All You Need is Cash: 1978 Mockumentary by Eric Idle (Monty Python) Satires The Beatles

Several weeks back, Colin Marshall wondered whether Pink Floyd’s 1972 concert among the ruins of Pompeii (watch it here) provided some inspiration for Rob Reiner’s 1984 satirical film, This is Spinal Tap. (Remember the classic Stonehenge scene?) Perhaps the same could be asked about All You Need is Cash, the 1978 mockumentary that follows the musical career of The Rutles, whose resemblance to The Beatles was purely and entirely intentional.

Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame, directed the film, along with Gary Weis, a filmmaker for Saturday Night Live. That pretty much guaranteed some good satire and classic cameo appearances by Michael Palin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Al Franken and Dan Aykroyd — not to mention Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and, yes, even George Harrison. (It’s worth recalling that Harrison became tight with the Monty Python crew, and financially backed Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which hit theaters the next year.)

When All You Need is Cash aired on NBC, it kind of bombed, but it later rebounded on the BBC. And today the film gets a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes’ “Tomatometer,” a solid score.

Part 1 appears above, and here we give you the remaining parts: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Get your higher-resolution copy on DVD right here.

The Man Who Quit Money — and Lived to Tell About It

If you’re getting ready to start yet another work week, let us give you some food for thought.

12 years ago, Daniel Suelo walked into a phone booth, left his only money there ($30), and hasn’t touched any since — no cash, no loans, no credit cards, no bank accounts, no welfare payments – nada. Instead, he sleeps in caves in the Utah desert (rent free), lives the life of a hunter-gatherer, remains active in his Moab community and proves that much of what we consider a necessity really isn’t at all.

Suelo was profiled in a 2009 piece in Details. He’s now the subject of Mark Sundeen’s new book, The Man Who Quit Money.

via Laughing Squid

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The Higgs Boson, AKA the God Particle, Explained with Animation

Ever since the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) went online in 2008, physicists have been conducting experiments, hoping to finally prove or disprove the existence of The God Particle, otherwise known as the Higgs Boson. CERN (which operates the LHC) gives this basic introduction to the theorized particle:

A major breakthrough in particle physics came in the 1970s when physicists realized that there are very close ties between two of the four fundamental forces – namely, the weak force and the electromagnetic force. The two forces can be described within the same theory, which forms the basis of the Standard Model. This ‘unification’ implies that electricity, magnetism, light and some types of radioactivity are all manifestations of a single underlying force called, unsurprisingly, the electroweak force. But in order for this unification to work mathematically, it requires that the force-carrying particles have no mass. We know from experiments that this is not true, so physicists Peter Higgs, Robert Brout and François Englert came up with a solution to solve this conundrum.

They suggested that all particles had no mass just after the Big Bang. As the Universe cooled and the temperature fell below a critical value, an invisible force field called the ‘Higgs field’ was formed together with the associated ‘Higgs boson’. The field prevails throughout the cosmos: any particles that interact with it are given a mass via the Higgs boson. The more they interact, the heavier they become, whereas particles that never interact are left with no mass at all.

That quick statement sets the stage for watching the video above. Here we have Daniel Whiteson, a physics professor at UC Irvine, giving us a fuller explanation of the Higgs Boson, mercifully using animation to demystify the theory and the LHC experiments that may confirm it sooner or later. H/T Metafilter

Looking to bone up on physics? Find 31 Free Physics Courses in our Collection of 450 Free Courses Online. They’re all from top universities — MIT, Stanford, Yale and the rest.

All Hail the Beat: How the 1980 Roland TR-808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music

When the Roland TR-808 rhythm machine first came out in late 1980 most musicians were not impressed. It was a drum machine that didn’t sound like drums, with a handclap feature that didn’t sound like hands clapping. One reviewer said the machine sounded like marching anteaters. But as Rhodri Marsden wrote in a 2008 article for The Independent, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

For some, the 808 was so bad it was good. They embraced the sheer artificiality of the thing. Its idiosyncratic noises began showing up on hit records like 1982’s “Sexual Healing,” by Marvin Gaye. “Booming bass kicks, crispy snares and that annoying cowbell sound made famous during the 80’s are all part of the 808 and it’s famous sound,” writes Vintage Synth Explorer. Yes, that annoying cowbell sound. On Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” writes Marsden, the effect is like that of “a distressed woodpecker.”

But as Nelson George explains in his new video, All Hail the Beat (above), the 808 has remained a vital element in much of the pop music since the 1980s, in genres like hip hop, techno and house. Even though Roland stopped making the 808 in 1984 and many young musicans today have never even seen one (a vintage 808 can cost over $2,000 on eBay) the machine’s 16 drum sounds have been widely sampled, and have been built into many of the machines that have come later.

Even the phony handclaps have become indispensable. “Of course, they don’t sound like handclaps,” producer Jyoti Mishra told Marsden, “but strangely, they have somehow become the sound of handclaps. Every drum machine produced since then has had to feature that same kind of noise.”

To hear the 808 in its heyday–along with several other electronic instruments, including Micromoog and Prophet-5 synthesizers–you can watch the video below from 1982, featuring Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force performing “Planet Rock.”

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Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Performed on Traditional Chinese Instruments

Matteo — they’re a band from Salt Lake City that spent years “meandering through Chinese street markets and mountains,” gathering “a hearty collection of Chinese traditional instruments,” and then incorporating their sounds into their own brand of american indie-folk music. Naturally you’re wondering what this fusion sounds like. So we give you Matteo performing “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” from the Talking Heads’ fifth album, Speaking in Tongues. Find a live version of the original right below.

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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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