Why Man Creates: Saul Bass’ Oscar-Winning Animated Look at Creativity (1968)

Maybe you already had a fascination with Saul Bass’ celebrated movie title sequences, or maybe you gained one from yesterday’s post about the current designers he’s inspired. Either way, you can round out your understanding of the man’s artistic sensibility by watching Why Man Creates (part one, part two), the animated film by Bass and his wife/collaborator Elaine which won the 1968 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. An eight-part meditation on the nature of creativity, the film mixes animation and live action, using Bass’ advanced repertoire of optical techniques, to look at the issues surrounding how and why humans have, throughout the history of civilization, kept on making things. It begins with early hunters felling a beast and making a cave painting out of it. From that cave rises a tower built out of every major phase of human civilization: the wheel near the bottom, the pyramids somewhat higher up, the literal darkness of the Dark Ages as the camera rises higher still, ultimately capped by a heap of planes, trains, and automobiles. One wonders how Bass might, in an update, have stacked his representation of the internet atop of all this, but the sequence’s datedness costs it none of its virtuosity.

Some of Why Man Creates’ subsequent chapters, in their bold late-sixties “trippiness,” may strike you as more dated than virtuosic. But it would take a hardened viewer indeed not to crack a smile at Bass’ Pythonesque turn when a drawn hand flips open the tops of a series of unthinking partygoers’ heads, revealing the emptiness inside. In its 29 short minutes, the film also looks at the creative struggle in terms of the coarseness of evaluative crowds, the tendency of successful radical ideas to become self-perpetuating institutions, and how people just like things better when they have American flags on them. Its journey ends in an unexpected setting, amid the toil of agricultural and medical scientists who may pursue an idea for years only to find that it has no application. This note of frustration leads into a montage of sun, fire, statuary, the Sphinx, canvasses, and rockets. Assembled with Bass’ signature subtle visual complexity, it takes us from antiquity to modernity in a way only he could.

Why Man Creates has been added to our list of Free Oscar Films on the Web as well as our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

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

Just How Small are Atoms? Mind Blowing TEDEd Animation Puts It All Into Perspective

In this new video from TED Education, teacher and author Jonathan Bergmann uses colorful analogies to help us visualize the scale of the atom and its nucleus. Bergmann is a pioneer of the “Flipped Classroom” teaching method, which inverts the traditional educational model of classroom lectures followed by homework. In a flipped classroom there are no lectures. Instead, teachers assign video lessons like the one above as homework, and devote their classroom time to helping students work their way through problems. To learn more about the flipped classroom method you can read a recent article co-authored by Bergmann in The Daily Riff. And to see more TED Education videos, which come with quizzes and  other supplementary teaching materials, visit the TEDEd YouTube channel.

PS 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.

via BoingBoing

A Quick Video Introduction to the World’s First Asteroid Mining Company

Perhaps you heard the news this week. Four billionaires (Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot Jr. and Charles Simonyi) have thrown their financial weight behind Planetary Resources, Inc., a Washington-based startup with big and bold plans. Before our planet runs out of natural resources, this venture plans to start extracting water and metals from resource-rich asteroids flying near Earth. One asteroid, they speculate, may contain more platinum than we’ve ever mined from Earth. Above, the company gives you a quick introduction to their SciFi-esque plans. The first Planetary Resources spacecraft will launch within the next two years. via Devour

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The Art of Film and TV Title Design

PBS’ web series Off Book talks to artists working hard, whether they’re doing so in the street, in tattoo parlors, on Etsy, or on film and television title sequences. In the latest installment above, Karin Fong and Peter Frankfurt discuss their now-iconic Mad Men title sequence, as well as their earlier and more troubling opening credits for David Fincher’s Se7en. Ben Conrad explains how his title work integrated into the physical world of Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, allowing zombies to rampage right through floating letters announcing things like “Columbia Pictures” and “Produced by Gavin Polone,” and spelling out the numbered rules of post-apocalyptic survival even as the protagonists observed, bent, and broke them. Jim Helton tells the story of his back-and-forth with director Derek Cianfrance in designing the titles for Blue Valentine, which take exploding-firework imagery and aesthetically unify it with the scattered memories that make up the movie. All of them face the challenge of simultaneously inviting audiences into a story, reflecting its sensibility, and on top of that, making an original contribution to the production as a whole.

Though the meeting of design, film, and television has never been more enthusiastically examined than in this era of internet video, this line of work has a rich history. After this episode of Off Book‘s end credits, the interviewees all give props to title designer Saul Bass — “Saint Saul,” Frankfurt calls him — who, if you believe them, elevated title sequences, corporate logos, and other previously plain and straightforward means of visual communication into art forms unto themselves. Watch Bass’ creations in North By Northwest, The Man With the Golden Arm, and West Side Story, some of the earliest title sequences to showcase the form’s capacity for implication and abstraction, and you’ll understand his importance to these modern-day designers. Perhaps this brief visual introduction to Bass’ designs, previously featured on Open Culture, will inspire you to get into the business yourself.

via Kottke

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Forget the Films, Watch the Titles

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

Orson Welles Explains Why Ignorance Was His Major “Gift” to Citizen Kane

In 1998, Roger Ebert had this to say about Orson Welles’ 1941 classic, Citizen Kane:

It is one of the miracles of cinema that in 1941 a first-time director; a cynical, hard-drinking writer; an innovative cinematographer, and a group of New York stage and radio actors were given the keys to a studio and total control, and made a masterpiece. “Citizen Kane” is more than a great movie; it is a gathering of all the lessons of the emerging era of sound, just as “Birth of a Nation” assembled everything learned at the summit of the silent era, and “2001” pointed the way beyond narrative. These peaks stand above all the others.

Citizen Kane blazed many new trails. The cinematography, the story telling, the special effects, the soundtrack — they were all innovative. And they were all woven into an artistic whole by a 26 year old director making his first film. Years later, Welles explained the alchemy of Kane. Ignorance, he said, was perhaps the genius of the film. “I didn’t know what you couldn’t do. I didn’t deliberately set out to invent anything. It just seemed to me, why not? And there is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything. That was the gift I brought to Kane, ignorance.”




Of course, Welles is also quick to recognize that Gregg Toland — “the greatest cameraman who ever lived” — contributed to the greatness of Citizen Kane too, providing the right spirit and cinematographic touch. If you’re unfamiliar with Toland’s work, we’ve provided a short mini documentary on the legendary cinematographer below. H/T @coudal

Several films directed by and starring Orson Welles can be found in our collection of Free Movies Online.

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Steven Spielberg on the Genius of Stanley Kubrick

“Nobody could make a movie better than Stanley Kubrick–in history,” says Steven Spielberg in this revealing 1999 interview with British filmmaker Paul Joyce. Spielberg sat down with Joyce just four months after Kubrick’s sudden death from a heart attack. He talks about the emotional effect Kubrick’s films had on him when he was a young man, the friendship the two men shared after Spielberg became successful, and Kubrick’s James Joyce-like ability to reinvent himself with each new work. “He was a chameleon,” Spielberg says. “He never made the same picture twice. Every single picture is a different genre, a different story, a different risk. The only thing that bonded all of his films was the incredible virtuoso that he was with craft.”

Note: Paul Joyce filmed similar talks with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the stars of Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut. You can see those interviews by following these links: Cruise; Kidman.

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The Canterbury Tales Remixed: Baba Brinkman’s New Album Uses Hip Hop to Bring Chaucer Into the 21st Century, Yo

Baba Brinkman, a self-proclaimed “geek rapper,” has a knack for combining hip hop with serious literature and science. Last year, we featured his Rap Guide to Evolution, an homage to Charles Darwin that he presented in New York City and TEDxSMU. And, before that, we showcased Brinkman taking on “Professor Elemental” in a no-holds-barred British v. Canadian Linguistics Rap Battle. Fun stuff.

But Brinkman first made his name by staging the The Rap Canterbury Tales, a creative attempt to bring Chaucer’s 14th century stories into the 21st century. The show premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2004. Then, Brinkman, a Canadian scholar of medieval literature, performed his show in secondary schools across England, before bringing his act to the United States — to Off Broadway — late last year, where he got some glowing reviews.

Above, we have Brinkman rapping the The Miller’s Tale, the second of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, at Bede’s World, 2009. And now that we have you warmed up, we’re going to mention Brinkman’s new studio album, The Canterbury Tales Remixed, which brings his retelling of Chaucer’s tales to the wider world. You can preview his album online right here, and download original rap songs (in MP3 format) for whatever price you’re willing to pay. Or, find the album on iTunes for $9.99.

You can find The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer’s version) in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections.

Werner Herzog Reads From Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses

Roughly since the 2005 release of his widely seen documentary Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog has come into great demand. He does so not just as a filmmaker (though he has dozens and dozens of movies of many kinds to his name), or as a writer (though several volumes of his diaries and one long-form interview have appeared as books). Many of Herzog’s newest fans, lured into the fold by the distinctive voiceover narration he records for his documentaries, simply want to hear him talk. Having grown up in Bavaria, honed his craft in German-language projects through the seventies, and more recently put down roots in Los Angeles, Herzog communicates in a manner somehow more basic and more intellectual, more and less articulate, than any other public personality alive. In one characteristic line from Grizzly Man, he compares his view of nature to his hapless subject, the late bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell: “What haunts me is that, in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”




If you’ve never seen the movie, imagine those sentences spoken with a Teutonically inflected deliberateness and the non-native English speaker’s slight hesitancy about word choice. Then imagine it ultimately arriving at the kind of grasp of and reverence for the meaning of those words you tend to have to spend a lot of time staring into the abyss to achieve. Given his interest in the affectless savagery of the world around us, it comes as no surprise that Herzog counts himself as a fan of the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Pulled from an episode of NPR’s Science Friday, the above clip features Herzog reading, and thrilling to, a passage from McCarthy’s 1992 novel, All the Pretty Horses. “It cannot get any better,” he adds, “and for decades we have not had this language in American literature.” Criminally, he didn’t direct the adaptation of All the Pretty Horses, nor has he directed any other. But until the inevitable day that he does, perhaps he could just record McCarthy’s audiobooks?

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Contemporary American Literature: An Open Yale Course

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

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