Time Travel Back to 1926 and Watch Wassily Kandinsky Make Art in Some Rare Vintage Video

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and look over the shoulder of one of the early 20th century’s greatest artists to watch him work? In this brief film from 1926, we get to see the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky as he turns a blank canvas into one of his distinctive abstract compositions.

The film was made at the Galerie Neumann-Nierendorf in Berlin by Hans Cürlis, a pioneer in the making of art documentaries. At the time the film was made Kandinsky was teaching at the Bauhaus. It was the same year he published his second major treatise, On Point and Line to Plane. The contrasting straight lines and curves that Kandinsky paints in the movie are typical of this period, when his approach was becoming less intuitive and more consciously geometric.

Kandinsky believed that an artist could reach deeper truths by dispensing with the depiction of external objects and by looking within, and despite his analytic turn at the Bauhaus he continued to speak of art in deeply mystical terms. In On Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky writes:

The work of Art mirrors itself upon the surface of our consciousness. However, its image extends beyond, to vanish from the surface without a trace when the sensation has subsided. A certain transparent, but defininite glass-like partition, abolishing direct contact from within, seems to exist here as well. Here, too, exists the possibility of entering art’s message, to participate actively, and to experience its pulsating life with all one’s senses.

kandinsky 1926

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The Inner Object: Seeing Kandinsky

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Sonny Rollins Plays Jazz on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1977 Pioneer Electronics Ad

In this 1977 television ad for Pioneer Electronics, jazz saxophone great Sonny Rollins wails into the New York City night air while standing on the Brooklyn Bridge. A voice-over announcer tells viewers of Rollins’ 1959-61 hiatus from the jazz scene, when he took his sound to the streets to rediscover himself musically. It’s mostly a true story. Only trouble is, Rollins actually retired to the Williamsburg Bridge—admittedly not quite as picturesque! Here’s the story as Rollins tells it:

In the 50s and 60s, Lucille and I had a small apartment on Grand Street on the Lower East Side of New York. It was a nice time. I had a lot of friends there and I was welcomed by the neighborhood people. Like most of New York, the Lower East Side has undergone gentrification but back then, it was a much more ethnic place.

I started practicing in the house because I had to practice, but I felt guilty because I’m a sensitive person and I know that people need quiet in their apartments.

I was walking on Delancey Street one day, not far from where I lived on Grand Street and I just happened to look up and see these steps that I decided to check out. And there, of course, was the bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge. It was this nice big expanse going over the East River. There was nobody up there. So I started walking across the bridge and said, “Wow. This is what I have been looking for. This is a private place. I can blow my horn as loud as I want.” Because the boats are coming under, and the subway is coming across, and cars, and I knew it was perfect, just serendipity. Then, I began getting my horn and going up there regularly. I would be up there 15 or 16 hours at a time spring, summer, fall and winter.

Rollins’ perfectionism paid off. He returned to the music business with his brilliant 1962 album The Bridge, a chronicle of where he’d been those four years, sometimes in freezing cold temperatures, alone or with friends. British documentary filmmaker Dick Fontaine captured Rollins discussing his bridge sabbatical and has released a 2012 film about Rollins called Beyond the Notes, which features live performances of the jazz great in his 80s, and has been showing in the UK since last spring. Rollins recently took home three trophies from the annual Jazz Awards in New York, including a best-record award for his latest album of live recordings, Road Shows, Vol. 2.

Josh Jones is currently a doctoral student in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Science Behind the Bike: Four Videos from the Open University on the Eve of the Tour de France

Right in time for the Tour de France (which gets underway tomorrow) the Open University has released a new video series called Science Behind the Bike. During the past two decades, science has taken cycling to new places — sometimes good, sometimes bad. The introduction of performance enhancing drugs nearly damaged the sport beyond repair, and it certainly destroyed the careers and reputations of many leading cyclists. But all along, somewhere outside the public glare, many well-intentioned scientific minds have toiled away, trying to find legitimate ways to advance the sport. Physiologists, physicists, engineers, software designers, techies from Formula 1 racing — they’ve all brought a new perspective to cycling.

In the video above, Science Behind the Bike looks at how science and technology have influenced the making and breaking of the prestigious World Hour Record first established in 1893. Then, below, Forces breaks down the physics of cycling; Physiology explains, well, the physiology that boosts performance; and Technology digs deeper into the high-tech hardware that cyclists push along. If you’re a fan of the sport, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate appearances by Chris Boardman, Francesco Moser, Graeme Obree and Rebecca Romero.




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David Byrne: From Talking Heads Frontman to Leading Urban Cyclist

The Physics of the Bike

Two Vintage Films by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel: Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or

While studying at the University of Madrid in the late 1910s, a young Luis Buñuel befriended an even younger Salvador Dalí. The first fruit of their association, a short film called Un Chien Andalou, appeared a decade later, in 1929, and quickly achieved the international renown it still has today. Several elements had to fall into place to bring this cinematic dream — or cinematic nightmare, or, most accurately, something nebulously in-between — into reality. First, Buñuel gained experience in the medium by assistant-directing on major silent-era European films like Mauprat, La chute de la maison Usher, and La Sirène des Tropiques. Then, Buñuel dreamt of the simultaneous image of a cloud slicing through the moon and a razor slicing through an eye. Then, Dalí dreamt of a human hand covered in ants. With those two visuals in place, they proceeded to collaborate on the rest of the film, working under the principle that “no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.”

We could discuss Un Chien Andalou‘s rationally inexplicable images, but wouldn’t that defeat the purpose? The moon, the eye, the hand, the ants, the cyclist in the nun’s habit — these nonsensical but enduring images must be seen, and you can do that free on YouTube. But at sixteen minutes, the movie will only whet your aesthetic appetite for Buñuel and Dalí’s particular flavor of flamboyantly nonsensical, grimly satirical imagery. Luckily, you can follow it up with 1930’s L’Age d’Or, which began as another Buñuel-Dalí joint venture until the two suddenly went their separate ways after writing the script. Buñuel took over, crafting a wryly savage five-part critique of the Roman Catholic Church. Buñuel and Dalí had prepared themselves for shock-induced physical violence at the premiere of Un Chien Andalou, only to find that the crowd had heartily approved. But L’Age d’Or drew enough fire for both pictures and then some, getting banned in France and eventually withdrawn from distribution until re-emerging in 1979. Now you can watch it whenever you like on the internet, suggesting that the controversy has evaporated — yet the images remain as surreal a way as any to begin your weekend. A restored version of the film can be viewed here.

You will find these surreal films listed in our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Related content:

The Seashell and the Clergyman: The World’s First Surrealist Film

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

Jason Silva Preaches the Gospel of “Radical Openness” in Espresso-Fueled Video (at TEDGlobal 2012)

The TEDGlobal 2012 conference kicked off this week in Edinburgh, Scotland, with “Radical Openness” being its main theme. How do we learn from one another and relate to one another in an interconnected world? And how do ideas spread, as TED would say, in our global community? Those are the basic questions at hand.

Sometimes called a “performance philosopher,” the filmmaker Jason Silva offered up another one of his “philosophical shots of espresso,” creating a video that preaches the gospel of Radical Openness. Thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley, Steven Johnson, Kevin Kelly, and Ray Kurzweil provide the inspiration.

For the privilege of contemplating the concept of Radical Openness, audience members paid $6,000 a pop. The rest of us will get to watch the talks on video in due time.

via The TED Blog

The Spanish Earth: Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 Film on The Spanish Civil War

German warplanes cross the sky. Explosions flash. Shell-shocked villagers stagger out of their damaged homes and begin to grieve. “Before,” says Ernest Hemingway in his flat Midwestern accent, “death came when you were old or sick. But now it comes to all this village. High in the sky and shining silver, it comes to all who have no place to run, no place to hide.”

The scene is from the 1937 film The Spanish Earth, an important visual document of the Spanish Civil War and a rare record of the famous writer’s voice. Hemingway went to Spain in the spring of 1937 to report on the war for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA), but spent a good deal of time working on the film. Before leaving America, he and a group of artists that included Archibald MacLeish, John Dos Passos and Lillian Hellman banded together to form Contemporary Historians, Inc., to produce a film to raise awareness and money for the Spanish Republican cause. The group came up with $18,000 in production money–$5,000 of it from Hemingway–and hired the Dutch documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens, a passionate leftist, to make the movie.

MacLeish and Ivens drafted a short outline for the story, with a theme of agrarian reform. It was MacLeish who came up with the title. The film, as they envisioned it, would tell the story of Spain’s revolutionary struggle through the experience of a single village. To do that, Ivens planned to stage a number of scenes. When he and cameraman John Fernhout (known as “Ferno”) arrived in Spain they decided to focus on the tiny hamlet of Fuentedueña de Tajo, southeast of Madrid, but they soon realized it would be impossible to set up elaborate historical re-enactments in a country at war. They kept the theme of agrarian struggle as a counterpoint to the war. When Dos Passos arrived in Fuentedueña, he encouraged that approach. “Our Dutch director,” wrote Dos Passos, “did agree with me that, instead of making the film purely a blood and guts picture we ought to find something being built for the future amid all the misery and massacre.”

That changed when Hemingway arrived. The friendship between the two writers was disintegrating at the time, so they didn’t work together on the project. It was agreed upon in advance that Hemingway would write the commentary for the film, but while in Spain he also helped Ivens and Fernhout navigate the dangers of the war zone. “Hemingway was a great help to the film crew,” writes Hans Schoots in Living Dangerously: A Biography of Joris Ivens. “With a flask of whisky and raw onions in his pockets, he lugged equipment and arranged transport. Ivens generally wore battle dress and a black beret. Hemingway went as far as a beret but otherwise stuck to civvies. Although he rarely wore glasses, he almost never took them off in Spain, clear evidence of the seriousness of their task.” In “Night Before Battle,” a short story based partially on his experience making the movie, Hemingway describes what it’s like filming in a place where the glint from your camera lens draws fire from enemy snipers:

At this time we were working in a shell-smashed house that overlooked the Casa del Campo in Madrid. Below us a battle was being fought. You could see it spread out below you and over the hills, could smell it, could taste the dust of it, and the noise of it was one great slithering sheet of rifle and automatic rifle fire rising and dropping, and in it came the crack of the guns and the bubbly rumbling of the outgoing shells fired from the batteries behind us, the thud of their bursts, and then the rolling yellow clouds of dust. But it was just too far to film well. We had tried working closer but they kept sniping at the camera and you could not work.

The big camera was the most expensive thing we had and if it was smashed we were through. We were making the film on almost nothing and all the money was in the cans of film and the cameras. We could not afford to waste film and you had to be awfully careful of the cameras.

The day before we had been sniped out of a good place to film from and I had to crawl back holding the small camera to my belly, trying to keep my head lower than my shoulders, hitching along on my elbows, the bullets whocking into the brick wall over my back and twice spurting dirt over me.

The Western front at Casa de Campo on the outskirts of Madrid was just a few minutes’ walk from the Florida Hotel, where the filmmakers were staying. Any doubt about whether the passage from “Night Before Battle” is autobiographical are dispelled in the following excerpt from one of Hemingway’s NANA dispatches, quoted by Schoots:

Just as we were congratulating ourselves on having such a splendid observation post and the non-existent danger, a bullet smacked against a corner of brick wall beside Ivens’s head. Thinking it was a stray, we moved over a little and, as I watched the action with glasses, shading them carefully, another came by my head. We changed our position to a spot where it was not so good observing and were shot at twice more. Joris thought Ferno had left his camera at our first post, and as I went back for it a bullet whacked into the wall above. I crawled back on my hands and knees, and another bullet came by as I crossed the exposed corner. We decided to set up the big telephoto camera. Ferno had gone back to find a healthier situation and chose the third floor of a ruined house where, in the shade of a balcony and with the camera camouflaged with old clothes we found in the house, we worked all afternoon and watched the battle.

In May, Ivens returned to New York to oversee the work of editor Helen van Dongen. Hemingway soon followed. When Ivens asked Hemingway to clarify the theme of the picture, according to Kenneth Lynn in his biography Hemingway, the writer supplied three sentences: “We gained the right to cultivate our land by democratic elections. Now the military cliques and absentee landlords attack to take our land from us again. But we fight for the right to irrigate and cultivate this Spanish Earth which the nobles kept idle for their own amusement.” (more…)

Stanford Launches iPhone/iPad App Course on iTunesU (with New Peer-to-Peer Learning Features)

Just about everybody these days is developing an app, right? A few lucky coders might see their work up in lights if they act fast.

Apps designed by the first 1,000 developers to register for Stanford’s new online course on iTunesU will be considered for showcasing on the university’s iTunes site.

The course, Coding Together, is based on the popular classroom version taught by Paul Hegarty at Stanford. It covers iOS 5 and focuses on apps for the iPhone and iPad platform. Sign-up ends on July 6 and the course runs until August 27. Lectures from earlier versions of the iTunesU course were incredibly popular. Some were downloaded more than 10 million times. But the new iTunesU course offers some new social networking and learning tools.

Stanford has teamed up with the social learning platform Piazza to enable students to pose questions to course instructors, other students and app developers around the world 24 hours a day. It’s a feature that on-campus Stanford students already have access to, but it’s a first for iTunesU. And it adds a whole new degree of interactivity to the iTunesU course experience.

As of Thursday afternoon, 11,065 students enrolled in the course, with signups continuing in the hundreds per day. And, collaborative study groups have spontaneously popped up all around the world — from Silicon Valley, to Brazil and Germany, to India, China and Bangladesh.

Again, you can find the Coding Together lectures on iTunesU here, and sign up for Piazza’s peer-to-peer learning groups here. We also have 50 more Free Computer Science courses in our collection of 500 Free Courses Online.

Kate Rix is an Oakland-based freelance writer. Check out her work at .

Discovered: Conversation with John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Timothy Leary at Montreal Bed-In (1969)

On May 26, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko One began their second “Bed-In,” a form of anti-Vietnam War protest that combined the media impact of a press conference with the comfort of hotel sheets. Their first Bed-In, which happened in various rooms of the Amsterdam Hilton in late March of that year, saw them grant interview after interview about peace all day long without moving from the bed in which they had ensconced themselves. They’d scheduled its follow up in New York City, but Lennon found he couldn’t enter the United States due to a previous conviction for marijuana possession. They relocated it to the Bahamas, where the heat soon prompted them to move again to the entirely cooler Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. There they recorded the song “Give Peace a Chance,” aided by such visitors as Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, Murray the K, and psychedelic drug advocate Timothy Leary.

But Leary didn’t just come to provide a backing vocal. With his wife Rosemary, he recorded a conversation with Lennon and Ono about… well, about a variety of subjects, but they’d all fall under the broad heading of Leary’s one great pursuit, “consciousness.” Only recently did Leary archivist Michael Horowitz discover the transcript of this session in “an unmarked envelope in a box of miscellaneous papers,” and this week the Timothy Leary Archives made it available to the public for the first time ever. The conversation begins with the finer points of teepee life, moves on to the effects of place on one’s state of mind, touches on both couples’ having found themselves on the wrong side of drug law enforcement, and ends with Lennon and Leary comparing notes on how they use the media to convey their message:

TIMOTHY: John, about the use of the mass media . . . the kids must be taught how to use the media. People used to say to me–I would give a rap and someone would get up and say, “Well, what’s this about a religion? Did the Buddha use drugs? Did the Buddha go on television? I’d say, “Ahh—he would’ve. He would’ve….”

JOHN: I was on a TV show with David Frost and Yehudi Menuhin, some cultural violinist y’know, they were really attacking me. They had a whole audience and everything. It was after we got back from Amsterdam…and Yehudi Menuhin came out, he’s always doing these Hindu numbers. All that pious bit, and his school for violinists, and all that. And Yehudi Menuhi said, “Well, don’t you think it’s necessary to kill some people some times?” That’s what he said on TV, that’s the first thing he’s ever said. And I said, “Did Christ say that? Are you a Christian?” “Yeah,” I said, and did “Christ say anything about killing people?” And he said, “Did Christ say anything about television? Or guitars?”

To learn more about Lennon and Ono’s Bed-Ins, you can visit the 70-minute documentary Bed Peace (below), previously featured on Open Culture and still freely viewable on YouTube:

Related content:

Timothy Leary’s Wild Ride and the Folsom Prison Interview

Beyond Timothy Leary: 2002 Film Revisits History of LSD

Bed Peace Starring John Lennon & Yoko Ono (Free for Limited Time)

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

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