The Beatles Perform in a Spoof of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1964

In late April of 1964, England was celebrating the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare. At the same time, “Beatlemania” was in full swing. And for a brief moment, two of Britain’s cultural treasures intersected when the Beatles performed in a playful send-up of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The sketch was recorded in London on April 28, 1964. Only the month before, the Beatles had made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Shakespearean spoof was part of a one-hour British TV special called “Around the Beatles.” It’s from the play-within-a-play in Act 5, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which a group of actors make a mess of the classic Pyramus and Thisbe story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.




Pyramus and Thisbe, a source of inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, are a pair of star-crossed lovers whose feuding parents forbid them from seeing one another. They live next-door to each other but are separated by walls. Through a crack in one wall they whisper their love and make plans to meet on a moonlit night under a mulberry tree. Thisbe arrives first, only to see a lion with blood dripping from its mouth after eating its prey. Terrified, she drops her veil and runs. Pyramus arrives soon afterward and sees both the blood and the veil. He assumes the lion has killed Thisbe, so he falls on his sword and dies. Thisbe returns and finds Pyramus dead. She takes his sword and kills herself.

In the silly Beatles sketch, Paul McCartney plays Pyramus, John Lennon plays Thisbe, Ringo Starr plays the Lion and George Harrison plays Moonshine. When Lennon was asked why he took the role of the maiden, he said, “Because if anyone likes dressing up more stupid than the rest, I enjoy it, you know. I was asked to do it because they thought I had the deeper voice.”

via BrainPickings

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Wes Anderson’s First Short Film: The Black-and-White, Jazz-Scored Bottle Rocket (1992)

“The only Wes Anderson movie I like is Bottle Rocket,” declares the character Beatnik Vampire in Dorothy Gambrell’s comic strip Cat and Girl. He does so in a bid for supremacy during a cultural “slap fight” consisting of a volley of claims like “I saw Modest Mouse in Berlin in 1999” and “Cuban food made by Mexicans is better than Italian food made by Albanians.” Even if we’ve avoided participating in such one-upsmanship sessions disguised as conversations, we’ve all witnessed them. But should you one day need your own trump card, I give you Wes Anderson’s first short film above. Watch it, and you can then credibly insist the following: “The only Wes Anderson movie I like is Bottle Rocket. No, the original.”

In the late nineties, Anderson and his collaborators found themselves in a position to make their beloved breakthrough Rushmore on the strength of its predecessor Bottle Rocket, their 1996 feature debut. But even that film, a now-appreciated but then little-seen story of three deeply amateur criminals on the run through the green open spaces of Texas starring now-famous acting brothers Owen and Luke Wilson, followed another. Four years earlier, Anderson and Owen Wilson, who’d met in a playwriting class at the University of Texas, Austin, put together the thirteen-minute short you see here. It tries out the concept of thieves in training, albeit in a very different style from the one we’ve come to regard, over twenty years later, as Andersonian. Wes, if you read this, know that I’d like to see you do something in black-and-white again. With a jazz score.

via Dangerous Minds

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan Appear Together in Moving 1930 Newsreel

Helen Keller was born on this day in 1880, some 133 years ago. If you don’t know the Helen Keller story, you can watch The Miracle Worker below, the 1962 film starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. You’ll learn about how Keller, at 19 months, contracted a disease — either scarlet fever or meningitis, it’s still not clear — that left her deaf and blind. You’ll also learn how Annie Sullivan, her beloved teacher, taught her to communicate by spelling words into her hand. Their relationship would last 49 years. And you’ll discover how Keller became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, en route to becoming an activist, author and overall source of inspiration. In the clip above, filmed roughly 83 years ago, Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan appear in the flesh. Captured in an old newsreel, Sullivan explains how Keller learned to talk and, in the final line, Helen movingly declares, “I am not dumb now!” Find more Helen Keller vintage footage below.

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Watch a Surprisingly Moving Performance of John Cage’s 1948 “Suite for Toy Piano”

At some point during his 1948 mania for the Rube Goldberg pieces of prepared pianos, John Cage, inspired by minimalist French composer Erik Satie, decided to turn back to melody for a moment. Still building with a dull percussive tonal palate, he wrote solely for the keyboard this time… of a toy piano. “Suite for Toy Piano” consists of five short movements, none over two minutes. Cage liked the abrasive chiming and limited range of the instrument.

The piece can be mechanical or structurally immersive, depending on the player. In the performance above, Portuguese pianist Joana Gama achieves the latter effect, imbuing the composition with dynamic energy many other renditions lack, though I do not know whether Cage intended a flat affect. In any case, he tended to appreciate improvisatory takes on his work at all times, so he wouldn’t have been bothered.

The surrounding audience—shuffling, whispering, wheezing—only add to Gama’s intensity. The event marked the 2011 opening of the Centre for Art and Architecture Affairs in Guimarães, Portugal.

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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The Art of Punk Presents a New Documentary on The Dead Kennedys and Their Gritty Aesthetics

Last week, Colin Marshall told you all about The Art of Punk, the new documentary series from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. This week, the series continues with a new video looking at The Dead Kennedys and the artist behind their striking artwork, Winston Smith. A “punk art surrealist” known for his “hand-carved” collages, Smith is perhaps best known for creating The Dead Kennedys’ iconic logo and other arresting images (see a slideshow here). The new MOCA video covers all of that, and then some, above.

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Free Business Courses: Discover Our New Collection (and Offer Your Own Suggestions)

business free online course photoAlmost daily, readers write us and ask for courses that can deepen their professional education. Some want to learn new tech skills. Others want to bone up on statistics and calculus. And still others want to learn about project management. We decided to address this by creating a new collection of Free Online Business Courses. So far, we’ve compiled a list of 145 business-oriented courses and related resources. Some courses come from leading  universities. Others come from government, non-profits and the occasional MOOC provider. The list is fairly rich. But we will keep adding to it over time. If you know of a great course (or a great business resource that’s free) please tell us in the comments below, or send us an email via this page. We would love to benefit from your collective wisdom. And you will be helping many people in the process, during a tough economic time. Visit: 145 Free Online Business Courses.

The Atlas of True Names Restores Modern Cities to Their Middle Earth-ish Roots

atlas 2

I was born in the City of the Flowland People, made my way to Stink Onion upon reaching maturity, then onward to New Yew Tree Village where I have lived for the last 217 moons.

Look up some of your key co-ordinates in The Atlas of True Names and you too can have a personal history as mythic-sounding as mine. The maps—for the UK, USA, Canada, and World—replace modern geographical names with the original etymological roots of cities, countries, and bodies of water, translated into English. Their website picks the “Sahara desert” to illustrate the true name selection process. Their chosen label “The Tawny One” has its basis in es-sahra, translated from the Arabic as “the fawn colored desert”. It would be interesting to learn how many professional translators lent a hand with the etymological parsing. There are a lot of languages in this world and we all know the havoc Google Translate can wreak.

Married cartographers (and Lord of the Rings fans) Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust acknowledge that there could be alternates to their translations. This should come as a relief to the civic boosters of Philadelphia. Quibblers will no doubt enjoy taking issue with Hormes and Peust’s choices. Hopefully, any resulting internet brawls will take place on a higher—and dustier—plateau than those where vultures pick hapless celebrities to shreds.

Order one of these maps and pack it along on your summer road trip. Even if younger family members can’t be bothered to learn how to navigate without a phone, the narratively rich names are sure to leaven those long hours in the car. (How badly do you have to go, Jason? Can you hold out until Table or should Daddy pull over in the Valley of the Darkland Dweller?) 

It’s living history in travel version.

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books including the increasingly obsolete Zinester’s Guide to NYC and No Touch Monkey! and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHallliday

Louis Armstrong’s 1964 Interview with a Pair of Intrepid Kid Reporters

In the summer of 1964, two young boys from the North Shore suburbs of Chicago took a tape recorder and set out to interview jazz legend Louis Armstrong for their high school radio station. Armstrong was playing a concert at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, not far from the boys’ school in Winnetka. He agreed to an interview, and as a group of professional reporters from the city’s major news outlets waited impatiently outside his dressing room door, Armstrong spent 20 minutes answering questions for a little 10-watt FM radio station.

The story is told above, in the latest installment of PBS’s ongoing animation project with Blank on Blank, a group that brings unheard interviews back to life. Michael Aisner, who was 15 when he met Armstrong, and his friend James R. Stein, who was 14, recount their adventure and play a few highlights from the interview. Armstrong explains how he got the nickname “Satchmo” and talks a little about his Dickensian childhood and how he learned to play the coronet in the Home for Colored Waifs in New Orleans. He talks about the need for practicing hard every day, and about the talent that was his ticket out of the slums. “You’ve got to be good,” Armstrong says, “or bad as the devil.”

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