A Subway Ride Through New York City: Watch Vintage Footage from 1905

If you’re a New Yorker, you know this stretch of subway inside and out. You’ve schlepped from Union Square to Grand Central Station on the 4, 5, or 6 trains how many times? Probably more than you care to count. But don’t worry, you’re in good company. New Yorkers have been making this journey since 1904, and here we have some vintage video to prove it. Shot on May 21, 1905, seven months after the IRT subway line opened, the video shows a train moving uptown. And then, during the last minute, you can see the New Yorkers exiting the train, svelte and dressed to the nines.

If you’re wondering how this clip was shot, let me add this: A camera was mounted on a subway train following another train on the same track. Lighting was provided by a specially constructed work car on a parallel track.

This public domain film can be found in the Library of Congress’ Early Motion Picture Collection. The video itself comes to us via the New York Daily News, where you can see maps and pictures of the early 20th century subway system.

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Martin Scorsese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies

kubrick listCinema as we’ve almost always known it — “Edison, the Lumière brothers, Méliès, Porter, all the way through Griffith and on to Kubrick”  — has “really almost gone.” So writes Martin Scorsese in his recent essay for the New York Review of Books, “The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema.” He argues that traditional film forms have “been overwhelmed by moving images coming at us all the time and absolutely everywhere, even faster than the visions coming at the astronaut” in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “We have no choice but to treat all these moving images coming at us as a language. We need to be able to understand what we’re seeing and find the tools to sort it all out.” Only natural that Scorsese, as one of the best-known, highest-profile auteurs alive, would reference Kubrick, his generational predecessor in the untiring furtherance of cinematic vision and craft.

We just yesterday featured a post about Kubrick’s 1963 list of ten favorite films. Scorsese, for his part, has impressed many as one of the most enthusiastically cinephilic directors working in America today: his essays about and appearances on the DVDs of his favorite movies stand as evidence for the surprising breadth of his appreciation. Today, why not have a look at Scorsese’s list, which he put together for Sight and Sound magazine, and which begins with the Kubrick selection you might expect:

In “The Persisting Vision,” he champions comprehensive film preservation, citing the case of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the final entry on his list, now named the greatest film of all time by Sight and Sound‘s critics poll. “When the film came out some people liked it, some didn’t, and then it just went away.” When, after decades of obscurity, Vertigo came back into circulation,  the color was completely wrong,” and “the elements — the original picture and sound negatives — needed serious attention.” A restoration of the “decaying and severely damaged” film eventually happened, and “more and more people saw Vertigo and came to appreciate its hypnotic beauty and very strange, obsessive focus.” I, personally, couldn’t imagine the world of cinema without it — nor without any of the other pictures Scorsese calls his favorites.

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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.

New Archive Reveals How Scientists Finally Solved the Vexing “Longitude Problem” During the 1700s

For centuries, seafaring explorers and merchants reckoned with the longitude problem. It was relatively easy to figure out a ship’s location on a north-south axis, but nearly impossible to determine how far east or west it was. And the stakes were high. Sail too far astray and your ship (and men) could end up so far afield that getting home before the food and water ran out might be impossible. The sailing world needed better tools to determine location at sea.

In 1714 the British government established the Board of Longitude, offering a cash prize to anyone who could figure out how to detect how far east or west a ship was at sea. The Board was abolished in 1828, but only after fostering innovative techniques that would forever change the nature of marine navigation.

Cambridge University and the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich recently released an archive making all of the letters, objects, and documents related to the Board’s work available, along with a spiffy set of videos that brings the Board’s history and achievements to life.

During the Board’s tenure, clockmaker John Harrison figured out that sailors could find out their location if they knew local time at sea and compared that to the time at a common reference point. The moon was seen as a giant clock, and its position relative to stars was recorded in the Nautical Almanac, giving sailors the data to compare against the time at sea. One of the innovations vetted by the Board of Longitude is John Harrison’s Sea Clock. Also during that time, Greenwich became the prime meridian.

All of this work led to more accurate maps. The Board sponsored journeys, including some aboard Captain Cook’s ships with portable observatories for mapmakers to sketch and use triangulation to determine accurate location on voyages, including one to the Northwestern United States.

You can start rummaging through the fascinating archive here.

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Kate Rix writes about education and digital media. Follow her on Twitter @mskaterix or visit her on the web at .

Classic Monty Python: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw Engage in a Hilarious Battle of Wits

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be present when Oscar Wilde was delivering those dazzling epigrams of his? In this classic sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, we’re presented with one hilarious possibility.

The sketch is from Episode 39 of the Flying Circus, the last episode of season three, which was recorded on May 18, 1972 but not aired until January 18, 1973. The scene takes place in 1895, in the drawing room of Wilde’s London home. Holding court amid a roomful of sycophants, Wilde (played by Graham Chapman) competes with the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw (Michael Palin) and the American-born painter James McNeill Whistler (John Cleese) to impress Queen Victoria’s son Albert Edward (Terry Jones), the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII.

As for the historical basis of the sketch, “There seems to be no evidence for the convivial triumvirate of Whistler, Wilde, and Shaw,” writes Darl Larsen in Monty Python’s Flying Circus: An Utterly Complete, Thoroughly Unillustrated, Absolutely Unauthorized Guide, “especially as late as 1895, when Whistler was caring for his terminally ill wife and Wilde was in the early stages of his fall from grace.” Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest opened in February of that year, and shortly afterward he became embroiled in a legal battle with the Marquess of Queensberry that led eventually to his imprisonment for homosexuality. Wilde was once a protégé of Whistler, but their friendship had deteriorated by 1895. Whistler was apparently jealous of Wilde’s success, and believed he had stolen many of his famous lines. When Wilde reportedly said “I wish I had said that” in response to a witty remark by Whistler in about 1888, the painter famously retorted, “You will, Oscar, you will.” Shaw worked as a London theatre critic in the 1890s, and the Prince of Wales was a patron of the arts.

In the Python sketch, Wilde kicks off a round of witticisms with his famous line, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” But things go rapidly downhill as the conversation turns into an exercise in heaping abuse on the Prince of Wales and pinning the blame on a rival:

WILDE: Your Majesty is like a big jam doughnut with cream on the top.

PRINCE: I beg your pardon?

WILDE: Um…It was one of Whistler’s.

WHISTLER: I never said that.

WILDE: You did, James, you did.

WHISTLER: Well, Your Highness, what I meant was that, like a doughnut, um, your arrival gives us pleasure…and your departure only makes us hungry for more. [The prince laughs and nods his head.] Your Highness, you are also like a stream of bat’s piss.


WHISTLER: It was one of Wilde’s. One of Wilde’s.

WILDE: It sodding was not! It was Shaw!

SHAW: I…I merely meant, Your Majesty, that you shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark.


WILDE: Right. Your Majesty is like a dose of clap–

WHISTLER: –Before you arrive is pleasure, and after is a pain in the dong.

PRINCE: What??

WHISTLER AND WILDE: One of Shaw’s, one of Shaw’s.

SHAW: You bastards.

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Bryan Cranston Reads Shelley’s Sonnet “Ozymandias” in Ominous Teaser for Breaking Bad’s Last Season

Since his improbable but riveting rise from put-upon, cancer-stricken chemistry teacher Walter White to sociopathic meth kingpin Heisenberg, Bryan Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad has come to embody all of the characteristics of an ancient despot: cunning, paranoia, the nursing of old wounds and pretensions to undeserved greatness. It seems perfectly in character, then, that the show’s producers would tease the final season with the ominous and dusty clip above, with Cranston reading Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias,” a poem about the hubris of another desert tyrant—well-known for his megalomaniacal folly—Ramesses II (also known by a transliteration of his throne name, Ozymandias).

The speaker of Shelley’s poem meets a traveller from an “antique land,” who describes an immense statue, broken to pieces and lying strewn in the desert where “Nothing beside remains.” On the statue’s pedestal, a sculptor has inscribed the words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” As Slate describes the teaser’s match-up:

The poem echoes all the show’s big themes: the mythology of evil, the nuances of morality, the arc of coronation and decay. The images, on the other hand are fleeting—mostly New Mexico desert and suburbia, though we end with a lingering shot of Heisenberg’s dusty, worn hat resting, like the poem’s once-colossal statue.

Fans of the show familiar with the poem’s most pronounced theme, the fleeting nature of empires, no matter how great, will know to anticipate the fall of Heisenberg in some spectacular fashion, though all we have so far are the vague hints of Walter’s escalating violence and paranoia from the last few episodes. Cranston seethes the poem’s most famous line—that one about despair (and the source of the poem’s central irony)—with particular menace.


The poem’s imagery, so common to the early nineteenth century Egyptology of Shelley’s time and after, was allegedly inspired by a passage in Roman-era historian Diodorus Siculus describing just such a statue. Also fueling Shelley’s imagination were the Napoleonic archaeological finds in Egypt, including news of the 1816 discovery of a massive Ramesses II statue by Italian explorer Giovani Belzoni (who sold it to the British Museum in 1821). Shelley wrote “Ozymandias” in competition with a friend, financier and novelist Henry Smith. Smith’s submission, “In Egypt’s Sandy Silence,” came first.

Critic and writer Leigh Hunt published both poems in 1818 editions of his monthly magazine The Examiner. While Smith’s poem barely rises to the occasion, more clumsy parody than serious literary endeavor, Shelley’s—like the sculptor’s inscription in his poem—has outlasted the empire of his day and lives on in the microcosmic TV representations of our own imperial works. Above, see an 1817 draft copy of Shelley’s iambic pentameter sonnet, worked over with corrections and revisions. Below see the fair copy he sent to Hunt for publication. Both copies reside at the Bodleian Library.


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

Stephen Colbert Tries to Make Sense of MOOCs with the Head of edX

Last week Anant Agarwal, President of edX (the MOOC consortium launched by Harvard and MIT), paid a visit to The Colbert Report. And it didn’t take long for the host, the one and only Stephen Colbert, to ask funny but unmistakably probing questions about the advent of Massive Open Online Courses. “I don’t understand. You’re in the knowledge business in a university. Let’s say I had a shoe store, ok, and then I hired you to work at my shoe store. And you said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s give the shoes away for free.’ I would fire you and then probably throw shoes at your head.” In other words, why would universities disrupt themselves and give education away at no cost? Where’s the sanity in that?  If you have five minutes, you can watch Agarwal’s response and get a few laughs along the way. And if you’re ready to take a MOOC, then dive into our collection of 550 Free MOOCs from Great Universities. 120 new courses will be starting in August and September alone.

via The Harvard Crimson

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Stanley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films: The First and Only List He Ever Created

Image by Moody Man, via Flickr Commons

When, over the past weekend, I noticed the words “Stanley Kubrick” had risen into Twitter’s trending-topics list, I got excited. I figured someone had discovered, in the back of a long-neglected studio vault, the last extant print of a Kubrick masterpiece we’d somehow all forgotten. No suck luck, of course; Kubrick scholars, given how much they still talk about even the auteur’s never-realized projects like Napoleon, surely wouldn’t let an entire movie slip into obscurity. The burst of tweets actually came in honor of Kubrick’s 85th birthday, and hey, any chance to celebrate a director whose filmography includes the likes of Dr. StrangeloveThe Shining, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’ll seize. The British Film Institute marked the occasion by posting a little-seen list of Kubrick’s top ten films.

“The first and only (as far as we know) Top 10 list Kubrick submitted to anyone was in 1963 to a fledgling American magazine named Cinema (which had been founded the previous year and ceased publication in 1976),” writes the BFI’s Nick Wrigley. It runs as follows:

1. I Vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)
2. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
3. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)
5. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
6. Henry V (Olivier, 1944)
7. La notte (Antonioni, 1961)
8. The Bank Dick (Fields, 1940—above)
9. Roxie Hart (Wellman, 1942)
10. Hell’s Angels (Hughes, 1930)

But seeing as Kubrick still had 36 years to live and watch movies after making the list, it naturally provides something less than the final word on his preferences. Wrigley quotes Kubrick confidant Jan Harlan as saying that “Stanley would have seriously revised this 1963 list in later years, though Wild Strawberries, Citizen Kane and City Lights would remain, but he liked Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V much better than the old and old-fashioned Olivier version.” He also quotes Kubrick himself as calling Max Ophuls the “highest of all” and “possessed of every possible quality,” calling Elia Kazan “without question the best director we have in America,” and praising heartily David Lean, Vittorio de Sica, and François Truffaut. This all comes in handy for true cinephiles, who can never find satisfaction watching only the filmmakers they admire; they must also watch the filmmakers the filmmakers they admire admire.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

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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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.

Noam Chomsky Went Gangnam Style … Ever So Briefly?

I’m usually pretty dialed into this stuff, but somehow this one slipped by me last fall. During the Gangnam Style craze, MIT shot a parody video where Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics, made a cameo appearance. Maybe it slipped by me because the appearance is brief. About 5 seconds, starting at the 3:20 mark. We were on the ball enough, however, to spot another parody by Ai Weiwei and then we had Slavoj Žižek demystifying the whole Gangnam Style phenomenon, complete with wild hand gesticulations and frantic rubs of the nose. Anyway, one day this will make for some good archival footage — public intellectual meets international pop culture craze — so we’re adding it to the trove.

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