Several weeks back, we contemplated how, in the 1650s, the economic history of the West changed irrevocably when Christiaan Huygens invented the pendulum clock — a timepiece that enabled us to measure time in accurate, uniform ways, making us attentive to the passage of time and focus on things like productivity and performance. Watch “A Briefer History of Time” to get more on that.
By the 18th century, Ben Franklin, America’s great Enlightenment figure, thought of another way to discipline time and squeeze more productivity out of us. While an envoy in France, Franklin suggested that Parisians save money on candles by getting out of bed earlier and profit from the morning sunlight. Not a surprising suggestion from the man who famously said: “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” In the video above, Stephen Fry tells you the rest of the Daylight Saving story. And just a reminder, Europe springs its time forward tonight.
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You could pay $118 on Amazon for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s catalog The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Or you could pay $0 to download it at MetPublications, the site offering “five decades of Met Museum publications on art history available to read, download, and/or search for free.”
Since I haven’t yet turned to art collection — I suppose you need money for that — these books don’t necessarily make me covet the vast sweep of artworks they depict and contextualize. But they do make me wish for something even less probable: a time machine so I could go back and see all these exhibits firsthand.
What is any major American city if not an industrial gallery bustling with people and machines? Sometimes the images are bleak, as with the photo essays that often circulate of Detroit’s beautiful ruin; sometimes they are defiantly hopeful, as with those of the rising of New Orleans; and sometimes they are almost unfathomably monumental, as with the images here of New York City, circa the 20th century—or a great good bit of it, anyway.
Photos like the astonishing tableaux in a sunlight-flooded Grand Central Terminal at the top (taken sometime between 1935 and 41) and like the breathtaking scale on display in the 1910 exposure of the Queensboro Bridge, above.
The online gallery features large-format photos of the human, like the sea of bathers above; of the human-made, like the vaulted, cavernous City Hall subway station below; and of the melding of the two, like the painters posing on the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, further down.
When I want to get a good look at the city of Los Angeles, I go up to the Getty Center in the Santa Monica Mountains. I can also, of course, get a pretty good look at some art at the museum there. But if I don’t feel like making that trek up the hill — and if you don’t feel like making the trek from wherever you live — The Getty can give you, in some ways, an even better way to look at art online. Just visit the Getty’s Open Content Program.
Seeing as this sort of free cultural resource fits right into our wheelhouse here at Open Culture, we’ve tried to keep you posted on the archive’s development over the past few years. Last time we passed the word along, the Getty’s digital public-domain archive of high-resolution images had grown to 87,000, and now it has nearly hit the 100,000 mark (99,989, to be exact)— which sounds to us like just the time to keep you posted on what you can find therein.
To download an image for which you’ve searched, you first need to click on that image’s title. That link takes you to the image’s own page (like those we linked to in the paragraph just above), where you’ll find a download link. Look for the word “download” beneath the image, and then click that link. It’s just that simple — far simpler, in any case, than visual access to such a range of artwork has ever been before. Though if you do make it to Los Angeles, don’t hesitate to make the effort to visit the Getty Center; the tram that takes you up to it makes for a pretty fascinating cultural experience and view of the city in and of itself.
The peephole is much larger than it would’ve been in 1855. Hysterical Literature was conceived as an online project in which each session’s featured female participant chooses a resonant text, then reads it aloud until a Hitachi Magic Wand puts an end to her ability to form coherent sentences.
Creator Clayton Cubitt has complained that the orgasmic element and the status of certain celebrity participants like comedian Margaret Cho have preoccupied the press. His preference is for viewers to take a more holistic approach, viewing the experience with some “mystery and magic and ‘WTF.’”
Accordingly, let us focus upon some of the selected works:
Daring female lovers of literature should be advised that Cubitt seeks to include more women of color, older participants, and non-English texts. No word on who exactly is under that table. Drain your pent-up rivers by applying here.
Working a dull civil service job ill-suited to your talents does not make you a writer, but plenty of famous writers have worked such jobs. Nathaniel Hawthorne worked at a Boston customhouse for a year. His friend Herman Melville put in considerably more time—19 years—as a customs inspector in New York, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Both Walt Disney and Charles Bukowski worked at the post office, though not together (can you imagine?), and so, for two years, did William Faulkner.
After dropping out of the University of Mississippi in 1920, Faulkner became its postmaster two years later, a job he found “tedious, boring, and uninspiring,” writes Mental Floss: “Most of his time as a postmaster was spent playing cards, writing poems, or drinking.” Eudora Welty characterized Faulkner’s tenure as postmaster with the following vignette:
Let us imagine that here and now, we’re all in the old university post office and living in the ’20’s. We’ve come up to the stamp window to buy a 2-cent stamp, but we see nobody there. We knock and then we pound, and then we pound again and there’s not a sound back there. So we holler his name, and at last here he is. William Faulkner. We interrupted him. . . . When he should have been putting up the mail and selling stamps at the window up front, he was out of sight in the back writing lyric poems.
By all accounts, she hardly overstates the case. As author and editor Bill Peschel puts it, Faulkner “opened the post office on days when it suited him, and closed it when it didn’t, usually when he wanted to go hunting or over to the golf course.
He would throw away the advertising circulars, university bulletins and other mail he deemed junk.” A student publication from the time proposed a motto for his service: “Never put the mail up on time.”
Unsurprisingly, the powers that be eventually decided they’d had enough. In 1924, Faulkner sensed the end coming. But rather than bow out quietly, as perhaps most people would, the future Nobel laureate composed a dramatic and uncharacteristically succinct resignation letter to his superiors:
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.
This, sir, is my resignation.
The defiant self-aggrandizement, wounded pride, blame-shifting… maybe it’s these qualities, as well as a notorious tendency to exaggerate and outright lie (about his military service for example) that so qualified him for his late-life career as—in the words of Ole Miss—“Statesman to the World.” Faulkner’s gift for self-fashioning might have suited him well for a career in politics, had he been so inclined. He did, after all, receive a commemorative stamp in 1987 (above) from the very institution he served so poorly.
But like Hawthorne, Bukowski, or any number of other writers who’ve held down tedious day jobs, he was compelled to give his life to fiction. In a later retelling of the resignation, Peschel claims, Faulkner would revise his letter “into a more pungent quotation,” unable to resist the urge to invent: “I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”
As Talking Heads went from CBGBs (see some vintage video) to college radio to a European tour opening for The Ramones in 1977, the band was slowly making its way out of New York City poverty while their art school rock was seeping into American culture at large. When “Take Me To the River,” their airy, nervous but still funky Eno-produced cover of the Al Green song became their first Billboard Top 30 hit, the band took a step towards national recognition.
And that leads us to this awkward March 17, 1979 appearance of the band on ABC’s American Bandstand, their first on American TV. Longtime host Dick Clark was pretty square–rock critic Nik Cohn described him as “a disc jockey who looked like an all-American choirboy”–but American Bandstand was a prime opportunity. In 1979, the New Wave and Post-Punk scenes were raging at the show’s doors. Talking Heads were one of the few acts that year from NYC’s creative cauldron of a music scene, apart from Blondie and Grace Jones, to make it onto Bandstand.
In the above clip, Clark apologizes for getting Tina Weymouth’s name wrong, then jumps in to interview David Byrne, who responds to Clark’s questions by shutting them down with embarrassed looks and matter-of-fact answers. Clark then turns back to Tina for some psychoanalytic help. “Is he always this enthusiastic?” he asks. It crumbles from there.
Weymouth remembered it slightly differently in this recent (2014) interview in New York Magazine:
I couldn’t explain to the record-label people why David’s behavior could be so incredibly odd. He had a freak-out on our first television appearance, on Dick Clark, on American Bandstand. David sort of froze, and Dick Clark sort of whirled around, and hands the microphone to me. And there were other things going on, too. I don’t think any person is one thing, or defined by a condition that they might have.
It’s not exactly freezing, but it is odd…for rock frontmen. And asking Byrne “Do you flog yourself into this?” tells you a bit more about Clark’s state of mind than anything else.
You can see the mimed performance of their hit here:
The other song they performed on the broadcast “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel” has not popped up on YouTube…yet.
Like many film fans, I grew up familiar with the term “Spaghetti western,” but I’d nearly reached adulthood before figuring out what, exactly, America’s most popular Italian dish had to do with America’s once-most popular movie genre. But even if they don’t know the specific definition of a Spaghetti western, those who enjoy them know a Spaghetti western when they see one. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Sergio Corbucci’s Minnesota Clay and Django; Enzo Barboni’s They Call Me Trinity and Trinity Is Still My Name — if a picture belongs in that company, nobody doubts it.
You’ll notice that all those directors have Italian names, and indeed, western all’italiana, the Italian equivalent of “Spaghetti western,” simply means “Italian-style western.” These Italian-produced tales of the lawless 19th-century American west, sometimes featuring fading or rising Hollywood stars (as with the young Clint Eastwood, who would become identified with Leone’s “Man with No Name”), and often shot in the Spanish desert, rode high from the mid-1960s to the early 70s, bringing a fresh sensibility and visceral impact which had for the most part drained out of the homegrown variety.
Trust a genre-loving auteur like Quentin Tarantino (and one who made his very own Django a few years back) to know Spaghetti westerns inside and out. While even those of us who never turn down the chance to enjoy a good Spaghetti western might struggle to name ten of them, Tarantino can easily run down his personal top twenty:
You can watch all the trailers of these Spaghetti western masterpieces in the playlist above, created by The Spaghetti Western Database. Some may now strike you as disarmingly straightforward about ballyhooing the excitement promised by the feature they advertise, and you may find others surprisingly funny and more self-aware. While I defy anyone to watch the entire playlist of trailers without wanting to dive into this surprisingly little-explored tradition, nothing gets me quite as excited about watching a movie — old or new, subtle or schlocky, genre or otherwise — as Tarantino’s contagious cinephilia.
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