John Cleese Explores the Health Benefits of Laughter

If you live in a big city like Los Angeles or San Francisco, you’ll discover that there are just a bewildering variety of yoga styles out there – there’s Ashtanga Yoga if you want a real work out, there’s Yin Yoga if you want to chill out and there’s Bikram Hot Yoga if you want heat stroke. Add to this list Laughter Yoga. Yes, Laughter Yoga.

For a segment of the 2001 BBC series The Human Face, John Cleese, a man who knows something about laughter, ventured to Mumbai, India to see what Laughter Yoga is all about. He interviews the man behind it all, Dr. Madan Kataria, who argues that laughter is brilliant at lowering stress and improving the immune system. And best of all, you don’t even need mats or unflattering pants to do it. You just need a group of like-minded people and a willingness to look silly. In the video, which you can see above, Cleese yuks it up with a group of Mumbai locals.

“We all know what a good laugh feels like,” he tells the camera. “But what struck me was how easy it was to get started. When you have a lot of warm, friendly, funny faces coming at you, you respond very naturally…I’m struck by how laughter connects you to people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy”

Apparently, you don’t even have to be in an especially jolly mood to reap the health benefits of Laughter Yoga. Forced laughter tricks the body into releasing endorphins too. In Laughter Yoga, as with life, the motto is “fake it til you make it.”

So if you are interested in laughing like a madman in the privacy of your own home, Dr. Kataria has an instructional video for you, which you can see right above. There are a surprising number of laughing exercises available — from the milkshake move, where you pantomime guzzling a drink, to the argument laughter, where you wag a finger, to the Visa laughter where you pretend to laugh through the tears as you open your credit card statement. So go ahead and try it. You’ll feel better.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

An Animated Ray Bradbury Explains Why It Takes Being a “Dedicated Madman” to Be a Writer

The good folks at Blank on Blank have been breathing new life into long-lost recorded interviews with cultural icons by turning them into animated shorts. In the past, they have made films featuring the likes of Janis JoplinDavid Foster Wallace, Jim Morrison and Dave Brubeck. For their most recent release, they do Ray Bradbury, the beloved sci-fi author and monorail enthusiast. You can watch it above.

In 2012, Lisa Potts found a cassette tape wedged behind a dresser. It contained an interview she did with Bradbury back in 1972 when she was a student journalist. Potts and fellow student Chadd Coates talked to the author in the back of a car while they were making their way from Bradbury’s West L.A. home to Chapman College in Orange County where he was slated to give a lecture.

In the interview, Bradbury expounds on a wide range of topics – from the importance of friends – “That’s what friends are, the people who share your crazy outlook and protect you from the world” – to his fear of driving – “The whole activity is stupid.”

But the area where he seems to get the most passionate is, not surprisingly, about the act of creating. According to Bradbury, you don’t need a fancy, overpriced MFA to write. He never went to college after all. His school was his local public library. What you really need to be a writer is an obsessive love of writing, friends who are willing to nourish your obsession and a willingness to be a little crazy.

I am a dedicated madman, and that becomes its own training. If you can’t resist, if the typewriter is like candy to you, you train yourself for a lifetime. Every single day of your life, some wild new thing to be done. You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. Then your public reads you and it begins to gather around your selling a potato peeler in an alley, you know. The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me. So that means every day of my life I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.

For anyone sweating blood in a coffee shop over a stubborn screenplay or novel, lines like that are balm for the soul. The whole interview has this same infectious joy of creating. Bradbury, by the way, wrote up until he died at the age of 91.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Hear Dziga Vertov’s Revolutionary Experiments in Sound: From His Radio Broadcasts to His First Sound Film

The documentary form, like every other kind of onscreen storytelling, is a very recent development in human history. Yet we tend to take for granted the way in which it constructs our sense of reality—from not only much-maligned reality TV, but also endless loops of cable news and Netflix channels. But the man widely credited with the invention of documentary film, Dziga Vertov, made decidedly anti-story movies, particularly his Man With a Movie Camera (watch it online here)—a film that jars contemporary sensibilities. With no narrative to speak of, the movie contains roughly 1,775 separate shots from three cities, shot over four years time, and edited together by his wife. Its viewing is indeed a dizzying experience, and its director Vertov—born David Kaufman—truly illustrates the aesthetic of his pseudonym, which means “spinning top.”

Vertov’s radical experimentation did not begin and end with Man With a Movie Camera or his other avant-garde documentaries and animations. (Find eight of Vertov’s films here.) Once a psychology student in Petrograd, the future filmmaker started his artistic career as a writer of futurist poetry and science fiction. Entranced by emerging recording technology and committed to disrupting traditional forms, in 1916 Vertov began, writes Monoskop, “experimenting with the perception and arrangement of sound.”

He created “sound poems,” and produced “verbal montage structures.” Of his audio art, Vertov remarked, “I had an idea about the need to enlarge our ability for organized hearing. Not limiting this ability to the boundaries of usual music. I decided to include the entire audible world into the concept of ‘Hearing.’”

After the Russian Revolution, Vertov embraced Bolshevist agit-prop; his “Kino-Pravda,” or “truth films,” celebrated industrialization and the Russian worker. His first sound film, Enthusiasm! The Donbass Symphony (1930)—a “paean to coal and steel workers”—integrates his experiments with sound recording in an entirely novel way. Ubuweb describes the film and its accompanying soundtrack as “Vertov’s most revolutionary achievement: a symphony of abstract industrial noise for which a specially designed giant mobile recoding system was constructed (it weighed over a ton) in order to capture the din of mines, furnaces and factories. For Vertov, the introduction of sound film didn’t mean talkies, but the opportunity to collage, montage and splice together constructions of pure environmental noise.”

You can hear three excerpts of this industrial sound collage above and the remaining seven at Ubuweb. Listen to them first as examples of “sound poems,” then watch Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony at the top for a better understanding of why Vertov remains such an influential, indeed essential, film—and audio—artist widely credited with freeing new media from the aesthetic confines of the stage and the page. Just below, listen to one of Vertov’s early experiments with documentary sound art, from 1916. Just as he sought to create an international worker’s visual language through film, “Through radio, he attempted to establish auditory communication across the whole of the world’s proletariat by way of recording the sounds of workplaces and of life itself.”

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

Fritz Lang Tells the Riveting Story of the Day He Met Joseph Goebbels and Then High-Tailed It Out of Germany

The more World War II history you read, the more you understand not just the evil of the Nazis, but their incompetence. Sometimes you hear variations on the observation that “in Nazi Germany, at least the trains ran on time,” but even that has gone up for debate. It seems more and more that the Holocaust-perpetrating political party got by primarily on their way with propaganda — and in that, they did have a truly formidable apparatus.

Much of the dubious credit there goes to Hitler’s close associate Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda and an anti-semite even by Nazi standards. “Power based on guns may be a good thing,” he said in a 1934 Nuremberg Party Convention speech. “It is, however, better and more gratifying to win the heart of a people and keep it.” He understood the power of film in pursuit of this end, providing not only essential assistance for productions like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, but also attempting to recruit no less a leading light of German cinema than Fritz Lang, director of three Doctor Mabuse pictures, the proto-noir M, and the expressionist epic Metropolis.

Goebbels loved Metropolis, but had rather less appreciation for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, going so far as to ban it for its supposed potential to instill in its viewers a distrust of their leaders. And so, on one fateful day in 1933 when Goebbels called Lang to his office, the filmmaker wondered if he might find a way to get the ban lifted. But Goebbels preferred to talk, at great length, about another proposal: Lang’s employment in artistic service of the Nazi cause.

“The Fuhrer and I have seen your films,” Lang quotes Goebbels as saying, “and the Fuhrer made clear that ‘this is the man who will give us the national socialist film.'” Feeling no choice but to thank Goebbels for the honor and ostensibly accept the offered (or perhaps insisted-upon) position as the head of state film production, Lang went home and immediately told his servant to prepare luggage “for a one- or two-week trip to Paris,” leaving Germany that same evening, never to return until the late 1950s. You can hear Lang tell this story in German in the clip at the top of the post, and again in English, and in more detail, in the 1974 interview with William Friedkin above.

But did it it really happen as he says? In his Film Quarterly article “Fritz Lang and Goebbels: Myth and Facts,” Gösta Werner casts doubt, noting that “even though it is highly probable that Goebbels did offer Lang the post as head of the entire German film production, there is not a word about it in Goebbels’s usually meticulous diary for the year 1933. Lang is not mentioned there at all.” For Lang’s part, his passport’s “foreign currency stamps from Berlin testify, as do the various entry and exit stamps, that between the journeys abroad in the summer of 1933 Lang returned to Berlin, which city he left finally only on 31 July 1933 — four months after his legendary meeting with Goebbels and supposed dramatic escape.”

But then, you expect a certain amount of drama from a storyteller of Lang’s caliber, onscreen as well as off. And despite holding the views of, in Werner’s words, a “fierce nationalist,” Lang clearly made the right choice in reality by not getting caught up in the offices of the Third Reich, whenever and however he made that choice. To this day, cinephiles respect and admire the power of Lang’s filmmaking — a power that we can only feel relieved didn’t fall into the wrong hands.

via Biblioklept/Dangerous Minds

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Lynch Creates a Very Surreal Plug for Transcendental Meditation

While fans wait with increasing dour moods on the future of the Twin Peaks reboot, David Lynch is busy doing…something. When the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards honored the director for his work as founder and chairman of the David Lynch Foundation, it turned out Lynch couldn’t make the evening.

Instead of the usual apology email, the man who once turned some test footage into a weird short film made a quick video to screen at the award show. It’s…Lynchian.

The video features a Barbie doll—-renamed Trixie for this short—-lying on a purple blanket and taking a call from Lynch, who is out shopping for Trixie’s makeup. Hearing Lynch’s version of a woman’s voice is strange enough, but he goes on to chastise the young girl when she suggests sunbathing nude is a form of meditation. Then follows Lynch’s pitch for Transcendental Meditation, which he’s been using as a creative boon since before Eraserhead. See our previous post: David Lynch Explains How Meditation Enhances Our Creativity. And also: David Lynch Talks Meditation with Paul McCartney.

The video ends with some mechanical birds singing. Possibly they’re from a place where there’s always music in the air, or, most probably, from Digi Birds.

Incidentally, this isn’t Lynch’s first Barbie video. In 2011 he promoted his new coffee line with a similar video which you can check out here.

Until the Showtime/Twin Peaks negotiations are finally solved, any new Lynch is worth checking out.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Kickstart the Theatrical Release of the First Comprehensive Black Panther Party Documentary

I grew up with a simplistic, moralizing official history of the Civil Rights movement, one full of platitudes and false dichotomies: a sanitized version of Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as the model of a “good” Civil Rights leader; Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other radicals were vilified as “bad” Civil Rights leaders—or Anti-American terrorists. We read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” but nothing from Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, or Stokely Carmichael. This is how most histories go, official narratives being what they are. There are heroes and villains, and little in-between. However, there is much more ambiguity surrounding events than most of us choose to accept. I came to see things much differently regarding the Black Panther Party, though not in a way that makes me feel like trading insults with strangers on the internet. I reserve the right to make up my own mind. You must also make up yours.

But one must be informed. Which is why projects like The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution—whose Kickstarter campaign video you can see above—are so important. It weighs heavily to be writing this now, as tragedies all too familiar to the figures in the film still play out tonight and nearly every night across the U.S. We owe it to ourselves to know the histories of the current struggle, both official and unofficial. I overheard someone say recently that getting a genuine education requires taking “two sets of notes.” For those raised with a one-dimensional textbook history of the Civil Rights movement, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is like another set of notes, along with other films like Goran Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975, Lee Lew-Lee’s All Power to the People! The Black Panther Party and Beyond, and Mario and Melvin Van Peebles’ fictionalized history Panther.

These films provide interesting and excellent introductions to the subject, but Stanley Nelson’s documentary offers, as he puts it, “the first comprehensive look at the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party.” Nelson is an award-winning veteran documentarian whose films include Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple, and The Murder of Emmett Till. He began The Black Panthers seven years ago, and its current release, audiences have told him, “could not have come at a better time.” The film has already premiered for “a select audience” at Sundance, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and L.A.’s Pan African Film Festival. With eight days to go, the Kickstarter to fund the doc’s multi-city theatrical release has almost reached its goal of $50,000. See their page to help them get all the way there.

Then consider reading, and re-reading, “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

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

Visit The Online Library of Babel: New Web Site Turns Borges’ “Library of Babel” Into a Virtual Reality

Red Book

Jorge Luis Borges specialized in envisioning the unenvisionable: a map the same size as the land it depicts, an event whose possible outcomes all occur simultaneously, a single point in space containing all other points in space, a vast library containing all possible books. That last, the setting, subject, and title of his short story “The Library of Babel,” has given readers much to think about since its first publication in 1941, and in recent decades has done more than its part to bolster Borges’ posthumous reputation as a seer of our unprecedentedly rich but often difficult-to-navigate new media landscape.

Borges imagined the Library of Babel comprising a huge number of connected hexagonal rooms lined by bookshelves. “Each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color.” Each book contains a different combination of letters, and in total they contain all possible combinations of letters, with the result that the Library as a whole contains

Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.

This vision has inspired a fair few thinkers, including most recently Brooklyn author and programmer Jonathan Basile. “I was lying in bed one night and the idea of an online Library of Babel popped into my head,” he says in an interview with Flavorwire.  “My first thought was — it must exist already. It seems like such a natural extension of the capabilities of a computer that I was sure someone would have made it. The next day I looked for it, a bit excitedly, and was disappointed. From then on, it’s kind of been a reluctant destiny for me.”

As the fruit of that destiny, we have, a new web site that will theoretically come to contain exactly what Borges’ Library of Babel contains: the text of every possible 410-page book. You can start looking through them by searching for text, viewing a random book, or browsing by hexagonal chamber. You’ll notice that the vast, vast majority of Basile’s Library of Babel offers nothing but nonsense — the very same thing, in other words, that Borges’ does, which in his telling causes great frustration among the luckless librarians charged with maintaining the place.

But a visit to the online Library of Babel should bring you to the same question the original story does: to what extent does meaning reside in the physical world, and to what extent does it reside in our minds? And what would Borges himself make of all this? “He was never one to take the border between reality and fiction too seriously,” says Basile. “Reading his story is already, in its own way, entering the world of the library. In a sense it’s a horror story, but it feels to me more like a black comedy. Perhaps he would just laugh.”

Enter the online Library of Babel here.

via Flavorwire

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch a Japanese Craftsman Lovingly Bring a Tattered Old Book Back to Near Mint Condition

Remember disfiguring binders with band logos and lyrics, doodling in the margins of textbooks, idly marking the fore edges with ball point designs?

At most, such pursuits helped pass a few minutes in study hall.

How long would it take to undo all this handiwork?

Clearly much, much longer than it took to create. In the above episode of the Japanese documentary series, The Fascinating Repairmen, Tokyo-based book conservator Nobuo Okano brings over 30 years of experience to bear on a tattered, middle school English-to-Japanese dictionary. This is not the sort of job that can be rushed.

Its original owner must be driven by sentiment in hiring a master craftsman to restore the book as a present for his college-bound daughter. Surely it would be just as easy, possibly even more convenient, for the young woman in question to look up vocabulary online. If keeping things old school is the goal, I guarantee a recently published paperback would prove far cheaper than conservator Okano’s laborious fix.

He spends four hours just turning and pressing its battered pages—all 1000 of them—with tweezers and a tiny pink iron.

He also scrapes the spine free of crumbling glue, resets tattered maps, preserves the old cover’s title as a decorative element for the new one, and dispatches the initials of a teenage crush with one chop of his blade. (So much for sentiment…)

One need not speak Japanese to admire the painstaking craftsmanship that will keep this beat-up old book out of the landfill.

Other episodes follow other craftspeople as they lavish attention on a suitcase, grater, and a stuffed toy penguin. Watch a complete playlist here.

via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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