Watch M.C. Escher Make His Final Artistic Creation (1971)

I first encoun­tered the world of Mau­rits Cor­nelis Esch­er where many oth­ers do: in school. A poster of his 22-foot-long Meta­mor­pho­sis III hung along the walls of my fourth-grade class­room, where I spent many an idle minute or ten star­ing at its intri­cate geom­e­try through which squares became birds, birds became lizards, lizards became fish, and it all some­how arrived at the cliff-like edge of a three-dimen­sion­al chess­board. It came as the last of a tril­o­gy of wood­cuts Esch­er made between 1937 and 1968, and a jour­ney through its 1940 pre­de­ces­sor Meta­mor­pho­sis II ends the 1971 doc­u­men­tary above, M.C. Esch­er: Adven­tures in Per­cep­tion.

Esch­er him­self seem­ing­ly had no hap­py class­room mem­o­ries. “I hat­ed school,” the nar­ra­tor quotes him as say­ing. “The only class I liked at all was art. That does­n’t mean I was any good at it.” Though his work has no doubt inspired many young­sters to take up draw­ing, wood­cut­ting, and print­mak­ing them­selves, it’s sure­ly dri­ven even more of them into math­e­mat­ics.

Obsessed with per­spec­tive, geom­e­try, and pat­tern (Esch­er described tes­sel­la­tion as “a real mania to which I have become addict­ed”), his images have, by the count of math­e­mati­cian and Esch­er schol­ar Doris Schattschnei­der, led so far to eleven sep­a­rate strands of math­e­mat­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic research.

The twen­ty-minute Adven­tures in Per­cep­tion, orig­i­nal­ly com­mis­sioned by the Nether­lands’ Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, offers in its first half a med­i­ta­tion on the mes­mer­iz­ing, often impos­si­ble world Esch­er had cre­at­ed with his art to date. Its sec­ond half cap­tures Esch­er in the last years of his life, still at work in his Laren, North Hol­land stu­dio. It even shows him print­ing one of the three tit­u­lar ser­pents, thread­ed through a set of elab­o­rate­ly inter­lock­ing cir­cles, of his very last print Snakes. He nev­er actu­al­ly fin­ished Snakes, whose pat­terns would have con­tin­ued on to the effect of infin­i­ty, and even says here of his offi­cial­ly com­plete works that none suc­ceed, “because it’s the dream I tried for that can’t be real­ized.” But those unre­al­ized dreams have kept the rest of us dream­ing, and think­ing, ever since.

Adven­tures in Per­cep­tion will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our list, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meta­mor­phose: 1999 Doc­u­men­tary Reveals the Life and Work of Artist M.C. Esch­er

Inspi­ra­tions: A Short Film Cel­e­brat­ing the Math­e­mat­i­cal Art of M.C. Esch­er

M.C. Escher’s Per­pet­u­al Motion Water­fall Brought to Life: Real or Sleight of Hand?

Back to Bed: A New Video Game Inspired by the Sur­re­al Art­work of Esch­er, Dali & Magritte

David Bowie Sings in a Won­der­ful M.C. Esch­er-Inspired Set in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Seth Godin’s Startup School: A Free Mini-Course for New Entrepreneurs

godin startup school

Image by Joi Ito, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Briefly not­ed: If you’re inter­est­ed in entre­pre­neur­ship and mar­ket­ing, you’ve like­ly encoun­tered Seth Godin and his ever pop­u­lar blog. Or per­haps you’ve read some of his best­selling books? But maybe you’ve nev­er come across this: the “Start­up School” where Godin guides 30 entre­pre­neurs through “how to build and run their dream busi­ness.” On his blog, Godin wrote back in 2012:

I love star­tups. Not only do they bring the promise of rapid growth and real change, but every­thing is up for grabs. Orga­ni­za­tions that start with a clean sheet of paper have the dif­fi­cult task of pay­ing the bills, but they also have the lux­u­ry of ignor­ing yes­ter­day in order to focus exclu­sive­ly on tomor­row.

Through the years, I’ve start­ed a bunch of com­pa­nies and enjoyed brain­storm­ing with the peo­ple who have launched com­pa­nies big and small, from AOL when they only had a dozen employ­ees to some of the very cool orga­ni­za­tions that come through the doors of NY Tech­stars.

Next month, I’m going to be run­ning a small school–a few days for a few dozen start­up founders… For those that won’t be able to make it, I’ll be record­ing the ses­sion and edit­ing it down into some­thing I can share here on the blog for free a few months lat­er.

Below, you can stream those 15 free record­ings, each of which runs 18–25 min­utes. We’ve embed­ded the first seg­ment, “Free­lancer or Entre­pre­neur?.” Fur­ther down you’ll find links to the remain­ing ones, or you can get them on Sound­Cloud and iTunes. God­in’s “Start­up School” will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Online Busi­ness Cours­es, where you’ll also find the use­ful YCombi­na­tor course, How to Start a Start­up.

1) Free­lancer or Entre­pre­neur?

2) Adjust­ing the Course

3) Cre­at­ing Scarci­ty

4) Appeal­ing to Con­sumers

5) Per­mis­sion and Trust

6) Rais­ing Mon­ey

7) Adver­tis­ing and Com­peti­tors

8) Mak­ing Ideas Trav­el

9) Com­pro­mis­ing

10) Tac­tics

11) Cash Flow

12) The Dip 

13) Build­ing The Truth

14) The Ship­It Jour­nal

15) Dis­tinct and Direct

h/t Eli

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Seth Godin: The Wealth of Free (Semi-Ani­mat­ed)

Free Online Busi­ness Cours­es

Start Your Start­up with Free Stan­ford Cours­es and Lec­tures

Chris Rock Reads James Baldwin’s Still Timely Letter on Race in America: “We Can Make What America Must Become”

A black quar­ter­back refus­es to stand dur­ing the nation­al anthem—a song, inci­den­tal­ly, writ­ten by a “patri­ot” who was also a “big­ot” and slave­own­er, “vehe­ment­ly opposed to abo­li­tion.” The quar­ter­back declares that he will not “show pride in a flag for a coun­try that oppress­es black peo­ple and peo­ple of col­or.” The quar­ter­back is told he has dis­re­spect­ed the coun­try, the police, and the mil­i­tary. His crit­ics become enraged, apoplec­tic. He is told he should leave the coun­try. He is mocked by thou­sands of peo­ple who point to his wealth and priv­i­leged, adop­tive upbring­ing. An upbring­ing among white peo­ple. Such suc­cess, the under­ly­ing log­ic goes, and such a child­hood should have made the quar­ter­back patri­ot­ic, grate­ful, col­or­blind.…

What if the quar­ter­back had not grown up priv­i­leged, but in one of many com­mu­ni­ties of col­or that bear the brunt of well-doc­u­ment­ed but most­ly ignored police vio­lence and insti­tu­tion­al dis­crim­i­na­tion and impov­er­ish­ment? How would his actions be received then? We can imag­ine much the same, giv­en the reac­tion to ear­li­er, less-priv­i­leged sports fig­ures, to Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers around the coun­try, and to move­ments of the past. (Until last year, nine men in South Car­oli­na still bore con­vic­tions for tres­pass­ing after their sit-in protests in 1961.) Protest­ing the country’s racist past and present—like protest­ing the country’s wars, inequal­i­ty, or envi­ron­men­tal depredations—is crim­i­nal, we’re told, blas­phe­mous, tan­ta­mount to trea­son… or ter­ror­ism. The nation is inno­cent of all charges, and the pro­tes­tors are bit­ter, naive, hate­ful, and worse. For read­ers of James Bald­win, it all sounds ter­ri­bly famil­iar.

Bald­win’s is a dif­fi­cult lit­er­ary lega­cy: while we rejoice that he is still so often read, we lament that so many of his con­tem­po­rary obser­va­tions remain rel­e­vant. In 1962, Bald­win pub­lished an essay in The Pro­gres­sive in the form of a let­ter to his nephew, James. Lat­er col­lect­ed in The Fire Next Time, the let­ter pro­vid­ed the inspi­ra­tion for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent best­seller, Between the World and Me, writ­ten as a let­ter to his then 15-year-old son. In the video above—from this January’s star-stud­ded MLK Now cel­e­bra­tion—Chris Rock reads Baldwin’s pas­sion­ate let­ter, itself an act of protest, unpa­tri­ot­ic, if you like, in which he levies the same charges against the nation as Col­in Kaeper­nick has fifty-four years lat­er.

“This is the crime of which I accuse my coun­try and my coun­try­men,” writes Bald­win, “and for which nei­ther I nor time nor his­to­ry will ever for­give them, that they have destroyed and are destroy­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.”

Now, my dear name­sake, these inno­cent and well mean­ing peo­ple, your coun­try­men, have caused you to be born under con­di­tions not far removed from those described for us by Charles Dick­ens in the Lon­don of more than a hun­dred years ago. I hear the cho­rus of the inno­cents scream­ing, “No, this is not true. How bit­ter you are,” but I am writ­ing this let­ter to you to try to tell you some­thing about how to han­dle them, for most of them do not yet real­ly know that you exist. I know the con­di­tions under which you were born for I was there. Your coun­try­men were not there and haven’t made it yet. Your grand­moth­er was also there and no one has ever accused her of being bit­ter. I sug­gest that the inno­cent check with her. She isn’t hard to find. Your coun­try­men don’t know that she exists either, though she has been work­ing for them all their lives.

Baldwin’s iron­ic insis­tence on the country’s “inno­cence” is com­plex, his lan­guage filled with the cos­mic imagery of the jere­mi­ad. The peo­ple Bald­win speaks of real­ly are in a sense “inno­cent,”  in that they too are vic­tims, “still trapped in a his­to­ry which they do not under­stand and until they under­stand it, they can­not be released from it.” Peo­ple, as Coates put it, trapped in an unre­al dream. “We can­not be free,” he writes, “until they are free.” With the com­ing of civ­il rights-era fights against racism, how­ev­er, “those inno­cents who believed that your impris­on­ment made them safe are los­ing their grasp of real­i­ty.”

Nonethe­less, he urges his nephew to stay and “with love… force our broth­ers to see them­selves as they are, to cease flee­ing from real­i­ty and begin to change it.” Despite the grim, prophet­ic tenor of his mes­sage, Bald­win ends on a note of hope, one that rec­og­nizes love of coun­try not as sen­ti­men­tal, rit­u­al­ized loy­al­ty pledges, but as a strug­gle and a reck­on­ing with that coun­try’s ugly truths:

For this is your home, my friend. Do not be dri­ven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make Amer­i­ca what Amer­i­ca must become.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Bald­win Debates Mal­colm X (1963) and William F. Buck­ley (1965): Vin­tage Video & Audio

James Baldwin’s One & Only, Delight­ful­ly-Illus­trat­ed Children’s Book, Lit­tle Man Lit­tle Man: A Sto­ry of Child­hood (1976)

Ralph Elli­son Reads from His Nov­el-in-Progress, June­teenth, in Rare Video Footage (1966)

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

Hear 508 Hours of Songs Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder (1924–2016), the Engineer Who Created the Sound of Modern Jazz

van gelder collage

The art of audio engi­neer­ing is most­ly a dark one, an alche­my per­formed behind closed stu­dio doors by peo­ple who speak a tech­ni­cal lan­guage most of us don’t rec­og­nize. That is until recent­ly. Musi­cians ama­teur and pro­fes­sion­al have had to get behind the con­trols them­selves and learn how to record their own music, a func­tion of dec­i­mat­ed stu­dio bud­gets and eas­i­ly avail­able dig­i­tal ver­sions of once rar­i­fied and pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive ana­log equip­ment. As with all tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments that put more con­trol into the hands of laypeo­ple, the results are mixed: a pro­lif­er­a­tion of quirky, inter­est­ing, home­made music, yes, and artists with total con­trol over their pro­duc­tion meth­ods and the means to release their music when and how they please…

But with the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of record­ing tech­nol­o­gy, I fear we may begin to for­get what real­ly great, real­ly expen­sive, audio engi­neer­ing sounds like, an unheard-of con­sid­er­a­tion in the fifties and six­ties, when the process may as well have been mag­ic to most record buy­ers, and when engi­neer Rudy Van Gelder record­ed some of the greatest—and best sounding—jazz albums ever made. A Love Supreme? That was Van Gelder. Also Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Her­bie Hancock’s Maid­en Voy­age, Son­ny Rollins’ Sax­o­phone Colos­sus, Horace Silver’s Song for My Father… Dex­ter Gor­don, Don­ald Byrd, Wayne Short­er, Art Blakey…. You’re get­ting the idea. “Thelo­nious Monk com­posed a trib­ute to Van Gelder’s home stu­dio,” writes The Guardian, and “record­ed it there in 1954.”

What made Van Gelder’s albums so amaz­ing, his skills so in-demand? Hear for your­self, in the incred­i­ble playlist below fea­tur­ing 508 hours of music record­ed by the man. (Need Spo­ti­fy? Down­load it here.) We can also let the engineer—who died at his New Jer­sey home and stu­dio at 91 last Thursday—tell us him­self in rare inter­views, and demys­ti­fy some of the intrin­sic prop­er­ties of the record­ing process. “When peo­ple talk about my albums,” Van Gelder said, “they often say the music has ‘space.’ I tried to repro­duce a sense of space in the over­all sound pic­ture.” His use of “spe­cif­ic micro­phones” locat­ed around the room to cre­ate “a sen­sa­tion of dimen­sion and depth” show us that record­ing isn’t sim­ply repro­duc­ing the sound of the instru­ments and play­ers, but of the space around them, which is why stu­dio own­ers spend mil­lions to build acousti­cal­ly treat­ed rooms.

But for all his pro­fes­sion­al­ism and pio­neer­ing use of top equip­ment like Ger­man-made Neu­mann micro­phones, we should note that Van Gelder got his start, and did some of his best work, in his bed­room, so to speak. The fas­tid­i­ous record­ing engi­neer, who wore gloves while record­ing and dressed like a cor­po­rate accoun­tant, actu­al­ly worked as an optometrist by day for over a decade, mak­ing records, The New York Times writes, “out of a stu­dio in his par­ents’ liv­ing room in Hack­en­sack, N.J. Not until 1959—by which time he had already engi­neered some of the most cel­e­brat­ed record­ings in jazz history—could he afford to make engi­neer­ing his full-time occu­pa­tion.”

That same stu­dio in Van Gelder’s par­ents’ liv­ing room is the one to which Monk paid homage in ’54. Not only that, but like many of today’s self-taught home engi­neers, Van Gelder “was involved in every aspect of mak­ing records, from prepa­ra­tion to mas­ter­ing.” Which goes to show, per­haps, that maybe great engi­neer­ing, like great musi­cian­ship, isn’t about access to expen­sive gear or high­ly spe­cial­ized train­ing. Maybe it’s about some­thing else. Van Gelder “had the final say in what the records sound­ed like, and he was, in the view of count­less pro­duc­ers and lis­ten­ers, bet­ter at that than any­one.” How? Aside from vague talk of “space” and “dimen­sion,” writes Tape Op, Van Gelder “nev­er dis­cussed his tech­niques,” even in an inter­view with the respect­ed record­ing mag­a­zine. Maybe there real­ly was a kind of mag­ic involved.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Released 50 Years Ago This Month

Jazz on the Tube: An Archive of 2,000 Clas­sic Jazz Videos (and Much More)

A 96-Song Playlist of Music in Haru­ki Murakami’s Nov­els: Miles Davis, Glenn Gould, the Beach Boys & More

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

Enter an Archive of 6,000 Historical Children’s Books, All Digitized and Free to Read Online

5 Little PIgs

We can learn much about how a his­tor­i­cal peri­od viewed the abil­i­ties of its chil­dren by study­ing its chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. Occu­py­ing a space some­where between the pure­ly didac­tic and the non­sen­si­cal, most children’s books pub­lished in the past few hun­dred years have attempt­ed to find a line between the two poles, seek­ing a bal­ance between enter­tain­ment and instruc­tion. How­ev­er, that line seems to move clos­er to one pole or anoth­er depend­ing on the pre­vail­ing cul­tur­al sen­ti­ments of the time. And the very fact that children’s books were hard­ly pub­lished at all before the ear­ly 18th cen­tu­ry tells us a lot about when and how mod­ern ideas of child­hood as a sep­a­rate cat­e­go­ry of exis­tence began.


“By the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry,” writes New­cas­tle Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor M.O. Gren­by, “children’s lit­er­a­ture was a flour­ish­ing, sep­a­rate and secure part of the pub­lish­ing indus­try in Britain.” The trend accel­er­at­ed rapid­ly and has nev­er ceased—children’s and young adult books now dri­ve sales in pub­lish­ing (with 80% of YA books bought by grown-ups for them­selves).

Gren­by notes that “the rea­sons for this sud­den rise of children’s lit­er­a­ture” and its rapid expan­sion into a boom­ing mar­ket by the ear­ly 1800s “have nev­er been ful­ly explained.” We are free to spec­u­late about the social and ped­a­gog­i­cal winds that pushed this his­tor­i­cal change.

Afloat with Nelson

Or we might do so, at least, by exam­in­ing the children’s lit­er­a­ture of the Vic­to­ri­an era, per­haps the most inno­v­a­tive and diverse peri­od for children’s lit­er­a­ture thus far by the stan­dards of the time. And we can do so most thor­ough­ly by sur­vey­ing the thou­sands of mid- to late 19th cen­tu­ry titles at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Florida’s Bald­win Library of His­tor­i­cal Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Their dig­i­tized col­lec­tion cur­rent­ly holds over 6,000 books free to read online from cov­er to cov­er, allow­ing you to get a sense of what adults in Britain and the U.S. want­ed chil­dren to know and believe.

Zig Zag

Sev­er­al gen­res flour­ished at the time: reli­gious instruc­tion, nat­u­ral­ly, but also lan­guage and spelling books, fairy tales, codes of con­duct, and, espe­cial­ly, adven­ture stories—pre-Hardy Boys and Nan­cy Drew exam­ples of what we would call young adult fic­tion, these pub­lished prin­ci­pal­ly for boys. Adven­ture sto­ries offered a (very colo­nial­ist) view of the wide world; in series like the Boston-pub­lished Zig Zag and Eng­lish books like Afloat with Nel­son, both from the 1890s, fact min­gled with fic­tion, nat­ur­al his­to­ry and sci­ence with bat­tle and trav­el accounts. But there is anoth­er dis­tinc­tive strain in the children’s lit­er­a­ture of the time, one which to us—but not nec­es­sar­i­ly to the Victorians—would seem con­trary to the impe­ri­al­ist young adult nov­el.

Bible Picture Book

For most Vic­to­ri­an stu­dents and read­ers, poet­ry was a dai­ly part of life, and it was a cen­tral instruc­tion­al and sto­ry­telling form in children’s lit. The A.L.O.E.’s Bible Pic­ture Book from 1871, above, presents “Sto­ries from the Life of Our Lord in Verse,” writ­ten “sim­ply for the Lord’s lambs, rhymes more read­i­ly than prose attract­ing the atten­tion of chil­dren, and fas­ten­ing them­selves on their mem­o­ries.” Chil­dren and adults reg­u­lar­ly mem­o­rized poet­ry, after all. Yet after the explo­sion in children’s pub­lish­ing the for­mer read­ers were often giv­en infe­ri­or exam­ples of it. The author of the Bible Pic­ture Book admits as much, beg­ging the indul­gence of old­er read­ers in the pref­ace for “defects in my work,” giv­en that “the vers­es were made for the pic­tures, not the pic­tures for the vers­es.”

Elfin Rhymes

This is not an author, or per­haps a type of lit­er­a­ture, one might sus­pect, that thinks high­ly of children’s aes­thet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ties.  We find pre­cise­ly the oppo­site to be the case in the won­der­ful Elfin Rhymes from 1900, writ­ten by the mys­te­ri­ous “Nor­man” with “40 draw­ings by Car­ton Moorepark.” Who­ev­er “Nor­man” may be (or why his one-word name appears in quo­ta­tion marks), he gives his read­ers poems that might be mis­tak­en at first glance for unpub­lished Christi­na Ros­set­ti vers­es; and Mr. Moorepark’s illus­tra­tions rival those of the finest book illus­tra­tors of the time, pre­sag­ing the high qual­i­ty of Calde­cott Medal-win­ning books of lat­er decades. Elfin Rhymes seems like a rare odd­i­ty, like­ly pub­lished in a small print run; the care and atten­tion of its lay­out and design shows a very high opin­ion of its read­ers’ imag­i­na­tive capa­bil­i­ties.

Elfin Rhymes 2

This title is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an emerg­ing genre of late Vic­to­ri­an children’s lit­er­a­ture, which still tend­ed on the whole, as it does now, to fall into the trite and for­mu­la­ic. Elfin Rhymes sits astride the fan­ta­sy boom at the turn of the cen­tu­ry, her­ald­ed by huge­ly pop­u­lar books like Frank L. Baum’s Wiz­ard of Oz series and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. These, the Har­ry Pot­ters of their day, made mil­lions of young peo­ple pas­sion­ate read­ers of mod­ern fairy tales, rep­re­sent­ing a slide even fur­ther away from the once quite nar­row, “remorse­less­ly instruc­tion­al… or deeply pious” cat­e­gories avail­able in ear­ly writ­ing for chil­dren, as Gren­by points out.

All Around the Moon

Where the bound­aries for kids’ lit­er­a­ture had once been nar­row­ly fixed by Latin gram­mar books and Pilgrim’s Progress, by the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, the influ­ence of sci­ence fic­tion like Jules Verne’s, and of pop­u­lar super­nat­ur­al tales and poems, pre­pared the ground for com­ic books, YA dystopias, magi­cian fic­tion, and dozens of oth­er children’s lit­er­a­ture gen­res we now take for grant­ed, or—in increas­ing­ly large numbers—we buy to read for our­selves. Enter the Bald­win Library of His­tor­i­cal Children’s Lit­er­a­ture here, where you can browse sev­er­al cat­e­gories, search for sub­jects, authors, titles, etc, see full-screen, zoomable images of book cov­ers, down­load XML ver­sions, and read all of the over 6,000 books in the col­lec­tion with com­fort­able read­er views. Find more clas­sics in our col­lec­tion, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Children’s Pic­ture Book, 1658’s Orbis Sen­su­al­i­um Pic­tus

The Anti-Slav­ery Alpha­bet: 1846 Book Teach­es Kids the ABCs of Slavery’s Evils

The Inter­na­tion­al Children’s Dig­i­tal Library Offers Free eBooks for Kids in Over 40 Lan­guages

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

Tilda Swinton Gets a Portrait Drawn by Art Critic John Berger

In the win­ter of 2012, just before Christ­mas, a car­ful of Britons made their way through the snow to a house in rur­al France. The roads would soon close, but no mat­ter; they’d planned to make some apple crum­bles, do some draw­ing, and enjoy some con­ver­sa­tion. This may all sound nor­mal enough, but the car did­n’t con­tain your aver­age cot­tage-stay­ing hol­i­day­mak­ers: the crit­ic and film­mak­er Col­in Mac­Cabe rode in it, as did Til­da Swin­ton, the actress as famed for her per­for­mances as for her range of artis­tic and intel­lec­tu­al inter­ests. They’d come to shoot a doc­u­men­tary on the occu­pant of the house at which they’d arrived: artist, crit­ic, writer, and self-described “sto­ry­teller” John Berg­er.

The nov­el G. won Berg­er the Book­er prize in 1972 (half of the prize mon­ey from which he famous­ly donat­ed to Britain’s Black Pan­ther Par­ty), but most of his read­ers encounter him through that same year’s Ways of See­ing, a text on the ide­ol­o­gy of images that ranks among the twen­ty most influ­en­tial aca­d­e­m­ic books of all time.

He and Swin­ton first became friends in the late 1980s, when she played a small part in a film based on one of his short sto­ries, in which he him­self also appeared. “The old intel­lec­tu­al and the young actress imme­di­ate­ly formed a close bond,” writes The Inde­pen­dent’s Geof­frey McNab.

“Both were born in Lon­don, on 5 Novem­ber — Berg­er in 1926, Swin­ton in 1960 — and their shared birth­day has, as Swin­ton puts it, ‘formed a bedrock to our com­plic­i­ty, the prac­ti­cal fan­ta­sy of twin­ship.’ ” This they dis­cuss in the McCabe-direct­ed “Ways of Lis­ten­ing,” the first of a quar­tet of seg­ments that con­sti­tute the new doc­u­men­tary The Sea­sons In Quin­cy: Four Por­traits of John Berg­er, a co-pro­duc­tion of Birk­beck, Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don’s Derek Jar­man Lab. “Some­times I think it’s as though, in anoth­er life, we met or did some­thing,” says Berg­er as he draws Swin­ton’s por­trait. “We are aware of it in some depart­ment which isn’t mem­o­ry, although it’s quite close to mem­o­ry. Maybe, in anoth­er life, we… touched togeth­er.”

“Ways of Lis­ten­ing” cap­tures an extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion between Berg­er and Swin­ton, though it also fea­tures their nar­ra­tion. In this scene, Berg­er reads from his recent med­i­ta­tion on the prac­tice of draw­ing for his book Ben­to’s Sketch­book: “We who draw do so not only to make some­thing vis­i­ble to oth­ers, but also to accom­pa­ny some­thing invis­i­ble to its incal­cu­la­ble des­ti­na­tion.” (Swin­ton, for her part, reads from Spin­oza.) But the talk returns to what brought them togeth­er in the first place. “Maybe we made an appoint­ment to see each oth­er again, in this life,” Berg­er pro­pos­es. “The fifth of Novem­ber. But it was­n’t the same year. That did­n’t mat­ter. We weren’t in that kind of time.”

“We got off at the same sta­tion.”


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Til­da Swin­ton Recites Poem by Rumi While Reek­ing of Vetiv­er, Heliotrope & Musk

Wittgen­stein: Watch Derek Jarman’s Trib­ute to the Philoso­pher, Fea­tur­ing Til­da Swin­ton (1993)

Watch David Bowie’s New Video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ With Til­da Swin­ton

The Moby Dick Big Read: Til­da Swin­ton & Oth­ers Read a Chap­ter a Day from the Great Amer­i­can Nov­el

The 20 Most Influ­en­tial Aca­d­e­m­ic Books of All Time: No Spoil­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Gene Wilder Recalls the Beginnings of His Creative Life in Two Hilarious, Poignant Stories

We’d grown accus­tomed to his face—that wry, dis­tinc­tive mug, smirk­ing at us from beneath his Willy Won­ka pur­ple top hat in mil­lions of pro­lif­er­at­ing Con­de­scend­ing Won­ka memes, the epit­o­me of arch­ness and smug con­de­scen­sion. Apolo­gies to John­ny Depp, but no one else could have so per­fect­ly inhab­it­ed Roald Dahl’s mer­cu­r­ial can­dy­man like Gene Wilder, who passed away yes­ter­day from Alzheimer’s at the age of 83. Wilder’s Won­ka may casu­al­ly tor­ture his spoiled child guests, but we remem­ber him as a sadist with a heart of gold.

Willy Won­ka and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry, like Pee Wee’s Big Adven­ture, is one of those rare films beloved both by chil­dren and adults (or at least I remem­ber them that way); many future gen­er­a­tions will dis­cov­er Wilder’s man­ic bril­liance in his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Mel Brooks—Blaz­ing Sad­dles, Young Franken­stein, The Pro­duc­ers—and with Richard Pry­or, his friend and fre­quent com­ic foil. And those who lived through the 80s will also remem­ber Wilder for one of the great romances of the decade.

Wilder and Gil­da Rad­ner were a com­e­dy pow­er cou­ple whose mar­riage end­ed trag­i­cal­ly with her death from ovar­i­an can­cer in 1989. That same year he received a diag­no­sis of non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma. “Wilder was dev­as­tat­ed by Radner’s death,” writes Vari­ety, “and only worked inter­mit­tent­ly after that.” But he nev­er lost his sharp, mad­cap sense of humor and deep well of gen­uine vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty as his career shift­ed into low­er gears in the ensu­ing decades. (He won an Emmy in 2003 for a guest role on Will & Grace and pub­lished a nov­el in 2007).

Wilder was always hap­py to share his cre­ative insights and sto­ries with fans, giv­ing fre­quent inter­views in the last few years and appear­ing on pan­els like that above, a 1999 forum on “The Won­ders of Cre­ativ­i­ty” with Jane Alexan­der, Dan­ny Glover, and oth­ers. Wilder shares a hilar­i­ous­ly irrev­er­ent sto­ry from his child­hood about how he learned to con­scious­ly make oth­er peo­ple laugh by prac­tic­ing on his moth­er after she’d had a heart attack.

This anec­dote gives way to anoth­er, both laugh out loud fun­ny and heart­break­ing at once, of young, 1st-grade Gene (then Jer­ry Sil­ber­man) fac­ing rejec­tion from a teacher (“That stu­pid lady”) who told him his art­work wasn’t good enough to hang on the wall. The hurt stayed with him, so that in 1984, he tells us, “I began paint­ing. Now I try to paint every day of my life.” Wilder com­mu­ni­cates his cre­ative phi­los­o­phy through per­son­al vignettes like these, col­or­ful­ly illus­trat­ing how he became an actor Pauline Kael called “a superb tech­ni­cian… [and] an inspired orig­i­nal.”

In the ani­mat­ed Blank on Blank inter­view clip above—taken from his 2007 con­ver­sa­tion with Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin at the 92nd Street Y after the debut of his novel—Wilder opens with anoth­er ver­sion of the sto­ry about his moth­er, the source, he says of his con­fi­dence as an actor. He began his career in the the­ater in the ear­ly six­ties, and says he “felt on stage, or in the movies, I could do what­ev­er I want­ed to. I was free.” He also talks about actors’ mys­te­ri­ous moti­va­tions:

If you ask an actor, “Why do you want to act?,” I don’t think most of them know the real rea­sons. After sev­en and a half years of analy­sis, I have a fair­ly good idea why. My ana­lyst said, “Well, it’s bet­ter than run­ning around naked in Cen­tral Park, isn’t it?”

Wilder then tells the sto­ry of how he sug­gest­ed Willy Wonka’s dra­mat­ic entrance to the film’s director—insisted on it, in fact, as a con­di­tion for tak­ing the part. “From that time on,” he said of the character’s first moments on screen, “no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” That was the comedic genius of Gene Wilder, may it live for­ev­er in some of the most sweet­ly hys­ter­i­cal and wicked­ly fun­ny char­ac­ters in film his­to­ry. Learn more about Wilder’s life and long career in the ret­ro­spec­tive doc­u­men­tary below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Anne Ban­croft and Mel Brooks Sing “Sweet Geor­gia Brown” Live…and in Pol­ish

John Cleese’s Phi­los­o­phy of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Cre­at­ing Oases for Child­like Play

Richard Pry­or Does Ear­ly Stand-Up Com­e­dy Rou­tine in New York, 1964

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

Ultra Orthodox Rabbis Sing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” on the Streets of Jerusalem

Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, we give you this: Aryeh and Gil Gat, two once fair­ly-sec­u­lar broth­ers-turned-ultra ortho­dox rab­bis, play­ing Pink Floy­d’s “Wish You Were Here” on the streets of Jerusalem. Intrigued? Ready for more? Watch them play Dire Straits “Sul­tans of Swing,” Clap­ton’s “Tears in Heav­en,” The Bea­t­les’ “Come Togeth­er,” The Eagles’ “Hotel Cal­i­for­nia,” and Floy­d’s “Shine On You Crazy Dia­mond.”

If you live in Israel, the broth­ers prob­a­bly won’t be strangers to you. In 2013, they became stars on the top-rat­ed TV tal­ent show Ris­ing Star. And, defy­ing stereo­types about the ultra ortho­dox, they proved that rock and ortho­dox reli­gion can go togeth­er. For Aryeh, “the pow­er of music is above every­thing.” For Gil, it’s “holy, it’s God’s work, because it cre­ates love and con­nec­tion.” Watch them play Simon and Gar­funkel’s “Sound of Silence” and let me know if you dis­agree.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pak­istani Musi­cians Play a Delight­ful Ver­sion of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Clas­sic, “Take Five”

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

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