Public Library Receipt Shows How Much Money You’ve Saved by Borrowing Books, Instead of Buying Them

Wichita Public Library has a neat system. They write on their blog: “Every time materials are borrowed from the Wichita Public Library (WPL) customers receive a receipt showing how much they have saved in that visit, the year to date, and their lifetime savings. The information is displayed on the receipt similar to the ways that retail stores show savings to club members or coupon users.” They then go on to add: “So far this year, the highest dollar amount saved by a customer’s account is $64,734.12. And the highest dollar amount saved by a customer’s account since this feature was implemented is $196,076.21.” Every book adds up…

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via Reddit/Boing Boing

Werner Herzog Narrates the Existential Journey of a Plastic Bag: Watch a Short Film by Acclaimed Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani

“It’s not what a movie is about,” Roger Ebert famously wrote, “it’s how it is about it.” Subject matter, we might say, separates the weak filmmakers from the strong: those who require a striking “high concept” (killer doll, body switch, Snakes on a Plane) fall into the former group, while those who can make a film about absolutely anything fall into the latter. It’s safe to say that not everyone is moved by the scene in American Beauty where the camcorder-toting teenager waxes poetic about his footage of a plastic bag in the wind. But what would similar material look like in the hands of a more assured director?

For an example, have a look at Plastic Bag, the eighteen-minute short above. Every cinephile with an interest in American film knows the name of Plastic Bag‘s director, Ramin Bahrani. Over the past decade and a half he has emerged as the maker of unusually powerful and realistic glimpses of life in his homeland, focusing on characters like a Pakistani immigrant running a New York bagel cart, an orphan working at a chop shop, and a Senegalese cab driver in North Carolina.


In its own way, the protagonist and title character of Plastic Bag is also at once an outsider to American life and a figure inseparable from it — and voiced by an insider-outsider of another kind, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog. (Their collaboration has continued: you may remember Herzog’s appearance in a Bahrani-directed episode of Morgan Spurlock’s series We the Economy about a lemonade stand.)

Beginning his journey at a grocery-store checkout counter, he spends his first few happy days at the home of his purchaser. But not long after this idyll of service — carrying tennis balls, being filled with ice to numb a sprain — comes to its inevitable end, he finds himself deposited into a landfill. But the wind comes to his rescue, carrying him across a series of suburban, post-industrial, and finally rural landscapes as he looks desperately for his owner.

Ultimately the bag makes it into places seldom seen by human eyes, with a combination of gravitas and wonder imbued by both Herzog’s diction and the music of Sigur Rós’ Kjartan Sveinsson. Watched today, Plastic Bag feels more elegiac than it did when it debuted a decade ago, since which time plastic-bag bans have continued to spread unabated across the world. How long before not just the hero of Bahrani’s film, but all his polyethylene kind fade from existence — forgotten, if not quite decomposed?

Plastic Bag has been added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #8 Discusses Spider-Man: Far From Home and the Function of Super-Hero Films

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt finally cover a current film, and of course use it as an entry point in discussing the social function of super-hero films more generally, how much realism or grittiness is needed in such stories, whether to repeat or bypass the origin story, everlasting franchises, the use of multi-verses as a storytelling device, exaggerating the potential in a story of new technologies that the audience doesn’t really understand, and more.

We touch on other bits of the Marvel Universe and the other Spider-Man films, the original Amazing Spider-Man #13 comic that introduced Mysterio, The Lion KingWatchmenThe BoysStar TrekElectric Dreams, the Rob Lowe “John Smith’s Bachelor Party” scene in Austin Powersthe recurring henchman in Spider-Man (actually Peter Billingsley, i.e. Ralphie in A Christmas Story), and the Exiles comic (a Marvel team that travels between multi-verses).

Some articles we looked at for this episode include:

This episode includes bonus content that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

David Gilmour Invites a Street Performer to Play Wine Glasses Onstage With Him In Venice: Hear Them Play “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”

It’s one of the ironies of the mid-seventies that Pink Floyd became identified with the worst excesses of popular rock and roll. They were dismissed by punk and New Wave bands as too slick and bombastic, but while they may have turned into a stadium act after Dark Side of the Moon, they also deserved credit for pioneering the kind of avant-art-rock theater punk eventually normalized. One early performance, for example, involved “sawing wood and boiling kettles on stage,” writes Mark Blake, of the album that was meant to be the follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon—an album called Household Objects, consisting entirely of sounds made on… household objects.

The band was totally engrossed in this radically anti-commercial DIY project until 1974, “making chords up from the tapping of beer bottles,” remembers producer John Leckie, then a tape operator at Abbey Road, “tearing newspapers for rhythm, and letting off aerosol cans to get a hi-hat sound.” Given the incredible expense of spending hours a day—over a period of years—recording rubber bands and pencils at Abbey Road studios, one can see the merit in charges of meaningless excess.

But as we’ve seen from Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson, The Beatles, and the maddening recording process of Steely Dan, when talented musicians have the luxury to use the studio as an instrument, the results can very well justify the costly means. What did Household Objects yield? The haunting crystalline sound of the wine glass harp in “Shine One You Crazy Diamond Part 1.” Maybe not much else. Was it worth it? I think so. But how can anyone measure such things?

Better to “go with the flow,” as David Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson tells him in the video at the top—do whatever seems like the intuitive next thing and see what happens. This is not a trivial statement. It was the guiding creative principle of Pink Floyd’s most inspired work. Gilmour takes her advice, and invites wine glass player Igor Sklyarov, whom he met that day on the streets of Venice, to perform on “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” in St. Mark’s Square that very night. (You’ll see some footage of the show in the short clip.)

Of course, the wine glasses have made it into many live performances of the song—see a trio of players rehearse the part above, and play it live below. Sklyarov’s turn on the glasses is just one notable demonstration of Floydian spontaneity. Gilmour’s version of “go with the flow” might always be more rarified than ours, but the lesson he and his erstwhile Pink Floyd bandmates imparted remains relevant and accessible to every artist.

via Laughing Squid

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

The Timeless Beauty of the Citroën DS, the Car Mythologized by Roland Barthes (1957)

In the postwar Western imagination, modernity took three forms: the rocketship, the jetliner, and the automobile. The first two may have more direct claim to defining the “Space Age,” but only the third lay within reach of the average (or slightly above average) consumer. And at the 1955 Paris Auto Show the world first beheld a car that, aesthetically speaking, might as well have been a spacecraft: the Citroën DS. Pronounced in French like déesse, that language’s word for “goddess,” the car received 80,000 order deposits during the show, a record that stood for six decades until the debut of Tesla’s Model 3 — which, whatever its respectability as a feat of design and engineering, will never have Roland Barthes to extol its beauty.

“Cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals,” writes Barthes in an essay on the DS (which you can read in both English translation and the original French here) that appears in 1957’s Mythologies, many of whose editions bear the car’s image on the cover.

“I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object. It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object.” Possessed of all the features of “one of those objects from another universe which have supplied fuel for the neomania of the eighteenth century and that of our own science-fiction: the Déesse is first and foremost a new Nautilus.”

Smoothness, Barthes writes, “is always an attribute of perfection because its opposite reveals a technical and typically human operation of assembling: Christ’s robe was seamless, just as the airships of science-fiction are made of unbroken metal.” Hence his detection, in the unprecedentedly smooth lines of the DS, of “the beginnings of a new phenomenology of assembling, as if one progressed from a world where elements are welded to a world where they are juxtaposed and hold together by sole virtue of their wondrous shape, which of course is meant to prepare one for the idea of a more benign Nature.” Here we have “a humanized art, and it is possible that the Déesse marks a change in the mythology of cars,” raising them from “the bestiary of power” into the realm of the “spiritual and more object-like.”

In the Influx video at the top of the post, British Citroën specialist Matt Damper reads from Barthes’ essay to evoke the distinctive joie de vivre of French car culture in general and classic Citroëns in particular. (It must be said, however, that one of the main “unknown artists” to which the DS owes its unearthly beauty, sculptor turned industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni, hailed from Italy.) “You have to drive it in a completely different way than you drive any other car, really,” says Damper. “It’s that Frenchness: it’s like, ‘We’re right. This is the correct way of building a car. Just get used to it.'” Wired‘s Jack Stewart echoes the sentiment in the video just above, “The 1955 Citroën DS Still Feels Ahead of Its Time.”

Stewart names the “strange semi-automatic gearbox that you have to get used to,” among the innovative or at least unconventional features with which the DS debuted, a list that also included hydraulic suspension (suited to France’s still-shambolic roads) and disc brakes. “That’s just the thing with Citroëns: they’re unforgiving if you don’t know what you’re doing, so you really have to learn how to drive these cars.” Or as Citroëns’s American ad campaign put it, “It takes a special person to drive a special car.” The DS didn’t sell stateside, in part due to its low-powered engine made to dodge French automobile tax structures, but now car-lovers around the world recognize it as one of the great achievements in motoring. The Citroën DS and the prose of Roland Barthes have a deep commonality: only those who understand that they have to approach the object on its own terms will find themselves in the presence of superior craft — albeit of a distinctively Gallic variety.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Should You Read Haruki Murakami? An Animated Video on His “Epic Literary Puzzle” Kafka on the Shore Makes the Case

Haruki Murakami’s vast international fan base includes people dedicated to literature. It also includes people who have barely cracked any books in their lives — apart, that is, from Murakami’s novels with their distinctive mixture of the lighthearted with the grim and the mundane with the uncanny. Since the publication of his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, 40 years ago in his native Japan, Murakami has become both a literary phenomenon and an extra-literary phenomenon, and different readers endorse different paths into his unique textual realm.

The TED-Ed video above makes the case for one fan favorite in particular: 2002’s Kafka on the Shore, an “epic literary puzzle filled with time travel, hidden histories, and magical underworlds. Readers delight in discovering how the mind-bending imagery, whimsical characters and eerie coincidences fit together.” So says the video’s narrator, reading from a lesson written by literary scholar Iseult Gillespie (who has also made cases for Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Ray Bradbury).

Murakami tells this story, and keeps it fresh through more than 500 pages, by alternating between two point-of-view characters: a teenager “desperate to escape his tyrannical father and the family curse he feels doomed to repeat,” who “renames himself Kafka after his favorite author and runs away from home,” and an old man with “a mysterious knack for talking to cats.”

When the latter is commissioned to use his unusual skill to track down a lost pet, “he’s thrown onto a dangerous path that runs parallel to Kafka’s.” Soon, “prophecies come true, portals to different dimensions open up — and fish and leeches begin raining from the sky.” But it’s all of a piece with Murakami’s body of work, with its novels and stories that “often forge fantastic connections between personal experience, supernatural possibilities, and Japanese history.” His “references to Western society and Japanese customs tumble over each other, from literature and fashion to food and ghost stories.”

All of it comes tied together with threads of music: “As the runaway Kafka wanders the streets of a strange city, Led Zeppelin and Prince keep him company,” and he later befriends a librarian who “introduces him to classical music like Schubert.” Safe to say that such references put some distance between Murakami’s work and that of his character Kafka’s favorite writer, to whom Murakami himself has been compared. Kafka on the Shore showcases Murakami’s storytelling sensibility, but is it in any sense Kafkaesque? You’ll have plenty more questions after taking the plunge into Murakami’s reality, but there’s another TED-Ed lesson that might at least help you answer that one.

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Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? A New TED-Ed Animation Explains

Why Should We Read Virginia Woolf? A TED-Ed Animation Makes the Case

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Klaus Nomi Performs with Kraftwerk on German Television (1982)

You’ll hardly ever run into a description of German New Wave wunderkind Klaus Nomi that doesn’t contain a reference to Weimar Germany. It would seem like a serious oversight not to mention Nomi’s embodiment of Weimar cabaret mannerisms, fitted for a space-age late-20th century. But the influence was far more than a stylistic borrowing. Nomi wasn’t just “the most German act ever,” as blogger Debris Slide writes; “Weimar Republic comes to Danceteria, except with spaceships” may also have been the most historically gay act in modern pop.

The Weimar Republic is well known as “a period of remarkable artistic energy,” writes Andrew Dickson at the British Library, “a roaring surge of modernist art, theatre, design, dance and film.” It was also a time when “the constraints of 19th-century manners and mores were torn down.” Hidden sexualities could emerge in public in Berlin, thanks a relaxed policing policy, as historian Robert Beachy shows in his book Gay Berlin. The fine arts and culture of Weimar flourished alongside the cabaret scene, whose camp showed up in everything from German Expressionist film to avant-garde opera.

“I think there probably had never been anything like this before,” Beachy tells NPR, “and there was no culture as open again until the 1970s.” Klaus Nomi arrived in the 70s with his cabaret space alien act to announce that the creative and personal freedoms of Weimar had returned, and he was their avatar, freely mixing opera and pop with astonishing facility, incorporating mime and vaudeville. “The influence of playwright and theatrical icon Bertolt Brecht would come to serve as a definitive touchstone” for Nomi’s career, writes Evan Zwisler at Flypaper.

“One of the ideas that Nomi incorporated into his own act was Verfremdungseffekt (or, ‘the distancing effect’)”—drawing heightened attention to the performance as performance, a significant feature of nearly all avant-garde theater in the early 20th century. Klaus Nomi was also the most Modernist act ever, at least in pop music. He would have fit in with a Dada cabaret revue of sixty years earlier. I’m not sure what it says about Berlin in the 70s that Nomi only truly found himself while onstage in New York. He moved to the city in 1972 after working as an usher in Berlin opera houses, where his astonishing soprano went unappreciated.

Nomi became “a quietly revolutionary part of the New York City art scene,” notes Zwisler, inspiring Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He appeared on Saturday Night Live with David Bowie in 1979 and in the 1981 documentary Urgh! A Music War. Had AIDS not claimed his life in 1983, Nomi’s fame may have spread even farther and wider. As it stood, however, the year before his death, it had at least spread to his home country, where he was welcomed by TV host Thomas Gottschalk on the German program No Sowas!, performing with Kraftwerk, the biggest German pop cultural export to date.

See Nomi sing the aria from Camille Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah.” Then, we have a rare treat: the very Caligari-like cabaret of Kraftwerk, at the height of their austere synth pop fame. Nomi returns to sing “Total Eclipse” from his first album. You can read an English translation of Nomi’s between-song interview with Gottschalk here. The host wraps up this segment by saying, “he is already a big name in America, and now we present him here in Germany.”

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

Nigerian Teenagers Are Making Slick Sci Fi Films With Their Smartphones

Someone should really snap up the rights for a movie about The Critics, a collective of self-taught teenage filmmakers from northwestern Nigeria.

The boys’ dedication, ambition, and no-budget inventiveness calls to mind other filmmaking fanatics, from the sequestered, homeschooled brothers of The Wolfpack to the fictional Sweding specialists of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Be Kind, Rewind.

While smartphones and free editing apps have definitely made it easier for aspiring filmmakers to bring their fantasies to fruition, it’s worth noting that The Critics saved for a month to buy the green fabric for their chroma key effects.

Their productions are also plagued with the internet and power outages that are a frequent occurrence in their home base of Kaduna, slowing everything from the rendering process to the Youtube visual effects tutorials that have advanced their craft.

To date they’ve filmed 20 shorts on a smart phone with a smashed screen, mounted to a broken microphone stand that’s found new life as a homemade tripod.

Their simple set up will be coming in for an upgrade, however, now that Nollywood director Kemi Adetiba has brought their efforts to the attention of a much wider audience, who donated $5,800 in a fundraising campaign.

It’s easy to imagine the young male demographic flocking to a feature-length, big-budget expansion of Z: The Beginning. It’s possible even the art house crowd could be lured to a summer blockbuster whose setting is Nigeria, thirty years into the future, a novelty for those of us unversed in Nollywood’s prodigious output.

The post-apocalyptic short, above, took the crew 7 months to film and edit. The stars also inhabited a number of offscreen roles: stunt coordinator, gaffer, prop master, composer, continuity…

What’s next? Earlier this month, Africa News revealed that the boys are busy with a new film whose plot they aren’t at liberty to reveal. We’re guessing a sequel, to go by a not so subtle hint following Z‘s final credits and a moving dedication to “the ones we’ve lost.”

“Horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, we do all,” The Critics’ proclaim on their Youtube channel, carefully categorizing their work as “films not skits.” (Their films’ length has thus far been dictated by the unpredictability of their wifi situation—Chase, below, is five minutes long and took two days to render.

“One of the targets we aim for in the years to come is to make the biggest film in Nigeria and probably beyond,” Godwin JosiahZ’s 19-year-old writer-director told Channels Television, Lagos’ 24-hour news channel:

We want to do something crazy, we want to do something great, something that has not been done before, and from what has been going on now, we believe quite well that it is going to happen soon enough.

Watch The Critics’ films and making-ofs on their Youtube channel.

Support their work with a pledge to their recently launched Patreon.

via Kottke/Africa News

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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