What Happens to the Clothes We Throw Away?: Watch Unravel, a Short Documentary on the Journey Our Waste Takes

When we throw our clothes away in the West, they don’t all go to a thrift store or to a recycling center or a local landfill. Instead, every year 100,000 tons of clothes make their way across the ocean to India. In this awareness raising short doc from UK-based filmmaker Meghna Gupta, we see the end point of these bales and bales of Western fashion, and the women and men who turn our waste back into thread. The thread then begins its own journey, inevitably winding back up as cheap imported clothes. And the cycle begins again.

Gupta lets the women speak for themselves, in particular Reshma, a young mother and wife who works in one such recycling center in Panipat, North India. We see her daily life as well as the process turning our castoffs into thread. Upon entering the country, the clothes are cut so they can’t be re-sold. Then women like Reshma remove buttons, zippers, and any other non-cloth component.

Far, far away from even a passing encounter with a Westerner (apart from what they’ve seen on the Discovery Channel), Reshma and her co-workers create a narrative and an image of the people sending all these clothes. The West must have a water shortage, Reshma says, that is stopping people from washing their clothes. The West also must have a very strange diet to produce the plus-size garments they keep coming across.

Now, the West doesn’t have a water shortage, but according to EDGE (Emerging Designers Get Exposed), the clothing and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil, producing 20 percent of global waste water, and a global waste total of nearly 13 million tons of fabric. Producing cotton is water-intensive—with 5,000 gallons needed just to make a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

Recycling is important—it’s been a constant message to the public since the 1970s. But the global footprint that this film hints at, all those cargo ships, all those trucks, all that fuel and those miles traveled…is this really a solution? How do we stop the demand and the disposability?

The doc doesn’t answer those questions, and doesn’t mean to do so. It just wants you to see a small family in the middle of a large global machine. They seem happy enough. But they also see their fate as God-given, at least in this life this time ’round.

“You tend to get dressed for other people,” Reshma’s husband says. “But at the end of the day you’ll be as beautiful as God made you. All people have a natural beauty.”

via Aeon

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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 tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Bowie’s Bookshelf: A New Essay Collection on The 100 Books That Changed David Bowie’s Life

Like some rock stars of his generation, David Bowie had a literary cast of mind; unlike most of those colleagues, he also made his association with books explicit. (Not for nothing did he appear on that READ poster.) Whenever this subject arises, it’s tempting to bring up the story of how The Man Who Fell to Earth director Nicolas Roeg poked fun at the extreme number of books with which Bowie surrounded himself during the time he was acting in that film, as we did when we posted about the David Bowie book club. Launched by Bowie’s son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, that project was meant to read through Bowie’s own list of top 100 books, previously featured here on Open Culture. Now, thanks to the work of music journalist John O’Connell, Bowie’s love of books has a book of its own.

Published in the UK as Bowie’s Books and in the US as Bowie’s Bookshelf, O’Connell’s essay collection takes the 100 books the man who was Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke named as favorites. In each he finds the relevant questions (or at least fascinating ones) to ask about each book’s relationship to Bowie’s life and work: “How did the power imbued in a single suit of armor in The Iliad impact a man who loved costumes, shifting identity, and the siren song of the alter-ego?” Or, “How did the poems of T.S. Eliot and Frank O’Hara, the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov and Anthony Burgess, the comics of The Beano and The Viz, and the groundbreaking politics of James Baldwin influence Bowie’s lyrics, his sound, his artistic outlook?”

Kirkus Reviews notes that “many of Bowie’s selections speak to his obvious passion for music, especially early rock ’n’ roll and R&B (Greil Marcus, Gerri Hershey), his famous Japanophilia (Yukio Mishima, Tadanori Yokoo), and his stint in Germany (Alfred Döblin, Otto Friedrich).” O’Connell’s completist analysis of Bowie’s top-100-books list, composed for an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum just six years ago, also reveals “the range and playfulness in Bowie’s reading, from hefty tomes on the Russian Revolution to laddish comic books like The Beano.” Other essays cover LolitaThe Gnostic GospelsA Confederacy of Dunces, and White Noise, all part of a mixture that would tantalize any cultural critic — much like the work of David Bowie, who still constitutes a culture unto himself.

Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life can be ordered now.

Related Content:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

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The Story of How David Jones Became David Bowie Gets Told in a New Graphic Novel

Brian Eno Lists 20 Books for Rebuilding Civilization & 59 Books For Building Your Intellectual World

David Bowie Picks His 12 Favorite David Bowie Songs: Listen to Them Online

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.

An Animated Introduction to Medieval Taverns: Learn the History of These Rough-and-Tumble Ancestors of the Modern Pub

When I think of the medieval tavern, I see grim footage from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and grimy drinking scenes from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. While only the first of these uses an ostensibly historical setting, the imagery of them all is what we think of when we think of taverns. Huge casks in the corners, great, indestructible wooden tables and wooden mugs, signs with pictures instead of words; drunken singing and the occasional axe fight.

The crudely animated Simple History video above confirms these impressions, describing the taverns, inns, and ale houses that were ancestors of the modern pub as “places of drinking, gambling, violence, and criminal activity.” Art history and scholarship further confirm our impression of taverns as rough-hewn, rowdy houses where brawls frequently broke out and all sorts of shady business transacted.

Ale houses had an “ale stake or ale pole” that could be raised to show they had a brew ready to serve. Taverns had a pole with leaves, called a “bush,” for the same purpose. Wine might be pricey, but beer was cheap, as “taxing it would not have been well-received.” Barmaids poured drinks from pitchers of leather into mugs of wood. Food was… well, not so good…. Maybe we can visualize tavern life by extrapolating backwards from our local dive bars.

However, we might find it hard to imagine living in a time before beer. Milan Pajic, junior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, found that beer made a relatively late entry in the history of English drink, arriving only in the latter half of the 14th century when introduced by Dutch immigrants and demanded by soldiers returning from the 100 Years War.

Between around 1350 and around 1400, Pajic claims, all of the beer drunk in English taverns was imported from the Netherlands. “The first evidence of someone brewing beer” in England, Pajic writes in an article published in the Journal of Medieval History, “comes from 1398-9.” The brewer, a “Ducheman,” was “fined for buying ‘wheat in the market in order to produce beer, to the great damage of the same market.”

Such persecution could not last. In a hundred year’s time, a few hundred brewers could be found around the country, most of them immigrants from the Low Countries. But in part because the English distrusted the Dutch, “it took almost a century from the moment it was introduced as an imported commodity and consumed largely by immigrants before it came to be produced on English soil and accepted by the natives.”

Tavern, inn, and ale house designs would have conformed to local joinery trends, but the medieval English tavern’s chief draw—cheap, freshly-brewed beer, and lots of it—was a suspicious continental import before it became a national treasure.

Related Content:

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

The Entire Archive of Contact: A Journal for Contemporary Music Has Been Digitized and Put Online

FYI on a new digitization project:

“Contact: A Journal for Contemporary Music was active from 1971–1990 and independently published by its editors. As with many independent print publications of that era, this has meant that, for readers and researchers operating in a contemporary digital landscape, the richness of its resource has been all but inaccessible. In recognition of this situation, in the years 2016–2019, the entire journal was digitised and made available over the course of a three-year research project..”

Contact’s basic intentions – as set out fully in the first issue, dated Spring 1971 – were to promote informed discussion of 20th-century music in general and the music of our own time in particular. Among the original concerns of the founders of the magazine were that popular musics, jazz and contemporary folk music should play a part in our scheme. In the earlier days, especially, we continually sought for good writing in these fields, as well as contributions on ‘serious’ music.”

Enter the Contact online archive here

via @ideoforms

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Watch the Opening of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with the Original, Unused Score

How does a movie become a “classic”? Explanations, never less than utterly subjective, will vary from cinephile to cinephile, but I would submit that classic-film status, as traditionally understood, requires that all elements of the production work in at least near-perfect harmony: the cinematography, the casting, the editing, the design, the setting, the score. Outside first-year film studies seminars and deliberately contrarian culture columns, the label of classic, once attained, goes practically undisputed. Even those who actively dislike Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance, would surely agree that its every last audiovisual nuance serves its distinctive, bold vision — especially that opening use of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.”

But Kubrick didn’t always intend to use that piece, nor the other orchestral works we’ve come to closely associate with mankind’s ventures into realms beyond Earth and struggles with intelligence of its own invention. According to Jason Kottke, Kubrick had commissioned an original score from A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf composer Alex North.

At the top of the post, you can see 2001‘s opening with North’s music, and below you can hear 38 minutes of his score on Spotify. As to the question of why Kubrick stuck instead with the temporary score of Strauss, Ligeti, and Khatchaturian he’d used in editing, Kottke quotes from Michel Ciment’s interview with the filmmaker:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? [ … ]  Although [North] and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that, a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film.

North didn’t find out about Kubrick’s choice until 2001‘s New York City premiere. Not an enviable situation, certainly, but not the worst thing that ever happened to a collaborator who failed to rise to the director’s expectations.

For more Kubrick and classical music, see our recent post: The Classical Music in Stanley Kubrick’s Films: Listen to a Free, 4 Hour Playlist

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December 2014.

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 cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

What Guitars Were Like 400 Years Ago: An Introduction to the 9 String Baroque Guitar

Maybe it’s just me, but it sometimes feels like guitar music is on the wane. Sure, there are plenty of guitar bands out there, guitar sales seem to hold steady, but the synthesizer, midi controller, and digital audio workstation have become the dominant instruments of popular music. Then again, it’s short-sighted to count the guitar out just yet, given the 500-year longevity of its design.

In the 17th century, the Lute Society of Dartmouth notes, the guitar was “cultivated by players and composers within the courts of princes and kings.” The Baroque guitar was very much like the modern six string (or, as often these days, seven and eight string) that we know today, “aside from a difference of tuning,” writes luthier Clive Titmuss. Where “the modern guitar is a baritone/tenor… the baroque is an alto instrument, about the size of a viola.”

The differences in size and pitch change the sustain and articulation. The Baroque guitar’s tonal characteristics are much more delicate, percussive, and lute-like. “The greatest music for baroque guitar is difficult to render adequately on the modern guitar because the traditions of the two instruments have diverged so widely: They speak basically the same language, but with a different vocabulary and accent.” Early Renaissance guitars had what is called a “four course” string arrangement, with eight doubled strings. The baroque guitar added one more for a “five course” instrument with nine strings.

Like its Renaissance forebear, lutes, and modern twelve-string guitars today, four of those “courses” were doubled, with pairs of strings tuned to the same note. This essentially made it a five string guitar with the ringing sonority of a mandolin. In the video at the top, Brandon Acker explains what this means in theory and practice. The tuning was fairly close to a modern six-string, but one octave up and missing the low E. The lone high E string was called the chanterelle or “singing string.”

Popular mainly in southern Europe, the Baroque guitar “may well have been used as it frequently is today,” the Lute Society points out: “to provide a simple strummed accompaniment for a singer or small group.” It was first held in contempt by early Spanish composers who preferred the similar vihuela. But the guitar would displace that instrument, as well as the lute, in musical compositions across Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere in Europe.

In the videos above, you can see and hear some fine demonstrations from Acker, who plays period pieces like Suite in D Minor by Robert de Visée, court composer and musician for Louis XIV and Louis XV. Below, see guitarist Stefano Maiorana play a gorgeous Spanish piece.

Given the 400 years that separate the modern guitar from its Baroque ancestor, the resemblances are remarkable, proving that the instrument’s 17th century refiners hit on a design that perfectly complements the human voice, sounds great solo and in groups, and can handle both rhythm and lead. Even if most guitars in the future double as midi-controlling synth instruments, it’s probably safe to say modern music won’t give up this brilliant, time-tested design any time soon.

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

Are Stand-Up Comedians Our Modern Day Philosophers? Pretty Much Pop #17 Considers

In an age where the average person can’t name a living academic philosopher, it’s been claimed that the social role of an individual orating to the masses and getting them to think about fundamental questions is actually not performed by academics at all, and certainly not by politicians and religious figures who need to keep on message in one way or other, but by stand-up comedians.

This is the premise of the Modern Day Philosophers podcast, where comedian Daniel Lobell interviews some of our best known and loved comics. However, as Daniel has discovered in the course of that show, only some comedians are trying to express original views on the world. Many are just trying to tell good jokes. So do the routines of those more idea-based comedians count as philosophy? Or does telling the whole truth (instead of a funny one-side or exaggerated take on truth) rule out being funny? 

Daniel joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer (of The Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast), actor Erica Spyres, and sci-fi author/linguist Brian Hirt to consider questions of authenticity and offensive humor.  We look at how philosophers and comics can use some of the same communicative tools like inventing new words, irony, and autobiography. We touch on Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, Hannah Gadsby, George Carlin, Emo Phillips, Rodney Dangerfield, Louis CK, Between Two Ferns, Berkeley, Socrates, Kierkegaard, and more.

A few sources:

Find out about Danny’s podcasts, graphic novel, album, and videos at dannylobell.com.

This episode includes bonus discussion (including some out-takes from the interview where we got too off-topic) that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. 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.


Frank Zappa’s Surreal Movie 200 Motels: The First Feature Film Ever Shot on Videotape (1971)

As a famous first, Frank Zappa’s 1971 film 200 Motels set a standard for hundreds of wacky experimental, B-movies to come. The first full-length film shot entirely on videotape, the cheap alternative to film that had thus far been used primarily for TV shows and news broadcasts, the movie exploited the medium’s every possibility. “If there is more that can be done with videotape,” wrote Roger Ebert in his review at the time, “I do not want to be there when they do it.”

The movie is not only a “joyous, fanatic, slightly weird experiment in the uses of the color videotape process”; it is also a visual encapsulation of Zappa’s most comically juvenile, most musically virtuosic sensibilities, with Ringo Star playing “Zappa as ‘a very large dwarf,’” the Mothers of Invention playing themselves, Keith Moon appearing as a nun, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra taking abuse from Zappa, and a series of rowdy, raunchy misadventures piled one atop the other.

“It assaults the mind with everything on hand,” Ebert both marveled and half-complained. “Videotape reportedly allowed Zappa to film the entire movie in about a week, to do a lot of the editing and montage in the camera and to use cheap videotape for his final editing before transferring the whole thing to a surprisingly high-quality 35mm image.” As the making-of documentary below notes, the movie was edited without “the use of computer facilities,” and its layers of effects helped invent new aesthetic forms which now feel quite familiar.

Hyperkinetic, surrealist, and bizarre, 200 Motels is a mélange of animation, musical performance, crude jokes, and “a kind of magical mystery trip,” wrote Ebert, “through all the motels, concert halls, cities, states and groupies of a road tour.” It was not beloved by critics then (though Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars) and still gets a mixed reception. It may or may not be the “kind of movie you have to see more than once,” given its full-on sensory assault.

But Zappa’s experimental tour de force is essential viewing for Zappa fans, and also for students of the videotape aesthetic that has become an almost classic style in its own right. We can see in 200 Motels the roots of the music video—Zappa was a decade ahead of MTV—though, for better or worse, its “whimsically impenetrable plotline and absurdist sub-Monty Python humor,” as Ian Gittens writes at The Guardian, “were met with widespread bafflement and it sank without a trace.”

In the 80s, however, 200 Motels found new life in a format that seemed well suited to its look, VHS. Then it found a home on the internet, that Valhalla of ancient video of every kind. A touted DVD boxset, it appears, will not be coming. (Seems the distributer has been slapped with a “winding up order” of some kind.) But you can find it on disc, “intact and with the correct aspect ratio” as one happy reviewer notes.

Whatever medium you happen to watch 200 Motels on, your experience of it will very much depend on your tolerance for Zappa’s brand of scatological satire. But if you’re willing to take Roger Ebert’s word for such things, you should try to see this oddball piece of movie history at least once.

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

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