The Documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool Is Streaming Free for a Limited Time

PBS’ American Masters series has released the new documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, and it’s streaming free online for a limited time. (Some geo-restrictions may apply.) With full access to the Miles Davis Estate, “the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews.” Watch the trailer above. Stream the full documentary here.

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Free: Read the Original 23,000-Word Essay That Became Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

Because my story was true. I was certain of that. And it was extremely important, I felt, for the meaning of our journey to be made absolutely clear. 

The publication history of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the story of gonzo journalism itself, a form dependent upon the unreliability of its narrator, who becomes a central character in the ostensibly real-life drama. In Thompson’s hallucinogenic tales of his travels to Las Vegas with attorney and Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, the reporter went so far as to become a fictional character.

The journey began with a commission from Rolling Stone to report on the death of reporter Ruben Salazar, killed by a Los Angeles police tear gas grenade at an anti-Vietnam War protest. This trip diverted, however, to Las Vegas, where Thompson drove to report on the Mint 400 desert race for Sports Illustrated. Rather than submitting the 250-word piece the magazine requested, he gave them a 2,500-word psychedelic fugue, the very beginnings of Fear and Loathing. The piece, Thompson later wrote, was “aggressively rejected.”

Instead, Jann Wenner liked what he saw enough to eventually publish it in the November 1971 issue of Rolling Stone as a 23,000-word essay bearing the title of the novel it would become, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.” You can read that by-now familiarly wild account, here. In it, Thompson gave the magazine’s readers a succinct definition of his reporting style:

But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.

The term defines the form as the mirror obverse of the American Dream, Thompson’s excesses no more than illicit versions of the culture he picked apart, one that produced an event like the Mint 400, “the richest off-the-road race for motorcycles and dune-buggies in the history of organized sport,” he wrote, and “a fantastic spectacle….”

What were Thompson and Acosta (or Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo) doing if not holding the main event of disorganized sport in their race across the desert against their own paranoid delusions? The truths Thompson told need never have been factual—they were the outrageous truths we find in any good story, well told: about the bats—as in the famous Goya etching—swarming around the passed-out head of Reason.

Read Thompson’s original, now iconic essay here.

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

The Story of Physics Animated in 4 Minutes: From Galileo and Newton, to Einstein

No matter how well you remember your physics classes, you most likely don’t remember learning any stories in them. Theories and equations, yes, but not stories — yet each of those theories and equations has a story behind it, as does the entire scientific enterprise of physics they constitute. The video above from the BBC’s Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club provides an overview of the latter story in an animated four minutes, making it ideal for youngsters just starting to learn about physics. It will also do the job for those of us not-so-youngsters circling back to get a better grasp of physics, its discoveries and driving questions.

“The story of physics is, for the most part, a tale of ever-increasing confidence,” says Ó Briain, a comedian as well as a television host and writer on various subjects. This version of the story begins with rolling balls and falling objects, observed with a new rigor by such 17th-century Italians as Galileo Galilei. Galileo’s work became “the rock on which modern physics is founded,” and those who first built upon that rock included Isaac Newton, who started by noticing how apples fall and ended up with a theory of gravity. Newton’s work would later predict the existence of Neptune; James Clerk Maxwell, working in the 19th century, made discoveries about electromagnetism that would later give us radio and television.

For quite a while, physics seemed to go from strength to strength. But as the 20th century began, “the latest discoveries didn’t build on the old ones. Things like x-rays and radioactivity were just plain weird, and in a bad way.” But in 1905, onto the scene came a 26-year-old Albert Einstein, who “tore up the script by” claiming that “light is a kind of wave but also comes in packets, or particles.” That same year he published an equation you’ll certainly remember from your school days: E = mc2, which holds “that mass and energy are equivalent.” Einstein proposed that, if “someone watches a spaceship flying very fast, what they would see is the ship’s clocks running slower than their own watch — and the ship will actually shrink in size. But for the astronauts inside, all would be normal.”

In other words, “time and space can change: they are relative depending on who’s observing.” Einstein called this “special relativity,” and he also had a theory of “general relativity.” That showed “how balls and apples weren’t the only thing subject to gravity: light, time, and space were also affected. Gravity slows down time and it warps space.” No matter how dimly we understand physics itself, we all know the major players in its story: Galileo and Newton made important early discoveries, but it was Einstein who “shattered traditional physics” and revealed just how much we still have to learn about physical reality. Still today, physicists labor to reconcile Einstein’s discoveries with all other known facts of that reality. As frustrating as that task often proves, the kids who take an interest of their own in physics after watching the video will surely be heartened to know that the story of physics goes on.

via The Kids Should See This

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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.

The Photos That Ended Child Labor in the US: See the “Social Photography” of Lewis Hine (1911)

The average person believes implicitly that the photograph cannot falsify. Of course, you and I know that this unbounded faith in the integrity of the photograph is often rudely shaken, for, while photographs may not lie, liars may photograph.  —Lewis Wickes Hine, “Social Photography: How the Camera May Help in the Social Uplift” (1909)

Long before Brandon Stanton’s wildly popular Humans of New York project tapped into the public’s capacity for compassion by combining photos of his subjects with some telling narrative about their lives, educator and sociologist Lewis Wickes Hine was using his camera as a tool to pressure the public into demanding an end to child labor in the United States.

In a time when the US Federal Census reported that one in five children under the age of 16over 1.75 millionwas gainfully employed, Hines traversed the country under the auspices of the National Child Labor Committee, gathering information and making portraits of the underage workers.

His images, made between 1911 and 1916, introduced viewers to young boys breaking up coal in Pennsylvania mines, tiny Louisiana oyster shuckers and Maine sardine cutters, child pickers in Kentucky tobacco fields and Massachusetts cranberry bogs, and newsboys in a number of cities.

Their employers actively recruited kids from poor families, wagering that they would perform repetitive, often dangerous tasks for a pittance, with little chance of unionizing.

Hine was a scrupulous documentarian, labeling each photo with crucial information gleaned from conversations with the child pictured therein: name, age, location, occupation, wages, andhorrificallyany workplace injuries.

In an essay in the anthology Major Problems in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, historian Robert Westbrook lauds Hines’ way of interacting with his subjects with “decorum and tact,” according them a dignity that few of the period’s “condescending” middle-class reformers did.

As the Vox Darkroom segment, above, explains, Hine’s formal compositions lent additional power to his images of smudged child workers posing in their places of employment. Shallow depth of field to ensure that the viewer’s eyes would not become absorbed in the background, but rather engage with those of his subject.

But it was the accompanying narratives, which he referred to variously as “picture stories” or “photo-interpretations,” that he credited with really getting through to the hearts and minds of an indifferent public.

The text prevented viewers from easily brushing the children off as anonymous, scruffy urchins.

Here for instance is “Manuel, the young shrimp-picker, five years old, and a mountain of child-labor oyster shells behind him. He worked last year. Understands not a word of English. Dunbar, Lopez, Dukate Company. Location: Biloxi, Mississippi.”

“Laura Petty, a 6 year old berry picker on Jenkins farm, Rock Creek near Baltimore, Md. ‘I’m just beginnin.’ Picked two boxes yesterday. (2 cents a box).”

“Angelo Ross, 142 Panama Street, Hughestown Borough, a youngster who has been working in Breaker #9 Pennsylvania Co. for four months, said he was 13 years old, but very doubtful. He has a brother, Tony, probably under 14 working. Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.”

Hine correctly figured that the combination of photo and biographical information was a “lever for the social uplift.”

Once the pictures were published in Progressive magazines, state legislatures came under immense pressure to impose minimum age requirements in the workplace, effectively ending child labor, and returning many former workers to school.

View the entire collection of Lewis Hine’s National Child Labor Committee photos here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC this March, when her company, Theater of the Apes, presents the world premiere of Tony Award winner Greg Kotis’ new low-budget, guitar-driven musical, I AM NOBODY.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Smithsonian Puts 2.8 Million High-Res Images Online and Into the Public Domain

No matter how many public institutions you visit in a day—schools, libraries, museums, or the dreaded DMV—you may still feel like privatized services are closing in. And if you’re a fan of national parks and public lands, you’re keenly aware they’re at risk of being eaten up by developers and energy companies. The commons are shrinking, a tragic fact that is hardly inevitable but, as Matto Mildenberger argues at Scientific American, the result of some very narrow ideas.

But we can take heart that one store of common wealth has majorly expanded recently, and will continue to grow each year since January 1, 2019—Public Domain Day—when hundreds of thousands of works from 1923 became freely available, the first time that happened in 21 years. This year saw the release of thousands more works into the public domain from 1924, and so it will continue ad infinitum.

And now—as if that weren’t enough to keep us busy learning about, sharing, adapting, and repurposing the past into the future—the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million images into the public domain, making them searchable, shareable, and downloadable through the museum’s Open Access platform.

This huge release of “high resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections,” notes Smithsonian Magazine, “is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.”

There are those who would say that these images always belonged to the public as the holdings of a publicly-funded institution sometimes called “the nation’s attic.” It’s a fair point, but shouldn’t take away from the excitement of the news. “Smithsonian” as a conveniently singular moniker actually names “19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo,” an enormous collection of art and historic artifacts.

That’s quite a lot to sift through, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the site’s highlights will direct you to one fascinating image after another, from Mohammad Ali’s 1973 headgear to the historic Elizabethan portrait of Pocahontas, to the collection box of the Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Society owned by William Lloyd Garrison’s family, to Walt Whitman in 1891, as photographed by the painter Thomas Eakins, to just about anything else you might imagine.

Enter the Smithsonian’s Open Access archive here and browse and search its millions of newly-public domain images, a massive collection that may help expand the definition of common knowledge.

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

A Trip Through New York City in 1911: Vintage Video of NYC Gets Colorized & Revived with Artificial Intelligence

Denis Shirayev is at it again! The man who only a few weeks ago put one of the most famous pieces of film history–the Lumiere Bros. footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat station–through a neural network to bring it “to life,” so to speak, has turned to another fascinating slice of history.

For his next installment, he has taken footage of New York City daily life in 1911, eight minutes of tram rides, horse-drawn wagons, the elevated train, and the rush of crowded streets, and applied the same deep learning algorithms to make it all look like it was shot yesterday. This time he had a bit of help from another YouTube historian/technician Guy Jones, who had already speed corrected and tweaked the footage, as well as adding environmental sounds. Shirayev has used AI to upscale the footage to 4K and to 60p.

The original footage was shot by Svenska Biografteatern, a Swedish newsreel company, and begins with a shot of the Statue of Liberty as if seen through a spyglass. The film continues as travelogue and as an introduction to the immigrant experience, as the camera shows boats docking, passengers disembarking, and then the overwhelming experience of New York City.

The footage is clear enough to take in storefronts and advertising on trams and the sides of buildings. But the atmosphere is too clogged with daily smoke to get a real clear vista of the skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge.

At the time, Manhattan had a population about 2 million. Interestingly, that was its height. Over a hundred years later, that has declined to 1.6 million, with a significant decrease in population density. This Observer article ascribes that to gentrification, and a change of residential areas to commercial ones.

And let’s repeat what we said about Shirayev’s previous 4K footage: this is not a “remaster”. This is not a “restoration.” This is using the power of computing to interpret frames of film and create in between frames, as well as create detail from blurry footage. (I’m not too sure about the colorization–it doesn’t really work as well as all the other software…yet).

Now we know that Shirayev is making this a thing, please note his pinned message in the YouTube comments: he’s taking requests.

via Laughing Squid

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

The Shortest-Known Paper Published in a Serious Math Journal: Two Succinct Sentences

shortest math paper

Euler’s conjecture, a theory proposed by Leonhard Euler in 1769, hung in there for 200 years. Then L.J. Lander and T.R. Parkin came along in 1966, and debunked the conjecture in two swift sentences. Their article — which is now open access and can be downloaded here — appeared in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. If you’re wondering what the conjecture and its refutation are all about, you might want to ask Cliff Pickover, the author of 45 books on math and science. He brought this curious document to the web back in 2015.

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, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Bernie Sanders Time as an Educational Filmmaker: Watch His Documentary on Socialist Activist Eugene V. Debs (1979)

If you grew up in the United States of America, you’ll remember the name Eugene V. Debs from history class. And if you grew up during a certain era in the United States of America, you might have learned about Debs from Bernie Sanders. Try to recall one of Debs’ speeches; if you hear it in Sanders’ distinctive Brooklyn accent, you have at some point or another seen Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary. A film-strip slideshow with an accompanying audio track, it came out in 1979 as a product of the American People’s Historical Society, Sanders’ own production company.

That venture constitutes just one chapter of a storied life and career, which includes periods as a high-school track star, a folk singer, and the mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Now that Sanders, junior United States Senator from Vermont since 2007, has pulled ahead in the race for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 presidential election, people want to know what he’s all about — and he has long been given, certainly by the standards of U.S. politicians, to clear and frequent expression of what he’s all about. He has made no secret, for example, of his admiration for Debs, a socialist political activist who five times ran for President of the United States. You can see it come through in Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary, which Jacobin magazine has reconstructed and made available on Youtube.

Hyperallergic’s Nathan Smith writes that the documentary frames Debs “as a lost prophet before explaining how he ended up where he did ideologically. It opens with Debs’s final presidential campaign, conducted in 1920 from prison. If a million people voted for this man while he was behind bars, if more people went to hear him speak than President Taft, then how could history have forgotten him?” Sanders explains Debs’ socialism “as a response to issues which still resonate today: the exploitation of working people, segregation and violent racism, voting rights, and the suppression of free speech and dissent during World War I.” More so than see Sanders’ admiration for Debs — Jacobin having had to use visuals other than the ones on the film strip at the time — you can hear it: as in all the shoestring productions of the American People’s Historical Society’s shoestring productions, Sanders himself plays the roles of the historical characters involved.

In this case, that means we hear Sanders give Debs’ speeches, and in certain moments we viewers of 2020 could easily mistake Debs’ indictments of the distribution of wealth, goods, and the means of production in America as Sanders’ own. A self-described socialist, Sanders has in his political career placed himself in Debs’ tradition, and having made a documentary like this more than 40 years ago shores up that image. The Washington Post‘s Philip Bump points out that, before becoming a U.S. senator, Sanders did a couple more acting jobs in feature films, once as a man stingy with Halloween candy and once as a Dodgers-obsessed rabbi. As much as those roles might have suited his demeanor, it’s safe to say he played Eugene V. Debs with more conviction.

via Hyperallergic

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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.

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