Banksy Funds a Boat to Rescue Refugees at Sea–and Soon It Finds Itself in Distress in the Mediterranean

“Like most peo­ple who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht to cruise the Med,” Banksy wrote on Insta­gram when intro­duc­ing the Louise Michel, a ves­sel tasked with a some­what dif­fer­ent mis­sion than an arriv­iste par­ty boat: pick­ing up refugees from coun­tries like Libya and Turkey lost at sea. Any­one who’s fol­lowed Banksy’s art career knows he pos­sess­es a well-devel­oped instinct for catch­ing and keep­ing pub­lic atten­tion, and it has hard­ly desert­ed him in this ven­ture. Why spon­sor a refugee res­cue boat, after all, when you can spon­sor a bright pink fem­i­nist refugee res­cue boat, embla­zoned with a piece of orig­i­nal art?

Despite hav­ing been named for the 19th-cen­tu­ry fem­i­nist anar­chist Louise Michel, the motor yacht’s oper­a­tions encom­pass an even wider vari­ety of caus­es: The Guardian’s Loren­zo Ton­do and Mau­rice Stierl quote “Lea Reis­ner, a nurse and head of mis­sion for the first res­cue oper­a­tion,” say­ing that the project is also “meant to bring togeth­er a vari­ety of strug­gles for social jus­tice, includ­ing for women’s and LGBTIQ rights, racial equal­i­ty, migrants’ rights, envi­ron­men­tal­ism and ani­mal rights.” This mul­ti­di­rec­tion­al activism would seem to suit the artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty of Banksy, whose work strikes out in as many crit­i­cal direc­tions as both his admir­ers and detrac­tors can inter­pret.

The Louise Michel, as Ton­do and Stierl report­ed last Thurs­day, “set off in secre­cy on 18 August from the Span­ish sea­port of Bur­ri­ana, near Valen­cia, and is now in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean where on Thurs­day it res­cued 89 peo­ple in dis­tress, includ­ing 14 women and four chil­dren.” After pick­ing up the first group of refugees, reports the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Miri­am Berg­er, “it then encoun­tered a ship trav­el­ing from North Africa to Europe with 130 peo­ple aboard and some bod­ies of peo­ple who had died dur­ing the jour­ney,” and as a result “quick­ly became over­crowd­ed and could not prop­er­ly steer, its Twit­ter posts said.” All this hap­pened “at sea around 55 miles south­east of Lampe­dusa, an Ital­ian island off the North African coast that has become a migra­tion tran­sit point.”

Hours lat­er two oth­er ves­sels, one oper­at­ed by the Ital­ian coast guard and one by a Ger­man non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion, came to take on pas­sen­gers. Though hard­ly smooth sail­ing, the Louise Michel’s first res­cue mis­sion pro­ceed­ed more favor­ably than some: “A ves­sel named the Talia, which res­cued 52 peo­ple almost two months ago, was­n’t allowed into the port for 5 days,” says Dazed. “Now, a boat named the Eti­enne is in the longest record stand-off between author­i­ties and res­cuers ever, hav­ing spent three weeks at sea being denied dis­em­barka­tion in Mal­ta.” Banksy pub­li­cized the Louise Michel, which he spon­sors with­out involve­ment in its oper­a­tions, only after it had set sail. But for any­one with an inter­est in show­ing the world the dire cir­cum­stances of refugees today, the high­ly vis­i­ble boat’s high­ly vis­i­ble dif­fi­cul­ties cer­tain­ly aren’t bad pub­lic­i­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Banksy Strikes Again in Venice

Banksy Strikes Again in Lon­don & Urges Every­one to Wear Masks

Banksy Debuts His COVID-19 Art Project: Good to See That He Has TP at Home

Watch Dis­ma­land — The Offi­cial Unof­fi­cial Film, A Cin­e­mat­ic Jour­ney Through Banksy’s Apoc­a­lyp­tic Theme Park

Banksy Shreds His $1.4 Mil­lion Paint­ing at Auc­tion, Tak­ing a Tra­di­tion of Artists Destroy­ing Art to New Heights

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Watch Bob Dylan Perform “Only A Pawn In Their Game,” His Damning Song About the Murder of Medgar Evers, at the 1963 March on Washington

Trau­ma is rep­e­ti­tion, and the Unit­ed States seems to inflict and suf­fer from the same deep wounds, repeat­ed­ly, unable to stop, like one of the ancient Bib­li­cal curs­es of which Bob Dylan was so fond. The Dylan of the ear­ly 1960s adopt­ed the voice of a prophet, in var­i­ous reg­is­ters, to tell sto­ries of judg­ment and gen­er­a­tional curs­es, sym­bol­ic and his­tor­i­cal, that have beset the coun­try from its begin­nings.

The vers­es of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” from 1963’s The Free­wheel­in’ Bob Dylan, enact this rep­e­ti­tion, both trau­mat­ic and hyp­not­ic. In its dual refrains—“how many times…?” and “the answer is blowin’ in the wind” (ephemer­al, impos­si­ble to grasp)—the song cycles between earnest Lamen­ta­tions and the acute, world-weary res­ig­na­tion of Eccle­si­astes. “This ambi­gu­i­ty is one rea­son for the song’s broad appeal,” as Peter Dreier writes at Dis­sent.

Just three months after its release, when Dylan per­formed at the March on Wash­ing­ton for Jobs and Free­dom on August 28, 1963, “Blowin’ in the Wind” had become a mas­sive civ­il rights anthem. But he had already ced­ed the song to Peter, Paul & Mary, who played their ver­sion that day. Dylan ignored his sopho­more album entire­ly to play songs from the upcom­ing The Times They Are a‑Changing—songs that stand out for their indict­ments of the U.S. in some very spe­cif­ic terms.

Dylan played three songs from the new album: “When the Ship Comes In” with Joan Baez, “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” and “With God on Our Side.” (He also played the pop­u­lar folk song “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.”) In con­trast to his vague­ly allu­sive pop­u­lar anthems, “Only a Pawn in Their Game”—about the mur­der of Medgar Evers—isn’t coy about the cul­prits and their crimes. We might say the song offers an astute analy­sis of insti­tu­tion­al racism, white suprema­cy, and sto­chas­tic ter­ror­ism.

A bul­let from the back of a bush
Took Medgar Evers’ blood
A fin­ger fired the trig­ger to his name
A han­dle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game

A South politi­cian preach­es to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t com­plain
You’re bet­ter than them, you been born with white skin, ” they explain
And the Negro’s name
Is used, it is plain
For the politi­cian’s gain
As he ris­es to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sher­iffs, the sol­diers, the gov­er­nors get paid
And the mar­shals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To pro­tect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he nev­er thinks straight
‘Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the pover­ty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoof­beats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ‘neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bul­let he caught
They low­ered him down as a king
But when the shad­owy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
He’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epi­taph plain
Only a pawn in their game

These lyrics have far too much rel­e­vance to cur­rent events, and they’re indica­tive of the chang­ing tone of Dylan’s muse. His refrains drip with irony. The killer of Medgar Evers “can’t be blamed”—an eva­sion of respon­si­bil­i­ty that becomes a pow­er­ful force all its own.

Dylan revis­its the themes of gen­er­a­tional trau­ma and mur­der in “With God on Our Side” (hear him sing it with Baez at New­port, above). The song is a sharp satire of his his­tor­i­cal edu­ca­tion, with its inevitable rep­e­ti­tions of war and slaugh­ter. Here, Dylan presents the expo­nen­tial­ly gross, exis­ten­tial­ly dread­ful, con­se­quences of a nation­al abdi­ca­tion of blame for his­tor­i­cal vio­lence.

Oh my name it ain’t noth­in’
My age it means less
The coun­try I come from
Is called the Mid­west
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh, the his­to­ry books tell it
They tell it so well
The cav­al­ries charged
The Indi­ans fell
The cav­al­ries charged
The Indi­ans died
Oh, the coun­try was young
With God on its side

The Span­ish-Amer­i­can
War had its day
And the Civ­il War, too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I was made to mem­o­rize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The rea­son for fight­ing
I nev­er did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

The Sec­ond World War
Came to an end
We for­gave the Ger­mans
And then we were friends
Though they mur­dered six mil­lion
In the ovens they fried
The Ger­mans now, too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate the Rus­sians
All through my whole life
If anoth­er war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all brave­ly
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of chem­i­cal dust
If fire them, we’re forced to
Then fire, them we must
One push of the but­ton
And a shot the world wide
And you nev­er ask ques­tions
When God’s on your side

Through many a dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ was
Betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscar­i­ot
Had God on his side.

So now as I’m leav­in’
I’m weary as Hell
The con­fu­sion I’m feel­in’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
That if God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

Dylan’s race/class analy­sis in “Only a Pawn in the Game” and his suc­cinct People’s His­to­ry of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism in “With God on Our Side” stand out as inter­est­ing choic­es for the March for sev­er­al rea­sons. For one thing, it’s as though he had writ­ten these songs express­ly to take the polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and reli­gious mech­a­nisms and mytholo­gies of racism apart. This was rad­i­cal speech in an event that was policed by its orga­niz­ers to tone down inflam­ma­to­ry rhetoric for the cam­eras.

23-year-old John Lewis, for exam­ple, was forced to tem­per his speech, in which he meant to say, “We will march through the South, through the heart of Dix­ie, the way Sher­man did. We shall pur­sue our own scorched earth pol­i­cy and burn Jim Crow to the ground — non­vi­o­lent­ly. the rev­o­lu­tion is at hand, and we must free our­selves of the chains of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic slav­ery.” As a pop­u­lar white artist, rather than a poten­tial­ly sedi­tious Black orga­niz­er, Dylan had far more license and could “use his priv­i­lege,” as they say, to describe the sys­tems of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic oppres­sion Lewis had want­ed to name.

Dylan’s per­for­mance was one of a hand­ful of mem­o­rable musi­cal appear­ances. Most of the singers made a far big­ger impres­sion, like Mahalia Jack­son, Mar­i­an Ander­son, and Baez her­self, whose “We Shall Over­come” cre­at­ed a leg­endary moment of har­mo­ny. No one sang along to Dylan’s new songs—they wouldn’t have known the words. But Dylan was nev­er care­less. He chose these words for the moment, hop­ing to have some impact in the only way he could.

The 1963 March’s pur­pose has been over­shad­owed by a few pas­sages in Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.‘s pow­er­ful “I Have a Dream” speech, co-opt­ed by every­one and reduced to meme-able quotes. But the protest “remains one of the most suc­cess­ful mobi­liza­tions ever cre­at­ed by the Amer­i­can Left,” his­to­ri­an William P. Jones writes. “Orga­nized by a coali­tion of trade union­ists, civ­il rights activists, and feminists–most of them African Amer­i­can and near­ly all of them social­ists.”

Dylan sang sto­ries of how the coun­try got to where it was, through a his­to­ry of vio­lence still play­ing out before the marchers’ eyes. What­ev­er polit­i­cal ten­sions there were among the var­i­ous orga­niz­ers and speak­ers did not dis­tract them from push­ing through the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act and the Fair Employ­ment Prac­tices clause ban­ning dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of race, reli­gion, nation­al ori­gin, or sex—protections that have been broad­ened since that time, and also chal­lenged, threat­ened, and stripped away.

Fifty-sev­en years lat­er, as the RNC con­ven­tion ends and anoth­er March on Wash­ing­ton hap­pens, we might reflect on Dylan’s small but pre­scient con­tri­bu­tions in 1963, in which he apt­ly char­ac­ter­ized the trau­mat­ic rep­e­ti­tions we’re still con­vul­sive­ly expe­ri­enc­ing over half a cen­tu­ry lat­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Moment When Bob Dylan Went Elec­tric: Watch Him Play “Maggie’s Farm” at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val in 1965

A Mas­sive 55-Hour Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Bob Dylan Songs: Stream 763 Tracks

James Bald­win Talks About Racism in Amer­i­ca & Civ­il Rights Activism on The Dick Cavett Show (1969)

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

Composer John Philip Sousa Warns of the Threat Posed by Recorded Music (1906)

When did you last hear live music? Grant­ed, this isn’t an ide­al time to ask, what with the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic still can­cel­ing con­certs the world over. But even before, no mat­ter how enthu­si­as­tic a show-goer you con­sid­ered your­self, your life of music con­sump­tion almost cer­tain­ly leaned toward the record­ed vari­ety. This is just as John Philip Sousa feared. In 1906, when record­ed music itself was still more or less a nov­el­ty, the com­pos­er of “The Stars and Stripes For­ev­er” pub­lished an essay in Apple­ton’s Mag­a­zine proph­esy­ing a world in which, thanks to “the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the var­i­ous music-repro­duc­ing machines,” human­i­ty has lost its abil­i­ty, feel, and appre­ci­a­tion for the art itself.

“Hereto­fore, the whole course of music, from its first day to this, has been along the line of mak­ing it the expres­sion of soul states,” writes Sousa. “Now, in this the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, come these talk­ing and play­ing machines, and offer again to reduce the expres­sion of music to a math­e­mat­i­cal sys­tem of mega­phones, wheels, cogs, disks, cylin­ders,” all “as like real art as the mar­ble stat­ue of Eve is like her beau­ti­ful, liv­ing, breath­ing daugh­ters.” With music in such easy reach, who will both­er learn­ing to per­form it them­selves? “What of the nation­al throat? Will it not weak­en? What of the nation­al chest? Will it not shrink? When a moth­er can turn on the phono­graph with the same ease that she applies to the elec­tric light, will she croon her baby to slum­ber with sweet lul­labys, or will the infant be put to sleep by machin­ery?”

The grandil­o­quence of Sousa’s writ­ing, which you can hear per­formed in the clip from the Pes­simists Archive Pod­cast above, encour­ages us to enjoy a know­ing chuck­le, but some of his points may give us pause. He fore­sees the decline of “domes­tic music,” and indeed, how many house­holds do we know whose mem­bers all share in the mak­ing of music, or for that mat­ter the lis­ten­ing? “Before you dis­miss Sousa as a nut­ty old codger,” writes New York­er music crit­ic Alex Ross, “you might pon­der how much has changed in the past hun­dred years.” With more music at our com­mand than ever before, music itself “has become a rad­i­cal­ly vir­tu­al medi­um, an art with­out a face. In the future, Sousa’s ghost might say, repro­duc­tion will replace pro­duc­tion entire­ly. Zomb­i­fied lis­ten­ers will shuf­fle through the archives of the past, and new music will con­sist of rearrange­ments of the old.”

The aes­thet­ic half of Sousa’s argu­ment has its descen­dants today in nar­ra­tives of rock­’s ruina­tion by com­put­ers, diag­noses of pop­u­lar cul­ture’s addic­tion to its own past, and “DRUM MACHINES HAVE NO SOUL” stick­ers. The com­mer­cial half will also sound famil­iar: “The com­pos­er of the most pop­u­lar waltz or march of the year must see it seized, repro­duced at will on wax cylin­der, brass disk, or strip of per­fo­rat­ed paper, mul­ti­plied indef­i­nite­ly, and sold at large prof­it all over the coun­try, with­out a pen­ny of remu­ner­a­tion to him­self for the use of this orig­i­nal prod­uct of his brain,” Sousa writes. 114 years lat­er, the rel­a­tive enti­tle­ment of com­posers, lyri­cists, and per­form­ers (not to men­tion labels, dis­trib­u­tors, and oth­er busi­ness enti­ties) to prof­its from record­ings remains a hot­ly debat­ed mat­ter, due in no small part to the rise of stream­ing music ser­vices like Spo­ti­fy. That prob­a­bly would­n’t sur­prise Sousa — nor would the long­ing, felt by increas­ing­ly many of us, to expe­ri­ence live music once again.

via @PessimistsArc

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno Lists the Ben­e­fits of Singing: A Long Life, Increased Intel­li­gence, and a Sound Civ­i­liza­tion

Home Tap­ing Is Killing Music: When the Music Indus­try Waged War on the Cas­sette Tape in the 1980s, and Punk Bands Fought Back

The Dis­tor­tion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Cre­at­ed “a McDonald’s Gen­er­a­tion of Music Con­sumers”

Down­load 10,000 of the First Record­ings of Music Ever Made, Thanks to the UCSB Cylin­der Audio Archive

Hear Con­tro­ver­sial Ver­sions of “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” by Igor Stravin­sky, Jimi Hen­drix, José Feli­ciano & John Philip Sousa

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

A Beautiful 1897 Illustrated Book Shows How Flowers Become Art Nouveau Designs

The art of draw­ing is not the art of observ­ing forms and objects alone, it is not mere mim­ic­ry of these objects; it is the art of know­ing how far and where­in, and with what just lim­i­ta­tions, those forms and objects can be repro­duced in a pic­ture, or in a dec­o­ra­tive work. — Eugène Gras­set, 1896

Flow­ers loomed large in Art Nou­veau, from the volup­tuous flo­ral head­pieces that crowned Alphonse Mucha’s female fig­ures to the stained glass ros­es favored by archi­tect Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh.

Graph­ic design­er Eugène Gras­set’s 1897 book, Plants and Their Appli­ca­tion to Orna­ment, vivid­ly demon­strates the ways in which nature was dis­tilled into pop­u­lar dec­o­ra­tive motifs at the end of the 19th-cen­tu­ry.


Twen­ty-four flow­er­ing plants were select­ed for con­sid­er­a­tion, from hum­ble spec­i­mens like dan­de­lions and this­tle to such Art Nou­veau heavy hit­ters as pop­pies and iris­es.

Each flower is rep­re­sent­ed by a real­is­tic botan­i­cal study, with two addi­tion­al col­or plates in which its form is flat­tened out and mined for its dec­o­ra­tive, styl­is­tic ele­ments.


The plates were ren­dered by Grasset’s stu­dents at the École Guérin, young artists whom he had “for­bid­den to con­de­scend to the art of base and servile imi­ta­tion”:

The art of draw­ing is not the art of observ­ing forms and objects alone, it is not mere mim­ic­ry of these objects; it is the art of know­ing how far and where­in, and with what just lim­i­ta­tions, those forms and objects can be repro­duced in a pic­ture, or in a dec­o­ra­tive work.

He also expect­ed stu­dents to hone their pow­ers of obser­va­tion through intense study of the organ­ic struc­tures that would pro­vide their inspi­ra­tion, becom­ing inti­mate­ly acquaint­ed with the char­ac­ter of petal, leaf, and stem:

Beau­ti­ful lines are the foun­da­tion of all beau­ty. In a work of art, what­ev­er it be, appar­ent or hid­den sym­me­try is the vis­i­ble or secret cause of the plea­sure we feel. Every­thing that is cre­at­ed must have some rep­e­ti­tion in its parts to be under­stood, retained in the mem­o­ry, and per­ceived as a whole

When it came to adorn­ing house­hold imple­ments such as vas­es and plates, Gras­set insist­ed that dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments exist in har­mo­ny with their hosts, snip­ing that any artist who would dis­tort form with ill con­sid­ered flour­ish­es should make a bas-relief instead.

Thus­ly do chrysan­the­mum stems pro­vide log­i­cal-look­ing bal­last for a chan­de­lier, and a dandelion’s curved leaves hug the con­tours of a table leg.

Gras­set’s best known stu­dent, Mau­rice Pil­lard Verneuil, whose career spanned Art Nou­veau to Art Deco, absorbed and artic­u­lat­ed the master’s teach­ings:


It is no longer the nature (artists) see that they rep­re­sent, that they tran­scribe, but the nature that they aspire to see; nature more per­fect and more beau­ti­ful and of which they have the inte­ri­or vision.


View Eugène Grasset’s Plants and Their Appli­ca­tion to Orna­ment as part of the New York Pub­lic Library’s Dig­i­tal Col­lec­tions here. Or find illus­tra­tions at Raw­Pix­el.

via The Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

His­toric Man­u­script Filled with Beau­ti­ful Illus­tra­tions of Cuban Flow­ers & Plants Is Now Online (1826 )

Beau­ti­ful Hand-Col­ored Japan­ese Flow­ers Cre­at­ed by the Pio­neer­ing Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ogawa Kazu­masa (1896)

Dis­cov­er Emi­ly Dickinson’s Herbar­i­um: A Beau­ti­ful Dig­i­tal Edi­tion of the Poet’s Col­lec­tion of Pressed Plants & Flow­ers Is Now Online

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

The Top 20 Russian Films, According to Russians

Ask an Amer­i­can film stu­dent to name the mas­ter­pieces of Russ­ian cin­e­ma, and you will get a selec­tion of Tarkovsky (Solaris, Stalk­er, The Mir­ror) and a soup­con of Eisen­stein. And no doubt those are true, rev­er­en­tial clas­sics. But what do Rus­sians con­sid­er their best-loved films? That’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

This list from the Russ­ian Film Hub presents 20 films rat­ed by Kinopoisk, the country’s ver­sion of–movies that hold a spe­cial place in their hearts, ones that have affect­ed the cul­ture, the ones that peo­ple can quote by heart. There’s not one Tarkovsky here at all.

Bet­ter yet, all these films are avail­able to watch on the Russ­ian Film Hub site, and with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. (Most are YouTube embeds from the Mos­Film chan­nel, but not all).

1. Ivan Vasi­lye­vich Changes His Pro­fes­sion
2. Oper­a­tion Y and Shurik’s Oth­er Adven­tures
3. The Dia­mond Arm
4. Only Old Men Are Going to Bat­tle
5. Gen­tle­men of For­tune
6. The Dawns Here Are Qui­et
7. Kid­nap­ping, Cau­casian Style
8. The Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes and Dr. Wat­son
9. Heart of a Dog
10. Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
11. The Cranes Are Fly­ing
12. Offi­cers
13. White Bim Black Ear
14. Fate of a Man
15. Office Romance
16. They Fought for Their Coun­try
17. Broth­er
18. Bal­lad of a Sol­dier
19. The Girls
20. Wel­come, or No Tres­pass­ing

Now, there are a few films on the list that art house fans will rec­og­nize. The Cranes Are Fly­ing won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1958, one of the high­est acco­lades a Russ­ian film had received in the post-war peri­od. Mikhail Kalatozov’s film is set before and after World War II, and lead actress Tatyana Samoylova’s Veroni­ka is as icon­ic a role as Ingrid Bergman in Casablan­ca, guar­an­tee to make an audi­ence weep at the end. (The film is avail­able to screen to Amer­i­can view­ers, as you can watch in on Cri­te­ri­on Chan­nel and HBO Max.)

Sim­i­lar­ly Grig­o­ry Chukhrai’s Bal­lad of a Sol­dier is a well-loved war dra­ma, direct­ed by a man who had fought in World War II him­self. Despite a series of prob­lems dur­ing pro­duc­tion, it has gone on to be inter­na­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized. (It too is only avail­able to Amer­i­can view­ers through Cri­te­ri­on.)

How­ev­er, the rest of these titles will be new to a vast major­i­ty of non-Rus­sians. The top three on the list and num­ber sev­en are by Leonid Gaidai, Russia’s best known com­e­dy direc­tor, sim­i­lar to a Blake Edwards or a Harold Ramis. Gaidai’s plots usu­al­ly cen­ter around con­men and mis­tak­en iden­ti­ty, and the num­ber one film in the list–Ivan Vasi­lye­vich Changes His Pro­fes­sion, from 1973, is a time trav­el caper where an apart­ment man­ag­er and a bungling bur­glar are trans­port­ed back to the 16th cen­tu­ry, while Tsar Ivan the Ter­ri­ble is brought into 1973. It gets com­pared to Mon­ty Python, Napoleon Dyna­mite, and Han­na-Bar­bera car­toons on Let­ter­boxd, and while the word play might not make it through the trans­la­tion, it is con­sid­ered hilar­i­ous regard­less. (All four of Gaidai’s films were huge box office hits.)

Also of note is Wel­come, or No Tres­pass­ing, a wacky kids’ camp com­e­dy (think Wes Anderson’s Moon­light King­dom) in which the young’uns get one over on their adult cap­tors. Direc­tor Elem Klimov would go on, 20 yeas lat­er, to direct Come and See, one of the most har­row­ing and bru­tal anti-war films out there.

Not every film is from the height of the Cold War, either. Broth­er, from 1997, is a gang­ster film set in the mean streets of St. Peters­burg, and is con­sid­ered one of the most pop­u­lar post-Sovi­et Russ­ian films.

And final­ly, the list has room for an adap­ta­tion of Sher­lock Holmes that, accord­ing to review­ers on Let­ter­boxd, rivals that of Jere­my Brett and Basil Rath­bone.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Film Posters of the Russ­ian Avant-Garde

Watch Hun­dreds of Free Films from Around the World: Explore Film Archives from Japan, France, and the U.S

The Simp­sons Reimag­ined as a Russ­ian Art Film

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

What Did the Roman Emperors Look Like?: See Photorealistic Portraits Created with Machine Learning

We can spend a life­time read­ing his­to­ries of ancient Rome with­out know­ing what any of its emper­ors looked like. Or rather, with­out know­ing exact­ly what they looked like: being the lead­ers of the might­i­est polit­i­cal enti­ty in the West­ern world, they had their like­ness­es stamped onto coins and carved into busts as a mat­ter of course. But such artist’s ren­der­ings inevitably come with a cer­tain degree of artis­tic license, a ten­den­cy to mold fea­tures into slight­ly more impe­r­i­al shapes. See­ing the faces of the Roman Emper­ors as we would if we were pass­ing them on the street is an expe­ri­ence made pos­si­ble only by high tech­nol­o­gy, and high tech­nol­o­gy devel­oped six­teen cen­turies after the fall of the Roman Empire at that.

“Using the neur­al-net tool Art­breed­er, Pho­to­shop and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences, I have cre­at­ed pho­to­re­al por­traits of Roman Emper­ors,” writes design­er Daniel Voshart. “For this project, I have trans­formed, or restored (cracks, noses, ears etc.) 800 images of busts to make the 54 emper­ors of The Prin­ci­pate (27 BC to 285 AD).”

The key tech­nol­o­gy that enables Art­breed­er to con­vinc­ing­ly blend images of faces togeth­er is what’s called a “gen­er­a­tive adver­sar­i­al net­work” (GAN). “Some call it Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence,” writes Voshart, “but it is more accu­rate­ly described as Machine Learn­ing.” The Verge’s James Vin­cent writes that Voshart fed in “images of emper­ors he col­lect­ed from stat­ues, coins, and paint­ings, and then tweaked the por­traits man­u­al­ly based on his­tor­i­cal descrip­tions, feed­ing them back to the GAN.”

Into the mix also went “high-res images of celebri­ties”: Daniel Craig into Augus­tus, André the Giant into Max­imi­nus Thrax (thought to have been giv­en his “a lantern jaw and moun­tain­ous frame” by a pitu­itary gland dis­or­der like that which affect­ed the colos­sal wrestler). This par­tial­ly explains why some of these uncan­ni­ly life­like emper­ors — the biggest celebri­ties of their time and place, after all — look faint­ly famil­iar. Though mod­eled as close­ly as pos­si­ble after men who real­ly lived, these exact faces (much like those in the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence-gen­er­at­ed mod­ern pho­tographs pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) have nev­er actu­al­ly exist­ed. Still, one can imag­ine the emper­ors who inspired Voshart’s Prin­ci­pate rec­og­niz­ing them­selves in it. But what would they make of the fact that it’s also sell­ing briskly in poster form on Etsy?

Vis­it the Roman Emper­or Project here. For back­ground on this project, vis­it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Five Hard­core Deaths Suf­fered By Roman Emper­ors

Play Cae­sar: Trav­el Ancient Rome with Stanford’s Inter­ac­tive Map

Rome Reborn: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 C.E.

The His­to­ry of Ancient Rome in 20 Quick Min­utes: A Primer Nar­rat­ed by Bri­an Cox

The His­to­ry of Rome in 179 Pod­casts

Roman Stat­ues Weren’t White; They Were Once Paint­ed in Vivid, Bright Col­ors

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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Billie Eilish Performs an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, with a Little Bit of Technology & Magic

Even COVID-19 can’t stop NPR’s series of Tiny Desk Con­certs, which has pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Yo-Yo Ma, Adele, Wilco, The Pix­ies, and many, many oth­er tal­ent­ed musi­cians. As NPR explains below, the per­for­mance involved a lit­tle bit of tech­nol­o­gy and some mag­ic. Enjoy:

It did­n’t take long for Bil­lie Eil­ish to become one of the biggest pop stars in the world, sweep the Gram­my Awards’ major cat­e­gories and release the lat­est James Bond theme. And today, at just 18, she and her broth­er, Finneas, have accom­plished what no one has been able to do for five and a half months: per­form a Tiny Desk con­cert in what cer­tain­ly appears to be the NPR Music offices.

Of course, due to safe­ty con­cerns, even the NPR Music staff can’t set foot in the build­ing that hous­es Bob Boilen’s desk. But if you look over Eil­ish’s shoul­der, there’s no mis­tak­ing the signs that she’s appear­ing at the Tiny Desk in its present-day form: On the last day before staff began work­ing from home, I took home the Green Bay Pack­ers hel­met that sat on the top shelf — the one Har­ry Styles had signed a few weeks ear­li­er — for safe keep­ing. In this per­for­mance, that spot is emp­ty.

So how the heck did they do it?

Hon­est­ly, it’s best that you watch the whole video to expe­ri­ence the extent of the tech­ni­cal feat — which, in the spir­it of Eil­ish’s Sat­ur­day Night Live per­for­mance, they’re will­ing to share with you. And thank­ful­ly, we still have our ways of pho­tograph­ing the desk, even if the room has fall­en silent.

So set­tle in for a wel­come jolt of Tiny Desk inno­va­tion, not to men­tion two of the excel­lent stand­alone sin­gles Bil­lie Eil­ish has released in the past year: “my future” and “every­thing i want­ed.” And, seri­ous­ly, be sure to watch until the very end.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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!

Relat­ed Con­tent

Yo-Yo Ma Per­forms the First Clas­si­cal Piece He Ever Learned: Take a 12-Minute Men­tal Health Break and Watch His Mov­ing “Tiny Desk” Con­cert

Peter Framp­ton Plays a Tiny Desk Con­cert for NPR, Fea­tur­ing Acoustic Ver­sions of His Clas­sic Songs

Watch 450 NPR Tiny Desk Con­certs: Inti­mate Per­for­mances from The Pix­ies, Adele, Wilco, Yo-Yo Ma & Many More

JamBase Launches a New Video Archive of 100,000 Streaming Concerts: Phish, Wilco, the Avett Brothers, Grateful Dead & Much More

Peo­ple do not tend to answer the ques­tion, “do you like Phish?” with, “yeah, I guess they’re okay.” Those who like Phish, love Phish, devot­ed­ly and with­out reser­va­tion. And those who don’t like Phish, well….

For the pur­pos­es of main­tain­ing objec­tiv­i­ty, I shall pre­tend to remain agnos­tic on the ques­tion, but I do hap­pen to think this kind of polar­iza­tion is a mark of great­ness, wher­ev­er one lands. Great art pro­vokes. What could be more provoca­tive than awe­some riffs, 20-minute jams, and obscure in-jokes? There is, admit­ted­ly, a sig­nif­i­cant you-had-to-have-been-there qual­i­ty to Phish fan­dom.…

Phish, and The Grate­ful Dead before them, have been instru­men­tal in keep­ing live music—played at length and with abandon—relevant, not only through their con­stant tour­ing but through the num­ber of bands in their orbit who inspire their own devot­ed fol­low­ings. Now the pan­dem­ic has made it impos­si­ble for fans of Phish, the String Cheese Inci­dent, the Dave Matthews Band, Wide­spread Pan­ic, or the Avett Broth­ers to make it out to shows.

To ease their pain, Jam­Base launched a Live Video Archive, a music aggre­ga­tor that allows fans to search 100,000 free stream­ing con­certs on YouTube. “Look­ing to find videos of Phish per­form­ing ‘Har­ry Hood’ in 2013? Enter ‘Har­ry Hood’ in the song fil­ter and you’ll see a list of every ver­sion in our data­base,” Jam­base explains.

“Use the ‘Event Year’ fil­ter to pick 2013. You’ll then see many videos to choose from. Press ‘Play’ to watch in the play­er or press ‘queue’ to start a list of videos that will dis­play in the order you select­ed to view at your leisure.”

Giv­en their audi­ence, JamBase’s cat­a­logue skews heav­i­ly toward jam and jam-adja­cent bands. But you’ll also find a huge archive of per­for­mances, over 14,000 clips, from Seat­tle inde­pen­dent radio sta­tion KEXP. “Per­for­mances from The Barr Broth­ersWilcoJason Isbell and Yo La Ten­go are just a few of the dozens of acts fea­tured in KEXP videos on the JBLVA.”

JamBase’s own home­page is also full of great stuff for fans not only of jams and blue­grass bands but oth­er gen­res as well, from Lucin­da Williams’ grit­ty coun­try folk to Emi­ly King’s acoustic R&B, such as her lat­est sin­gle “See Me,” released in sup­port of Black Lives Mat­ter. These are tough times all around. It can be easy to lose sight of the good things we’re miss­ing as we watch cur­rent events unfold. Let the Jam­Base Live Video Archive remind us of groovy times we had, and will have again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Radio­head Will Stream Con­certs Free Online Until the Pan­dem­ic Comes to an End

Metal­li­ca Is Putting Free Con­certs Online: 6 Now Stream­ing, with More to Come

Pink Floyd Stream­ing Free Clas­sic Con­cert Films, Start­ing with 1994’s Pulse, the First Live Per­for­mance of Dark Side of the Moon in Full

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

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