What Would the World of Charlie Chaplin Look Like in Color?: Watch a Colorfully Restored Version of A Night at the Show (1915)

When we imag­ine Char­lie Chap­lin, we imag­ine a man some­how exist­ing in black-and-white. The obvi­ous rea­son is that he became not just a movie star but a cul­tur­al icon in the 1910s and 20s, the era before sound came to the movies, let alone col­or. But to attain such suc­cess required skills tai­lored to the state of the medi­um at the time: that of mak­ing peo­ple laugh with­out say­ing a word, of course, but also of craft­ing an image instant­ly rec­og­niz­able in mono­chrome. Thus we don’t always feel we’re see­ing the “real” Char­lie Chap­lin in tech­ni­cal­ly more real­is­tic col­or pho­tographs, or even col­orized ones. But what would it feel like to watch one of his clas­sic come­dies in col­or?

You can find out by watch­ing the col­orized ver­sion of A Night in the Show above. Orig­i­nal­ly released in 1915, the 25-minute short was direct­ed by and stars Chap­lin, who plays the dual role of char­ac­ters called Mr. Pest and Mr. Row­dy. Both attend the same music-hall per­for­mance, and though Mr. Pest is of the upper crust and Mr. Row­dy is a work­ing man, both get equal­ly ine­bri­at­ed, their dis­parate social class­es pro­duc­ing dif­fer­ent styles of mis­chief-mak­ing.

The Eng­lish-born Chap­lin had pre­vi­ous­ly devel­oped these char­ac­ters on stage, hav­ing played the music-hall cir­cuit him­self since ado­les­cence. Safe to say that, by the time Hol­ly­wood came call­ing, he’d seen far worse than Pest and Row­dy him­self.

The qual­i­ty of this col­oriza­tion will per­haps not win the con­tro­ver­sial process any new con­verts, but it does give us a sense of what an evening at an Eng­lish music hall of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry would actu­al­ly have looked like, a valu­able re-cre­ation now that none of us have mem­o­ries of this once-com­mon expe­ri­ence. We can more eas­i­ly imag­ine the kind of spec­ta­cles such estab­lish­ments would have offered, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to snake-charm­ing and bursts of fire, as well as its ram­shackle exag­ger­a­tions that Chap­lin so ener­get­i­cal­ly sat­i­rizes. We could also con­sid­er this his vale­dic­tion to that envi­ron­ment: the pre­vi­ous year’s-intro­duced the Tramp, who would go on to become his most beloved char­ac­ter of all, ensured that he would soon be able to put the music hall behind him for­ev­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

60+ Free Char­lie Chap­lin Films Online

Col­orized Pho­tos Bring Walt Whit­man, Char­lie Chap­lin, Helen Keller & Mark Twain Back to Life

Char­lie Chap­lin Films a Scene Inside a Lion’s Cage in 200 Takes

Char­lie Chap­lin Does Cocaine and Saves the Day in Mod­ern Times (1936)

The Char­lie Chap­lin Archive Opens, Putting Online 30,000 Pho­tos & Doc­u­ments from the Life of the Icon­ic Film Star

When Ted Turn­er Tried to Col­orize Cit­i­zen Kane: See the Only Sur­viv­ing Scene from the Great Act of Cin­e­mat­ic Sac­ri­lege

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Ella Fitzgerald Imitates Louis Armstrong’s Gravelly Voice While Singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby”

Are great artists born, or are they made? Prob­a­bly a lit­tle of both, but I sus­pect that deep down, even if we don’t like to admit it, we know it’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle more the for­mer. We can become skilled at most any­thing with ded­i­ca­tion and hard work. Tal­ent is anoth­er matter—a mys­te­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of qual­i­ties we know when we hear but can’t always define. Ella Fitzger­ald had it when she first stepped on stage on ama­teur night at Harlem’s Apol­lo The­ater as a teenag­er, intend­ing to do a tap dance rou­tine.

She’d only done the per­for­mance on a dare, had no for­mal train­ing out­side of singing in church, her bed­room, and the Harlem streets, and she only chose to sing that night because the act before her did a tap dance and stole her thun­der.

She blew the audi­ence away—a tough New York crowd not known for being forgiving—and ren­dered even the bois­ter­ous teenagers in the bal­cony speech­less. “Three encores lat­er,” she wrote, “the $25 prize was mine.” Fitzgerald’s gold­en, three-octave voice, impec­ca­ble tim­ing, and impro­vi­sa­tion­al bril­liance are not exact­ly the kinds of things that can be taught.

She didn’t look the part of the typ­i­cal female jazz singer, at least accord­ing to pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, writes Hol­ly Glea­son at NPR. “A large woman who’d grown up rough,” includ­ing time spent in a New York State refor­ma­to­ry, she was reject­ed by band­lead­ers even after that first, rev­e­la­to­ry per­for­mance, and the press fre­quent­ly referred to her in terms that dis­par­aged her appear­ance. “Fitzger­ald rec­og­nized she didn’t pos­sess Bil­lie Holiday’s torchy allure,” Hol­ly Glea­son writes, or “Eartha Kitt’s fer­al sen­su­al­i­ty or Car­men McRae’s sex appeal. But that would not stop the woman who took her vocal cues from the horns, as well as from jazz singer Con­nee Boswell.”

It did­n’t stop her from win­ning a Gram­my in the Gram­my’s first year, or hav­ing a record label, Verve, found­ed just to put out her music. Ella’s range and pitch-per­fect ear meant she could imi­tate not only the horn sec­tion or her favorite singer Boswell but just about any­one else as well, from pop­u­lar jazz singer Rose Mur­phy, with her high, car­toon­ish voice, “chee chee” affec­ta­tions, and “brrrp” tele­phone sound effects, to the low, grav­el­ly rasp of Fitzgerald’s long­time duet part­ner Louis Arm­strong. See her do exact­ly that in the clip at the top, mov­ing effort­less­ly in “I Can’t Give You Any­thing but Love, Baby” from her own voice, to Murphy’s, to Armstrong’s in the space of just a few min­utes.

What­ev­er obsta­cles Fitzger­ald faced, her voice seemed to soar above it all. In becom­ing a glob­al jazz star and “The First Lady of Song,” says jazz writer Will Fried­wald, “she showed peo­ple that this is music Amer­i­cans should be proud of.”

via Ben Phillips

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Ella Fitzgerald’s Lost Inter­view about Racism & Seg­re­ga­tion: Record­ed in 1963, It’s Nev­er Been Heard Until Now

Ella Fitzger­ald Sings ‘Sum­mer­time’ by George Gersh­win, Berlin 1968

How Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Helped Break Ella Fitzger­ald Into the Big Time (1955)

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

When R.E.M.‘s Michael Stipe Created the Lyrics for “The Voice of Harold” by Riffing on the Liner Notes of an Old Gospel Album (1983)

R.E.M. is one of those bands that just think­ing about can send me into a rever­ie of mem­o­ries of the rooms of friends with whom I lis­tened to “Pret­ty Per­sua­sion,” “Rockville,” and the poet­ry of “7 Chi­nese Bros.”—one of Michael Stipe’s ear­ly, incom­pre­hen­si­ble songs, like “Swan Swan H,” whose cryp­tic lyrics one must seem­ing­ly take on faith. The song must mean some­thing, after all, to Stipe. Maybe the mys­tery of who, exact­ly, the “sev­en Chi­nese broth­ers swal­low­ing the ocean” were to him would be revealed some­day in an inter­view or stray ref­er­ence in a biog­ra­phy….

Now that we live in an age of instant infor­ma­tion grat­i­fi­ca­tion, we can skip the years of won­der and find the answer right away: the song was part­ly inspired, we learn at Song­facts, by a 1938 children’s book called The Five Chi­nese Broth­ers, based on a tra­di­tion­al folk tale of young broth­ers with super­nat­ur­al pow­ers. (It’s also part­ly a trib­ute to pho­tog­ra­ph­er Car­ol Levy, a friend who died in a car crash before the record­ing of Reck­on­ing.) Need­ing anoth­er syl­la­ble, maybe, Stipe changed the num­ber to sev­en, an odd­ly prophet­ic move giv­en that a new ver­sion of the sto­ry, pub­lished ten years lat­er, also fea­tured sev­en broth­ers.

The ref­er­ence shows how many great song­writ­ers work: pick­ing at bits and pieces from their mem­o­ries and what­ev­er cap­ti­vat­ing text hap­pens to be lay­ing around…. And Stipe is one of those singers, like Elton John, who can sell any line, no mat­ter how obscure or absurd.

In ear­ly songs, espe­cial­ly, he showed an uncan­ny abil­i­ty to invest incan­ta­to­ry com­bi­na­tions of words with haunt­ing pathos and urgency. He could sing from the phone book or the back of a cere­al box and make it com­pelling. In fact, the sto­ry of “7 Chi­nese Bros.” involves an almost sim­i­lar feat in the form of “Voice of Harold,” famil­iar to fans as the B‑side to “So. Cen­tral Rain” and part of the 1987 odds and ends col­lec­tion Dead Let­ter Office. What pos­si­ble expla­na­tion could there be for these non sequitur gospel lyrics, sung to the tune of… “7 Chi­nese Bros.”?

Was Stipe a secret Evan­ge­list, hop­ing to win con­verts by extolling “the pure tenor qual­i­ty of the voice of Harold Mont­gomery”? More teas­ing­ly vague themes emerge, along with ref­er­ences to fig­ures like the Rev­erend Bill Fun­der­burk, Charles Sur­ratt, John Bar­bee, and Rhon­da Mont­gomery (“That’s Rhon­da! An artist!”). Instead of “Sev­en Chi­nese broth­ers swal­low­ing the ocean,” the cho­rus intro­duces us to “The Rev­e­laires, A must / The Rev­e­laires / A must.” If you’re one of those who heard this song and thought, “What…?”, you can won­der no more.

The expla­na­tion comes to us from a 2009 inter­view pro­duc­er Don Dixon gave to Uncut mag­a­zine. (For some rea­son, Dixon refers to “7 Chi­nese Bros.” as “7 Chi­nese Blues,” nev­er a title of the song). The sto­ry begins with Stipe feel­ing down in the dumps in a stair­well out­fit­ted as a lounge for him in the stu­dio.

We were work­ing on the vocal for “7 Chi­nese Blues,” but Michael just was­n’t into it. He was down in his stair­well. I hit the talk-back to let him know I was com­ing through to make an adjust­ment… This was just an excuse to take a look at him, see if I could loosen him up a lit­tle. While I was in the attic, I’d noticed a stack of old records that had been tak­en up there to die, local R&B and gospel stuff most­ly. I grabbed the one off the top (a gospel record enti­tled The Joy of Know­ing Jesus by the Rev­e­laires) and as I passed Michael on the way to the Con­trol Room, I tossed it down to him. I thought he might be amused. When I fired up the tape a few sec­onds lat­er, Michael was singing, but not the lyrics to “7 Chi­nese Blues.” He was singing the lin­er notes to the LP I’d tossed him. When Michael began to sing these lin­er notes, he was much loud­er than he’d been ear­li­er and it took a few sec­onds for me to realise what was going on and adjust the lev­els. He made it all the way through the song, work­ing in every word on the back of that album! I rewound the tape, we had a chuck­le and pro­ceed­ed to sing the beau­ti­ful one-take vocal of the real words that you hear on Reck­on­ing. He seemed more con­fi­dent after that day.

Stipe didn’t just sing the words from the back of the album, he impro­vised cut-ups as he went, re-arrang­ing phras­es to fit the meter of the orig­i­nal song. “Voice of Harold” became a fan favorite for much the same rea­son as “7 Chi­nese Bros.” and “Swan Swan H”—it seemed to hide a mys­tery in plain view, its impas­sioned deliv­ery at odds with its non­sen­si­cal nar­ra­tive. Released after Reck­on­ing, it turns a spon­ta­neous moti­va­tion­al tool dur­ing the mak­ing of the album into a cre­ation all its own.

Jim Con­nel­ly explores the rela­tion­ship between “7 Chi­nese Bros.” and “Voice of Harold” even fur­ther in a post at Medi­alop­er, point­ing to the firm con­vic­tion that’s so “chill-induc­ing” in the lat­ter (and that comes through in the for­mer record­ing, made imme­di­ate­ly after­ward). They may be found words, serendip­i­tous­ly picked up and put togeth­er on the spot, but in Stipe’s voice we can tell that “He’s real. He means it,” what­ev­er the hell it is. See a video of “Voice of Harold” with lyrics, at the top, and fol­low along with the lin­er notes on the back of Rev­e­laires’ gospel album The Joy of Know­ing Jesus just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” Michael Stipe Pro­claims Again, and He Still Feels Fine

Why R.E.M.’s 1991 Out of Time May Be the “Most Polit­i­cal­ly Impor­tant Album” Ever

R.E.M.’s “Los­ing My Reli­gion” Reworked from Minor to Major Scale

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

Mulan Re-Disneyfied: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#62) Discussion with Actor Michael Tow

Is the new Mulan the equiv­a­lent for Asian-Amer­i­cans what Black Pan­ther was for African-Amer­i­cans? The largest enter­tain­ment machine we have fea­tured an all-Asian cast telling a tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese sto­ry aimed at the widest pos­si­ble audi­ence. Did it work?

Actor Michael Tow joins your hosts Eri­ca Spyres, Mark Lin­sen­may­er, and Bri­an Hirt to dis­cuss the devel­op­ment, aes­thet­ics, and polit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the film. The vision of fem­i­nism changed between the orig­i­nal poem from ca. 550 C.E. (“When the two rab­bits run side by side, how can you tell the female from the male?”) to the present, and the “just be you” eth­ic (with your mag­i­cal chi!) is not the norm for Chi­na in any peri­od. Was the project in its very con­cep­tion doomed to fall short of some of its goals? Was the live-action an improve­ment over the 1998 ani­mat­ed ver­sion?

Read the poem, and watch a read­ing of the illus­trat­ed 1998 Robert San Souci book Fa Mulan that the films were based on. There have been many adap­ta­tions of the sto­ry in Chi­na.

Oth­er sources we read to pre­pare includ­ed:

Fol­low Michael on Twit­ter @michaelctow and check out his imdb cred­its. Michael host­ed a Q&A with the Mulan cast short­ly after the film’s release.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion 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: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts

Explore the Codex Zouche-Nuttall: A Rare, Accordion-Folded Pre-Columbian Manuscript

In the past two decades, the Latin Amer­i­can world has seen a tremen­dous resur­gence of indige­nous lan­guage study and lit­er­a­ture. Some Mex­i­can writ­ers are “ditch­ing Span­ish,” Dora Ballew writes, for “Zapotec, Tzotzil, Mayan and oth­er lan­guages spo­ken long before Euro­peans washed up on the shores of what is now Mex­i­co.” Large antholo­gies of such lit­er­a­ture have been pub­lished since 2001. The move is not a recov­ery of lost lan­guages and cul­tures, but an affir­ma­tion of “the num­ber of peo­ple flu­ent in both an indige­nous lan­guage and Span­ish,” schol­ars and writ­ers Earl and Sylvia Shorris explain.

“At least sev­er­al mil­lion” indige­nous lan­guage speak­ers in Mex­i­co alone ensure that “lit­er­a­ture has ample place in which to flour­ish.” Despite the incur­sions of both the Aztecs, then the Span­ish, speak­ers of Mix­tec, for exam­ple, sur­vived and now “inhab­it a vast ter­ri­to­ry of broad moun­tain ranges and small val­leys that stretch across the mod­ern-day states of Puebla, Guer­rero and Oax­a­ca,” writes Dr. Manuel A. Her­mann Lejarazu.

An expert on Mix­tec codices, Lejarazu ties the con­tem­po­rary cul­ture of Mix­tec speak­ing peo­ple back to the Post­clas­sic past, “a peri­od between the tenth and six­teenth cen­turies when polit­i­cal cen­tres pro­lif­er­at­ed, fill­ing the vac­u­um left after the col­lapse of large cities estab­lished in pre­ced­ing cen­turies.”

Much of the lit­tle that is known of the indige­nous Mix­tec lit­er­ary cul­ture comes from the Codex Zouche-Nut­tall, one of only a hand­ful of pre-Columbian man­u­scripts in exis­tence. Made of deer skin, the codex “con­tains two nar­ra­tives,” the British Muse­um notes. “One side of the doc­u­ment relates the his­to­ry of impor­tant cen­tres in the Mix­tec region, while the oth­er, start­ing at the oppo­site end, records the geneal­o­gy, mar­riages and polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary feats of the Mix­tec ruler, Eight Deer Jaguar-Claw.”

Although fin­ished around 1556, the pic­to­graph­ic fold­ing man­u­script “is con­sid­ered to be of pre-His­pan­ic ori­gin,” Lejarazu writes, “since it pre­serves a strong indige­nous tra­di­tion in its pic­to­graph­ic tech­niques, with no demon­stra­ble Euro­pean influ­ence.” The codex was first dis­cov­ered in 1854 in a Domini­can monastery in Flo­rence. It’s unclear exact­ly how and when it arrived in Europe, but sev­er­al such codices “reached the Old World as gifts or as part of the doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted to Span­ish courts that han­dled legal mat­ters in the Indies.”

Though sev­ered from its ori­gins, the Codex Zouche-Nut­tall is now freely avail­able online in a scanned 1902 fac­sim­i­le edi­tion at the British Muse­um and the Inter­net Archive. You can learn much more about these incred­i­bly rare doc­u­ments from Lejarazu’s arti­cle and Robert Lloyd Williams’ Com­plete Codex Zouche-Nutall, which explains how the pic­to­graph­ic record func­tions like a sto­ry­board, or out­line, for a com­plex nar­ra­tive tra­di­tion that tied Mix­tec rulers to the gods, to each oth­er, and to the past and future.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

Speak­ing in Whis­tles: The Whis­tled Lan­guage of Oax­a­ca, Mex­i­co

Peru­vian Schol­ar Writes & Defends the First The­sis Writ­ten in Quechua, the Main Lan­guage of the Incan Empire

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

How Storyboarding Works: A Brief Introduction to How Ridley Scott, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson & Other Directors Storyboard Their Films

When you’re mak­ing a film with com­plex shots or sequences of shots, it does­n’t hurt to have sto­ry­boards. Though pro­fes­sion­al sto­ry­board artists do exist, they don’t come cheap, and in any case they con­sti­tute one more play­er in the game of tele­phone between those who’ve envi­sioned the final cin­e­mat­ic prod­uct and the col­lab­o­ra­tors essen­tial to real­iz­ing it. It thus great­ly behooves aspir­ing direc­tors to devel­op their draw­ing skills, though you hard­ly need to be a full-fledged drafts­man like Rid­ley Scott or even a pro­fi­cient com­ic artist like Bong Joon-ho for your work to ben­e­fit from sto­ry­board­ing.

You do, how­ev­er, need to under­stand the lan­guage of sto­ry­board­ing, essen­tial­ly a means of trans­lat­ing the rich lan­guage of cin­e­ma into fig­ures (stick fig­ures if need be), rec­tan­gles, and arrows — lots of arrows. Draw­ing on exam­ples from Star Wars and Juras­sic Park to Taxi Dri­ver and The Big Lebows­ki, the Rock­etJump Film School video above explains how sto­ry­boards work in less than ten min­utes.

As sto­ry­board artist Kevin Sen­za­ki explains how these draw­ings visu­al­ize a film in advance of and as a guide for film­mak­ing process, we see a vari­ety of sto­ry­boards rang­ing from crude sketch­es to near­ly com­ic book-lev­el detail, all com­pared to cor­re­spond­ing clips from the fin­ished pro­duc­tion.

These exam­ples come from the work of such direc­tors as Alfred Hitch­cock, Mar­tin Scors­ese, James Cameron, Wes Ander­son, and Christo­pher Nolan — all of whose films, you’ll notice, have no slight visu­al ambi­tions. When a shot or sequence requires seri­ous visu­al effects work, or even when a cam­era has to make just the right move to advance the action, sto­ry­boards are prac­ti­cal­ly essen­tial. Not that every suc­cess­ful direc­tor uses them: no less an auteur than Wern­er Her­zog has called sto­ry­boards “the instru­ments of the cow­ards,” those who can’t han­dle the spon­tane­ity of either film­mak­ing or life itself. Rather, he tells aspir­ing direc­tors to “read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read… read, read… read.” But then so did Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, who did­n’t just draw his movies in advance — he paint­ed them.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rid­ley Scott Demys­ti­fies the Art of Sto­ry­board­ing (and How to Jump­start Your Cre­ative Project)

How the Coen Broth­ers Sto­ry­board­ed Blood Sim­ple Down to a Tee (1984)

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa Paint­ed the Sto­ry­boards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Com­pare Can­vas to Cel­lu­loid

How Bong Joon-ho’s Sto­ry­boards for Par­a­site (Now Pub­lished as a Graph­ic Nov­el) Metic­u­lous­ly Shaped the Acclaimed Film

The Art of Mak­ing Blade Run­ner: See the Orig­i­nal Sketch­book, Sto­ry­boards, On-Set Polaroids & More

Down­load New Sto­ry­board­ing Soft­ware That’s Free & Open Source

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

The Story Behind the Iconic Photograph of 11 Construction Workers Lunching 840 Feet Above New York City (1932)

Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Moth­er”…

Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-win­ning “The Ter­ror of War”…

Richard Drew’s “The Falling Man”…

Through­out the years, a num­ber of icon­ic pho­tographs have tapped into the col­lec­tive uncon­scious, shap­ing our view of his­toric events, some­times to a degree that leads to social change.

These images are not depen­dent on know­ing the sub­jects’ iden­ti­ties, though it’s always inter­est­ing when more con­text leaks out, often as the result of some seri­ous sleuthing by reporters, archivists, or oth­er inter­est­ed par­ties.

1932’s “Lunch atop a Sky­scraper (New York Con­struc­tion Work­ers Lunch­ing on a Cross­beam)” is one of the lighter-heart­ed pho­tos to cre­ate such a last­ing pub­lic impres­sion.

Eleven work­ers are depict­ed enjoy­ing their break, relax­ing on a gird­er a dizzy­ing 840-feet above New York City, unbur­dened by safe­ty har­ness­es or oth­er pro­tec­tive gear.

In the words of Rock­e­feller Cen­ter archivist Christi­na Rous­sel, who nar­rates the TIME Mag­a­zine 100 Pho­tos episode above, they are the “unsung heroes of con­struc­tion.”

The unusu­al des­ig­na­tion may lead you to rack your brains for a sung hero of con­struc­tion.

Grandpa’s cog-in-the-wheel con­tri­bu­tion to the erec­tion of an icon­ic land­mark can be a source of anec­do­tal pride for fam­i­lies, but it rarely leads to greater renown.

Loom­ing over this image is John D. Rock­e­feller, Jr, who mas­ter­mind­ed a 22 acre com­plex of 14 com­mer­cial build­ings in the Art Deco style. The project was a boost to the econ­o­my dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, employ­ing over 250,000 people—from truck­ers and quar­ry­men to glaziers and steel­work­ers and hun­dreds of oth­er jobs in between. It cre­at­ed an enor­mous amount of good­will and patri­ot­ic pride.

The Rock­e­feller orga­ni­za­tion cap­i­tal­ized on this pos­i­tive recep­tion, with a steady stream of staged pub­lic­i­ty pho­tos, includ­ing the dar­ing eleven shar­ing a nose­bleed seat on what was to become the 69th floor of the RCA Build­ing (now known as 30 Rock.)

As film crit­ic John Ander­son, review­ing the doc­u­men­tary Men at Lunch in The New York Times, wrote:

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of the pic­ture, which has been col­orized, sat­i­rized, bur­lesqued with the Mup­pets and turned into a life-size sculp­ture by Ser­gio Furnari, is part­ly about the casu­al reck­less­ness of its sub­jects: The beam on which they sit seems sus­pend­ed over an urban abyss, with the vast­ness of Cen­tral Park spread out behind them and noth­ing, seem­ing­ly below. But in fact a fin­ished floor of 30 Rock­e­feller Plaza was prob­a­bly just a few feet away.

The doc­u­men­tary helped con­firm the iden­ti­ties of sev­er­al of the men.

Irish immi­grants Mad­dy O’Shaughnessy and Son­ny Glynn hold down either end, as ver­i­fied by their sons.

William Eck­n­er, third from left, and Joe Cur­tis, third from right, were named in a sim­i­lar­ly spir­it­ed anno­tat­ed pho­to tak­en around the same time.

The man seat­ed to Cur­tis’ right may or may not be John Charles Cook of the St. Reg­is Mohawk Reser­va­tion.

The photographer’s iden­ti­ty is also debat­able. It’s most often cred­it­ed to Charles C. Ebbets but Tom Kel­ley and William Left­wich were also on hand that day, leather satchels of glass plates slung across their backs, as they, too, defied grav­i­ty, doc­u­ment­ing the com­ple­tion of archi­tect Ray­mond Hood’s mas­ter plan.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Dorothea Lange Shot, Migrant Moth­er, Per­haps the Most Icon­ic Pho­to in Amer­i­can His­to­ry

Yale Presents an Archive of 170,000 Pho­tographs Doc­u­ment­ing the Great Depres­sion

Yale Presents an Archive of 170,000 Pho­tographs Doc­u­ment­ing the Great Depres­sion

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

Hand-Colored Maps of Wealth & Poverty in Victorian London: Explore a New Interactive Edition of Charles Booth’s Historic Work of Social Cartography (1889)

Map­ping has always been con­tentious, no mat­ter where you look in time. Maps pre­serve ide­o­log­i­cal assump­tions on paper, ratio­nal­iz­ing phys­i­cal space as they ren­der it in two dimen­sions. No mat­ter how didac­tic, they can become polit­i­cal weapons. In the case of Charles Booth’s visu­al­ly impres­sive Maps Descrip­tive of Lon­don Pover­ty, we have a series of maps whose own assump­tions can some­times seem at odds with their osten­si­ble pur­pose: to improve the liv­ing con­di­tions of London’s poor.

Booth’s “colour­ful pover­ty maps were cre­at­ed between 1886 and 1903,” Zoe Craig writes at Lon­don­ist, as part of a “ground-break­ing study into the lives of ordi­nary Lon­don­ers.” A phil­an­thropist born into wealth in the ship­ping trade, Booth took it upon him­self to study pover­ty in Lon­don in order to ini­ti­ate social reforms.

He suc­ceed­ed. The study, con­duct­ed by Booth and a team of researchers, led to the cre­ation of Old Age pen­sions, which Booth called “lim­it­ed social­ism,” as well as school meals for hun­gry chil­dren. He was clear about that fact that he saw such reforms as a bul­wark against social­ist rev­o­lu­tion.

The study’s sev­en­teen vol­umes are filled with pic­turesque accounts. “Pick­ing through the tid­bits of infor­ma­tion from these people’s lives will make you feel a bit like a Vic­to­ri­an cos­tume dra­ma police detec­tive,” Craig remarks. This ref­er­ence to polic­ing feels point­ed, giv­en the role of the police in main­tain­ing class hier­ar­chies in Vic­to­ri­an Lon­don. As an Amer­i­can, it can be hard to look at Booth’s map and not also see the 20th redlin­ing prac­tices in U.S. cities. Con­sid­er, for exam­ple, the cat­e­gories Booth applied to London’s class­es:

Called ‘Inquiry Into the Life and Labour of the Peo­ple in Lon­don’, the epic work stud­ied fam­i­lies and res­i­dents liv­ing across Lon­don, and coloured the streets accord­ing to their finan­cial sit­u­a­tion: between black for ‘low­est class, vicious, semi-crim­i­nal’ through pink for mixed ‘some com­fort­able, some poor’ to orange for ‘wealthy’.

As in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s pater­nal­is­tic 1965 report on the Black under­class in the U.S., the lan­guage rein­forces Social Dar­win­ist ideas that deem the “low­est class” unfit for full par­tic­i­pa­tion in civ­il society—“vicious, semi-crim­i­nal…”

Of course, the social and his­tor­i­cal con­text dif­fers marked­ly, but we might also con­sid­er Fear­gus O’Sullivan’s obser­va­tions at Bloomberg City­Lab. A new pub­lished edi­tion of the map, he writes, “accom­pa­nied by com­pelling if bleak peri­od pho­tos, reveals a city that pos­sess­es echoes of Lon­don today. It depicts, after all, a dense­ly-packed metrop­o­lis with a cos­mopoli­tan pop­u­la­tion where immense­ly wealthy peo­ple lived just around the cor­ner from neigh­bors who were strug­gling to make ends meet.”

Maps may not cre­ate the social con­di­tions they describe, but they can help per­pet­u­ate them, ren­der­ing peo­ple vis­i­ble in ways that allow for even more con­trol over their lives. Crit­i­cisms of Booth’s study claimed that not only did the pro­posed reforms not go far enough but that the report described London’s class struc­ture while offer­ing lit­tle to no analy­sis of the caus­es of pover­ty. In lan­guage that sound­ed less objec­tion­able to Vic­to­ri­an ears, the poor are most­ly blamed for their own con­di­tion.

None of the study’s par­tic­u­lar lim­i­ta­tions take away from the graph­ic achieve­ments of its maps and explana­to­ry charts. They are, the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics writes, a strik­ing “ear­ly exam­ple of social car­tog­ra­phy.” The LSE hosts an incred­i­bly detailed, search­able, high-res­o­lu­tion inter­ac­tive ver­sion of the maps, assem­bled togeth­er and over­laid on a mod­ern GPS map of Lon­don. They also detail the var­i­ous edi­tions of the maps as they appeared between 1898 and 1903.

Hand-col­ored and based on the 1869 Ord­nance Sur­vey, the maps seemed “suf­fi­cient­ly impor­tant” to Booth to war­rant “com­pre­hen­sive revi­sion.” Here, the police appear in per­son to guide the process. “Social inves­ti­ga­tors accom­pa­nied police­men on their beats across Lon­don,” the LSE writes, “and record­ed their own impres­sions of each street and the com­ments of the police­men.” You can read the police note­books from these sur­veys at the LSE and learn more about the 12 dis­trict maps and the demo­graph­ic data they rep­re­sent at Map­ping Lon­don. The LSE print­ed a hard­cov­er print edi­tion of Booth’s work in 2019, com­plete with 500 illus­tra­tions. You can pur­chase a copy here. Or vis­it the inter­ac­tive edi­tion here.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 1855 Map That Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Dis­ease Pre­ven­tion & Data Visu­al­iza­tion: Dis­cov­er John Snow’s Broad Street Pump Map

Ani­ma­tions Visu­al­ize the Evo­lu­tion of Lon­don and New York: From Their Cre­ation to the Present Day

Syn­chro­nized, Time­lapse Video Shows Train Trav­el­ing from Lon­don to Brighton in 1953, 1983 & 2013

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

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