Tony Hawk Breaks Down Skateboarding Into 21 Levels of Difficulty: From Easy to Complex

Thirty or so Christmases ago, I received my first skateboard. Alas, it was also my last skateboard: not long after I got the hang of balancing on the thing, it was run over and snapped in half by a mail truck. There went my last chance at Olympic athleticism, though I couldn’t have known it at the time: it debuted as an event at the Summer Olympics just this year, and its competitions are underway even now in Tokyo. This is, in any case, a bit late for me, given the relative… maturity of my years as against those of the average Olympic skateboarder. But then, Tony Hawk is in his fifties, and something tells me he could still show those kids a thing or two.

Hawk, the most famous skateboarder in the world, shows us 21 things in the Wired video above— specifically, 21 skateboarding moves, each one representative of a higher difficulty level than the last. At level one, we have the “flat-ground ollie,” which involves “using one foot to snap the tail of the board downward, and then you have the board sort of aiming up, and then sliding your front foot at the right time in order to bring that board up and level it out in the air.”

To the untrained eye, a well-executed ollie projects the image of skater and board are “jumping” as a whole. But it can only be mastered by those willing to keep their feet on the board, rather than obeying the instinct to put one foot off to the side. “People do that for years,” laments Hawk.

Level ten finds Hawk on the half-pipe doing a “360 aerial.” He describes the action as we watch him perform it: “I’m going up the ramp, I’m turning in the frontside direction a full 360, and I’m coming down backwards” — but not yet flipping the board while in the air, a slightly more advanced move. The final levels enter “the realm of unreality,” covering the NBD (Never Been Done) tricks that skaters nevertheless believe possible. For Level 21 he chooses the “1260 spin” — “three and a half rotations” — which he’s never even seen attempted. Or at least he hadn’t at the time of this video’s shoot in 2019; Mitchie Brusco landed one at the X Games just two days later. Even now, given the seemingly infinite potential variations of and expansions on every trick, skateboarding is unlikely to have hit its physical limits. Just imagine what the kids who successfully dodge their mailman now will be able to pull off when they grow up.

Related Content:

Tony Hawk & Architectural Historian Iain Borden Tell the Story of How Skateboarding Found a New Use for Cities & Architecture

Werner Herzog Discovers the Ecstasy of Skateboarding: “That’s Kind of My People”

The Tony Alva Story

Fully Flared

The Piano Played with 16 Increasing Levels of Complexity: From Easy to Very Complex

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 or on Facebook.

The “Conjuring” Film Universe Digested — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #101

With the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark, Erica Spyres and Brian Hirt explore the larger “Conjuring universe” that started with the critically acclaimed 2013 James Wan film depicting the fictionalized supernatural investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Largely using the plot-generating device of the couple’s storehouse of haunted objects, this series has extended into eight films to date with more planned.

Are these films actually scary? Insofar as these demons and ghosts do frighten us, can we (emotionally) buy into the power of Catholic symbols to keep them at bay? Is it OK to valorize these real-life people who were very likely hucksters?

Is grouping these films together merely a marketing gimmick, or is there real narrative justification for the continuity? Even without a common filmmaker, stars, or plot through-line, there is some value in a brand or franchise, just so you know more or less what you’re getting, but does that actually hold in this case, or have Warren-free stinkers like The Nun (2018) and The Curse of La Llorona (2019) already failed to meet the franchise’s standards?

Some of the articles we reflected on for this episode included:

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at

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.

Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings Collects the Painter’s Entire Body of Work in a 600-Page, Large-Format Book

Most of us who know Frida Kahlo’s work know her self-portraits. But, in her brief 47 years, she created a more various body of work: portraits of others, still lifes, and difficult-to-categorize visions that still, 67 years after her death, feel drawn straight from the wild currents of her imagination. (Not to mention her elaborately illustrated diary, previously featured here on Open Culture.) Somehow, Kahlo’s work has never all been gathered in one place. That, along with her enduring appeal as both an artist and a historical figure, surely made her an appealing proposition for art-book publisher Taschen, an operation as invested in visual richness as it is in completeness.

There’s also the matter of size. Though not conceived at the same scale as the murals of Diego Rivera, with whom Kahlo lived in not one but two less-than-conventional marriages, Kahlo’s paintings look best when seen at their biggest. Hence Taschen’s “large-format XXL” production of Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings, which “allows readers to admire Frida Kahlo’s paintings like never before, including unprecedented detail shots and famous photographs.” Presented along with a biographical essay, those photos capture, among other subjects, “Frida, Diego, and the Casa Azul, Frida’s home and the center of her universe.”

In creating his volume, editor-author Luis-Martín Lozano and contributors Andrea Kettenmann and Marina Vázquez Ramos focused not on the artist’s life, but her work. “Most people at exhibitions, they’re interested in her personality — who she is, how she dressed, who does she go to bed with, her lovers, her story,” says Lozano in an interview with BBC Culture. Putting together a run-of-the-mill Kahlo book, “you repeat the same things, and it will sell – because everything about Kahlo sells. It’s unfortunate to say, but she’s become a merchandise.” Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings is also, of course, a product, and one painstakingly designed to compel the Frida Kahlo enthusiast. Its ideal reader, however, desires to live in not Kahlo’s world, but the world she created.

via Colossal

Note: Taschen is a partner of ours. So if you purchase a book, it helps support Open Culture.

Related Content:

Frida Kahlo: The Life of an Artist

The Intimacy of Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portraits: A Video Essay

Visit the Largest Collection of Frida Kahlo’s Work Ever Assembled: 800 Artifacts from 33 Museums, All Free Online

Discover Frida Kahlo’s Wildly-Illustrated Diary: It Chronicled the Last 10 Years of Her Life, and Then Got Locked Away for Decades

Take a Virtual Tour of Frida Kahlo’s Blue House Free Online

A Brief Animated Introduction to the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

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 or on Facebook.

How ABBA Won Eurovision and Became International Pop Stars (1974)

Eurovision, the flashy original song contest that captivates Europeans, tends to get roundly mocked in the U.S., where we choose our stars by having them sing other people’s songs on TV in ridiculous costumes. Nonetheless, Americans have fallen in love with many a contest winner, and that’s no more true than in the case of ABBA, the Swedish pop-disco juggernaut who broke through to international stardom when they won in 1974 with “Waterloo,” chosen twice as the greatest song in the competition’s history.

The two couples — Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaus; Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — first formed as Festfolket (“Party People”) in 1970, and Ulvaus and Andersson began submitting songs to Swedish national contest Melodifestivalen. In 1973, they submitted “Ring Ring,” finally placed third, then released an album called Ring Ring as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida. They had taken on a new glam rock look and sound, and the album was a hit in parts of Europe and South Africa, but didn’t break the UK and US charts.

It was time for another name change, an anagram formed from the first letters of their first names. (They were obliged to ask permission from a local fish cannery called Abba, who agreed on condition the band didn’t make the canners “feel ashamed for what you’re doing.”) The name, producer Stig Anderson thought, would translate internationally, and the band would sing in English for their next single, the song that would launch their rapid ascent into seemingly eternal relevance.

How did “Waterloo” not only break ABBA into stardom but also “reinvent pop music” as we know it? As the Polyphonic video at the top explains, it did far more than raise the bar for every Eurovision performance since. ABBA brought glam, glitter, and theatrical bombast into pop, using Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” studio techniques to coax an enormous, enveloping sound from their vocal harmonies, guitars, pianos, horns, drums, etc., and taking heavy inspiration from English band Wizzard’s song “See My Baby Jive,” while “pulling back on the rock” and leaning into cleaner, more dance-floor-friendly production.

ABBA wisely put Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s vocal harmonies in the center, and they took a decidedly quirky turn from glam rock’s love of sleazy come-ons and songs about aliens. Originally called “Honey Pie,” the band’s breakout hit became “Waterloo” when Stig Anderson turned it into an odd reference to Napoleon’s surrender, “such a novel conceit for a song that it’s hard to forget.” ABBA continued this tradition in short story-songs like “Fernando,” first written with different lyrics in Swedish for Lyngstad, then rewritten in English by Ulvaeus as a tale about two old campaigners from the Mexican-American War.

Smart songwriting, catchy hooks, impeccable vocal harmonies, and flashy beauty — once the world saw and heard ABBA, few could resist them. But it took their uniquely theatrical (at the time) Eurovision performance to break them out, as Ulvaeus says. “We knew that the Eurovision Song Contest was the only route for a Swedish group to make it outside Sweden.” The win was huge, but the contest was a means to an end. True validation came with hit after hit, as ABBA proved themselves indispensable to wedding dance floors everywhere and “completely transformed what it meant to be a pop star.” See their original Eurovision performance of “Waterloo” just above.

Related Content:

Listen to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” Played on a 1914 Fairground Organ

When ABBA Wrote Music for the Cold War-Themed Musical, Chess: “One of the Best Rock Scores Ever Produced for the Theatre” (1984)

This Man Flew to Japan to Sing ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” in a Big Cold River

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

The Making of a Violin from Start to Finish: Watch a French Luthier Practice a Time-Honored Craft

Two families have been credited with making the greatest violins of the classical period: the Stradivari and the Guarneri. The first luthiers with those names were trained in the workshops of the Amati family, whose patriarch, Andrea, founded a legacy in Cremona in the mid 1500s when he gave the violin the form we know today, inventing f-holes and perfecting the general shape and size of the instrument and others in its family.

But there’s far more to the story of the violin than its famous Italian maker names suggest, though these still stand for the height of quality and prestige. Violin-making centers arose elsewhere in Europe soon after the Stradivari and Guarneri set up shop. In France, the town of Mirecourt became “synonymous with French violins and the craft,” notes Corilon violins.

From 1732 on, French Mirecourt craftsmen followed the strict rules of their guild to uphold their high standards, and apprentices trained there were in demand far beyond the confines of the town. They frequently went on to found their own studios in other cities, especially Paris. Sometimes they later returned to Mirecourt after several years of success elsewhere. As a result the local art of making French violins had a strong effect on the outside world, whilst at the same time incorporating other influences. 

Famous Mirecourt makers included Nicolas Lupot, called “the French Stradivarius.” The primary influence came from Cremona, but “important technical insights were adapted from German violin making.”

The city entered a new phase when Didier Nicolas became the first to manufacture violins serially in Mirecourt at the turn of the 19th century. His factory “employed some 600 people, making his business the first large-scale operation of its kind in the tradition-rich town in northern Frances Vosges mountains,” and inaugurating an industrial period that would last until the late 1960s.

The post-industrial late-20th century saw the collapse of Mirecourt’s great violin-making companies, but not the end of the city’s fame as France’s violin-making center, thanks in great part to Nicolas’ founding of L’École Nationale de Lutherie, “where excellent masters and violin makers keep the time-honored art alive and dynamic.” The city’s “guild heritage” lives on in the work of contemporary makers like Dominique Nicosia.

A master luthier and instructor at the school in Mirecourt, Nicosia shows us in the video at the top the time-honored techniques employed in the making of violins in France for hundreds of years, using metal tools he also makes himself. Watch the tradition come alive, learn more about the famous violin-making city, which remains the bow-making capital of the world here, and see Nicosia pass his skills and knowledge to a new generation in the video above from L’École Nationale de Lutherie.

Related Content:

Why Violins Have F-Holes: The Science & History of a Remarkable Renaissance Design

Watch the World’s Oldest Violin in Action: Marco Rizzi Performs Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 on a 1566 Amati Violin

Behold the “3Dvarius,” the World’s First 3-D Printed Violin

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

What Makes Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks a Great Painting?: A Video Essay

“Even though you may live in one of the most crowded and busy cities on Earth, it is still possible to feel entirely alone.” Though hardly a novel sentiment, this nevertheless makes for a highly suitable entrée into a video essay on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Its creator is gallerist and Youtuber James Payne, whose channel Great Art Explained has already taken on the likes of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Nighthawks, safe to say, makes a more immediate impression on us 21st-century urbanites than any of those works, whatever our individual degrees of alienation. But why?

Hopper painted what he knew, and especially so in the case of his single best-known work. Though the diner Nighthawks takes as its setting exists nowhere in New York, the artist had spent his entire adult life in the city, an immersion that allowed him to create a street-corner scene that feels realer than real.

But the emotion exuded by that diner’s patrons must run deeper than the standard urban malaise. Eighteen years into a bitter and dysfunctional marriage, the inspiration for all the “disconnected and unhappy couples he portrays time and again in his paintings,” Hopper knew intimately more than one kind of human loneliness. He himself acted as model for all three of Nighthawks‘ male figures, in fact, and his wife Josephine posed for the female one.

“It was down to Jo that Edward became a success,” says Payne, “a fact he never thanked her for.” An artist in her own right, she got Hopper his first solo show in 1924, when he was 42. Up to then he’d worked as a magazine illustrator, but even by the time of Nighthawks in 1942, he clearly hadn’t forgotten the misery of his day job. Nor had he discarded what it gave him: “along with the preparation skills he picked up, it also helped to hone his storytelling abilities.” An avid moviegoer, he “planned Nighthawks like a filmmaker, storyboarding the painting ahead of its creation.” Filmmakers have responded to Hopper’s cinematic painting with tributes of their own: Herbert Ross re-created the diner in Pennies from Heaven, as did Wim Wenders in The End of Violence, evoking Hopper’s “world of loneliness, anguish, and quiet isolation.” Ironic, then, that so many in Nighthawks generations of appreciators have felt less alone while regarding it.

Related Content:

Seven Videos Explain How Edward Hopper’s Paintings Expressed American Loneliness and Alienation

How Edward Hopper “Storyboarded” His Iconic Painting Nighthawks

Edward Hopper’s Iconic Painting Nighthawks Explained in a 7-Minute Video Introduction

10 Paintings by Edward Hopper, the Most Cinematic American Painter of All, Turned into Animated GIFs

How Edward Hopper’s Paintings Inspired the Creepy Suspense of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks: The 2020 Edition

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 or on Facebook.

Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600: A Free Online Course from Yale University

From Yale University comes an unfortunately timely course, Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600Recorded before the outbreak of COVID-19, the 25 lecture course, presented by historian Frank Snowden, covers the following ground:

This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

You can watch the lectures on YouTube above, or on iTunes (VideoAudio). You can also read Snowden’s related book: Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present.

If you want to hear what Snowden has to say about COVID-19, we have two interviews below.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: Epidemics in History

How Will COVID-19 Change the World? Historian Frank Snowden on Epidemics From the Black Death to Now

Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 will be added to our list of Free Online History courses, a subset of our metacollection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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!

Related Content:

The History of the Plague: Every Major Epidemic in an Animated Map

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Why You Should Read The Plague, the Albert Camus Novel the Coronavirus Has Made a Bestseller Again

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Cards (Which Influenced the Poems in Ariel) Were Just Sold for $207,000

We celebrated my birthday yesterday: [Ted] gave me a lovely Tarot pack of cards and a dear rhyme with it, so after the obligations of this term are over your daughter shall start her way on the road to becoming a seeress & will also learn how to do horoscopes, a very difficult art which means reviving my elementary math. 

– Sylvia Plath, in a letter to her mother, 28 October 1956

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot cards, a 24th birthday present from her husband, poet Ted Hughes, just went for £151,200 in an auction at Sotheby’s.

That’s approximately £100,000 more than this lot, a Tarot de Marseille deck printed by playing card manufacturer B.P. Grimaud de Paris, was expected to fetch.

The auction house’s description indicates that a few of the cards were discolored —  evidence of use, as supported by Plath’s numerous references to Tarot in her journals.

Recall Tarot’s appearance in “Daddy,” her most widely known poem, and her identification with the Hanging Man card, in a poem of the same name:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eyelid :

A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.

A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.

If he were I, he would do what I did.

This century has seen her collection Ariel restored to its author’s intended order.
The original order is said to correspond quite closely to Tarot, with the first twenty-two poems symbolizing the cards of the Major Arcana.

The next ten are aligned with the numbers of the Minor Arcana. Those are followed by four representing the Court cards. The collection’s final four poems can be seen to reference the pentacles, cups, swords and wands that comprise the Tarot’s suits.

Ariel’s manuscript was rearranged by Hughes, who dropped some of the “more lacerating” poems and added others in advance of its 1965 publication, two years after Plath’s death by suicide. (Hear Plath read poems from Ariel here.)

Daughter Frieda defends her father’s actions and describes how damaging they were to his reputation in her Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition.

One wonders if it’s significant that Plath’s Page of Cups, a card associated with positive messages related to family and loved ones, has a rip in it?

We also wonder who paid such a staggering price for those cards.

Will they give the deck a moon bath or salt burial to cleanse it of Plath’s negative energy?

Or is the winning bidder such a diehard fan, the chance to handle something so intimately connecting them to their literary hero neutralizes any occult misgivings?

We rather wish Plath’s Tarot de Marseille had been awarded to Phillip Roberts in Shipley, England, who planned to exhibit them alongside her tarot-influenced poems in a pop up gallery at the Saltaire Festival. To finance this dream, he launched a crowd-funding campaign, pledging that every £100 donor could keep one of the cards, to be drawn at random, with all contributors invited to submit new art or writing to the mini-exhibition: Save Sylvia Plath’s cards from living in the drawers of some wealthy collector, and let’s make some art together!

Alas, Roberts and friends fell  £148,990 short of the winning bid. Better luck next time, mate. We applaud your graciousness in defeat, as well as the spirit in which your project was conceived.

via Lithub

Related Content:

The Artistic & Mystical World of Tarot: See Decks by Salvador Dalí, Aleister Crowley, H.R. Giger & More

Why Should We Read Sylvia Plath? An Animated Video Makes the Case

Hear Sylvia Plath Read 18 Poems From Her Final Collection, Ariel, in 1962 Recording

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

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