What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2022: The Sun Also Rises, Winnie-the-Pooh, Buster Keaton Comedies & More

Ernest Hem­ing­way “made the Eng­lish lan­guage new, changed the rhythms of the way both his own and the next few gen­er­a­tions would speak and write and think. The very gram­mar of a Hem­ing­way sen­tence dic­tat­ed, or was dic­tat­ed by, a cer­tain way of look­ing at the world, a way of look­ing but not join­ing, a way of mov­ing through but not attach­ing, a kind of roman­tic indi­vid­u­al­ism dis­tinct­ly adapt­ed to its time and source.” So writes the late Joan Did­ion, a writer hard­ly with­out influ­ence her­self, in a 1998 reflec­tion on the author of such nov­els as A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and  The Old Man and the Sea.

The lit­er­ary phe­nom­e­non that was Hem­ing­way began in earnest, as it were, with The Sun Also Ris­es. Hav­ing been pub­lished in 1926, his first full-length nov­el now stands on the brink of the pub­lic domain. So do a vari­ety of oth­er works that launched sto­ried careers: William Faulkn­er’s first nov­el Sol­diers’ Pay, for instance, or A.A. Mil­ne’s Win­nie-the-Pooh, which intro­duced the now-beloved tit­u­lar bear to the read­ing pub­lic. Hav­ing cel­e­brat­ed his 90th anniver­sary back in 2016 with the addi­tion of a new pen­guin char­ac­ter to the Hun­dred Acre Wood, Win­nie-the-Pooh remains the core of what has devel­oped into a for­mi­da­ble cul­tur­al indus­try.

The work of Hem­ing­way, too, has inspired no small amount of com­mer­cial enter­prise. (Did­ion writes of Thomasville Fur­ni­ture Indus­tries’ new “Ernest Hem­ing­way Col­lec­tion,” whose themes include “Kenya,” “Key West,” “Havana,” and “Ketchum.”) But now that work itself has begun to come legal­ly avail­able to all, free of charge: “any­one can res­cue them from obscu­ri­ty and make them avail­able, where we can all dis­cov­er, enjoy, and breathe new life into them.”

So writes Jen­nifer Jenk­ins, Direc­tor of Duke’s Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain, in her post on Pub­lic Domain Day 2022. In it she names a host of oth­er 1926 books sim­i­lar­ly set for lib­er­a­tion, includ­ing Langston Hugh­es’ The Weary Blues, T. E. Lawrence’s The Sev­en Pil­lars of Wis­dom, Agatha Christie’s The Mur­der of Roger Ack­royd, and H. L. Menck­en’s Notes on Democ­ra­cy.

The deep­er we get into the 21st cen­tu­ry, the wider the vari­ety of media that falls into the pub­lic domain. Jenk­ins high­lights silent-film come­dies like For Heaven’s Sake with Harold Lloyd and Bat­tling But­ler with Buster Keaton, as well — the mid-1920s hav­ing seen the dawn of the “talkie” — as sound pic­tures like Don Juan, the “first fea­ture-length film to use the Vita­phone sound sys­tem.” Unlike in pre­vi­ous years, a large num­ber of not just musi­cal com­po­si­tions but actu­al sound record­ings will also come avail­able for free reuse. These include records by jazz and blues singer Ethel Waters, oper­at­ic tenor Enri­co Caru­so, cel­list Pablo Casals, and com­pos­er-pianist Sergei Rach­mani­noff. And as for those wait­ing to reuse the work of Joan Did­ion, rest assured that The White Album will be yours on Pub­lic Domain Day 2091.

On a relat­ed note, the Pub­lic Domain Review has a nice post overview­ing the sound record­ings enter­ing the pub­lic domain in ’22.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ernest Hemingway’s Very First Pub­lished Sto­ries, Free as an eBook

Hear the Clas­sic Win­nie-the-Pooh Read by Author A.A. Milne in 1929

Watch the Great Russ­ian Com­pos­er Sergei Rach­mani­noff in Home Movies

Safe­ty Last, the 1923 Movie Fea­tur­ing the Most Icon­ic Scene from Silent Film Era, Just Went Into the Pub­lic Domain

The Pub­lic Domain Project Makes 10,000 Film Clips, 64,000 Images & 100s of Audio Files Free to Use

Libraries & Archivists Are Dig­i­tiz­ing 480,000 Books Pub­lished in 20th Cen­tu­ry That Are Secret­ly in the Pub­lic Domain

Cre­ative Com­mons Offi­cial­ly Launch­es a Search Engine That Index­es 300+ Mil­lion Pub­lic Domain Images

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities 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.

How Fashionable Dutch Women (Like the Girl with a Pearl Earring) Got Dressed in 1665

Remem­ber how it felt to be bun­dled into tights, socks, jeans, a thick sweater, a snow­suit, mit­tens, only to real­ize that you real­ly need­ed to pee?

Back in 1665, the Lit­tle Ice Age com­pelled the well-to-do ladies of Delft to turn them­selves out with a sim­i­lar eye toward keep­ing warm, but their ensem­bles had a dis­tinct advan­tage over the Christ­mas Sto­ry snow­suit approach.

Reliev­ing them­selves was as easy as hik­ing their skirts, pet­ti­coats, and volu­mi­nous, lace-trimmed chemise. No flies for freez­ing fin­gers to fum­ble with. In fact, no draw­ers at all.

His­tor­i­cal cos­tumer Pauline Loven, a cre­ator of the Get­ting Dressed In… series, builds this elite out­fit from the inner­most lay­er out, above, not­ing that cloth­ing was an avenue for well-to-do cit­i­zens to flaunt their wealth:

  • A long, full, Linen or silk chemise trimmed with lace at the cuff
  • A waist-tied hip pad to bol­ster sev­er­al lay­ers of cozy, lined pet­ti­coats
  • An ele­gant silk gown com­prised of sev­er­al com­po­nents:
    • A flat front­ed skirt tucked into pleats at the sides and back
    • A laced up bodice stiff­ened with whale bone stays
    • Detach­able sleeves
    • A stom­ach­er for front-laced bodices
  • A loose fit­ting, fur-trimmed vel­vet or silk jack­et
  • Silk or woolen thigh-high stock­ings gartered below the knee (cre­at­ed for the episode by her­itage edu­ca­tor, and knitwear design­er Sal­ly Point­er)
  • A linen or silk ker­chief pinned or tied at the breast
  • Square-toed leather shoes with a curved heel (cre­at­ed for the episode by Kevin Gar­lick, who spe­cial­izes in hand­made shoes for re-enac­tors.)

Fash­ion­able acces­sories might include a foot warm­ing, char­coal pow­ered voeten stoof and under­stat­ed jew­el­ry, like the pearls Johannes Ver­meer paint­ed to such lumi­nous effect.

If that doesn’t tip you off to the direc­tion this his­toric recre­ation is head­ed, allow us to note that the atten­dant, who’s far from the focus of this episode, is garbed so as to sug­gest The Milk­maid by a cer­tain Dutch Baroque Peri­od painter who spe­cial­ized in domes­tic inte­ri­or scenes…and whose ini­tials are J.V.

The fin­ish­ing touch is a tur­ban of yel­low silk taffe­ta and blue silk dupi­on, an exot­ic ele­ment that may pro­duce a sense of deja vu in art lovers … and any­one who rel­ish­es a good art-based recre­ation chal­lenge.

View more of Pauline Loven’s work and Get­ting Dressed In… episodes focused on oth­er peri­ods at Crow’s Eye Pro­duc­tions’ YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Women Got Dressed in the 14th & 18th Cen­turies: Watch the Very Painstak­ing Process Get Cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly Recre­at­ed

A Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­ors: Dutch Book From 1692 Doc­u­ments Every Col­or Under the Sun

Ghosts of His­to­ry: Dutch Artist Eeri­ly Super­im­pos­es Mod­ern Street Scenes on World War II Pho­tos

Street Art for Book Lovers: Dutch Artists Paint Mas­sive Book­case Mur­al on the Side of a Build­ing

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, the­ater­mak­er, and the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Her lat­est book, Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo, will be pub­lished in ear­ly 2022.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Brian Eno Shares His Critical Take on Art & NFTs: “I Mainly See Hustlers Looking for Suckers”

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It can feel, in our inequal­i­ty-addled world, that we have lit­tle left in com­mon — that there is no “we,” just us and them. But mul­ti­ple crises dri­ving us apart have the poten­tial to unite the species. After all, a rapid­ly warm­ing plan­et and glob­al pan­dem­ic do threat­en us all, even if they don’t threat­en us equal­ly. Do solu­tions exist in the cre­ation of new forms of pri­vate prop­er­ty, new ways of mov­ing cap­i­tal around the world? Can the extinc­tion-lev­el byprod­ucts of cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and waste be mit­i­gat­ed by inge­nious new forms of finan­cial­iza­tion? These seem to be the argu­ments made by pur­vey­ors of cryp­tocur­ren­cy and NFTs, an acronym mean­ing non fun­gi­ble tokens and — if you haven’t noticed — the only thing any­one in the art world seems to talk about any­more. Why?

Bri­an Eno has put his opin­ion on the mat­ter quite blunt­ly in a recent inter­view. “NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a lit­tle piece of the action from glob­al cap­i­tal­ism,” he tells The Cryp­to Syl­labus. “How sweet — now artists can become lit­tle cap­i­tal­ist ass­holes as well.” He obvi­ous­ly dis­ap­proves of using art sole­ly to gen­er­ate prof­it, but then if we know any­thing about Eno’s the­o­ry of cre­ativ­i­ty and influ­ence over the past sev­er­al decades, it’s that he believes the guid­ing rea­son for art is to gen­er­ate more art.

“If I had pri­mar­i­ly want­ed to make mon­ey I would have had a dif­fer­ent career as a dif­fer­ent kind of per­son. I prob­a­bly would­n’t have cho­sen to be an artist.” There’s utter­ly no use in try­ing to peg Eno as techno­pho­bic or out of touch; quite the con­trary. But the fic­tion­al finan­cial prod­ucts that have invad­ed every oth­er sphere of life have no place in the arts, he argues.

When asked why NFTs are tout­ed as a sal­va­tion for artists and the art world by cryp­tocur­ren­cy vision­ar­ies, includ­ing many of his friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors, Eno replies:

I can under­stand why the peo­ple who’ve done well from it are pleased, and it’s nat­ur­al enough in a lib­er­tar­i­an world to believe that some­thing that ben­e­fits you must auto­mat­i­cal­ly be ‘right’ for the whole world. That belief is a ver­sion of what I call ‘auto­mati­cism’: the idea that if you leave things alone and let some­thing or oth­er – the mar­ket, nature, human will – take its course unim­ped­ed you will auto­mat­i­cal­ly get a bet­ter result than you would by tin­ker­ing with it. The peo­ple who hold beliefs of this kind don’t have any qualms about tin­ker­ing them­selves but just want a sit­u­a­tion where nobody else gets to tin­ker. Espe­cial­ly the state.

That the sale of NFTs have only ben­e­fit­ted very few — to the tune of $69 mil­lion in a sin­gle sale in a recent high-pro­file case — does­n’t seem par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­ble­some to those who insist on their ben­e­fits. Nor do the cre­ators of NFTs seem both­ered by the enor­mous ener­gy over­head required by the tech­nol­o­gy, “an eco­log­i­cal night­mare pyra­mid scheme,” writes Syn­th­topia — of which Eno says: “in a warm­ing world a new tech­nol­o­gy that uses vast amounts of ener­gy as ‘proof of work’ — that’s to say, sim­ply to estab­lish a cer­tain age of exclu­siv­i­ty — real­ly is quite insane.”

Eno read­i­ly answers ques­tions about why NFTs seem so glam­orous — it’s no great mys­tery, just a new form of accu­mu­la­tion, com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and waste, one in par­tic­u­lar that adds noth­ing to the world while has­ten­ing a cli­mate col­lapse. NFTs are the “ready­made reversed,” David Joselit argues: Where “Duchamp used the cat­e­go­ry of art to lib­er­ate mate­ri­al­i­ty from com­mod­i­fi­able form; the NFT deploys the cat­e­go­ry of art to extract pri­vate prop­er­ty from freely avail­able infor­ma­tion.”

The dis­course around NFTs also seems to lib­er­ate art from the cat­e­go­ry of art, and all that has meant to humankind for mil­len­nia as a com­mu­nal prac­tice, reduc­ing cre­ative pro­duc­tions to dig­i­tal cer­tifi­cates of authen­tic­i­ty. “I am try­ing to keep an open mind about these ques­tions,” Eno admits. “Peo­ple I like and trust are con­vinced [NFTs] are the best thing since sliced bread, so I wish I could have a more pos­i­tive view but right now I main­ly see hus­tlers look­ing for suck­ers.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What are Non-Fun­gi­ble Tokens (NFTs)? And How Can a Work of Dig­i­tal Art Sell for $69 Mil­lion

What Is Blockchain? Three Videos Explain the New Tech­nol­o­gy That Promis­es to Change Our World

Cryp­tocur­ren­cy and Blockchain: An Intro­duc­tion to Dig­i­tal Currencies–A Free Online Cours­es from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia 

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

The Amazing Engineering of James Webb Telescope

If you want to see the cur­rent height of tech­nol­o­gy, you could do worse than tak­ing a look at the James Webb Space Tele­scope. Mil­lions have been doing just that over the past few weeks, giv­en that this past Christ­mas Day wit­nessed the launch of that ten-bil­lion-dol­lar NASA project a decade in the mak­ing. As the suc­ces­sor to the now-ven­er­a­ble Hub­ble Space Tele­scope, the JWST is designed to go much far­ther into out­er space and thus see much fur­ther back in time, poten­tial­ly to the for­ma­tion of the first galax­ies. If all goes well, it will give us what the Real Engi­neer­ing video above calls a glimpse of the “ear­ly uni­verse from which we and every­thing we know was born.”

But one does not sim­ply glance sky­ward to see back 13.5 bil­lion years. No, “the com­bi­na­tion of tech­nolo­gies required to make the James Webb tele­scope pos­si­ble are unique to this time peri­od in human his­to­ry.” These include the heat shield that will unfold to pro­tect its sen­si­tive com­po­nents from the heat of the sun, to the onboard cry­ocool­er that main­tains the mid-infrared detec­tion instru­ment (which itself will enable the view­ing of many more stars and galax­ies than pre­vi­ous tele­scopes) at a cool sev­en degrees Kelvin, to the array of gold-coat­ed beryl­li­um mir­rors that can pick up unprece­dent­ed amounts of light.

How­ev­er com­pli­cat­ed the JWST’s devel­op­ment and launch, “the tru­ly nerve-wrack­ing process begins on day sev­en,” says the Real Engi­neer­ing video’s nar­ra­tor. At that point, with the satel­lite find­ing its pre­cise­ly deter­mined posi­tion 1.5 mil­lion kilo­me­ters from Earth, the heat shield begins unfold­ing, and “there are over 300 sin­gle points of fail­ure in this unfold­ing sequence: 300 chances for a ten bil­lion-dol­lar, 25-year project to end.” With that process under­way as of this writ­ing, the teeth of the pro­jec­t’s engi­neers are no doubt firm­ly embed­ded in their nails.

As it plays out, also-ner­vous fans of space explo­ration (who’ve had much to get excit­ed about in recent years) might con­sid­er dis­tract­ing them­selves with the above episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk. In it Tyson has in-depth dis­cus­sions about the JWST’s con­cep­tion, pur­pose, and poten­tial with both NASA astronomer Natal­ie Batal­ha and film­mak­er Nathaniel Kahn, whose doc­u­men­tary The Hunt for Plan­et B exam­ines the JWST team’s “quest to find anoth­er Earth among the stars.” But let’s not get ahead of our­selves: even if the shield deploys with­out a hitch, there remains the not-untricky process of unfold­ing those mir­rors. What we see through the tele­scope will no doubt change our ideas about human­i­ty’s place in the uni­verse — but if it func­tions as planned, we’ll have good rea­son to be pleased with human com­pe­tence.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Beau­ty of Space Pho­tog­ra­phy

Free Inter­ac­tive e‑Books from NASA Reveal His­to­ry, Dis­cov­er­ies of the Hub­ble & Webb Tele­scopes

How Sci­en­tists Col­orize Those Beau­ti­ful Space Pho­tos Tak­en By the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope

Van Gogh’s ‘Star­ry Night’ Re-Cre­at­ed by Astronomer with 100 Hub­ble Space Tele­scope Images

NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Lei­bovitz, Nor­man Rock­well & 350 Oth­er Artists to Visu­al­ly Doc­u­ment America’s Space Pro­gram

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities 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.

Asleep at the Wheel Frontman Ray Benson Discusses Half a Hundred Years of Songwriting: Stream the Nakedly Examined Music Interview Online

This week’s Naked­ly Exam­ined Music pod­cast fea­tures the Gram­my-win­ning Texas swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, which Ray found­ed in 1969. They’ve released 26 albums of orig­i­nal tunes and clas­sic cov­ers while tour­ing con­stant­ly, with Ray being the only con­sis­tent mem­ber through their var­i­ous line-ups.

Your host Mark Lin­sen­may­er talks with Ray about the title track from Half a Hun­dred Years (2021), “Ped­er­nales Stroll” from Keepin’ Me Up Nights (1990), and “Am I High” from The Wheel (1977). Intro: “The Let­ter (That John­ny Walk­er Read)” from Texas Gold (1975). Clos­er: “The Road Will Hold Me Tonight” feat. Emmy­lou Har­ris and Willie Nel­son, record­ed in the ear­ly 80s but only released now on the new album. Learn more at asleepatthewheel.com.

Watch the video for “Half a Hun­dred Years.” Watch “Am I High?” live on 80s TV. Here’s the band live recent­ly at the Paste Stu­dio and play­ing their 25th Anniver­sary show on Austin City Lim­its in 1996. Their most famous tune is “Hot Rod Lin­coln.” Here they are with Willie Nel­son. Here’s a very old TV per­for­mance of “Take Me Back to Tul­sa.” Hear all of “The Let­ter (That John­ny Walk­er Read).

Image by Mike Shore.

Naked­ly Exam­ined Music is a pod­cast host­ed by Mark Lin­sen­may­er, who also hosts The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast, Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast, and Phi­los­o­phy vs. Improv. He releas­es music under the name Mark Lint.

500 Years of Haircuts: One Youtuber Tries Out the Hair Styles That Were Fashionable Between 1500 and 2000

“In Mankiewicz’s Julius Cae­sar, all the char­ac­ters are wear­ing fringes,” writes Roland Barthes in his well-known essay on Romans in film. “Some have them curly, some strag­gly, some tuft­ed, some oily, all have them well combed.” This fringe, Barthes argues, is “quite sim­ply the label of Roman-ness”: when it comes onscreen, “no one can doubt that he is in Ancient Rome.” Ever since cin­e­ma first told his­tor­i­cal tales, hair has been among its most effec­tive visu­al short­hands with which to estab­lish an era. This is in part due to hair­styles them­selves hav­ing var­ied since the begin­ning of record­ed his­to­ry, and — in one form or anoth­er — no doubt before it as well. But how many of them could we pull off today?

In the video above, Youtu­ber Mor­gan Don­ner address­es that ques­tion as direct­ly as pos­si­ble: by try­ing out half a mil­len­ni­um’s worth of hair­styles her­self. As a woman, she’s been pro­vid­ed much more to work with by fash­ion his­to­ry (to say noth­ing of biol­o­gy) than have the suc­ces­sors of all those fringed Roman men. She begins in 1520, a peri­od whose art reveals “a fair­ly con­sis­tent cen­ter-part kind of smooth look going on” with braids behind, all easy replic­a­ble. 110 years lat­er “things get actu­al­ly quite inter­est­ing,” since fash­ions begin to encom­pass not just hair­styles but hair­cuts, prop­er­ly speak­ing, requir­ing dif­fer­ent sec­tions of hair to be dif­fer­ent lengths — and requir­ing Don­ner to whip out her scis­sors.

About a cen­tu­ry lat­er, Don­ner takes note of a pat­tern where­by “styles get big­ger and big­ger and big­ger, and then — foof — they deflate.” Such, it seems, has become the gen­er­al ten­den­cy of not just cul­ture but many oth­er human pur­suits as well: the grad­ual infla­tion of a bub­ble of extrem­i­ty, fol­lowed by its sud­den burst­ing. It’s in the 18th cen­tu­ry that Don­ner’s project turns more com­plex, begin­ning to involve such things as lard, pow­der, and hair cush­ions. But she gets a bit of a respite when the 1800s come along, and “it’s almost like every­one col­lec­tive­ly decid­ed that they were tired of it, and you know what? Messy bun. That’s good enough.” Yet in hair as in all things, human­i­ty nev­er keeps it sim­ple for long.

View­ers of film and tele­vi­sion his­tor­i­cal dra­mas (which them­selves have been boom­ing for some time now) will rec­og­nize more than a few of the hair­styles Don­ner gives her­self through­out this video. But the deep­er she gets into the 20th cen­tu­ry, the more of them remain in liv­ing mem­o­ry. Take the 1940s’ shoul­der-length curls with pinned-back lay­ers on top, which many of us will rec­og­nize from pic­tures of our grand­moth­ers. That par­tic­u­lar hair­style does­n’t seem to have been revived since, but from the 1960s on, Don­ner works through a series of looks that have pro­vid­ed no lit­tle inspi­ra­tion to our retro­ma­ni­ac 21st cen­tu­ry. At the end of her his­tor­i­cal-ton­so­r­i­al jour­ney, she fires up the clip­pers and buzzes her­self com­plete­ly — thus begin­ning hair Year Zero.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Get the Ancient Roman Look: A Hair & Make­up Video Tuto­r­i­al

How a Bal­ti­more Hair­dress­er Became a World-Renowned “Hair Archae­ol­o­gist” of Ancient Rome

How Women Got Dressed in the 14th & 18th Cen­turies: Watch the Very Painstak­ing Process Get Cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly Recre­at­ed

Where Did the Monk’s Hair­cut Come From? A Look at the Rich and Con­tentious His­to­ry of the Ton­sure

50 Years of Chang­ing David Bowie Hair Styles in One Ani­mat­ed GIF

Google Cre­ates a Dig­i­tal Archive of World Fash­ion: Fea­tures 30,000 Images, Cov­er­ing 3,000 Years of Fash­ion His­to­ry

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities 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 Famous Downfall Scene Explained: What Really Happened in Hitler’s Bunker at the End?

Before his role as Hitler in the 2004 Ger­man film Down­fall turned Swiss actor Bruno Ganz into a viral inter­net star, he was best known for play­ing an angel who com­forts the dying in Wim Wen­ders’ 1987 Wings of Desire. “Peo­ple real­ly seemed to think of me as a guardian angel,” he told The Irish Times in 2005. “Peo­ple would bring their chil­dren before me for a bless­ing or some­thing.” Sev­en­teen years lat­er, the self-described intro­vert trans­formed his gen­tle, com­fort­ing face into the Nazi screen mon­ster: “Noth­ing pre­pared me for what must be the most con­vinc­ing screen Hitler yet,” wrote The Guardian’s Rob Mack­ie. “An old, bent, sick dic­ta­tor with the shak­ing hands of some­one with Parkinson’s, alter­nat­ing between rage and despair in his last days in the bunker.”

This por­tray­al has nev­er been sur­passed, and per­haps it nev­er will be. How many fic­tion­al­ized film treat­ments of these events do we need? Espe­cial­ly since this one lives for­ev­er in meme form: Ganz end­less­ly spit­ting and ges­tic­u­lat­ing, while cap­tions sub­ti­tle him rant­i­ng about “his piz­za arriv­ing late” – Gael Fash­ing­baeur Coop­er writes at cnet – or “the Red Wed­ding scene on Game of Thrones, or find­ing out he was­n’t accept­ed into Har­ry Pot­ter’s Hog­warts.” As Vir­ginia Hef­fer­nan wrote at The New York Times in 2008 – maybe the height of the meme’s viral­i­ty – “It seems that late-life Hitler can be made to speak for almost any­one in the midst of a cri­sis…. Some­thing in the spec­ta­cle of an auto­crat falling to pieces evi­dent­ly has wide­spread appeal.”

Giv­en the wide­spread pref­er­ence for memes over facts, the ubiq­ui­ty of the Down­fall clip as viral spec­ta­cle, and the renewed rel­e­vance of mur­der­ous autoc­ra­cy in the West, we might find our­selves won­der­ing about the his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy of Down­fall’s por­tray­al. Did the dic­ta­tor real­ly lose it in the end? And why do we find this idea so sat­is­fy­ing? To begin to answer the first ques­tion, we might turn to the video above, “That Down­fall Scene Explained,” from the mak­ers of The Great War, billed as the “biggest ever crowd­fund­ed his­to­ry doc­u­men­tary.” Despite tak­ing as their sub­ject the First World War, the film­mak­ers also cov­er some of the events of WWII for fans.

First, we must remem­ber that Down­fall is an “artis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion.” It con­dens­es weeks into days, days into hours, and takes oth­er such dra­mat­ic lib­er­ties with accounts gath­ered from eye­wit­ness­es. So, “what is Hitler freak­ing out about” in the famous scene?, the sub­ti­tle asks. It is April 1945. The Red Army is 40 kilo­me­ters from Nazi head­quar­ters in Berlin. The dictator’s Chief of the Army Gen­er­al Staff Hans Krebs explains the sit­u­a­tion. Hitler remains in con­trol, draw­ing pos­si­ble lines of attack on the map, believ­ing that SS com­man­der Felix Steiner’s Panz­er divi­sions will repel the Sovi­ets.

Lit­tle does he know that Steiner’s divi­sions exist only on paper. In real­i­ty, the SS leader has refused to take to the field, con­vinced the bat­tle can­not be won. Anoth­er Gen­er­al, Alfred Jodel, steps in and deliv­ers the news. Hitler then clears the room of all but Jodl, Krebs, and two oth­er high-rank­ing gen­er­als. Joseph Goebbels and Mar­tin Bor­mann stay behind as well. Then (as played by Ganz, that is) Hitler has that famous screen melt­down. The out­burst “shows just how he had cen­tral­ized the chain of com­mand,” and how it failed him.

This may have been so. Down­fall presents us with a con­vinc­ing, if high­ly con­densed, por­trait of the major per­son­al­i­ties involved. But “the scene that spawned a thou­sand YouTube par­o­dies,” writes Alex Ross at The New York­er, “is based, in part, on prob­lem­at­ic sources.” One of these, the so-called Hitler Book, was com­piled from “tes­ti­mo­ny of two Hitler adju­tants, Otto Gün­sche and Heinz Linge, who had been cap­tured by the Red Army and inter­ro­gat­ed at length…. The most curi­ous thing about The Hitler Book is that it was intend­ed for a sin­gle read­er: Joseph Stal­in.” The Sovi­et dic­ta­tor want­ed, and got, “a lav­ish­ly detailed chron­i­cle of Hitler’s psy­cho­log­i­cal implo­sion.” Oth­er sources “con­vey a more com­plex pic­ture.”

Accord­ing to oth­er accounts, Hitler was “gen­er­al­ly com­posed” when learn­ing about the Red Army attack on Berlin, even as he decid­ed to give up and die in the bunker. Accord­ing to Nazi stenog­ra­ph­er, Ger­hard Her­rge­sell, it was the gen­er­als who “vio­lent­ly opposed” sur­ren­der and spoke harsh­ly to Hitler to per­suade him to defend the city – a speech that had some effect dur­ing an April 22nd meet­ing. It did not, of course, pre­vent Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun’s even­tu­al April 30 sui­cide. For Ross, how­ev­er, this more com­plex his­tor­i­cal pic­ture shows “how cults of per­son­al­i­ty feed as much upon the aspi­ra­tions of their mem­bers as upon the ambi­tions of their lead­ers.” The mem­bers of Hitler’s inner cir­cle were as com­mit­ted to the ide­ol­o­gy as the leader him­self.

There is more to the film’s title in Ger­man, Unter­gang, than its trans­la­tion sug­gests, Ross writes: “It car­ries con­no­ta­tions of decline, dis­so­lu­tion, or destruc­tion.” When we fix the end of Nazism to the sui­ci­dal death of one delu­sion­al, drug-addled mad­man, we lose sight of this wider mean­ing. In the viral spread of the Hitler meme, we see a kind of com­i­cal­ly banal tri­umph. It is “the out­come,” Hef­fer­nan argues, that “Hitler, the his­tor­i­cal fig­ure sought….” A sit­u­a­tion in which he becomes “not the author of the Holo­caust” but “the brute voice of the every­man uncon­scious,” a pro­lif­er­at­ing griev­ance machine. From anoth­er per­spec­tive, imag­in­ing Hitler’s end may offer “com­fort­ing moral clo­sure to a sto­ry of lim­it­less hor­ror,” writes Ross. But it has helped feed the myth that it could only hap­pen there and then: “Now Ger­man his­to­ri­ans are end­ing their books on Nazism with thin­ly veiled ref­er­ences to an Amer­i­can Unter­gang.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Did Hitler Rise to Pow­er? : New TED-ED Ani­ma­tion Pro­vides a Case Study in How Fas­cists Get Demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly Elect­ed

Carl Jung Psy­cho­an­a­lyzes Hitler: “He’s the Uncon­scious of 78 Mil­lion Ger­mans.” “With­out the Ger­man Peo­ple He’d Be Noth­ing” (1938)

Hitler Was ‘Blitzed’ On Cocaine & Opi­ates Dur­ing World War II: Hear a Wide-Rang­ing Inter­view with Best-Sell­ing Author Nor­man Ohler

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

Enjoy Classic Songs from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Performed by Vince Guaraldi Trio Drummer Jerry Granelli

We’re liv­ing in times where so much is done to manip­u­late us. And things last for, what, a news cycle? A few min­utes? This [album] is some­thing that’s last­ed 50 years. And not only last­ed, but grown … I think there’s just a human­ness. — Jer­ry Granel­li 

As the Christ­mas sea­son winds down, so too do mar­ket­ing blitzes and con­sumerist fren­zies that make it hard to see the hol­i­day as any­thing but a year-end cash grab. But even the most cyn­i­cal among us might admit to being moved each year by one Christ­mas clas­sic, no mat­ter our reli­gious beliefs, cap­i­tal­ist sym­pa­thies, or lack there­of: that clas­sic, of course, is The Char­lie Brown Christ­mas Spe­cial. The tal­ents of Charles Schulz, pro­duc­er Lee Mendel­son, and the Vince Guaral­di Trio com­bined to make a show not only big­ger than its parts, but even more endur­ing, per­haps, than the jug­ger­naut of Christ­mas com­merce.

The choice of jazz for a prime­time chil­dren’s Christ­mas spe­cial was inspired and edgy in 1965, though Guaral­di and his band weren’t orig­i­nal­ly booked for the hol­i­days but for a nev­er-com­plet­ed doc­u­men­tary about Shultz that sparked the inter­est of cor­po­rate spon­sor Coca-Cola. Mendel­son real­ized the poten­tial of the loose, breezy West Coast jazz of pianist Guaral­di, bassist Fred Mar­shall, and drum­mer Jer­ry Granel­li for the new­ly-com­mis­sioned spe­cial, and the band import­ed much from their orig­i­nal music, impro­vis­ing two new com­po­si­tions and play­ing bluesy ver­sions of “O Tan­nen­baum” and “Hark! The Her­ald Angels Sing.”

As Granel­li remem­bers it, Coke execs weren’t pleased. “[A] lit­tle kid was going to come out and say what Christ­mas was all about, which was­n’t about shop­ping. And then the jazz music, which was impro­vised,” did not jive with the suits. Nonethe­less the show aired, to the great delight of chil­dren and grown-ups every­where for the past half cen­tu­ry or so. Granel­li him­self feared pigeon­hol­ing and left the project with “some resid­ual bad feel­ings over his pal­try cred­it and roy­al­ties.” He lat­er “spent decades avoid­ing any nos­tal­gia trip to the land of Linus and Lucy,” Nate Chi­nen writes at WBGO. “But with­in the last decade” before his death in July 2021, “he leaned into Peanuts, rec­og­niz­ing the joy that Guaraldi’s sound­track impart­ed, espe­cial­ly around the hol­i­days.”

In the videos above, you can see Granel­li play “Linus and Lucy” and “Skat­ing” with his trio, with Chris Gestrin on Piano and Simon Fisk on bass, in 2014. Men­tored by Dave Brubeck­’s drum­mer, Joe Morel­lo, Granel­li toured the States in his ear­ly 20s, then joined the Vince Guaral­di Trio on return­ing to his home in the Bay Area. He “quick­ly found his foot­ing, becom­ing an essen­tial pat of the Guaral­di sound,” writes Chi­nen. Guaraldi’s orig­i­nal themes like “Linus and Lucy” and “Skat­ing” “ben­e­fit immea­sur­ably from Granel­li’s whis­per-soft brush­work.” The Trio went on to record with Brazil­ian bossa nova gui­tarist Bola Sete, and the drum­mer made his mark on the music world in oth­er con­texts, co-found­ing and teach­ing at the Cre­ative Music Pro­gram of Naropa Insti­tute (now Naropa Uni­ver­si­ty) in Boul­der Col­orado in the 1970s.

“Jazz is just a reflec­tion of life,” Granel­li told CBC Radio in 2020. “Life is impro­vised, life is uncer­tain. It’s not sol­id. It’s not per­ma­nent. The art I choose dis­ap­pears after it’s played, it goes off into the ether. I love that.” That may be so, but Granel­li’s con­tri­bu­tion to the art of The Char­lie Brown Christ­mas Spe­cial — music record­ed in a 3‑hour ses­sion when he was only 24 years old — has now out­last­ed him, the last mem­ber of the Vince Guaral­di Trio to pass away. May he skate on in peace, wher­ev­er he is now.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Inno­v­a­tive Jazz Pianist Vince Guaral­di Became the Com­pos­er of Beloved Char­lie Brown Music

Peanuts Rock: Watch the Peanuts Gang Play Clas­sic Rock Songs by Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jour­ney & More

Umber­to Eco Explains the Poet­ic Pow­er of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

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

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.