See Metropolis‘ Scandalous Dance Scene Colorized, Enhanced, and Newly Soundtracked

It didn’t take long after the invention of cinema for its sheer power of spectacle to become clear. Arguably, it was apparent even in the pioneering work of the Lumière brothers, though they attempted only to capture images familiar from everyday life at the time. But in a decade or two emerged auteurs like Fritz Lang, who, having grown up with cinema itself, possessed highly developed instincts for how to use it to captivate large and various audiences. Released in 1927, Lang’s Metropolis showed moviegoers an elaborate vision, both fearsome and alluring, of the industrial dystopia that could lay ahead. But it also had dancing girls!

Or rather, it had a dancing girl who’s actually a robot — a Maschinenmensch, according to the script — built by the film’s villain in an attempt to besmirch the heroine who would liberate the titular city’s downtrodden workers. (Both the real woman and her mechanical impersonator are skillfully played by Brigitte Helm.)

In the video above, you can see the scandalous and cinematically innovative spectacle-within-a-spectacle that is Metropolis‘ dance scene colorized, upscaled to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, and newly soundtracked with a track called “Lemme See About It” by Max McFerren. This is recognizably Metropolis, but it’s also a Metropolis none of us has ever seen before.

The production also combines visual material from different versions of the film, quite a few of which have been edited and re-edited, lost and recovered over nearly the past century. (The running times of the officially released cuts alone range from 83 to 153 minutes.) Certain differences in quality between one shot and the next make this obvious, though the consistency of the overall colorization eases the sudden transitions between them. A Metropolis fan couldn’t help but feel some curiosity about how the whole picture would play with all of these enhancements, not that it would resemble anything Lang could originally have envisioned. But then, no single cut exists that definitively reflects his intentions — and besides, he’d surely approve of how the film’s dance sequence has been made to captivate us once again.

Related content:

Metropolis: Watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 Masterpiece

Watch Metropolis’ Cinematically Innovative Dance Scene, Restored as Fritz Lang Intended It to Be Seen (1927)

If Fritz Lang’s Iconic Film Metropolis Had a Kraftwerk Soundtrack

One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

The Iconic Dance Scene from Hellzapoppin’ Presented in Living Color with Artificial Intelligence (1941)

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.

What Sex Was Like in Medieval Times?: Historians Look at How People Got It On in the Dark Ages

The adjective medieval tends to conjure up vivid and sometimes off-putting images, not least when applied to sex. But how many of us have any sense at all of what the real people of the Middle Ages got up to in bed? To get one, we could do worse than asking historian Eleanor Janega, teacher of the course Medieval Gender and Sexuality and host of the History Hit video above, “What Was Sex Really Like For Medieval People?” In it, Janega has first to make clear that, yes, medieval Europeans had sex; if they hadn’t, of course, many of us wouldn’t be here today. But we’d be forgiven for assuming that the seemingly absolute dominance of the Church quashed any and all of their erotic opportunities.

According to the medieval Church, Janega says, “the only time sex is acceptable is between two married people for procreative purposes.” Its many other restrictions included “no sex on Saturdays and Sundays in case you’re too turned on during mass; only have sex in the missionary position, because anything else subverts the natural relationship between men and women; don’t get fully naked during sex, because it’s just too exciting; in short, during sex, you should be trying to have the least amount of fun possible.” Strict and unambiguous though these rules were, “nobody really listened to them” — and what’s more, given the lack of private spaces, “sex was almost a public affair in the Middle Ages.”

So says Kate Lister, who researches the history of sexuality, and who turns up to bring her own knowledge of the subject to the party. “We tend to think about medieval people as being real prudes,” says Janega, but even scant historical records — and rather more copious erotic manuscript marginalia — show that “they were interested in all kinds of sex and romance that we would find completely unacceptable.” Lister adds that, “in many ways, we’re not open like the medieval people were. We don’t have public communal bathing. We don’t have sex in the same room as other people. We don’t go to a high-brow dinner party and tell pubic-hair jokes.” Or we don’t, at least, if we haven’t devoted our careers to the sexuality of the Middle Ages, a field of history clearly unfit for prudes.

Related content:

The Earliest Known Appearance of the F-Word, in a Bizarre Court Record Entry from 1310

People in the Middle Ages Slept Not Once But Twice Each Night: How This Lost Practice Was Rediscovered

What Did People Eat in Medieval Times? A Video Series and New Cookbook Explain

Why Butt Trumpets & Other Bizarre Images Appeared in Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval Monks Complained About Constant Distractions: Learn How They Worked to Overcome Them

The Turin Erotic Papyrus: The Oldest Known Depiction of Human Sexuality (Circa 1150 B.C.E.)

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.

Hear Moby Dick Read in Its Entirety by Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, John Waters & Many Others

Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction, since it is barely a work of fiction itself. Rather, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it. Yet it is so much more than that.”

That’s how Plymouth University introduces Herman Melville’s classic tale from 1851. And it’s what set the stage for their web project launched back in 2012. Called The Moby-Dick Big Read, the project featured celebrities and lesser known figures reading all 135 chapters from Moby-Dick — chapters that you can start downloading (as free audio files) on iTunesSoundcloud, RSS Feed, or the Big Read web site itself.

The project started with the first chapters being read by Tilda Swinton (Chapter 1), Captain R.N. Hone (Chapter 2), Nigel Williams (Chapter 3), Caleb Crain (Chapter 4), Musa Okwonga (Chapter 5), and Mary Norris (Chapter 6). John WatersStephen Fry, Simon Callow, Mary Oliver and even Prime Minister David Cameron read later ones.

If you want to read the novel as you go along, find the text over at Project Gutenberg.

Tilda Swinton’s narration of Chapter 1 appears right below:

An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2012.

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:

An Illustration of Every Page of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

How Ray Bradbury Wrote the Script for John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956)

Hear a Complete 24-Hour Reading of Moby-Dick, Recorded at the Southbank Centre in London (2015)

Discover Nüshu, a 19th-Century Chinese Writing System That Only Women Knew How to Write

Literacy in Chinese may now be widely attained, but it isn’t easily attained. Just a century ago it wasn’t widely attained either, at least not by half of the Chinese speakers alive. As a rule, women once weren’t taught the thousands of logographic characters necessary to read and write in the language. But in one particular section of the land, Jiangyong County in Hunan province, some did master the 600 to 700 characters of a phonetic script made to reflect the local dialect and now called Nüshu (女书), or “women’s writing.”

In its heyday, Nüshu’s users had a variety of names for it, “including ‘mosquito writing,’ because it is a little slanted and with long ‘legs,'” writes Ilaria Maria Sala in a Quartz piece on the script’s history. Its greatest concentration of practitioners lived in “the village of Shangjiangxu, where young girls exchanged small tokens of friendly affection, such as fans decorated with calligraphy or handkerchiefs embroidered with a few auspicious words.”

Other, more formal occasions for the use of Nüshu, included when girls decided to “make a full-fledged pact of closeness with one another that they were ‘best friends’ — jiebai zimei or ‘sworn sisters’ — a relationship that was recognized as valuable and even necessary for them in the local social system. Such a once-obscure chapter of Chinese history has proven irresistible to readers from a variety of cultures in recent decades.

“Most interpretations and headlines have been about a ‘secret language’ that women used, preferably to communicate their pain,” writes Sala, which struck her as evidence of people taking the story of Nüshu and “reading into it what they wanted, regardless of what it meant.” Yet such an interpretation has surely done its part to spread interest in the near-extinct’s script’s revival, described by’s Andrew Lofthouse as originating in “the tiny village of Puwei, which is surrounded by the Xiao river and only accessible via a small suspension bridge.” After three Nüshu writers were discovered there in the eighties, “it became the focal point for Nüshu research. In 2006, the script was listed as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage by the State Council of China, and a year later, a museum was built on Puwei Island.”

There training is provided to the few select “interpreters or ‘inheritors’ of the language, learning to read, write, sing and embroider Nüshu.” Ironically, Lofthouse adds, “much of what we know about Nüshu is due to the work of male researcher Zhou Shuoyi” who happened to hear of it in the nineteen-fifties and was later persecuted during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution — a treatment that included 21 years in a labor camp — for having researched such an artifact of the feudal past. Once a useful tool for expressing emotions and performing social rituals socialization, Nüshu had become politically dangerous. What it becomes now, half a century later and with its renewal only just beginning, is up to its new learners.

Related content:

Free Chinese Lessons

The Improbable Invention of Chinese Typewriters & Computer Keyboards: Three Videos Tell the Techno-Cultural Story

The World’s Oldest Multicolor Book, a 1633 Chinese Calligraphy & Painting Manual, Now Digitized and Put Online

How Writing Has Spread Across the World, from 3000 BC to This Year: An Animated Map

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Oldest Writing System in the World: A Short, Charming Introduction

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.

There Are Eight Forms of Intelligence, Not Just One: Which Apply to You?

Intelligence is a fraught subject of discussion, and only becoming more so. Among the frameworks developed safely to approach it, one has gained special prominence: the theory championed by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, author of the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. And how many such intelligences are there? In the Big Think video above — posted in 2016, 33 years after Frames of Mind — he names ten: language, logic and mathematics, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, teaching, and existential. 

Some of these may strike you as only tangentially related to intelligence, traditionally defined. Gardner has considered this: “People say, ‘Well, music’s a talent, it’s not an intelligence.’ And I say, ‘Well, why, if you’re good with words, is that an intelligence, but if you’re good with tones and rhythms and timbres…”

Nobody, in his telling, has ever come up with a convincing response. Hence his mission to expand the definition of intelligence beyond the aggregate measure of brainpower long known as the general intelligence factor — or more commonly, “g factor” — to encompass the sort of skills whose usefulness we can see in the real world, away from the constructed rigors of psychometric tests.

“Whether there’s eight intelligences or ten or twelve is less important to me than having broken the monopoly of a single intelligence, which sort of labels you for all time,” says Gardner. You can see eight of his intelligences broken down in more detail — and perhaps even identify your own strongest suit — in the Practical Psychology video just above. Gardner also expresses optimism about our ability to develop different intelligences: you can choose to concentrate on a specific one, but “if you want to be a jack of all trades and be very well-rounded, then you’re probably going to want to nurture the intelligences which aren’t that strong.” Whatever your own view on multiple intelligences, don’t forget how the old saying originally went in full: “Jack of all trades, master of none, though often better than a master of one.”

Related content:

The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment: Psychologist Daniel Goleman Explains the Power of Focus

How Reading Increases Your Emotional Intelligence & Brain Function: The Findings of Recent Scientific Studies

Why You Do Your Best Thinking In The Shower: Creativity & the “Incubation Period”

You Don’t “Find” Your Passion in Life, You Actively Develop It, Explains Psychologist Carol Dweck, Theorist of the “Growth Mindset”

Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing: An Animated Lesson from David Dunning (of the Famous “Dunning-Kruger Effect”)

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 Breaking Bad-O-Verse — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #135 Considers “Better Call Saul”


Given the end of Better Call Saul, your Pretty Much Pop host Mark Linsenmayer, plus NY Times entertainment writer/philosophy professor Lawrence Ware, novelist/writing professor Sarahlyn Bruck, and philosopher/musician Al Baker discuss this strange TV “franchise” that amazingly produced a prequel that was arguably better than the original. We cover the characterization and pacing, novelistic TV vs. not having a plot roadmap in advance, and whether we want to see another installment in this world.

A few articles we consulted included:

Follow us @law_writes, @sarahlynbruck, @ixisnox, @MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pretty Much Pop. Support the show and hear bonus talking for this and nearly every other episode at or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. 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.


The Internet Archive Launches Democracy’s Library, a Free Online Library of 500,000 Documents Supporting Democracy

“Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” So said Winston Churchill, perhaps not suspecting how frequently the remark would be quoted in the decades thereafter. Time and experience continue to reveal to us democracy’s liabilities, but also — at least in certain societies — the nature of its surprising staying power. Since well before Churchill’s time, democracy and its workings have been objects of fascination the world over. So have its central questions, not least the one of just how to maintain the “informed citizenry” on which its operation supposedly depends.

The Internet Archive has just launched its own kind of answer in the form of Democracy’s Library. “A free, open, online compendium of government research and publications from around the world,” the site offers citizens a way to “leverage useful research, learn about the workings of their government, hold officials accountable, and be more informed voters.”

Collected from a variety of governmental bodies like the United States’ National Agricultural LibraryForeign Broadcast Information Service, and National Institute of Standards and Technology Research Library — as well as Statistics Canada and Public Accounts of Canada — its materials were ostensibly produced for the public, but haven’t always been easy to find. It total, there are more than 500,000 documents in the collection.

“Governments have created an abundance of information and put it in the public domain, but it turns out the public can’t easily access it,” says Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. He gives one of the series of talks that comprise “Building Democracy’s Library,” the launch celebration that took place last week and that you can still watch in the video above. Its proceedings go into quite a bit of detail about the efforts of acquisition and organization that went into this project, as well as the nature of its mission. For this isn’t just an effort to document democracy, but to strengthen it by making the information it produces available as conveniently as possible to as many citizens as possible. And no matter the country of which you count yourself a citizen, you can start browsing Democracy’s Library here.

Related content:

Historian Timothy Snyder Presents 20 Lessons for Defending Democracy Against Tyranny in a New Video Series

Why Socrates Hated Democracies: An Animated Case for Why Self-Government Requires Wisdom & Education

Hannah Arendt Explains Why Democracies Need to Safeguard the Free Press & Truth … to Defend Themselves Against Dictators and Their Lies

Does Democracy Demand the Tolerance of the Intolerant? Karl Popper’s Paradox

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy

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.

Meet Little Amal, the 12-Foot Puppet of a 10-Year-Old Syrian Girl, Who Has Been Touring the World

Little Amal is a 10-year-old Syrian girl from a small village near Aleppo, a refugee and unaccompanied minor, who’s traveled over 9,000 kilometers over the last 15 months, hoping to reunite with her mother.

Little Amal is also a 12-foot tall rod puppet, operated by three performers – one on stilts inside her molded cane torso, to operate her head, face and legs, with two more taking charge of her hands.

As her creators, Handspring Puppet Company co-founders Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, explain above, Amal’s puppeteers must enter a group mind state when interacting with the crowds who turn out to meet her at free, community-created events:

If the person inside on the stilts decides to turn left, the other two have to respond immediately as the arms would, so they all think the same thought.

Amal, who travels with three times as many puppeteers as are required for any given appearance and two back up versions of herself in case of malfunction, is truly a miracle of non-verbal communication.

As a child who doesn’t speak the language of the countries she has visited, she expresses herself with gestures, and seemingly involuntary micro-movements.

She bows graciously in both greeting and farewell, taking extra time to touch hands with little children.

She swivels her head, eagerly, if a bit apprehensively, taking in her surroundings.

Her lips part in wonder, revealing a row of pearly teeth.

Her big, expressive eyes are operated by the performer on stilts, using a trackpad on a tiny computer.

The lightweight ribbons that make up her long hair, pulled none too tidily away from her face with a floppy bow, catch the breeze as she towers above her well wishers.

After stops in Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, France and the UK, Little Amal landed in New York City, where members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Children’s Chorus serenaded her with Evening Song from Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha as she passed through John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The New York Times’ Matt Stevens described the scene as Amal came into view:

As her head peeked out from above metal barriers, Little Amal widened her eyes as she took in the arrivals terminal at Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday. She looked left, then right, clutching her big green suitcase with its rainbow and sun stickers. She was, as newcomers to New York City so often are, a little nervous, and a little lost…(she) appeared transfixed by the music — much like the many travelers strolling by with their suitcases appeared transfixed by the 12-foot-tall puppet suddenly towering before them. Still, she was trepidatious, a tad reluctant to approach the orchestra. At least, that is, until a chorus member — a girl wearing a sunflower yellow shirt — went up to her and took her by the hand.

With 50 events in 20 days, Little Amal had a packed schedule that included a nightime visit to Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park and an early morning trip along Coney Island’s boardwalk. Unlike most first time visitors, she spent time in Queens, Staten Island and The Bronx.

A New Orleans style second line processional escorted her a little over a dozen blocks, from Lincoln Center, where she interacted with dancers and performance artist Machine Dazzle, to the American Museum of Natural History, above.

New York’s immigrant history was evident in Little Amal’s tour of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, with stops at the Tenement Museum and the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center.

With every appearance, Amal’s incredibly lifelike movements and dignified reserved turned adults as well as children turned into believers, while bringing attention to the tens of thousands of children who have fled war and persecution in their home countries.

See photos and read more about Little Amal’s past and future travels here.

Download a free Little Amal activity and education pack here.

Related Content 

Jim Henson Teaches You How to Make Puppets in Vintage Primer From 1969

The Hand Puppets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son

Albert Einstein Holding an Albert Einstein Puppet (Circa 1931)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.