The Beautiful Anarchy of the Earliest Animated Cartoons: Explore an Archive with 200+ Early Animations

Ear­ly in his col­lect­ing odyssey, ani­ma­tion his­to­ri­an, archivist, and edu­ca­tor Tom­my José Stathes earned the hon­orif­ic Car­toon Cryp­to­zo­ol­o­gist from Cinebeasts, a “New York-based col­lec­tive of film nerds, vid­iots, and pro­gram­mers inves­ti­gat­ing the fur­thest reach­es of the mov­ing image uni­verse.”

More recent­ly, George Wille­man, a nitrate film expert on the Library of Con­gress’ film preser­va­tion team dubbed him “the King of Silent Ani­ma­tion.”

The seed of Stathes’ endur­ing pas­sion took root in his 90s child­hood, when slapped togeth­er VHS antholo­gies of car­toons from the 30s and 40s could be picked up for a cou­ple of bucks in gro­ceries and drug­stores. These finds typ­i­cal­ly includ­ed one or two silent-era rar­i­ties, which is how he became acquaint­ed with Felix the Cat and oth­er favorites who now dom­i­nate his Ear­ly Ani­ma­tion Archive.

He squeezed his par­ents and grand­par­ents for mem­o­ries of car­toons screened on tele­vi­sion and in the­aters dur­ing their youth, and began research­ing the his­to­ry of ani­ma­tion.

Real­iz­ing how few of the ear­ly car­toons he was learn­ing about could be wide­ly viewed, he set out to col­lect and archive as many exam­ples as pos­si­ble, and to share these trea­sures with new audi­ences.

His col­lec­tion cur­rent­ly con­sists of some 4,000 ani­mat­ed reels, truf­fled up from antique shops, flea mar­kets, and eBay. In addi­tion to his Car­toons on Film YouTube chan­nel, he hosts reg­u­lar in-per­son Car­toon Car­ni­vals, often curat­ed around hol­i­day themes.

Stathes’ pas­sion project is giv­ing many once-pop­u­lar char­ac­ters a sec­ond and in some cas­es, third act.

Take Farmer Alfal­fa, (occa­sion­al­ly ren­dered as Al Fal­fa), the star of 1923’s The Fable of the Alley Cat, an install­ment in the Aesop’s Fables series, which ran from 1921 to 1929.

His first appear­ance was in direc­tor Paul Ter­ry’s Down on Phoney Farm from 1915, but as Stathes observes, baby boomers grew up watch­ing him on TV:

Near­ly all of these folks who men­tion the char­ac­ter will also ref­er­ence ‘hun­dreds’ of mice. Few may have real­ized that, while the Farmer Alfal­fa car­toons run­ning on tele­vi­sion at that time were already old, the films starred one of the ear­li­est recur­ring car­toon char­ac­ters, and one that enjoyed an incred­i­bly long career com­pared with his car­toon con­tem­po­raries.

The Fable of the Alley Cat honks a lot of famil­iar vin­tage car­toon horns — slap­stick, may­hem, David tri­umph­ing over Goliath… cats and mice.

Stathes describes it as “a rather sin­is­ter day in the life of Farmer Al Fal­fa — It’s clear that the ani­mal king­dom tends to despise him! — and his doc­u­men­ta­tion is metic­u­lous:

The ver­sion seen here was pre­pared for TV dis­tri­b­u­tion in the 1950s by Stu­art Pro­duc­tions. The music tracks were orig­i­nal­ly com­posed by Win­ston Sharples for the Van Beuren ‘Rain­bow Parade’ car­toons in the mid-1930s.

The mis­matched duo, Mutt and Jeff, got their start in dai­ly news­pa­per comics, before mak­ing the leap to ani­mat­ed shorts.

Ani­ma­tion con­nois­seurs go bananas for the per­spec­tive shift at the 14 sec­ond mark of Laugh­ing Gas (1917), a rar­i­ty Stathes shares as a ref­er­ence copy from the orig­i­nal 35mm nitrate form, with the promise of a full restora­tion in the future.

(A num­ber of Stathes’ acqui­si­tions have dete­ri­o­rat­ed over the years or sus­tained dam­age through improp­er stor­age.)

Dinky Doo­dle and his dog Weak­heart were 1920s Bray Stu­dios crowd­pleasers whose stint on tele­vi­sion is evi­denced by the mid­cen­tu­ry voice over that was added to Dinky Doo­dle’s Bed­time Sto­ry (1926).

The char­ac­ters’ cre­ator, direc­tor Wal­ter Lantz appears as “Pop” in the above live sequences.

Car­toons On Film has coaxed Koko the Clown, Flip the Frog, Bon­zo the Pup, and Mick­ey Mouse pre­cur­sor, Oswald the Lucky Rab­bit, out of moth­balls for our view­ing plea­sure.

Stathes’ col­lec­tion also dredges up some objec­tion­able peri­od titles and con­tent, Lit­tle Black Sam­bo, Red­skin Blues, and Korn Plas­tered in Africa to name a few.

Stathes is mind­ful of con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­i­ties, but stops short of allow­ing them to scrub these works from the his­toric record. He warns would-be view­ers of The Chi­na­man that it con­tains a “racist speech bal­loon as well as an inter­ti­tle that was cut from the lat­er TV ver­sion for obvi­ous rea­sons:”

Such was the vul­gar ter­mi­nol­o­gy in those days. To ques­tion or cen­sor these films would be deny­ing our his­to­ry.

Begin your explo­rations of Tom­my José Stathes’ Ear­ly Ani­ma­tion Archive here and if so inclined, con­tribute to the cost­ly stor­age of these rar­i­ties with a Ko-fi dona­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917 to 1931)

The First Ani­mat­ed Fea­ture Film: The Adven­tures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger (1926)

Watch Dzi­ga Vertov’s Unset­tling Sovi­et Toys: The First Sovi­et Ani­mat­ed Movie Ever (1924)

The First Avant Garde Ani­ma­tion: Watch Wal­ter Ruttmann’s Licht­spiel Opus 1 (1921)

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

A New Database Captures the Smells of European History, from 16th-Century to the Early 20th-Century

But when from a long-dis­tant past noth­ing sub­sists, after the peo­ple are dead, after the things are bro­ken and scat­tered, still, alone, more frag­ile, but with more vital­i­ty, more unsub­stan­tial, more per­sis­tent, more faith­ful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, wait­ing and hop­ing for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfal­ter­ing, in the tiny and almost impal­pa­ble drop of their essence, the vast struc­ture of rec­ol­lec­tion. — Mar­cel Proust, Swann’s Way

His­to­ry favors the eyes.

Visu­al art can tell us what indi­vid­u­als who died long before the advent of pho­tog­ra­phy looked like, as well as the sort of fash­ions, food and decor one might encounter in house­holds both opu­lent and hum­ble.

Our ears are also priv­i­leged in this regard, whether we’re lis­ten­ing to a Gre­go­ri­an chant per­formed in a cathe­dral or an ace sound designer’s cin­e­mat­ic recre­ation of the D‑Day land­ings.

With a few judi­cious ingre­di­ent sub­sti­tu­tions, we can even get a sense of what an Ancient Roman sal­ad, a 4000-year-old Baby­lon­ian stew, and a 5000-year-old Chi­nese beer tast­ed like.

Pity the poor neglect­ed nose. Scents are ephemer­al! How often have we won­dered what Ver­sailles real­ly smelled back in the 17th cen­tu­ry, when unbathed aris­to­crats in unlaun­dered fin­ery packed into high soci­ety’s unven­ti­lat­ed salons?

On the oth­er hand, giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty, do we real­ly want to know?

Odeu­ropa, the Euro­pean olfac­to­ry her­itage project, answers with a resound­ing yes.

Among its ini­tia­tives is an inter­ac­tive Smell Explor­er that invites vis­i­tors to dive deep into smells as  cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­na.

Devel­oped by an inter­na­tion­al team of com­put­er sci­en­tists, AI experts and human­i­ties schol­ars, the Smell Explor­er is a vast com­pendi­um of smells as rep­re­sent­ed in 23,000 images and 62,000 pub­lic domain texts, includ­ing nov­els, the­atri­cal scripts, trav­el­ogues, botan­i­cal text­books, court records, san­i­tary reports, ser­mons, and med­ical hand­books.

This resource offers a fresh lens for con­sid­er­ing the past through our noses, an unflinch­ing look at var­i­ous olfac­to­ry real­i­ties of life in Europe from the 15th through ear­ly 20th cen­turies.

Sur­vivors of ear­li­er plagues and pan­demics might have asso­ci­at­ed their tri­als with the puri­fy­ing aro­mas of burn­ing rose­mary and hot tar, just as the scents of sour­dough and the way a hand­sewn cot­ton face mask’s inte­ri­or smelled after sev­er­al hours of wear con­jure the ear­ly days of the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic for many of us.

There are a num­ber of inter­est­ing ways to explore this scent-rich data­base — by geo­graph­ic loca­tion, time peri­od, asso­ci­at­ed emo­tion, or aro­mat­ic qual­i­ty.

Of course, you could go straight to a smell source.

Cham­ber pot” returns 18,152 results, “cadav­er“266…

The squea­mish are advised to steer clear of vom­it (421 results) in favor of the Smell Explorer’s  plea­sur­able and abun­dant food-relat­ed entries — bread, choco­late, cof­fee, pome­gran­ate, pas­try, and wine, to name but a few.

Each scent is built as a col­lec­tion of cards or “nose wit­ness reports” with infor­ma­tion as to the title of the work cit­ed, its author or artist, year of cre­ation and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion (“good”, “rank”, “pecu­liar­ly unpleas­ant and per­ma­nent”…)

Even more ambi­tious­ly, Odeu­ropa aims to give 21st-cen­tu­ry noses an actu­al whiff of Europe’s olfac­to­ry her­itage by enlist­ing per­fumers and scent design­ers to recre­ate over a hun­dred his­toric odors and aro­mas.

Odeu­ropa has also cre­at­ed a down­load­able Olfac­to­ry Sto­ry­telling Toolk­it to give muse­um cura­tors ideas for inte­grat­ing cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant odors into exhibits, a trend that is gain­ing trac­tion world­wide.

While every­one stands to ben­e­fit from the added olfac­to­ry dimen­sion of such exhibits, this ini­tia­tive is of par­tic­u­lar ser­vice to blind and visu­al­ly-impaired vis­i­tors. Exper­tise is no doubt required to get it right.

We’re remind­ed of satirist PJ O’Rourke early-80’s vis­it to the Exxon-spon­sored Uni­verse of Ener­gy Pavil­ion in Walt Dis­ney World’s EPCOT cen­ter, where ani­ma­tron­ic dinosaurs were “depict­ed with­out accu­ra­cy and much too close to your face:”

One of the few real nov­el­ties at Epcot is the use of smell to aggra­vate illu­sions. Of course, no one knows what dinosaurs smelled like, but Exxon has decid­ed they smelled bad.

Enter the Odeu­ropa Smell Explor­er here.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent

The Chem­istry Behind the Smell of Old Books: Explained with a Free Info­graph­ic

The Dis­gust­ing Food Muse­um Curates 80 of the World’s Most Repul­sive Dish­es: Mag­got-Infest­ed Cheese, Putrid Shark & More

Does Play­ing Music for Cheese Dur­ing the Aging Process Change Its Fla­vor? Researchers Find That Hip Hop Makes It Smelli­er, and Zeppelin’s “Stair­way to Heav­en” Makes It Milder

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

How Toilets Worked in Ancient Rome and Medieval England

How­ev­er detailed they may be in oth­er respects, many accounts of dai­ly life cen­turies and cen­turies ago pass over the use of the toi­let in silence. Even if they did­n’t, they would­n’t involve the kind of toi­lets we would rec­og­nize today, but rather cham­ber pots, out­hous­es, and oth­er kinds of spe­cial­ized rooms with chutes emp­ty­ing straight out into rivers and onto back gar­dens. And that was just the res­i­dences. What would pub­lic facil­i­ties have been like? We have one answer in the Told in Stone video above, which describes “pub­lic latrines in ancient Rome,” the facil­i­ties con­struct­ed in almost every Roman town “where cit­i­zens could relieve them­selves en masse.”

These usu­al­ly had at least a dozen seats, Told in Stone cre­ator Gar­rett Ryan explains, though some were grander in scale than oth­ers: the Roman ago­ra of Athens, for exam­ple, boast­ed a 68-seater. A facil­i­ty in Tim­gad, the “African Pom­peii” pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, had “fan­cy arm­rests in the shape of leap­ing dol­phins.”

Judged by their ruins, these pub­lic “restrooms” may seem unex­pect­ed­ly impres­sive in their engi­neer­ing and ele­gant in their design. But we may feel some­what less inclined toward time-trav­el fan­tasies when Ryan gets into such details as “the sponge on a stick that served as toi­let paper” that remains “one of the more noto­ri­ous aspects of dai­ly life in ancient Rome.”

These weren’t tech­ni­cal­ly latrines, as Lina Zel­dovich notes at “The word ‘latrine,’ or lat­ri­na in Latin, was used to describe a pri­vate toi­let in someone’s home, usu­al­ly con­struct­ed over a cesspit. Pub­lic toi­lets were called fori­cae,” and their con­struc­tion tend­ed to rely on deep-pock­et­ed orga­ni­za­tions or indi­vid­u­als. “Upper-class Romans, who some­times paid for the fori­cae to be erect­ed, gen­er­al­ly wouldn’t set foot in these places. They con­struct­ed them for the poor and the enslaved — but not because they took pity on the low­er class­es. They built these pub­lic toi­lets so they wouldn’t have to walk knee-deep in excre­ment on the streets.”

The prob­lem of large-scale human waste dis­pos­al is as old as urban civ­i­liza­tion, and Rome hard­ly solved it once and for all. The Absolute His­to­ry short above shows how the cas­tles of medieval Eng­land han­dled it, using lava­to­ries with holes over the moat (and piles of “moss, grass, or hay” in lieu of yet-to-be-invent­ed toi­let paper). At, Lucie Lau­monier writes that the urban equiv­a­lent of Roman fori­cae were “often built over bridges and on quays to facil­i­tate the evac­u­a­tion of human waste that went direct­ly into run­ning water.” Inno­v­a­tive as this was, it must have posed dif­fi­cul­ties for boaters pass­ing below, to say noth­ing of the users unfor­tu­nate enough to sit on a wood­en seat just rot­ten enough to give out — the prospect of which, for all the defi­cien­cies of Mod­ern West­ern civ­i­liza­tion’s pub­lic restrooms, at least no longer wor­ries us quite so much today.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Did Roman Aque­ducts Work?: The Most Impres­sive Achieve­ment of Ancient Rome’s Infra­struc­ture, Explained

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

Urine Wheels in Medieval Man­u­scripts: Dis­cov­er the Curi­ous Diag­nos­tic Tool Used by Medieval Doc­tors

Hermeneu­tics of Toi­lets by Slavoj Žižek: An Ani­ma­tion About Find­ing Ide­ol­o­gy in Unlike­ly Places

Every­thing You Want­ed to Know About Going to the Bath­room in Space But Were Afraid to Ask

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.

When The Who (Literally) Blew Up The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967

From 1967 to 1969, Tom and Dick Smoth­ers host­ed The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour, a polite­ly edgy com­e­dy show that test­ed the bound­aries of main­stream tele­vi­sion and the patience of CBS exec­u­tives. Play­ing to a younger demo­graph­ic, the show took posi­tions against the Viet­nam War and for the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, while fea­tur­ing musi­cal acts that chal­lenged the norms of the era–everyone from Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, to the Doors and Jef­fer­son Air­plane, to Buf­fa­lo Spring­field and Simon and Gar­funkel.

Then came The Who in Sep­tem­ber 1967. Mak­ing its Amer­i­can net­work TV debut, the band picked up where they left off a few months ago at the Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val. They per­formed “My Gen­er­a­tion” and went into auto-destruc­tion mode, smash­ing their gui­tars, top­pling their drums, and cre­at­ing gen­er­al may­hem, before bring­ing the song to a close. But for The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour, The Who added a spe­cial twist, pack­ing Kei­th Moon’s drum kit with explo­sives, a few too many, it turns out.

Here’s how Allan Blye, a pro­duc­er-writer for the show, remem­bers it:

The Who want­ed to do a big explo­sion at the end of their per­for­mance. In dress rehearsal, it was a pow­der puff. So, I say to the spe­cial effects guy, “We have to make a big­ger boom.” Unbe­knownst to us, The Who had told their own guy the same thing. When the explo­sion went off, it affect­ed Pete Townshend’s hear­ing per­ma­nent­ly. Kei­th Moon got blown off his drum­stand, but was too out of it to know.

Stunned yet poised, Tom Smoth­ers walked onto the stage, only to find his acoustic gui­tar snatched from his hands and smashed to smithereens too. He lat­er recalled: “Every­one was so shocked.” “When Town­shend came over and grabbed my gui­tar, I was busy just see­ing where the bod­ies were, see­ing if any­one was injured. He picked the gui­tar up, and peo­ple kept say­ing, ‘Did he real­ly ruin your gui­tar? It looked so real!’ And I’d say. ‘Well it was real! I was con­fused as hell!’ ”

The suits at CBS abrupt­ly can­celed The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour in 1969, lead­ing the broth­ers to file a breach of con­tract law­suit, which they even­tu­al­ly won. (They dis­cuss the sting of that whole expe­ri­ence with David Let­ter­man here.)

Tom Smoth­ers died yes­ter­day at age 86, “fol­low­ing a recent bat­tle with can­cer.” His broth­er Dick announced his pass­ing, stat­ing: “Tom was not only the lov­ing old­er broth­er that every­one would want in their life, he was a one-of-a-kind cre­ative part­ner. I am for­ev­er grate­ful to have spent a life­time togeth­er with him, on and off stage, for over 60 years. Our rela­tion­ship was like a good mar­riage – the longer we were togeth­er, the more we loved and respect­ed one anoth­er. We were tru­ly blessed.” And so were the rest of us.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch Steve Mar­tin Make His First TV Appear­ance: The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Com­e­dy Hour (1968)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlike­ly Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

Revis­it “Turn-On,” the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Kei­th Moon, Drum­mer of The Who, Pass­es Out at 1973 Con­cert; 19-Year-Old Fan Takes Over


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Behold the “Double Helix” Staircase Often Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: It Features Two Intertwined Spiral Staircases That Let People Ascend & Descend Without Obstructing Each Other

Image by Zairon, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Among the non-wine-relat­ed points of inter­est in the Loire Val­ley, the Château de Cham­bord stands tall — or rather, both tall and wide, being eas­i­ly the largest château in the region. “A Unesco World Her­itage site with more than 400 rooms, includ­ing recep­tion halls, kitchens, lap­idary rooms and roy­al apart­ments,” writes Adri­enne Bern­hard at BBC Trav­el, it “boasts a fire­place for every day of the year.” No less vast and elab­o­rate a hunt­ing lodge would do for King Fran­cis I, who had it built between 1519 and 1547, though the iden­ti­ty of the archi­tect from whom he com­mis­sioned the plans has been lost to his­to­ry. But the unusu­al design of its cen­tral stair­case — and cen­tral tourist attrac­tion — sug­gests an intrigu­ing name indeed: Leonar­do da Vin­ci.

“In 1516, Leonar­do left his stu­dio in Rome to join the court of King Fran­cis I as ‘pre­mier pein­tre et ingénieur et archi­tecte du Roi,’ ” Bern­hard writes. “Fran­cis I enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embraced the cul­tur­al Renais­sance that had swept Italy, eager to put his impri­matur on the arts, and in 1516 com­mis­sioned plans for his dream cas­tle at the site of Romoran­tin. For Leonar­do, it was an ide­al assign­ment – the cul­mi­na­tion of an illus­tri­ous career, allow­ing the artist to express many of his pas­sions: archi­tec­ture, urban plan­ning, hydraulics and engi­neer­ing.” But not long after its con­struc­tion began, the Romoran­tin project was aban­doned, and by the time Fran­cis got start­ed on what would become Château de Cham­bord, Leonar­do was already dead.

Leonar­do’s influ­ence nev­er­the­less seems present in the fin­ished cas­tle: in its Greek cross-shaped floor plan, in its large cop­u­la, and most of all in its “dou­ble helix” stair­case, which resem­bles cer­tain designs con­tained in his Codex Atlanti­cus. “The cel­e­brat­ed stair­case con­sists in a hol­lowed cen­tral core and, twist­ing and turn­ing one above the oth­er, twinned heli­cal ramps ser­vic­ing the main floors of the build­ing,” says the Château de Cham­bor­d’s offi­cial site. “Mag­i­cal­ly enough, when two per­sons use the dif­fer­ent sets of stair­cas­es at the same time, they can see each oth­er going up or down, yet nev­er meet.” (Blog­ger Gretchen M. Greer writes that “one woman I trav­eled with found the stair­case so strik­ing­ly sym­bol­ic of the mar­i­tal dishar­mo­ny and dis­con­nect that result­ed in her divorce that she declared the beau­ti­ful archi­tec­tur­al fea­ture the ugli­est place in the Loire.”)

Some schol­ars, like Hidemichi Tana­ka, iden­ti­fy the hand of Leonar­do in prac­ti­cal­ly every detail of the château. “Seen from afar, the roof ter­race, with its mul­ti­tude of archi­tec­tur­al embell­ish­ments, is sug­ges­tive of a soar­ing city sky­line,” he writes in a 1992 arti­cle in the jour­nal Art­ibus et His­to­ri­ae. “It may be worth com­par­ing the ‘city in stone’ with the town­scape in the back­ground of Leonar­do’s Annun­ci­a­tion in the Uffizi Gallery, Flo­rence, as well as with the struc­tures in the draw­ings of floods which the artist made in his lat­er years.” Though per­haps a chrono­log­i­cal­ly implau­si­ble achieve­ment, the design of the Château de Cham­bord would have been nei­ther tech­ni­cal­ly nor aes­thet­i­cal­ly beyond him. And indeed, who would­n’t be pleased to see medieval cas­tle archi­tec­ture paid such extrav­a­gant and still-impres­sive trib­ute by the quin­tes­sen­tial Renais­sance man?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Leonar­do da Vin­ci Designs the Ide­al City: See 3D Mod­els of His Rad­i­cal Design

Explore the Largest Online Archive Explor­ing the Genius of Leonar­do da Vin­ci

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Ele­gant Design for a Per­pet­u­al Motion Machine

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Note­books Get Dig­i­tized: Where to Read the Renais­sance Man’s Man­u­scripts Online

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Ver­sailles: Six Min­utes of Ani­ma­tion Show the Con­struc­tion of the Grand Palace Over 400 Years

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.

Two Ways To Shoot The Same Scene: A Comparison of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and You’ve Got Mail (1998) Shows How Filmmaking Changed Over the Decades

Some years ago, the Guardian’s Anne T. Don­ahue rec­om­mend­ed, as an alter­na­tive Christ­mas movie, Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail from 1998. “Admit­ted­ly, You’ve Got Mail takes place from Octo­ber to spring,” she writes, “but what mat­ters most is that the movie’s most com­pelling scenes — when Joe Fox (Tom Han­ks) dis­cov­ers that Kath­leen Kel­ly (Meg Ryan) is Shop­Girl, when they have cof­fee, when Kath­leen real­izes she’s prob­a­bly going to lose her store (and again, no, not cry­ing) — occur over the Best Time of Year™.” If none of this rings a bell, jin­gle or oth­er­wise, you may need to get up to speed on the roman­tic come­dies of the nine­teen-nineties. You’d do well to begin with Ephron’s pre­vi­ous Christ­mas­time-set Han­ks-and-Ryan vehi­cle, Sleep­less in Seat­tle.

Despite being pri­mar­i­ly con­sid­ered a spir­i­tu­al sequel to Sleep­less in Seat­tle, You’ve Got Mail is also an adap­ta­tion of a much ear­li­er pic­ture, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Cor­ner. Released in 1940, it stars James Stew­art and Mar­garet Sulla­van as co-work­ers in a Budapest leather goods shop whose mutu­al ani­mos­i­ty con­ceals, even to them­selves, the fact that they’ve been amorous­ly cor­re­spond­ing after being con­nect­ed through a per­son­als ad. This premise (which in turn comes from Par­fumerie, a 1937 play by Mik­lós Lás­zló) holds out prac­ti­cal­ly unlim­it­ed mileage to the rom-com genre. That two high-pro­file films have faith­ful­ly adhered to Par­fumerie gives cinephiles an oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­pare and con­trast, mak­ing a study of how film itself changed over near­ly six decades.

Evan Puschak, bet­ter known as the Nerd­writer, attempts just such an exer­cise in the new video above, focus­ing on a par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable scene shared by the two movies. “On the day the pen pals final­ly agree to meet at a café, the man, who gets there sec­ond, sees through the win­dow that his beloved is actu­al­ly his real-life antag­o­nist, and because of this, does­n’t reveal his true iden­ti­ty. This imbal­ance of knowl­edge makes for a mar­velous scene of dra­mat­ic irony, cre­at­ing a ten­sion that is at once heart-wrench­ing and hilar­i­ous.” In The Shop Around the Cor­ner, this scene plays out in a lit­tle over eight min­utes; in You’ve Got Mail, it takes near­ly ten. But what real­ly sep­a­rates the styles of the ear­li­er pic­ture and the lat­er is “the num­ber of shots used to cov­er the scene.”

“In 1940, Lubitsch filmed the café scene in just nine­teen shots. In com­par­i­son, Nora Ephron, 58 years lat­er, used 133 shots for the same mate­r­i­al,” result­ing in a dif­fer­ence in aver­age shot length of well over twen­ty sec­onds. This increase in cut­ting could reflect the fact that “ear­ly film­mak­ing tech­niques were influ­enced by the con­ven­tions of stage plays, where many film­mak­ers” — Lubitsch includ­ed — “began their careers,” where­as “films of the eight­ies and nineties were influ­enced by music videos and com­mer­cials, which increased view­er tol­er­ance for more rapid edit­ing,” to say noth­ing of the many oth­er wider cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences between the pre­war years and the end of the mil­len­ni­um. And when, some Christ­mas down the line, this mate­r­i­al next gets adapt­ed, it will pre­sum­ably reflect the aes­thet­ics (so to speak) of Tik­Tok.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Young Nora Ephron Gets Ani­mat­ed About Breasts, Fem­i­nism, Jour­nal­ism & New Pos­si­bil­i­ties (1975)

The Alche­my of Film Edit­ing, Explored in a New Video Essay That Breaks Down Han­nah and Her Sis­ters, The Empire Strikes Back & Oth­er Films

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, the Most Trou­bling Christ­mas Film Ever Made

The Impor­tance of Film Edit­ing Demon­strat­ed by the Bad Edit­ing of Major Films: Bohemi­an Rhap­sody, Sui­cide Squad & More

Nora Ephron’s Lists: “What I Will Miss” and “What I Won’t Miss”

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.


For 500 Years, Every Student Who Attained a BA from Oxford Had to Swear Enmity Towards a Person Named Henry Symeonis

Image via The Bodleian Library

If you were to ask a cer­tain kind of Eng­lish­man what sets his home­land apart from the rest of the world, he might point to the strength of its tra­di­tions. And what holds true for Eng­land itself holds even truer for its most renowned insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly its most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties. Those who dream of attend­ing Oxford dream not least of its dis­tinc­tive tra­di­tions: from the rel­a­tive­ly fre­quent For­mal Hall, to the var­i­ous cer­e­mo­ni­al rit­u­als on Ascen­sion Day, to the Mal­lard Song sung just once per cen­tu­ry by the elites of All Souls Col­lege, dat­ing back to that col­lege’s foun­da­tion in 1438— which was still long after the time of Oxford’s ulti­mate per­sona non gra­ta, a long-mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure named Hen­ry Syme­o­nis.

As recent­ly as the time of Dick­ens (or at least the era in which he set his nov­els), Bach­e­lors of Arts stu­dents turn­ing Mas­ter of Arts stu­dents at Oxford were, accord­ing to the blog of the Archives and Man­u­scripts at the Bodleian Library, “required to swear that they would observe the University’s statutes, priv­i­leges, lib­er­ties and cus­toms, as you might expect; and not to lec­ture else­where, or resume their bach­e­lor stud­ies after get­ting their MA.” But they “also had to swear that they would nev­er agree to the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of Hen­ry Syme­o­nis,” who­ev­er that was. “Nowhere in the statutes did it explain who this Hen­ry Syme­o­nis (or Sime­o­nis) was, what he was sup­posed to have done or why those get­ting their MAs should nev­er agree to be rec­on­ciled with him.”

The clause in ques­tion came up for review in the ear­ly 1650s, but “even by that time, one sus­pects that the oath was of such antiq­ui­ty that no-one knew any­thing about it and it was thought best to leave it be.” Not until 1912 did Regi­nald Lane Poole, Keep­er of the Uni­ver­si­ty Archives, deter­mine that Syme­o­nis was the son of “a very wealthy towns­man of Oxford.” In 1242, “he and a num­ber of oth­er men of the town of Oxford were found guilty of mur­der­ing a stu­dent of the Uni­ver­si­ty. Hen­ry and his accom­plices were fined £80 by King Hen­ry III in May 1242 and were made to leave Oxford as a result.” Two decades after the mur­der, Hen­ry III issued Syme­o­nis (who had, in any case, long since returned to town) an offi­cial par­don.

“The Gov­ern­ment was aware of the volatile rela­tion­ship between town and gown and was con­cerned, in 1264, at the prospect of the Uni­ver­si­ty leav­ing Oxford in protest if Hen­ry was allowed to return.” What seems to have hap­pened is that “Hen­ry Syme­o­nis had bought the King’s par­don and his per­mis­sion to return to Oxford. The King was will­ing to allow his return if the Uni­ver­si­ty agreed to it. But the Uni­ver­si­ty refused and chose to ignore the King’s order” — and even “gave Hen­ry Syme­o­nis the unique hon­or of being named in its own statutes, mak­ing the University’s dis­like of him offi­cial and per­pet­u­al.” There his name stayed, receiv­ing the sworn enmi­ty of five and a half cen­turies’ worth of Oxford stu­dents, until the removal of the rel­e­vant oath in 1827. “No back­ground infor­ma­tion nor rea­son for the deci­sion is record­ed,” notes the Bodleian’s blog, pos­si­bly because “nobody knew exact­ly what they were abol­ish­ing.”

via Archives and Man­u­scripts at the Bodleian Library

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Inter­ac­tive “Mur­der Map” Reveals the Mean­est Streets of Medieval Lon­don

Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Presents the 550-Year-Old Guten­berg Bible in Spec­tac­u­lar, High-Res Detail

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Reuse & Remix

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.

A Man Hiding from the Nazis Made 95 Issues of a Highly Creative Zine (1943–1945)

Per­haps at some point in the future,

the poems in your tongue I com­posed,

will be brought to your notice,

and if so, to delight will I then be dis­posed.

— Curt Bloch, Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret

Zines typ­i­cal­ly tend toward the ephemer­al, owing to their small cir­cu­la­tions, errat­ic pub­li­ca­tion sched­ules, and the unpre­dictable lives of their cre­ators. 

Curt Bloch’s zine, Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret (The Under­wa­ter Cabaret) defies these odds.

Bloch not only pro­duced an impres­sive 95 issues between August 1943 and April 1945, he did so as a Ger­man Jew hid­ing from the Nazis in the rafters of a pri­vate home in the Dutch city of Enschede, not far from the Ger­man bor­der.

His cut-and-paste illus­tra­tions are part of a long-stand­ing zine con­tin­u­um, made pos­si­ble in part by helpers who fur­nished him with pens, glue, news­pa­pers and oth­er col­lage-wor­thy mate­ri­als, in addi­tion to food and oth­er neces­si­ties. 

His print run was sub-minis­cule. Dupli­cat­ing his work was not an option, so Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret cir­cu­lat­ed in its orig­i­nal form, passed from hand to hand at great risk.

The zine’s title is a play on onder­duiken (to dive under), which Dutch peo­ple under­stood as a ref­er­ence to the 10,000 Jews hid­ing from the Nazis in their coun­try.

Ger­ard Groen­eveld, author of The Under­wa­ter Cabaret: The Satir­i­cal Resis­tance of Curt Bloch, cred­its the “huge orga­ni­za­tion” who helped Bloch and oth­ers sequestered Jews with cir­cu­lat­ing the zine:

(It) includ­ed couri­ers, who brought food, but who could also bring the mag­a­zine out, to share with oth­er peo­ple in the group who could be trust­ed. The mag­a­zines are very small, you can eas­i­ly put one in your pock­et or hide it in a book. He got them all back. They must have also returned them in some way.

It’s noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle that all 95 install­ments sur­vive. Many zinesters fall short of pre­serv­ing their work, but Bloch could not ignore this pro­jec­t’s per­son­al and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

Aubrey Pomer­ance, co-cura­tor of the Jüdis­ches Muse­um Berlin’s upcom­ing exhib­it, “My Vers­es Are Like Dyna­mite, Curt Bloch’s Het Onder­wa­ter Cabaret”, notes that “the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of writ­ings that were cre­at­ed in hid­ing were destroyed.” 

For half a cen­tu­ry, these zines were known to a select few — fam­i­ly mem­bers, their orig­i­nal read­ers, and a hand­ful of guests whom Bloch enter­tained by read­ing pas­sages aloud after din­ner par­ties in the family’s New York home. 

Pomer­ance sus­pects that Bloch always intend­ed for his work to have a per­for­mance aspect, and that the cou­ple who shared his crawl­space quar­ters may well have been his first audi­ence for dit­ties like the one below.

Hye­nas and jack­als

Look on with jeal­ousy

For they now seem as choir­boys

Com­pared to human­i­ty.

Bloch’s daugh­ter, Simone, who describes her dad as a smar­tass, is work­ing on a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to his work. Read more about Bloch’s zine at The New York Times.

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

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