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

It really is a wonder, knowing what we know about the history of racism and discrimination in Hollywood and America in general, that the musical Stormy Weather even got made in 1943. Along with one other similar film Cabin in the Sky, it’s one of the few American musicals of the 20th century with an all-Black cast, top billing and all. And what a cast, just some of the most talented artists of their time: Bojangles Robinson, Lena Horne, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, and the Nicholas Brothers star. Katherine Dunham, the “queen mother of Black dance” performs and choreographs. Coleman Hawkins, though uncredited, is there too, playing sax.

The film also gave you its money’s worth, with nearly two dozen musical numbers in less than 80 minutes. And the top performance is the one that closes the film, seen here remastered from a high quality source (make sure your YouTube is set to 1080p) and colorized with DeOldify, the machine-learning colorization tool. (Your mileage may vary with the colorization, but hey, it’s a start. Check back in a year or so and we might have another version that looks like it was truly shot in color.)

If you’ve never seen the “Jumpin’ Jive” number, or never heard of the Nicholas Brothers, you will soon find out why Fred Astaire called it the greatest dancing he’d ever seen on film. Their journey down the risers, one leapfrogging over the other and landing in the splits, has never been matched. There’s moments where they just seem to float on air. The band leader, Cab Calloway, who knew how to slink and slide around a stage, wisely gives them the floor. And at the end, while applause bursts out, the entire club is invited to flood the dancefloor. It’s pure joy on film.

Older brother Fayard Nicholas was 29 in the film, his younger brother Harold was 22. Eleven years before that they had moved to New York from Philadelphia and wowed the audiences at the Cotton Club with their mix of tap, ballet, and acrobatics. It was when producer Samuel Goldwyn saw them at the Club that their career took off. But their sequences were always separate in white musicals, so that racist cinemas in the South could easily edit them out. Not so in Stormy Weather, where they end the film.

It is often written that this sequence was shot in “one take” and improvised, but that is plainly not the case. There’s eleven cuts in the dance sequence where the camera repositions itself. That’s not to take away from the Nicholas Brothers’ mastery, and hey, maybe they zipped through the sequence, as dancing was like breathing to them. Let’s just celebrate this for what it actually is: the Nicholas Brothers at the height of their powers, bringing the house down.

via Messy Nessy

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A 1932 Illustrated Map of Harlem’s Night Clubs: From the Cotton Club to the Savoy Ballroom

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

A Look into the Wondrous Life & Expansive Work of the Late Jan Morris, Who Wrote the Entire World

Jan Morris spent her long life and career writing about the world. Her voluminous body of work includes books about countries like Spain, the United States, and her ancestral homeland of Wales; cities like Oxford, Trieste, and Sydney; and even city-states like Hong Kong and her beloved (if sometimes resented) Venice. And yet, as she declared on CBS Sunday Morning twenty years ago, “I hate being called a travel writer, and I don’t believe I am one. When I go to a place, I describe its effect upon my own sensibility. I’m not telling the reader what they’re going to find there; I’m just telling people what effect the place has had upon me.” To The Paris Review she called herself a “a belletrist, an old-fashioned word,” and a belletrist “mostly concerned with place.”

“It’s hard not to be fascinated by Jan Morris,” says Observer editor Robert McCrum in the BBC profile just above. This would be true of any writer who had seen and considered so much of the Earth, which in Morris’ case also happens to include the top of Mt. Everest, conquered in 1953 along with the history-making expedition of Sir Edmund Hillary.

She reached the summit as a he, having lived for her first forty or so years as James Morris; becoming Jan, in her perception, constituted a journey of another kind. “I have interpreted this thing romantically, coyly, and tweely as some sort of a quest that has been imposed upon me,” she said in a 1974 talk-show appearance promoting her narrative of transition Conundrum — “an arrogant book, an egotistical book about myself, and I’m afraid that you must take it or leave it.”

Just as Morris never called herself a travel writer, she never spoke of having undergone a sex change. “I did not change sex,” she told her final interviewer, The Guardian‘s Tim Adams. “I really absorbed one into the other. I’m a bit of each now.” For her many readers, this greatly deepens her value as an observer. “I’ve written as an outsider, always,” as she puts it to McCrum. “I’ve never pretended to get inside the spirit, or the thoughts of other cultures, other people, other cities, even. I’m always the onlooker.” And yet this very nature made her, among other things, “the kindest, shrewdest and most indefatigable master portraitist of cities,” as her fellow writer of place Pico Iyer tweeted in response to the news of her death on November 20 at the age of 94.

Among Morris’ work not filed under “travel” one finds subjects like Abraham Lincoln, the Japanese Battleship Yamato, and the rise and fall of the British Empire. To my mind, this historical perspective did a good deal to make her a model “city critic,” and one whose work lights the way for writers of place to come. She continued publishing that work up until the end — and indeed will continue past it, a deliberately posthumous volume called Allegorizings having been completed years ago. “When I die, which I’m going to one of these days, I think people will be able to say that I’ve written an awful lot of books about the whole world at a particular moment,” Morris said in a recent interview on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. She enjoyed a longer moment, not to mention a wider expanse, than most; through her writing, we’ll carry on enjoying it ourselves.

Related Content:

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Watch the Rise and Fall of the British Empire in an Animated Time-Lapse Map ( 519 A.D. to 2014 A.D.)

Watch Sir Edmund Hillary Describe His Everest Ascent, on the 60th Anniversary of His Climb

The Digital Transgender Archive Features Books, Magazines & Photos Telling the History of Transgender Culture

The Best Writing Advice Pico Iyer Ever Received

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Power of Empathy: A Quick Animated Lesson from Brené Brown

Several years back, the RSA (Royal Society of the Arts) created a series of distinctive animated shorts where well-known intellectuals presented big ideas, and a talented artist rapidly illustrated them on a whiteboard. Some of those talks featured the likes of Slavoj Zizek, Carol Dweck, Steven Pinker and Barbara Ehrenreich. Now RSA presents a video series created in an entirely different aesthetic. Above, you can watch the first of many “espresso shots for the mind.” This clip features Dr. Brené Brown, a well-known research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, providing some quick insights into the difference between sympathy and empathy, and explaining why empathy is much more meaningful. To learn more about The Power of Empathy, you can watch Brown’s complete RSA lecture below . You can also watch her very popular TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability here.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December, 2013.

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A 1913 Children’s Book Lampoons Duchamp, Picasso & Other Avant-Garde Artists: Read The Cubies’ ABC Online

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered in 1913, and its violent break from musical and choreographic tradition, so the story goes, pushed the genteel Parisian audience to violent rebellion. That tale may have grown taller over the past century, but public distaste for then-novel trends in all forms of “modern art” has left a paper trail. Here we have a particularly amusing exhibit, and long an obscure one: The Cubies’ ABC, a picture book by a couple named Mary Mills and Earl Harvey Lyall. They were inspired by another major cultural event of 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art, or “Armory Show,” which offered the United States of America its first look at groundbreaking work by Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, and Wassily Kandinsky, among a host of other foreign artists.

The Lyalls, evidently, were not impressed. In order to ridicule what they seem to have considered the pretensions of the avant-garde, they came up with the Cubies, a trio of angular, wild-haired troublemakers bent on discarding all established conventions in the name of Ego, the Future, and Intuition.

Those three concepts get their own pages in this alphabetically organized book, as do artists — not that the authors would unironically grant them the title — like Duchamp, “the Deep-Dyed Deceiver, who, drawing accordions, labels them stairs”; Kandinsky, painter of “Kute ‘improvisations'”; and even Gertrude Stein, “eloquent scribe of the Futurist soul.” X stands, of course, for “the Xit,” a direction “Xtremely alluring when Cubies invite us to study their Art.”

“We tend to forget, now that the Cubists and Futurists have become as integral to the history of art as the painters of the Dutch Golden Age and the Italian Renaissance, how hostile most people — even most artists — felt toward the non-representational innovations of the artists on display at the Armory,” says the Public Domain Review, where you can read The Cubies’ ABC in full.

You can also buy a copy of the reprint organized by gallerist Francis Naumann in commemoration of the Armory show’s centenary. “People in those days thought that they could stop modern art in its tracks,” says Naumann in New Yorker piece on the book. Did the Lyalls think the Cubies’ antics would land a decisive blow against abstraction and subjectivity? Then again, could they have imagined us enjoying them more than a hundred years later, in a time unknowable to even the most far-sighted Futurist?

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24,000 Vintage Cartoons from the Library of Congress Illustrate the History of This Modern Art Form (1780-1977)

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

When Sun Ra Went to Egypt in 1971: See Film & Hear Recordings from the Legendary Afrofuturist’s First Visit to Cairo

Sun Ra died in 1993 (or he returned to his home planet of Saturn, one or the other). Twenty-seven years later his Arkestra is still going strong. “No group in jazz history has embodied the communal spirit like the Arkestra,” writes Peter Margasak at The Quietus. “Their hardcore fans are the closest thing jazz has to Deadheads.” We could further compare Sun Ra and Jerry Garcia as bandleaders—their embrace of extended free form playing against a background of traditionalism. Folk, and country in Garcia’s case and big band swing in the work of the man born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914.

But (all due respect to Jerry, and he earned it), Sun Ra had a vision that was wider than his dedicated fanbase. He harnessed the powerful symbols of ancient Egypt and other African kingdoms to form the base of his Afrofuturist message, a blend of “Black Nationalism, ancient spirituality, and science fiction” for the jazz masses. Ra fleshed these themes out fully in his 1974 film Space is the Place, a sci-fi fantasy in which he battles his adversaries in a plan to transport Black Americans to a new planet.

What seems like a call for separatism is really an allegory critiquing what scholar Daniel Kreiss calls the “terrestrial community programs” of the Black Panthers and the ills of poverty, racism, and exploitation. “Only the band’s use of technology and music will liberate the people by changing consciousness” the film suggests. Space, and ancient Egypt, are also places in the mind. Sun Ra had his own consciousness changed a couple year earlier when he visited the real Egypt for the first time in 1971. The resulting recordings—newly released—stand as “one of Sun Ra’s major works” Edwin Pouncey writes at Jazzwise, and “would lead him to other worlds of inner discovery in the future.”

Film of the 22-member collective at the pyramids (top), taken by Arkestra member Thomas Hunter, creates “an audio-visual teleportation into their interstellar universe,” The Vinyl Factory’s Gabriela Helfet remarks. Previously unpublished photographs of the Cairo concerts complete the image of the band as a psychedelic pan-African spaceship made of music. Where will it take you? Wherever you need to go. In a recorded Q&A held during one show, Sun Ra tells the audience that his adopted name is “my natural, vibrational name,” his true identity.

Each person, Sun Ra suggests, has to find to find their own frequency. “Progressive music is keeping ahead of the times, you might say. In America they call it avant-garde music. It’s supposed to stimulate people to think for themselves.” The message and the music resonated, and the band would return to Egypt two more times in the coming decade after their first visit, as Bradford Bailey notes:

Beyond personal appeal, the trip proved creatively fruitful—introducing the entourage to figures in Cairo’s growing jazz scene. The most notable was Salah Ragab—founder of the seminal outfits, The Cairo Jazz Band and The Cairo Free Jazz Ensemble, with whom they would collaborate on their second and third visits, recordings of which came to light on the 1983 LP, The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab Plus The Cairo Jazz Band ‎– In Egypt. 

Hear “Watusa” from that LP, above, listen to the full Egypt 1971 sessions at Bandcamp (or below), and see several more newly published photographs at the Vinyl Factory.

Related Content:

A Collection of Sun Ra’s Business Cards from the 1950s: They’re Out of This World

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Stream 74 Sun Ra Albums Free Online: Decades of “Space Jazz” and Other Forms of Intergalactic, Afrofuturistic Musical Creativity

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

An Introduction to Rap Battles: Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #71

Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are rejoined by our audio editor and resident rapper Tyler Hislop (rap name: “Sacrifice”) to discuss a form of entertainment close to his heart: Two people staring each other in the face in front of a crowd and taking lengthy turns insulting each other in a loud voice using intricate rhymes, references, jokes and even some cultural commentary and philosophical spit-balling.

So what are the rules? How does modern battle rap compare to free-styling, the beefs aired on rap albums, and classic insult comedy? What’s the appeal of this art form? Is it because of or despite the aggression involved? Battle rap is regarded as a free speech zone, where anything’s fair game, but does that really make sense?

A few relevant films came up in the discussion:

  • Bodied (2017), a film written by Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist) and produced by Eminem, featuring several current battle rappers doing their thing along with discussion by the characters of the ethical issues involved
  • 8 Mile (2002), a semi-autobiographical film starring Eminem, which displays the older, free-styling over a beat type of battle rapping
  • Roxanne Roxanne (2017) a biopic about Roxanne Shante depicting hip-hop rivalries of the 1980s.

Here are some matches Tyler recommended that also get mentioned:

More resources:

Hear Tyler talk about his many rap albums on Nakedly Examined Music #24.

Hear more of this podcast at 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.

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