When François Truffaut Made a Film Adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

The pro­tag­o­nist of Ray Brad­bury’s Fahren­heit 451 is a “fire­man” tasked with incin­er­at­ing what few books remain in a domes­tic-screen-dom­i­nat­ed future soci­ety forced into illit­er­a­cy. Late in life, Ray Brad­bury declared that he wrote the nov­el because he was “wor­ried about peo­ple being turned into morons by TV.” This tinges with a cer­tain irony giv­en that the lat­est adap­ta­tion was made for HBO (2018). That project, which one crit­ic likened it to “a Glax­o­SmithK­line pro­duc­tion of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World,” will prob­a­bly not be the last Fahren­heit 451 movie. Nor was it the first: that title goes to the one Nou­velle Vague auteur François Truf­faut’s film direct­ed in 1966, though many count that as a dubi­ous hon­or.

A con­tem­po­rary review in Time mag­a­zine mem­o­rably called Truf­faut’s Fahren­heit 451 a “weird­ly gay lit­tle pic­ture that assails with both hor­ror and humor all forms of tyran­ny over the mind of man,” albeit one that “strong­ly sup­ports the wide­ly held sus­pi­cion that Julie Christie can­not actu­al­ly act.”

Truf­faut bold­ly cast Christie in a dual role, as both pro­tag­o­nist Guy Mon­tag’s TV-and-pill-addict­ed wife and the young rebel who even­tu­al­ly lures him over to the pro-book lib­er­a­tion move­ment. Though some view­ers see it as the pic­ture’s fatal flaw, Scott Tobias, writ­ing at The Dis­solve, calls it a “mas­ter­stroke” that ren­ders the near­ly iden­ti­cal char­ac­ters “the abstract rep­re­sen­ta­tives of con­for­mi­ty and non-con­for­mi­ty they had always been in the book.”

It’s easy to imag­ine what appeal the source mate­r­i­al would have held for Truf­faut, the most lit­er­ary-mind­ed leader of the French New Wave; recall the shrine to Balzac kept by young Antoine Doinel in Truf­faut’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal debut The 400 Blows. By the time he went to work on Fahren­heit 451, his sixth fea­ture, he’d become what the Amer­i­can behind-the-scenes trail­er calls an “inter­na­tion­al­ly famous French direc­tor.” But this time, cir­cum­stances con­spired against him: his increas­ing­ly frac­tious rela­tion­ship with Jules and Jim star Oskar Wern­er did the lat­ter’s per­for­mance as Mon­tag no favors, and the mon­ey hav­ing come from the U.K. forced him to work in Eng­lish, a lan­guage of which he had scant com­mand at the time.

Truf­faut him­self enu­mer­ates these and oth­er dif­fi­cul­ties in a pro­duc­tion diary pub­lished over sev­er­al issues of Cahiers du Ciné­ma (begin­ning with num­ber 175). Yet near­ly six decades lat­er, his trou­bled inter­pre­ta­tion of Fahren­heit 451 still fas­ci­nates. New York­er crit­ic Richard Brody calls it “one of Truffaut’s wildest films, a cold­ly flam­boy­ant out­pour­ing of visu­al inven­tion in the ser­vice of lit­er­ary pas­sion and artis­tic mem­o­ry as well as a repu­di­a­tion of a world of uni­form con­ve­nience and com­fort­able con­for­mi­ty.” Today we may won­der why the paraso­cial rela­tion­ship Mon­tag’s wife anx­ious­ly main­tains with her tele­vi­sion, which must have seemed fan­tas­ti­cal in the mid-six­ties, feels dis­com­fit­ing­ly famil­iar — and how long it will be before Fahren­heit 451 gets re-adapt­ed as a binge-ready pres­tige TV dra­ma.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Truf­faut Became Truf­faut: From Pet­ty Thief to Great Auteur

Ralph Steadman’s Hell­ish Illus­tra­tions for Ray Bradbury’s Clas­sic Dystopi­an Nov­el Fahren­heit 451

Behold Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451? A New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Explains

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

How the French New Wave Changed Cin­e­ma: A Video Intro­duc­tion to the Films of Godard, Truf­faut & Their Fel­low Rule-Break­ers

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

How Engineers Straightened the Leaning Tower of Pisa


Con­struc­tion on the Tow­er of Pisa first began in the year 1173. By 1178, the archi­tects knew they had a prob­lem on their hands. Built on an unsteady foun­da­tion, the tow­er began to sink under its own weight and soon start­ed to lean. Medieval archi­tects tried to address the tilt. How­ev­er, it per­sist­ed and incre­men­tal­ly wors­ened over the next eight cen­turies. Then, in 1990, Ital­ian author­i­ties closed the tow­er to the pub­lic, fear­ing it might col­lapse. For the next 11 years, engi­neers worked to sta­bi­lize the struc­ture. How did they put the tow­er on a bet­ter foot­ing, as it were, while still pre­serv­ing some of its icon­ic lean? That’s the sub­ject of this intrigu­ing video by the YouTube chan­nel Prac­ti­cal Engi­neer­ing. Watch it above.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Behold a 21st-Cen­tu­ry Medieval Cas­tle Being Built with Only Tools & Mate­ri­als from the Mid­dle Ages

The Age of Cathe­drals: A Free Online Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Alexei Navalny’s Final Letter: “Victory Is Inevitable. We Must Not Give Up”

Above, actor Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch reads the final let­ter writ­ten by Alex­ei Naval­ny, the Russ­ian oppo­si­tion leader who died in a Siber­ian prison on Feb­ru­ary 16th. The let­ter gets at a ques­tion many have asked, even from afar. Why, after being poi­soned with Novi­chok in 2020, did Naval­ny return to Rus­sia, know­ing he would face imme­di­ate and harsh impris­on­ment?

The let­ter, dat­ed Jan­u­ary 17, 2024, begins:

Exact­ly 3 years ago, I returned to Rus­sia after under­go­ing treat­ment for poi­son­ing at the air­port. I was arrest­ed and here I am three years in. For three years, I’ve been answer­ing the same ques­tion. Inmates ask it plain­ly and direct­ly. Prison admin­is­tra­tion staff [ask it] cau­tious­ly, with the recorders off. Why did you come back?

For a coun­try now used to cyn­i­cism and cor­rup­tion, the answer is dis­may­ing:

It’s actu­al­ly very sim­ple. I have my coun­try and my con­vic­tions and I don’t want to renounce either my coun­try or my con­vic­tions.… If your con­vic­tions are worth any­thing, you should be ready to stand up for them and, if nec­es­sary, make some sac­ri­fices. And if you’re not ready, then you have no con­vic­tions at all. You just think you do. But those are not con­vic­tions and
prin­ci­ples, just thoughts in your head.

Naval­ny ends the let­ter with a pre­dic­tion: “Putin’s state is unvi­able. One day we’ll look at its place and it will be gone. Vic­to­ry is inevitable but, for now, we must not give up…” Rest in peace Alex­ei Naval­ny.

The Getty Makes Nearly 88,000 Art Images Free to Use However You Like

Since the J. Paul Get­ty Muse­um launched its Open Con­tent pro­gram back in 2013, we’ve been fea­tur­ing their efforts to make their vast col­lec­tion of cul­tur­al arti­facts freely acces­si­ble online. They’ve released not just dig­i­tized works of art, but also a great many art his­to­ry texts and art books in gen­er­al. Just this week, they announced an expan­sion of access to their dig­i­tal archive, in that they’ve made near­ly 88,000 images free to down­load on their Open Con­tent data­base under Cre­ative Com­mons Zero (CC0). That means “you can copy, mod­i­fy, dis­trib­ute and per­form the work, even for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es, all with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion.”

The Get­ty sug­gests that you “add a print of your favorite Dutch still life to your gallery wall or cre­ate a show­er cur­tain using the Iris­es by Van Gogh.” But if you search the open con­tent in their archive your­self, you can sure­ly get much more cre­ative than that.

The por­tal’s inter­face lets you search by cre­ation date (with a time­line graph stretch­ing back to the year 6000 BC), medi­um (from agate and alabaster to wood­cut and zinc), object type (includ­ing paint­ings, pho­tographs, and sculp­tures, of course, but also akro­te­ria, horse trap­pings, and tweez­ers), and cul­ture. The selec­tion reflects the wide man­date of the Get­ty’s col­lec­tion, which encom­pass­es as many of the civ­i­liza­tions of the world as it does the eras of human his­to­ry.

In the Get­ty’s open-con­tent archive, you’ll find ancient sculp­ture from Greece, Rome and many oth­er parts of the world besides; a frag­men­tary oinochoe (that is, a wine jug) from third-cen­tu­ry-BC Ptole­ma­ic Egypt; lav­ish­ly illu­mi­nat­ed medieval books of hours (of the kind pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture); works by such inno­v­a­tive French painters as Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas; the stereo­scop­ic pho­tog­ra­phy of Car­leton H. Graves, who in the late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry cap­tured places from Den­mark and Pales­tine, to Japan and Korea; the dar­ing abstrac­tions of artists like Hannes Maria Flach, Jaromír Funke, and Fran­cis Bruguière. But what you do with them is, of course, entire­ly up to you. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Get­ty Dig­i­tal Archive Expands to 135,000 Free Images: Down­load High Res­o­lu­tion Scans of Paint­ings, Sculp­tures, Pho­tographs & Much Much More

A Search Engine for Find­ing Free, Pub­lic Domain Images from World-Class Muse­ums

100,000 Free Art His­to­ry Texts Now Avail­able Online Thanks to the Get­ty Research Por­tal

Down­load Great Works of Art from 40+ Muse­ums World­wide: Explore Artvee, the New Art Search Engine

The Smith­son­ian Puts 4.5 Mil­lion High-Res Images Online and Into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Use

Down­load Over 325 Free Art Books From the Get­ty Muse­um

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.

Behold Soviet Animations of Ray Bradbury Stories

Sergei Bon­darchuk direct­ed an 8‑hour film adap­ta­tion of War and Peace (1966–67), which end­ed up win­ning an Oscar for Best For­eign Pic­ture. When he was in Los Ange­les as a guest of hon­or at a par­ty, Hol­ly­wood roy­al­ty like John Wayne, John Ford, and Bil­ly Wilder lined up to meet the Russ­ian film­mak­er. But the only per­son that Bon­darchuk was tru­ly excit­ed to meet was Ray Brad­bury. Bon­darchuk intro­duced the author to the crowd of bemused A‑listers as “your great­est genius, your great­est writer!”

Ray Brad­bury spent a life­time craft­ing sto­ries about robots, Mar­tians, space trav­el and nuclear doom and, in the process, turned the for­mer­ly dis­rep­utable genre of Sci-Fi/­Fan­ta­sy into some­thing respectable. He influ­enced legions of writ­ers and film­mak­ers on both sides of the Atlantic from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to Fran­cois Truf­faut, who adapt­ed his most famous nov­el, Fahren­heit 451, into a movie.

That film wasn’t the only adap­ta­tion of Bradbury’s work, of course. His writ­ings have been turned into fea­ture films, TV movies, radio shows and even a video game for the Com­modore 64. Dur­ing the wan­ing days of the Cold War, a hand­ful of Sovi­et ani­ma­tors demon­strat­ed their esteem for the author by adapt­ing his short sto­ries.

Vladimir Sam­sonov direct­ed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. A space­ship lands on an Eden-like plan­et. The humans inside are on a mis­sion to extract all the nat­ur­al resources pos­si­ble from the plan­et, but they quick­ly real­ize that this isn’t your ordi­nary rock. “This plan­et is alive,” declares one of the char­ac­ters. Indeed, not only is it alive but it also has the abil­i­ty to grant wish­es. Want to fly? Fine. Want to make streams flow with wine? Sure. Want to sum­mon a nubile maid­en from the earth? No prob­lem. Every­one seems enchant­ed by the plan­et except one dark-heart­ed jerk who seems hell-bent on com­plet­ing the mis­sion.

Samsonov’s movie is styl­ized, spooky and rather beau­ti­ful – a bit like as if Andrei Tarkovsky had direct­ed Avatar.

Anoth­er one of Bradbury’s shorts, There Will Come Soft Rain, has been adapt­ed by Uzbek direc­tor Naz­im Tyuh­ladziev (also spelled Noz­im To’laho’jayev). The sto­ry is about an auto­mat­ed house that con­tin­ues to cook and clean for a fam­i­ly of four unaware that they all per­ished in a nuclear explo­sion. While Bradbury’s ver­sion works as a com­ment on both Amer­i­can con­sumerism and gen­er­al Cold War dread, Tyuhladziev’s ver­sion goes for a more reli­gious tact. The robot that runs the house looks like a mechan­i­cal snake (Gar­den of Eden, any­one?). The robot and the house become undone by an errant white dove. The ani­ma­tion might not have the pol­ish of a Dis­ney movie, but it is sur­pris­ing­ly creepy and poignant.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Beau­ti­ful, Inno­v­a­tive & Some­times Dark World of Ani­mat­ed Sovi­et Pro­pa­gan­da (1925–1984)

Enjoy 15+ Hours of the Weird and Won­der­ful World of Post Sovi­et Russ­ian Ani­ma­tion

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

Watch the Sur­re­al­ist Glass Har­mon­i­ca, the Only Ani­mat­ed Film Ever Banned by Sovi­et Cen­sors (1968)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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How Humanity Got Hooked on Coffee: An Animated History

Few of us grow up drink­ing cof­fee, but once we start drink­ing it, even few­er of us ever stop. Accord­ing to leg­end, the ear­li­est such case was a ninth-cen­tu­ry Ethiopi­an goatherd named Kal­di, who noticed how much ener­gy his rumi­nant charges seemed to draw from eat­ing par­tic­u­lar red berries. After chew­ing a few of them him­self, he expe­ri­enced the first caf­feine buzz in human his­to­ry. Despite almost cer­tain­ly nev­er hav­ing exist­ed, Kal­di now lends his name to a vari­ety of cof­fee shops around the world, every­where from Addis Aba­ba to Seoul, where I live.

His sto­ry also opens the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed video above, “How Human­i­ty Got Hooked on Cof­fee.” We do know, explains its nar­ra­tor, that “at some point before the four­teen-hun­dreds, in what’s now Ethiopia, peo­ple began for­ag­ing for wild cof­fee in the for­est under­growth.” Ear­ly on, peo­ple con­sumed cof­fee plants by drink­ing tea made with their leaves, eat­ing their berries with but­ter and salt, and — in what proved to be the most endur­ing method — “dry­ing, roast­ing, and sim­mer­ing its cher­ries into an ener­giz­ing elixir.” Over the years, demand for this elixir spread through­out the Ottoman Empire, and in the full­ness of time made its way out­ward to both Asia and Europe.

In no Euro­pean city did cof­fee catch on as aggres­sive­ly as it did in Lon­don, whose cof­fee hous­es pro­lif­er­at­ed in the mid-sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry and became “social and intel­lec­tu­al hotbeds.” Lat­er, “Paris’ cof­fee hous­es host­ed Enlight­en­ment fig­ures like Diderot and Voltaire, who alleged­ly drank 50 cups of cof­fee a day.” (In fair­ness, it was a lot weak­er back then.) Pro­duc­ing and trans­port­ing the ever-increas­ing amounts of cof­fee imbibed in these and oth­er cen­ters of human civ­i­liza­tion required world-span­ning impe­r­i­al oper­a­tions, which were com­mand­ed with just the degree of cau­tion and sen­si­tiv­i­ty one might imag­ine.

The world’s first com­mer­cial espres­so machine was show­cased in Milan in 1906, a sig­nal moment in the indus­tri­al­iza­tion and mech­a­niza­tion of the cof­fee expe­ri­ence. By the mid-nine­teen-fifties, “about 60 per­cent of U.S. fac­to­ries incor­po­rat­ed cof­fee breaks.” More recent trends have empha­sized “spe­cial­ty cof­fees with an empha­sis on qual­i­ty beans and brew­ing meth­ods,” as well as cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for cof­fee pro­duc­tion using “min­i­mum wage and sus­tain­able farm­ing.” What­ev­er our con­sid­er­a­tions when buy­ing cof­fee, many of us have made it an irre­place­able ele­ment of our rit­u­als both per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al. Not to say what we’re addict­ed: this is the 3,170th Open Cul­ture post I’ve writ­ten, but only the 3,150th or so that I’ve writ­ten while drink­ing cof­fee.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Cof­fee and How It Trans­formed Our World

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

How Caf­feine Fueled the Enlight­en­ment, Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion & the Mod­ern World: An Intro­duc­tion by Michael Pol­lan

The Curi­ous Sto­ry of London’s First Cof­fee­hous­es (1650–1675)

Black Cof­fee: Doc­u­men­tary Cov­ers the His­to­ry, Pol­i­tics & Eco­nom­ics of the “Most Wide­ly Tak­en Legal Drug”

“The Virtues of Cof­fee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethar­gy, Scurvy, Drop­sy, Gout & More

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.

Frank Herbert Explains the Origins of Dune (1969)

Dune: Part Two has been play­ing in the­aters for less than a week, but that’s more than enough time for its view­ers to joke about the apt­ness of its title. For while it comes, of course, as the sec­ond half of Denis Vil­leneu­ve’s adap­ta­tion of Frank Her­bert’s influ­en­tial sci-fi nov­el, it also con­tains a great many heaps of sand. Such visu­als hon­or not just the sto­ry’s set­ting, but also the form of Her­bert’s inspi­ra­tion to write Dune and its sequels in the first place. The idea for the whole saga came about, he says in the 1969 inter­view above, because he’d want­ed to write an arti­cle “about the con­trol of sand dunes.”

“I’m always fas­ci­nat­ed by the idea of some­thing that is either seen in minia­ture and that can be expand­ed to the macro­cosm or which, but for the dif­fer­ence in time, in the flow rate, and the entropy rate, is sim­i­lar to oth­er fea­tures which we wouldn’t think were sim­i­lar,” he goes on to explain. When viewed the right way, sand dunes turn out to behave “like waves in a large body of water; they just are slow­er. And the peo­ple treat­ing them as flu­id learn to con­trol them.” After enough research on this sub­ject, “I had some­thing enor­mous­ly inter­est­ing going for me about the ecol­o­gy of deserts, and it was — for a sci­ence fic­tion writer, any­way — it was an easy step from that to think: What if I had an entire plan­et that was a desert?”

That may have turned out to be one of the defin­ing ideas of Dune, but there are plen­ty of oth­ers in there with it. “We all know that many reli­gions began in a desert atmos­phere,” Her­bert says, “so I decid­ed to put the two togeth­er because I don’t think that any one sto­ry should have any one thread. I build on a lay­er tech­nique, and of course putting in reli­gion and reli­gious ideas you can play one against the oth­er.” And “of course, in study­ing sand dunes, you imme­di­ate­ly get into not just the Ara­bi­an mys­tique but the Nava­jo mys­tique and the mys­tique of the Kala­hari prim­i­tives and all.” From his tech­ni­cal curios­i­ty about sand, the sto­ry’s host of eco­log­i­cal, reli­gious, lin­guis­tic, polit­i­cal, and indeed civ­i­liza­tion­al themes emerged.

Con­duct­ed in Her­bert’s Fair­fax, Cal­i­for­nia home in 1969 by lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor and sci­ence-fic­tion enthu­si­ast Willis E. McNel­ly (who would lat­er com­pile The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia), the inter­view goes down a num­ber of intel­lec­tu­al byways that will be fas­ci­nat­ing to curi­ous fans. In its eighty min­utes, Her­bert reflects on every­thing from cor­po­ra­tions to hip­pies, the tarot to Zen, and Lawrence of Ara­bia to John F. Kennedy. The late pres­i­den­t’s then-just-begin­ning sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca gets him talk­ing about one of Dune’s threads in par­tic­u­lar, about the “way a mes­si­ah is cre­at­ed in our soci­ety.” The ele­va­tion of a mes­si­ah is an act of myth-mak­ing, after all, and “man must rec­og­nize the myth he is liv­ing in.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia: The Con­tro­ver­sial, Defin­i­tive Guide to the World of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Mas­ter­piece (1984)

The 14-Hour Epic Film, Dune, That Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, Pink Floyd, Sal­vador Dalí, Moe­bius, Orson Welles & Mick Jag­ger Nev­er Made

The Dune Fran­chise Tries Again — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #110

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.

Almost 500 Etchings by Rembrandt Now Free Online, Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum

Sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Dutch painter Rem­brandt van Rijn may have more name recog­ni­tion than near­ly any oth­er Euro­pean artist, his pop­u­lar­i­ty due in large part to what art his­to­ri­an Ali­son McQueen iden­ti­fies in her book of the same name as “the rise of the cult of Rem­brandt.” Pop­u­lar Rem­brandt ven­er­a­tion brought us in the 20th cen­tu­ry such cor­po­rate appro­pri­a­tions of the painter’s lega­cy as Rem­brandt tooth­paste and mon­ey mar­ket firm Rem­brandt Funds (par­tic­u­lar­ly iron­ic, “giv­en the noto­ri­ety of Rembrandt’s bank­rupt­cy in 1656”). “In con­tem­po­rary pop­u­lar cul­ture,” writes McQueen, “Rembrandt’s name has such res­o­nance that the head­line of an arti­cle in the New York Times Mag­a­zine in 1995 referred to the trendy bar­ber Franky Avi­la as ‘the Rem­brandt of Bar­bers.’”

By invok­ing Rembrandt’s name, the author knew his read­ers would under­stand that this con­nec­tion implies that Avila’s skill with a razor equals that of Rembrandt’s with his paint­brush or etch­ing nee­dle… even if a read­er has nev­er actu­al­ly seen any work by Rem­brandt.

Indeed, though any per­son on the street will like­ly know the artist’s name, most would be hard-pressed to name any of his paint­ings, except per­haps his well-known self-por­traits, which have adorned t‑shirts, posters, and iPhone cas­es. I might not have known much more about Rem­brandt than those self-por­traits either had I not lived in Wash­ing­ton, DC, where I had free access to many of his paint­ings at the Nation­al Gallery of Art.  The Dutch mas­ter was aston­ish­ing­ly pro­lif­ic, paint­ing, draw­ing, and etch­ing hun­dreds of por­traits of him­self and his patrons, as well as hun­dreds of still lifes, land­scapes, scenes from mythol­o­gy, and many, many Bib­li­cal sub­jects.

Rembrandt Mother

Nowa­days, you can see Rembrandt’s paint­ings for free online, whether from the Nation­al Gallery of Art’s col­lec­tion, that of the Nation­al Gallery in Lon­don, or of the Dutch Rijksmu­se­um. And for anoth­er side of his genius, you can now go to the site of New York’s Mor­gan Library and Muse­um, who have dig­i­tized “almost 500 images from the Morgan’s excep­tion­al col­lec­tion of Rem­brandt etch­ings,” cel­e­brat­ing his “unsur­passed skill and inven­tive­ness as a mas­ter sto­ry­teller.” There are, of course, plen­ty of self-por­traits, like the 1630 “Self Por­trait in a Cap, Open-Mouthed” at the top of the post, and there are por­traits of oth­ers, like that of the artist’s moth­er, above, from 1633. There are reli­gious scenes like the 1655 “Abraham’s Sac­ri­fice” below, and land­scapes like “The Three Trees,” fur­ther down, from 1643.


Rembrandt Three Trees

These are the four main cat­e­gories that the Mor­gan uses to orga­nize this impres­sive col­lec­tion, but you’ll also find there more hum­ble, domes­tic sub­jects, like the 1640 “Sleep­ing Pup­py,” below. Writes Hyper­al­ler­gic, “The Mor­gan holds in its col­lec­tion most of the rough­ly 300 known etch­ings by Rem­brandt, includ­ing rare, mul­ti­ple ver­sions (hence the dis­crep­an­cy in num­ber of etch­ings ver­sus num­ber of images.)” Like his high­ly accom­plished paint­ings, Rembrandt’s etch­ings “are famous for their dra­mat­ic inten­si­ty, pen­e­trat­ing psy­chol­o­gy, and touch­ing human­i­ty,” as well as, of course, for the extra­or­di­nary skill with which the artist made these works of art. Thanks to the “cult of Rem­brandt,” we all know the artist’s name and rep­u­ta­tion; now, thanks to dig­i­tal col­lec­tions from Nation­al Gal­leries, the Rijksmu­se­um, and now the Mor­gan, we can become experts in his work as well. Enter the Mor­gan col­lec­tion of sketch­es here.


Note: Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Mas­ter­piece

The Largest & Most Detailed Pho­to­graph of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Is Now Online: Zoom In & See Every Brush Stroke

Two Tiny Rem­brandt Paint­ings Have Been Redis­cov­ered & Put On Dis­play in Ams­ter­dam

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

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Hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Performed in Classical Latin

By the ear­ly nine­teen-nineties, at least in the Unit­ed States, Latin instruc­tion in schools was­n’t what it had once been. Stu­dents every­where had long been show­ing impa­tience and irrev­er­ence about their hav­ing to study that “dead lan­guage,” of course. But sure­ly it had nev­er felt quite so irrel­e­vant as it did in a world of shop­ping malls, cable tele­vi­sion, and the emerg­ing inter­net. Thir­ty years ago, few stu­dents would have freely cho­sen to do their Latin home­work when they could have been, say, lis­ten­ing to Nir­vana. But now, in the age of Youtube, they can have both at once.

In the video above, the_miracle_aligner cov­ers “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” in a medieval (or “bard­core”) style, using not just peri­od instru­men­ta­tion but also a trans­la­tion of its lyrics into Latin. Since its release a few years ago, this Colos­se­um-wor­thy ver­sion of the song that defined grunge has drawn thou­sands upon thou­sands of appre­cia­tive com­ments from enthu­si­asts of Nir­vana and Latin alike.

As one of the lat­ter points out, “most Latin words rhyme because of con­ju­ga­tion,” and when they don’t, the lan­guage’s unusu­al free­dom of word order pro­vides plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty to make it work. Still, the song con­tains more than its share of tru­ly inspired choic­es: anoth­er com­menter calls it “just immac­u­late” how “the ‘hel­lo, how low’ rhymes as ‘salvé, parve.’ ”

As tends to be the way with those of us here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry inclined to dig deep into a lan­guage like Latin, some take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get into char­ac­ter: “I vivid­ly remem­ber the night Gaius Kur­tus Cobainius the Elder pre­miered this song at the Amphithe­ater of Pom­pey in the Sum­mer of 91AD. The plebs went nuts and were throw­ing Ses­ter­ti and Denari on the stage. I even saw a patri­cian woman lift her tunic! Oh how I miss those days.” In what­ev­er lan­guage it’s sung, the instant­ly rec­og­niz­able “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” will send any Gen­er­a­tion-Xers in earshot right back to the stren­u­ous slack­ing of their own youth. And the cry “Oblec­táte, nunc híc sumus” would have cut as sharply in the age of bread and cir­cus­es as it did in the MTV era — or, for that mat­ter, as it does now.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn Latin, Old Eng­lish, San­skrit, Clas­si­cal Greek & Oth­er Ancient Lan­guages in 10 Lessons

How Nirvana’s Icon­ic “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” Came to Be: An Ani­mat­ed Video Nar­rat­ed by T‑Bone Bur­nett Tells the True Sto­ry

Hip 1960s Latin Teacher Trans­lat­ed Bea­t­les Songs into Latin for His Stu­dents: Read Lyrics for “O Teneum Manum,” “Diei Duri Nox” & More

Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” Played By Musi­cians Around the World

The First Live Per­for­mance of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” (1991)

What Ancient Latin Sound­ed Like, And How We Know It

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 Decimal Point Is 150 Years Older Than We Thought, Emerging in Renaissance Italy

His­to­ri­ans have long thought that the dec­i­mal point first came into use in 1593, when the Ger­man math­e­mati­cian Christo­pher Clav­ius wrote an astron­o­my text called Astro­labi­um. It turns out, how­ev­er, that the his­to­ry of the dec­i­mal point stretch­es back anoth­er 150 years–to the work of the Venet­ian mer­chant Gio­van­ni Bian­chi­ni. In his text Tab­u­lae pri­mi mobilis, writ­ten dur­ing the 1440s, Bian­chi­ni used the dec­i­mal point to cal­cu­late the coor­di­nates of plan­ets. In so doing, he invent­ed a sys­tem of dec­i­mal frac­tions, which, in turn, made the cal­cu­la­tions under­pin­ning mod­ern sci­ence more effi­cient and less com­plex, notes Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can.

Glen Van Brum­me­len, a his­to­ri­an of math­e­mat­ics, recent­ly recount­ed to NPR how he dis­cov­ered Bian­chini’s inno­va­tion:

I was work­ing on the man­u­script of this astronomer, Gio­van­ni Bian­chi­ni. I saw the dots inside of a table — in a numer­i­cal table. And when he explained his cal­cu­la­tions, it became clear that what he was doing was exact­ly the same thing as we do with the dec­i­mal point. And I’m afraid I got rather excit­ed at that point. I grabbed my com­put­er, ran up and down the dorm hall­way look­ing for col­leagues who still had­n’t gone to bed, say­ing, this per­son­’s work­ing with the dec­i­mal point in the 1440s. I think they prob­a­bly thought I was crazy.

In a new arti­cle appear­ing in the jour­nal His­to­ria Math­e­mat­i­ca, Van Brum­me­len explains the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of the dec­i­mal point, and what this dis­cov­ery means for the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of math­e­mat­ics. You can read it online.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Trigonom­e­try Dis­cov­ered on a 3700-Year-Old Ancient Baby­lon­ian Tablet

How the Ancient Greeks Shaped Mod­ern Math­e­mat­ics: A Short, Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

The Map of Math­e­mat­ics: An Ani­mat­ed Video Shows How All the Dif­fer­ent Fields in Math Fit Togeth­er

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The Puzzle of Docudramas — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #167


When we’ve already heard about someone’s per­son­al scan­dal in the news, do we need to also see it dra­ma­tized with A‑list actors? Your hosts Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Lawrence Ware, Sarahlyn Bruck, and Al Bak­er dis­cuss Todd Haynes’ 2023 film May Decem­ber fic­tion­al­iz­ing the long-after­math of the much pub­li­cized Mary Kay Letourneau sto­ry.

The main events of May Decem­ber are fic­tion­al (based on a sto­ry by screen­writer Samy Burch along with Alex Mechanik): An actress (Natal­ie Port­man) research­ing her future role vis­its the renamed Letourneau (Julianne Moore) and her now-adult hus­band (Charles Melton), whom she seduced (molest­ed) start­ing at age 12. So is this art film fun­da­men­tal­ly unlike the oth­er recent drama­ti­za­tions that we touch on, includ­ing Joe vs. Car­oleInvent­ing AnnaDirty JohnThe ActThe Shrink Next Door, and The Thing About Pam? We also talk about Real­i­ty. as an exam­ple of films depict­ing how hor­ri­ble it is to be arrest­ed.

Note that while Aman­da Knox’s sto­ry was made into a TV movie, the pres­tige TV dra­ma ver­sion is still in process. Her pod­cast is called Labyrinths.

One of the arti­cles we reviewed about May Decem­ber is this one from Vox.

Fol­low us @law_writes@sarahlynbruck@ixisnox@MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pret­ty Much Pop, includ­ing recent episodes that you haven’t seen on this site. Sup­port the show and hear bonus talk­ing for this and near­ly every oth­er episode at patreon.com/prettymuchpop 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.

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