Brain Pickings

Tango: The First Polish Short Film to Win an Oscar, 1980

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Everything that could happen in a room, happening.

You might recall Blok, a wonderful 1982 experimental Polish animated film, using a single continuous shot to take a voyeuristic tour of the different apartments in a building. From the same era comes Tango — a clever and spectacularly executed 1980 film by director Zbigniew Rybczynski from Polish short-film studio Se-ma-for. The cinematography, capturing multiple events taking place simultaneously in a closed space, was so complicated and required such precision that Rybczynski worked on the film for nearly a year, eating and sleeping on the set.

In 1983, Tango became the first Polish film to win an Oscar.

Tango appears on the altogether excellent two-disc DVD Anthology of Polish Animated Film.

Thanks, Mark

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Architecture Without Architects: What Ancient Structures Reveal About Collaborative Design

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From Rome’s theater districts to China’s underground cities, or what pleasure has to do with utility.

The mythology of the sole genius underpins most contemporary creative disciplines, but it is particularly pronounced in architecture, where the image of the visionary diva-architect endures as the gold standard of the discipline’s success. In 1964, Moravian-born American writer, architect, designer, collector, educator, designer, and social historian Bernard Rudofsky examined a whole other side of architecture in Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture — a fascinating lens on “primitive” and communal architecture, exploring both its functional value and its artistic richness, with a focus on indigenous tribal structures and ancient dwellings. Rudofsky peels the pretense of architecture from the creative and utilitarian acts of building to reveal a kind of vernacular, communal architecture embodying a timeless art form that springs from the intersection of human intelligence, necessity, and collective creativity.

I believe that sensory pleasure should take precedence over intellectual pleasure in art and architecture.” ~ Bernard Rudofsky

Underground city near Tungkwan (China)

Anticoli on the Sabine Mountains (near Rome)

Rudofsky was concerned with the cultural bias of architectural history, so he took a special interest in the vernacular architecture of non-Western communities.

Architectural history, as written and taught in the Western world, has never been concerned with more than a few select cultures. In terms of space it comprises but a small part of the globe -Europe, stretches of Egypt and Anatolia- or little more than was known in the second century AD. Moreover, the evolution of architecture is usually dealt with only in its late phases.” ~ Bernard Rudofsky

Cliff dwellings of the Dogon tribe (Sudan)

(Curiously, Rudofsky’s black-and-white photographs of clustered housing units bear a visceral resemblance to the illustrations of Soviet mathematician-turned-artist Anatolii Fomenko, conveying a strange sense of organic order.)

Marrakech (Morocco)

The structures in Architecture Without Architects reveal a kind of purposeful, iterative, social design process that, while dating back centuries and originating in primitive cultures, offers a powerful parallel to contemporary shifts towards collaborative creation.

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Throw Over Your Man: Virginia Woolf’s 1927 Love Letter to Vita Sackville-West

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“…and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads.”

What makes an extraordinary love letter? After Monday’s omnibus of famous correspondence, I revisited a lovely decade-old book titled The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time, which features missives from icons like Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Frida Kahlo, Franz Kafka, and Mozart, covering everything from tender love to lust to bitter breakups.

Among them is this 1927 letter from Virginia Woolf to English poet Vita Sackville-West, with whom Woolf had fallen madly in love.

Look here Vita — throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads — They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.”

The gender-bending character in Woolf’s Orlando, in fact, was based on Sackville-West, and the entire novel is thought to have been written about the affair — so much so that Sackville-West’s son Nigel Nicolson has described it as “the longest and most charming love-letter in literature.”

The greatest love letters, of course, aren’t those written for public greatness — they’re the ones penned for one particular trembling heart, honeycombed with private memories and private miracles, written in the language of the possible.

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