Brain Pickings

Happy Birthday, Frank Capra: 5 Essential Films

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What war propaganda has to do with vintage Hollywood romance and the American political process.

114 years ago today, Frank Capra was born in Sicily, but soon enough immigrated to the United States — to Los Angeles, to be precise — where he grew up, studied chemical engineering, and became a nationalized US citizen in 1920. Throughout the next decade, Capra threw himself into writing and directing silent films, then switched to making “talkies.” By 1934, he was reeling off a string of classics — films that exuded an unbounded optimism that’s quintessentially American: It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — they’re all part of the great Capra filmography. And, of course, you can’t overlook a string of propaganda documentaries that Capra directed (along with John Huston and John Ford) to galvanize support for World War II.

Thanks to Google Video and the Internet Archive, you can now revisit five Capra films online, plus many other great films from the same era. Let’s give you a quick tour:

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

This romantic comedy, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, won every major Academy Award in 1934. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. It was a first, and the feat has only been repeated twice since.

MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON

This epic drama features Jimmy Stewart in one of his finest performances. Today, the film inspires the fanciful belief that one individual can effect change in Washington. But, when it was first released, American politicians and journalists attacked the film for merely suggesting that corruption might influence the American political process.

MEET JOHN DOE

Although less well known than other Capra classics, the American Film Institute ranks Meet John Doe 49th on its list called 1100 Years… 100 Cheers: America’s Most Inspiring Movies. Needless to say, It’s a Wonderful Life, the all-time Capra gem, sits at the very top of that list.

WHY WE FIGHT: PRELUDE TO WAR

Once World War II broke out, Capra was commissioned by the US government to direct a seven episode propaganda series called “Why We Fight.” Prelude to War appears above. Other titles in the sequence include The Nazi Strike, The War Comes to America and beyond.

TUNISIAN VICTORY

Finally, later in the war, Capra was called upon again by his government. The mission this time was to explain what was happening on the war front in North Africa. And that he did. Tunisian Victory hit theaters in 1944.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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Partitura: Mesmerizing Music Visualization Software

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What neurological phenomena have to do with software and the future of live performance experiences.

Music visualization deeply fascinates and inspires me, from how it’s manifested in outlier phenomena like synesthesia to how it’s codified in the visual language of music notation to how it’s leveraged in artistic expression. Partitura explores this topic from a software standpoint with spellbinding generative real-time graphics that visualize sound. A collaboration between London-based visual artist Quayola and music visualization artists Pedro Mari and Natan Sinigaglia, the software churns out endless, mesmerizing, ever-evolving abstract shapes that can respond both the structure of recorded music and manual gestural inputs.

Partitura aims to create a new system for translating sound into visual forms. Inspired by the studies of artists such as Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oscar Fischinger and Norman McLaren, the images generated by Partitura are based on a precise and coherent system of relationships between various types of geometries.” ~ Quayola

Partitura feels like a three-dimensional version of the wonderful Soy Tu Aire, equal parts fluid and vibrant, with incredible potential for live performances and multisensory ambient experiences.

via Create Digital Motion via ArtsTech News

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Field Notes: A Glimpse Inside Great Explorers’ Notebooks

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On the singular joys of observing nature firsthand, or the best way to draw a bilaterally symmetrical sphinx moth.

In our age of screens, pencil and paper have lost some of their cultural status, but a new publication wants to remind us of their value in recording and understanding our world.

Just out from Harvard University Press, Field Notes on Science and Nature is as much a scientific travelogue as a celebration of traditional methodologies for making sense of our natural environment. Full of beautiful reproductions of original journal pages, Field Notes takes us from Baja, California with eminent ornithologist Kenn Kaufman to the Serengeti with renowned mammalogist George Schaller.

In the words of the book’s editor, Michael Canfield (himself a biologist at Harvard), we can all “peer over the shoulders of outstanding field scientists and naturalists” through their brilliant annotations and illustrations.

'Meriwether Lewis's journal notes of the Eulachon fish (Thaleichthys pacificus), made on February 24, 1806, while Lewis was near Fort Clatsop, Oregon.'

Image courtesy of the American Philosophical Society

'A typical notebook page detailing the thoughts and events of a day doing fieldwork at Olorgesailie, Kenya, with a personal note near the end of the page about the joy of being alone with rocks.'

Anna K. Behrensmeyer, Paleontologist, in the essay 'Linking Researchers Across Generations'

'Page from a field notebook made in New Guinea on the food webs of aquatic animals known as phytotelmata that live in plant containers, such as tree hollows and bromeliad tanks.'

Roger Kitching, Ecologist, in 'A Reflection of the Truth'

The twelve essays in Field Notes were written by professional naturalists from such diverse disciplines as anthropology, botany, ecology, entomology, and paleontology, and their enthusiasm and experience are contagious. For the amateur naturalists among us, the compilation also contains essays on “Note-Taking for Pencilophobes” and basic instructions on color theory and sketching.

'Ink and watercolor drawing of a red sea fan (Swiftia sp.)'

Jenny Keller, in the essay 'Why Sketch?'

The simple satisfactions of mindfully documenting our surroundings are probably best summed up by E.O. Wilson, who penned the book’s introduction:

If there is a heaven, and I am allowed entrance, I will ask for no more than an endless living world to walk through and explore. I will carry with me an inexhaustible supply of notebooks, from which I can send back reports to the more sedentary spirits (mostly molecular and cell biologists). Along the way I would expect to meet kindred spirits among whom would be the authors of the essays in this book.”

Let Field Notes be your guide to seeing both the wonders of biology and your own backyard with new eyes.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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