Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

12 JUNE, 2012

The Art of Coffee: A Mad Men Era Short Film


“Success lies in a single word: Care.”

Beyond being the world’s favorite hot beverage, coffee, as any aficionado will tell you, is a matter of a great art and, often, great snobbery. But what, exactly, makes the ancient beverage that manifests in your cup every morning a modern masterpiece? This delightful Mad-Men-era short film, produced by Vision Associates in 1961 as promotional material for the Coffee Brewing Institute, traces the art and culture of coffee from its harvesting and production to its many traditions of preparation (Viennese! Parisian! Venetian! Turkish!), to the three elements that converge into its “fine flavor.”

How, then, do we make the perfect cup of coffee to our taste? Success lies in a single word: Care. Three simple ingredients go into the brewing process: water, coffee, time. Care will produce a perfect result every time.

The film, titled This Is Coffee!, is now in the public domain, made available by the Prelinger Archives, who have previously shown us how bananas became a global commodity and why illegal drugs are like LEGO.

Open Culture

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30 MAY, 2012

Color Harmony: An Animated Explanation of How Color Vision Works circa 1938


Vintage black-and-white film explains the wonders of color vision.

Human vision is one of the most remarkable capacities of our bodies, its precise mechanism the subject of much fascination, from gorgeous vintage illustrations to cutting-edge modern science to Sesame Street stop-motion. In 1938, The Handy (Jam) Organization — the same folks who brought us an homage to makers and hands-on creativity, an animated explanation of how radio broadcasting works, a visual tour of mid-century design, the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animation, and a primer on ultraviolet light — produced Color Harmony: a fantastic animated explanation of how color vision works, how other animals use their eyes, and how the human eye functions to see colors both separately and in combination.

The irony, of course, is that on the timeline of film innovation, color didn’t permeate Hollywood until the 1950s — mainstream film technology in 1938 was confined to black-and-white, so all the live footage is devoid of color, complemented instead by hand-drawn color animation.

We are able to see mixtures of two-color rays as one color. We don’t need green light in order to see green, and we don’t need orange light to make us see orange. Mixtures of blue and yellow light and yellow and red light will create green and orange for us. To make the eyes see all color, then, only the three primaries — red, yellow, and blue — need be used. From these primaries, a complete color circle can be created. That is why it is possible to reproduce the brilliant colors of nature, faithfully, with just three primary colors in modern color reproducing processes.


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28 MAY, 2012

I Am Science: Short Film Traces Unconventional Paths to Life in Science


The road to science is paved with failed intentions.

To celebrate their second birthday, my friends at The Story Collider, the finest science storytelling show around, teamed up with American Museum of Natural History media writer and producer Mindy Weisberger to bring to life the recent #IAmScience meme — real-life stories about the unconventional, unexpected ways in which people ended up in science — in a lovely short film. Starring a wide range of science jockeys, from physicists to forensic scientists to journalists, it bespeaks the oft-overlooked truth that, much like the path of science, the path to science is a journey of discovery, of questions rather than answers, and of embracing serendipity.


  • Erin Barker, producer / editor, The Story Collider
  • Shelly Ben David, psychologist
  • Deborah Berebichez, physicist and science popularizer
  • Cat Bohannon, PhD student, narrative and cognition
  • Samuel Crane, PhD student, entomology
  • Matt Danzico, journalist
  • Jeanne Garbarino, biochemist
  • Meghan Groome, science educator
  • Amy Harmon, journalist
  • Smriti Keshari, documentary filmmaker
  • Lance Langstrom, geneticist
  • Ben Lillie, writer / co-founder, The Story Collider
  • Eric LoPresti, painter
  • Luis Quevedo, radio producer
  • Theanne Schiros, physicist
  • Lou Serico, forensic scientist
  • Julian Taub, science writer
  • Kelly Vaughn, science teacher
  • Mindy Weisberger, media writer / producer

You can support Story Collider with a tax-deductible donation, treat yourself to their podcast, and come to the next live show.

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