Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Errol Morris’

08 JANUARY, 2013

A Brief History of Time: Rare 1991 Errol Morris Documentary About Stephen Hawking, Free Online


For the celebrated cosmologist’s birthday, revisiting a near-forgotten trifecta of genius.

Iconic theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose 1988 classic A Brief History of Time is not only one of these 7 favorite books about time but also among the most influential science books published in the past century, celebrates his seventy-first birthday today. While many films have been made about Hawking and his theories over the years, none compare to documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris‘s 1991 masterpiece about Hawking’s life, titled after the seminal book and featuring original music by none other than Philip Glass.

Though Morris tweeted exactly a year go that he planned to re-release the film, it remains virtually unfindable on DVD, Bluray, or any digital format, and only exists on VHS, which might explain the dreadful quality of the video below. Still, what a treat to have the film available online in its entirety — the content itself is absolutely, mind-bendingly priceless, just like a Hawking/Morris cross-pollination might imply. Enjoy:

Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.

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01 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Believing Is Seeing: Errol Morris Unravels the Greatest Mysteries of Photojournalism


What Susan Sontag has to do with Twitter hoaxes and the untold stories of WPA propaganda.

Besides being an Academy-Award-winning filmmaker and a MacArthur “Genius,” Errol Morris is also one of the keenest observers of contemporary culture and human nature. Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography), out today, brings together his great gifts in an extraordinary effort to untangle the mysteries behind some of the world’s most iconic documentary photographs, inviting you on “an excursion into the labyrinth of the past and into the fabric of reality.”

The title of the book comes from Morris’s 2008 New York Times story, in which he first took a close look at the history and future of doctored photographs in the digital age.

From the Civil War to Abu Ghraib to WPA-era propaganda, Morris approached each photograph like a mystery story and went to remarkable lengths to get to its bottom. More than a mere curiosity-tickler for history buffs, his findings and insights are both timeless and timelier than ever when the same issues — manipulation, censorship, authenticity, journalistic ethics — ebb to the forefront of our collective conscience in an age when photojournalism is both more accessible and messier than ever before.

Susan Sontag famously accused Roger Fenton of staging the cannonballs in The Valley of the Shadow of Death, his iconic photograph of the Crimean War. In the age of Photoshop, even staging is too big a bother — all it takes are a few clicks of the mouse, or maybe just a misleading tweet. (Thousands of people duped by faux Irene shark photo last weekend, I’m looking at you.)

Kathryn Schulz has a fantastic, thoughtful review in The New York Times — highly recommended.

A feat of investigative inquiry woven together by Morris’s delicate but cunning threads of cultural criticism, Believing Is Seeing is an absolute masterpiece of rigorous nonfiction that pulls you in like the best of mystery fiction.

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24 JANUARY, 2011

They Were There: Errol Morris Spotlights Computer Pioneers


We tend to think of the evolution of technology as this disembodied force that changes, for better or for worse, the way we live. But, in fact, it’s the product of individual innovators and the companies who unite them. Among the most monumental tech innovators of our time is International Business Machines, known today simply as IBM. Founded in 1911, IBM is responsible for inventions such as the first school time control system, the first electronic keypunch and the first large-scale electro-mechanical calculator. For its centennial this year, the company has released a duo of documentaries exploring its legacy and the history of seminal technologies that shaped the course of contemporary computing.

They Were There by legendary documentary director Errol Morris spotlights the pioneers who “changed the way the world works,” quite literally, with music by none other than Philip Glass.

100 X 100 chronicles a century of technological achievements, presented by 100 people, each recounting the IBM achievement recorded in the year he or she was born, moving from the oldest to the youngest — a refreshingly innovative storytelling device, layered on top of some fascinating historical trivia.

For more on the history of IBM, one of the most wide-reaching innovators of our time, we highly recommend The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM — the remarkable story of America’s first celebrity CEO told through rare, never-before-explored documents and riveting tales of optimism amidst chaos.

HT Coudal

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