Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘film’

06 DECEMBER, 2011

How Bananas Became a Global Commodity

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What the silent film era has to do with the architecture of atmospheric control.

Over on Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley has a fantastic longform piece tracing the painstaking production that is the life cycle of bananas as they make their way from tropical Ecuador to your fruit bowl. This reminded me of a fascinating vintage documentary from the end of the silent film era I’d come across some time ago. The 11-minute black-and-white film, currently in the public domain courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, was produced in 1935 and zooms in on the banana industry, from virgin jungle being converted into banana plantations to the fifteen-month growth cycle between root planting and banana bunch to the shipment of the fruit into the American markets, and even ends with a stop-motion visual jingle about the health virtues of bananas.

Bananas are more than a delicious fruit — they are one of America’s most important foods…”

Now, contrast that — the manual farming and inspection, the pick-up locomotives, the “specially constructed ships of the Great White Fleet” — with today’s sophisticated banana-ripening facilities and their “evolving architecture of atmospheric control.”.

In other words, in order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees — originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container — until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.”

And in observing how far we’ve come technologically, it’s bittersweet — like a green banana, perhaps — to observe how much further we’ve gone from the groves.

HT Andrew Sullivan

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01 DECEMBER, 2011

Spiderman-Like Folk Hero Taunts the Nazis in 1945 Czech Animation

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What a mischievous chimney sweep has to do with tricking Hitler out of power.

To those of us who grew up in Eastern Europe, Czech puppet maker, illustrator, and animator Jirí Trnka (1912-1969) is best-known for his illustrations of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm (recently included in Taschen’s epic volume collecting the best illustrations from 130 years of the Brothers Grimm). In fact, he came of age as a children’s book artist during World War II, when he illustrated books for children and eventually started dabbling in animation. In 1945, just as the war was winding down, he began working on Perak a SS (The Springer and the SS Men, or Springman and the SS, or The Jumper and the Men of the SS) — an animated anti-Nazi film, based on a WWII urban legend about a mischievous chimney-sweep-turned-superhero who taunts the Nazis, reminiscent in both appearance and action of an early Spiderman.

Trnka went on to have a prolific career in experimental animation, creating some astounding and brilliantly innovative, not only for their time but also by today’s standards, puppet films.

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30 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Hare and the Tortoise: 1947 Dramatization with Live Animals

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Slow and steady wins the race… or does it?

From Encyclopedia Britannica Films — the same folks who brought us this fantastic manifesto for the spirit of journalism (1940), a vintage lesson in democracy and despotism (1945), and a drug addiction PSA explaining how different drugs work (1951) — comes this 1947 dramatization of Aesop’s iconic fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, featuring live animals. A menagerie cast, including an owl, a fox, a goose, a rooster, a raccoon, and a rabbit, reenacts the famously ambiguous moral story in a narrative that’s so boring and redundant it quickly becomes comic, a piece of inadvertent, almost Seinfeld-like vintage comedy. But what makes the film curious is that while the Aesop classic leaves the question of how the tortoise beat the hare unanswered, inviting centuries of interpretation, here a very specific, seemingly plausible answer for what happened is given.

The film is in the public domain and available for free, legal download courtesy of the Prelinger Archives.

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