Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘film’

01 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Arnold Schoenberg’s Music Notation Based on Tennis: A Tribute to George Gershwin

By:

What the U.S. Open has to do with atonality and one of the great losses of twentieth-century music.

Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg is best-known as the inventor of the twelve-tone technique and a pioneer of atonality, but he was also a man of many curiosities and passions. A lover of tennis, which he famously played with his tennis partner George Gershwin, Schoenberg channeled his enthusiasm for the sport into a new system of music notation, based on a transcription of the events in a tennis match — one of the many gems in the phenomenal anthology of innovation in notation systems, Notations 21.

In 1937, mere months before his tragic death at the unfair age of 38, Gershwin shot this home movie on his tennis court at Roxbury Drive, Beverly Hills, featuring Schoenberg and his wife Gertrud, along with some brief glimpses of Gershwin himself. The film is scored with Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 4 Op.37, written in 1936 and recorded in 1937 by the Kolisch Quartet, which was sponsored by Gershwin. The video ends with a photograph of Gershwin painting his famous portrait of Schoenberg mashed up with audio of Schoenberg’s moving tribute to Gershwin, recorded on July 12th, 1937, the day after Gershwin’s death.

George Gershwin was one of these rare kind of musicians to whom music is not a matter of more or less ability. Music, to him, was the air he breathed, the food which nourished him, the drink that refreshed him. Music was what made him feel and music was the feeling he expressed. Directness of this kind is given only to great men. And there is no doubt that he was a great composer. What he has achieved was not only to the benefit of a national American music but also a contribution to the music of the whole world. In this meaning I want to express the deepest grief for the deplorable loss to music. But may I mention that I lose also a friend whose amiable personality was very dear to me.” ~ Arnold Schoenberg

Thanks, Ruth

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

26 AUGUST, 2011

Video Portraits of Resilience from Sri Lanka

By:

Three beautiful short films about ingenuity in the face of scarcity and hardship.

In the 1990s, the Sri Lankan government’s embargoes on fuel, medicines and food items in the north and east of Sri Lanka in an effort to frustrate the operations of a potent separatist militant group known as the Tamil Tigers reached their peak. In the face of dearth and hardship, the locals resorted to increasingly inventive ways of making do. From narrative multimedia journalist Kannan Arunasalam comes a beautiful and poignant series of video portraits of resilience, expression and survival, capturing the stories of the people of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and their remarkable ingenuity — a taxi drivers taking the sick to the hospital with no fuel, a lepers community persevering despite despair and isolation, a newspaper publishing without newsprint.

Watch all three of the terrific films below:

Paper brings to mind the world’s last 3 hand-written newspapers.

The project was supported by Sri Lankan citizen journalism platform GroundViews and captures the sort of next-gen storytelling we’ve previously seen News21 aspire to.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

23 AUGUST, 2011

The Myth of Popular Culture: Why ‘Highbrow’ & ‘Lowbrow’ Don’t Work

By:

From Dante to Dylan, or what nineteenth-century phrenology has to do with the codification of bigotry.

We’ve come to accept intellectual stimulation and pop culture fetishism as diametric opposites, frequently pulling us, our attention, and our personal growth in conflicting directions. But, it turns out, this might be a tragic oversimplification at best, if not a complete fallacy. In The Myth of Popular Culture: From Dante to Dylan, cultural critic Perry Meisel offers a bold defense of pop culture by arguing against the traditional, socialized distinction between “high” and “low” culture through a thoughtful analysis of three hallmarks of contemporary culture — the American novel, Hollywood, and British and American rock music. He traces back some 500 years of influences, sociopolitical anxieties and historical events, from the evolution of music genres like folk and soul to the legacy of political ideologies like Marxism to the social footprint of Freudian theory, ultimately showing how Bob Dylan — the epitome of pop culture — not only blurred but fully erased the line between “high” and “low” culture.

Meisel takes the seminal work of philosopher and critic Theodor Adorno and practically turns it against itself:

The myth of pop culture — Adorno’s myth — is that it is not dialectical. The truth is that it is. Like high art, pop, too — contra Adorno — has a conversation both with its sources, which it revises and transforms, and with cultural authority as a whole, which it also revises and transforms.”

(This idea, of course, isn’t entirely new. Five years prior to Meisel, Steven Johnson argued in Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter that IQ scores in the west have risen steadily in the past few decades not merely despite but because of pop culture.)

Among Meisel’s fascinating semi-asides is a discussion of the origins of “highbrow” and “lowbrow,” rooted in some of humanity’s most shameful episodes of socially condoned bigotry.

The terms ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ come from phrenology, the nineteenth-century science of regarding the shape of the skull as a key to intelligence. A ‘high’ forehead meant intelligence; a ‘low’ one meant stupidity. Phrenology thrived as a popular science in the late nineteenth century and led eventually to the racial theories of the Nazis, for whom the Jewish cranium and pale, sunken face were clear indications of Jewish racial inferiority.”

Dense but remarkably articulate, with a formidable citations list spanning from the Sex Pistols to Susan Sontag, The Myth of Popular Culture spins a fascinating story of how our common culture came to be and why we should think twice about our intellectual reservations towards the products of pop culture.

HT The Atlantic; image via The Library of Congress

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.