Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Prelinger’

13 JUNE, 2012

Bee City: 1951 Short Film about the Social Life of Bees

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What goes on inside the microcosm of one of Earth’s most fascinating civilizations.

Bees are all kinds of amazing, yet they’re vanishing before our eyes. The granddaughter of a beekeeper, I find these creatures as magnificent as their modern fate is heartbreaking. In 1951, half a century before colony collapse disorder became of critical concern, Paul F. Moss and Thelma Schnee produced Bee City — a wonderful short film about the life of a bee, from how a larva becomes a full-grown worker to what it takes for these social creatures to navigate the complex systems they inhabit.

Thirty thousand inhabitants of a city are exposed before your eyes, as our camera peers and probes into a community of bees. We witness perhaps the most ingenious creatures of the insect world — their growth, their myriad activities, their whole society, all of which is an amazing chapter in nature’s wonderland.

The film is now in the public domain, courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, and is available for download from the Internet Archive.

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12 JUNE, 2012

The Art of Coffee: A Mad Men Era Short Film

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“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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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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