Brain Pickings

Iconic Playwright Harold Pinter on Truth in Drama (and in Life)

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“The real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth.”

In 2005, the influential English playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter (October 10, 1930–December 24, 2008) won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His acceptance speech, excellent in its entirety, contains this brilliant meditation on truth in drama — which, if we embrace the life-imitates-art-imitates-life paradigm, is also a brilliant meditation on truth (“truth”) in life.

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.” ~ Harold Pinter

For more on Pinter’s character and spirit, see Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter, the fantastic memoir by renowned biographer Antonia Fraser, who also happened to be Pinter’s partner.

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Grierson: A Documentary About the Filmmaker Who Coined “Documentary”

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Why reality is a better storytelling tool than fiction and how film can be a conduit of democracy.

Pioneering Scottish filmmaker John Grierson (1898-1972) is often considered the father of documentary film and credited with coining the very term “documentary” in his review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana in the February 8, 1926, issue of the New York Sun. His 1932 essay “First Principles of Documentary” argued that cinema’s capacity for observing life could be a new art form, wherein the materials “taken from the raw” can be more real than acted fiction and the “original” actor and “original” scene are better lens for interpreting the modern world than their fiction counterparts. Above all, Grierson believed in the social responsibility of the filmmaker and the potential of film in helping society achieve its democratic ideals.

Grierson is a 1973 documentary about the father of documentary by Canadian filmmaker Roger Blais, now free online in its entirety courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada. Through archival footage, interviews with people who knew him, and footage of Grierson himself, Blais paints a lively and fascinating portrait of a man who was concerned not only with documentary film as an art form but also as a powerful tool of democracy. (Cue in The Power of Photojournalism.)

The film is also available on DVD from the NFB. For more on Grierson’s vision and legacy, dig around for a used copy of the excellent out-of-print book Grierson on the Movies.

via MetaFilter

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Fashioning Apollo: How the Spacesuit Was Designed

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What Neil Armstrong has to do with combinatorial creativity, underdog innovators, and sports bras.

On July 12, 1969, only 21 layers of fabric, most gossamer-thin, stood between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and the lethal desolation of a lunar vacuum.”

So begins UC Berkeley architecture professor Nicholas de Monchaux’s Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo — a fascinating voyage into the sartorial history of space flight through the parallel history of one of its key technologies: the spacesuit. Blending material science, iconic photography, and intriguing trivia (did you know that the Apollo mission’s computer-backup system was crafted into a binary pattern that was then physically woven into ropes?), the book itself is cleverly constructed as a series of layers corresponding to the 21 layers of the Apollo spacesuit.

The story of the Apollo spacesuit is the surprising tale of an unexpected victory: that of Playtex, maker of bras and girdles, over the large military-industrial contractors better positioned to secure the spacesuit contract. This book tells the story of this victory, and analyzes both the Playtex suit — a 21-layer, complex assemblage — and its ‘hard’ competitors. It is the clean lines of the latter that have traditionally captured designers’ imaginations: one noted critic described the AX-3 ‘hard’ suit as ‘the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.'”

For more on these competitors, as well as the evolution of the spacesuit over the following decades, see The Smithsonian’s excellent Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection.)

One of the most fascinating aspects of the spacesuits is its testament to combinatorial creativity and the idea that everything comes from what came before. Monchaux writes:

A space suit is made out of a flight suit, a Goodrich tire, a bra, a girdle, a raincoat, a tomato worm. An American rocket ship is made out of a nuclear weapon, and a German ballistic missile; a ‘space program’ — a new organization with new goals — is made out of preexisting military, scholarly, and industrial institutions and techniques.”

The Los Angeles Review of Books has a closer look, and BLDG BLOG has a wonderful interview with de Monchaux.

Meticulously researched and captivatingly written, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo is a fine addition to the year’s best history books.

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