Brain Pickings

Georges Méliès: The First Cinemagician

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Earlier today, we looked at DJ Spooky’s exploration of the history of remix culture, in which he makes a passing mention of Georges Méliès — the seminal French filmmaker considered by many the father of special effects and referred to as “the first cinemagician.” Working in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Méliès pioneered techniques that are still among the most potent creative arsenal of today’s animators, from stop-motion to timelapse to dissolves to multiple exposures. His most influential work is collected in Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) — an outstanding 5-disc, 13-hour collection of 173 rare and rediscovered Méliès gems, along with a beautifully illustrated booklet featuring essays by acclaimed National Film Board of Canada animator Norman McLaren.

Exquisitely digitized and even featuring 15 hand-colored films, the collection shines a new light on Méliès’ imaginative visual storytelling and its monumental creative legacy. For instance, the stop-frame multiplication in his L’homme orchestre can be seen in countless iconic visual artifacts of pop culture, such as the video-cloning in Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean.

His work was even the inspiration for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the stunning 533-page illustrated book we featured last year.

Méliès Encore: 26 Additional Rare and Original Films by the First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1911) came two years after the release of the first collection and offered, as the title promises, 24 more rediscovered and restored Méliès and two by Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomon, filmed in Méliès’ style and originally mistakenly attributed to him. Méliès even appears in one of them, l’oeuf du sorcier (The Prolific Egg) — a groundbreaking exploration of scale, multiplication and transitions from 1902 and truly earns the great filmmaker his reputation as a “cinemagician.”

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Sound Unbound: DJ Spooky Explores Remix Culture

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We’re big proponents of remix culture as the great enabler and cross-pollinator of creativity. Musician, producer, filmmaker and author Paul D. Miller, better-known as DJ Spooky, is one of remix culture’s most vocal and avid beacons, a rare champion of both its creative practice and its sociopolitical theory. In Sound Unbound, he curates a provocative and intelligent collection of essays drawing on the last 500 years of collaborative creation across music, art and literature and tracing everything from the history of stop-motion photography to Muslim influences on early hip-hop.

From an introduction by BoingBoing co-founder and open culture advocate Cory Doctorow to Brian Eno‘s exploration of the history of bells in Europe as a regulator of time to an investigation of the evolution of copyright law by Google’s senior legal counsel, the book features a wide and fascinating spectrum of texts by 36 of today’s most compelling, controversial and creative thinkers on remix culture.

Accompanying the book is a 45-track collage of a CD featuring fantastic, unexpected remixes blending rare historical recordings with modern music to deliver gems like “The Western Land” (William S. Burroughs and Iggy Pop with Techno Animal), “Erratum Musical (Score for Three Voices)/Voyage for Three” (Marcel Duchamp/George Lewis and Aki Takase) and “Eolian Episode/Gnossiene” (James Joyce/Erik Satie).

You can sample audio clips from it here, here and here, and catch an exclusive interview with DJ Spooky about the project.

As an artist, I’m a gatherer of personalities. I like pulling together radically different people and seeing what everybody has to say, and just kind of let it be a social sculpture.” ~ DJ Spooky

Sound Unbound is as much a research project into humanity’s propensity for non-linear thinking and co-creation as it is bold affirmation for the democratization of media and what we call combinatorial creativity.

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The History of Forgotten Phenomena: RIP Cliff Doerksen

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What award-winning journalism has to do with the hallucinations and the history of mince pie.

Cliff Doerksen, who wrote for the Chicago Reader and contributed to This American Life, died last month at the age of 47. Doerksen covered all kinds of topics — film, fatherhood, the wonders of old newspaper clippings — but his epic reports on long-forgotten phenomena read unlike anything else you’ll encounter in a newspaper. Here’s Ira Glass on Doerksen’s storytelling style:

Hanging out with Cliff for an evening meant that now and then he’d ease his way into a long story. It could be the history of some movie, or some cultural trend. It could be something from the history of radio, about which I knew nothing and Cliff seemed to know everything—he even wrote a book on the subject. Often it was just a story from the office, all the characters rendered with a great eye for detail and a delightfully mean ear for dialogue. He was a far better storyteller than me. Sure, on the radio, with the benefit of editing and background music, I could hold my own. But in person, after dinner, it was no contest. He kicked my ass. He could kick yours too.” ~ Ira Glass

Each of Doerksen’s long features is worthwhile, but start with these two:

“When Zion Ruled the Airwaves” tells this history of WCBD, one of the most powerful stations in the country during the early days of radio. WCBD broadcast from Zion, Ill., a fundamentalist Christian enclave just north of Chicago, and built its audience with “programming that combined faith healing, classical music, sentimental Victorian parlor ballads, fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preaching, and zealous advocacy of the notion that the earth is flat.”

“The Real American Pie” is an award-winning history of mince pie. Once considered more American than the apple variety, mince pie was a culinary staple despite the fact that nearly everyone who ate it agreed that the dish “reliably caused indigestion, provoked nightmares, and commonly afflicted the overindulgent with disordered thinking, hallucinations, and sometimes death.”

For more of Doerksen’s writing, check out his Chicago Reader archive.

Max Linsky is a journalist, the co-founder of Longform.org, and an enthusiastic supporter of Jewish professional athletes.

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Zentangle: Pattern-Drawing as Meditation

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If greater creativity and more mental balance are among your new year’s resolutions, look no further than Zentangle — a type of meditation achieved through pattern-making, created by artist duo Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. Each pattern is built one line at a time, organically combining simple patterns into complex zentangles in unplanned, unexpected ways that grow, change and unfold on the page as you enter an immersive state of flow. Totally Tangled offers a fantastic introduction to the relaxing and beautiful practice through step-by-step instructions and over 100 original tangles.

We’re particularly taken with Zentagle because its basic principle — building on simple shapes and combining different patterns into complex creativity — is such a beautiful visual metaphor for our core philosophy of combinatorial creativity.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or a professional artist, Totally Tangled can transform your casual, fidgety backpage doodling into a powerful meditative creative outlet. That, or at the very least rekindle your relationship with ink and paper in the midst of our digital flurry.

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