Brain Pickings

Opening Up the Hitchcock and Lang Archives


What silent film has to do with sci-fi classics and the democratization of media.

The film careers of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock moved down parallel paths. As the British Film Institute rightly points out, the two directors started working in film around the same time and “thrived in silent film, but easily adjusted to sound. Both also moved from Europe to America and recreated their genius in a new culture.” By the 1950s, the Cahiers du cinéma placed Hitchcock and Lang in their pantheon of cinematic greats, and now you can watch a good selection of their films online — for free.

Vintage films keep slipping into the public domain, and they’re gradually finding their way onto the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle’s non-profit website dedicated to preserving cultural artifacts in digital form. The Archive’s feature films collection houses movies by Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Elia Kazan, John Ford, and, to be sure, Hitchcock and Lang too. From the silent era, you will find Lang’s German expressionist sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927) sitting alongside Hitchcock’s first critically and commercially successful film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926). Then come their 1930 “talking” films: Lang ultimately considered his first sound movie – M (1931) – his finest work overall. And many rank The 39 Steps (1935) as Hitchcock’s best early film. Plus you can watch his very first sound movie, Blackmail, from 1929.

All together, the Internet Archive houses at least 15 Hitchcock films, and 4 Lang films from the 1920s and 1930s, and you can find them listed in Open Culture’s collection of Free Movies. But things start to thin out once we hit the 1940s, when Hitchcock and Lang launched their Hollywood careers. Copyright law helps explain the dearth of available films. But, don’t despair, the Archive still offers up some worthwhile movies: on the one hand, Scarlet Street, Lang’s contribution to the film noir canon; and on the other hand, Hitchcock’s Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, two French language propaganda films that he directed to support the Allied forces during World War II. Open Culture has previously surveyed the contributions made by other great directors during war time, and today we’ll point you to a free online archive of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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Winners of IDEO’s Living Climate Change Challenge


Design-thinking our way out of the climate crisis, or why 2.5 billion kids may hold the key to a sustainable future.

Nine months ago, design thinking powerhouse IDEO issued a challenge to expand the conversation about climate change, shifting it away from what we’d have to give up and towards what we could create.

Living Climate Change aimed to provide a platform for what IDEO rightfully calls “the biggest design challenge of our time,” inviting design thinkers of all stripes to imagine what life could be like in 20 or 30 years, considering all aspects of being — lifestyle, policy, economy, behavior, and everything in between.

This month, IDEO announced the winners of the video challenge, which invited people to capture their vision of a future shaped by climate change and to imagine a better way of reducing carbon emissions. A jury of A-list design and climate change thinkers and doers — including UNESCO director Christine Alfsen, Design Council chief design officer Mat Hunter, Core77 editor Allan Chochinov, BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin, IDEO founder David Kelly, National Design Museum director Bill Moggridge, and filmmaker Gary Hustwit of Helvetica and Objectified fame — selected the winners, each of whom received $3,000 in addition to what we think is the bigger prize: A full-immersion half-day workshop at IDEO.

The winner of the under-18 category is particularly delightful — 12-year-old Alec from New Jersey crowdsourced ideas for reducing carbon emissions from some of the world’s 2.5 billion kids, offering a surprisingly rich intersection of simplicity and brilliance.

The winner of the 18-and-over category places a shift to sustainable food at the center of solving the climate crisis, envisioning a flourishing of local urban farms and the implementation of a local nutrient retrieval system, closing the nutrition cycle — in order to buy food from your local urban farm, you’d have to bring in the same amount of nutrients, in the form of compost, as what you plan to take away. A meat credit-system helps curb one of the biggest edible contributors to carbon emissions.

You can see all submissions on the Living Climate Change Vimeo page. While the challenge may live in the world of hypothetical ideas rather than actionable change, it offers a valuable exercise in thinking about climate change as a design problem — and, cliche as it may be, a solution does always begins with an innovative idea.


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The War Prayer: Mark Twain on War and Morality, Animated


“None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”

On March 22, 1905, a famous author received a rejection letter from one of the most powerful publishers of the era, calling his latest piece “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine.” The publisher was Harper’s Bazaar, the author Samuel Langhorne Clemens — better known as Mark Twain — and the piece The War Prayer, a short story written in the heat of the Philippine-American war of 1899-1902 offering a poignant reflection on the double-edged moral sword implicit to war.

Because Twain had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, the rejection letter was a death sentence for the piece, prohibiting him from publishing it elsewhere. In fact, eight days after he received the letter, Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard:

I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.

And right he was. It wasn’t until 1923, some thirteen years after the iconic satirist’s death, that The War Prayer finally saw light of day as Twain’s literary agent collected it in the anthology Europe and Elsewhere. But what makes the short story timeless and particularly appropriate today is the relevance of its central argument — that while “the weapons of slaughter” are ever-changing, the immorality of war is universal — in the face of the ongoing wars in Middle East and elsewhere.

More than a century later, here comes a moving animated adaptation of The War Prayer produced and directed by Markos Kounalakis, with wonderful illustration by Greek artist Akis Dimitrakopoulos.

Grab a copy of The War Prayer for some of the most wrily intelligent critique of humanity’s greatest transgression as Mark Twain pokes at it with tenfold the eloquence and wit of today’s political satirists.

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Life in a Day: Google Crowdsources Humanity


Documenting the world, or how to take one of 6.7 billion pathways to Sundance.

What does “humanity” actually mean? How do the 6.7 billion lives around the world, with their daily triumphs and tragedies, amount to one cohesive human story? That’s exactly what Google is trying to document in the freshly launched Life in a Day project — a cinematic experiment to document a single day, as seen through the eyes of people around the world. (Sound familiar? Very familiar? Just sayin’…)

Google is crowdsourcing submissions from filmmakers and ordinary folks alike who, on July 24, will have 24 hours to capture a snapshot of their lives on camera. The project is a partnership between YouTube, LG, director Kevin Macdonald, and legendary producer Ridley Scott of Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise fame.

Dubbed “the world’s first user-generated feature film,” Life in a Day is set to premiere in January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival. (Here’s what festival director John Cooper has to say about the project.) Creators whose footage makes it into the film will be credited as co-directors, and the 20 top contributors will get to attend the premiere at Sundance.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t reiterate the striking similarity of the premise to the One Day on Earth project, with a dash of 8 Billion Lives mixed in. So while being backed by Google and Ridley Scott certainly gives Day in a Life the leverage to gain critical enough a mass to offer a truly comprehensive snapshot of humanity, we’d have to extend a slight eyeroll at all the gushing about how “innovative” and “groundbreaking” the effort is.

Still, we strongly encourage you to take part — if anything, it’s a fun experiment and any opportunity to feel even a little bit more connected to our fellow human beings is an opportunity worthwhile.


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