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.
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.
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.
From Encyclopedia Britannica Films — the same folks who brought us this fantastic manifesto for the spirit of journalism (1940), a vintage lesson in democracy and despotism (1945), and a drug addiction PSA explaining how different drugs work (1951) — comes this 1947 dramatization of Aesop’s iconic fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, featuring live animals. A menagerie cast, including an owl, a fox, a goose, a rooster, a raccoon, and a rabbit, reenacts the famously ambiguous moral story in a narrative that’s so boring and redundant it quickly becomes comic, a piece of inadvertent, almost Seinfeld-like vintage comedy. But what makes the film curious is that while the Aesop classic leaves the question of how the tortoise beat the hare unanswered, inviting centuries of interpretation, here a very specific, seemingly plausible answer for what happened is given.
The film is in the public domain and available for free, legal download courtesy of the Prelinger Archives.
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The architecture of addiction, or why mixed metaphors might be more harmful than marijuana.
In the 1950s and 60s, singer Anita Bryant made a name for herself as a vocal gay rights opponent. (Take that, Anita.) In the 1970s, she added illegal drugs to her roster of targets and narrated a short “documentary” on the evils of drugs titled Drugs Are Like That, in which two school-aged children discuss their knowledge of drugs whilst constructing a giant LEGO monster. Though many of its metaphors make little sense, its odd medley of campy and condescending is a head-scratcher, and a number of its arguments are scientifically questionable, the film is nonetheless visually beautiful and creatively innovative for its time. That, or at the very least an entertaining paleofuture treat for your Wednesday. (For a better metaphor using LEGOs, see my thoughts on networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity.)
Watch or download the full 16-minute version from the Prelinger Archives — it’s public domain footage, which makes it remix material of the finest kind, ahem…
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