Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘remix’

24 MARCH, 2011

The Atomic Cafe: Lampooning America’s Nuclear Obsession

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What vintage bomb survival suits have to do with Dr. Stragelove and Richard Nixon.

The recent tragedy in Japan has triggered a tsunami of terror, founded and unfounded, about the potential risks of nuclear reactors. While there are people better equipped than us to explain the precise implications of the situation, we thought we’d put things in perspective by examining the flipside of these dystopian fears: The exuberant optimism about nuclear power in mid-century America.

The Atomic Cafe (1982) offers clever satire of America’s atomic culture through a mashup of old newsreels and archival footage from military training films, government propaganda, presidential speeches and pop songs — remix culture long before it became a buzzword. From congressmen pushing for nuclear attacks on China to mind-boggling inventions like the “bomb survival suit,” the darkly humorous film revolves around the newly built atomic bomb and pokes fun at the false optimism of the 1950s, showing how nuclear warfare made its way into American homes and seeped into the collective conscience from the inside out.

Though the collector’s edition DVD is a winner, the film — which became a cult classic often referred to as the “nuclear Reefer Madness” and compared to Kubrick’s Dr. Stragelove — is also available for free online in its entirety:

The Atomic Cafe is a poignant reminder that all social reactions, whatever their polarity, are always a complex function of the era’s cultural concerns, political propaganda and media mongering, rather than an accurate reflection of the actual risks and opportunities at hand.

Please note that none of this is meant as commentary on or an effort to invalidate the debilitating human tragedy in Japan. In fact, we’re diverting Brain Pickings donations this month to the American Red Cross in support of the relief efforts there. Our thoughts remain with the people of Japan as they piece their lives back together.

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22 MARCH, 2011

3 Iconic Film Directors Interpret Classic Operas

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What arias have to do with Cousin It, cinematic pathos and eccentric Germans.

To celebrate six years of collaboration between Sky Arts and the English National Opera, Sky Arts commissioned an unlikely trio to produce Sky Arts Opera Shorts — three opera short films by three of today’s most celebrated film directors: Dougal Wilson, Sam Taylor-Wood and Werner Herzog. The films are set to a popular aria of ENO’s 2008/2009 season, capturing each director’s distinct visual style. And, as big proponents of the cross-pollination of the arts and the creative intersections of past and present, we’re loving them.

DOUGAL WILSON

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville may be among the world’s best-known, most widely loved operas, but when Dougal Wilson (we’re longtime fans) reenvisions it in his characteristically mischievous fashion, it’s a different kind of treat entirely. Hovering between classic silent film, hipster music video — that is, after all, Wilson’s specialty — and Adams Family reunion, the film is equal parts quirky and delightful.

I’m used to working with artists such as Goldfrapp and Will Young, so working with ENO presented me with a really fresh challenge. Directing an opera short allowed me to apply modern artistic disciplines to a traditional source to hopefully create a really engaging piece of work.” ~ Dougal Wilson

SAM TAYLOR-WOOD

British filmmaker and conceptual aritst Sam Taylor-Wood never ceases to amaze. Last year, we were head-over-heels with Nowhere Boy, her poetic chronicle of John Lennon’s little-known early life. Here, she brings that same cinematic pathos to a simple yet powerful interpretation of Pagliacci’s Vesti la Giubba (On with the Greasepaint).

I’m really happy to be involved in such a great project. I think by capturing one of opera’s most moving moments in a film short, we have put a modern spin on the aria.” ~ Sam Taylor-Wood

WERNER HERZOG

Our long-running love for Werner Herzog continues unabated as the eccentric German director brings his signature this-is-looking-very-bizarre-and-I’m-not-quite-getting-it-but-can’t-stop-looking touch to O Soave Fanciulla (Oh you vision of beauty) from Puccini’s iconic La Bohème.

I’ve no doubt that the film shorts will generate interest from a whole new generation of music lovers — the results are fantastic. Filming in High Definition in Africa allowed us to juxtapose the traditions of opera with a real innovative setting, the uniqueness of which is hopefully reflected in the final film.” ~ Werner Herzog

via Coudal

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16 MARCH, 2011

The Art of Immersion: Dissecting the Future of Storytelling

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Groping our way into next-gen entertainment, or how the original Star Wars trilogy birthed Lost.

Audiences expect more from their entertainment in 2011. Twenty years into our collective online experience, every genre of traditional popular art — books, film, television — is undergoing profound changes in form and function. A new book from Wired contributor Frank Rose called The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories assembles case studies that both analyze the past and predict the future of fun.

We stand now at the intersection of lure and blur. The future beckons, but we’re only partway through inventing it. We can see the outlines of a new art form, but its grammar is as tenuous and elusive as the grammar of cinema a century ago.

Through interviews with the co-creators of Lost, über-director James Cameron, Sims creator Will Wright and others, Rose describes the new narratives enabled by the interactive possibilities of the Internet. Call it transmedia, gameification, cross-platform convergence, or any other cringe-worthy neologism coined by marketers, we do participate in our pastimes more than ever before. And Rose’s book also contains the critical heft, historical scope, and recent research into brain science that take it beyond these trendy tropes.

[E]very new medium that’s been invented, from print to film to television to cyberspace, has increased the transporting power of narrative. And every new medium has aroused fear and even hostility as a result.

For an authoritative tour of the frontiers of amusement, read the just published The Art of Immersion. Perhaps the 3-D game version is forthcoming?

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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15 MARCH, 2011

Open-Sourcing Graphic Design: 3 Projects

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What ugly ampersands have to do with wayfinding and vintage pictograms.

We’re big proponents of open source as an enabler of both creative expression and innovation. And while the ethos has come of age in the technology sphere, with posterchildren like Firefox and WordPress, some of its most interesting recent incarnations have been on the creative front. Today, we spotlight three wonderful projects that bring the vision of open-source movement to the world of design.

SIRUCA PICTOGRAM PROJECT

Last week, we looked at the legacy of Isotype — the vintage pictogram-based visual language of the 1930s that sparked the golden age of infographics and infiltrated everything from bathroom signs to traffic signage. Siruca Pictogram Project by designers Stefan Dziallas and Fabrizio Schiavi is an open-source pictogram font, free to download and use, even commercially.

OPEN SOURCE AMPERSANDS

Open Source Ampersands essentially a single-character font — a font file that only contains glyphs for a single character — using the ampersand. Each of the ampersand characters is real text, not an image, and can be selected, copied, pasted and applied CSS to. The ampersands scale as you zoom the page and work in every browser, “even ancient versions of Internet Explorer.” The project serves as a statement against licensing limitations on the web and aims to celebrate open standards and open source.

And though the folks at shit ampersand may be less than thrilled with many of the designs, it’s still an admirable project.

THE NOUN PROJECT

Visual literacy is an essential necessity of modern life. But some of the most widely recognized symbols of visual language are wrapped in a surprising amount of historical and contextual obscurity. This is where The Noun Project comes in — a wonderful effort to collect, catalog and contextualize the world’s visual language.

The site offers an ever-growing range of diverse symbols available for free under a CreativeCommons license. Though many of the popular symbols — from No Parking to Trash to the familiar directional arrows — were designed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1974 with the explicit intention of being in the public domain, finding free, high-quality versions of them online is still a pain. Each symbol on The Noun Project, by contrast, is downloadable as a vector file, the most flexible open-standard format available.

The project, brainchild of LA-based designer and architect Edward Boatman, was funded via Kickstarter and exceeded its $1,500 target nearly tenfold, illustrating the palpable cultural need it’s addressing.

In the long run, the project aims to aggregate and organize symbols into useful categories like transportation, web apps, wayfinding, communication and more, as well as initiate design contests around the creation of new symbols for fields, objects and themes of increasing cultural demand, from gluten-free food to Internet connectivity to food trucks.

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