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kottke.org posts about video

The Swim that Kicked Off China’s Cultural Revolution

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

Mao Zedong Swim

In 1966, Chinese leader Mao Zedong had a PR problem. His Great Leap Forward policy had resulted in tens of millions of deaths from famine, his health was rumored to be failing, and he was afraid, following the recent de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, that his legacy was not secure. So he went for a swim.

Mao wanted to leave behind a powerful Communist legacy, like Marx and Lenin before him. And in order to do so, he needed to connect with the younger generation before he died. So after announcing his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, he swam across the Yangtze River. Mao had done the same swim 10 years earlier to prove his vitality, and he hoped it would work again.

His “Cultural Revolution” was a call to hunt down and eliminate his enemies, and reeducate China’s youth with the principles Maoism. Led by the fanatical Red Guards, the Cultural Revolution was a devastating 10-year period in Chinese history that didn’t end until Mao died in 1976.

You can read and watch more about the Cultural Revolution.

Amazing Senegalese Sand Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

In less than a minute, this Senegalese sand artist working on the island of Gorée creates a portrait by pouring sands of different colors over a wooden board with glue on it. The way that the painting emerges at the last second out of seeming disorder is a lovely shock, like a magic trick.

The Times of Bill Cunningham

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

In 1994, legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham gave a six-hour interview about his life and work. This interview was recently rediscovered and made into a documentary called The Times of Bill Cunningham. Here’s a trailer:

The movie is out in theaters, but the reviews so far are mixed, especially when compared to the rave reviews received by 2011’s Bill Cunningham New York. Still, Cunningham is a gem and I will watch this at some point soon. (via recs)

The Neighbor’s Window

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

From filmmaker Marshall Curry, The Neighbor’s Window is a poignant short film about the odd relationships you can sometimes form with your neighbors in big cities, even if you never meet in real life.

For real! Do they have jobs? Or clothes? All they do is host dance parties and sleep ‘til noon and screw.

This film recently won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. (via open culture)

Update: I forgot to mention that this film was based on a true story told by Diane Weipert on the Love + Radio podcast. Somewhat randomly, the film’s husband and wife ended up looking a lot like Weipert and her partner. (via @BenHoste)

Universe Sandbox

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

Universe Sandbox is a interactive space & gravity simulator that you can use to play God of your own universe.

You can create star systems: “Start with a star then add planets. Spruce it up with moons, rings, comets, or even a black hole.” You can collide planets and stars or simulate gravity: “N-body simulation at almost any speed using Newtonian mechanics.” You can model the Earth’s climate, make a star go supernova, or ride along on space missions or see historical events.

I found Universe Sandbox after watching this video about what would happen if the Earth got hit by a grain of sand going 99.9% the speed of light (spoiler: not much). This game/simulator/educational tool is only $30 but I fear that if I bought it, I would never ever leave the house again.

The Process Genre

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

From Duke University Press and author Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky comes what looks like an intriguing book on the beloved phenomenon of “how things are made” media — you know, things like “how to” cooking videos and IKEA instructions — The Process Genre: Cinema and the Aesthetic of Labor (at Amazon). From the book’s introduction:

Chapter 3, “Aestheticizing Labor,” argues that the category of labor is central to the process genre. In my account, the process genre is, in effect, always symptomatically reflecting on the interactions of human labor, technology (i.e., tools, instruments, machines), and nature. The chapter first examines the genre’s relation to technique. Then it surveys the political implications of the ways in which labor is poeticized in the genre. In its most exalted examples, the process genre presents a striking paradox. On the one hand, it is the most instrumentalist of genres. After all, it is a genre constituted by the presentation of a sequential series of steps, all aiming at a useful result; it is a genre that is usually associated with what scholars call “useful cinema.” On the other hand, it is a genre that has produced some of the most romantic, utopian depictions of labor in which labor figures not as that from which human beings seek relief in the form of listless leisure, but as the activity that gives human life meaning. The philosophical basis for the centrality of labor to life — what has been called the “metaphysics of labor” — finds expression in the process genre; thus, the genre stands in opposition to the politics of antiwork.

The photos on the cover of the book are stills from the Mister Rogers video on how crayons are made:

As you’ve probably observed, I am an unabashed fan of the process genre, with dozens of videos & tutorials in kottke.org’s how to tag alone. Some of my particular favorites are the crayon video above (along with a similar one from Sesame Street), an Oscar-winning short from 1958 about glassmaking, the Primitive Technology videos, how marbled paper is made, how candy is made at the Teddy Grays factory, and the National Film Board of Canada’s video about how to make an igloo. (thx, jason! (no relation))

Recording All the Melodies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

In this recent TED Talk, lawyer, musician, and technologist Damien Riehl talks about the rapidly diminishing number of melodies available to songwriters under the current system of copyright. In order to help songwriters avoid these melodic legal landmines (some of which are documented here), Riehl and his pal Noah Rubin designed and wrote a program to record every possible 8-note, 12-beat melody and released the results — all 68+ billion melodies, 2.6 terabytes of data — into the public domain.

It’s interesting that the litigious nature of the music business and the finite number of melodies (and the even smaller number of pleasing melodies) has turned an artistic endeavor into a land-grab — whoever gets to a certain melody first owns it forever (or at least for dozens of years). (via @tedgioia)

Billie Eilish Interviewed by AI Bot

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

Collaborating with the team at Conde Nast Entertainment and Vogue, my pal Nicole He trained an AI program to interview music superstar Billie Eilish. Here are a few of the questions:

Who consumed so much of your power in one go?
How much of the world is out of date?
Have you ever seen the ending?

This is a little bit brilliant. The questions are childlike in a way, like something a bright five-year-old would ask a grownup, perceptive and nonsensical (or even Dr. Seussical) at the same time. As He says:

What I really loved hearing Billie say was that human interviewers often ask the same questions over and over, and she appreciated that the AI questions don’t have an agenda in the same way, they’re not trying to get anything from her.

I wonder if there’s something that human interviewers can learn from AI-generated questions — maybe using them as a jumping off point for their own questions or asking more surprising or abstract questions or adapting the mentality of the childlike mind.

See also Watching Teen Superstar Billie Eilish Growing Up.

The Dancing Baby Meme, Digitally Remastered

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

In 1996, Dancing Baby was one of the earliest big memes to cross over from the nerd space of Usenet to the wider population; it even appeared on the popular TV show Ally McBeal. 18-year-old English college student Jack Armstrong, born more than 5 years after the meme debuted, decided to digitally remaster the original in 1080p and 60FPS:

Armstrong shared how he tracked down the original 3D file on Twitter. (via waxy)

Inglourious Basterds’ Witty Slate Clapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

Geraldine Brezca has worked on several of director Quentin Tarantino’s movies,1 and for Inglourious Basterds, she was the slate operator — i.e. she clapped the clapper before each scene. And as this video shows, she was very entertaining and creative in her duties:

For each scene’s label, Brezca came up with something funny (A66F = “au revoir 66 fuckers”), ribald (29B = “29 blowjobs”), appropriate (39FE = “39 feet essential” on a scene featuring feet), respectful (4AK = “4 Akira Kurosawa”), or profane (79E = “79 fucking explosives”, which got quite a chuckle from Brad Pitt). See also Here’s Why Slate Operators Matter (And Why Quentin Tarantino’s is So Great).

  1. Brezca’s IMDB page shows that the last movie she worked on was Django Unchained in 2012. Not sure if she left the industry or passed away or what…

Who Was the Most Isolated Person In History?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

This video, based on this What If? question, tries to answer the question of who the most physically isolated person in history was. The top candidates include Michael Collins and the five other command module pilots who stayed in the Moon’s orbit during the Apollo Moon landings as well as perhaps an ancient and unnamed Polynesian explorer who got lost exploring the Pacific Ocean over 1000 years ago.

See also The McFarthest Spot.

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Trailer ↑. Well, if you like Wes Anderson this looks terrific. And if you don’t, well, perhaps not. The French Dispatch is about a weekly literary magazine in the style of the New Yorker. From the actual New Yorker:

Wes Anderson’s new movie, “The French Dispatch,” which will open this summer, is about the doings of a fictional weekly magazine that looks an awful lot like — and was, in fact, inspired by — The New Yorker. The editor and writers of this fictional magazine, and the stories it publishes — three of which are dramatized in the film — are also loosely inspired by The New Yorker. Anderson has been a New Yorker devotee since he was a teen-ager, and has even amassed a vast collection of bound volumes of the magazine, going back to the nineteen-forties. That he has placed his fictional magazine in a made-up French metropolis (it’s called Ennui-sur-Blasé), at some point midway through the last century, only makes connecting the dots between “The French Dispatch” and The New Yorker that much more delightful.

Amazing…he basically made a movie about the New Yorker archives. And btw, writing “teen-ager” instead of “teenager” is the most New Yorker thing ever — but at least it wasn’t “teën-ager.”

Back to the movie, it’s got a cracking cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson all star and then the supporting cast includes Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Defoe, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, and even the Fonz, Henry Winkler. The poster is quite something as well:

French Dispatch Poster

Opens July 24…can’t wait!

The Magic of Chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2020

In this charming short film, The Magic of Chess, some young competitors at the National Elementary Chess Championship explain what they find so intriguing about the game. From an Atlantic piece on the film:

The children interviewed in the film are articulate and wise beyond their years. “When I asked the kids questions like, ‘What has chess taught you?,’ I was surprised, given their limited life experience, that they could formulate a response beyond the obvious mechanics of the game,” Schweitzer Bell told me.

Chess “teaches you how to make a plan,” one child says in the film.

“When you lose, you learn from your mistakes,” says another.

I was curious about the tournament, so I looked up the results and the standings are so full of Asian, Indian, Latino, and other non-European language names that my browser offered to translate the page for me. Another thing that jumped out at me was that most of the top competitors in the K-6 competition were 6th graders, except for 2nd grader Aditya Arutla finishing in 8th place. Wow!

Story Time from Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

The Story Time from Space program aims to promote language and STEM literacy by having astronauts read educational bedtime books from low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station to kids on Earth. Here’s astronaut Kate Rubins reading Rosie Revere, Engineer:

And Ada Twist, Scientist read by Serena Auñón-Chancellor:

What a cool idea.

One Guy Gets Entire Park to Sing Bon Jovi

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

(Wait for it, wait for it…) One guy, singing Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, gets an entire park to sing along with him. I know this was a tough week for many, but if this doesn’t brighten your day, I do not know what will.

See also Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy, which I swear is related. (via open culture)

Worldizing - How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

I love echo - any kind of reverberation or atmosphere around a voice or a sound effect that tells you something about the space you are in.

That’s a quote from legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. In the 70s, he pioneered a technique called worldizing, for which he used a mix of pristine studio-recorded and rougher set-recorded sounds to make a more immersive soundscape for theater audiences. He used it in The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and American Graffiti:

George [Lucas] and I took the master track of the two-hour radio show with Wolfman Jack as DJ and played it back on a Nagra in a real space — a suburban backyard. I was fifty-or-so-feet away with a microphone recording that sound onto another Nagra, keeping it in sync and moving the microphone kind of at random, back and forth, as George moved the speaker through 180 degrees. There were times when microphone and speaker were pointed right at each other, and there were other times when they were pointed in completely opposite directions. So that was a separate track. Then, we did that whole thing again.

When I was mixing the film, I had three tracks to draw from. One of them was what you might call the “dry studio track” of the radio show, where the music was very clear and sharp and everything was in audio focus. Then there were the other two tracks which were staggered a couple of frames to each other, and on which the axis of the microphone and the speakers was never the same because we couldn’t remember what we had done intentionally.

Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1, Deconstructed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

The Prelude in G Major to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of music. You’ve likely heard Yo-Yo Ma play it — he’s been trying to master it for almost 60 years now. In a new episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell and cellist Alisa Weilerstein break the song down to see what makes it such an effective and interesting piece of music.

In the early 1700s, Johann Sebastian Bach did something few, if any, composers had ever done. He composed six suites for the cello — a four stringed instrument that, at the time, was relegated to the role of accompaniment in larger ensembles.

Each suite consists of movements named for various dances, and they all begin with a prelude — an improvisatory movement meant to establish the key of the suite, as well as reoccurring themes and motifs. These suites are all masterpieces in music and considered a rite of passage for cellists to study and master.

But there’s one movement in particular, the Prelude in G Major, that has taken on a life of its own in the minds of musicians and music lovers alike.

If you hear the first few measures you’ll likely recognize it. A simple G major arpeggiated chord played expressively on the cello opens a short, but harmonically and melodically rich, 42 measures of music. Bach makes a single instrument sound like a full ensemble. How does he do it?

Pasta Making Machines Are Mesmerizing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

The machines that cut the pasta at Brooklyn pasta company Sfoglini are mesmerizing to watch.

I predict that a 10-minute super slow-motion film of this pasta cutter would easily win best short film at the Oscars.

Life Under the Ice, a Microscopic Tour of Antarctica

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2020

Ariel Waldman and her microscopes spent five weeks in Antarctica investigating the microbes that live in the seas, lakes, and glaciers. One of the outcomes of the trip is Life Under the Ice, a website that showcases some of the tiny critters, plants, and miscellaneous things she found.

Typically when we think about Antarctica, we think of a place that’s barren and lifeless… except for a few penguins. But Antarctica should instead be known as a polar oasis of life, host to countless creatures that are utterly fascinating. They’ve just been invisible to us — until now. Life Under the Ice enables anyone to delve into the microscopic world of Antarctica as an explorer; as if you had been shrunk down and were wading through one large petri dish of curiosities.

Ahhh, look at this tardigrade at 20X magnification:

The tardigrade was found while extremophile hunting on a glacier.

New Solar Telescope Shows the Sun’s Surface in Unprecendented High Resolution Images & Video

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2020

Sun's Surface

Sun's Surface

The National Science Foundation has just released the very first images of the Sun taken with the new Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii. They are the highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun’s surface, showing three times more detail than was possible using previous imaging techniques. Those cells you see in the image…they’re each about the size of Texas.

Building a telescope like this is not an easy task — there’s a lot of heat to deal with:

To achieve the proposed science, this telescope required important new approaches to its construction and engineering. Built by NSF’s National Solar Observatory and managed by AURA, the Inouye Solar Telescope combines a 13-foot (4-meter) mirror — the world’s largest for a solar telescope — with unparalleled viewing conditions at the 10,000-foot Haleakala summit.

Focusing 13 kilowatts of solar power generates enormous amounts of heat — heat that must be contained or removed. A specialized cooling system provides crucial heat protection for the telescope and its optics. More than seven miles of piping distribute coolant throughout the observatory, partially chilled by ice created on site during the night.

Scientists have released a pair of mesmerizing time lapse videos as well, showing ten minutes of the roiling surface of the Sun (wide angle followed by a close-up view) in just a few seconds:

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has produced the highest resolution observations of the Sun’s surface ever taken. In this movie, taken at a wavelength of 705nm over a period of 10 minutes, we can see features as small as 30km (18 miles) in size for the first time ever. The movie shows the turbulent, “boiling” gas that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures — each about the size of Texas — are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. Hot solar material (plasma) rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection. In these dark lanes we can also see the tiny, bright markers of magnetic fields. Never before seen to this clarity, these bright specks are thought to channel energy up into the outer layers of the solar atmosphere called the corona. These bright spots may be at the core of why the solar corona is more than a million degrees!

Man, I hope we get some longer versions of these time lapses — I would watch the hell out of one that ran for 10 minutes. (via moss & fog)

YelloPain: My Vote Dont Count

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2020

In his new music video, My Vote Dont Count, rapper YelloPain provides an excellent 4-minute summary in the sprit of Schoolhouse Rock of the importance of voting, particularly in midterm elections and with a focus on Congress and state legislatures.

So you know how back in ‘08, when we all voted for Obama? We was all supposed to go back in 2010 and vote for the Congress. Cause they the ones that make child support laws. They the ones choose if your kids at school get to eat steak or corn dogs. The state house makes the courthouse. So if the country fail you can’t say it’s them, it’s your fault, cause ya ain’t know to vote for Congress members that was for y’all. And they don’t gotta leave after four years; we just let ‘em sit. See, they don’t want to tell you this, they just want you to focus on the President.

The video was co-produced by Desiree Tims, a Democrat who is running for the House in Dayton, YelloPain’s home town. Tims appears in the closing seconds of the video to deliver this message:

Every time you stay home, someone is making a decision about you. Making decisions about the air you breath, the water you drink, the food your kids eat, and how much money you bring home every two weeks. So every time you sit out an election, every time you don’t show up because you think it doesn’t matter, someone else is happy that you didn’t show up, so they can make that decision for you. Vote!

Even though it’s not explicitly labeled as such, this might be one of the best political advertisements I’ve ever seen. It’s entertaining, informative, and authentic.

American Totem

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2020

By digitally elongating them in a glitchy sort of way, motion graphics designer Theodore John transforms the buttes and mesas of the American southwest into a vaguely sci-fi scene in his new short, American Totem. (via colossal)

Beastie Boys Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2020

Here’s the trailer for Beastie Boys Story, a feature-length documentary about the band directed by Spike Jonze. The film will debut in early April in IMAX theaters and be out on Apple+ later that month. From Rolling Stone:

The documentary is a live extension of 2018’s Beastie Boys Book, a memoir that paid tribute to Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012. “Looking back, it’s like, oh shit, that was crazy — how did we live through that?” Horovitz told Rolling Stone of the memoir. “And look at us now. We’re grown-ups. We have to think about mortgages. I gotta get dog food.”

Live portions of the documentary were taken from Horovitz and Diamond’s recent show at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn; it was all part of a live tour directed by Jonze that consisted of Q&A segments, readings, and guest moderators.

Smaht Pahk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2020

There’s nothing more entertaining than watching Boston-area natives do over-the-top Bawston accents, but it’s always a precarious undertaking. If you don’t get the accent right…yeesh. When Hyundai named their new automated parking feature “Smart Park”, those two words demanded that they give the Boston angle a shot, and the team of Chris Evans, John Krasinski, and Rachel Dratch delivered. The bit that really set the hook for me was when Krasinski called Evans “kid”.

The Stop Motion of the Ocean

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2020

This clever stop motion animation by Charlotte Arene features a bedroom taking on the characteristics of an increasingly angry sea, before the morning calm sets in. Pillows, the comforter, a sleeping woman’s hair, candles on the windowsill, they all move like waves washing ashore to a seaside soundtrack.

The name of the short is “La mer à boire”, which Google translates as “unrealizable” but is literally something more like “drinking the sea”.1 “Ce n’est pas la mer à boire” is a French expression that means “it’s not that big a deal” (it’s not like drinking the sea), which is what the Google translation is hinting at, I think. Anyway, good title! (via colossal)

  1. It’s kind of amazing that Google returns the figurative meaning of the phrase rather than the literal meaning.

Normal People TV Series

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2020

The BBC and Hulu are producing a 12-part TV series based on Sally Rooney’s book Normal People (which I excerpted here). The first trailer is above and I have to say, color me intrigued. (via the recently relaunched recs)

A Night at the Opera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

One of my favorite video series is Estelle Caswell’s Earworm for Vox — you can check out my posts about it here. It had been a few months since the last episode, so I went to see if she’d made any other videos in the meantime and, lo, Caswell produced a video about the Metropolitan Opera’s production of the opera Akhnaten by Philip Glass, one of my favorite composers.

The video above gives a behind-the-scenes look at the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Akhnaten. We follow Anthony Roth Costanzo, who plays Akhnaten, through the various phases of rehearsal, from working with his vocal coach in a Manhattan apartment to taking the stage for a dress rehearsal in a costume covered in doll heads.

I’ve only seen one opera at the Met (years ago) and was blown away by the production. I remember walking out of there thinking, “Do people know how good this is? Why isn’t opera a massive thing?” (Although I guess I answered my own question by not ever going back?)

Milk - White Poison or Healthy Drink?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

When humans domesticated barnyard animals (goats, sheep, cows) starting around 10,000 years ago, they stumbled upon one of the most amazing schemes of all time. Instead of relying on the few human-edible plants scattered around for their energy needs, humans could raise animals that ate the plain old grass that was growing anywhere & everywhere and converted it into ultra-nutritious and energy-rich superfoods like meat and milk. Land back then was plentiful and the scheme allowed humans to produce many more calories with less effort using an energy source (the grass) that they didn’t otherwise have much use for.

But how does milk fit into the picture these days? It’s still a superfood that’s very beneficial to people in many parts of the world where adequate nutrition isn’t available from other sources. But as Kurzgesagt explains in this video, our land use has changed in the past 10,000 years, and cow’s milk production is a major source of carbon emissions (when compared to foods w/ similar nutritional value):

And don’t forget to check out the list of sources they used in producing the video.

Darth Costanza

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

The premise is pretty simple and there’s no need to oversell it because you can imagine what this is going to sound like going in and it delivers perfectly: George Costanza’s father’s voice dubbed over Darth Vader’s dialogue in Star Wars. Serenity now!

(Quickly: Luke = Jerry, Han = George, Leia = Elaine, Chewie = Kramer. Does that even work? (Obi-Wan = Uncle Leo? Is 3PO Newman?))

Scary Sea Monster Really Just Hundreds of Tiny Fish in a Trench Coat

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2020

As a defense against predators, these juvenile striped eel catfish from Jemeluk Bay near Bali organize themselves into an ambling, pulsating sea creature that looks like something out of a Miyazaki film. The Kid Should See This:

Try rewatching the video, picking one fish and following it the entire time. Then pick another fish and watch the video again. The juvenile striped eel catfish seem to cycle through positions within the school as the entire swarm moves forward.

Like riders in a peleton, each taking their turn braving danger at the front.

See also A Talented Pufferfish Creates an Underwater “Crop Circle”.