The Women of the Blues: Hear a Playlist of Great Blues Singers, from Bessie Smith & Etta James, to Billie Holiday & Janis Joplin

Everybody gets the blues but not everybody gets the blues the same. Women get some serious blues. Black women get some very serious blues. Bessie Smith maybe had the most deep and soulful blues anyone ever had: “Crazy Blues,” “Down Hearted Blues,” “Careless Love Blues,” “Empty Bed Blues,” “Black Water Blues,” “Gulf Coast Blues,” and “St. Louis Blues,” which also happens to be the title of her only known film appearance, as well as one of the earliest talkies in cinema history. (See a transporting acapella performance from the film above.)

Released in 1929, the “flawed, but absolutely essential” film frames Smith’s character through the lyrics of composer W.C. Handy, widely considered the “father of the blues” for his popularization of the form. But Smith was more than an ancestor—she was royalty. The press in her day called her the “Empress of the Blues.”

Smith “comes off as a force of nature,” writes Mark Cantor, “whose startling power is rivaled in 1920s jazz and blues only by Louis Armstrong.” Like Armstrong, her influence is incalculable. Sadly, the year she made her film appearance is also the year of her decline, when the Great Depression hit her—and the record business—hard, and the very medium she helped launch, sound film, crippled the Vaudeville venues that made her career.

Smith’s tragic end after a car accident in 1937 was immortalized in Edward Albee’s 1959 The Death of Bessie Smith. Her voice lives on forever—in her recordings and through singers from Billie Holiday to Janis Joplin—who paid for her gravestone in 1970. (See Joplin’s phenomenal “Ball and Chain,” from the Monterey Pop Festival, further up.) Bessie Smith may have been Empress, but another Smith needs mention as the Foremother.

Despite its origins in Southern Black life and culture, until 1920, notes NPR, “no black singer had been recorded doing a blues song.” That changed when Mamie Smith recorded “Crazy Blues.” Like Bessie, she also appeared in a 1929 talking film, Jailhouse Blues. (See her above mime to the title song, about that age-old problem, the “no good man.”)

A number of female singers haven’t made it into the canon, itself largely produced—as critics like Lisa Hix and Amanda Petrusich have shown—by the selection bias of an insular community of collectors. But you can hear many incredible, less-famous women of the blues appear in the Spotify playlist further up, in the company of more famous names like Bessie and Mamie Smith, Holiday, Joplin, Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey, Etta James, and Dinah Washington. Blues hounds will likely recognize most, if not all, of these names. More casual fans will be in for a treat. (Note one mistake: the artist Bumble Bee Slim was a man.)

Everyone should know Koko Taylor, whose fierce growls and howls set Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” on fire further up in 1967 (with Little Walter). And Etta James—whose “I’d Rather Go Blind,” above, gives me chills from start to finish—should have a constellation named after her, she’s so deservedly a star. We’re less likely to hear the name Viola McCoy these days (singing Bessie Smith’s “Back Water Blues,” below), whose style of blues sounds dated but whose voice is as fresh as ever. Likely born Amanda Brown, she sang under a handful of aliases in the 20s and 30s, none of them household names.

Dozens more names appear on the playlist—Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, (unfortunately no Big Mama Thornton or Sister Rosetta Tharpe)—all of them fabulous in their own way. Given this incredibly rich tradition of female blues vocalists it should come as no surprise that women are currently keeping the blues alive, whether it’s the rock-soul revivalism of the Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard or the raw power of Susan Tedeschi, whose “earthy, soulful belting,” writes The Washington Post’s Richard Harrington, is reminiscent of “Koko Taylor, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin,” who can all trace their musical lineage directly back to Bessie and Mamie Smith.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Calm Down & Study with Relaxing Piano, Jazz & Harp Covers of Music from Hayao Miyazaki Films

Calling all pediatric dentists!

Cat Trumpet, aka musician and anime lover Curtis Bonnett, may have inadvertently hit on a genius solution for keeping young patients calm in the chair: relaxing piano covers of familiar tunes from Studio Ghibli’s animated features.

The results fall somewhere between pianist George Winston’s early 80s seasonal solos and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack for the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Let us remember that most of these tunes were fairly easy on the ears to begin with. Composer Joe Hisaishi, who has collaborated with director Hayao Miyazaki on every Studio Ghibli movie save Castle of Cagliostro, isn't exactly a punk rocker.

Many listeners report that the playlist helps them stay focused while studying or doing homework. Others succumb to the emotional riptides of childhood nostalgia.

Tender prenatal and newborn ears might prefer Cat Trumpet’s even gentler harp covers of seven Ghibli tunes, above.

Meawhile, the Japan-based Cafe Music BGM Station provides hours of jazzy, bossa-nova inflected Studio Ghibli covers to hospitals, hair salons, boutiques, and cafes. You can listen to three-and-a-half-hours worth, above. This, too, gets high marks as a homework helper.

 

Cat Trumpet’s Relaxing Piano Studio Ghibli Complete Collection

00:00:03 Spirited Away - Inochi no Namae

00:04:14 Howl's Moving Castle - Merry Go Round of Life

00:07:16 Kiki's Delivery Service - Town With An Ocean View

00:09:31 The Secret World of Arrietty - Arrietty's Song

00:13:29 Laputa Castle In The Sky - Carrying You

00:17:05 Porco Rosso - Theme

00:19:55 Whisper of the Heart - Song of the Baron

00:22:33 Porco Rosso - Marco & Gina's Theme

00:26:19 Only Yesterday - Main Theme

00:29:07 From Up On Poppy Hill - Reminiscence

00:34:12 Spirited Away - Shiroi Ryuu

00:37:06 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - Tori no Hito

00:41:14 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind -  Kaze no Densetsu

00:43:25 My Neighbor Totoro - Kaze no Toori Michi

00:47:48 Castle of Cagliostro - Fire Treasure

00:51:38 Princess Mononoke - Tabidachi nishi e

00:53:07 Tales From Earthsea - Teru's Theme

00:58:17 My Neighbor Totoro - Tonari no Totoro

01:02:35 Whisper of the Heart - Theme

01:06:03 Ponyo - Rondo of the Sunflower House

01:10:34 Howl's Moving Castle - The Promise of the World

 

Cat Trumpet’s Relaxing Harp Studio Ghibli Collection Playlist

00:03 Spirited Away - Inochi no Namae

04:01 Spirited Away - Waltz of Chihiro

06:43 Howls Moving Castle - Merry Go Round of Life

09:45 Howl's Moving Castle - The Promise of the World

13:15 Laputa Castle In The Sky - Main Theme

16:55 Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea - Main Theme

20:15 Tonari no Totoro - Kaze no Toori Michi

 

Cafe Music BGM’s Relaxing Jazz & Bossa Nova Studio Ghibli Cover Playlist (song titles in Japanese)

0:00 海の見える街  〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

4:10 もののけ姫  〜もののけ姫/Princess Mononoke

7:28 君をのせて 〜天空の城ラピュタ/Laputa, the Castle of the Sky

11:09 風の通り道 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

16:26 ひこうき雲 〜風立ちぬ/THE WIND RISES〜

19:48 空とぶ宅急便 〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

25:05 人生のメリーゴーランド

〜ハウルの動く城/Howl's Moving Castle

28:07 いつも何度でも 〜千と千尋の神隠し/Spirited Away

32:08 となりのトトロ 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

36:40 さんぽ 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

38:40 崖の上のポニョ 〜崖の上のポニョ/Ponyo

42:08 ねこバス 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

46:06 旅路 〜風立ちぬ/THE WIND RISES

49:16 アシタカとサン 〜もののけ姫/Princess Mononoke

53:38 おかあさん 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

58:19 旅立ち 〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

1:02:25 風の谷のナウシカ 〜風の谷のナウシカ/Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

1:06:59 やさしさに包まれたなら 〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

 

Tune in to Cat Trumpet’s Spotify channel for his relaxing takes on Disney and anime, as well as Studio Ghibli. They are available for purchase on iTunes and Google Play, or enjoy some free downloads by patronizing his Patreon. He takes requests, too.

Tune in to Cafe Music’s BGM Spotify channel for Studio Ghibli jazz, in addition to some relaxing Hawaiian guitar jazz and a selection of nature-based mellow tunes. They are available for purchase on iTunes.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Dylan Plays Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” Live in Concert (and How Petty Witnessed Dylan’s Musical Epiphany in 1987)

While performing in Denver this past weekend, Bob Dylan paid tribute to Tom Petty, playing a cover of his 1991 track, "Learning to Fly." Most will remember their time together in the Traveling Wilburys. But really their relationship was cemented before that, when the musicians embarked on the long True Confessions Tour in 1986. That's when Dylan lost his mojo and nearly ended his career, then suddenly found new inspiration again, all while Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers shared the same stage.

In his 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume 1, Dylan laid out the scenario:

I'd been on an eighteen month tour with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. It would be my last. I had no connection to any kind of inspiration. Whatever had been there to begin with had all vanished and shrunk. Tom was at the top of his game and I was at the bottom of mine. I couldn't overcome the odds. Everything was smashed. My own songs had become strangers to me. It wasn't my moment of history anymore. There was a hollowing singing in my heart and I couldn't wait to retire and fold the tent. One more big payday with Petty and that would be it for me. I was what they called over the hill.... The mirror had swung around and I could see the future - an old actor fumbling in garbage cans outside the theatre of past triumphs.

Everything finally came to a head one night when Dylan performed with Petty and the Heartbreakers in Locarno, Switzerland. He writes again in Chronicles, "For an instant, I fell into a black hole... I opened my mouth to sing and the air tightened up--vocal presence was extinguished and nothing came out." Panicked, Dylan used every trick to get started. Nothing worked, until, he then cast his own "spell to drive out the devil." That's when "Everything came back, and it came back in multidimension." A complete "metamorphosis had taken place." He adds: "The shows with Petty finished up in December, and I saw that instead of being stranded somewhere at the end of the story, I was actually in the prelude to the beginning of another one." Without out it, we wouldn't have Oh MercyTime Out of Mind, Love and Theft, or Modern Times.

You can watch footage of the epiphany concert on Youtube. It took place on October 2, 1987--thirty years and three days before Petty's death on October 5, 2017.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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How Saxophones Are Made: Two Short Films (Including One by Sesame Street) Take You Inside Saxophone Factories

Many of us, handed a saxophone, wouldn't have the first clue about how to play it properly, and almost none of us would have any idea at all about how to make one. Then again, those of us of a certain generation might feel an old memory coming back to the surface: hadn't we once witnessed the inner workings of a saxophone factory? We did if we ever happened to catch the classic 1980 Sesame Street short above which shows the saxophone-making process in its entirety, beginning with flat sheets of metal and ending up, two minutes later, with jazzily playable instruments — just like the one we've heard improvising to the action onscreen the whole time.

Golden-age Sesame Street always did well with revealing how things were made in a characteristically mesmerizing way, as also seen around the same time in an even more widely remembered two minutes in a crayon factory. Both it and the saxophone workshop, though they use plenty of technology, look like quaintly, even charmingly labor-intensive operations today: in almost every step shown, we see not just a machine or tool but the human (or at least a part of the human) operating it.

And it turns out, on the evidence of the 2012 video from the Musical Instrument Museum just below, that the art of saxophone-making hasn't changed as much in the subsequent decades as we might imagine.

With its more than ten minutes of runtime, the MIM's video shows in a bit more detail what actually happens inside a modern saxophone factory, namely that of woodwind and brass instrument maker Henri Selmer Paris, whose saxophones have been played by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, Sonny Rollins and Coleman HawkinsAnd while some of the equipment clearly grew more advanced in the 32 years since the Sesame Street short, the overall process remains clearly recognizable, as does the concentration evident in the actions and on the faces of all the skilled workers involved, albeit on a much larger scale. The day when we can 3D-print our own saxophones at home — the culmination of the industrial evolutionary process glimpsed in two different stages in these videos — will come, but it certainly hasn't come yet.

via Laughingsquid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Cover for On the Road (1952)

This falls under the category, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself."

In 1950, when Jack Kerouac released his first novel, The Town and the City, he was less than impressed by the book cover produced by his publisher, Harcourt Brace. (Click here to see why.) So, in 1952, when he began shopping his second novel, the great beat classic On the Road, Kerouac went ahead and designed his own cover. He sent it to a potential publisher A.A. Wyn, with a little note typed at the very top:

Dear Mr. Wyn:

I submit this as my idea of an appealing commercial cover expressive of the book. The cover for “The Town and the City” was as dull as the title and the photo backflap. Wilbur Pippin’s photo of me is the perfect On the Road one … it will look like the face of the figure below.

J.K.

Wyn turned down the novel, and it wouldn't get published until 1957. It would, however, become a bestseller and be published with many different covers through the years. They're all on display here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Note: This fine drawing appeared on our site back in 2012.

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New Digital Archive Puts Online 4,000 Historic Images of Rome: The Eternal City from the 16th to 20th Centuries

The poet Tibullus first described Rome as "The Eternal City" in the first century BC, and that evocative nickname has stuck over the thousands of years since. Or rather, he would have called it "Urbs Aeterna," which for Italian-speakers would have been "La Città Eterna," but regardless of which language you prefer it in, it throws down a daunting challenge before any historian of Rome. Each scholar has had to find their own way of approaching such a historically formidable place, and few have built up such a robust visual record as Rodolfo Lanciani, 4000 items from whose collection became available to view online this year, thanks to Stanford Libraries.

As an "archaeologist, professor of topography, and secretary of the Archaeological Commission," says the collection's about page, Lanciani, "was a pioneer in the systematic, modern study of the city of Rome."

Having lived from 1845 to 1929 with a long and fruitful career to match, he "collected a vast archive of his own notes and manuscripts, as well as works by others including rare prints and original drawings by artists and architects stretching back to the sixteenth century." After he died, his whole library found a buyer in the Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte (INASA), which made it available to researchers at the 15th-century Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

Enter a team of professors, archaeologists, and technologists from Stanford and elsewhere, who with a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and in partnership with Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and the National Institute, began digitizing it all. Their efforts have so far yielded an exhibition of about 4,000 of Lanciani's drawings, prints, photographs and sketches of Rome from the 16th century to the 20th. Not only can you examine them in high-resolution in your browser as well as download them, you can also see the locations of what they depict pinpointed on the map of Rome. That feature might come in especially handy when next you pay a visit to The Eternal City, though for many of the features depicted in Lanciani's collection, you hardly need directions. Enter the digital collection here.

via Stanford News

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Online Trove of Historic Sewing Patterns & Costumes

As Halloween draws nigh, our thoughts turn to costumes.

Not those rubbery, poorly constructed, sexy and/or gory off-the-rack readymades, but the sort of lavish, historically accurate, home-sewn affairs that would have earned praise and extra candy, if only our mother had been inclined to spend the bulk of October chained to a sewing machine.

Not that one needs the excuse of a holiday to suit up in a fluffy 50’s crinoline, a Tudor-style kirtle gown, or a 16th-century Flemish outfit with all the trimmings....

Accountant Artemisia Moltabocca, creator of the historical and cosplay costuming blog Costuming Diary, has primed our pump with a list of free historical medieval, Elizabethan and Victorian patterns, including ones for the garments mentioned above.

Click through the many links on her site and you may find yourself tumbling down a rabbit hole of some other cos-player's generosity.

That link to the custom corset pattern generator may set you on the road to creating a perfectly fitted Viking apron or a good-for-beginners tunic. (Bring out yer dead!)

Fancy even more choices? Moltabocca’s Free Historical Costume Patterns Pinterest board is a veritable trove of dress-up fun.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Costume and Textiles Project has detailed downloadable PDFs to walk you through construction of such anachronistic finery as a 1940’s Zoot Suit, a 19th-century boy’s frock (above), and a man’s vest with removable chest pads (hubba hubba).

An 1812 Ohio Militia Officer’s Coat from the Ohio Historical Society.

A pair of Nankeen Trousers courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum.

A bullet bra (hubba bubba redux!)—pair it with a 1940s Vogue hat and handbag and you’re ready to go!

A Regency Drawn Bonnet and an Improved Seamless Whalebone Underskirt from E. & J. Holmes & Co, Boston, 1857.

If you’re feeling less than confident about your sewing abilities, you might make like an upper-class Roman in an Ionian chiton.

Or just curl a synthetic wig!

Press someone else’s seams with a straightening iron (above), then kick back and enjoy the vintage ads, photos of antique garments, and the period information that often accompanies these how-tos. And check out the 1913 patent application for Marie Perillat’s Bust Reducer, a miracle invention designed to “prevent flesh bulging while providing self adjustable, comfortable, hygienic support.”

Begin with some of Costuming Diary’s historical sewing patterns before delving into its massive pattern collection board on Pinterest.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her current sewing project is 19 headpieces for Theater of the Apes Sub-Adult Division’s upcoming production of Animal Farm at the Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

“The Philosopher’s Web,” an Interactive Data Visualization Shows the Web of Influences Connecting Ancient & Modern Philosophers

How do we begin to read philosophy? Can we slide a book from the shelf, thumb through it casually, picking out the bits of wisdom that make sense?

Should we find a well-known “important” work, sit in a quiet study, read the preface, translator’s introduction, etc…

How soon we discover we know less about the book than when we started.

We go wandering, lose ourselves in secondary sources, glosses, footnotes, comments sections, Wikipedia articles…. The important book remains unread….

In-between these two extremes are a variety of approaches that work well for many an autodidact. When data scientist Grant Louis Oliveira decided he wanted to undertake a self-guided course of study to “more rigorously explore my ideas,” he began with the honest admission, “I find the world of philosophy a bit impenetrable.”

Where some of us might make an outline, a spreadsheet, or a humble reading list, Oliveira created a complex “social network visualization” of “a history of philosophy” to act as his guide.

“What I imagined,” he writes, “is something like a tree arranged down a timeline. More influential philosophers would be bigger nodes, and the size of the lines between the nodes would perhaps be variable by strength of influence.”

The project, called “Philosopher’s Web,” shows us an impressively dense collection of names—hundreds of names—held together by what look like the bendy filaments in a fiber-optic cable. Each blue dot represents a philosopher, the thin gray lines between the dots represent lines of influence.

The data for the project comes not from academic scholarship but from Wikipedia, whose “semantic companion” dbpedia Oliveira used to construct the web of “influenced” and “influenced by” connections. (Read about his method here.)

As you zoom in, click around, and access different views, the dots and lines wave like tendrils of a sea anemone. Oliveira describes the process thus: “the more influential the philosopher, the thicker and more numerous the lines emanating from him. You can click on any one of these nodes to see which philosopher it represents. If you click and hold, it will display the network of philosophers he has been influenced by, and has influenced. Each line has an arrow at the end to denote the direction of the relationship.” (Despite his use of the masculine pronoun, Oliveira's web of connections is not exclusively male.)

Both the project's site and Daily Nous have more nuanced, detailed instructions. While at first glance the Philosopher’s Web can itself seem a bit impenetrable, it reveals more of its inner workings the more you use it. Press and hold on one of the blue dots, and it expands into a smaller cluster of its own, showing a cloud of connections hovering around the central figure. Toggle the “focus” and you get secondary and tertiary relationships.

 

Click on the lines of influence and see, instead of an explanation, a somewhat mystifying “influence score.” Click on the “Filter” tab under "Settings" and find a range of filters that allow you to narrow or widen the scope of the map to certain historical periods.

In addition to individual philosophers, the web also contains the names of several writers, journalists, columnists, and popular public intellectuals, like Paul Krugman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It also displays several movements or schools of thought as blue dots. Want to know the big names in “Insurrectionary Anarchism”? Click on the node and chose your levels of specificity.

The weaknesses of the approach are perhaps immediately apparent. What good is a cluster of unfamiliar names to the beginner, especially since each one appears devoid of historical and intellectual context? Oliveira discloses some other problems, including an issue with the software rendering accents and foreign characters (as you can see in Slavoj Žižek's entry above.)

But the more one uses the Philosopher’s Web, the more its utility becomes apparent. “Hopefully based on context,” writes Oliveira, “you should be able to figure out who these people are with a little bit of google.” Visualizing the connections between them gives one an instant sense of the communities and continuities to which they belong, and among each cluster will always be at least one or two familiar names, at least in passing, to act as an anchor.

All in all, the Philosopher’s Web should prove to be a useful application for a certain kind of learner, and it represents a step-up from the ritual of clicking through Wikipedia links to try and put the puzzle pieces together one at a time. The Philosopher's Web joins a number of other similar visualizations (see the links below) that aim at creating similar maps of the discipline.

Should you find the approach a little sterile and schematic, well... there's always that book you put down a few hours ago....

via Daily Nous

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Films of Christopher Nolan Explored in a Sweeping 4-Hour Video Essay: Memento, The Dark Knight, Interstellar & More

Cameron Beyl does not play by the rules when it comes to video essays. Instead of short, under-10 minute explorations we’ve come to expect from the ever-increasing coterie of YouTube essayists, Beyl, in his Directors Series on Vimeo, devotes hours to exploring the filmographies of some of cinema’s great auteurs. We’ve already introduced you in previous posts to his extended hagiographies of Stanley Kubrick, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Now comes his latest work, a multi-part exploration of Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre, covering his hardscrabble years all the way through his Hollywood blockbusters and ending with Interstellar. (This writer, having thought higher of Dunkirk than his previous works, will just have to wait a few years until the next chapter.)

In the video above, Beyl starts off with some prehistory about Christopher and his brother Jonathan, his early years making Super 8 movies, his time spent at University College London, and the very rare first films, “Tarantella” and “Larceny,” the single-gag short “Doodlebug,” and how that crew--including his lead actor Jeremy Theobald and his producer-soon-to-be-wife Emma Thomas--stayed with him through his $6000 debut feature Following and its thematic and stylistic cousin Memento, made for $4.5 million.

Part 2 shows Nolan navigating the studio system. Given a chance by executive producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh to remake the Norwegian thriller Insomnia, he indulged in his love of Michael Mann by working with Al Pacino, who plays a character not unlike his role in 1995’s Heat. Then Nolan takes on a moribund comic book franchise and reboots it into Batman Begins, a move that studio execs have since done over and over to rethink various properties with different directors. He ends with a less enthusiastic examination of 2006’s The Prestige.

Part 3 takes on both The Dark Knight and Inception, two huge blockbusters and one that took Nolan into the pantheon of critical and popular acclaim. If undecided on Nolan, Beyl’s obsequious tone might put one off: “Simply put, the late 2000s saw Nolan operating at the height of his powers, locked in sync with the cultural zeitgeist to such a degree that his efforts were actively steering it.” (Please have that debate in the comments.) However, Beyl makes some nice comparisons between The Dark Knight and Heat here.

Part Four shows Nolan concluding his Batman trilogy, failing to top The Dark Knight, but then going all Kubrick with Interstellar. He’s a director who has gladly played with all the toys multi-million dollar Hollywood productions have at their disposal, and he’s never been afraid of being epic. Beyl leaves off, noting that after expanding into the universe with Interstellar, Nolan has nowhere to turn but inward. So far that has resulted in the historical Dunkirk. But whether Nolan can return to more modest work has yet to be seen.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Maria Anna Mozart Was a Musical Prodigy Like Her Brother Wolfgang, So Why Did She Get Erased from History?

When people ask why we have specifically black histories, or queer histories, or women’s histories, it can be hard for many who do historical research to take the question seriously. But in fairness, such questions point to the very reason that alternative or “revisionist” histories exist. We cannot know what we are not told about history—at least not without doing the kind of digging professional scholars can do. Virginia Woolf’s tragic, but fictional, history of Shakespeare’s sister notwithstanding, the claims made by cultural critics about marginalization and oppression aren’t based on speculation, but on case after case of individuals who were ignored by, or shut out of, the wider culture, and subsequently disappeared from historical memory.

One such extraordinary case involves the real sister of another towering European figure whose life we know much more about than Shakespeare’s. Before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began writing his first compositions, his older sister Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed Nannerl, had already proven herself a prodigy.

The two toured Europe together as children—she was with her brother during his 18-month stay in London. “There are contemporaneous reviews praising Nannerl,” writes Sylvia Milo, “and she was even billed first.” A 1763 review, for example, sounds indistinguishable from those written about young Wolfgang.

Imagine an eleven-year-old girl, performing the most difficult sonatas and concertos of the greatest composers, on the harpsichord or fortepiano, with precision, with incredible lightness, with impeccable taste. It was a source of wonder to many.

18th century classical audiences first came to know Wolfgang as part of a brother-sister duo of “wunderkinder.” But the sister half has been airbrushed out of the picture. She does not appear in the definitive Hollywood treatment, Milos Forman’s Amadeus. And, moreover, she only recently began to emerge in the academic and classical worlds. “I grew up studying to be a violinist,” writes Sylvia Milo. “Neither my music history nor my repertoire included any female composers.”

With my braided hair I was called “little Mozart” by my violin teacher, but he meant Wolfi. I never heard that Amadeus had a sister. I never heard of Nannerl Mozart until I saw that family portrait.

In the portrait (top), Nannerl and Wolfgang sit together at the harpsichord while their father Leopold stands nearby. Nannerl, in the foreground, has an enormous pompadour crowning her small oval face. Of the hairdo, she wrote to her brother, in their typically playful rapport, “I am writing to you with an erection on my head and I am very much afraid of burning my hair.”

After discovering Nanerl, Milo poured through the historical archives, reading contemporary accounts and personal letters. The research gave birth to a one-woman play, The Other Mozart, which has toured for the last four years to critical acclaim. (See a trailer video above). In her Guardian essay, Milo describes Nannerl’s fate: “left behind in Salzberg” when she turned 18. “A little girl could perform and tour, but a woman doing so risked her reputation…. Her father only took Wolfgang on their next journeys around the courts of Europe. Nannerl never toured again.” We do know that she wrote music. Wolfgang praised one composition as “beautiful” in a letter to her. But none of her music has survived. “Maybe we will find it one day,” Milo writes. Indeed, an Australian researcher claims to have found Nannerl’s “musical handwriting” in the compositions Wolfgang used for practice.

Other scholars have speculated that Mozart’s sister, five years his senior, certainly would have had some influence on his playing. “No musicians develop their art in a vacuum,” says musical sociologist Stevan Jackson. “Musicians learn by watching other musicians, by being an apprentice, formally or informally.” The question may remain an academic one, but the life of Nannerl has recently become a matter of popular interest as well, not only in Milo’s play but in several novels, many titled Mozart’s Sister, and a 2011 film, also titled Mozart’s Sister, written and directed by René Féret and starring his daughter in the titular role. The trailer above promises a richly emotional period drama, which—as all entertainments must do—takes some liberties with the facts as we know, or don't know, them, but which also, like Milo's play, gives flesh to a significant, and significantly frustrated, historical figure who had, for a couple hundred years, at least, been rendered invisible.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness





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