Watch the Renaissance Painting, The Battle of San Romano, Get Brought Beautifully to Life in a Hand-Painted Animation

Before the advent of the motion picture, humanity had the theater — but we also had paintings. Though physically still by definition, paint on canvas could, in the hands of a sufficiently imaginative master, seem actually to move. Arguably this could even be pulled off with ochre and charcoal on the wall of a cave, if you credit the theory that paleolithic paintings constitute the earliest form of cinema. More famously, and much more recently, Rembrandt imbued his masterpiece The Night Watch with the illusion of movement. But over in Italy another painter, also working on a large scale, pulled it off differently two centuries earlier. The artist was Paolo Uccello, and the painting is The Battle of San Romano.

“The set of three paintings depicts the harrowing details of an epic confrontation between Florentine and Sienese armies in 1432,” writes Meghan Oretsky at Vimeo, which selected Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel’s short animated adaptation of the triptych as a Staff Pick Premiere. Completed in 2017, the film’s beginnings go back to 1962, when Schwizgebel was a gallery-touring art student in Italy.

“Even though I wasn’t normally moved by old paintings, this one made a strong impression on me and still does today,” he tells Vimeo. “I was also inspired by the use of cycles, or loops, which suited a moving version of this image perfectly.” Schwizgebel executed the animation itself over the course of six months, foregoing computer technology and painting each frame with acrylic on glass.

Scored by composer Judith Gruber-Stitzer, Schwizgebel’s “The Battle of San Romano” constitutes a kind of shape-shifting tour of the painting that first captivated him half a century ago. But what he would have seen at the Uffizi Gallery is only one third of Uccello’s composition, albeit the third that art historians consider central. The other two reside at the Louvre and the National Gallery, and you can see the latter’s piece discussed by Director of Collections and Research Caroline Campbell in the video above. Schwizgebel is hardly the first to react boldly to The Battle of San Romano; in the 15th century, Lorenzo de’ Medici was sufficiently moved to buy one part, then have the other two stolen and brought to his palace. If that’s the kind of act it has the power to inspire, perhaps it’s for the best that the triptych’s union didn’t last.

via Aeon

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Late Rembrandts Come to Life: Watch Animations of Paintings Now on Display at the Rijksmuseum

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Dripped: An Animated Tribute to Jackson Pollock’s Signature Painting Technique

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.

Guitarist Randy Bachman Demystifies the Magical Opening Chord of The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

You could call it the magical mystery chord. The opening clang of the Beatles’ 1964 hit, “A Hard Day’s Night,” is one of the most famous and distinctive sounds in rock and roll history, and yet for a long time no one could quite figure out what it was.

In this fascinating clip from the CBC radio show, Randy’s Vinyl Tap, the legendary Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive guitarist Randy Bachman unravels the mystery. The segment (which comes to us via singer-songwriter Mick Dalla-Vee) is from a special live performance, “Guitarology 101,” taped in front of an audience at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto back in January, 2010. As journalist Matthew McAndrew wrote, “the two-and-a-half hour event was as much an educational experience as it was a rock’n’roll concert.”

One highlight of the show was Bachman’s telling of his visit the previous year with Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martin, at Abbey Road Studios. The younger Martin, who is now the official custodian of all the Beatles’ recordings, told Bachman he could listen to anything he wanted from the massive archive–anything at all.

Bachman chose to hear each track from the opening of “A Hard Day’s Night.” As it turns out, the sound is actually a combination of chords played simultaneously by George Harrison and John Lennon, along with a bass note by Paul McCartney. Bachman breaks it all down in an entertaining way in the audio clip above.

You can read about some of the earlier theories on The Beatles Bible and Wikipedia, and hear a fascinating account of one scholar’s mathematical analysis of the component sounds of the chord from a few years ago at NPR.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared in our site in 2011.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Beautiful Taschen Art Books on Sale Through Sunday: 25%-75% Off

Great news for Open Culture readers. Taschen, the publisher of beautiful art books, is running its biannual warehouse sale. It starts today and runs through Sunday, January 30th. This sale gives you the chance to buy art books at nicely discounted prices–anywhere from 25% to 75% off. Here’s a list of some notable picks, and remember that the books tend to sell out quickly:

Find the complete list of discounted titles here.

Note: Taschen is a partner with Open Culture. So if you purchase a discounted book, it benefits not just you and Taschen. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

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Take a Close Look at Basquiat’s Revolutionary Art in a New 500-Page, 14-Pound, Large Format Book by TASCHEN


The Incredible Story of the Hoover Dam

On September 30, 1935, a crowd of thousands watched as President Franklin Roosevelt officially opened the Hoover Dam, the largest public works project of its time. “Approximately 5 million barrels of cement and 45 pounds of reinforcement steel” went into it, notes, enough to pave a four-foot-wide sidewalk around the Earth at the equator. The massive hydroelectric dam provided water to 7 surrounding states, transforming the arid American West into an agricultural center. Currently, it generates over four billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, “enough to serve 1.3 million people,” notes PBS.

That a project this size could be completed in just five years seems awe-inspiring enough. That it could be done during the worst years of the Great Depression, even more so. When the dam was first proposed in 1922 to deal with flooding on the Colorado River, the crisis still lay over the horizon.

A glorious post-war future seemed assured, masterminded by Hoover, the former engineer. (He did not design the dam, but brokered the deal that pushed it through Congress.) During the dam’s construction, on the other hand — a feat compared to building the pyramids in Egypt — the U.S. economy had fully hit rock bottom. Although it had been dedicated to Hoover by President Coolidge in 1928, the Hoover Dam wouldn’t come to bear his name until 1947.

In its early years, the massive, smooth white concrete curve — stretching 1,244 feet across the Black Canyon on the Arizona-Nevada Border — was simply called the Boulder Canyon Dam. It drew some 21,000 workers to divert the river through tunnels, excavate the riverbed down to bedrock, and build the enormous structure and its machinery. “Due to the strict timeframe, workers suffered from horrible work conditions in the tunnels as the heat and carbon monoxide-filled air became unbearable, leading to a strike in August of 1931,” writes Alexia Wulff at the Culture Trip.

Once they began clearing the blasted walls of the canyon, workers “hung from suspended heights of 800 feet above ground — some fell to their death or were injured by the falling rock and dangerous equipment.” Over 100 men died in this way and such deaths, and near-misses, seemed commonplace after a while. In the TED-Ed video by Alex Gendler at the top of the post, we see one jaw-dropping near-miss dramatized in animation. “Business as usual,” says the narrator. “Just another day in the construction of the Hoover Dam.”

Learn much more about the engineering marvels, and the “blood, concrete, and dynamite,” as Gendler puts it, in the short B1M video further up and the full National Geographic documentary just above. While it has been surpassed in size, the Hoover Dam remains one of the largest power plants in the country, and may even be ideal for use as a giant battery that can store excess power created by wind and solar. Even if that idea fails to pan out in coming years, the story of the dam’s construction will keep inspiring engineers and scientists to reach for big solutions, even — and perhaps especially — in the middle of a crisis.

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

Archaeologists Discover a 2,000-Year-Old Roman Glass Bowl in Perfect Condition

If you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands, do try to fit in Nijmegen, the country’s oldest city. Having originally cohered as a Roman military camp back in the first century B.C., it became at the end of the first century A.D. the first city in the modern-day Netherlands to receive the official designation of municipium, which made Roman citizens of all its residents. Not that Nijmegen stands today as an open-air museum of Roman times. You’re less likely to glimpse traces of its city wall or amphitheater than to come across such thoroughly modern developments as the “dynamic living and working area” of Winkelsteeg, currently under construction — and even now turning up Roman artifacts of its own.

ARTnews‘ Francesca Aton reports the discovery, by archaeologists working on the Winkelsteeg excavation, of “a blue glass bowl estimated to be around 2,000 years old.” Strikingly colored by metal oxide, its craftsmanship looks impressive and its condition astonishing: “with no visible cracks or chips, the bowl remains undamaged, making it a remarkable find.

It is believed to have been made in glass workshops in German cities such as Cologne and Xanten, or possibly in Italy” — somewhere, in any case, within the Roman Empire. Priceless now, the bowl would also have been valuable in its day; Aton references a theory that “locals working at outposts along the uppermost border of Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland for the Roman army” would have earned the kind of wage needed to buy it.

In the video just above, posted last week by the government of Nijmegen, archaeologist Pepin van de Geer introduces the excavation site, which has proven a fruitful source of what Aton describes as “Roman graves, homes and wells, and objects such as dishware and jewelry.” Most of these seem to have come out of the ground if not in pieces, then looking just as ancient as they are; not so the miraculous blue glass bowl, of which we also get a view. It may strike us denizens of the 21st century as recognizable enough to enrich at once the feeling of continuity between the people of the Roman Empire and ourselves — or at least it will when we can see it for ourselves in whichever museum Nijmegen sees fit to place it.

via ARTnews

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Explore the Roman Cookbook,De Re Coquinaria the Oldest Known Cookbook in Existence

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.

Watch a Joyful Video Where 52 Renowned Choreographers Link Together to Create a Dance Chain Letter

Dance videos are having a moment, fueled in large part by TikTok.

Professionals and amateurs alike use the platform to showcase their work, and while the vast majority of performers seem to be in or barely out of their teens, a few dancing grandmas have become viral stars. (One such notable brushes off the attention, saying she’s just “an elderly lady making a fool of herself.”)

You’ll find a handful of dancers happy to make similar sport of themselves among the 52 celebrated, mostly middle-aged and older choreographers performing in And So Say All of Us, Mitchell Rose‘s chain letter style dance film, above. Witness:

John Heginbotham‘s spritely bowling alley turn, complete with refreshment stand nachos (4:10)…

Doug Varone‘s determination to cram a bit of breakfast in before wafting out of a diner booth (5:15)…

And the responses David Dorfman, who both opens and closes the film, elicits aboard the 2 train and waiting on the platform at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue stop … conveniently situated near commissioning body BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music).

In the summer of 2017 — the same year TikTok launched in the international market — BAM asked filmmaker and former choreographer Rose to create a short film that would feature a number of choreographers whom outgoing Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo had nurtured over the course of his 35-year tenure.

The result takes the form of an Exquisite Corpse, in which each performer picks up where the performer immediately before left off . Quite a feat when one considers that the contributors were spread all over the globe, and Rose had barely a year to ready the film for its premiere at a gala honoring Melillo.

To get an idea of the degree of coordination and precision editing this entailed, check out Rose’s detailed instructions for Globe Trot, a crowd-sourced “hyper match cut” work in which 50 filmmakers in 23 countries each contributed 2 second clips of non-dancers performing a piece choreographed by Bebe Miller (who appears fourth in And So Say All of Us).

A great pleasure of And So Say All of Us — and it’s a surprising one given how accustomed we’ve grown to peering in on work recorded in artists’ private spaces — is seeing the locations. Terraces and interior spaces still fascinate, though the lack of masks in populous public settings identify this as a decidedly pre-pandemic work.

Other highlights:

The comparative stillness of Eiko and Koma, the only performers to be filmed together (2:19)

Meredith Monk singing creekside in an excerpt of Cellular Songs, a nature-based piece that would also premiere at BAM in 2018 (5:51)

Mark Morris’ glorious reveal (6:59)

As with any Exquisite Corpse, the whole is greater than the sum of its (excellent) individual parts. Rose ties them together with a red through line, and an original score by Robert Een.

Participating choreographers in order of appearance:

David Dorfman

Reggie Wilson

Trey McIntyre

Bebe Miller

Kate Weare

Sean Curran

Faye Driscoll

David Rousseve

Gideon Obarzanek

Jodi Melnick

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

Rodrigo Pederneiras

Eiko Otake

Koma Otake

Angelin Preljocaj

Brenda Way

Lin Hwai-min

Brian Brooks

Sasha Waltz

Donald Byrd

Stephen Petronio

William Forsythe

Nora Chipaumire

Karole Armitage

John Heginbotham

Miguel Gutierrez

Elizabeth Streb

Zvi Gotheiner

Ron K. Brown

Larry Keigwin

Annie-B Parson

Doug Varone

Bill T. Jones

Rennie Harris

Ralph Lemon

Meredith Monk

Lucinda Childs

Meryl Tankard

Ohad Naharin

Daniele Finzi Pasca

Ivy Baldwin

Mark Morris

Susan Marshall

John Jasperse

Solo Badolo

Abdel Salaam

Martin Zimmermann

Aurélien Bory

Benjamin Millepied

Brenda Angiel

James Thierrée

Kenneth Kvarnström

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An 8-Minute Animated Flight Over Ancient Rome

“At roof-top level, Rome may seem a city of spires and steeples and towers that reach up towards eternal truths,” said Anthony Burgess of the great city in which he lived in the mid-70s. “But this city is not built in the sky. It is built on dirt, earth, dung, copulation, death, humanity.” For all the city’s ancient grandeur, the real Rome is to be found in its brothels, bathhouses, and catacombs, a sentiment widely shared by writers in Rome since Lucilius, often credited as Rome’s first satirist, a genre invented to bring the lofty down to earth.

“The Romans … proudly declared that satire was ‘totally ours,'” writes Robert Cowan, senior lecturer in classics at the University of Sydney. “Instead of heroes, noble deeds, and city-foundations recounted in elevated language,” ancient Romans constructed their literature from “a hodgepodge of scumbags, orgies, and the breakdown of urban society, spat out in words as filthy as the vices they describe.” Little wonder, perhaps, that the author of A Clockwork Orange found Rome so much to his liking. For all the Christianity overlaid atop the ruins, “the Romans are not a holy people; they are pagans.”

In the video above, see an 8-minute rooftop-level flight above the ancient imperial city, “the most extensive, detailed and accurate virtual 3D reconstruction of Ancient Rome,” its creators, History in 3D, write. They are about halfway through the project, which currently includes such areas as the Forum, the Colosseum, Imperial Forums, “famous baths, theaters, temples and palaces” and the Trastevere, where Burgess made his home millennia after the period represented in the CGI reconstruction above and where, he wrote in the 1970s, antiquity had been preserved: “Trasteverini… regard themselves as the true Romans.”

The language of this Rome, like that of Juvenal, the ancient city’s greatest satirist, offers “a ground-level view of a Rome we could barely guess at from the heroism of the Aeneid,” writes Cowan. “The language of the Trasteverini is rough,” writes Burgess, “scurrilous, blasphemous, obscene, the tongue of the gutter. Many of them are leaders of intensity, rebels agains the government. They have had two thousand years of bad government and they must look forward to two thousand more.”

As we drift over the city’s rooftops in the impressively rendered animation above, we might imagine its streets below teeming with profane, disgruntled Romans of all kinds. It may be impossible to recreate Ancient Rome at street level, with all of its many sights, smells, and sounds. But if we’ve been to Rome, or ever get the chance to visit, we may marvel, along with Burgess, at its “continuity of culture…. Probably Rome has changed less in two thousand years than Manhattan has in twenty years.” The Empire may have been fated to collapse under its own weight, but Rome, the Eternal City, may indeed endure forever.

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

The Queen’s Guard Pays Tribute to Meatloaf, Playing a Brass Version of “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”

Marvin Lee Aday, aka Meatloaf, died late last week, reportedly after falling ill with Covid. At Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Guard paid tribute to the musician and his 1993 hit “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” on Sunday. It’s a nice touch.

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How French Music Teacher Nadia Boulanger Raised a Generation of Composers: Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass & More

One of my favorite quotes about creativity comes from 20th-century electric bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius: “You don’t get better, you grow.” The aspiration to get “better” implies a category of “best” – a height artists frequently despair of ever reaching. Pastorius rejected a state of perfection, which would mean stopping, going no further, freezing in place. “One can always learn more. One can always understand more. The question is to provide yourself with confidence.” That wisdom comes not from Jaco Pastorius but from 20th century French music teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger, who might not have approved of the libertine jazz phenom’s life, given her aristocratic conservatism, but heartily endorsed his wisdom about continuous creative growth.

Although deeply rooted in a classical tradition which strove for perfection, Boulanger taught, influenced, and championed some of the century’s most avant-garde composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, who broke violently with the past, as well as jazz greats like Quincy Jones, who took her lessons in an entirely different modern pop direction.

Indeed, Boulanger presided over “one of the most expansive  periods in music history, particularly for America,” says the narrator of the Inside the Score documentary above, “How Nadia Boulanger Raised a Generation of Composers.” Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Strauss, and even minimalists like Philip Glass… all studied with Boulanger at some point in their career.

Boulanger also took on many female students, like composer Lousie Talma, but she preferred to work with men. (The famously stern teacher once complimented a female student by calling her “Monsieur”). She had little regard for Romantic ideas about “genius,” and certainly not all of her students were as talented as the list of famous names associated with her, but for those with aspirations in the classical world, a visit to Boulanger’s Paris apartment constituted a rite of passage. “Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson led the way in the ’20s,” notes Red Bull Music Academy, “transforming Boulanger’s clear, tart tonal exactness into a new version of hardy Americana.” She became such a stalwart presence in the world of 20th century composition that composer Ned Rorem once joked, “Myth credits every American town with two things: a 10-cent store and a Boulanger student.”

At age 90, in 1977, Boulanger was well known as the most famous music teacher in the world when director Bruno Monsaingeon caught up with her for the nearly hour-long interview above. See the aged but still incredibly sharp (no pun intended) legend still teaching, and struggling to put into words exactly how it is that music keeps us growing past mathematical limitations. “Can one actually define that?” she asks mid-sentence while instructing a student. “I am using words such as tenderness or tension. It’s all wrong. It is what the music itself is….”

Learn much more about Boulanger’s extraordinary life and work as a music teacher and composer in the documentary Madamoiselle: A Portrait of Nadia Boulanger, further up, and in our previous post at the link below.

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

New Study Finds That Humans Are 33,000 Years Older Than We Thought

photo by Céline Vidal

“Where’re you from?” one character asks another on the Firesign Theatre’s classic 1969 album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All. “Nairobi, ma’am,” the other replies. “Isn’t everybody?” Like most of the countless multi-layered gags on their albums, this one makes a cultural reference, presumably to the discoveries made by famed paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey over the previous 20 years. Their discovery of fossils in Kenya and elsewhere did much to advance the thesis that humankind evolved in Africa, and that the process was happening more than 1.75 million years before.

Like all scientific breakthroughs, the Leakeys’ work only prompted more questions — or rather, created more opportunities for refining and adding detail to the relevant body of knowledge. Subsequent digs all over Africa have produced further evidence of how far our species and its predecessors go back, and where exactly the evolutionary progress happened.

Just this month, Nature published a new paper on the “age of the oldest known Homo sapiens from eastern Africa.” These new findings about known fossils, originally discovered in southwestern Ethiopia in 1967, suggest that the time has come for another revision of the long pre-history of humanity.

photo by Céline Vidal

The paper’s authors, writes Reuters’ Will Dunham, “used the geochemical fingerprints of a thick layer of ash found above the sediments containing the fossils to ascertain that it resulted from an eruption that spewed volcanic fallout over a wide swathe of Ethiopia roughly 233,000 years ago.” These fossils “include a rather complete cranial vault and lower jaw, some vertebrae and parts of the arms and legs.” After their initial discovery by the late Richard Leakey, son of Louis and Mary (and a man genuinely from Nairobi, born and raised), the fossils buried by this prehistoric Vesuvius were previously believed to be “no more than about 200,000 years old.”

Dunham quotes the paper‘s lead author, University of Cambridge volcanologist Celine Vidal, as saying this discovery aligns with “the most recent scientific models of human evolution placing the emergence of Homo sapiens sometime between 350,000 to 200,000 years ago.” Though Vidal and her team’s analysis of the ash’s geochemical composition has determined the minimum age of Omo I, as these fossils are known, the maximum age remains an open question. Or at least, it awaits the efforts of researchers to date the “ash layer below the sediment containing the fossils” and render a more precise estimate. And when that’s established, it will then, ideally, become material for the next big absurdist comedy troupe.

via Hyperallergic

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The Life & Discoveries of Mary Leakey Celebrated in an Endearing Cutout Animation

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.

How to Open a Door: A Finnish Instructional Video from 1979

Before you get started, turn on the subtitles by clicking the “CC” button on the lower right side of the video.

Did you know that one out of every three people opens a door incorrectly. You–yes, you–might be doing it all wrong. But this Finnish instructional video from 1979 has you covered. Watch and learn. This clip will–as they say–open so many doors to you…

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

via BoingBoing

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