The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans

Today, as the 2018 World Cup draws to a close, we're revisiting a classic Monty Python skit. The scene is the 1972 Munich Olympics. The event is a football/soccer match, pitting German philosophers against Greek philosophers. On the one side, the Germans -- Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Marx and, um, Franz Beckenbauer. On the other side, Archimedes, Socrates, Plato and the rest of the gang. The referee? Confucius. Of course.

Note: Some years ago, this match was recreated by The Philosophy Shop, a group dedicated to promoting philosophy among primary schoolchildren. The Telegraph gives you more details.

Enjoy.

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Watch “The Hangman,” a Classic Animated Film That Explores What Happens When No One Dares to Stand Up to Evil

Last Friday, I was downtown at an open air cinema to watch a collection of animated shorts. It was also a beastly hot night with roaring sundowners, a very present danger of being clocked in the head by falling palm fronds, and an existential danger of fire in the hills. The other existential danger was that of the authoritarian turn of this country that, at that moment, seemed so far away from our picnic baskets and wine in a can.

In the middle of the program of well made but light and fluffy shorts came the above animated film, “The Hangman.” The version above is not the restored version we saw, but it’s pretty much the same, give or take a scratch. Les Goldman and Paul Julian’s 1964 short delivers a moral message along the same lines as anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller’s “First they came for the Socialists” statement--currently a meme you’ve probably seen pass through your social feed. And though the narrative, based on the poem by Maurice Ogden, is easy to suss out as it trundled towards its mortal conclusion, it did not stop the fact that the rambunctious Friday night audience fell dead silent upon its conclusion. You may too.

The poem first appeared in a 1954 issue of Masses and Mainstream, a monthly Marxist publication that continued publishing through the worst excesses of the McCarthy hearings to an understandably vanishing readership. The poem has occasionally been taught in the context of the Holocaust, but any kind of creeping fascism will do. Not much is really known about Ogden, who wrote the poem under the pseudonym Jack Denoya in its original publication. (He is possibly the same man who taught at Coast Community College in Costa Mesa, CA, and ministered at Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church.)

The animated version, with its modernist look influenced by UPA’s animation studio, came out one year after Masses and Mainstream folded. During that Friday night viewing, I suspected the narrator to be Ken Nordine, who recorded a vocal jazz album around that time. But actually the voice belongs to Herschel Bernardi, a film and theater actor who would have been known to Broadway fans for his starring role in Fiddler on the Roof but to television fans as Charlie Tuna in the Starkist commercials. Before all that, however, he was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, which made him a perfect choice to narrate “The Hangman.”

Director Paul Julian illustrated much of the background art used in Warner Bros. cartoons, and his claim to pop culture fame is providing the “beep beep” sound for the Road Runner cartoons by the same studio. Producer Les Goldman went on to produce several other influential animated shorts, such as “The Dot and the Line” and “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

However, “The Hangman” is serious food for thought in these fraught times, and it’s good to see it back in circulation, thanks to curator Ron Diamond. Here’s to hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

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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.

French Bookstore Blends Real People’s Faces with Book Cover Art

You can lead the I-generation to a bookstore, but can you make them read?

Perhaps, especially if the volume has an eye-catching cover image that bleeds off the edge.

If nothing else, they can be enlisted to provide some stunning free publicity for the titles that appeal to their highly visual sense of creative play. (An author’s dream!)

France's first indie bookstore, Bordeaux’s Librairie Mollat, is reeling ‘em in with Book Face, an irresistible selfie challenge that harkens back to DJ Carl MorrisSleeveface project, in which one or more people are photographed “obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s), causing an illusion.”

The results are proliferating on the store’s Instagram, as fetching young things (and others) apply themselves to finding the best angles and costumes for their lit-based Trompe-l’œil masterstrokes.

…even the ones that don’t quite pass the forced perspective test have the capacity to charm.

…and not every shot requires intense pre-production and precision placement.

Hopefully, we’ll see more kids getting into the act soon. In fact, if some youngsters of your acquaintance are expressing a bit of boredom with their vacances d’été, try turning them loose in your local bookstore to identify a likely candidate for a Book Face of their own.

(Remember to support the bookseller with a purchase!)

Back stateside, some librarians shared their pro tips for achieving Book Face success in this 2015 New York Times article. The New York Public Library’s Morgan Holzer also cites Sleeveface as the inspiration behind #BookfaceFriday, the hashtag she coined in hopes that other libraries would follow suit.

With over 50,000 tagged posts on Instagram, looks like it’s caught on!

See Librairie Mollats patrons’ gallery of Book Faces here.

Readers, if you’ve Book Faced anywhere in the world, please share the link to your efforts in the comments section.

via This is Colossal/Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. In honor of her son’s 18th birthday, she invites you to Book Face your baby using The Big Rumpus, her first book, for which he served as cover model. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Archaeologists Think They’ve Discovered the Oldest Greek Copy of Homer’s Odyssey: 13 Verses on a Clay Tablet

The Homeric epics are thought to have been composed in the 8th century BCE. In the case of these ancient poems, however, “composed” is a very ambiguous term. While archaeological and linguistic research dates Homer’s versions of the poems to somewhere between 650 and 750, BCE., a scholarly consensus agrees these tales existed hundreds of years before, in oral form, transmitted by wandering bards and modified often in the telling. While they are thought to have been written down in Homer’s age, “any glimpse into Homer before medieval times is rare,” notes the Smithsonian, "and any insight into the composition of the epics is precious.”

Before the medieval manuscript tradition, beginning in the 10th century CE, the largest extant copies of the Iliad and Odyssey come from what is known as the “Homeric papyri,” fragments such as the Bankes Papyrus discovered in Egypt in the 19th century. Now, it’s being reported in news sites all over the web that the oldest written copy of the Odyssey has been found—or rather 13 verses of it, carved into a clay tablet and discovered in the ancient city of Olympia in southern Greece. While the dating has not been fully confirmed, experts believe the artifact comes from the Roman era, sometime before the 3rd century CE.

While the discovery may be significant, we should be careful to qualify the many claims made for its status. Like the poem itself, the story of this discovery has seemed to change in its retellings. The tablet is the oldest find in Greece, not in the world. “Finding a bit of Homer in home soil,” says Malcolm Heath, professor of Greek language and literature at Leeds University, “will obviously give the Greeks a warm glow.” But, as The Times reports, “the earliest surviving fragments of the Odyssey” are actually “bits of graffiti scratched into clay by schoolboys at Olbia on the Black Sea coast of what is now Ukraine.” These fragments are “at least 600 years older than the Olympia tablet.”

Furthermore, the Derveni papyrus, discovered in Egypt, which may include a quote from the poem, has been dated as far back as 340 BCE. Nonetheless, the new discovery is still unusual, not only for its place of origin, but also because of the medium. As Cambridge University’s Tim Whitmarsh notes, “It’s rare to find continuous text of Homer written out at such length in clay." The tablet includes a notable word substitution that will certainly be of interest to scholars, particularly those at work on the “Homer Multitext project.”

That project, Smithsonian writes, is gathering all the fragments together “so they can be compared and put in sequence to provide a broader view of Homer’s epics.” A view that shows us, as the project explains, “that there is not one original text that we should try to reconstruct,” but rather an unknown number of variations, transcribed and altered over the course of hundreds of years and scattered all over the ancient world. All of these fragments are fascinating examples, writes Science Alert, “of the way written texts can survive through the centuries, or even millennia,” just as the story itself shows how oral traditions can survive just as long without any need for written language at all.

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

How the Radical Buildings of the Bauhaus Revolutionized Architecture: A Short Introduction

When Germany lost World War I, it also lost its monarchy. The constitution for the new postwar German state was written and adopted in the city of Weimar, giving it the unofficial name of the Weimar Republic. Free of monarchical censorship, the Weimar Republic saw, among other upheavals, the floodgates open for artistic experimentation in all areas of life. One of the most influential aesthetic movements of the era began in Weimar, where the Great Big Story short above opens. As the city gave birth to the Weimar Republic, it also gave birth to the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus, literally "building house," was a school in two senses, both a movement and an actual institution. The style it advocated, according to the video's narrator, "looked to strip buildings from unnecessary ornament and build the foundation of what is called modern architecture." It was at Weimar University in 1919 that architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, and his office still stands there as a testament to the power of "clean, simple designs fit for the everyday life." We also see the first official Bauhaus building, Georg Muche's Haus am Horn of 1923, and Gropius' Bauhaus Dessau of 1925, which "amazed the world with its steel-frame construction and asymmetrical plan."

You can learn more about the Bauhaus' principles in the video above, a chapter of an Open University series on design movements. As an educational institution, the Bauhaus "offered foundation training in many art and design disciplines," including mass production, seeking to "develop students who could unify art with craft while embracing new technology." Bauhaus thinkers believed that "good design required simplicity and geometric purity," which led to works of graphic design, furniture, and especially architecture that looked then like radical, sometimes heretical departures from tradition — but which to their creators represented the future.

"Nothing dates faster than people's fantasies about the future," art critic Robert Hughes once said, but somehow the fruits of the Bauhaus still look as modern as they ever did. That holds true even now that the influence of the Bauhaus manifests in countless ways in various realms of art and design, though it had already made itself globally felt when the school moved to Berlin in 1932. By that time, of course, Germany had another regime change coming, one that would denounce the Bauhaus as a branch of "degenerate art" spreading the disease of "cosmopolitan modernism." The Gestapo shut it down in 1933, but thanks to the efforts of emigrants like Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, each of whom once led the school, the Bauhaus would live on.

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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.

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language

tsundoku

There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist. And then there’s the Japanese word tsundoku, which perfectly describes the state of my apartment. It means buying books and letting them pile up unread.

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868-1912) and has its origins in a pun. Tsundoku, which literally means reading pile, is written in Japanese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let something pile up and is written 積んでおく. Some wag around the turn of the century swapped out that oku (おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – meaning to read. Then since tsunde doku is hard to say, the word got mushed together to form tsundoku.

As with other Japanese words like karaoke, tsunami, and otaku, I think it’s high time that tsundoku enter the English language. Now if only we can figure out a word to describe unread ebooks that languish on your Kindle. E-tsundoku? Tsunkindle? Visit our collection of Free eBooks and contemplate the matter for a while.

The illustration above was made when Redditor Wemedge asked his daughter to illustrate the word “Tsundoku,” and she did not disappoint.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in July 2014.

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.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his art blog Veeptopus.

Margaret Atwood to Teach an Online Class on Creative Writing

The problem of dystopian fiction is this: quite often the worst future creative writers can imagine is exactly the kind of present that has already been inflicted on others—by colonialism, dictatorship, genocidal war, slavery, theocracy, abject poverty, environmental degradation, etc. Millions all over the world have suffered under these conditions, but many readers fail to recognize dystopian novels as depicting existing evils because they happen, or have happened, to people far away in space and time. Of course, Margaret Atwood understands this principle. The nightmares she has written about in novels like The Handmaid’s Tale have all already come to pass, she tells us.

In the promo video above for her Masterclass on Creative Writing starting this fall, Atwood says, “when I wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, nothing went into it that had not happened in real life somewhere at some time. The reason I made that rule is that I didn’t want anybody saying, ‘You certainly have an evil imagination, you made up all these bad things.’” And yet, she says, “I didn’t make them up.” In a Swiftian way, she implies, we did—“we” being humanity writ large, or, perhaps more accurately, the destructive, greedy, power-mad individuals who wreak havoc on the lives of those they deem inferiors or rightful property.

“As a writer,” she says above, “your goal is to keep your reader believing, even though both of you know it’s fiction.” Atwood’s trick to achieving this is a devious one in what we might call sci-fi or dark fantasy (though she spurns these designations): she writes not only what she knows to be true, in some sense, but also what we know to be true, though we would rather it not be, as in Virginia Woolf’s characterization of fiction as “as spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

Atwood says that writers turn away from the blank page because they fear something. She has made it her business, instead, to turn toward fear, to see dark visions like those of her MaddAddam Trilogy, an extrapolation of horrors already happening, in some form, somewhere in the world (and soon to be a fun-filled TV series). What she feared in 1984, the year she began writing The Handmaid’s Tale, seems just as chillingly prescient to many readers—and viewers of the TV adaptation—thirty-four years later, a testament to Atwood’s speculative realism, and to the awful, stubborn resistance reality puts up to improvement.

As she put it in an essay about the novel’s origins, “Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already.” The same, perhaps, might be said of novelists. Do you have some truths to tell in fictional form? Maybe Atwood is the perfect guide to help you write them. Her class starts this fall, sign up here.

Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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

New Web Site Showcases 700,000 Artifacts Dug Up from the Canals of Amsterdam, Some Dating Back to 4300 BC

Amsterdam has many pleasures to offer, not least boating through its hundred-kilometer network of canals. First laid out in the early 17th century, they constitute a rich history lesson in and of themselves. But Amsterdam is also, of course, a modern city with modern infrastructure, such as a metro system with a new line set to open this month. Amsterdammers have been waiting for that line for fifteen years now, and the reasons for the prolonged construction have to do with the old canals, or rather part of the River Amstel that feeds them.

Boring the tunnels entailed draining the river, and draining the river turned out to offer another history lesson, and a much deeper one than expected. "It is not often that a riverbed, let alone one in the middle of a city, is pumped dry and can be systematically examined," says the web site Below the Surface. "The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together."

The unintended archaeological benefit of draining the river amounts to "a multi-faceted picture of daily life in the city of Amsterdam. Every find is a frozen moment in time, connecting the past and the present. The picture they paint of their era is extremely detailed and yet entirely random due to the chance of objects or remains sinking down into the riverbed and being retrieved from there." At Below the Surface you can browse the extensive catalog of all these artifacts, the oldest of which date to around 4300 BC, more than five and a half millennia before the founding of Amsterdam itself.

Below the Surface's collection is organized into ten different categories including "interiors and accessories," "crafts and industry," "arms and armor," "communication and exchange," and "games and recreation." On your digitized object-based historical journey there, you'll encounter objects from all of those realms of human life across time, from 13th-century coins, 15th-century keys, 18th-century tiles, and 20th-century medicine tins. To we humans of the 21st century, in the Netherlands or elsewhere, some of these might look surprisingly contemporary — or at least not nearly as ancient as a mobile phone from the 1990s. Enter Below the Surface here.

via Hyperallergic

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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.

Steven Van Zandt Creates a Free School of Rock: 100+ Free Lesson Plans That Educate Kids Through Music

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll high school, I think of the Ramones, but in the 1979 Roger Corman film no one really learns much. In reality, however, another legendary musician, still going strong after five decades in the business, has put his cred to serious use, leveraging stardom as a musician and actor to create a music curriculum teachers can use for free, with lessons on rock history, Native American politics, Bob Dylan’s poetry, immigration and the blues, civil disobedience, the fight to end Apartheid, and much more. That man is Steven Van Zandt—aka Little Steven of the E Street Band, or Silvio Dante of The Sopranos, or Frank Tagliano of Lilyhammer, or a few other aliases and fictional characters.

“For the past decade,” writes John Seabrook at The New Yorker, the bandana-clad guitarist has been “working on a way to recreate” a “dynamic, out-of-school learning experience inside classrooms, through his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.” Working, that is, to recreate his own experience as a disaffected youth who “had no interest in school whatsoever,” he recalls. What interested him was music: the Beatles, at first, but as he learned more about them, he picked up “bits of information” about Eastern religion and orchestration. He learned about literature from Dylan.

“You didn’t get into it to learn things,” he says, “but you learn things anyway.” At least if you’re as curious and open-minded as Van Zandt, who came to value education through his non-traditional course. Over ten years ago, when the National Association for Music Education told him that “No Child Left Behind legislation was really devastating art classes,” he confronted Ted Kennedy and Mitch McConnell, telling them, “did you ever hear that every kid who takes music class does better in math and science?" They apologized,” he says, “but they said they weren’t going to fix it.”

So Van Zandt decided to do it himself with a program called TeachRock. Working with two ethnomusicologists, he built the curriculum to connect with kids through music. “Instead of telling the kid, ‘Take the iPod out of your ears,’” he told a crowd of teachers gathered at Times Square’s Playstation Theater in May, “we ask them, ‘What are you listening to?’” Van Zandt calls his curriculum “teaching in the present tense,” and while his own back catalog may not necessarily be streaming on kids’ current playlists, he incorporates not only his music and the fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll he loves, but also hip-hop, pop, punk, and the “Latin rhythms of ‘Despacito.’” He even uses Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video to prompt a discussion on the slave trade.

The focus on popular music as a force for change is fully in keeping with Van Zandt’s own path. His self-education led him into activism in the 80s when he wrote and recorded “Sun City” with 50 other artists to protest South African Apartheid. Unlike some other benefit songs of the time (like the cringe-inducing “Do They Know It’s Christmas”), “Sun City,” with its accompanying video (above), took effective political action—a blanket boycott of the Sun City resort—and didn’t sugar-coat the issues one bit (“relocation to phony homelands/separation of families, I can’t understand”). The Sun City boycott gets its own module.

As Van Zandt told Fast Company in 2015, “I had been researching American foreign policy post-World War II just to educate myself, which I had never done, being obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll my whole life. I was quite shocked to find that we were not always the good guys.” His discoveries compelled him to visit South Africa and to “dedicate my five-record solo career to that learning process, and also combine a bit of journalism with the rock art form.” That same passion for justice informs all of the TeachRock lessons, which you can browse and download for free at the TeachRock site. The multi-media units incorporate video, audio, images, activities, informative handouts, and other resources.

Each lesson also explains how its objectives meet Common Core State Standards (or the state standards of New Jersey and Texas). “TeachRock is rooted in a teaching philosophy that believes students learn best when they truly connect with the material to which they’re introduced,” notes the site's “Welcome Teachers” page. “Obviously, popular music is one such point of connection.” Perhaps not every kid who learns through music as Van Zandt did will go out and try to change the world, but they’re more than likely to stay engaged and stay in school. And that’s exactly what he hopes to accomplish.

“Teaching kids something they’re not interested in,” he told the teachers in New York, “it didn’t work then, and it’s even worse now. We have an epidemic dropout rate.” Then, in his refreshingly honest way, he concluded, “Where are we going to be in twenty years? How are we going to get smarter looking at this Administration? You know, we’re just getting stupider.” Not if Little Steven has anything to say about it. He's currently on tour with his Disciples of Soul, and offering free tickets to teachers, provided they show up early for a TeachRock workshop. Sign up here!

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

 

Stanley Kubrick’s Annotated Copy of Stephen King’s The Shining

The web site Overlook Hotel has posted pictures of Stanley Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, which is normally kept at the Stanley Kubrick Archive, but has been making the rounds in a traveling exhibition. The book is filled with highlighted passages and largely illegible notes in the margin---tantalizing clues to Kubrick’s intentions for the movie.

The site features a picture of the book’s careworn cover along with two spreads from the book’s interior ---pages 8-9, where Jack Torrance is being interviewed by hotel manager Mr. Ullman, and pages 86-87 where hotel cook Dick Hallorann talks to Jack’s son Danny about the telepathic ability called “shining.” (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Much of the marginalia is maddeningly hard to decipher. One of the notes I could make out reads:

Maybe just like their [sic] are people who can shine, maybe there are places that are special. Maybe it has to do with what happened in them or where they were built.

Kubrick is clearly working to translate King’s book into film. Other notes, however, seem wholly unrelated to the movie.

Any problems with the kitchen – you phone me

When The Shining came out, it was greeted with tepid and nonplussed reviews. Since then, the film’s reputation has grown, and now it’s considered a horror masterpiece.

At first viewing, The Shining overwhelms the viewer with pungent images that etch themselves in the mind---those creepy twins, that rotting senior citizen in the bathtub, that deluge of blood from the elevator. Yet after the fifth or seventh viewing, the film reveals itself to be far weirder than your average horror flick. For instance, why is Jack Nicholson reading a Playgirl magazine while waiting in the lobby? What’s the deal with that guy in the bear suit at the end of the movie? Why is Danny wearing an Apollo 11 sweater?

While Stephen King has had dozens of his books adapted for the screen (many are flat out terrible), of all the adaptations, this is one that King actively dislikes.

“I would do everything different,” complained King about the movie to American Film Magazine in 1986. “The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre.” King later made his own screen version of his book. By all accounts, it’s nowhere as good as Kubrick’s.

Perhaps the reason King loathed Kubrick’s adaptation so much is that the famously secretive and controlling director packed the movie with so many odd signs, like Danny’s Apollo sweater, that seem to point to a meaning beyond a tale of an alcoholic writer who descends into madness and murder. The Shining is a semiotic puzzle about …what?

Critic after critic has attempted to crack the film’s hidden meaning. Journalist Bill Blakemore argued in his essay “The Family of Man” that The Shining is actually about the genocide of the Native Americans. Historian Geoffrey Cocks suggests that the movie is about the Holocaust. And conspiracy guru Jay Weidner has argued passionately that the movie is in fact Kubrick’s coded confession for his role in staging the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Rodney Ascher’s 2012 documentary Room 237  juxtaposes all of these wildly divergent readings, brilliantly showing just how dense and multivalent The Shining is. You can see the trailer for the documentary above.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January 2014.

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.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.





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