Twin Peaks Essentials to Get You Ready for the Debut of Season 3: A 55-Minute Refresher, Maps, Commercials & Behind-the-Scenes Footage & More

Have you prepared yourself to return, this Sunday, to Twin Peaks, that small Washington town, so well known for its coffee and cherry pie, once rocked by the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer? Fans of the eponymous television series, which first made surreal prime-time television history on ABC in 1990, have binge-watched and re-binge-watched its original two seasons in advance of the new Twin Peaks‘ May 21st debut on Showtime. Even fans who disliked the second season, in which series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost gave in to network pressure to resolve the story of Palmer’s murder, have re-watched it, and with great excitement.

But can simply watching those first thirty episodes (and maybe the follow-up feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, once booed at Cannes, the very same festival which will screen the first two parts of the new Twin Peaks on the 25th) suffice?




To get yourself as deep into the show’s reality as possible, we recommend dipping into the Twin Peaks material we’ve posted over the years here at Open Culture, beginning with the four-hour video essay on the series’ making and mythology we featured just this past January. You can orient yourself by keeping an eye on Lynch’s hand-drawn map of the the town of Twin Peaks, which he used to pitch the show to ABC in the first place, and which appears just above.

But Twin Peaks has its foundation as much in music as in geography. Just above, you can hear composer Angelo Badalamenti, a frequent collaborator with Lynch, tell the story of how he and the director composed the show’s famous “Love Theme,” which not only made an impact on the televisual zeitgeist but set the tone for the everything to follow.  “It’s the mood of the whole piece,” Lynch once said of the composition, “It is Twin Peaks.” Badalamenti has scored the new series as well, joining the long list of returnees to the project that includes not just Lynch and Frost, but Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and many others from the original cast as well, including the late Miguel Ferrer and Warren Frost.

“There’s so much more to Twin Peaks than a riveting murder mystery,” says Alan Thicke, another performer no longer with us, hosting the 1990 behind-the-scenes preview of the show’s second season just above. “There’s a whole look and a feel and a texture,” an experience “180 degrees away from anything else on television.” As dramatically as televisual possibilities have expanded over the past 27 years, it seems safe to say that the continuation of Twin Peaks, which comes after such expansions of its fictional universe as Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks, will maintain a similar creative distance from the rest of what’s on the air. “The one thing I feel I can say with total confidence,” to paraphrase David Foster Wallace writing about Lost Highway twenty years ago, is that the new Twin Peaks will be… Lynchian.

Above, you can watch a mini-season of Twin Peaks, which also doubles as a series of Japanese coffee commercials. They, too, come courtesy of David Lynch. And below, watch “Previously, on Twin Peaks…”, an abbreviated, 55-minute refresher on what happened during the first two seasons of the show. (It comes to us via WelcometoTwinPeaks.) Also you can read a recap of every episode over at The New York Times.

Related Content:

Watch an Epic, 4-Hour Video Essay on the Making & Mythology of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Hear 20 Minutes of Mark Frost’s New Secret History of Twin Peaks, the Book Fans Have Waited 25 Years to Read

David Lynch Draws a Map of Twin Peaks (to Help Pitch the Show to ABC)

Angelo Badalamenti Reveals How He and David Lynch Composed the Twin Peaks‘ “Love Theme”

David Lynch Directs a Mini-Season of Twin Peaks in the Form of Japanese Coffee Commercials

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

36 eBooks on Computer Programming from O’Reilly Media: Free to Download and Read

This past week, we featured a free course on the programming language Python, presented by MIT. A handy resource, to be sure.

And then it struck us that you might want to complement that course with some of the 36 free ebooks on computer programming from O’Reilly Media–of which 7 are dedicated to Python itself. Other books focus on Java, C++, Swift, Software Architecture, and more. See the list of programming books here.

If you’re looking for yet more free ebooks from O’Reilly Media, see the post in our archive: Download 243 Free eBooks on Design, Data, Software, Web Development & Business from O’Reilly Media.\

For more computer science resources, see our collections:

Free Online Computer Science Courses

Free Textbooks: Computer Science

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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Learn Python: A Free Online Course from Google

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Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell Sings Haunting Acoustic Covers of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Michael Jackson “Billie Jean” & Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”

I entered high school to the huge sounds of Soundgarden’s second album, Louder than Love, playing at home, in friends’ cars, on MTV’s 120 Minutes late at night…. The band’s debut, and two previous EPs released on Seattle’s Sub Pop records, had not attracted much notice outside of a fairly small scene. But Louder than Love—especially “Hands All Over”—was as hooky and alarming as breakthrough singles by other emerging bands on the other side of the country, while losing none of the propulsive grit, groove, and raw, metal/hardcore power of their earlier work. Thousands of new listeners started paying attention.

But there’s another reason the songs on Louder than Love resonated so strongly (and scored them a major label deal). The album announced singer Chris Cornell as a vocalist to be reckoned with—a singer with incredible power, melodic instinct, and a four-octave range.




On songs like “Hands All Over” and “Loud Love,” he broke away from a fairly narrow Ozzy Osbourne/Robert Plant style he’d cultivated and introduced a sound that took both influences in a direction neither had gone before, one full of anguish, urgency, and even menace.

Millions more got to know Cornell’s voice after Superunknown’s “Black Hole Sun,” but even then no one would have predicted the direction he would go in after leaving Soundgarden. He injected soul and sensitivity into songs like Audioslave’s “Original Fire” and “Be Yourself”—love ‘em or don’t—qualities we can hear in abundance in his covers of sensitive and soulful songs like Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” In his unplugged version of Jackson’s pop masterpiece the song acquires the heaviness and grievous beauty of a murder ballad. And I mean that entirely as a compliment. He brings “Nothing Compares 2 U” into “soulful new life,” as Slate writes, which is saying quite a lot, given that Sinead O’Connor’s version is more or less perfect.

Cornell took his own life at age 52 on Wednesday night after playing with a reunited Soundgarden in Detroit, and after struggling with depression for many years. It’s true he was never lauded as a songwriter of a Prince/Michael Jackson caliber. His lyrics were often tossed-off free associations rather than carefully crafted narratives. One’s appreciation for them is a matter of taste. But like the artists he covers here, both of whom also died tragically in their 50s, his music reflected a deep concern for the state of the world. This comes through clearly in songs like “Hands All Over,” “Hunger Strike,” and in some pointed comments he made during his final performance.

Rolling Stone has a few more acoustic Cornell covers of Metallica, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, and more, and they’re all great. He did a profoundly affecting, gospel-like take on Whitney Houston’s belter, “I Will Always Love You.” But for a true, and truly heartbreaking, example of how he could imbue a song with his “unforgettable vulnerability,” watch him play Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” at New York’s Beacon Theater in 2015 above, in an absolutely riveting duet with his daughter, Toni. Cornell will be dearly missed by everyone who knew him, and by the millions of people who were deeply moved by his voice.

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Prince Plays Unplugged and Wraps the Crowd Around His Little Finger (2004)

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Watch Nirvana Perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Just Two Days After the Release of Nevermind (September 26, 1991)

Patti Smith’s Cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Strips the Song Down to its Heart

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

An Animated Alan Watts Waxes Philosophical About Time in The Fine Art of Goofing Off, the 1970s “Sesame Street for Grown-Ups”

Time is a measure of energy, a measure of motion. And we have agreed internationally on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watches for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a circle, and that it is calibrated, and that each minute, or second, is marked by a hairline which is made as narrow as possible, as yet to be consistent with being visible. 

Alan Watts

However true, that’s a particularly stress-inducing observation from one who was known for his Zen teachings…

The pressure is ameliorated somewhat by Bob McClay’s trippy time-based animation, above, narrated by Watts. Putting Mickey Mouse on the face of Big Ben must’ve gone over well with the countercultural youth who eagerly embraced Watts’ Eastern philosophy. And the tangible evidence of real live magic markers will prove a tonic to those who came of age before animation’s digital revolution.




The short originally aired as part of the early 70’s series, The Fine Art of Goofing Off, described by one of its creators, the humorist and sound artist, Henry Jacobs, as “Sesame Street for grown-ups.”

Time preoccupied both men.

One of Jacobs’ fake commercials on The Fine Art of Goofing Off involved a pitchman exhorting viewers to stop wasting time at idle pastimes: Log a few extra golden hours at the old grindstone.

A koan-like skit featured a gramophone through which a disembodied voice endlessly asks a stuffed dog, “Can you hear me?” (Jacobs named that as a personal favorite.)

Watts was less punchline-oriented than his friend and eventual in-law, who maintained an archival collection of Watts’ lectures until his own death:

And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word “now”; we think of the shortest possible instant that is here and gone, because that corresponds with the hairline on the watch. And as a result of this fabulous idea, we are a people who feel that we don’t have any present, because the present is instantly vanishing – it goes so quickly. It is always becoming past. And we have the sensation, therefore, of our lives as something that is constantly flowing away from us. We are constantly losing time. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to be wasted. Time is money. And so, because of the tyranny of this thing, we feel that we have a past, and we know who we are in terms of our past. Nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were. 

Watch a complete episode of The Fine Art of Goofing Off here. Your time will be well spent.

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

Guillermo del Toro Creates a List of His 20 Favorite Art House/Criterion Films

When it comes to films released by the Criterion Collection, we’d all struggle to narrow our favorites down to only ten, but we probably wouldn’t have quite as hard a time as Guillermo del Toro. The director of MimicHellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth characteristically takes it to another level, bemoaning the “unfair, arbitrary, and sadistic top ten practice,” crafting instead a series of “thematic/authorial pairings” (and in first place, a trifecta) for his Criterion “top-ten” feature. The list, whether he meant us to take it linearly or not, runs as follows:

  1. Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of BloodHigh and Low, and Ran, the Emperor of Cinema’s “most operatic, pessimistic, and visually spectacular films.”
  2. Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and Fanny and Alexander (theatrical version), which “have the primal pulse of a children’s fable told by an impossibly old and wise narrator, both “ripe with fantastical imagery and a sharp sense of the uncanny.”
  3. Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, both of which “depend on sublime, almost ethereal, imagery to convey a sense of doom and loss: mad, fragile love clinging for dear life in a maelstrom of darkness.”
  4. David Lean’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, two “epics of the spirit [ … ] plagued by grand, utterly magical moments and settings” and laced with passages that “skate the fine line between poetry and horror.”
  5. Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits and Brazil, the work of a “living treasure” who “understands that ‘bad taste’ is the ultimate declaration of independence from the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie” and tells stories in elaborate worlds “made coherent only by his undying faith in the tale he is telling.”
  6. Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba and Kuroneko, a “perverse, sweaty double bill” fusing “horrors and desire, death and lust” that, when del Toro first saw them at age ten, “did some serious damage to my psyche.”
  7. Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus and Paths of Glory, which “speak eloquently about the scale of a man against the tide of history, and both raise the bar for every ‘historical’ film to follow.”
  8. Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels and Unfaithfully Yours, “masterful films full of mad energy and fireworks, but Sullivan’s Travels also manages to encapsulate one of the most intimate reflections about the role of the filmmaker as entertainer.”
  9. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr and Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan, the former “a memento mori, a stern reminder of death as the threshold of spiritual liberation” and the latter “the filmic equivalent of a hellish engraving by Bruegel or a painting by Bosch.”
  10. Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, “the two supreme works of childhood/horror [ … ] lamentations of worlds lost and the innocents trapped in them.”

Having already featured a tour of del Toro’s man cave and a tour of his imagination by way of his sketches here on Open Culture, it makes for a natural follow-up to offer this tour of his distinctive cinematic consciousness. A director since his childhood back in Mexico (then equipped with his dad’s Super 8, his own action figures, and a potato he once cast as a serial killer), he went on to study not filmmaking, strictly speaking, but makeup and special effects design. The resultant mastery of visual richness, especially in service of the grotesque, shows up even in his earliest available works, such as the 1987 short Geometria we posted a few years ago.

Del Toro’s next feature, a fantasy adventure set in Cold War America called The Shape of Water and involving a fish-man locked away in a secret government facility, will no doubt make even more use of all the tastes the director’s favorite Criterion films have instilled in him: for grand spectacle, for freakishness, for the uncanny, for “mad, fragile love,” and for sheer disturbance. May he continue to do “serious damage” to the psyches of his own audiences for decades to come.

Related Content:

Geometria: Watch Guillermo del Toro’s Very Early, Ghoulish Short Film (1987)

Sketches by Guillermo del Toro Take You Inside the Director’s Wildly Creative Imagination

A Guided Tour of Guillermo del Toro’s Creativity-Inducing Man Cave, “Bleak House”

Martin Scorsese Names His Top 10 Films in the Criterion Collection

120 Artists Pick Their Top 10 Films in the Criterion Collection

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Map of Chemistry: New Animation Summarizes the Entire Field of Chemistry in 12 Minutes.

Philosophers, technologists, and futurists spend a good deal of time obsessing about the nature of reality. Recently, no small number of such people have come together to endorse the so-called “simulation argument,” the mind-boggling, sci-fi idea that everything we experience exists as a virtual performance inside a computer system more sophisticated than we could ever imagine. It’s a scenario right out of Philip K. Dick, and one Dick believed possible. It’s also, perhaps, terminally theoretical and impossible to verify.

So… where might the perplexed turn should they want to understand the world around them? Are we doomed to experience reality—as postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard thought—as nothing more than endless simulation? It’s a little old-fashioned, but maybe we could ask a scientist? One like physicist, science writer, educator Dominic Walliman, whose series of short videos offer to the layperson “maps” of physics, math, and, just above, chemistry.




Walliman’s ingenious teaching tools excel in conveying a tremendous amount of complex information in a comprehensive and intelligible way. We not only get an overview of each field’s intellectual history, but we see how the various subdisciplines interact.

One of the oddities of chemistry is that it was once just as much, if not more, concerned with what isn’t. Many of the tools and techniques of modern chemistry were developed by alchemists—magicians, essentially, whom we would see as charlatans even though they included in their number such towering intellects as Isaac Newton. Walliman does not get into this strange story, interesting as it is. Instead, he begins with a prehistory of sorts, pointing out that since humans started using fire, cooking, and working with metal we have been engaging in chemistry.

Then we’re launched right into the basic building blocks—the parts of the atom and the periodic table. If, like me, you passed high school chemistry by writing a song about the elements as a final project, you may be unlikely to remember the various types of chemical bonds and may never have heard of “Van der Waals bonding.” There’s an opportunity to look something up. And there’s nothing wrong with being a primarily auditory or visual learner. Walliman’s instruction does a real service for those who are.

Walliman moves through the basics briskly and into the differences between and uses of organic and inorganic chemistry. As the animation pulls back to reveal the full map, we see it is comprised of two halves: “rules of chemistry” and “areas of chemistry.” We do not get explanations for the extreme end of the latter category. Fields like “computational chemistry” are left unexplored, perhaps because they are too far outside Walliman’s expertise. One refreshing feature of the videos on his “Domain of Science” channel is their intellectual humility.

If you’ve enjoyed the physics and mathematics videos, for example, you should check back in with their Youtube pages, where Walliman has posted lists of corrections. He has a list as well on the chemistry video page. “I endeavour to be as accurate as possible in my videos,” he writes here, “but I am human and definitely don’t know everything, so there are sometimes mistakes. Also, due to the nature of my videos, there are bound to be oversimplifications.” It’s an admission that, from my perspective, should inspire more, not less, confidence in his instruction. Ideally, scientists should be driven by curiosity, not vanity, though that is also an all-too-human trait. (See many more maps, experiments, instructional videos, and talks on Walliman’s website.)

In the “Map of Physics,” you’ll note that we eventually reach a gaping “chasm of ignorance”—a place where no one has any idea what’s going on. Maybe this is where we reach the edges of the simulation. But most scientists, whether physicists, chemists, or mathematicians, would rather reserve judgment and keep building on what they know with some degree of certainty. You can see a full image of the “Map of Chemistry” further up, and purchase a poster version here.

Find Free Chemistry Courses in our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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

Learn Python with a Free Online Course from MIT

The programming language Python takes its name from Monty Python (true story!), and now courses that teach Python are in very high demand. Last December, we featured a free Python course created by Google. Today, it’s a free Python course from MIT.

Designed for students with little or no programming experience, the course “aims to provide students with an understanding of the role computation can play in solving problems. It also aims to help students, regardless of their major, to feel justifiably confident of their ability to write small programs that allow them to accomplish useful goals.” Beyond offering a primer on Python, the course offers an introduction to computer science itself.




The 38 lectures above were presented by MIT’s John Guttag. On this MIT website, you can find related course materials, including a syllabus and software. And if you’re interested in taking this course as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), you can sign up for the version that begins on May 27th over at edx.

The course will be added to our list of Free Computer Science Courses, a subset of our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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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Everything Thing You Ever Wanted to Know About the Synthesizer: A Vintage Three-Hour Crash Course

Recently I’ve been diving back into making music on my laptop. Just like the iPhone has done to bulky equipment like cameras and keyboards, the digital workstation has shrunk tons of gear, from music to mastering, down into software. There’s certainly no way I’m going to lug a mini-Moog to a coffee shop. But I’m willing to dabble with synth software, turn those dials and knobs, and see what happens.

So this upload of “Intro to Synthesis,” an instructional VHS from 1985, is perfect for me, and maybe you too. The hair, the clothes, and the jokes might be dated, but the info is not. In the above video, Dean Friedman–who if you close your eyes sounds like late night host Seth Meyers–lays out the building blocks of sound (pitch, timbre, volume), the five types of waveforms, and the seven components of a synthesizer, from oscillators to the LFO. All of these features are still found on the synth interfaces used today in some form or another, and Friedman goes through every element at a methodical but appreciated pace. The three videos are an hour each.

And it pays to study the controls of synths and learn what makes them tick. The Yamaha DX-7 contained many pre-sets which, unfiddled with, sound dated and appear on many an ‘80s pop hit. Meanwhile, Brian Eno, one of the few to actually read the manual, made “The Shutov Assembly” and other mid-era ambient tracks with the very same machine and nothing sounds quite like it.
Happy twiddling!

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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.

Hear 2,000 Recordings of the Most Essential Jazz Songs: A Huge Playlist for Your Jazz Education

If you were to ask me “What is jazz?” I wouldn’t presume to know the answer, and I’m not sure any single composition exists to which one could point to as an ideal type. Maybe the only thing I’m certain of when it comes to jazz is—to quote Wallace Stevens—“it must change.”

Of course, there’s an incredibly rich history of jazz, broadly known, especially to those who have seen Ken Burns’ expansive documentary. I’d also recommend the excellent jazz writing of Amiri Baraka, Stanley Crouch, or Philip Larkin. For the young, we might consult Langston Hughes’ illustrated jazz history. And maybe everyone should read Charles Mingus’ Grammy-nominated essay “What is a Jazz Composer?” in which the contrarian genius writes, “each jazz musician is supposed to be a composer. Whether he is or not, I don’t know.”




Mingus the iconoclast argued for tearing up the text even as he sought a classical pedigree for jazz. His wish was partly granted by the influence of jazz on composers like Leonard Bernstein, who sought to answer the question “What is Jazz?” in a 1956 spoken-word LP. The tension between jazz as a compositional or wholly improvisational art seems to resound throughout the form, in all of its many guises and variations. But one thing I think every jazz musician knows is this: Standards, a common compendium of songs in the tradition.

You’ve got to know the rulebook (or the fakebook, at the least), before you can throw it out the window. Even some of the most innovative jazz artists who more or less invented their own scales, modes, and harmonies—like Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman—either studied at conservatory or paid their dues as sidemen playing other people’s songs. Jazz—Coleman once told Jacques Derrida—is “a conversation with sounds.” Its underlying grammar comes from the Standards.

Until fairly recently, the only way one could get a proper education in the standards was on the job. Critic, jazz historian, and pianist Ted Gioia writes as much in his comprehensive 2012 reference, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. Gioia’s “education in this music was happenstance and hard earned.” He writes, “aspiring musicians today can hardly imagine how opaque the art form was just a few decades ago—no school I attended had a jazz program or even offered a single course on jazz.”

How times have changed. These days, if you can get in, you can take graduate-level classes taught by the greats, such as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter at UCLA. Hundreds more less-famous jazz musician professors stand at the ready in music departments worldwide or at the renowned Berklee College of Music.

But for those autodidacts out there, Gioia—who has served on the faculty at Stanford University and been called “one of the outstanding music historians in America”—offers an exceptional guide to the Standards, one we can not only read, but also, thanks to Jim Higgins of the Journal Sentinel, listen to, in the Spotify playlist above. (If you need Spotify’s free software, download it here.) In a companion essay, Higgins describes the process of compiling “as many of the performances [Gioia] recommended” in his commentary on 250 jazz standards.

Gioia names over 2,000 different performances of those 250 standards, and the playlist contains nearly all of them. You’ll find, for example, “several different recordings of ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ by the composer (including one with John Coltrane), as well as versions by Sonny Rollins, Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner, Abdullah Ibrahim and Buddy Tate, and Chris Potter.” While the playlist is “not a complete reflection of Gioia’s recommendations,” given that certain artists’ work cannot be streamed, “there’s a lot of music here”—a whole lot—“spanning a century.”

The experience of listening to this incredible library will not be complete without some context. Gioia’s book contains a “short historical and musical essay” on each of the 250 songs and he isn’t shy about offering incisive critical commentary. Other than going to music school or joining a touring band, I can’t think of a better way to learn the Standards.

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Langston Hughes Presents the History of Jazz in an Illustrated Children’s Book (1955)

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

Noel Coward’s “Alice (Is At It Again)” Gets Reimagined as a Very Modern Fairy Tale: A Short Film Starring Sarah Snook

English playwright, lyricist, actor and raconteur Noel Coward (1899 –1973) is still remembered for his plays such as the wife-after-death comedy Blithe Spirit and Private Lives; his playlet Still Life, which became the classic David Lean film Brief Encounter, and his scripting and co-direction of the WW2 morale-booster In Which We Serve, also directed by Lean, for which Coward won an Honorary Academy Award. However, he’s perhaps better known now more as an image of archetypal mid-20th century Englishness, replete with dressing-gown and cigarette-holder, and the hundreds of witty songs and poems he wrote, such as Mad Dogs and Englishman and Mrs Worthington, which he performed in cabaret in his distinctively clipped English manner to much acclaim in London and, latterly, in Las Vegas.

His 1946 song Alice (Is At It Again), written and then cut from his flop musical Pacific 1860, became a standard of his cabaret act and, with its suggestive lyrics, risqué subject matter and sly wit, is typical of his oeuvre. It’s thus a surprising choice perhaps by rising Australian actress Sarah Snook for the subject of her new short film Alice, co-devised with director Laura Scrivano, and the second film of The Passion, a new online series of performed poetry films coming out of Australia. The first film in the series, A Lovesong, starring Daniel Henshall (from AMC’s Turn: Washington Spies), featured T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (watch it below), so Alice is a change both in style and tone for the series, but continues the project’s experimentation in rendering poetry on film for a digital audience.

Sarah, who won critical acclaim for her genderswitching role in the 2015 science-fiction thriller Predestination, found the Coward text in a bookshop in San Francisco, while sourcing a text for her film for the series.

Says Sarah:

(Director) Laura and I were interested in the ideas of femininity and how that is expressed, particularly in sexual or sensual terms. When I read the poem, I was charmed by it and excited by the potential and challenge of contemporizing it for The Passion. Coward’s themes are very much of the time and place of the original lyrics’ writing, as is his take on them, while our adaptation is an updating, an exploration of female sexuality and empowerment that Coward plays with, and the wildness and freedom of discovering that. Our Alice, who I think nods to Coward’s, is breaking out of the strictures of her background, and being free and true to herself.

Originally Alice, as read by Coward, would have been performed with a patter, a rhythm of its own, with a sense of irony and a lot of wit, and certainly in his very particular RP accent. It’s hard to escape that as it’s written so well and embedded so deeply into the lines, with a particular scansion, but I wanted to go against that somewhat, while retaining and respecting Coward’s sparkle and playfulness.

Alice is the second film of The Passion series, in which actors select a text which has a personal significance for them or strikes a particular chord, and then work closely in collaboration with director Laura Scrivano to develop it as a new performance piece for film. A third film is currently in development. More information about the series can be found at this website.

Dan Prichard is an online film and webseries producer, based in Sydney, whose work explores identity, place, and the space between film and performance in the digital arena. Visit his website and follow him on twitter @georgekaplan81


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