The deadliest tooth

5 minutes

De artificiali perspectiva, or anamorphosis

14 minutes

Pien, queen of the bees

16 minutes

The greatest Briton?

5 minutes

The psychologist who sparked the gay rights movement

7 minutes

Great for killing, and for research: the lethal fangs of saber-toothed cats

Extinct for close to 10,000 years, the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, still inspires passionate debate among palaeontologists. Foremost: how did it use its most distinguishing feature? Playfully animated, The Deadliest Tooth spotlights the US palaeontologist Jack Tseng’s research into Smilodon fatalis, including why he believes its formidable fangs were used for attacking rather than scavenging, and the surprising amount of information palaeontologists can now deduce from just a few fossils, including how saber-toothed cubs might have lived millennia ago.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: Sweet Fern Productions

The Renaissance art illusion that proved everything is a matter of perspective

By the 16th century, European painters had become masterful at crafting illusions of perspective, giving viewers an impression of lifelike, three-dimensional depth on flat surfaces. Building on this well of Renaissance knowledge, a small handful of artists began pushing linear perspective further still, crafting works that required the viewer to occupy a single vantage point – or series of vantage points – in order to be fully understood. Today, this sort of visual illusion, known as anamorphosis, is responsible for viral internet phenomena such as the 3D street paintings of the Rome-based artist Kurt Wenner. At its inception, however, the technique was used to both provocative and whimsical effect, often adding subversive new meanings to works once revealed. In this short film, the celebrated US animation team Stephen and Timothy Quay, better known as ‘the Brothers Quay’, evoke a dark fairytale with their exploration of the technique, which combines stop-motion puppetry with some notable examples of anamorphosis from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Directors: The Brothers Quay

Producer: Keith Griffins

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In between chemotherapy, 10-year-old Pien finds kinship with the honeybees she keeps

Pien is 10 and having treatment for cancer. After learning that crop pesticides and other human activities pose a mounting threat to bees and, by extension, the many foods they pollinate – she developed a passion for the creatures and took up beekeeping. Despite occasional stings, she finds a kinship with the insects, which, like her, are small, industrious and fighting for their survival. While her doctors are hopeful that Pien will make a full recovery, her chemotherapy treatments are an unwelcome intrusion on time she’d much prefer spending with her friends and her colony. With atmospheric cinematography and an observational style, the Dutch filmmaker Ellen Vloet’s short documentary Pien, Queen of the Bees is a sweet and touching portrait of childhood – even as weighty challenges for Pien and her hive hover throughout.

Director: Ellen Vloet

Director of Production: Roel van ’t Hoff

Hero or scoundrel? An iconoclastic biography of Winston Churchill

Most mainstream portrayals of Winston Churchill, such as the critically acclaimed film The Darkest Hour (2017), focus on his role in the Second World War, standing tall in the face of potential Nazi obliteration with a combination of brilliant foresight, fighting spirit and soaring rhetoric. While this is, of course, an important part of the celebrated British prime minister’s legacy, the characterisation paints an extremely incomplete picture of his life, leaving out a great number of important, unflattering facts. This short from the UK filmmaker Steve Roberts deploys a combination of claymation and biting iconoclasm to shine a light on the failing-up nepotism, political opportunism and murderous white supremacy that are often glossed over in surface-level treatments of Churchill’s biography.

Director: Steve Roberts

The pioneering psychologist who proved that being gay isn’t a mental illness

‘What is called this year “evil” and whatever, next year may constitute the blessing of the human race.’

Throughout much of the 20th century in the United States, homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the medical establishment. This view created a cruel set of circumstances for gay people, as a lack of serious research into homosexuality allowed social institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and medical institutions could subject gay people to psychologically and physically damaging therapies.

This brief video essay explores the legacy of the late US psychologist Evelyn Hooker (1907-96), whose groundbreaking studies of homosexuality would help lay the groundwork for the modern gay rights movement. Inspired by her friendship with a gay student she met while teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1940s, Hooker began to study mental stability in straight and gay male populations. Ultimately, her work revealed that there was no correlation between homosexuality and psychological maladjustment. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders amid pressure from gay rights activist, who cited Hooker’s pioneering work in their arguments.

Video by University of California

Website: Fig 1

Great for killing, and for research: the lethal fangs of saber-toothed cats

Extinct for close to 10,000 years, the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, still inspires passionate debate among palaeontologists. Foremost: how did it use its most distinguishing feature? Playfully animated, The Deadliest Tooth spotlights the US palaeontologist Jack Tseng’s research into Smilodon fatalis, including why he believes its formidable fangs were used for attacking rather than scavenging, and the surprising amount of information palaeontologists can now deduce from just a few fossils, including how saber-toothed cubs might have lived millennia ago.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: Sweet Fern Productions

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All photos courtesy Marrioth Ling

Essay/
Illness and disease
Beautiful monsters

Cancer is part of multicellular life. Now the riotous growth of crested cacti show how humans might adapt to live with it

Athena Aktipis

Close-up detail of the Papilio demoleus malayanus, the lime butterfly. Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Cognition all the way down

Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones)

Michael Levin & Daniel C Dennett