Is the Western dead?

14 minutes

Jackson Pollock: Blue Poles

17 minutes

This is your brain on Pokémon

7 minutes

Annual musical report

5 minutes

Light is calling

8 minutes

How Westerns captured the American psyche and eventually bit the dust

A staple of American cinema since the release of the silent film The Great Train Robbery in 1903, the Western arguably became its defining genre with the release of Stagecoach in 1939 – the first of nine Western collaborations between the iconic duo of director John Ford and actor John Wayne. For the next several decades, Westerns evolved with the times, embracing an American mythos of freedom and opportunity before filmmakers such as Sergio Leone began using the language of the genre to reflect the more cynical mood of the Vietnam era. Part of a film-analysis series from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, this video essay by the US film critic Dave Kehr discusses how the Western helped to define the language of American film until modern filmmakers began adopting Western signifiers for shorthand, self-reference and parody, leaving the genre itself more or less in the dust.

Commentary: Dave Kehr

Website: The Museum of Modern Art

Why a Jackson Pollock masterpiece became an Australian tabloid sensation

The American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (1912-56) is a rare artist whose name, style and influence has grown to reach far beyond the art world. But when the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 bought one of Pollock’s most celebrated works, Blue Poles (1952), for a record-breaking sum of US$2 million, it set off a national controversy over the merits of abstract art, as well as about the painting’s place in Australia’s national collection. This short documentary from the New York City-based filmmaker Alison Chernick recalls the unlikely story of how the Australian government’s landmark purchase divided the nation as well as the art world, became an unlikely tabloid sensation, and ultimately found its place in Australian culture.

Director: Alison Chernick

Producer: Alison Wright

Website: National Gallery of Australia

Parents have long suspected Pokémon rewires kids’ brains. Now there’s evidence

Since 1996, the wildly popular Pokémon media franchise has encouraged kids to geek out over its cast of now more than 800 fictional species. For Jesse Gomez, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, the impact of Pokémon video games presents a unique research opportunity. Inspired by his own childhood love of the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, which reward the Game Boy player for registering small differences between eight-bit renderings of the characters, Gomez developed an experiment to interrogate how the brain processes visual information.

While pursuing a PhD at Stanford University, Gomez presented images of Pokémon to a group of adults who had played the games as kids and another group that hadn’t, and captured fMRI brain images of the results. Ultimately, Gomez found that, when processed by childhood Pokémon players, the images lit up a small groove in the temporal lobe that remained mostly inactive in the brains of Pokémon newbies. This short documentary from NPR’s show Science Friday tracks how Gomez’s work could potentially lead to a better understanding of learning disorders such as dyslexia and, more broadly, how clever psychological experiments can be sparked by personal experience.

Video by Science Friday

Produced: Luke Groskin

A project to compose music from everyday life is a joyful jolt of pure creativity

The Serbian multimedia artist Miloš Tomić began his Musical Diaries project by seeking out music in everyday life as a form of ‘therapy’ a few years ago. In doing so, he found small sonic surprises everywhere he travelled – objects transformed into improvised instruments and passersby became part of a grand orchestra. Eventually, the idea snowballed into a series of musical video collages – filmed by Tomić and pieced together with the help of some musician friends – that craft audiovisual compositions from his improvisations and discoveries. One such collage, Annual Music Report, mines melodies from sounds found in and around his Belgrade home. The resulting montage, featuring notable contributions from a singer on the Danube river and Tomić’s son Dren, is a singular jolt of joyful creativity, certain to inspire a toe tap and a smile.

Director: Miloš Tomić

When a decomposing, century-old film becomes a haunting meditation on memory

Created using a decomposing 35mm print of the crime drama The Bells (1926), the experimental short Light Is Calling (2004) depicts a dreamy encounter between a soldier and a mysterious woman. With images that reveal themselves only to distort and disappear into the decaying amber-tinted nitrate, the New York-based filmmaker Bill Morrison – known for his use of found materials – invites viewers to meditate on the fleeting nature of all things physical and emotional, while a minimalistic violin score suffuses the century-old images with a wistful, haunting beauty.

Director: Bill Morrison

Composer: Michael Gordon

How Westerns captured the American psyche and eventually bit the dust

A staple of American cinema since the release of the silent film The Great Train Robbery in 1903, the Western arguably became its defining genre with the release of Stagecoach in 1939 – the first of nine Western collaborations between the iconic duo of director John Ford and actor John Wayne. For the next several decades, Westerns evolved with the times, embracing an American mythos of freedom and opportunity before filmmakers such as Sergio Leone began using the language of the genre to reflect the more cynical mood of the Vietnam era. Part of a film-analysis series from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, this video essay by the US film critic Dave Kehr discusses how the Western helped to define the language of American film until modern filmmakers began adopting Western signifiers for shorthand, self-reference and parody, leaving the genre itself more or less in the dust.

Commentary: Dave Kehr

Website: The Museum of Modern Art

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The Inquisition Scene (1808-1812), by Francisco Goya. Courtesy the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid

Essay/
Virtues and vices
Vice dressed as virtue

Cruelty and morality seem like polar opposites – until they join forces. Beware those who persecute in the name of principle

Paul Russell

From Piers Plowman (1427) by William Langdon. Bodleian Library MS. Douce 104. Courtesy the Bodleian Library, Oxford

Essay/
Language and linguistics
On gibberish

Babies babble, medieval rustics sing ‘trolly-lolly’, and jazz exults in bebop. What does all this wordplay mean for language?

Jenni Nuttall