Tusalava

9 minutes

Peter and Ben

10 minutes

Sunken films

11 minutes

The paradox of the ravens

6 minutes

Shelter in place

15 minutes

Life emerges, evolves and fights for supremacy in this 1929 avant-garde classic

The New Zealand-born artist Leonard Charles Huia Lye (1901-80), better known as Len Lye, is renowned for his work in kinetic sculpture and experimental film, and is widely considered one of the most innovative modernists of the 20th century. Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929), produced over two years following a move to London, was born of the city’s emerging experimental film scene and Lye’s abiding interest in Maori, Aboriginal and Samoan art. Composed of some 7,000 hand-drawn images, the abstract animation synthesises modern and ancient art as it depicts simple life forms emerging, evolving and coming into conflict. As with the influence of African art on Pablo Picasso, Lye’s use of so-called ‘primitivism’ has been both praised for introducing non-Western perspectives to Western art, and criticised for cultural appropriation. The film was originally paired with a now-lost piano score from the UK-born composer Jack Ellitt. This version features the UK composer Eugene Goossens’s composition Rhythmic Dance (1928), which Lye later suggested as an alternative accompaniment.

Director: Len Lye

Score: Eugene Goossens

Websites: The Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

After 30 years of solitude, Peter forms an unlikely friendship with a fellow loner

‘I had left my flock, and Ben had left his.’

After taking a walk through a remote Welsh valley, Peter committed himself to a life there, and disconnected from the outside world. In doing so, he found a solitary inner peace – a peace he maintained for nearly three decades, until, one day, he stumbled upon a lamb that had been left for dead. Finding kinship with the fellow ‘dropout’, Peter took the abandoned creature home and named him Ben. The short Peter and Ben (2007) by the UK filmmaker Pinny Grylls captures the duo’s relationship three years after their chance meeting, as Peter attempts to return Ben to the wild. With a melancholic piano score and sweeping views of the Welsh countryside, her touching film lends a lyrical beauty to this tale of unlikely connection and camaraderie between outsiders.

Director: Pinny Grylls

Producer: Victoria Cameron

Score: Will Hood

Trawling for secrets in haunting films recovered from the bottom of the sea

The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania embarked on its infamous final voyage from New York to Liverpool on 1 May 1915. Six days later, torpedoed by German U-boats off the southern coast of Ireland, the ship sank in less than 20 minutes, killing 1,198 passengers and crew, and setting the US on the path to join the fight against Germany in the First World War. One of the most luxurious ocean liners of its time, the Lusitania was equipped with what was then a novelty – an onboard movie theatre.

In Sunken Films, the US artist and filmmaker Bill Morrison uses archival footage to unspool the stories of the sinking of this luxury liner, its incendiary movie reels, as well as other films about or from shipwrecks. One early clip was salvaged from the sunken Lusitania in a 1982 expedition; another mysterious film, featuring the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in 1919-20 with his cat, was recovered from a fishing net off the Danish coast in 1976. By trawling for memories in deep-sea shipwrecks, Morrison offers haunting glimpses into early-20th century film and world history.

Director: Bill Morrison

Is a red apple proof that all ravens are black? A paradox of scientific logic

Can we learn anything about what makes a raven by looking only at apples? The German-born logician Carl Gustav Hempel (1905-97) thought that, using the inductive logic that scientists rely on to prove or disprove hypotheses, you ought to be able to – but in such a way that clashes mightily with human intuition. This peculiar ripple in reasoning, which became known as ‘the raven paradox’ due to the example Hempel used to elucidate it, goes as follows:

1. All ravens are black
2. If something is not black it is not a raven
3. The fact that my pet raven is black supports the hypothesis that all ravens are black
4. The fact that my apple is red also supports the hypothesis that all ravens are black

The sequence appears to break down somewhere between the third and fourth claims. And yet, upon examination, inductive logic tells us that claim four does indeed follow. In this brief animation, Marc Lange, a professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, dissects why Hempel’s claim seems to hold to reason, even as it cuts against our intuitions in a way that seems unresolvable.

Lockdown is a way of life for the US asylum-seekers living in churches

While much of the world was adjusting to lockdown and socialising via screens, life went on more or less the same for Vicky Chavez and her two young daughters. For more than two years, they have been unable to leave the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City in Utah, their makeshift home. After Chavez was ordered to deport to her native Honduras, which she fled to escape an abusive relationship, the church provided her refuge from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – which doesn’t pursue raids at places of worship – while her case is being fought in court. In her moving short Shelter in Place, the US director Kelsie Moore captures the family’s precarious life in limbo, which includes Chavez’s regular video calls with other asylum-seekers living in churches around the country.

Director: Kelsie Moore

Website: RadioWest

Life emerges, evolves and fights for supremacy in this 1929 avant-garde classic

The New Zealand-born artist Leonard Charles Huia Lye (1901-80), better known as Len Lye, is renowned for his work in kinetic sculpture and experimental film, and is widely considered one of the most innovative modernists of the 20th century. Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929), produced over two years following a move to London, was born of the city’s emerging experimental film scene and Lye’s abiding interest in Maori, Aboriginal and Samoan art. Composed of some 7,000 hand-drawn images, the abstract animation synthesises modern and ancient art as it depicts simple life forms emerging, evolving and coming into conflict. As with the influence of African art on Pablo Picasso, Lye’s use of so-called ‘primitivism’ has been both praised for introducing non-Western perspectives to Western art, and criticised for cultural appropriation. The film was originally paired with a now-lost piano score from the UK-born composer Jack Ellitt. This version features the UK composer Eugene Goossens’s composition Rhythmic Dance (1928), which Lye later suggested as an alternative accompaniment.

Director: Len Lye

Score: Eugene Goossens

Websites: The Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Scientists near the Daneborg research station in Greenland, July/August 2014. Photo by Jean Gaumy/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The necessity of awe

In awe we hold fast to nature’s strangeness and open up to the unknown. No wonder it’s central to the scientific imagination

Helen De Cruz

An Indian worker shows a European man a sample of opium taken from one of the large clay pots in the foreground. Photo by Bourne and Shepherd/British Library

Essay/
Global history
From vice to crime

European empires were addicted to opium smoking. Then their own agents launched a moral crusade to prohibit it

Diana S Kim