Furniture poetry

5 minutes

The greatest Briton?

5 minutes

The psychologist who sparked the gay rights movement

7 minutes

Carl Sagan’s message to aliens

8 minutes

Sandorkraut

12 minutes

Playing peekaboo with Wittgenstein: what do objects do when we’re not looking?

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

‘What prevents me from supposing that this table either vanishes or alters its shape when no one is observing it, and then when someone looks at it again, changes back? But one feels like saying – who is going to suppose such a thing?’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein in On Certainty (1969)

Inspired by the Austrian philosopher’s posthumously published words above on the limits of human perception to account for the outside world, the UK filmmaker Paul Bush constructed the experimental short Furniture Poetry (1999). The stop-motion animation brings to life a universe where fruits, furniture and tableware shift colour and shape when we’re not looking. The result is a simultaneously jarring and amusing visual poem – a dizzying, madcap meditation on our uncertain reality and the limits of knowledge.

Director: Paul Bush

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

How do you message an alien? Carl Sagan offers some simple suggestions

Is there a foolproof way to announce our existence to other intelligent life-forms? It’s a brainteaser with vast potential consequences, and one that scientists seem to love puzzling over – even if some, such as Stephen Hawking, have questioned the wisdom of alerting advanced beings to our humble corner of the Universe. In this short video excerpt from a 1977 lecture at the Royal Institution in London, Carl Sagan – more optimistic about the prospect of alien benevolence than Hawking – offers one possible method. First, he establishes his belief that a common language among dissimilar beings in a shared universe should, in theory, be possible. He then presents a document coded in ones and zeroes, containing a message that he hopes could be decoded by an intelligent being anywhere in the Universe. Finally, Sagan recounts an experiment in which he presented the document to what he considers a ‘reasonably clever’ life-form – some of his graduate students at Cornell University – to see if they could decipher it.

Making sauerkraut is a spiritual matter for the ‘fermentation fetishist’ Sandor Katz

The US writer and activist Sandor Katz is one of the world’s leading experts on fermentation – a process born of the collaboration between people, time and microbes that makes possible such beloved culinary staples as bread, beer, wine, kimchi and miso. A self-described ‘fermentation fetishist’, Katz views this process as a humbling means of reconnecting with nature and its foodways, and has written several books on the subject and leads fermentation workshops in the US and abroad. In Sandorkraut, the US filmmakers Emily Lobsenz and Ann Husaini explore how an HIV diagnosis in 1991 led Katz on an unexpected path from New York City to a queer community in Tennessee, where he developed a spiritual connection with all things fermented.

Playing peekaboo with Wittgenstein: what do objects do when we’re not looking?

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

‘What prevents me from supposing that this table either vanishes or alters its shape when no one is observing it, and then when someone looks at it again, changes back? But one feels like saying – who is going to suppose such a thing?’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein in On Certainty (1969)

Inspired by the Austrian philosopher’s posthumously published words above on the limits of human perception to account for the outside world, the UK filmmaker Paul Bush constructed the experimental short Furniture Poetry (1999). The stop-motion animation brings to life a universe where fruits, furniture and tableware shift colour and shape when we’re not looking. The result is a simultaneously jarring and amusing visual poem – a dizzying, madcap meditation on our uncertain reality and the limits of knowledge.

Director: Paul Bush

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The Stephen sisters playing cricket in St Ives, Cornwall, England, c1893-94. Photo courtesy the Houghton Library, Harvard University

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