A Look at 10/6/1889: On Moving Pictures and “Talkies”

Image from: Wikimedia

Original poster advertising the groundbreaking talkie. Image from: Wikimedia.

October 6th is a celebration for film buffs everywhere. The first motion picture and the heralding out of the silent movie era share an unlikely anniversary, thirty-eight years apart.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute I tell ya, you ain’t heard nothin’. You want to hear ‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie’?” says actor Al Jolson from behind the movie screen, effectively ushering in a new age of “talkies” or films with sound. The 1927 film opens up with an orchestral sequence, much like the other silent films of the time. But Al Jolson’s words break the pattern, interrupt the music. No, the mainstream cinema “ain’t heard nothin’ yet,” nothing like this anyway.

Except, it sort of already had.

In 1889, Thomas Edison played a motion picture in his laboratory in New Jersey. He had invented the motion picture, experimenting with an idea that if you capture enough pictures and move them in sequence fast enough, the image effectively moves. The first time he tried this out, today so many years ago, he synchronized the moving picture with audio coming from a phonograph. The first moving picture spoke, but it would take another thirty some-odd years for the advent of sound in cinema to catch on.

The role of the film The Jazz Singer was to do just that. Boasting an award-winning cast, the film marks an almost tangible transition from the before-sound and after-sound era. Its opening and subsequent musical themes are a testament to the shift. A major theme in the plot is a shift in cultural values that was very much on the minds of people during the Roaring 20s. Where do old world values end and the values of a new world—a world that produces a whole new sort of music, a whole new sort of sound—begin? And what better way to illustrate that than through technological advancements that allow for expression of that sound? Unsurprisingly, the film was a huge success.

But being grounded in the present day, I find that there are moments when watching the film becomes difficult—not because our musical tastes have changed so drastically in the last century or because the father’s death scene is so heart-wrenching, but rather because of other expressions of themes that are deeply problematic in the present day. The titular jazz performer wears blackface, and Jewish traditions are arguably othered, first by the assimilating protagonist, and then by the gaze of an audience who consumes the spectacle. In watching the film today, we watch us watch ourselves struggle with basic ideas about unity and diversity and integration, ideas that are not irrelevant today and that will never be irrelevant.

Thomas Edison and The Jazz Singer gave us the tremendous power of sound in film. Now it is time for us to truly listen.


From the Library of Congress (http://goo.gl/G1Zpx9http://goo.gl/S8N6Py)

From the Charles Edison Fund (http://goo.gl/JvcNpU)

From the American Film Institute (http://goo.gl/qtUnbO)


Google Art Project


Google Art Project

Google Art Project

Google Art Project is an online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative’s partner museums. The project was launched on 1 February 2011 by Google, in cooperation with 17 international museums, including the Tate Gallery, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; and the Uffizi, Florence.  The platform enables users to virtually tour partner museums’ galleries, explore physical and contextual information provided about artworks, and compile their own virtual collection. The “walk-through” feature of the project uses Google’s Street View technology. The virtual images of artworks were reproduced at extremely high quality, and each partner museum selected one artwork to be captured as a Gigapixel image (with over 1 billion pixels).  On April 3, 2012, Google announced a major expansion to the Art Project as it signed partnership agreements with 151 museums from 40 countries. Now, the platform features over 32,000 artworks from 46 museums, and the image acquisition process is underway at the remaining partner museums. Additionally, Google launched a second, improved version of the website with new Google+ features, enhanced search capabilities, and a series of educational tools.

(description from Wikipedia website)

Watch the visitor guide to the project below:

The Art of Video Games | by Smithsonian.com


The Art of Video Games | by Smithsonian.com

The Art of Video Games | by Smithsonian.com

Video games are a controversial issue of modern computer-dependent world. They have been praised and criticized. A few weeks ago, we featured the Education.com article examining at the educational use of video games.  This time, the Smithsonian Magazine article by Abigail Tucker (March 2012 issue) examines the classification of video games as an art form. For decades, video games have enthralled and inspired, and now they are the subject of a new Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit that views them as serious works of art. Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling of June 2011, considering video games as an art form, means that they deserve First Amendment safeguards as “the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them.”  (The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference.)

Chris Melissinos, who expressed that video games were a form of art around 30 years ago, “is the guest curator of “The Art of Video Games,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that celebrates 40 years of the genre, from Pac-Man to Minecraft. The show will include video-game screen shots, videotaped interviews with game designers, vintage consoles from Melissinos’ personal collection (“I’m having a bit of separation anxiety,” he says) and several opportunities for visitors to seize the arcade joystick or PlayStation controls themselves.” (quote from Abigail Tucker’s Smithsonian Magazine article)

There is also a photo gallery with game art available on the website.

Read the article and watch the video with Chris Melissinos talk about the exhibition which runs from March 16 through September 30 :

Web of Stories


Web of Stories is a place where you can  record your own stories and watch stories that others have recorded.  A good place to start is by checking out the Channels section. All the stories are grouped by subject into Channels – Science, A Day in the Life, Film etc. When you watch a story, you will also see a list of “Related Stories” on the screen, inviting you to listen further.

Lives is the Web of Stories flagship channel. It is where you can watch the stories of people who have influenced the world or who have simply led exciting and interesting lives. Listen to the stories of great scientists, doctors, artists, film makers and other notable people and learn something new today. Check out the “Channels” section to view a long list of themes for the videos posted.

You can also Record your own story and post it on the website.  What would you need to do to post a story in Web of Stories? Simply tell your story, speaking to the camera. In order to record your stories, check the site for more information and follow the instructions.

We have included a video below about the first picture of the surface of the moon, by Bernard Lovell

(part of description from Web of Stories website – found through Mary Laine’s Neat New Stuff website)

360 Degrees in the Ottoman Era | by Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)


360 Degrees in the Ottoman Era | by WSJ.com

360 Degrees in the Ottoman Era | by WSJ.com

On Nov. 1, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will reopen the museum’s Islamic art galleries to display roughly 1,200 works spanning 13 centuries and dozens of Islamic-influenced cultures. One highlight is the Damascus Room, a 26-foot-long reception room built in 1707 for a wealthy Syrian family. Use the Wall Street Journal interactive feature to take a look around and click the points marked with an [i] to see additional photos and hear interview excerpts with Met curator Navina Haidar.

You can also use the second interactive featured on the page, which includes items in “fine detail,” like ivory panel carvings, the sultan’s signature, prayer carpets, and book paintings.

Read more about the exhibit on IIP Digital website here and the New York Metropolitan Museum’s website here

Please Note: there is also an article by Kelly Crow on the exhibits, but requires subscription to the WSJ site.

(part of description from wsj website)

Smarthistory.org | by Khan Academy




Smarthistory.org is a free and open, not-for-profit, art history textbook. Part of the Khan Academy, [the site] uses multimedia to deliver unscripted conversations between art historians about the history of art. [The site administrators] are seeking contributors—especially for canonical non-Western material and other survey topics not yet covered.

We really liked the structure of the site, as it divides the findings by period, by style, and by artist.  There is a section where entries are classified by theme, and the site includes recent historic events.

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker began smARThistory in 2005 by creating a blog featuring free audio guides in the form of podcasts for use in The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon after, [the site] embedded the audio files in [its] online survey courses. The response from [their] students was so positive that [they] decided to create a multi-media survey of art history web-book. [The administrators] created audios and videos about works of art found in standard art history survey texts, organized the files stylistically and chronologically, and added text and still images.

There are also more than 300 interesting videos featured on the site, like the one below:

Smarthistory Kickstarter Video from Smarthistory Videos on Vimeo.

(part of description from Smarthistory website)

George and Ira Gershwin official website


George and Ira Gershwin - The official website

George and Ira Gershwin - The official website

The official website for the brothers George and Ira Gershwin, composer and lyricist, who worked together to create some masterpieces of American music of the Jazz Age and some of the most known American musicals.  Visit the site to read about their history, see the timeline of their work and movies and even find links to sheet music.  You can also listen to some of their original recordings by clicking “Hear More…” on the website’s home page.

Please note that the website requires flash to run in your browser.

George Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin’s compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known. Among his best known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), as well as the opera, Porgy and Bess (1935). He wrote most of his vocal and theatrical works, including more than a dozen Broadway shows, in collaboration with his elder brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin. George Gershwin composed music for both Broadway and the classical concert hall, as well as popular songs that brought his work to an even wider public. His compositions have been used in numerous films and on television, and many became jazz standards recorded in numerous variations. Countless singers and musicians have recorded Gershwin songs.

Ira Gershwin (December 6, 1896 – August 17, 1983) was an American lyricist who collaborated with his younger brother, composer George Gershwin, to create some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century. With George he wrote more than a dozen Broadway shows, featuring songs such as “I Got Rhythm”, “Embraceable You”, “The Man I Love” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”, and the opera Porgy and Bess. The success the brothers had with their collaborative works has often overshadowed the creative role that Ira played. However, his mastery of songwriting continued after the early death of George. He wrote additional hit songs with composers Jerome Kern (“Long Ago (and Far Away)”), Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen. His critically acclaimed book Lyrics on Several Occasions of 1959, an amalgam of autobiography and annotated anthology, is an important source for studying the art of the lyricist in the golden age of American popular song.

(part of description from Wikipedia website)

FedFlix | by Internet Archive




FedFlix is a Joint Venture NTIS-1832 between the National Technical Information Service and Public.Resource.Org. It features the best movies of the United States Government, from training films to history, from national parks to the U.S. Fire Academy and the Postal Inspectors, all of these fine flix are available for reuse without any restrictions whatsoever. You can browse the collection by subject or keyword, or by video creator.

The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its purposes include offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. Founded in 1996 and located in San Francisco, the Archive has been receiving data donations from Alexa Internet and others. In late 1999, the organization started to grow to include more well-rounded collections. Now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages in our collections, and provides specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities.

Visit the link below to watch a video on the building of the Hoover Dam:

(description from Internet Archive website – found through Mary Laine’s Neat New Stuff website)

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