Category Archives: Guest posts

The Buñuel Riots — A Guest Blog

I’m a fan of history and film, and with recent riots hitting news (especially stupid riots) I was reminded of the most famous civil unrest at a movie theater, the Buñuel Riots. Rarely does a movie lead people to attack the screen (unless it’s with popcorn), but Lois Buñuel’s did that, twice.  Yet, early film history is like all history, full of half truths and half lies. Since we’re all starting off unclear on what exactly happened, I’ll start with what I know so far.

Lois Buñuel, a surrealist director, with the help of Salvador Dali, famed 20th century painter of melting clocks, made two notable films around the end of the silent era. One,  “Un Chien Andalou” is not for the squeamish. The other,  “L’Age d’Or,” is not for the easily offended. As for the riots, Total Film repeats what I know:  the films “literally provoked riots at screenings.” Time to find out if it was not just literal riots, but physical too.

Now onto the discovery phase <four years later>:

The first film by Buñuel, “Un Chien Andalou”, was called by Roger Ebert, “the most famous short film ever made,” (although more likely that award would go to a Wallace and Gromit or Pixar short). It is certainly the most controversial short film.

Video: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Un Chien Andalou

Note: the opening scene may make you faint. Offenses and perversions within.

The filmmakers knew how controversial their film would be when it first premiered at Studio des Ursulines in Paris. In an article titled “When Art History Goes Bad”  the author claims fear of a riot, “prompted Dalí and Buñuel to bring sacks of rocks with them on the film’s official opening night, just in case they might need to defend themselves.” IMDB concurs. “At the Paris premiere, Luis Buñuel hid behind the screen with stones in his pockets for fear of being attacked by the confused audience. ”

Roger Ebert cautions belief in “sacks of rocks” story. In his Great Movies article on “Un Chien Andalou”, he writes:

Bunuel’s memories were sometimes a vivid rewrite of life. When he and his friends first saw Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary Soviet film “Battleship Potemkin,” he claimed, they left the theater and immediately began tearing up the street stones to build barricades. True?

Although it is possible Buñuel had stones on hand, he did not need them. The premiere on June 6, 1928 came and went without incident.  Film Reference.com writes,  “Buñuel brought rocks in his pockets to the premiere screening to throw at the audience if they hated it, but the surrealists loved it. The film had an eight-month run at the prestigious Studio 28.” As for any riots, I’m siding with Michael Koller in Senses of Cinema  who writes, “although there are reports of disruptions of screenings, these seem to be based on false memories of events surrounding the release of Buñuel’s next film, L’Age d’Or.”  No riots. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Video: L’Age d’Or

L’Age d’Or

Note: contains scenes of perversion, blasphemy, and dog kicking.

I can say, for certainty, the film “L’Age d’Or” caused riots. Or more accurately, a screening of L’Age d’Or at Studio 28 in Paris was the scene of a riot. Confusion over the event begins with its date. Some articles say this happened at the film premiere on November 28, 1930. Others claim it happened on December 3.  From what I can tell, the more in-depth articles claim the latter. Bernard P.E. Bentley, in “A Companion to Spanish Cinema“, writes “the film officially opened on November 28, but the riots did not start until December 3.”  IMDB agrees, and add the time of the riot occurred half way through the film screening.

  1. Here is a dossier of events, played out like a news feed:
  2. The BBCIMDBSydney Morning HeraldFilm Reference.comEncyclopedia.com all report ink being thrown at the screen.
  3. Encyclopedia.com claims rotten eggs were thrown at the screen.
  4. The BBC and Encyclopedia.com report “stink bombs.” Film Reference.com says there are “smoke bombs.”
  5. Encyclopedia.com claims tear gas was set off.
  6. Encyclopedia.com claims members of Studio 28 were clubbed. Sydney Morning Herald says “patrons were beaten up”.
  7. The BBC adds, rioters “fired guns into the air.”
  8. Film Reference.com reports chanting. Encyclopedia.com claims these chants include cries of “Death to the Jews”.
  9. The BBC reports the foyer was trashed.  Film Reference.com and Filmcritic.com says the lobby featured a surrealist exhibit, which was destroyed. Jim Loter says “several Surrealist paintings” were destroyed.  Sydney Morning Herald says there were painting from Dalí destroyed. IMDB says the paintings slashed included ones from  Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Man Ray. Village Voice’s film guide states, there were Dali and Max Ernst paintings in the lobby which were slashed.
  10. Jim Loter claims there was damage to “the cinema’s projection equipment.”
  11. Filmcritic.com says “the police stormed the theater” and “patrons endeavored to set it aflame.”
  12. IMDB and Encyclopedia.com placed blame the violence on the fascist “League of Patriots”. Encyclopedia.com also blames the Anti-Jewish League.

Victoria Advocate says the film “led to six days of right-wing attacks on the theater.”  Village Voice says the film was shut down two days after the riots.  New York Magazine says seven days.  Film Reference.com says three months.  Village Voice and New York Magazine say the police banned the film, Jim Loter blames, “the official French censor, after ordering a few scenes to be cut, banned the entire film.”  Film Reference.com says it was not seen again until 1980.  More accurately copies of the film were still available but in limited supply. According to AMCtv.com, the film was first shown at New York’s Museum Of Modern Art in 1933, and again in the 1960s. It was not widely seen until it’s official US premiere in 1979.

There are a few theories to why the riot occurred. One thought is the Fascists and Anti-Semites were led on a misguided belief that the film was the work of Jews. In fact, Buñuel was a lapsed Catholic turned Atheist. Dalí was an on-again off-again Catholic. Yet, if you were an Anti-Semite and heard of a very Anti-Christian movie being released, you might make assumptions. (Full disclosure: don’t be an Anti-Semite.)

Jim Loter believes the right-wing attack on L’Age d’Or was neither an attack on the film’s controversial images nor a misguided belief that it was the work of Jews, but the alignment in Paris between the surrealists and the Communist Party in Paris. The intellectuals behind surrealism were starting to focus on political will. This might explain why the paintings were slashed. This was an attack on Surrealists as a whole, not just the film. Buñuel’s film was just one of the intended targets. I was swayed by this argument when I originally thought the riot took place on opening night. Since the stink-bombs and rioting 30 minutes into the film inferred premeditation on the part of the rioters, why would they prepare to riot at a movie they haven’t seen yet? But a December 3rd riot means they had five days to hear about the offensive and sacrilegious imagery throughout.

The most popular reason for the riots is the most obvious reason: the film offended the audience. The film easily offends Christians (full disclosure: this includes me), capitalists, as well as the high and middle class. As for the Anti-Semitism, since the film was anti-Catholic, angered patrons assumed the director was Jewish.  The plot can be confusing, the sexuality nears pornographic, and did I mention the protagonist gleefully kicks a dog?

This all goes towards what many think is true: Buñuel wanted a riot. If he had rocks to throw at the “Un Chien Andalou” audience, it meant he was prepared. Some believe he was hoping to throw the rocks. In “British Film Institute film classics”, Rob White and Edward Buscombe theorize that Buñuel and the surrealists wanted a riot, as it would give them added attention from the media.Multiple articles mention Buñuel’s disappointment at the success of “Un Chien Andalou,” with Jim Loter stating, the director showed, “dismay at his film’s being appreciated as an artistic expression instead of a call for violent Revolution.”  Pacific Cinematheque believes the L’Age d’Or was intended to offend and “didn’t take long to hit its intended mark, meeting with howls of indignation and outrage soon after its Paris release.” This is backed up by film critic Ado Kyrou who said it was the filmmakers goal, “not to please but rather to alienate nearly all potential spectators.”

What can’t be debated is the effectiveness of the riot. It clearly succeeded.  French surrealists immediately lost interest in film. Buñuel, having burned all his bridges is Paris, left just days after the riots to begin work at MGM Studios in Hollywood. If It would be decades before he’d return to success in artistic film, and even longer for his first two films to become among the most influential in experimental cinema.

Pete Thomas writes several blogs on history and music.
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How Technology Preserves History — A Guest Post

Technology has always preserved history, from pen and paper to the printing press. However as we’ve entered into the digital age, we have seen digital storage become the preferred way of maintaining our history. Today, maps, music, movies and books are all available digitally. It isn’t just new media that’s digital, either. For instance, according to an article in PC World, Google is attempting to scan and archive all of the world’s books within the next decade. Google is hoping to make them available as part of a massive library. In all, the company estimates that it will digitize roughly 130 million books in the near future.

Digital technology uses computer data as preservation meaning it lasts indefinitely and it is infinitely easier to duplicate than printing books. Printing a new copy of a book to preserve its place in history is a time consuming task, not to mention difficult. It takes specialized equipment, ink, paper and other materials. To top it off, such a lengthy process must be repeated for every new copy of that book. On the other hand, making a copy of an eBook takes seconds. A few clicks of a mouse, and thousands of copies can be created almost instantly. This is why eBooks are becoming so popular today. From students taking online classes to bookworms who spend most of their time with their nose in a book, eReaders make reading on the go a breeze. Apart from easier access, data storage is also cheap and easy to obtain. In fact, the process is similar to other forms of digitally recording history. A video of a speech by President Obama, for example, can be replicated as frequently as necessary with little limitation as opposed to a video reel of President Kennedy that can be expensive and fragile to duplicate.

In addition to preserving history, technology is also preserving the present. With news being published to the web, it is stored for an indefinite amount of time. Similarly, YouTube videos will stay around for as long as the site is alive. There are even attempts in place to archive the Internet now, such as with the Wayback Machine. What the WayBack Machine does is span the web and create images of as many sites as possible. The WayBack Machine then makes these sites available as a sort of Internet museum where visitors can see what web sites looked like on a certain date, even if they are defunct. Thus, much of the web will still be accessible to curious users even when these old sites have become obsolete. This is proof that digital technology is storing and preserving our history in an exponentially more efficient manner than old technology such as books and newspapers.

Technology also preserves our history by making it easier to sort through and organize. In a library, it takes time to locate specific books and then it takes even more time to search for information in a printed book. Yet when using new technology to store information, items can be found in a matter of seconds. A lot of our history has certainly been lost over the years simply because there isn’t enough time to search physical records. For instance, little details have often  been brushed aside. However technology allows us to preserve even the tiniest details, which will guarantee that even the most esoteric bits of information are accessible.

Despite the advantages of technology, it does have its pitfalls. In the case of preserving our personal history, a virus or hard drive failure can wipe out years of family photos. Even large companies aren’t immune to server failure. This is best evidenced by the Amazon.com’s server failure in August; a failure that took down large sites such as FourSquare and Reddit. Should we ever reach the point of all books being digital and old copies destroyed, a single natural disaster could wipe out Google’s servers and 130 million books.

These are unlikely scenarios though, and the benefits of technology preserving history are much greater than the disadvantages. With computers preserving our history, we’re entering into a golden age of record keeping where very little can slip through the cracks. Using computer storage to preserve our history means that everything in our history can effectively live forever.

About the author: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.  Lindsey writes for onlinecollegeclasses.com.

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Turkish Professor Teaches History with Twitter – Guest Post

Originally born in Turkey, Mustafa Gökçek is a successful history professor at Niagara University in New York, dedicated to his students’ education. When he realized that they were having trouble grasping some of the basic concepts he was trying to teach, he came up with an ingenious new method of communicating with them: social media. While the idea might be radical, the system is actually quite simple, and easy to implement for any history course to encourage engagement with the material and student participation.

Gökçek uses a two prong approach in his teaching. First, he created a list of 90 events in history that happened between 1945 and 2005, and began “tweeting” one event per day during the semester using the popular social media platform Twitter. Students might have trouble getting through a textbook, but they don’t need PhDs to read the daily updates from Gökçek. This regular, compartmentalized presentation of information allowed students to internalize the time line of events, because they were experiencing it as it happened. To accomplish the nearly Herculean task of tweeting daily, Gökçek used a software program created by Dr. Murat Demirbaş, which sends out tweets at regularly scheduled intervals. This tool is getting expanded, possibly to include a testing component, which would make the technology easier to adapt to other courses.

Next, Gökçek found links to interesting historical primary documents, helpful articles and websites, and sent them to students. That way, students could gain a deeper and broader understanding of historical events through the Internet—a medium they’re already accustomed to learning from. Often, tweets would be accompanied by links to help students better understand a particular event.

Another goal of Gökçek’s social media campaign was to get students to participate more in class. To accomplish this, he encouraged students to tweet their thoughts from their seats by phone or laptop—things students were often doing in class anyway. Because students must express their thoughts in 140 characters when they tweet, the limited medium forced them to think clearly and concisely before sharing. This method of participation also helps students who are shy about sharing their thoughts out loud, and facilitates multiple conversations at once so that no one student can dominate the limelight.

How else could popular social media sites be used to enhance student learning? Here are a few more ideas:

Facebook profiles of historical figures could help students understand historical characters using a medium with which they are already familiar. Including famous quotes as “status updates” or using their statuses to comment on a historical event would be a great way to illustrate their views and opinions, in a medium students are already familiar with and know how to navigate.

Additionally, YouTube videos depicting historical events in humorous way, such as the Thomas Jefferson musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton rap, “Horrible Histories” videos or any of the thousands of other light-hearted depictions. The more engaging and interesting the video, the more relevant it will seem to students. Plus, if there’s an element of humor involved, students will be more likely to remember it and share it with their friends.

History education doesn’t have to be limited to a stuffy lecture hall. Educators can and should take advantage of technological advancements like social media to communicate with their students, and help them gain a better understanding of their subjects. By using a familiar medium, teachers can encourage students to engage with the material on their own time, and make history really come alive in a uniquely modern way.

About the author: Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

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America: A rather young democracy – Guest Post

A guest blog, republished with permission from Pete’s Open Notebook, Pete Thomas asks, when did the U.S. become a full-fledged democracy?  Using criteria from Democracy Index and Freedom in the World, he analyzes the historical milestones that mark America’s progress in attaining full-fledged democracy.

America: A Young Democracy

When did freedom ring? When did America live up to its ideals? Some would say it still hasn’t, given such things as anti-gay laws, anti-muslim laws, illegal immigration laws, and lack of prisoner rights (including, in some cases, the loss of the right to vote, indefinite detention, and, in a few notable cases, torture).
Yet for most citizens, there is a high level of freedom, and for our country a high level of democracy. But obviously this wasn’t always the case, and certainly not solved by our independence in 1776.
Question: When did American become a full-fledged Democracy?
Let’s take a look at some data, focusing on two modern reports, and from there we’ll work backwards. The first is the respectedDemocracy Index. In 2010, the United States placed 17 out of 167 nations, and among the 26 nations listed as “full democracies”. The second report, Freedom in the World, listed the United States as “free” in 2010, receiving top marks for political rights and civil liberties.
Now let’s go through their methods for figuring out our rankings, and figure out when we became a viable democracy.
Freedom of the World‘s view of a free democracy:
  1. A competitive, multiparty political system; Year: 1796
    This is something we’ve had for many years, at least for the two main parties (it’s currently extremely difficult to win any election on a third party ticket). The last time this was not true is debatable. During Reconstruction (1865-1877), the Radical Republicans placed rules on southern governments, ruining competition, and allowing the Republicans 12 years of rule. But the true beginning of a competitive, multiparty system began in 1796, when Thomas Jefferson split off with the Federalists to face (and lose to) John Adams as a Democratic-Republican in the second presidential election. The first two elections were won by George Washington, who did not officially belong to a political party.
  2. Universal adult suffrage for all citizens (with exceptions for restrictions that states may legitimately place on citizens as sanctions for criminal offenses); Year: 1965
    LBJ Signs the Voting Rights Act

    That’s a big exception (by some estimates a 5.3 million exception in the U.S.). In my opinion, universal adult suffrage did not become official until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. You can argue for 1971 as well,  when adults between the ages of 18 and 20 earned the vote with the passage of the 26th Amendment (previously you could be drafted at 18 but not vote until 21). Every year previous to 1965, voting intimidation and ineligibility kept universal suffrage from becoming a reality. Starting with the first election, you were not allowed to vote if you were non-white, female, or if you did not own land.  The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, led to suffrage for freemen and former slaves, but women still were not allowed the right to vote (not until 1920). By the end of Reconstruction in 1877, “Jim Crow” laws made it tough or nearly impossible for African-Americans in the south to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 righted most of this wrong (the poll tax, another barrier to voting, was declared illegal a year later).

  3. Regularly contested elections conducted in conditions of ballot secrecy, reasonable ballot security, and the absence of massive voter fraud that yields results that are unrepresentative of the public will; Year: 1965
    Some gerrymandering aside, most congressional and presidential elections are regularly contested (and can switch parties). For massive voter fraud, some may point to the hyper charges between both parties in recent years. Politically, it’s probably too early in history to confirm the 2000 Presidential Election results as “unrepresentative of the public will” (an extremely close race nonetheless – being a candidate’s brother in charge of disputed ballots). The Presidential Election of 1876 would count, where Rutherford B. Hayes beat Samuel Tilden, even though Tilden had the popular and electoral votes, and was decided along party lines in congress.. Hayes gained the presidency without incident though, in return for ending Reconstruction, which, in turn, led to voter intimidation and fraud throughout the South for nearly a century. Again, 1965 looks to be the key, where African Americans were not long disenfranchised.
  4. Significant public access of major political parties to the electorate through the media and through generally open political campaigning; Year: 1800
    Other than the failed Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which tried to push press to a single side (for the Federalists and John Adams, against Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republican), public access of the (usually two) political parties have been given saturated coverage by the media. Today there are presidential debates (since 1960) and primary elections (through most of the US history party nominees were picked behind closed doors). The two parties views (and sometimes a third or forth) are represented through the media through news and campaign ads. So although the media rights and public access hasn’t always been 100% (still probably not), I’ll pick 1800 as when this clause was fulfilled. When Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, the Alien and Sedition Acts failed their cause, and the media were once again free to question, probe, and criticize.
Democracy Index‘s methodology:
  1. “Whether national elections are free and fair”; 1965
    Samuel Tilden was robbed

    Compared with most other countries, the United States has an excellent record of free and fair elections. This again goes back to the Voting Rights act of 1965, the first year that men and women, no matter their race nor geographic location, could vote in an election, without fear of intimidation or retribution. There has been 11 presidential elections since 1965, and in all but one (cough cough 2000) the candidate who received the most votes won the election. There has been no clear example in the modern era of a candidate with poor voter approval stealing an election. With term limits set in place after Franklin Roosevelt’s term, there’s been an inability of the executive branch to skew multiple elections in their favor.

  2. The security of voters“; Year: 1965
    There has been no major successful voter intimidation efforts in recent times. Intimidation probably reached its peak during the Jim Crow years. Yet, in recent times, one can cast a ballot anonymously and successfully without fear of reprisal.
  3. The influence of foreign powers on government“;  Year: 1776
    This has always been close to zero. Since ousting Great Britain in the American Revolution, our nation is prideful of its independence. Current contenders for influence would include China (who we owe a massive debt to) and Israel (who, for better or worse, has a successful lobbying group), but neither has a solid command over our government. We’ve been close allies at times with Great Britain, who encouraged our entry into World War II (we still took 3 years), and who previously burned down our White House (a bad influence). Currently The United States is the large foreign influence on our allies, never the other way around.
  4. The capability of the civil servants to implement policies“. Year 1829
    Minus the obvious congressional gridlock, the Constitution and current government structure allows for successful innovation and change. These policies might be supported by special interest lobbies, but nonetheless, most rules are voted on by congress, implemented by senate-approved members of the executive branch, and overseen by a large judicial branch. There has hardly been a time in American history where our country failed to move forward with new laws and policies. But for the sake of picking a date, I chose 1829, the first year of Andrew Jackson’s administration. Jackson created a powerful executive branch which was able to control policy equal with the other two branches.
So my best estimate of when the United States became a free democracy was in 1965. Our stature only improved in 1971 when we let adults who can be drafted to war also be allowed to vote. We’ve been pretty good ever since. Previous to 1965 we were a “flawed democracy” in the terms set by the Democracy Index. It’s debatable if we were ever in a “hybrid regime” (maybe Lincoln suspending habeus corpus in the Civil War, the Radical Republican’s rule during Reconstruction, or Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 12 years as president). As for being an “authoritarian regime”, the United States, even under British rule, citizens never had it that bad. Slaves and Native Americans, though, had an awful time, so maybe previous to 1861 we were authoritarian. Nevertheless, congrats to our country on over 40 years of relative freedom and democracy!

Special thanks to Pete Thomas of Pete’s Open Notebook for allowing the republication of this post in “Brush off the dust! History now!”

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