Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Category : Inspiration

Hitchcock analysing the famous crop dusting scene in “North by Northwest” and other cinephile’s delights

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that one of my favourite film directors is Alfred Hitchcock. Today I’m bringing to you several gems to get an insight into Hitchcock’s filmmaking decisions.

One of the most brilliant sequences in film history is the one from North by Northwest where Cary Grant is being chased through a cornfield by a crop dusting plane. In THIS 6 min VIDEO, Hitch analyses how he built up suspense in the sequence. Furthermore, following THIS LINK you will find a reconstructed storyboard of the sequence from LaValley’s book Focus on Hitchcock.

North By Northwest Crop Dusting Scene

North by Northwest

Editing has an important role in creation of suspense. In some of his films, Hitch uses a heavy edited style (the famous shower scene in Psycho, for instance, runs 3 minutes and includes 50 cuts), whereas in other movies he tries to hide the cuts. Rope, a movie that is often described as a “one-shot film” seems at first sight a film with no editing, but it actually contains ten “hidden” cuts. In THIS VIDEO editor Vashi Nedomansky has isolated all ten cuts.

Psycho shower scene


Rope shot sequences

A representation in LOOK magazine of the shot sequences in “Rope”

is an excerpt from an interview with Hitchcok in which the director explains his conceptualization of editing and breaks down the structure of Psycho‘s shower scene. An absolute watch.

Previous posts on Hitchcock:

Latest news:


Librería gratuita en Barcelona / Free bookstore in Barcelona

Associacio Llibres Lliures Catalunya

The Associació Llibres Lliures is a nonprofit association created in Barcelona, Spain, for the purpose of giving away books. It’s located in Cantabria, 72, 08020, Barcelona, and it’s worth a visit! The bookstore is entirely run by volunteers and is opened from Mondays to Saturdays (10am-2pm and 5pm-8pm). It’s a great service to the community and to literacy.

Hoy he estado en una librería gratuita, la Associació Llibres Lliures, situada en el número 72 de la calle Cantabria de Barcelona. Esta entidad sin ánimo de lucro nace con el propósito de garantizar el acceso a la cultura y fomentar el hábito de la lectura. Todos los libros llevan un sello con la leyenda “Este es un libro libre, no se compra ni se vende”. Además de disponer de una variada colección de libros que el visitante puede llevarse a casa de manera gratuita, la asociación organiza clubes de lectura, de marcapáginas, recitales de poesía, talleres de fotografía y pintura, etc. El impulsor de esta magnífica iniciativa es Óscar Boada, que se inspiró en el modelo iniciado por la asociación Libros Libres en Madrid.

Llibres Lliures se financia mediante las cuotas de los socios (12 €) y contribuciones voluntarias (libros, DVDs y aportaciones económicas).

A continuación podéis ver un reportaje que el canal BTV dedicó a la asociación:

Si queréis saber más sobre la iniciativa, visitad la página de Facebook o el Twitter de Llibres Lliures.

“Un libro abierto es un cerebro que habla; cerrado, un amigo que espera; olvidado, un alma que perdona; destruido, un corazón que llora.”
Proverbio hindú

“La lectura es al espíritu lo que la gimnasia al cuerpo.”
Sir Richard Steele


The Eagleman Stag (short film)

I’ve just seen The Eagleman Stag, a mesmerising stop-motion short film about the subjective perception of the passing of time. The film was directed by Michael Please and has won numerous awards. Beautifully crafted in polystyrene foam, the film as a unique look and provides food for thought.

I hope you enjoy this film as much as I have.


A peek behind the scenes:


What is Neorealism? Considerations after the two cuts of the same film

Terminal Station PosterIndiscretion of an American Wife

Anonymous video essayist Kogonada has created a compelling video for Sight & Sound magazine that compares the two cuts of the same film, Terminal Station (1953), an international co-production between Italian director Vittorio De Sica, seminal figure of the Neorealist movement, and David O.Selznick, producer of Hollywood Golden Age classics like Gone with the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940).

Terminal Station tells the story of the love affair between Mary, a married American woman (played by Jennifer Jones), and Giovanni, an Italian man (interpreted by Montgomery Clift). The film examines the woman’s guilty feelings for having cheated on her husband and her temptation to leave her old life behind and start anew with her lover. Almost all the film takes place in Rome’s Terminal Station, where the woman has to board a train for Paris and from there fly back to the U.S. But before deciding whether she will catch the train, Mary meets Giovanni at the station. Will she catch the train? (I don’t want to spoil the end here!).

De Sica depicted the lovers’ story against the backdrop of the characters populating the train station, trying to blend Italian Neorealism with Hollywood melodrama to create a greater sense of realism and a believable character study of the protagonists. Neorealist films were distinguished by being shot on location using non-professional actors and unadorned camera techniques. Neorealism had emerged in post-war Italy to reflect, and reflect on, reality, portraying the life of average citizens.

Selznick didn’t like De Sica’s naturalistic approach and he therefore decided to cut 30 minutes of original footage, tooking out subplots to focus on the love story, adding close-up “glamour shots” and a musical prologue. The original release of the film, Terminal Station, ran 89 minutes.  Selznick’s cut was released with the title Indiscretion of an American Wife and ran 63 minutes. De Sica asked that his name be removed from the credits.

In 2003, both films were compiled in a DVD (Indiscretion of an American Wife / Terminal Station (The Criterion Collection)).

In his video-essay, Kogonada compares De Sica’s and Selznick’s versions to explore how the same footage can be manipulated to very different effects, revealing different approachs to moviemaking. You can watch the video HERE.

 Every cut is a form of judgment, whether it takes place on the set or in the editing room. To examine the cuts of a filmmaker is to uncover an approach to cinema.

Complement the video with Dave Kehr’s comparative analysis of Indiscretion of an American Wife & Terminal Station and this critical essay on Italian Neorealism.

For more work by Kogonada, visit his Vimeo channel and follow him on Twitter @kogonada.


On escaping education’s death valley

I posted recently about recognized thinker on education and creativity Sir Ken Robinson. In this newly-released TED Talk, Robinson outlines his opinions on what is needed to make a shift from an education system based on standardization, that kills creativity and curiosity and prevents many children to find their true passions and talents, to a nurturing, personalised and interdisciplinary environment that allows schoolkids to discover their individual talents.

I’ve also enjoyed a lot Ramsey Musallam´s TED Talk on the role of teachers as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry:


More on “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”

I posted a while ago about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), where Campbell explores the theory that all stories are expressions of the same fundamental structure, which he named “the Hero’s Journey”, or the “monomyth”, and describes the stages along this journey.

I’ve found a beautiful TED animation that introduces Campbell’s work:


Also, here you can watch excerpts from The Power of Myth, a six one-hour conversations between Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers, broadcast on PBS in 1988.


Animations of some of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time

Open Culture has compiled an amazing collection of animations that adapt some of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time:

18 Animations of Classic Literary Works: From Plato and Shakespeare, to Kafka, Hemingway and Gaiman.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Animated in Two Minutes.

Below, the beautiful adaptation of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:


A book and a rose for St.Jordi’s Day

Sant Jordi i el drac
Today is La Diada de Sant Jordi, a very special day in Catalonia. Cities and towns are filled with stands of roses and bookstalls, since tradition dictates that on this day men give their sweetheart a red rose, and ladies give their loved one a book -”a rose for love and a book forever”. Although it is not a public holiday, crowds of people take over the streets, which smell of roses and are dyed in red and yellow, the colors of the Catalan flag. It is a very picturesque sight.

The origins of this tradition date back to a medieval legend in which St. Jordi (St. George) slew a dragon to save a princess. From the dragon’s blood grew a rose bush. St. Jordi pulled out the prettiest rose and gave it to the princess. As an acknowledgement of his heroic deed, Catalonia commemorates Sant Jordi’s Day each April 23.

“Once upon a time a fearsome dragon was terrifying the inhabitants of a small town in Catalonia called Montblanc. It was wrecking havoc among the town’s populace and devouring the animals grazing in the fields. So, to calm the dragon down, the inhabitants decided they would sacrifice one person each day, chosen by lot, offering them as a sign of good will. One day, it was the turn of the king’s daughter to be sacrificed. But, just when the dragon was about to gobble her up, a handsome knight appeared and confronted the beast.  It was St George, known as Sant Jordi to the Catalans. He drove his lance into the dragon, out of whose blood a bush of red roses sprang up.
His was a bold and selfless gesture that changed the town’s course of history and gave birth to our legend.” (Source: The Tradition)

The episode of St. George and the Dragon is found in several legends around the world.  It achieved mass circulation when it was printed in a book called The Golden Legend, a collection of hagiographies written by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, in 1470, and translated from French to English in 1483. The Life of Saint George can be read here.

Roses have been associated with this St.Jordi’s legend since the Middle Ages, but the giving of books is a more recent tradition. St. Jordi’s Day coincides with the festivity of the Book Day established in Spain in the 1920s to commemorate the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, who had died on April 22, 1616 and was buried on April 23. This tradition inspired the UNESCO to declare the World Book Day on April 23 as a symbolic date for world literature, since April 23 was also the date of Shakespeare’s death.

It is worth noting that it is not strictly correct to assume that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day. In the 17th century, England still used the Julian Calendar, so, whilst Shakespeare died on April 23 by the Julian calendar, according to the Gregorian calendar, he died eleven days after Cervantes, on May 3, 1616.

Approximately 80 nations celebrate World Book Day on this date.

Feliç Diada de St. Jordi!  Happy St. Jordi’s day! Happy World Book Day!

(Illustration by Alba Marina Rivera, reproduced with permission from the author)

Are you a book lover? Then you might be interested in these posts:


Sir Ken Robinson’s “The Element” and the education revolution

Sir Ken Robinson, The Element

I’ve just finished reading the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by internationally recognized thinker on education and creativity Sir Ken Robinson. I had previously been inspired by some of his talks: his famous speech at the TED conference in 2006 Do schools kill creativity?, one of the most viewed of all TED Talks so far; another TED Talk, Bring on the learning revolution! and his lecture Changing Education Paradigms, at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), that was adapted into an animation.

Sir Robinson proclaims that current school systems are outdated because they are still modelled on the needs of the Industrial Revolution to provide well-trained, skilled labor force. The system of mass education is based on standardization: all children learn the same, in separate subjects, at the same time and in the same way, “a bit like an assembly line”, Robinson says. This system values some forms of intelligence (analytical) over others (emotional, artistic), ignoring that human talents are diverse.

In the Knowledge Society, divergent thinking and creativity are much more important skills to develop. Robinson calls for a shift to a more holistic, personalised and interdisciplinary model that creates the conditions to allow schoolkids to discover their individual talents and to exercise their autonomy. It is demonstrated that children are more eager to learn when their interests and talents are put at the center of attention, and when they are allowed to explore, create and discover on their own.

The book was published in 2009. The Element is that place “where we allow our skills to match our passions”. According to Robinson, “education should be one of the main processes that take us to the Element”. But standardized education is too narrow and prevents many children to find their true passions and talents. Robinson explains in this book the cases of several successful people from very different disciplines whose talents were unnoticed at school. He calls for systems that foster a personalised curriculum, embrace creativity and multidisciplinarity, and go beyond the traditional and artificial hierarchy of subjects.

Some of my favourite quotes from The Element:

“When people place themselves in situations that lead to their being in the zone, they tap into a primal source of energy.”

“The Element is about discovering your self, and you can’t do this if you’re trapped in a compulsion to conform. You can’t be yourself in a swarm.”

“Learning happens in the minds and souls of individuals –not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.”

“Great teachers have always understood that the real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students.”

And from Bring on the learning revolution!:

“We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

“We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.”

So, if you’re looking for an inspirational read, I would highly recommend you The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Additionally, I would also like to recommend you the documentary film The Forbidden Education (Argentina, 2012), which I recently saw. It documents diverse alternative systems of education like the Montessori method, free education, new active schools, Waldorf education, progressive education, etc. The ideas it explores has many parallels with the change Sir Ken Robinson is advocating. The film can be downloaded for free on the official website. Worth a watch!

La educacion prohibida


The Giant Poem project on World Poetry Day

Giant Poem on World Poetry Day

In 1999, UNESCO declared March 21 as World Poetry Day. According to UNESCO, “World Poetry Day is an invitation to reflect on the power of language and the full development of each person’s creative abilities”.

In 2007, Angel Arenas, a Spanish writer and anthropologist, launched The Giant Poem project. The initiative consists in writing a collective poem on a huge roll of paper in public spaces to celebrate cultural diversity and encourage dialogue, peace and creativity. This year, the event is taking place in Aranjuez, a town in central Spain. Previously, the initiative has developed in 51 cities from 22 countries, and has gained support from UNESCO and several other institutions around the world.

You can contribute to the project by sharing your favorite poems on the Facebook page, and organisers will add them to the Giant Poem.

For additional information and a gallery of pictures of the different Giant Poems worldwide, click HERE.

Happy World Poetry Day!

Here’s one of my favourite poems, Hope is the thing with feathers, by Emily Dickinson: