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A scrapbook of early aeronautica
As the world reconsiders the future of air travel, consider taking a look at the distant past to dream of more personalized transportation. The Smithsonian Libraries currently hosts an array of old books, but one that catches the eye is a scrapbook of early aeronautica, compiled in the mid-19th century by William Upcott. Filled with clippings and drawings of the early days of hot air ballooning organized in chronological order, the book is both a trippy look into the past and a historical document. The famous Montgolfier brothers make an appearance, as well as many early balloonists from across Europe. Clippings of antiquated balloon races and other forms of aeronautical entertainment can be found throughout the three volumes. There are also accounts from the first parachutists, aeronautical poetry, and firsthand letters describing aeronautic ascents. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there are many speculative drawings and interpretations of balloon flight. The scrapbook offers a unique perspective on a world that was rapidly industrializing and coming to terms with a new reality. The scrapbook’s three volumes are available at library.si.edu. Free. —Tristan Jung
The Insect Woman
The National Museum of Asian Art ordinarily schedules its popular Korean Film Festival in late spring; this year, in the absence of public programs, film curator Tom Vick is hosting virtual discussions with recommended viewing from the golden age of the nation’s cinema. And, boy, is there a doozy on tap this week. Kim Ki-young’s 1972 melodramatic horror film The Insect Woman, a favorite of Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, is a grindhouse movie like you’ve never seen before. Youn Yuh-jung stars as a schoolgirl whose mother forces her into prostitution in order to pay for her brother to attend college. Among her clients is a middle-aged man who feels emasculated by his domineering wife; the young woman becomes his mistress, but under the wife’s terms, which includes watching her husband’s weight and making sure he gets home at midnight. As characters engage in the inevitable heated domestic arguments, the camera weaves around them, like a winged predator waiting to pounce. The only available copy on YouTube is transferred from a faded, scratchy print that suits the scandalous proceedings, as if the film stock has been corrupted by moral turpitude. The fever-pitch dynamic is similar to Kim’s 1960 masterpiece The Housemaid (available on the Criterion Channel), but here the director takes the seeds of discord even further, with unorthodox sex scenes and a mysterious vampire baby that eats … well, I’ll leave that for you to find out. The film is available on YouTube. Join a Zoom discussion of the film and other Korean cinema classics on May 31 at 2 p.m. Free. —Pat Padua