Watch Seder-Masochism, Nina Paley’s Animated, Feminist Take on the Passover Holiday: The Animated Feature Film Is Free and in the Public Domain

Seder-Masochism, copyright abolitionist Nina Paley’s latest animated release, is guaranteed to ruffle feathers in certain quarters, though the last laugh belongs to this trickster artist, who shares writing credit with ”God, Moses or a series of patriarchal males, depending on who you ask.”

Bypassing a commercial release in favor of the public domain goes a long way toward inoculating the film and its creator against expensive rights issues that could arise from the star-studded soundtrack.

It also lets the air out of any affronted parties’ campaigns for mass box office boycotts.

“The criticism seems equally divided between people that say I’m a Zionist and people that say I’m an anti-Zionist,” Paley says of This Land Is Mine, below, a stunning sequence of tribal and inter-tribal carnage, memorably set to Ernest Gold’s theme for the 1960 epic Paul Newman vehicle, Exodus.

Released as a stand-alone short, This Land Is Mine has become the most viewed of Paley’s works. She finds the opposing camps’ equal outcry encouraging, proof that she’s doing “something right.”

More bothersome has been University of Illinois Associate Professor of Gender Studies Mimi Thi Nguyen’s social media push to brand the filmmaker as transphobic. (Paley, no fan of identity politics, states that her “crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric: 'If a person has a penis he’s a man.'”) Nguyen’s actions resulted in the feminist film’s ouster from several venues and festivals, including Ebertfest in Paley’s hometown and a women’s film festival in Belgium.

What would the ancient fertility goddesses populating both art history and Seder-Masochism have to say about that development?

In Seder-Masochism, these goddess figures, whom Paley earlier transformed into a series of free downloadable GIFs, offer a mostly silent rebuke to those who refuse to acknowledge any conception of the divine existing outside patriarchal tradition.

In the case of Assistant Professor Nguyen, perhaps the goddesses would err on the side of diplomacy (and the First Amendment), framing the dust-up as just one more reason the public should be glad the project's lodged in the public domain. Anyone with access to the Internet and a desire to see the film will have the opportunity to do so. Called out, maybe. Shut down, never.

The goddesses supply a depth of meaning to this largely comic undertaking. Their ample curves inform many of the patterns that give motion to the animated cutouts.

Paley also gets a lot of mileage from replicating supernumerary characters until they march with ant-like purpose or bedazzle in Busby Berkeley-style spectacles. Not since Paul Mazursky’s Tempest have goats loomed so large in cinematic choreography…

Paley’s use of music is another source of abiding pleasure. She casts a wide net—punk, disco, Bulgarian folk, the Beatles, Free to Be You and Me—again, framing her choices as parody. "Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here" accompanies the seventh plague of Egypt (don’t bother looking it up. It’s hail.) Ringo Starr’s famous "Helter Skelter" aside (“I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”) boils down to an apt choice for plague number six. (If you have to think about it…)

The elements of the Seder plate are listed to the strains of "Tijuana Taxi" because… well, who doesn’t love Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass?

Paley’s own religious background is of obvious interest here, and as with her previous feature, Sita Sings the Blues—also in the public domain—the autobiographical element is irresistible. A 2011 audio recording provides the excuse to portray her father, Hiram, who died the year after the interview was conducted, as a Monty Python-esque God. The senior Paley was raised in an observant Jewish household, but lost faith as a young man. An atheist who wanted his children to know something of their heritage, Passover was the one Jewish holiday he continued to celebrate. (He also forbade the kids from participating in any sort of secular Christmas activities.)

A wistful God with the complexion of a dollar bill, Hiram is at times surrounded by putti, in the form of his parents, his contentious Uncle Herschel, and his own sweet younger self.

For these scenes, Paley portrays herself as a spirited “sacrificial goat.” This character finds an echo at film’s end, when “Chad Gadya,” the traditional Passover tune that brings the annual seder to a rollicking conclusion, is brought to life using embroidermation, a form Paley may or may not have invented.

Perhaps Paley’s most subversive joke is choosing Jesus, as depicted in Juan de Juanes’ 1652 painting, The Last Supper, to deliver an educational blow-by-blow of Passover ritual.

Actually, much like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Jesus was ghost-voiced by another performer—Barry Gray, narrator of the midcentury educational recording The Moishe Oysher Seder.

As you may have gleaned, Paley, despite the clean elegance of her animated line, is a maximalist. There’s something for everyone (excepting, of course, Mimi Thi Nguyen)—a gleaming golden idol, a ball bouncing above hieroglyphic lyrics, actual footage of atrocities committed in a state of religious fervor, Moses’ brother Aaron—a figure who’s often shoved to the sidelines, if not left outright on the cutting room floor.

We leave you with Paley’s prayer to her Muse, found freely shared on her website:

Our Idea

Which art in the Ether

That cannot be named;

Thy Vision come

Thy Will be done

On Earth, as it is in Abstraction.

Give us this day our daily Spark

And forgive us our criticisms

As we forgive those who critique against us;

And lead us not into stagnation

But deliver us from Ego;

For Thine is the Vision

And the Power

And the Glory forever.

Amen.

Watch Seder-Masochism in its entirety up top, or download it here. Purchase the companion book here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Acclaimed Ruth Bader Ginsburg Documentary, RBG, Airing Tonight on CNN

Although still playing in cinemas throughout the country, the new Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary--simply called RBG--will air tonight (Sunday) on CNN. Tune in at 8 p.m. Here's a quick synopsis:

At the age of 84, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. But without a definitive Ginsburg biography, the unique personal journey of this diminutive, quiet warrior's rise to the nation's highest court has been largely unknown, even to some of her biggest fans – until now. RBG is a revelatory documentary exploring Ginsburg 's exceptional life and career from Betsy West and Julie Cohen.

Writing in the New York Times, film critic A.O. Scott observes that the "movie’s touch is light and its spirit buoyant, but there is no mistaking its seriousness or its passion. Those qualities resonate powerfully in the dissents that may prove to be Justice Ginsburg’s most enduring legacy, and RBG is, above all, a tribute to her voice." Watch it tonight...

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Free: Download 10,000+ Master Drawings from The Morgan Library & Museum’s Online Collection

It’s hard for the casual browser to know where to begin with a collection as vast as the master drawings belonging to the Morgan Library & Museum.

The Library’s Drawings Online program gives the public free access to over 10,000 downloadable images, drawn primarily from—and in—the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Many images are fleshed out with inscriptions, information on provenance, biographical sketches of the artist, and, in over 2000 instances, images of the verso, or flip side of the paper.

Researchers and similarly informed seekers can browse by artist or school, but what if you don’t quite know what you want?

You could tour the highlights, or better yet, bushwhack your way into the unknown by entering a random word or phrase into the “search drawings” function.

Knowing that the internet is crazy for cats, I made that my first search term, but the results were skewed by an 18th-century Dutch artist named Jacob Cats, whose work abounds with cows and sheep.

Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld’s portrait of Kathleen Turner in the 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  is unavailable for viewing due to copyright restrictions. (It’s easily viewable elsewhere…)

And the Where’s Waldo-esque excitement I felt upon an anonymous artist’s Mountain Landscape with Italian-Style Cloister faux-Bruegel dissipated when I realized this return owed more to the abbreviation of “catalogue” than any feline lurking in the pen-and-ink trees.

Next I entered the word “babies.” I’m not sure why. There certainly were a lot of them, almost as many as I encounter on Facebook.

Returning to the pre-selected highlights page, I resolved to let the experts pick for me. I saw a charming rabbit family by John James Audubon and the old favorite by William Blake, top, but what really grabbed me was the first page's final selection: Honoré Daumier’s Two Lawyers Conversing, circa 1862.

Part of the Morgan's recently closed Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection exhibit, the subjects' dress may be archaic, but their expressions are both humorous and evergreen. Lawyer. I had my search term.

My favorite of the seven search results is illustrator Edmund J. Sullivan’s Soumin an' Roumin from 1914. One of a dozen or so drawings Sullivan made for an updated edition of George Outram's Legal and Other Lyrics, it shows "an old woman in a farmyard surrounded by livestock fleeing three monstrous lawyers wearing wigs and robes and armed with hideous talons instead of hands and feet. One … chases a cow with a scourge, the thongs of which end in scorpions.”

Download that one for all your lawyer friends or your lawyer spouse… upload it to a t-shirt if you’re crafty.

Claud Lovat Fraser’s set design for Pergolesi's short comic opera La Serva Padrona (or The Maid Turned Mistress) at the Lyric Hammersmith doesn’t depict any lawyers, to the best of my knowledge, but he himself was one—also a caricaturist, lampooning the literary and theatrical luminaries of his day, and a soldier whose life was cut short due to exposure to gas in World War I.

In addition to the Morgan’s particularly well-fleshed-out artist bio for this work, the verso is a treat in the form of a printed announcement for the Chelsea Arts Club Costume Ball.

Browse the Morgan Library & Museum’s Drawings Online in its entirety here, or narrow it down by artist, School of Art, or personal whim.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her New York City  on February 8, when she hosts Necromancers of the Public Domain, a variety show born of a single musty volume - this month: Masterpieces in Colour, Basten-Lepage. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download Theft! A History of Music, a New Free Graphic Novel Exploring 2,000 Years of Musical Borrowing

From the team behind the 2006 fair use comic Bound by Law comes a new fair use comic, Theft! A History of MusicCreated by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, two law school profs from Duke University, Theft! A History of Music is "a graphic novel laying out a 2000-year long history of musical borrowing from Plato to rap." The book's blurb adds:

This comic lays out 2000 years of musical history. ... Again and again there have been attempts to police music; to restrict borrowing and cultural cross-fertilization. But music builds on itself. To those who think that mash-ups and sampling started with YouTube or the DJ’s turntables, it might be shocking to find that musicians have been borrowing – extensively borrowing – from each other since music began. Then why try to stop that process? The reasons varied. Philosophy, religion, politics, race – again and again, race – and law. And because music affects us so deeply, those struggles were passionate ones. They still are.

The history in this book runs from Plato to Blurred Lines and beyond. You will read about the Holy Roman Empire’s attempts to standardize religious music using the first great musical technology (notation) and the inevitable backfire of that attempt. You will read about troubadours and church composers, swapping tunes (and remarkably profane lyrics), changing both religion and music in the process. You will see diatribes against jazz for corrupting musical culture, against rock and roll for breaching the color-line. You will learn about the lawsuits that, surprisingly, shaped rap. You will read the story of some of music’s iconoclasts – from Handel and Beethoven to Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ray Charles, the British Invasion and Public Enemy.

To understand this history fully, one has to roam wider still – into musical technologies from notation to the sample deck, aesthetics, the incentive systems that got musicians paid, and law’s 250 year struggle to assimilate music, without destroying it in the process. Would jazz, soul or rock and roll be legal if they were reinvented today? We are not sure. Which as you will read, is profoundly worrying because today, more than ever, we need the arts.

All of this makes up our story. It is assuredly not the only history of music. But it is definitely a part – and a fascinating part – of that history...

Released under a Creative Commons license, the book is free to download online. Or you can buy a nice paperback version on Amazon.

The video above offers another introduction to the graphic novel. And you can read an interview with the authors over on the Creative Commons website.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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What Is Fair Use?: A Short Introduction from the Maker of Everything is a Remix

Back in 2010, we began featuring a series of videos from filmmaker Kirby Ferguson. Called Everything is a Remix, the four-part video series explored the idea that (to quote from one of my earlier posts) "great art doesn’t come out of nowhere. Artists inevitably borrow from one another, drawing on past ideas and conventions, and then turn these materials into something beautiful and new." That applies to musicians, filmmakers, technologists, and really anyone in a creative space.

If you would like to watch the original series in its totality, I would refer you to the video below. Above, you can now watch a new Kirby Ferguson video that delves into the concept of Fair Use--a concept defined by the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use website essentially as "any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and 'transformative' purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work." They go on to say:  "Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. In other words, fair use is a defense against a claim of copyright infringement. If your use qualifies as a fair use, then it would not be considered an infringement."

Needless to say, fair use is an important concept if you're making your own videos on Youtube, or if you're a teacher using media in the classroom.

By the end of his short video, if you're still not clear what Ferguson means by Fair Use, you're in luck. He's giving you the opportunity to submit questions to be answered by "a real live lawyer in a follow up video." He also includes extra resources at the end of the segment.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Robin Williams Uses His Stand-Up Comedy Genius to Deliver a 1983 Commencement Speech

Law school graduates always ask themselves the same question: after all this, what have I learned? The commencement speaker at University of California, Hastings College of Law's class of 1983 told them exactly what they'd learned. "You've learned to hear at twice the speed of sound, listening to the criminal law lectures of Amy Wilson," he said, to loud applause and laughter. And "who will ever forget professor Rudy Schlesinger? They say the man is a wonderful combination of Walter Brennan and Otto Preminger." He then launches into not just an impression of the professor calling on one of his students, but the student as well.

Few commencement speakers can keep their audience in stitches, much less throw out a wide range of cultural references at the same time — and do all the voices. Robin Williams could, and while the students to whom he delivered the ten-minute talk above receive it as a tour de force, the rest of us can study it as an example of how to craft a speech with your audience in mind. Not only did the young San Franciscan comedian, then just out of his career-making role on Mork & Mindy, quickly establish his local credibility (at one point referring to the school as "UC Tenderloin"), he filled his remarks, swerving from high to low and dialect to dialect, with jokes only a Hastings student would get.

"'He spent several days on campus preparing,' remembers one alumna," according to the video's notes, "and offered up flawless, hilarious parodies of both students and faculty members as part of a message about the value of education and the importance of the legal system in society." Hastings' graduating classes get to choose their own commencement speakers, and 1983's chose Williams with virtual unanimity. Knowing his comic persona from television, movies, and stand-up, they surely knew he'd turn up and make them laugh. But how many could have imagined that he would so handily demonstrate that knowledge is, indeed, power? All of them can now rest assured that Williams, who died two years ago today, has become the most in-demand speaker in that great San Francisco Civic Audtorium in the sky.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch “Traffic Stop,” an Emmy-Nominated, Animated Film About a Traffic Stop Gone Horribly Wrong

As the Black Lives Matter movement has come to occupy a greater swath of America’s attention span, a conversation has arisen around the pitfalls of allyship, a term that lends itself to discussions of gender and disability, as well as race.

Simply put, the self-proclaimed allies are members of a more privileged majority, eager to lend support through word and deed.

Unfortunately, their enthusiasm often turns them into microphone hogs in what activist Princess Harmony Rodriguez has referred to as “ally theater.”

A number of would-be allies confuse humility with the seeking of brownie points. If they really got it, those at the center of the movement say, they would not expect members of the minority to rearrange their to-do lists to bring them up to speed on what it's like to be a person of color (or a transgendered person or a disabled person).

Would-be allies are therefore advised to step out of the spotlight, stuff a sock in it, and educate themselves, by working to find existing essays and narratives, authored by those with whom they would be in solidarity.

Human nature ensures that tempers will flare and hurt feelings will be aired. The horrifying social ill that gave rise to the movement---the shooting of unarmed black men by those charged with protecting the whole of the public---is elbowed offstage, so that a phenomenon such as allyship can be the number one topic of debate on college campuses, websites, and social media.

“Traffic Stop,” above, provides a rare moment of racial accord, stemming from yet another ghastly tale of police brutality.

The short animation was born of a conversation recorded by Alex Landau and Patsy Hathaway in a StoryCorps booth, a massive oral history project designed to attract a wide diversity of participants.

Landau is African-American.

His adoptive mother, Hathaway, is white.

Those who would classify adopting a child of another race as "allyship" must concede that, if so, it is certainly of no casual stripe.

The events of January 15, 2009, when Denver police stopped the 19-year-old Landau and a white friend for making an illegal left turn, caused Hathaway to rethink the colorblind worldview she had espoused while raising her son.

"I thought that love would conquer all and skin color really didn't matter," Hathaway tells Landau. "I had to learn the really hard way when they almost killed you.”

Had the attack happened a few years later, Landau’s friend might have managed to document the proceedings with a cell phone, despite the handcuffs that were placed on him after a bag of marijuana was found in his pocket.

Instead, this animation, and the grisly graphic photo that follows of Landau’s face prior to receiving 45 stitches, will have to suffice. His recollection of the laughter and racial epithets directed his way as he lay bleeding on the ground are stomach-churners, too.

Like his mother, Landau’s childhood perception of an all-inclusive, benevolent world was shattered. They mourned it together when they were reunited in the emergency room on the night of the ill-fated traffic stop.

Look and listen.

Then, if you are ready to wade into thornier territory, read the hundreds of comments viewers have posted on youtube.

Ultimately, the City of Denver awarded Landau a $795,000 settlement, while the Denver Police Department, citing a lack of evidence, cleared all three officers of misconduct. Follow up articles from 2011 and 2013 are available here and here.

Traffic Stop was animated by  Gina Kamentsky & Julie Zammarchi (read an interview with them here). It was recently nominated for an Emmy award last week.

via Westword

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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