Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘film’

08 JANUARY, 2013

The Story of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Character

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The curious rise, rise, and retirement of one of pop culture’s greatest cults.

From the BBC comes the fascinating story of David Bowie’s flamboyant Ziggy Stardust character — the iconic musician’s androgynous glam-rock alter ego, which went on to become one of the twentieth century’s biggest pop culture cults. The documentary is based on D. A. Pennebaker’s 1983 concert film Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which captured Bowie’s original surprising announcement retiring the celebrated persona at London’s Hammersmith Odeon Theater ten years prior.

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18 DECEMBER, 2012

The Overview Effect and the Psychology of Cosmic Awe

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The spirituality of space exploration as self-exploration.

Since the dawn of recorded history, humanity has been mesmerized by Earth’s place in the cosmos. Overview is a fascinating short film by Planetary Collective, written by Frank White, exploring the “overview effect” — the profound, shocking feeling that grips astronauts as they see our planet hang in space and the strange new self-awareness it precipitates. The film is based on Frank White’s 1987 book The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution and celebrates the 40th anniversary of NASA’s iconic Blue Marble photograph.

Every two minutes, a picture of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun — a 360-degree panorama of the heavens — appeared in the spacecraft window. And I’d studied astronomy, and I’d studied cosmology, and I fully understood that the molecules in my body and the molecules in my partners’ bodies and the molecules in the spacecraft had been prototyped in this amazing generation of stars — in other words, it was pretty obvious … we’re stardust.” ~ Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

Complement with iconic astronaut Sally Ride’s first-hand account of what it’s like to launch on the Space Shuttle and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chill-inducing monologue on the most astounding fact about the universe.

It’s Okay To Be Smart

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15 OCTOBER, 2012

The Distance of the Moon: Beautiful Short Film Based on the Italo Calvino Classic

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“Ahh… we went to collect the Moon milk.”

Beloved Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985) — who originated these 14 timeless definitions of what makes a classic — would’ve celebrated his 89th birthday today. To mark the occasion, here is an exquisite animated short film by Israeli children’s book author, and illustrator Shulamit Serafy, based on Calvino’s short story The Distance of the Moon.

The story itself is an absolute gem, with passage upon passage of breathtaking language emanating pure whimsy:

In reality, from the top of the ladder, standing erect on the last rung, you could just touch the Moon if you held your arms up. We had taken the measurements carefully (we didn’t yet suspect that she was moving away from us); the only thing you had to be very careful about was where you put your hands. I always chose a scale that seemed fast (we climbed up in groups of five or six at a time), then I would cling first with one hand, then with both, and immediately I would feel ladder and boat drifting away from below me, and the motion of the Moon would tear me from the Earth’s attraction. Yes, the Moon was so strong that she pulled you up; you realized this the moment you passed from one to the other: you had to swing up abruptly, with a kind of somersault, grabbing the scales, throwing your legs over your head, until your feet were on the Moon’s surface. Seen from the Earth, you looked as if you were hanging there with your head down, but for you, it was the normal position, and the only odd thing was that when you raised your eyes you saw the sea above you, glistening, with the boat and the others upside down, hanging like a bunch of grapes from the vine.

[…]

Now, you will ask me what in the world we went up on the Moon for; I’ll explain it to you. We went to collect the milk, with a big spoon and a bucket. Moon-milk was very thick, like a kind of cream cheese. It formed in the crevices between one scale and the next, through the fermentation of various bodies and substances of terrestrial origin which had flown up from the prairies and forests and lakes, as the Moon sailed over them. It was composed chiefly of vegetal juices, tadpoles, bitumen, lentils, honey, starch crystals, sturgeon eggs, molds, pollens, gelatinous matter, worms, resins, pepper, mineral salts, combustion residue. You had only to dip the spoon under the scales that covered the Moon’s scabby terrain, and you brought it out filled with that precious muck. Not in the pure state, obviously; there was a lot of refuse. In the fermentation (which took place as the Moon passed over the expanses of hot air above the deserts) not all the bodies melted; some remained stuck in it: fingernails and cartilage, bolts, sea horses, nuts and peduncles, shards of crockery, fishhooks, at times even a comb. So this paste, after it was collected, had to be refined, filtered. But that wasn’t the difficulty: the hard part was transporting it down to the Earth. This is how we did it: we hurled each spoonful into the air with both hands, using the spoon as a catapult. The cheese flew, and if we had thrown it hard enough, it stuck to the ceiling, I mean the surface of the sea. Once there, it floated, and it was easy enough to pull it into the boat. In this operation, too, my deaf cousin displayed a special gift; he had strength and a good aim; with a single, sharp throw, he could send the cheese straight into a bucket we held up to him from the boat. As for me, I occasionally misfired; the contents of the spoon would fail to overcome the Moon’s attraction and they would fall back into my eye.

Still, beneath the magical science-fiction conceit lies a universality of human emotion. The ending wistfully reminds us that, indeed, every love story is a ghost story:

My return was sweet, my home refound, but my thoughts were filled only with grief at having lost her, and my eyes gazed at the Moon, forever beyond my reach, as I sought her. And I saw her. She was there where I had left her, lying on a beach directly over our heads, and she said nothing. She was the color of the Moon; she held the harp at her side and moved one hand now and then in slow arpeggios. I could distinguish the shape of her bosom, her arms, her thighs, just as I remember them now, just as now, when the Moon has become that flat, remote circle, I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.

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