Brain Pickings

Schlimazeltov! A Short Film About Luck in Jewish Culture


The nature of “luck” has fascinated scientists and philosphers alike for centuries. Schlimazeltov! explores the concept of “luck,” or “mazel,” through a tapestry of voices from London’s Jewish community. From global economics to lucky charms to quantum physics, the film blends humor, philosophy and visual poetry for a layered investigation of the ancient sensemaking mechanism that is our belief in the invisible hand of luck.

We live our lives like a piece of embroidery — we see the rough side of it, but there might be a very beautiful side on the other side we can’t see. We only see all the stitching on the wrong side of the fabric.”

People are looking for deterministic things because the world is very confusing. Religion, a lot of times, is about trying to relieve anxieties and fear.”

It all depends on your psychological standpoint, whether you call a thing ‘luck,’ ‘chance’ or ‘fate.’ Luck makes us feel a little bit better, you know — you feel there’s a dice rolling and it could’ve easily rolled a different way and maybe it will in the future; chance creates the impression of a universe in chaos; and fate creates the impression of some big bastard who’s controlling it.”

The documentary, written and directed by Christopher Thoma Allen, was commissioned by the UK Jewish Film Festival and is currently a finalist in the first annual Vimeo Festival Awards.

For more on the tension between superstition, science and religion, see The End of God, the BBC documentary we recently spotlighted.

via NPR Picture Show

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A Rare Look at Haiti: Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen


Breathtaking beauty, voodoo violence, and what the Guggenheim has to do with ritual sacrifices.

Filmmaker Maya Deren is one of the most influential women in art history. Though most famous for her seminal avant-garde film Meshes of the Afternoon, Deren went on to produce a prolific and diverse body of work. In 1946, much thanks to her critical acclaim for Meshes, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship grant, which she used to travel to Haiti and film Meditation on Violence — a controversial piece on the rituals of vodoun, which she not only filmed but also participated in, ultimately disregarding the terms of her Guggenheim Fellowship.

After Deren’s death in 1961, footage from the 18,000 rituals she filmed was incorporated in Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti — a fascinating posthumous documentary completed in 1985 by Deren’s third husband, Teiji Ito, and his then-wife, Cherel Winett Ito. The film, which explores the tension between beauty and violence in the dancing at the center of vodoun rituals, is now available for free on YouTube, though in poor quality, and we’ve gathered here all six parts. (Though to do Deren’s work justice, we highly recommend the DVD.)

The mesmerizing film is based on Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, the book Deren published in 1953 — an absolute cultural treasure we highly recommend. It offers a glimpse of a complex and largely misunderstood culture, even more so after being dragged across the global newsscape in light of the recent tragedy.

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PICKED: Hello Rewind


Social enterprise Hello Rewind is the beautiful marriage of sustainability and human rights activism, addressing two eco-social challenges — the 16,000 tons of textiles thrown away each day in the U.S. and the 100,000 women being sex-trafficked — with one brilliant proposition: Recycle your old t-shirts into custom laptop sleeves, supporting sex-trafficking survivors.

Starting a self-sustaining business supporting sex trafficking survivors is almost unheard of in the United States. In fact, many people don’t even understand the extent of sex trafficking taking place.” ~ co-founder Jess Lin

Here’s how it works: You order a laptop sleeve in your desired size and they mail you a prepaid-postage envelope in which to send your used t-shirt. Hello Rewind then sews your custom sleeve and ships it back to you in 2-4 weeks.

What’s not to love?

via TBD

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Conversations with Mr. Lois


Legendary art director George Lois, an original Mad Man, came of age in the 1960’s, when his Esquire magazine covers revolutionized graphic design and shaped the aesthetic direction of magazine publishing for decades to come.

Conversations with Mr. Lois is a series of four short clips of Lois, charmingly profane and non-linear and curmudgeonly as ever, sharing his thoughts on everything from the moral state of advertising the essence of magazines to the sensual sterility of tablets. The series was timed around MoMA’s George Lois retrospective and the publication of the fantastic companion book earlier this year.

There are too many assholes in advertising now.” ~ George Lois

People say the magazine is dead — bullshit it’s dead!” ~ George Lois

When you read a magazine, you put it on your lap, it’s like a lap dance. [With tablets], you’re just looking at a screen.” ~ George Lois

Hat tip to the SPD filmmakers for using Cat Power’s “The Greatest” as the score for the final part of the series.

When you do a magazine with great content and real visual excitement — oh my God! — pages of it, or spreads of it, every week, every month — wow, that’s fun! Let’s do this, let’s do that — it’s terrific stuff. It’s stuff where you can really influence the culture. I don’t care what magazine you do, any kind of magazine [should be] a cultural provocateur.” ~ George Lois

The series was a teaser for an event where Wired creative director Scott Dadich sat down with Lois to talk about his iconic Esquire covers. You can watch the hour-long program below:

We highly recommend George Lois: The Esquire Covers, MoMA’s beautifully curated anthology of Lois’s most influential work. You may also enjoy our recent look at the evolution of magazines over the past century.

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