Seder-Masochism Progress Report

My two goals for 2017 were to bicycle 5,000 miles, and to finish Seder-Masochism. I have 30 miles to go on the first goal, slowed down by mysterious health problems (for which I’m about to undergo a series of invasive tests). But the second goal keeps getting farther away.

I have all the pieces made, and they’re pretty good. The musical numbers are entertaining, and the “Our Father” scenes, based on recordings of my own father shortly before his death in 2012, worked remarkably well.

Scene of Our Father

Our Father

But the overall story isn’t holding together. In fact, it’s hard to tell what the overall story is. I set out to retell “The Passover Story,” but what is that? It’s Exodus. But it’s also more than Exodus, and far less. I tried structuring the film around the Passover Seder, and the result is incoherent. Perhaps because as a story, the Passover Seder is itself incoherent, its popularity and persistence due to early indoctrination and strict rules rather than narrative quality.

So now I’m looking for the story again, at this rather late stage. The narrative quality of the Book of Exodus itself is dubious, but it does contain at least one strong story: the going out, the leaving, the separation, the exit, the Exodus itself. I thought a lot about the meaning of Exodus a few years ago when I animated Death of the Firstborn Egyptians (the solo clip of which has become rather popular, at over a million views on YouTube alone).

Even as the mythological Hebrews exited mythological Egypt, the mythological Firstborn Egyptians exited Life, led by the profound power of Death – who is the Abrahamic God Himself, according to many Haggadot. According to the ancient Egyptian conception of Death and the afterlife, this was not necessarily a tragedy; in fact it would have meant something entirely different to the mythological Egyptians than it does to us. Still an Exodus, but from another point of view.

And that’s where I’m returning to seek my story. To Abrahamics, the Exodus is the story of going forth from the “narrow place,” from cruel slavery to freedom. But what were they exiting, really? According to them it was slavery, oppression, and, worst of all, the worship of false idols. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” commands Yahweh in Exodus 20. How does this story look from the point of view of “other gods”? Specifically, goddesses?

Patriarchy celebrates Exodus as a triumph of civilization. But these days I question the value of civilization, since it’s (we’re) killing the planet and perhaps our souls and minds as well. The popular myth, amongst anxious environmentalists like myself, is that Once Upon a Time humans lived in harmony with nature, gathering and hunting, attuned to the natural world through animism and reverence for the Great Mother. There followed a Great Fall: Agriculture, and its attendant sins of property, hierarchy, and slavery. With the plow we were expelled from the Garden, and things have gotten worse ever since. Genesis in a nutshell.

Exodus is a different angle. This time the Great Mother isn’t a nurturing Garden, but a suffocating oppressor. Man isn’t expelled; he escapes. All those (formerly) animistic spirits are now ridiculous and evil idols. The sacred snake becomes the demonic serpent. Nature and fertility become disgusting things to be controlled. Yeast – spores of Life in the very air – is loathed and mastered through the fetishized Unleavened Bread. This loathing and mastering continues today, as we continually kill Life in the soil with fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. (My 4,970 miles of cycling mostly took place in Central Illinois, the heart of the agri-desert, where yesterday I rode past tanks of ammonia being dragged through denuded fields.)

What does Exodus look like from the point of view of the Goddess? She was in Egypt as Hathor, Hekket, Wadjet, Nut, Maat, Isis, and others portrayed already in Moses Goes Down. She was elsewhere in Mesopotamia as Ishtar, Astarte, the “Queen of Heaven” and other mis-named or un-named “idols.” She was in Europe. She was everywhere – all humans conceived the divine as female, long before the invention of the male God.

The Golden Calf (Return of the Goddess) from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Watching Man walk out on Her, going forth from revering Nature to enslaving and killing it – would she even want Him back?

So I’m currently trying to articulate the Exodus from the Goddesses’ point of view. I hope it works. I’ve put a lot of effort into Seder-Masochism so far, I’d hate for it to be a BIG FAILURE WITH NO COHERENT STORY. Then again, I may end up with a coherent story that is despised. If my current storytelling angle succeeds, even more people will hate it, especially men. But that I could live with. Releasing a weak, incoherent film would be harder.

But this late in the game, that may be its fate – it’s up to the Goddess.

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Goat Cherubs

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Our Father’s Kids.

Heavenly Father work-in-progress…

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Jewish Cherub

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Arms by Raphael. Wings by Dürer. Head by Isidor Kaufmann.

Raphaelite Cherub

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Child by Raphael. Wings by Dürer.

Whole lotta layer shading

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Whole lotta layer shading in Moho Pro. Takes a long time to render but looks cool.

God-The-Father second draft

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Still not finished, but progress happening.

God-the-Father in progress

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The final design will surely stray from this, but it’s a start.

Crown O’ God

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Goddess Dance

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Fun with negative spaces in Moho.

On the subject of “the Goddess”: some people seem to think I’m asserting a “single female creator goddess.” I’m not. I am an atheist. “The Goddess” refers not to any personal religious belief, but rather the fact that all early peoples conceived the divine as female. It doesn’t matter what region, what number of names, what language – the earliest religions were goddess-based. “The Goddess” doesn’t refer to any particular religion, but a principle of all of them.

Goddess vs. Patriarchy

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The goddess swallows all.

God-Mother

God-Mother from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Here it is, the intro/prologue to Seder-Masochism. Uploaded at 1080p instead of 4K because I’m sure I’ll fuss with it still.

It is by far the slowest-paced thing I’ve ever animated. Be patient. Best at full screen.

Animated in Moho Pro.

Stills:

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Prehistoric Rhinoceros

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Bone rigging and animating in Moho Pro. I’m still new to these techniques and I have some bugs to work out. See Victor Paredes’s excellent tutorial on rigging and animating quadrupeds here.

Angel O’ Death stickers!

They’re round, they’re vinyl, and they’re 3.5″ diameter. Suitable for bikes, cars, laptops, doorposts, mantels, ice chests, books, coffins, monitors, phone cases, household appliances, boxes, etc.

Death Stickers2

Because shipping is a pain in the tuchas, these are sold in minimum orders of 10 for $10, via PayPal. Includes shipping in USA only.

Ten Angel O’ Death stickers for $10:


Enjoy!

 

New York City! Seder-Masochism Work-In-Progress Benefit April 21 at IFC

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Thursday, Apr 21, 2016 7:30 PM EDT
IFC Center, New York, NY

You must purchase advance tickets for this event.

All singing! All dancing! All 40+ minutes of my feature-film-in-progress, Seder-Masochism! This is not the finished movie, but the core musical scenes animated in Flash. While I take a production break to learn new software to make the rest of the film, let’s watch all these crazy scenes together in a theater. Featuring:
Goats!
Egypt!
Plagues!
Death!
Idols!
Commandments!
Unsubtle phallic imagery!
…and MORE!

FREE MATZOH!

Big thanks to my friends at GKIDS for making this happen.

Seder-Masochism is Nina Paley’s second feature film, currently in production. Like its predecessor  Sita Sings the Blues, it’s an animated musical – but this time it’s based on the Passover story, the Book of Exodus. In spite of being an irreverent atheist, Nina is also a card-carrying Jew, entitling her to make scenes such as the now-famous This Land Is Mine:

Here are a few stills and animated gifs from the project:

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Thirsty Hebrews charged on by increasingly frustrated Moses

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