Saturday, May 12, 2012

π / Pi

Pi (title in Finland) / Pi (title in Sweden). US 1998 © 1997 Protozoa Pictures. P: Eric Watson. D: Darren Aronofsky. SC: Darren Aronofsky - from a story by Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, and Eric Watson. DP: Matthew Libatique - black and white - 1,66:1. PD: Matthew Maraffi. AD: Eileen Butler. Makeup: Ariyela Wald-Cohain. Art department: Sean Gullette, Sasha Noe (creator: vaccination gun), Gagan K. Sarch (graphics). SFX: Ariyela Wald-Cohain. VFX: Jeremy Dawson, Dan Schrecker (computer screen graphics), Christopher Dusendschon (in-show effects compositor). AN: Dan Moss (computer animation: java sequence). Title designer: Jeremy Dawson (main title sequence & credits, Sneak Attack). M: Clint Mansell. S: Brian Emrich. ED: Oren Sarch. Casting: Denise Fitzgerald. Loc: New York. C: Sean Gullette (Maximillian Cohen), Mark Marqolis (Sol Robeson), Ben Shenkman (Lenny Meyer), Pamela Hart (Marcy Dawson), Stephen Pearlman (Rabbi Cohen), Samia Shoaib (Devi), Ajay Naidu (Farroukh), Kristyn Mae-Anne Lao (Jenna). 84 min. A dvd distributed by Pathé / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, region code 2, letterboxed at 1,66:1, with hard of hearing English subtitles (1999). Viewed at home, Helsinki, 12 May 2012.

Technical specs from the IMDb: Camera: Bolex H16. - Laboratory: Bono Film Labs, Arlington (VA), USA. - Film negative format: 16 mm (Eastman Plus-X 7276, Tri-X 7278). - Cinematographic process: Super 16. Printed film format: 35 mm (blow-up). - Aspect ratio: 1.66:1.

I saw for the first time Pi, one of the most remarkable debut feature films ever, having missed it last week in our Darren Aronofsky retrospective. It is an experimental black and white film, completely original, and only in the sense of its originality comparable with David Cronenberg (before his present stage as a mainstream director) and David Lynch. Pi is an anxiety film with some links to traditions of psychological horror (Polanski) and cyberpunk (Videodrome). The theme of the anxiety of superior performance returns in Black Swan with some of the same visual motifs (growths from the body).

Max is a mathematic genius capable of calculations of large numbers in his head, competing with the pocket calculator of his little neighbour Jenna. Motifs in the movie (elaborated on its website include: - The golden spiral (Pythagoras), the golden rectangle, the golden ratio. - The chaos theory. - NYSE (The New York Stock Exchange): a complex, interrelated and chaotic system which is manmade but staggeringly complex. Like pi, the story of the stock market lies in a vast string of numbers. If there is an order in this chaos, it remains thus far invisible. - The Go game as an expression of a complex and chaotic universe. - The Gammantria, the number theory of the Kabbalah: The Torah (= what Christians call the Old Testament) is just a long string of numbers. Some say that it's a code sent to us from God. - Migraine hallucinations.

From the movie's website: Pi Paranoia.

"Paranoia is the belief in a hidden order behind the visible."
- Anonymous

"Pi is both the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet and the symbol which represents the world's oldest mathematical mystery: the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter."

"The earliest known written record of the ratio comes from 1650 BCE Egypt, where a scribe calculated the value to be 3.16 (a mere 1% off the true value). Although now, we have methods to calculate the digits of pi (3.1415...) its exact value remains a mystery."

"Since 1794, when it was proven that Pi was both irrational and infinite, people have been searching for a pattern in the endless string of numbers."

"As it turns out, Pi can be found everywhere, from astronomy to probability to the physics of sound and light. To date it has been calculated to over 51 billion digits, so far with no discernible pattern emerging from its numbers. In fact, the first time that the sequence 123456789 appears, it is over 500 million digits into the ratio. Calculating the digits to millions of decimal places is now used to test computers for bugs in hardware and software (which is how Intel's Pentium found a chip bug a few years ago)."

"If you prefer to calculate Pi the old fashioned way, you're not alone. Hundreds of clubs have been formed to celebrate and calculate the ratio, many of which require a good deal of sequence memorization in order to join. The current world record for pi memorization was made in 1995, when a Japanese man recited 42,000 digits from memory in just over nine hours."

The mystery horror thriller plot is about Max's supercomputer with which he is able to discover a number of 216 digits which is the key to the mystery of the universe. Soon both Wall Street agents and orthodox Kabbalists are after him, but Max's computer crashes, there is a crash at the Wall Street stock exchange, too, Max's math teacher dies of a second stroke, and Max performs lobotomy on himself with a power drill, relieving himself from his migraine and his mathematical genius, no longer being able to participate in Jenna's pocket calculator contest.

There is a Jewish relevance to the story which can be vaguely linked with Kafka.

Pi is a movie about urban alienation and malaise (Unbehagen) in a culture of success. It is also a horror movie about extremism and extreme specialization as is Black Swan.

Pi was shot on a mini budget on 16 mm reversal stock. The movie has been printed at high contrast,  emphasizing its nightmare quality.

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