Saturday, May 19, 2007

Jacob Bronowski on Johnny von Neumann

from the companion book to the BBC series from the early 1970s, The Ascent of Man, by Jacob Bronowki concerning the mathematician Johnny von Neumann.

"There was endearing and personal about Johnny von Neumann. He was the cleverest man I ever knew. And he was a genius, in the sense that a genius is man who has two great ideas. When he died in 1957 it was a great tragedy to us all. And that was not because he was a modest man. When I worked with him during the war, we once faced a problem together, and he said to me at once, "Oh no, no, you are not seeing it. Your kind of visualising mind is not right for seeing this. Think of it abstractly. What is happening on this photograph of an explosion is that the first differential coefficient vanishes identically, and that is why what becomes visible is the trace of the second differential coefficient."
As he said this is not the way I think. However, I let him go to London. I went off to my laboratory in the country. I worked late into the night. Round about midnight I had the answer. Well. Johnny von Neumann always slept very late, so I was kind and I did not wake him until well after ten in the morning. When I called his hotel in London, he answered the phone in bed, and I said, "Johnny, you're quite right." And he said to me, "You wake me up early in the morning to tell me that I'm right? Please wait until I'm wrong."
If it sounds very vain, it was not. It was a real statement of how he lived his life. And yet it has something in it that reminds me that he wasted the last years of his life. He never finished the great work that has been very difficult to carry on since his death. And he did not really, because he gave up asking himself how other people see things.
He became more and more engaged in work for private firms, for industry, for government. They were enterprises which brought him to the centre of power, but which did not advance either his knowledge or his intimacy with people - who to this day have not yet got the message of what he was trying to do about the human mathematics of life and mind." (Page 433-435)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

some ideas from Robert Altman

some thoughts from Robert Altman on the documentary "Robert Altman : Art and Soul" which is on the "Fool for Love" DVD.

at 13:40
"I don't know of anything that I've done that has really been original I mean that just came out of ether, it's always been, there's been a stimulus from something else that I've seen."

at 14:45
"I purposely don't go into a project that I know how to do. . .I'm afraid I'd be late for work."

at 18:35
"If an actor comes up to me and says, 'Oh, how should I play this part.' I will do anything except answer that question."


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A tale from Jesse Lasky Jr.

In 1927, producer Jesse Lasky who was making a film about Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" outfit of the Spanish-American War conducted a nation-wide search for a TR look-alike to take on the role of the hero of San Juan Hill. Lasky's net trawled up a man named Frank Hopper. But when production of the film started, it became too apparent that the mild-mannered Hopper was not up to re-enacting the "bully" Roosevelt. Well, there was no turning back after all the publicity surrounding the casting of Hopper. So, what to do? In his book "Whatever Happened to Hollywood?", Lasky's son, screenwriter and novelist, Jesse Lasky Jr. tells the story:

"At that moment the door was opened by a slender graying man of distinguished bearing: Will Hays, former postmaster general in President Harding's cabinet, now embarking in the 100,000 a year post of custodian of motion picture morals (to improve the national image after a few too many scandals had begun to hurt business).
"Can I come in, Jesse?"
"Glad to see you general. We have a large problem."
Hays listened, a spark showing through his glinting eyes. He looked like Uncle Sam minus the beard. When the dilemma had been aired, he spoke.
"This may been out of the far end of the diamond, Jess, but there's a simple fundamental that might apply. so basic people forget it. A man reacts the way the world treats him. Other people are his mirror, he becomes what he sees in the way they look at him. Try it out on him. Get Hopper in here, now! Instead of letting him see how worried you are, introduce him to me with the greatest respect. I'll act as though I'm meeting Roosevelt himself."
. . .
When Hopper arrived, Hays proved at once he knew how to play the required scene. He had learned how with real presidents in his Washington days. when the would-be Roosevelt came cowering into the office, eyes darting nervously around, my father began with near reverence, "General, I have the honor of presenting Theodore Roosevelt."
"proud to make your acquaintance, sir." hays responded with a formal bow. "May, I say. sir. the resemblance is perfect? But more than merely physical. I can see you have the same fearless nature, the same character and patriotism. You are the kind of man who would meet the challenge of the war with the words, 'Let us pray with our bodies for our souls' desire.'" Then he turned to my father. "Mr. Lasky, as former postmaster general of the United States, I count this as a proud moment, and I thank you for the honor of meeting this man."
Astonished at first, the new treatment hit Hopper like a bolt form the blue. Red, white and blue. As he left the office and everyone rose, it could be noted that his posture had undergone a subtle
change. His head was more erect, his step had acquired the slightest suggestion of a strut.
Orders were relayed throughout every department of the studio: The movie Roosevelt was to be treated as though he were the real T. R. As told in my father's biography, by Don Weldon, I Blow My Own Horn, this was one of the rare occasions where grips, juicers, cameramen, assistant directors - everyone, in fact, but the star - was performing to the hilt.
Unfortunately, the wormed turned too far. Under this ego-massage, the simple smalltown storekeeper became almost unmanageable. The man was submerged by the megalomaniac monster demanding total attention, obsequious respect, demanding that every scene should receive his signature of approval before he would film it.

page 60-61 of Whatever Happened to Hollywood? by Jesse Lasky Jr.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Norman Jewison on multiple screen editing

from Norman Jewison's commentary for his 1968 film "The Thomas Crown Affair".
at 06:22 into the film.

"We were trying to tell five stories at the same time. And so we all went up to the Montreal World's Festival just before we started the film and that's where we were exposed to [Christopher] Chapman's multiple-screen technique which was shown there for the first time in Habitat. And Haskell [Wexler] and myself and Hal Ashby we got so excited because in Chapman's film "A Place to Stand" there was something like 40 minutes of film and it was shown in 17 minutes because of the multiple screens and we realized that the eye is the only selective organ in the body. And therefore you could take in more than one image at the same time as long as there wasn't a lot of sound."