Category Archives: Documentary

Private Screening: Bell Labs predicts the future

I saw this film in 1992 or 1993 at a screening for employees while finishing my postdoc at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. I spent a little over two years there, living in lovely Chatham Township and spending Saturdays enjoying Manhattan. The lab I sat in held the original carbon dioxide laser, nearly thirty years old at the time, and still working. The transistor was invented a couple of doors away, the people who invented Unix were at the other end of a long corridor, and a few future Nobel laureates had their labs in-between. I am still amazed that I got that position and wistful that I didn’t do more with the opportunity.

There was a Q&A session with the speaker who introduced the film and who was participating in the work that underpinned this eerily accurate vision of an always-on, always-connected world. I asked if there was enough (data) bandwidth to support even a small fraction of this. It was the era of low-speed dialup modems and the Internet was limited to universities and academically-oriented labs. His answer, “I guess there will have to be.” A few forward-thinkers had the smarts to set about building that infrastructure, bit by bit. I lacked the foresight to invest even a small amount in any of them.

And so, everyday, off to work I go.

Via the AT&T Tech Channel

Space Music: Paul Novros accompanies the universe

The documentaries below were made in the 1970s by Lester Novros, then a professor at the USC film school where his students included George Lucas.  The understated elegance of these films is nicely framed by Paul Novros‘s music.  The younger Novros is a professor of jazz at CalArts.  I asked him whether he had any soundtracks available.  He was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of the work but has no separate recordings or scores.

Lester Novros and his Graphic Films studio had a major albeit little-known influence on Stanley Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Special effects legend Douglas Trumbull worked with him in Los Angeles but ultimately moved to work directly with Kubrick in England. Barbara Miller’s article “Graphic Films and the Inception of 2001: A Space Odyssey” is good reading.

via the U.S. National Archives

via Jeff Quitney

Monolith Monograph: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

A young filmmaker dives deeply in five parts into the technical and artistic innards of his (and one of my) favorite movies. One wishes that he spoke a little slower and left some breathing room in his edits but it is an earnest, meticulous, and illuminating effort. The engineering alone that went into 2001 is awe-inspiring. Did Kubrick sleep during the two years it took to make?

Via Channel CinemaTyler

Before the inevitable: Henle’s musical engraving

The well-known music publisher held onto manual engraving into the late 1990s when computers finally got good enough. Now the trend is to replace paper altogether with screens. Here are lookbacks to the bygone craft.

Sharp as a Tack – Music Engraving: an Art and a Craft

Watch this video on YouTube.

Music Engraving on Metal Plates (with sound)

Watch this video on YouTube.

Distillation: What goes on in those refineries?

Big tankers tie up offshore and disgorge their contents into brightly lit and mostly inscrutable refineries.   This sixty year old film by Shell Oil neatly explains the chemistry, chemical engineering, and physics of distillation that takes gives us our gasoline, diesel, oils, and waxes. In a different setting, it also gives us many different kinds of beverages.

 

Adriaen and Hadrian: Lost Wax bronzes

I had the great fortune of looking out my grad school office window into a sculpture garden of Rodin bronzes.    The lost wax process used to make these marvels keeps eluding me.  Every time I think about it, I forget steps and/or get them mixed up.   These two videos from the Israel Museum and The Getty go a long way to shoring up a sagging memory.

The Juggling Man by Adriaen de Vries:

Adriaen de Vries's Bronze Casting Technique: Direct Lost-Wax Method

Watch this video on YouTube.

Hadrian: An Emperor Cast in Bronze

(Found via Khan Academy and Hyperallergic)

Back to the garden: So, did we chemists appreciate what we had in front of our eyes? Yes, quite a bit. The program was stressful and we’d wonder darkly whether we were on the wrong side of the Gates of Hell while having lunch in front of it. The fate of an adjacent parking lot stirred a lot of debate between a supportive faction of chemistry faculty, staff, and students and the late Prof. Albert Elsen of the Art History Department, eminent Rodin scholar, and advisor to the Cantor Foundation that donated the works. The Loma Prieta earthquake intervened and gave us all other things to worry about. The statues don’t look any worse for wear decades later despite fears that they’d dissolve into nothing. Careful stewardship and loving cleaning, enabled by a little chemistry, have served them well.

Stanford conservators work to preserve Rodin Sculpture Garden

Watch this video on YouTube.