Vivid Sydney: Shut Up and Play the Hits

I think LCD Soundsystem were one of the greatest bands of the last decade. And by “band” I mean largely the creation of one James Murphy, a guy who decided – in his 30s, after messing around in punk bunds – to record an album of danceable electro-rock that he liked and to eschew the rock star bullshit. He became more successful than he imagined, formed a band to play live, recorded two more critically-acclaimed albums, and toured some more.

And then, at 41, he called it quits. He broke up LCD Soundsystem at the undeniable peak of their powers, choosing not to fade out or become lame. I’m glad I got to see them play live before that happened.

The film I just saw at the Sydney Opera House, and my final Vivid Sydney Festival event, was a documentary, concert film, and memoir of LCD Soundsystem’s last week as the band, their big final show in New York, and the day after. Shut Up and Play the Hits was very good: it gave us a few great songs from that 4-hour finale, some interview probing of James Murphy and his feelings and doubts and thoughts on ageing, and some truly funny frozen moments on the faces of crowd-goers.

The photography was dynamic and immersive. The sound – mixed by Murphy – was dramatic. It was a fitting goodbye to a great thing.

Tonight was the Australian premiere of this film. LCD Soundsystem’s drummer, Pat Mahoney, was in the crowd and had a Q&A with a radio DJ after the film, but the questions were pretty lame.

It will show in US cinemas for one night in July. You’ll probably be able to catch in other ways soon.

Jaws: The Restoration

The best film ever made has been given a loving makeover and was released on Blu-Ray in April.

I’m posting this on this blog because the depth of restoration required applied science of the highest order. Just check out the technology involved.

This restored, high-definition version is getting a theatrical release in the UK. I hope it goes elsewhere (and so does Ain’t It Cool News). I never saw Jaws in the theatre, and would absolutely love to do so.

Daft Punk and the Tron:Legacy soundtrack

Fanboys of the first major film with major computer-animation, Tron, are salivating for Tron:Legacy, due later this year.

Fanboys of electronic dance music are salivating from the news that Daft Punk are doing the music for Tron:Legacy. Some leaked tracks have appeared. The band are denying they’re legit, but musos think they sound too good to be fakes.

Read more about – and listen to – the leaked tracks on music blog antiquiet.

The science of Avatar

As a companion piece to my blog entry the other day about how 3D films work, check out this article on film site Ain’t It Cool News. In it, a regular AICN contributor who also happens to be an astrophysicist grades the science inAvatar. The follow-up at the end is excellent too, as fans and people on the production defend some of the film aspects that he did find fault with.

Bottom line: it’s great when filmmakers like James Cameron apply some credible scientific speculation to their sci-fi.

How 3D films work

I saw Avatar in IMAX 3D the other day. The reviews are correct: the story is somewhat trite; however, watching it in 3D on a big screen is mind-blowing, and seeing it any other way is a waste.

It made me think about the science of 3D movie-watching, though. There have been different technologies to do so for nearly a hundred years. They’ve been rarely employed though, as the gear to produce and project them has always been cumbersome and expensive. And the results – for anyone like me who saw early ’80s Hollywood efforts – were often poor.

But all technology becomes cheaper over time, and new techniques make things easier. So Avatar can blow our minds for the entire feature-film length.

Here’s how it works:

Hold your finger about 15 cm in front of your face. Now close one eye and look at it. Now switch: close the other eye and look at it with the first eye. Switch back and forth, one eye at a time. You can see that the position of your finger seems to move when viewed with each eye. If you open both your eyes and focus on your finger it appears to be in the middle of where it appears when viewed with each eye individually. This is the magic of how your brain has been trained to see: it takes the slightly different collections of light arriving at each eye, figures out that they’re of the same thing, andbuilds a composite picture in your brain. You can see this separate imagery if you leave both eyes open, leave your focus out about 15 cm, but move your finger in toward your nose: you’ll see two fuzzy images of your finger, one from each eye.

Now look at something far away. Close one eye and look at it, like before. Now switch eyes, again like before. The position of the image may change a little, but it’ll change much less than your finger did. If it’s very far away its position may not seem to move at all. This is how your brain tells the difference between something that’s close and something that’s far away: if the distance between the left- and right-eye images is large, your brain assumes that the object is close to you, and if the images from each eye are pretty much the same your brain assumes they’re far away.

Most current 3D movies use this process to trick you into seeing 3D of what is actually a 2D projection on a screen. A film actually projects two sets of images on the screen, either by a single fancy camera or – typically for IMAX – two separate cameras. But the light of the two projections are polarised differently (think of polarisation as the direction that the light waves vibrate in as they move towards your eyes). For the 3D film each projection’s light is polarised differently.

You’re given glasses to watch the 3D film with. These special glasses have different plastic lenses in the left and right frames; they’re filters that have different polarisations that match the polarisations of the projected images. The one on the left only lets through the light from the projection on the left; the one on the right only lets through the light from the projection on the right.

Also, corresponding objects in the two projections are spaced differently: objects that are meant to be close to you are spaced farther apart, and those that are meant to be in the background are closer together.

So the combination of the two projections and the glasses simulates what happens when we view the real world: one set of light arrives at the left eye, one set arrives at the right eye, and different objects have different amounts of separation between them. Your brain interprets these as things that are at different distances from you: voila, 3D.

There’s some other techie details about linearly polarised light (which messed up the 3D effect if you tilted your head) and circularly polarised light (which doesn’t) if you’re interested. We’ve also discovered that shrimp can detect polarised light,which means they might be able to watch 3D films without the glasses (I saw none at my screening of Avatar, though).

Cannes film festival falls in love with maths

Hypatia of Alexandria was an ancient Greek mathematician, most notable for being the first famous female maths scholar. In addition to writing commentaries on and editing some of the most famous early works of maths, like Arithmetica and Euclid’s Elements, she’s said to have done work in astronomy, measuring the relative density of liquids, and possibly independently developing an astrolabe.

A new film – named Agora – based on the life of Hypatia, who’s played in the movie by Rachel Weisz, has received big cheers at Cannes. That’s pretty cool: Greek mathematicians aren’t your typical silver-screen subjects.