Sakharov designed and built hydrogen bombs for the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s. He also dissented from the regime during much of that time until he became a full-time dissident in the latter 1960s. I have wondered how he compared to Robert Oppenheimer and this is a start in finding out. Strangely enough Sakharov loomed larger on my horizon than Oppenheimer because Sakharov was a celebrity dissident in the 1960s, repeatedly in ‘Time’ magazine and in the highbrow publications of the Centre for Democratic Institution from which I drank at the time, whereas Oppenheimer was a man of the past.

Andrei-Sakharov-1989.jpg Andrei Sakharov, 1989

Sakharov was man and boy Soviet, knowing no other way of life like the millions of others. His family was secure and comfortable by the standards of the time and place, though Stalin’s purges and the myriad of local purges that they authorised in time caught up with members of his family, first among the older generation of uncles, and then aunts whose crime was to have married that uncle, and then Sakharov’s generation, an arrest here, a deportation there. Even so his loyalty to the regime was unalloyed.

He grew up in a musical family, while his father was a successful physics teachers who wrote and published numerous approved his school texts on the subject. Sakharov’s interest in and aptitude for mathematics blossomed and he went to the head of the class and stayed there. Having just seen ‘The Imitation Game’ (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) I compared him to Alan Turing.

He failed the physical examination for the Soviet army in World War II; consider for a moment how low that standard must have been. He had an irregular heart beat most of his life. Instead he signed up to work in an ordinance factory. There his capacity to reduce confused and confusing reality to rows of numbers led him to several innovations which made his name as a coming man.

One example suffices. To test artillery shells for defects the method was manual, in every new batch several shells were dusted and examined with a magnifying glass for cracks in the casing. Until that test was passed the batch waited. If one crack was found the whole batch was rejected. Sakharov devised a laser to pass over each shell individually and ping on cracks so that individual shells could be rejected but not whole batches and the production line kept moving the whole time. (I have take quite a few liberties in this description to make it accessible; as they say in movie credits, ‘based on a true story.’ [In the same spirit that could be motto for Fox News rather than that ironic statement ‘Fair and Factual,’ it is ironic isn’t it].)

There is one of similarity to Turing. Both turned to automation for tasks that previously had been done by hand, just as the machine gun replaced the bolt action rifle.

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Sakharov’s change from cog in the mighty wheel to dissident came slowly. He saw neighbours and colleagues foully treated and it could not all be explained by the war. Jews were made victim. A loose word about comrade number one, and … Exactly, no one quite knew.

Moreover, when he left the laboratory for the factory and later the weapons plants, which were really cities in themselves, he saw how badly treated workers and their families were, despite the endless rhetoric of the workers paradise. Also he choked on the ritualistic evocation of Marxism-Leninism at every official juncture. Just as many of us have choked on the empty and ritualistic evocation of God on public occasions like the Gallipoli ceremony.

He was a brilliant scientist, a claim reiterated many times in these pages without a satisfactory explanation of this brilliance or how it was recognised as brilliance by all the dimwits around him. Well, they have to be dimwits if they did not reject the regime per Bergman.

Gradually, Sakharov tried to use the status he had to help individuals and in time he realised that the Stalinist regime was the problem, and that it rolled on even after its creator died. He retained a faith in the Soviet promise but thought it perverted by Stalin. At first his supposition was that the Tsar did not know, in the old Russian proverb, only slowly concluding that the Tsar was the problem, then Tsarism including the people who wanted a Tsar, call them the Tsarists.

Though his interventions were few, carefully judged to appeal to Soviet values, and argued on pragmatic grounds they yielded a vigorous reaction. He was named as errant in public by Chairman Khrushchev himself.

In time he realised there were systematic failings and those he saw first and most clearly and which he quantified were the first, second, and third generation deaths and defects causes by the atmospheric testing of hydrogen weapons. He made spreadsheets that showed approximately 10,000 deaths caused over three generations by the radiation released in a single atmospheric test. He thus argued for underground testings, which had technical limitations, in his immediate environment, then at closed and secret scientific conferences, and then by writing to the Party Chairman.

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Yikes, this drumbeat was readily characterised as unpatriotic, just as Edward Teller tried to portray all other others who lacked his one-eyed enthusiasm for ever bigger bombs.

His ground shifted from urging reforms on pragmatic grounds to improve Soviet society to urging reforms because they were morally right. This put him beyond the pale; it put him in Groky four hundred miles east of Moscow.

There is a personal element as well. Sakharov saw and despaired at medical treatment his first wife Klava received. Doctors at elite clinics could not interpret X-Rays to his mind. She died in a great pain as he watched. Perhaps it could happen anywhere but it happened to him and it was another fissure in his allegiance to the Soviet Union.

One of the things that tied Sakharov to the Soviet regime withal his objections was the need for weapons not because of the Cold War with the West but because of Mao’s China and its erratic course as perceived from Moscow. That was a new perspective to me.

One of the things that loosened the tie to the Soviet regime was the Prague Spring of 1968. We read that many Soviet dissidents saw in those Czechoslovakian changes a hopeful future for the Soviet Union itself. When that door slammed shut in August 1968, those Soviet dissidents who championed reform from within communism lost hope. It was proof that communism could not change. This was another new perspective to me and a striking one due to our recent visit to Prague and our tours of its communist relics.

The many and varied dissidents could not agree among themselves and spent at least as much time and effort in undermining each other as working for reform of the Soviet way. [Sounds familiar to any seasoned committeeman.] They tried to organise themselves in the way they knew, a central committee with a rigid hierarchy….and that did not work. All of this backbiting made it easy for the regime to isolate and pick off dissidents.

He became a supporter of any and all dissident causes from ethnic revanchism to free masonry, seemingly without discrimination. His enemy’s enemy became his friend. Anyone who dissented from the Soviet way was his friend, or so it must have seemed to the Communist authorities. He also demonstrated a political naiveté born of his sheltered existence in believing that some how all these dissenters could combine within the abstraction of human rights, when some of them did not want human rights, they wanted their land and would gladly kill to get it!

He seems to have had a charmed life in that even when stripped of his scientific duties, he was still paid, retained his apartment, had a limousine and driver at his service, was available to all manner of foreign journalists in Moscow to whom he spoke ever more freely, including offering advice to the Reagan administration on how to negotiate with the Soviet leadership - rather like Jane Fonda encouraging the North Vietnamese to kill more American draftees to shorten the war. (Oh, yes she did.) For a man who was oppressed and repressed he published a very great deal in the way of political opinion, a bibliography which runs from page 413 to page 431.

Mikhail Gorbachev appeared but for Sakharov he is too little, too late. Sakharov wants everything now, and Gorbachev is carrying a heavy load on thin ice. That Gorbachev let him return to Moscow and appointed his to ceremonial offices was accepted by it did not temper Sakharov who by now seems unable to trust anyone or give anyone else credit for good intentions. Then Sakharov died and Gorbachev offered his widowed second wife, Yelena Bonner, a state funeral which she accepted. That became a Saint Bartholomew’s circus for dissidents, for apparatchiks who wanted a halo, for Western journalists looking for a king hit.

I should have said earlier that Bonner, of Jewish descendent, did much to focus Sakharov’s political interests. She had a much more general and systematic view of the Soviet Union in contrast to Sakharov’s case by case experience. She became a comrade in arms, as she appeared to be at the time in their hunger strikes.

Yelena-Bonner-007.jpg Yelena Bonner

Returning to the comparison with Oppenheimer, this book being my only source, it is not clear to me if Sakharov had management responsibility akin to Oppenheimer’s. None are explicitly mentioned though Sakharov is occasionally referred to as ‘Director’ of this project or that and that word implies management to some degree.

The book was a hard slog. The implied thesis behind the title seems to come straight from Karl Popper that science and democracy unite in falsifiability. Neither assures perfection but each can falsify mistakes through rational argument and evidence. Ergo, the more rational and scientific Sakharov was, the more he had to reject (falsify) the Soviet system and make his way (intellectually) to democracy. Oh dear, does that mean the Soviet scientists who did not move this way must not have been rational and scientific after all, and likewise that the Western scientists who pined for authoritarian government, hello Ed Teller, were not either. Such consistencies do not worry the author?

Our author has it that one of Sakharov’s deepest concerns with the Soviet Union was the easy and irrational way in which scientific arguments and evidence put before the top leadership were cast aside. Stalin and Khrushchev having grown up among farmers rejected scientific biology on the strength of that background. Bergman implies this rejection of scientific, reason, is one of the core evils of the Soviet Union. Arrrrrrrgh! What would Bergman make of political leaders today in the West who reject climate science in one sentence or less? Evil?

Similarly, Bergman in contrasting Sakharov with that other even more famous dissident of the time Alexander Solzhenitsyn takes Sakharov’s side because Solzhenitsyn is too much a believer in the mystical soul of Russia for the scientific age of reason and democracy. Hmmmm. What would Bergman make of those Tea Party nut cases invoking God above to reject vaccines and fluoride because Moses did not have any. Evil?

In the same vein, Bergman speculates that Sakharov wanted the rule of law as he supposed it existed in the West. Well maybe but convince me. Quote that phrase ‘rule of law’ from something Sakharov said or wrote. [Silence.] The ‘rule of law,’ let’s ask David Hicks about that shall we? Montesquieu evolved a theory of government that inspired the writers of the Constitution of the United States to divide and separate powers; Montesquieu reason from the British example where he thought it existed but in fact it did not. Nonetheless, the illusion bred reality. (With difficulty I will refrain from mentioning that smirking Queensland journalist who made a name nationally by misunderstanding the separation of powers doctrine. Such are media reputations.)

Bergman.jpg Jay Bergman

Even though published twenty (20) years after the fall of the Berlin Wall this book is a Cold War shot. Every few pages another evil of the Soviet regime is described, denounced, and then placed in relation to Sakharov with some long bows.

There is virtually no science in the book after the early pages, as indicated by the last chapter on Sakharov’s legacy which addresses exclusively his dissidence. Period.

I still do not know what made him a brilliant scientist.

Doing homework for the Turkey trot, ooops, tour, in October 2015. I read Pamuk’s ‘Istanbul: Memoire of the city’ earlier, finding it well written but meandering, too much like life that.

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This book is a fable, an Italian traveler is enslaved in Ottoman Istanbul in the 16th Century. His western knowledge, particularly anatomy, sets him apart, first as a doctor and later as an engineer.

The pasha who owns him gives him to Hoja, because the two men, the unnamed slave and the master (Hoja) look a great deal alike. Hoja is a scientist-engineer employed by the pasha and the slave becomes his assistant. They work on several projects, including fireworks. The pasha strives for recognition from the Sultan, Hoja strives for promotion. Much striving.

One theme is identity given the resemblance of the two men and their incessant exchange of information, some of it personal. Another theme is the resistance of the Ottoman world to change, as represented by scientific knowledge both imported from the West in the slave but also as generated by Hoja.

The third, and perhaps the master theme, is the master-slave dialectic. The slave becomes like the master first but in time the master becomes like the slave. At the end it is not clear who is narrating the slave who has assumed the identity of the master, or the master who pines for the slave as his alter-ego. The unreliable narrator beloved of post modern writes but not readers.

OrhanPamuk.jpg Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize winner in Literature.

But I fear that it is not particularly interesting to read. It is well written but seems lifeless, as though the plan was drawn up on a white board and then executed in neat chunks. The author is aloof from it all framing the story as the finding of a third party.

A combined performance of Legs on the Wall, Vox, and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for the Sydney Festival 2015 at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. I went to a matinee to see the alto do her stuff. I class this entry as a Film Review for my convenience.

SF15_Riverside_Puncture_960x295.jpg The lobby card.

What singing! What energy! What colour and movement? And some if was in black-and-white, too. It had everything.

RiversideTheatre-e1389226725630.jpg The Riverside Theatre, the one in Parramatta, not Milwaukee or San Francisco.

It is presented as one continuous piece with breaks for applause. There were several distinct parts. The opening reminded me of ‘West Side Story,’ later there was a one-note ’Space Odyssey,’ a soprano ascendant, a Strauss waltz, lost souls in the haze à la Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ some aerial fish on harnesses, and — best for last — a superb, creative use of iPhone cameras which I thought was delightful, and apt wit the app! All done in about an hour.

The black-and-white were shadows projected on the wall. Having recently seen the relevant episode of ‘Rectify’ I agreed Plato was on to something. [You either get it or you don’t.]

Wait there is more! The audience entered through the tradesman’s door and snaked down a maze of hallways to sit on the stage with the performers. I had already instructed me to seek the high ground and I found out why later.

This piece has been the Sydney Festival for 2015. Kate has had numerous rehearsal with much get ready and wait along with seven (7) performances, sequins and all in the haze.

It was blisteringly hot day in the centre of Sydney, Parramatta being the geographical and historical centre of the greater Sydney metropolitan area.

aerial.jpg The red flag at the top edge centre left is the Sydney CBD with Parramatta in foreground.

I took the train back to Newtown, glad of the air conditioning on board. Kate had to stay for the evening performance, returning much later ready for a large one.

As this nerd’s tribute to another nerd, I left my desk this morning to ride Bus 352 to the Chauvel theatre in Paddington to see Roger Ebert in ‘Life Itself.’

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A movie is a machine for transmitting empathy by telling the stories of other people, of other times, and of other places … and there we find something of ourselves and we experience it in the silent company of hundreds of others. No, we are not alone. Call that an Ebertism. I am sure he said something like that but I could not track it down.

The movie chronicles Ebert from cradle to grave, the small town mid-western only child who made his way in the big wide world. At the University of Illinois he worked his way up to editor the ‘Illini Daily’ where he rose to the occasion in November 1963. (By the way, I loved seeing that two-storey printing presses, the rumble of which is heard streets away.)

The essential loneliness of the man is inescapable in his earlier years, here portrayed as his salad days, the life of the party with no home and no one to go home to, drinking all night and eating like a pig, and he poured himself into his typewriter.

That Ebert was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his movie reviews is noted and mentioned a couple of times, but nothing is said about why he got it. A quotation from the citation would have been valuable. It was remarkable that a film reviewer would receive such an accolade. Still is.

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One of the major themes has to be the odd coupling with Gene Siskel. They were from different worlds, and found little in common. If they bickered on screen, they positively reviled one another off it. Though even some of that seemed forced yet it was amusing to watch the out-takes, boys being bad boys because it was expected of them.

Film literati never accepted Ebert and hated the influence he gained with audiences and indeed directors and studios. His most egregious failing was that he did not write in the inscrutable, closed, self-referential way beloved of Cultural Studies. I think of all those films made for other film directors lovingly reviewed in the ‘The Story of Film: an Odyssey’ (2011). (A documentary film reviewed elsewhere on the this blog.) Ebert cut through all of that.

Whenever I see a movie I like, I check the Ebert archive in the hope that he wrote about it, putting into words some of the things that occurred to me and, more importantly, putting into words things that did not occur to me at all.

This is the man who recognised Martin Scorsese’s genius in ‘I Call First’ (1967), who searched out and encouraged independent film makers like Errol Morris, reviewed documentaries as if they were feature film when other reviewers ignored documentaries, and made subtitled movies acceptable to an ever larger audience. Credit where credit it due.

By the way ‘I Call First’ was retitled ‘Who is that knocking at my door’ when it got a wide release thanks to Ebert’s push. His battles to review independent films with little or no theatrical release is more than enough to make the case that he expanded the realm, likewise, his thinly disguised efforts to review some obscure film three times to give it exposure. Siskel played a part in all of this, too, but is not given credit for it in these 120 minutes. No time, I guess. See my comment on length at the end.

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Among the many likeable moments in the documentary are these:

Martin Scorsese’s perplexed reaction, even years later, to a bad review from Ebert was delicious. Not only did Ebert start Scorsese's career but he resurrected it once, but even so he did not like 'The Color of Money' and said so.

The continental tensions with the rulers of popular culture in Los Angeles and New York City who ignored those two guys living in a movie house in Chicago for years and years. (I always thought they lived there anyway.)

His abiding loyalty to the working class 'Chicago Sun Times' and its readership even under the baleful influence of Rupert Murdoch's ownership was staunch. It gave him his start and he repaid that everyday.

Werner Herzog’s description, delivered in the thick overcoat of a German accent, of Ebert as a comrade wounded in action who soldiers on was charming, grim, and exact.

Richard Corliss of 'Time' magazine eating the words of some of his early attacks on Ebert's approach to reviewing. Too down market for the young Corliss. An older and wiser Corliss sees a bigger picture now, or having made his career, Corliss perhaps now has no need any longer to attract attention by attacking an established figure.

The recitation of the last page of 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Most of the shore places were now closed...[get it and read it for yourself].' A dirge to be sure, but 'Gatsby believed in the green light.' So did Roger Ebert. Find and follow the green light....

Art mirrors life but it need not reproduce it, as Ebert said more than once. There was about 30 minutes too much of life in the film for this viewer, the grieving wife, the loving grandchildren, the lingering camera shot to wring every last drop of emotion from the take, enough already!

I enjoyed leaving my well beaten paths for a while today, but I won’t make a habit of it! I have footnotes to go and chapters to write before I play hooky again.

A Walter MItty story set in contemporary Montréal. Jean-Marc lives a downward spiral in a world that is collapsing all around. To escape he daydreams, nightdreams, afternoon dreams his life away, enduring an impossible job, a loveless marriage, a daily trek to be demeaned at the office while being incapable of assisting any taxpayer who comes to him for assistance. It is a well worn franchise, this story but it is handled with vigour and imagination. If the whole does not compute, many of the parts are great fun, some of them instantly recognisable.

Days Darkness

For instance, the committee meeting of ten to explain to Jean-Marc that ‘negro’ is a non-word in his first official disciplinary warning. The elaborate methods of the smokers to avoid the anti-smoking patrols. Yes, security guards with dogs on anti-smoking patrols. Then there is the singular Montréal touch, that Olympic stadium white elephant. Though no government in fifty (50) years has a found a use for that monument to the ego of Mayor Jean Drapeau, Denys Arcand has: government social services offices.

Montreal-Olympic-Stadium.jpg

Why not, a billion tax dollars went into that monstrosity at the end of the metro. It is has been cited in every other Olympic bid as an example of what not to do.

Of course the functionaries have little time to deliver social services since they are constantly in meetings to hammer each other very politely with a host of conflicting and contradictory rules, to be motivated even if depressed and dispirited by Humour Quebec, to be trained in the latest trivial tweak to the meaningless rules, planning how to cut the next budget, and scheduling the next meetings. See, I said instantly recognisable.

His daydreams about revenge on his line manager and the supervisor….

Equitorial Prince.jpg The prince's minions at work.

Well that prince of equatorial origin is famous for his cruelty. Seeing a Roman emperor dragging on a cigarette, that is worth the price of admission.

His imaginary girlfriend’s anger at being the dream girl for such a loser, ouch, that hurt! But she did not seem to mind his other fantasy women.

hareem.jpg The harem.

The high-powered wife is a caricature, to be sure, but then so is everything and everyone else. The news on the radio, television, and newspapers is one downer after another. Everyone wears surgical masks in public because of an unfathomable disease that the authorities cannot control. The commuter train, which breaks down everyday, is repaired by the driver with a sledge hammer. The metro is packed with unpleasant people. Criminals with guns are released on technicalities that no one understands. Gangs roam the streets at night. The sky will be falling soon. This is not a Montréal for tourists.

Perhaps thanks to a chance meeting with another fantasist, and more importantly the death of his mother, Jean-Marc is jarred out of his mind world. He leaves home just when his wife returns. I started to type ‘estranged’ wife but their relationship is not close enough to become estranged. He banishes his dream girl with the recriminations of a long married couple. By the way the earlier shower scene with the reference to American film classifications lets us all in on the joke.

Arcand.jpg Denys Arcand gesturing. A great talent, this one with a string of thoughtful and memorable films including 'Jesus of Montréal,' 'Decline of the American Empire,' and 'The Barbarian Invasion.'

Recorded from SBS and watched later. The title ‘L’Âge des ténébres’ is literally the Dark Ages, but for reasons best know to themselves the SBS producers called it ‘Days of Darkness.’

Bletchley Park first was unknown, then a curiosity, a historical drama, and now a fantasyland.

Bletchley,jpeg Bletchley Park, now open to the public.

It remained secret for most of the Cold War, then a little information became available in the 1960s, then a lot more in the 1980s, and now the facts no longer constrain the story teller. ‘Enigma’ in 2001 was one take on it, a drama with a tortured performance from Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet playing against type. It was perplexing and rousing.

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In 1968 Dirk Bogarde ran the show in ‘Sebastian’ with understated panache.

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’The Bletchley Circle’ has also been on the small screen, which after a great start descended to the average, emphasising special effects over intellectual content.

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We dithered about going to ‘The Imitation Game.’ Seeing man’s inhumanity to man, well, we could see that on the television news any day. Huh? The publicity emphasised the abuse of Turing for his homosexuality; no doubt this was done to martyr him, but it put us off. For a while.

Bletchley Park, I had to see that again. Nerds winning the war! Near sighted, stoop shouldered, shuffling wallflowers with bad table manners, I could identify with them! Sorry Brad Pitt but you are not in my league.

The importance of codes and decoding has a long history to be sure. There is that Zimmerman telegram of 1917, a coded German message to Mexico that was intercepted and decoded and gave the United States a push into the war. More on the Zimmerman letter at the end. Read on.

To compare ‘Enigma’ to ‘The Imitation Game’, a few points standout. ‘Enigma’ showed Bletchley Park to be the gigantic factory it was, employing in 1944 about 12,000 people. The Bletchley Park’ of ‘The Imitation Game’ is confined to less than a dozen people with a few CGI backgrounds. In ‘The Imitation Game’ Commander Alastair Denniston is a foolish martinet, played to a 'T' by Charles Dance, but in fact he was the one who decided very early that code breaking in this war required mathematicians and engineers. In earlier years, decoding had been the province of linguists and translators. Not this time. Likewise, running crossword puzzle competitions to recruit personnel was his, not Turing’s, brainchild. Nor do I think the beard is right for 1942. None of the pictures I could find show him with a beard in the 1940s.

Colossus was indeed a digital computer but it was neither designed nor used by Turing but by others. Turing devised and built another device, but the film is 'based on a true story' so the slather is open.

Many reviewers have focused on Turing’s homosexuality, and it certainly was the man. For the one-eyed there is not enough emphasis on that, no doubt, but to this viewer it seemed partly anachronistic, i.e., the references were too explicit for the time when homosexuality was the love that did not (dare) speak its name. The very word itself in 1942 would have not always been understood. Having said that, there was plenty of emphasis on it, though Turing suffered also from autism, and code-breaker he might be, but he could see double meanings in conversation, a fact that is very nicely presented in the scene in the pub. There was also paranoia in the mix.

There is no historical reason to believe that Turing made any decisions about the use of the material. Disclosure by using the intelligence, this was a command decision made at the very top. though Turing may have realised the implications of acting on the information but it hardly seems consistent with his complete self-absorption most of the time. Making a member of the inner circle, who apparently does nothing, a relative of a sailor on a convoy was a very midday soap opera touch. Every ship had brothers and sons on it, a good many wives, sisters, and daughters, too. ‘Enigma’ plays this straight and the result is all the more powerful when the senior naval officer implicitly orders his men to their deaths for the greater cause.

It seems very unlikely to me that a one page letter from Turing to Churchill would have uncorked a £100,000. Perhaps Leo Szilard, Churchill’s science advisor, interceded, but we will never know in ‘The Imitation Game’ where Turing is the singular Atlas on whose shoulders the world rests. On the same page the confrontation after the door is kicked in seems almost childish in its resolution where the messenger from the Home Office without word of dialogue has the authority to nod to a six month extension but mutely accepts a one month edict instead. Hello! It does not work anything like that.

Turing did write to Churchill at one point to ask for more clerical staff, and Churchill did reply immediately for ‘Action this day.’ Based on a true story they say. Hmm.

I found the chopping back and forth through time from 1928 to 1942 to 1955 confusing and distracting. The only reason the schooldays of 1928 were there in the end was to explain the name Christopher on the last contraption Turing built. It was unnecessary to the story.

Benedict Cumberbatch strives to save the day and nearly does. He does not need that backstory of 1928 to be confused, arrogant, inept, autistic, brilliant, frightened, determined, lost, secretive, brassy, paranoid, unpredictable, lonely in a crowd, and more. He did them all by turns and at times a couple at once, riveting.

Turing,jpeg Alan Turing

The female lead by comparison goes through the motions without ever quite inhabiting the part, made more difficult for being underwritten. She becomes nothing more than a plot device. Joan Clarke in fact became Deputy Head of Hut 8 which housed the first Colossus, but you’d never know it in ‘The Imitation Game.’ And she did not secure this position by patronage from Turing, to be clear. By the way she wore glasses, as did Kate Winslet in ‘Enigma.’ Hooray for Four Eyes!

The idea that the air is full of secrets is quite an idea and I wished the film makers had scrapped the CGI warfare, which was uniformly poorly done, for something creative. Would there not be a way to show those messages passing through the air like tracers and being netted at British listening stations. Now that would excite any viewer. Maybe something like this map of transponders on European air traffic.

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There are several scenes of Turing running and he was a Olympic class distance runner, who failed in an Olympic try out because of an injury. One of his many personal eccentricities was to run to London for meetings, carrying a back pack with clothes. Another was to chain his perfectly ordinary tea mug to the radiator.

The imitation game is still a test for artificial intelligence pretty much as described in the police interview room where Turing breaks the Official Secrets Act he signed in 1939 to tell the plod all.

The Zimmerman telegram was decoded and acted upon in 1917 by a team that included Alastair Denniston. A feeble effort was made to hide its source, and the Germans continued to use the same code. More intelligence from broken codes was used, and the German continued to use it. Even when the pretence of hiding the sources was dropped, they continued to use it. Why? Because it was a German code and so it was the best. It was unbreakable, despite the evidence that by the middle of 1918 the Allies were reading every radio message. See Barbara Tuchman’s marvellous book ‘The Zimmerman Telegram’ (1985) for tale of his Teutonic arrogance and folly matched only by that of the United States.

Another little gem from SBS Television, this one from France.

A la suite d'un accident de voiture, Arthur est plongé pendant quelques heures dans un coma. Durant sa phase d'éveil, dans un délire verbal, il exprime des phrases incohérentes qui trouvent leurs racines directement dans son inconscient. A son réveil, il est face à une curieuse énigme : Que faisait-il la nuit sur cette route, proche de Cherbourg?

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The title is perfect, once you get it, and as soon as it is said it clicks. The Black Box, c'est toi. Nice, very nice. The layers of reality and illusion are nicely done and the preoccupation with the brother begins to seem strange, and it is.

At first it seemed to be the story of an amnesiac who sets out to investigate himself, to recover his memory, as in a detective story, but it drifts away from that to science fiction or fantasy with the masked ninja. Even so, compelling viewing. It remains a study of unresolved guilt and obsession unleashed. Perhaps the larger purpose is to challenge the borders between reality and illusion but it does not succeed at that.

Juan Garcia’s many transformations from bland, sad, angry, confused, disoriented, lost, forgiving are worth the 90 minutes. He is in virtually every scene and carries the film. He is a superb actor and when we watched another SBS movie later I missed his depth, variation, and intensity compared to the callow actors in the next film who were so clearly going through the motions. Garcia believes what he is doing and makes the viewer believe it, too.

I recorded it because I saw that Richard Berry was the director and that it featured the ever versatile Juan Garcia.

Garcia I got to know when he played Adamsberg in a film based on one of Fred Vargas’s superb novels, altogether very fine that one,’Pars vite et reviens tard’ (2007) from ‘Have mercy on us all.’ That title in French is an idiom like ‘scoot and come back later’, and has nothing to do with the title of the book which is the same in both languages. Go figure. I cannot think of English equivalent to this idiom, though no doubt there is one I just cannot recall.

Richard Berry took his place in my mental pantheon with ‘C’est la vie’ (1990), another gem, directed by Diane Kurys, in which he played one of the parents, with only one scene but that was cut glass. I have kept my eye out for him ever since. He has a long list of credits including “Tais-Toi’ (2003).

The tag line on the poster above, 'it is necessary to forget' is perfect. It also reminds me of that old maxim that successful people have short memories. They forget their failures and mistakes and keep going. Selective memories is more accurate, but the point is not to dwell on mistakes, errors, and failures, and to keep going. When you quit, the others win.

I see that on the IMDB 'La Boîte Noire' scores a miserly 5.8/10. Well that confirms a conviction that most people do not recognise quality.

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Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.
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