## The Poetry of Logical Ideas Curated by Clint Enns

Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 7:00pm

Winnipeg Cinematheque

“A return visit (newly modified) of last year’s smash a program which demonstrates the beauty of mathematics and/or mathematical thought in experimental film.

Featuring Norman McLaren’s 1971 film *Synchromy/Synchromie* (synchronization of image and sound in the truest sense) as well as Larry Kurnarksy’s *An Aesthetic Indulgence* about Nathan Mendelsohn, former chair of the University of Manitoba’s mathematics department. *An Aesthetic Indulgence* is about family, friends, wisdom, and the beauty that changes the world. Also included is Eric Martin’s *Flatland*, Phillip Stapp’s *Symmetry* and *Donald in Mathmagic Land*. The highlight of the evening is Clint’s brilliant spoken and visual essay, *Representations of Mathematics in Cinema* including both good and bad examples of mathematics in mainstream cinema.” – Dave Barber

**What is the Relationship Between Mathematics and Film?**

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”

– Max Wilhelm Dehn in the Mathematical Intelligencer (vol. 5, no. 2)

In short, experimental filmmakers often use mathematical concepts (both to create their films and in their films) and they often demonstrate the beauty of mathematics and mathematical thought through their films. In addition, mathematics and film making are both processes of abstraction, that is, they are both the process of removing from ideas their dependence on real world objects. Filmmakers and mathematicians use abstraction to simplify and/or generalize complex ideas.

The process of discovering patterns/structure is also mathematical in nature. Experimental filmmakers often create patterns/structure in their work in order to allow the active spectator to discover these patterns/structure. The discovery of patterns/structure will often lead the active spectator to other, often more complex, revolutions since the process of discovering these patterns/structure forces the spectator to ultimately contemplate the work.

The films in this screening have been selected because they either:

i) demonstrate mathematical concepts

or

ii) demonstrate the beauty of mathematics and/or mathematical thought.

Synchromy/Synchromie (Canada, 1971, 7 minutes) – Norman McLaren

Here are pyrotechnics of the keyboard, but with only a camera to “play the tune.” To make this film, Norman McLaren employed novel optical techniques to compose the piano rhythms of the sound track. These he then moved, in multicolor, onto the picture area of the screen so that, in effect, you see what you hear. It is synchronization of image and sound in the truest sense of the word.

An Aesthetic Indulgence (Canada, 1985, 15 minutes) – Larry Kurnarsky

Nathan Mendelsohn is an “absent-minded professor” who goes to work because he loves it. As chairman of the University of Manitoba’s mathematics department, he indulges himself in the pursuit of mathematical excellence and is paid for it. This film is about what makes Nathan Mendelsohn a happy man, so it is about his family, his friends, his students, and his wisdom. It is also about the beauty he finds in the abstract and how that beauty changes the world.

Flatland (USA, 1965, 11 minutes) – Eric Martin

An animated short, narrated by Dudley Moore, that explores concepts from Edwin A. Abbott’s 1884 book, flatland: a romance of many dimensions.

Symmetry(USA, 1966, 10 minutes) – Philip Stapp

Stapp was one of the greatest animators working in the 1950-1975 era, using stylized, often pointillist abstract imagery, in a floating world sometimes surrealist, at other times reminiscent of Japanese “ukiyo-e” illustration. His spectacular symmetry is his greatest film, a fantasy of dancing images breaking apart, spinning and converging.

Representations of Mathematics in Cinema (Canada, 2008, 18 minutes) – Clint Enns

From Werner Herzog’s Enigma of Kaspar Hauser to Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate, Enns provides both good and bad examples of mathematical representation in mainstream, narrative cinema. In the context of this screening, Enns creates a juxtaposition between the way mathematics is presented in narrative and non-narrative cinema.

Donald in Mathmagic Land (USA, 1959, 27 minutes) – Hamilton Luske

In Donald in Mathmagic Land, Disney uses a reluctant Donald Duck to explore the beauty and usefulness of mathematics in our everyday lives. This is an excellent animated documentary that combines entertainment with education.

**NOTE:** despite being an educational film there is one minor mathematical error, that is, the mathematical constant pi is actually equal to 3.141,592,653,589,793… not “3.141,592,653,589,747, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

– Clint Enns