ECS 20 – Movie-Day Films – Fall 2021

Welcome to the first-ever ECS20 Movie Day! For it I have selected five short films. I hope you enjoy them, and that one or more sticks with you. When you are leaving, please grab some vegan cookies that I baked.

Annotated film list

  1. Bach Calligraphy (2013) (Stephen Malinowski) (3:07).
    To be played on a loop as people are entering the room. When we hear work of Bach, it routinely feels mathematical, whether we can justify that feeling or not. I liked Malinowski’s animation for punctuating and emphasizing that feeling. There is an understated elegance to his lines and curves, these echoing the understated elegance in the composition itself. The piece of music is Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major (BWV 1007). If you watch other work by the same videographer you can see his disparate attempts to capture visually that which is transpiring musically.

  2. The Nine Billion Names of God (2018) (Dominique Filhol) (14:32).
    The film is based on a 1953 short story by Arthur C. Clarke. Like all good science fiction, the short story is more focused on human concerns than technology. Supported by beautiful cinematography, the film felt icy and disturbing as it marched towards its inevitable end. The Dalai Lama himself is said to have found the short story “very amusing”. Maybe you will, too.

  3. X+Y Clip: 20 random cards (2014) (Morgan Matthews) (2:51).
    This is a brief clip from the feature-length film A Brilliant Young Mind (also titled: X+Y, or x+y). The film is about a British boy, a math prodigy, who is being prepared for the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). I liked the clip because, first of all, the particular problem it asks is a perfect one for ECS 20 (if I had seen the clip a week or two earlier it might have wound up on a problem set). But more than that, in less than three minutes it managed to capture the social anxiety and alienation of the young protagonist, even as it hinted at the teacher’s insensitivity. Little touches like Nathan dropping the chalk seemed perfect.

  4. Music And Measure Theory (2015) (Grant Sanderson, YouTube alias “3Blue1Brown”) (13:12).
    This video takes a result we have done in class—how to enumerate the rational numbers—and does something super interesting with it. First, enumerate the rationals r1r2,  in [0,1] and encase each ri by an an open interval of length, say, 1/10i. These intervals cover all of the rationals in [0,1] yet the sum of their lengths will be 1/9, which is way less than 1. That is already amazing—almost paradoxical. Yet the videographer’s real goal is to relate this to music, using this bit of measure theory to provide insight as to why some pairs of notes sound harmonious together, while other pairs sound cacophonous.

  5. Prosopagnosia (Hugo Keijzer) (2012) (15:52).
    Students know that I am face blind because I acknowledge it on the syllabus. While I do not know of research establishing a connection between prosopagnosia and a proclivity towards abstract thought, I have long assumed that, at least for me, the two were intimately connected. I wonder what the protagonist of Keijzer’s film could do for a living that is not connected to math! I thought his film did a great job not just with its perfect ending, but in capturing some of the angst that goes with the territory of being profoundly face blind. Keeping the video visually dark, in shades of black and a bit of brown, was an especially smart move.