Nov 23, 2016

Silence in Alfred Hitchcock films as a device for suspense

"There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."
              -Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock may be likened to Agatha Christie when their works in film and literature respectively are considered. The ‘Master of Suspense’ was as prolific as the ‘Queen of Crime Fiction’, and their similarity is not confined to the quantity of produced works alone, but both were equally successful in creating works of superior quality in a continuous manner for longer periods of time.

Our today’s topic of discussion is not the writings by Christie, but the films of Hitchcock. As everyone knows, suspense was the primary forte of the man of multiple cameos, and he was greatly successful in that genre. My true intention is to point out a technique that I noticed which Hitchcock employed to create a collective feeling of terror, anticipation, and excitement in his films; and the technique is – silence. A filmmaker who started his career in the silent era, who produced one of the first successful sound films in the form of Blackmail (1929) had every opportunity to be grown up as a moviemaker who knows how to use sound perfectly in his film.

Alfred Hitchcock 'Hitch'  (1899-1980)
While watching many of Hitchcock films I have noticed that he had the tenacity to add dead silence in places where it was least expected. It is striking to note that a film director, who was keen on generously filling many of the film portions, especially the beginning and end with flamboyant background music, chose to resort on total silence in some of the suspenseful key sequences. Critics many times mentioned the silence in the murder scene in ‘Blackmail’ movie in related discussions.

Another example of such voluntary silence is the gruesome murder scene in his later year success ‘Torn Curtain’. In a violent scene of this 1966 movie, Hitchcock stayed silent while a German guide was being murdered inside a seedy and solitary farmhouse.  The guide’s head was pushed by the slayers into a gas oven and what we can hear is just the controlled noise of the struggle.

But these two scenes have given us a horror or sad feeling rather than Hitchcock’s trademark suspense. I have noticed two scenes in two different films which were remarkable for the controlled use of sound where suspense was at its peak. The scenes featured no background score but very limited ambience. Since he believed in the anticipation of sound as a key of suspense rather than the sound itself, (as per the quote in the beginning of this article), we have every reason to believe that his intention was to create a multiplied mood of suspense in the spectators minds by simply keeping them wait for an unexpected sound. Have a look at the two scenes below:

The Theft Scene in Marnie (1964)

Marnie saw the last collaboration between Hitchcock and the beautiful Tippi Hedren, and also in this film we witnessed the latter pairing with the iconic James Bond actor, Sean Connery. Tippi was recently in the news when she repeated her former allegation against ‘Hitch’, how the master director sexually assaulted her during the shooting of this film. As a matter of fact, the blond Tippi was in the league of the perfect 'Hitchcockian' heroines in every manner. Let us leave these things aside. The psychological thriller Marnie featured Tippi Hedren in the avatar of a kleptomaniac in its title role. Hitchcock takes us to the peak of excitement with the careful use of sound in this film’s office theft scene. We are part of an office burglary 44 minutes into the film. When Marnie stealthily conducts the theft, even the clanking of the keys or a slight change in room tone is capable enough to scare us. See the scene below:

The Crop Duster Scene in North by NorthWest (1959)

This scene is famous for its intriguing visual presentation and a mysterious charm brought by suddenly shifting the area of action from an urban area to a totally rural dry farm land. Such a sudden jump catches our sense since it alienates us quickly from a locale which was familiar so far. Hitchcock’s most famous leading man Cary Grant (only after James Stewart in my viewpoint) is seen here waiting for a person where there is nobody. Only the occasional passing of vehicles and the chopper’s distant noise bring auditory relief to the spectators’ minds. Watch the scene below:

Tail-end: The Birds (1963) also has a sequence where the sound is greatly suppressed and silence is enhanced. But I find the above two sequences surpass the Birds scene in terms of the amount of anticipation.

Nov 17, 2016

RF Resonant Cavity Thruster (EmDrive) - Is it Impossible still?

The human is confined to the earth. The blue marble is his natural habitat, away from which, he has no destiny. Separation from consumable energy sources and close contact with strange atmosphere make the earthly life forms incapable of survival in space.

But the human is genetically adventurous. So they attempted space travel. The ancient and intrinsic humane curiosity about the celestial bodies gave way for his hunt to find similar planets that can sustain life forms. The adventure that started as a quick visit to the upper orbit levels eventually led him to land on earth’s natural satellite, the Moon. And now, he is on the lookout of possible other worlds where he can survive in an earth-like atmosphere before the earth becomes inhabitable anymore.

The Blue Marble, Earth's famous photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17.
Courtesy: NASA
Leave that story aside. Let’s now think about the historical evolution of human’s travel modes. The man who wandered completely unclothed around the forests reached an evolutionary landmark when he invented the wheel.  He ultimately learned to travel via the land, the water and the air using vehicles. The history says us that there were certain inventions which acted as the milestones of the growth of the human transport. The invention of the steam engine might be one such. The recently developed Hyperloop technology may be another one, which is another story. When humans developed rocket propulsion technology, it helped him to travel out of earth’s protective environment.

If the man is continuing his space expeditions, the existing rocket-propelled methods would become unreliable very soon, due to the cost involved. Factors to be considered here include the amount of fuel required for the initial launch from the earth and the cost for refuelling in case the plan is for an interplanetary travel (interstellar may be in the far future). Spacecraft once used is totally or partially unusable for a second expedition, which is another important factor in this regard. I am not ignoring the fact that we are planning a manned launch to the Mars with the existing rocket-propelled methods, but for how long we can rely on such costly methods? If an intelligent alien species is furtively watching our space expeditions, we are being constantly pooh-poohed by them for still depending on such age-old methods. I don’t believe in intelligent extra-terrestrials (aliens) by the way; my points regarding this are another topic, about which I might write later.

At this point, we have the concept of EmDrive or RF Resonant Cavity Thruster. The Emdrive (pronounced M-drive) is a device for transportation which requires no propellants. It is currently being built using a hypothetical method of converting microwave energy into thrust inside a closed chamber. Imagine a spacecraft that goes up effortlessly without any blast or cloud of smoke, and goes beyond the pull of earth’s attraction in a comparatively shorter span of time! That marvellous achievement will be the result of Em Drive’s successful construction. If you have seen movies about aliens, you might have noticed that in many cases the vehicles used by them are launched without any apparent thrust.

The man behind Em-Drive is Roger Shawyer. You can see here a video in which he explains his concept. I am just an amateur Physics enthusiast, sadly not an expert to understand fully what he details in the video.

Full interview: Roger Shawyer, Creator of EmDrive

There were many predecessors of EmDrive, one of them was called Cannae Drive (formerly Q-drive), and there were also some other claimed anti-gravity drives. Some of such devices are either under development or were stopped when found futile. Roger Shawyer’s Em Drive is operated by a thrust, which is the result of the reaction between the end plates of the waveguide used in it, and the electromagnetic wave propagated within it (and thus the name, Em Drive, which may be called Electromagnetic Drive).

EmDrive's Sample Flight Thruster. Courtesy:
Now, the sad part! The scientific world is mostly against this concept. They think this device will not work as it violates Newton’s Third Law, (which deals with the reaction that follows every action), and the theory of Conservation of Momentum. But, somehow, NASA takes Roger Shawyer seriously and they now seem to follow every development of EmDrive, though in a sceptic manner. A recent article which appeared in SPACE website also says this device might work, which is a lot of encouragement for the space enthusiasts. You may read the article in the below link:

The EmDrive may or may not work. But as a layman, I feel that it is high time that a revolution in space travel took place. As I had heard in somewhere before, the best shape that a spacecraft is to be built is that of a circular disc, as it is the best shape to skip through different atmospheres of varying gravity and pressure. (That’s why the UFOs always had a disc or circular shape?) If not EmDrive, probably a different device might soon be invented that would make the human species a spacefaring one, let us hope.

(Disclaimer: This is not a scientific article. The opinions in the article are the author's own.)

Nov 10, 2016

Will my Ireland travel video make me a videographer in Dublin?

From the time I started to live in Dublin, the capital city of the Republic of Ireland, I found my new environment as soothing and scenic. Nature is green and colourful everywhere, especially in summer and in autumn. The autumn, which falls in August, September and October months, may be the most beautiful season of all, and the following three months, November, December and January are part of the winter season as per the Irish Calendar (Gaelic Calendar).

Apart from the nature, Ireland is also home to several Victorian constructions and buildings, all remind us of the majesty of Gothic architecture. During my stay here, I could travel to several destinations in and around Dublin. Ireland’s second city Cork, Waterford, Swords (the place I live), Malahide, Howth Harbour, are some of the places I visited.

Wherever I travelled, I carried my small camera along with me and took pictures and videos. I edited the videos into a single video, and posted on my YouTube channel with the name ‘Dublin Delights – in a cut N’ Paste Nutshell’. Apart from the above destination clips, the parade took place as part of Irish National festival St Patrick’s Day Celebrations in a small town called Cappoquin, and the events held in connection with Ireland’s 100 years of Independence (RTE – Reflecting the Rising), are also given a place in the video. The short video mostly covers winter sights.

Dublin Delights – in a cut N’ Paste Nutshell

I happened to notice that Dublin is home to several small companies that offer videography and photography services. There are many production companies in Dublin, with skilled photographers and videographers. Many of such corporate video production companies might be offering wedding videos and photographs as a parallel service. So, I am repeating what I told in the beginning of this article, in a rather sceptic tone, will my Ireland travel video make me a videographer in Dublin?

Nov 7, 2016

My false memory associated with ten-pin bowling games

You might have heard the term ‘confabulation’ or ‘false memory’ if you are someone who takes an interest in psychological studies and topics related to mental conditions. I am not a professional in these disciplines, but my amateur interest in learning more about subjects that lack strong scientific support (Pseudo-sciences), have made me occasionally browse through internet grazing related knowledge.

False Memory (Confabulation), representational image
False memory is an occurrence when someone recalls an event which actually did not happen in their life, or when they recollect it in a false manner. Such disturbed memory is called Confabulation in medical terms, which require treatment in case it occurs in an individual more frequently.

That’s some technical and complex data I have given in the above two paragraphs; so let’s keep them aside, and be ready to listen to a story from my repository of personal memories. That means I wish to share a false memory example from my life, though it may not be quite the case.

Kerala’s golden city Kochi (Cochin) is now in a booming state, economically and in terms of infrastructure. More and more industrial hubs, big shopping malls (Lulu, Gold Souk, Central Mall, Nucleus Mall, and much more), and advanced travel options facilitated by metro rail project are now coming to Ernakulam. The shopping malls offer a great variety of opportunities to spend time and money lavishly.

Once I went to a shopping mall in Kochi. My memory does not say which mall was it, but I have a faint idea that I was accompanied by friends. While walking through luxurious corridors, I happened to notice a game zone, where different play areas were set with appropriate utilities. Some of the games featured virtual reality, mainly for kids to do a bike ride through untraveled scenarios and terrains using joysticks and video walls. There was a different area for bowling alley game, especially for the youngsters and adults to indulge in some physically engaging act.

This bowling game, which is also called the Ten-pin bowling, is a game in which the player throws, or rather rolls a bowling ball through a lane towards ten pins positioned at the end of the lane. I am not explaining the rules of the game here because you can see the bowling videos by simply googling. Probably, you may also be able to play free bowling games online, if you have a curious penchant for virtual games.

Bowling Alley Game
Seeing the bowling alley setup, I immediately jumped on to the bowling platform. Getting hold of the mighty balls, I started bowling aiming the ten targets those were automatically placed by the bowling game machine. My memory says, I enjoyed the game, and I left the area with my friends only after getting exhausted totally.

I have a slightly altered version of the above incident. If you have time enough, I suggest you better read the altered version also, since I need to do justice to the topic of this post as suggested in its title.

The incident on which the memory is routed is a few years old. It was very recently the memory of my bowling game experience stuck my conscience so sudden as if in the manner of lighting. Though my false memory says I played the bowling game, my intelligence says that the chance for the occurrence of my ten-pin bowling game experience is little. Especially since I am public shy, I might not have attempted anything that would have brought me attention in a crowded gaming zone of a shopping mall in Kochi.

Ten-pin Bowling (Skittles)
I immersed into my thoughts again, and I went through the hidden dark corners of my memories, taking deep breaths, I swam through the whirl of obsolete remembrances, and saw a faint impression of the bowling event, somewhere in the uncared and cobwebbed corners of my subconscious. I saw in the bowling alley area two or three young smart boys playing the game very actively and energetically. They threw the ball, rolled the ball through the bowling lane; they played the game one by one, by altering chances, until they fully capture the ten pins. Some of them achieved the ten pins in a single chance, and some of them took three or more chances to be successful, whereas one boy or two wasn’t successful at the end.

 I can’t still say this is the correct version of the event. But still, my practical intelligence says, this could be the probable one, especially since you needed to pay a certain amount to participate in games in the gaming zone. I might have stood there watching the boys playing the ten-pin bowling game. Years later, when I tried to recall this incident, my game watching experience coupled with my desire to play the game might have created a false memory in which I played the game.

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