Tuesday, 29 October 2019

"The True Da Vinci Code" Lecture.

The Embassy of Italy in Wellington in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney and the University of Auckland was pleased to present a lecture by the Italian mathematician, logician, writer and expert of the history of science, Piergiorgio Odifreddi. The lecture took place at the University of Auckland, at the Owen G. Glenn Building.

The word polymath comes to minds when the name Leonardo da Vinci is mentioned. He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time to come out of the Renaissance period, known for The Mona Lisa (the most famous of his works and the most popular portrait ever made), The Last Supper (the most reproduced religious painting of all time), and his Vitruvian Man drawing (regarded as a cultural icon). His paintings and preparatory drawings—together with his notebooks, which contain sketches, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting—compose a contribution to later generations of artists rivalled only by that of his contemporary Michelangelo. Although he had no formal academic training, many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the "Universal Genius" or "Renaissance Man", an individual of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination." He is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. Revered for his technological ingenuity, Da Vinci conceptualized flying machines, a type of armoured fighting vehicle, concentrated solar power, an adding machine, and the double hull. He is also sometimes credited with the inventions of the parachute, helicopter, and tank. He made substantial discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, geology, optics, and hydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had little to no direct influence on subsequent science.

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death, the lecture explored the theme of The true Da Vinci Code. The 2003 Dan Brown novel, The Da Vinci Code, is just the last chapter of the secular path which led to the association of the figure of Leonardo to words like 'genius', 'superlative intellect' and 'visionary': a journey celebrated around the world this year on the occasion of the five hundredth anniversary of his death.

Like with any journey, we must go back to the beginning. Da Vinci was born on either 14 or 15 April 1452 in Vinci, Republic of Florence (present-day Italy) as Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci. Odifreddi then remarked a quote from the Russian literary giant, Vladimir Nabokov, in which he said "There are three ways of looking at a painting, a reading a book or a theorem. The fist is the infantile; the way a boy or a girl would look at a painting or reading a book in which they are struck by the story of the painting or the book... Then there's the adolescent; the way a mature viewer or reader is intrigued by the message of the painting or book when viewing them in order to understand how the mind of the creator works.." Odifreddi used Da Vinci's Annunciation and The Last Supper as examples, two pieces of art in which one can notice, when viewing with the adolescent eyes, intentional lines which are organised to create a one-point perspective. This is known as Linear Perspective, a method in Renaissance art that was coined by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1415. This exemplified not only his artistic eye but also his mathematical mind. However, Da Vinci would prove unsuccessful with the former example due to a lack of rudimentary mathematical knowledge, as well as of the Divine Proportion/Golden Ratio. Since he lacked formal education in mathematics, contemporary scholars mostly ignored Leonardo the scientist. In the 1490s he studied mathematics under Luca Pacioli and prepared a series of drawings of regular solids in a skeletal form to be engraved as plates for Pacioli's book Divina proportione, published in 1509. Da Vinci completed over sixty drawings for Pacioli. Da Vinci spent the last four years of his life in Amboise, Kingdom of France (present-day France), until his death on 2 May, 1519. Today, the house now serves a museum where his works are preserved for display.

All the qualities that Da Vinci possessed, and was celebrated for, can be said for Odifreddi. Born on 13 July, 1950 in Cuneo, he is an Italian mathematician, logician, and aficionado of the history of science, as well as being extremely active also as a popular science writer and essayist, especially in a perspective of philosophical atheism as a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics. In addition, he is philosophically and politically near to Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky. Indicated in his writings, he has repeatedly manifested his opposition to US policies, in particular against that of George W. Bush and Israel. In 1973, Odifreddi received his Laurea cum laude in mathematics in Turin; he then specialized in the United States, at the University of Illinois and UCLA, and in the Soviet Union, at Novosibirsk State University. He taught Logic at the University of Turin and Cornell University. In 2011 he won the Galileo Award for Scientific Dissemination.

Film Review: "The Dead Don't Die" (2019).

"The Road To Survival Could Be A Dead End" in The Dead Don't Die. This zombie horror comedy film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. In the sleepy small town of Centerville, something is not quite right. The moon hangs large and low in the sky, the hours of daylight are becoming unpredictable, and animals are beginning to exhibit unusual behaviors. News reports are scary, and scientists are concerned, but no one foresees the strangest and most dangerous repercussion that will soon start plaguing Centerville: the dead rise from their graves and feast on the living, and the citizens must battle to survive.

During production of their last effort Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Tilda Swinton gave Jarmusch the idea of doing a zombie movie. George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) served as an influence. By July 2018, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, RZA, Swinton, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, and Tom Waits were cast in a zombie comedy with Jarmusch penning the script and to direct. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in Fleischmanns, Elizaville, Margaretville, Ancram, and Catskill, New York.

The film features an ensemble cast the includes Murray, Driver, Sevigny, Buscemi, RZA, Swinton, Glover, Jones, Perez, Kane, Gomez, and Waits. In the time-honoured Jarmuschian fashion, the few things that happen in the film happen very slowly, but the dialogue is always gloomily amusing, and Murray and Driver's delivery of the gags is as cold and crisp as footsteps in fresh snow. Murray, Driver and cast play their characters not as blasé hipsters but, rather, deeply reflective, almost hopeless fools who seem to have decided that the zombie apocalypse is something they can handle.

Worth watching for Murray and Driver's performances alone, The Dead Don't Die finds writer-director Jim Jarmusch adding a typically offbeat entry to the zombie genre. The film cleverly balances scares and witty satire, making for a bloody good zombie movie with loads of wit. The film is side-splitting, head-smashing, gloriously gory horror comedy that will amuse casual viewers and delight genre fans. Instead of focusing on the Undead and trying to get the laughs there, it treats the living characters as sitcom regulars whose conflicts and arguments keep getting interrupted by annoying flesh-eaters. Though it is not the perennial downtown filmmaker's best work which it shares a sense of noise, heady, perilous passage. However, the real pleasure of the film is in its languid droll cool and its comedic portrayal of the zombie apocalypse, which is now our number one scenario in the inevitable event of us facing the zombie apocalypse. This is a film that finds horror not in the extreme, but in the mundane. That alone makes it a worthwhile entry in a genre that it both inhabits and rises above. The film is a droll, classy piece of cinematic dandyism that makes the Walking Dead cycle redundant in one exquisitely languid stroke.

Simon says The Dead Don't Die receives:

Also, see my review for Paterson.

Sunday, 27 October 2019