Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rebecca vs Madeleine, Mrs de Winter vs Judy

There are some similarities between the plots of the two Hitchcock's movies Rebecca and Vertigo, often considered amongst his best (the latter often as the best of all movies, actually).


In Rebecca Maxim loses her wife. We never see this woman but she is described as an extremely beautiful, intelligent and educated woman. In Vertigo Madeleine appears as an extraordinarily charming and elegant woman, whose loss Scotty, as Maxim with Rebecca, isn't able to go beyond.

In Rebecca, Maxim's new wife, who appears of humble origin, so humble we don't even know her name, struggles to bear the comparison with Rebecca, and it appears at first that Maxim is still bound to Rebecca's memory. The same happens in Vertigo: when Scotty meets Judy, he's struck by the girl resemblance with Madeleine, and Judy has to undergo the humiliating process of becoming Madeleine.

In both movies there is a deception. In the former movie we discover that Rebecca was actually an
indifferent woman incapable of love, in the latter we discover that Judy was actually posing as Madeleine to prepare the stage for a homicide.

In Rebecca Manderley, Maxim's rich and isolated residence, is crowded with high towers, while the tower of an isolated mission is the place of  turning point events in Vertigo.

In Rebecca the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, a very strict and severe woman, sets Manderley on fire. Mrs de Winter is able to flee safely for a happy ending. In Vertigo instead, a nun suddenly appears at the top of the tower, and Judy, trying to run away, falls down and dies. A sort of nun is intrumental for the end of both movies.

Finally, the acting styles of Joan Fontaine and Kim Novak bear some resemblance to each other. When they express anguish because the man they love appears to be bound to a woman they feel they can't compare to, they express it in a similar way. It may be be that Novak took inspiration from Fontaine while learning acting.

Sigmund Freud


If Hitchcock went over to the same themes twice, well, maybe it was because they were near to his heart.

These themes allow a psychological interpretation. The first woman is a man's mother. She's the beautiful, young, overwhelming woman a man meets just after birth. The latter woman is a real woman, humble and perfectible.
Alfred Hitchcock

The connection between the eyes, vision, and the early image of one's mother emerges in Scotty's acrophobia (vertigo), which is clinically thought to emerge because of an excessive prevalence of vision over the other senses. I should recall that Oedipus, as a self-punishment for killing his father and marrying his mother, blinds himself with two pins, as if vision were to be blamed. I also remark that Hitchcock, in one of the his last interviews, said he felt particularly happy and calm when looking to a clean horizon without the tiniest cloud, again stressing the role of vision in his mood, a vision of perfection without defects.

I may add that the isolated tower stands for male penis, and the meaning is that the incestuous relationship goes into troubles when it comes to sex. In Rebecca the towered isolated residence is destroyed at the end, meaning that Maxim gives up his screwed attitudes to accept life with a real woman (also in Vertigo there is a moment when it appears that Scotty and Judy may live happily together, but the chance is lost when Judy wears the necklace that reveals to Scotty the deception he was caught in).

The nun symbolizes that the obstacle to the improper relationship is of moral nature.

Finally, the deception may mean that maternal love, at least as it is seen and felt from the perspective of a child, is actually a deception, and that lingering too long on it, leads to troubles. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lesser minds

I would like to express my impression after reading the book "Ingegni Minuti - Una storia della scienza in Italia" ("Lesser minds - A story of science in Italy") by Lucio Russo ed Emanuela Santoni. I say impression because the authors don't put forward any hypothesis, they just describe facts, but sometimes facts speak for themselves.

The book is characterized by a remarkable historical depth and wealth of documentation. It goes over the full history of science in Italy, starting with the appearance of the first texts about the abacus and the rediscovery of classical science in the Renaissance, through the decadence of scientific investigation in Italy with the end of the XVII century, till the partial reprise the occurred after the unification and after the Second World War.

A thesis that underlies the whole book is that scientific investigation is greatly impoverished and can't flourish if it's separated from the technical and economical needs of the society in which it occurs.

Recovery after WWII

Coming to the point. After the Second World War, Italy recovers with surprising vigor. It's a period of great vitality in many areas, from cinema to literature, from industry to scientific research.

CNRN (Comitato Nazionale per la Ricerca Nucleare), later renamed CNEN (Comitato Nazionale per l'Energia Nucleare) is among the institutions that lead the technical and scientific endeavors. It is directed by Felice Ippolito. The ISS (Istituto Superiore di Sanità), directed by Domenico Marotta, takes Italian Biology to the forefront of international research.

Enrico Mattei
In the meantime, in the sector of energy sources, Enrico Mattei leads a campaign to search for oil and gas sources under the Italian soil and sea. At the same time it strikes direct contracts with producing countries in the Middle East, bypassing foreign established Corporations (the Seven Sisters).

Last but non least, Italian industry enters the most advance sectors, such as electronics. In 1959 Olivetti produces the first Italian computer, called Elea 9003.

A series of startling facts

At the beginning of the sixties, various unexpected events take place. Between 1962 and 1964, both Ippolito and Marotta are accused of fraud and discredited. On October the 27th 1962, Enrico Mattei dies when the airplane he was flying on is hyjacked and crashes. 

In 1964 Olivetti sells its Divisione Elettronica to General Electric, giving up the chance of competing in a scientific/industrial area then in frenetic expansion.

Buzzati Traverso
During that year, in April, Buzzati-Traverso writes on the newspaper L'Espresso:
"A new witch-hunt has been let loose in Italy, putting discredit on the hole scientific community and thus compromising a sector that, after many difficulties and struggles, was recovering well, and that, on the other hand, is essential for the country. What is being sought? That Italy remains outside of the great world movement of the scientific revolution? That the best scientists leave the country?"

In 1973 Giuliano Toraldo di Francia, a physicist, sums up the situation of science in Italy in these terms: "Italy is regressing instead of developing [è un paese in via di sottosviluppo, a humorous sentence difficult to translate]".


So, the impression I have after reading these facts, is the that at the beginning of the Sixties a deliberate policy was adopted to hold back Italy, far from the front line of scientific research and crucial industrial sectors, cutting the link between research and production, necessary for the health of both. Besides, it is not difficult to imagine the this unfortunate choice was born outside Italy, as other obscure events in the history of the country in those years. Who should Italians thank?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Campania felix

Back from a journey through Campania. I already miss it, were it not for the pizza and the coffee.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

If you do science fiction, please do it right

I'm watching Outland,  a 1981 film directed by Peter Hyams and starring Sean Connery.

In one of the first scenes (the second, actually) you see Jupiter as seen from Io. It occupies most of Io sky. So, I asked myself if it really looks like that.

Simple trigonometry yields the angle under which  Jupiter is seen:

r = radio of Io
R = radio of Jupiter
d = distance of the center of Io from the center of Jupiter

angle = 2 * arcsin (R / (d - r))

Looking up the data on the Wikipedia the result is

r = 1821 Km
R = 71492 Km
d = 41700 Km

angle = 19 degrees.

Note. If you don't feel at ease measuring size with angles, well, consider that Hellenistic Greeks already did it in the 3rd century B.C.. The approach was long misunderstood later, to be rediscovered and re-understood during the Scientific Revolution. The idea is that the angle is the apparent size: if you also know the distance than you'll know the real size too.

Which is a little less the one fourth of the angle (90 degrees) from the horizon to the point in the sky above you head.

So I think the movie is wrong. And, if you do science fiction, please do it right.

PS. This is how Jupiter should be seen from Io. Supposing you're watching the screen from 50 cm far, doing trigonometry the other way round, yields about 17.5 cm for the apparent diameter of Jupiter (I assembled three images using GIMP and did a perspective transformation of an Io image).

PSS. I asked Celestia, an open source 3D astronomical object visualization software. Here is the result. I was wondering if Europa and Ganymede, other two nearby Jovian satellites, could contribute to an even more appealing picture, but Celestia showed me that they actually appear as tiny spots from Io.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


This is Andy, I drew it as a new wallpaper for my own Android phone.