Space, realistic special effects, 1977. Words (and a number) more closely associated with the first Star Wars film. However there was another movie, albeit a short one, released the same year which was equally, if not more, mind blowing in its depiction of space.
Powers of Ten escaped my attention until recently but has instantly become one of my favourite pieces of filmmaking. Suddenly so many visual references to it in movies make sense.
Not only is it an impressive technical achievement, and one which still looks amazing 40 years later, but manages to put the universe in perspective with incredible mathematical accuracy. The camera zooms out from a 1 x 1m picture of a man and woman having a picnic in a park in Chicago at a rate of a power of ten each second. It reaches 1024m before it starts zooming back in at an accelerated rate. It slows down again when it reaches the hand of the man, zooming into an atomic level down to 10-16m.
Of course science has come a long way since 1977 and we can see a lot further in both directions, that doesn’t make the video any less awe-inspiring though.
It was directed by husband and wife architects, furniture designers and filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames and had its special effects designed by Alex Funke who also worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It took 13 months to complete the eight minute film.
An early prototype version made in 1968 is less polished but has the fascinating addition of a clock which shows how fast time moves on Earth in relation to the viewer who is moving close to the speed of light.
A computer generated remake was created in 1996, as part of a documentary entitled Cosmic Voyage, but lacks the magic of the 1977 version, and bits of the older movie look better. A great argument for the magic of practical effects over computer generated ones.
There are many reasons why old books are great. One is the smell, another is the feel and occasionally they’ll contain pictures that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. One of my favourites from a recent purchase, The Modern World Book of Flying (circa 1953), features advice on how to right a crashed flying machine.
Stout length of rope, sturdy volunteers, strong arms of the law… heave… got it. Advice to keep in mind when flying a Wright Brothers-style aircraft.
The book’s typical 1950s vision of space travel’s future (below) is also fun and there’s an interesting prediction by Dr. Werner Brown* that if “work began tomorrow on the construction of an inter-planetary programme, it would take at least ten years before man was in a position to launch the first passenger-carrying rockets”.
Sixty years later and we still haven't sent people to Mars, or any other planet, perhaps that’s because of the cost of said programme – a “conservative estimate” of £1,330,000,000.
And that’s in ‘50s money. According to the Historic Inflation Calculator that amounts to £31,442,264,000 today. Quite a lot considering NASA’s budget in 1958, the earliest one listed on Wikipedia (and then run through a currency converter), was just £319,350,827.83.
*Presumably the book means Dr. Wernher von Braun.
Spoon jar, jar spoon, spoon jar jar. Nonsense to people who’ve never heard of Tommy Cooper. For fans like me it’s magic. Easily amused by simple words such as those and bits of local trivia I was impressed to learn recently that Mr Cooper used to live in Exeter, from 1924 until 1933. I also felt compelled to seek out these local links to the comedian.
Tommy was just three when his family moved to Devon from Caerphilly, Wales. A quick Google search revealed that they lived in a house on Fords Road, number 3. It's just a short walk from St Thomas’ station, the best part of 3km from St David’s where I started from.
According to Tommy Cooper: Always Leave Them Laughing his mother would make Ice Cream in the summer and sell it from the front window of the house. Then when his parents got an ice cream van he would help them sell it down in Dawlish Warren.
3 Fords Road
For his education he went to the boy's section of the nearby Comrie House Prep School, which I couldn’t locate exactly. Exeter Memories suggests it was destroyed in the war and was located at the end of Isca Road, at the junction with Willeys Avenue.
However he also attended Mount Radford School for Boys which is easy to find, though a bit more of a trek from the main stations, located at 56 St Leonards Road. There’s apparently a plaque commemorating his time there in the school chapel though nothing outside.
Mount Radford School - 56 St Leonards Road
In the end it was just a trail of two places but cool for a Cooper fan nonetheless. Finding them made for an interesting Sunday afternoon walk and is definitely a must for any fans visiting Exeter. For anyone interested in seeking out the spots themselves there’s a link to download a Google Earth path below, which will show you my route “just like that”.
Not many tourist attractions could have their renovation turned into a unique new experience for visitors, which is as interesting as its regular state of openness, but it seems the National Trust has done just that with Dartmoor’s Castle Drogo.
Work commenced on the castle in 1911, and was completed in 1930, making it the last one to be built in the UK. The important thing is that it doesn’t feel modern and the rooms that are currently open give a great insight into how the classic castle feel was achieved.
It’s the little creative touches that make the new Drogo experience really special though. Original documents relating to the castle’s construction have been replicated on sheets of acrylic and attached to the walls at angles which make them look like they’ve been caught by a gust of wind blowing through the lofty hallways.
There’s also a photo opportunity based on the postcards collected by one member of the family (kind of like the Sgt. Pepper's album cover meets Edwardian ephemera) and in addition to this modern art in the form of a man walking through a wall (see below) that adds to the slightly surreal feel that’s been created.
As interesting as the National Trust’s properties can be it was a surprise to see how they dealt with the renovation work in such a creative, fun and modern way. Anyone thinking of visiting while the work is going on shouldn’t be put off as it definitely doesn’t lose anything in the interesting stakes and is a good chance to see what £11m worth of refurbishment looks like.
Mark is a freelance writer based in Devon specialising in gadgets, mobile technology and television. He mainly writes for other people but has two websites of his own, one is a blog about all things futuristic the other a children's poetry site.