The background info is in http://www.playbill.com/cgi-bin/plb/theatre?cmd=show&code=B39&selector=Broadway -- however, I can jot that down to this node if necessary.

Contact, from Lincoln Center Theatre (not the movie), has its reasons why it has received the "best musical" for this year's Tony Awards. I've seen a dance show before in Broadway, being Fosse: A Celebration in Song and Dance, but I didn't like it well not because of the Fosse choreography but because of the lack of a story or at least a narrative about Mr. Fosse's career.

Contact has three stories, each with the theme of contact (that is, to touch) with another human being. Swinging, a story based on the 1768 painting The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. A woman (Stephanie Michels) on a swing plays with her aristocrat lover, but the playing becomes a moment to reach or a passionate grab by her servant (Scott Taylor). The story was more of an appetizer, to be "dancey" but less "traditional" than expected.

Did You Move? is a ballet story about an abusive husband (Jason Antoon) and his wife (Karen Ziemba -- who won a Tony award for her role in this show) in a night in an Italian restaurant. I had the urge to call the husband a Jabroni, perhaps chanting asshole, but I'll put that aside. When the husband gets away from the dinner table, expecting his wive "not to fucking move," she starts daydreaming, to dance and to be silly with the two couples around her. She starts to dance with the headwaiter (David MacGillivray), to look at him, to flirt, to yearn and reach for the nearest human being who is not that husband. The wife became as playful as the real Ms. Ziemba herself (from Chicago: The Musical and The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936), to be so dreamy but so real when the husband came back to see her in the middle of the stage. The husband fights with the men of the restaurant, leading to him producing a gun underneath his jacket and a fight for that piece as well--ii..it.--a;o w4o3afasd90---(static, the kind when you tune a TV with bad reception...)

(click, click, click-click...)

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

--From the Spoon Boy (Rowan Witt) in The Matrix.

(Bzzzt--click, click, click-click--the review comes back on! However, a phone rings with a blinking red light...)

--The last story (Contact) is about one Michael Wiley (actor Boyd Gaines -- he received the Tony Award for best featured actor in this show), an advertising executive who has won a Clio Award (again) but is down on the dumps. He knows how to make good ads, but at the expense of his health. He never sees his therapist, and he was drunk for the award show. He goes back home wanting something... to kill himself. But he dropped his sleeping pills and can't even make a good noose, so he has nowhere to go but out to some dive with swing dancers of all kinds. It reminds me of myself in college, where all of the "normal" people can dance and can look good at it excepting me. But that is when the Girl in the Yellow Dress (Deborah Yates) comes in.

What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are. Know you are. -- Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix), when he was testing Neo's saying "I know kung fu."

It was a rough trip for the ad-man to dance with the Girl, being that bigger men and playas are all around her. Mr. Wiley's life flashes with his loneliness, to his therapist on the phone, the complaining neighbor downstairs, and back to the dive with the Girl. But this trip is worth it. He'll fly. He'll fly.

The music is all recorded, from Tchaikovsky, bit of Bizet, and some Squirrel Nut Zippers and Beach Boys for good measure. This was the source of a big debate about the nomination of thie show as a musical. However, the big show has received the award (Best Musical) as well as Ms. Ziemba and Mr. Gaines (best performance by a featured actress and actor in a musical).

Contact is a great show. It's not a light little dance play, nor it's a big musical. It's a bit of both. It's more of an anthology of stories about wanting human contact (from the choreographer Susan Stroman) and reality/non-reality.

To deny our own impulses... is to deny the very thing that makes us human. -- Mouse (Matt Doran) from The Matrix.

Uttered loudly out the door by pilots of prop aircraft to alert anyone who should be near by that he is going to start the crafts props spinning and to stand away. A good pilot is a safe pilot, so you may notice that they are trained to do this regardless of how desolate and empty the air field is. A suitable replacement for contact is "clear" or "clear prop".
To respond to deep thought's writeup, it should be noted that a lot of the technical details were dumbed down severely in order to adapt Carl Sagan's book to the big screen.  I remember when I saw the scene where they discover the primer in the movie theater, and I had to restrain myself from shouting at the screen, "Oh come ON!  Putting the pages together three-dimensionally would've been one of the first things any scientist worth his salt would have tried!"

I just read the book for the first time last night, and was extremely gratified to find out that, in the book version, spatially organizing the pages in 3D was one of the first things the scientists tried.  The primer in this version was hidden through phase modulation, something the scientists might at least plausibly have not been looking for.

But yes, the scene in the movie was much more dramatic.  :P
 

The movie was great--I think it really should have won Best Picture in '97--but as with so many other things, the book is even better.

Contact is a movie I absolutely love, despite my friends’ occasional mockings. They think it is cheesy, namely the part where, when Ellie Arroway finally makes contact with the alien species, they take on the form of her dead father. But I feel like this isn’t all that tacky, after all it is not as though she is being reunited with her actual father. The aliens downloaded her memory and made themselves manifest in a form which would ‘make things easier on her’. Ellie’s father, I wish I had one.

One thing touched upon often is the idea that if other planets do not support life, that if it’s just us, then the universe is an ‘awful waste of space’. Ellie says to Palmer Joss, “You know, there are 400 billion stars out there, just in our galaxy alone. If only one out of a million of those had planets, alright, and if just one out of a million of those had life, and if just one out of a million of those had intelligent life, there would be literally.. millions of civilizations out there.”

Palmer Joss was a religious counsellor, who considered himself 'a man of the cloth ... without the cloth' (an allusion to his problems with the whole celibacy thing). He questioned whether the world was fundamentally a better place, because of technology, and noted how through shopping at home, and surfing the web, we are all a little more empty and isolated. He said that he wasn’t against technology but against the men who deify it at the expense of human truth. One exchange that bent my brain was between Palmer and Ellie, after she told him she needed proof of a omniscient creator before blindly believing in it.

Palmer Joss: Did you love your father?
Dr. Eleanor Ann Arroway: What?
Palmer Joss: Your dad. Did you love him?
Dr. Eleanor Ann Arroway: Yes, very much.
Palmer Joss: Prove it.
Another thing that touched me was when David Drumlin tells Ellie, “I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that's an understatement. What you don't know is I agree. I wish the world were a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world.”
Ellie replied, “Funny, I've always believed that the world is what we make of it.”

I pine for a sky like the one at the end, the one the aliens created from Ellie’s memory to look like Pensacola. The sea was an unearthly pale blue with glitter thrown in it, the air rippled when you touched it and the sky had four distant suns, a quadruple system, each star a different colour. I loved, and hunger after the light quality those suns provide (damn yellow giant earth sun). And the sky was alive.. not cold as our sky sometimes feels. There were plentiful falling stars and countless colours.. the sky turned purple-ish in some areas. It was so beautiful compared to our simple silver stars hanging in a black nothingness. Less lonely.

The thing which got me the most, and which stifles my existential unease, slightly, is the part where the aliens tell Ellie:

”You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone. Only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we found that makes the emptiness bearable ... is each other.”




Other Information of Note:
Carl Sagan, the author and producer, died during the production of the film. He took great care to ensure that "science" was accurately depicted in the film.

The sounds heard during the film's opening shot include:

(This trivia from amazon.com)
DVD reviews: Contact - 1997 - Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Running time: 150 minutes.
MPAA: PG (language, partial nudity).
Region: 1 (USA, Canada)

Standard Features:

Special Features: DVD-ROM Features:
    none


There isn't really a comprehensive writeup here on the movie or the book, so here goes:

I've only seen the movie (own it on DVD). I keep meaning to pick up a copy of the book and read it, but busy busy, you know? WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

"Whatever it is, it ain't local."

Contact, originally penned by astrophysicist and all-around cool guy Carl Sagan, is the story of Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, an astronomer who lost her father at a very young age. This, combined with a strong propensity in her for math and science, led her to excel in the field. She gives up a illustrious career as a Harvard professor, etc. to join SETI and search for radio signals from intelligent life, though.

In the movie, she takes a trip to Puerto Rico to do research at Areceibo. She meets Palmer Joss, new-age religious guru who has no qualms about having a one-night stand with her. Shortly thereafter, her boss David Drumlin pulls her funding. She packs up and heads on the road to try and procure funding for a new SETI project at the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico. She conveniently leaves Palmer's number on the bedside table in Puerto Rico.

Of course, it wouldn't be a very good story unless she did eventually receive a signal from another intelligent race. It comes from the star of Vega. The finding of the signal was only the first hurdle. After a very interesting (for the technologically inclined among us) series of scenes where the astrophysicists analyze the signal for any deeper meaning, they discover that it contains plans for building a light-speed transport device. This is done with the help of S. R. Hadden, a ridiculously wealthy businessman who is Ellie's mentor of sorts. He funds her efforts at the VLA, and is kind of the grandfather/cohort to her. It's a very interesting relationship. Part of the story at this point is also the usual meddling, involvement, and naiveté of the U.S. government, who can't seem to see the bigger picture as all the scientists can. Palmer is back in the picture now, as a special religious advisor to the president (yeah, right). So is Drumlin, who tries to take all the credit for Ellie's discovery, despite having nothing to do with it. Palmer, in his very soothing, non-aggressive way, tries to placate Ellie's atheism (see the quote in dustfromamoth's writeup).

In the meantime, all the nations of the world have joined together to construct the fabulous transport device. Palmer serves on the committee which must select one human to ride in the pod of the transport as it does...whatever it may do. The choice effectively comes down to Ellie and Drumlin. Drumlin is selected solely on the fact that he admits his belief in God (though we're led to believe he, like Ellie, is truly atheist) while Ellie sticks to her guns and does not compromise her personal beliefs.

A religious terrorist suicide-bomber brings about the total destruction of the first machine, just minutes before its launch. Drumlin, and countless others are killed. It's a few days later when Ellie is informed, by Hadden, that the government actually built a second machine off the coast of Japan, and they want her to go in it.

What follows is the 2001-esque, esoteric, abstract, SGI-style special effects laden romp through some wormholes. The Vegans take the form of her father to speak to her. She is told, essentially, what she always wanted to hear. However, the theory of relativity causes her to appear to be gone for a fraction of a second on Earth (which to her seemed to be 18 hours). The machine "did nothing", to the onlookers. All of the cockpit recording instruments recorded only static. The only proof of the journey Ellie took is what she tells people.

This is where the whole thing gets metaphorical. Ellie, previously the hard-line atheist, is now telling the government panel investigating the "machine scam", to take everything that she says on her word. The panel suspects Hadden of essentially fabricating every last detail on the plan for whatever reason he had. (Hadden conveniently dies a few hours after Ellie's voyage). The key point is when Michael Kitz, the military advisor (who resigns and leads to the inquiry after Ellie's trip), says in front of a whole mass of government officials, "Are you saying we should just take all of this.....(very long pause for emphasis)...on faith? Basically, Ellie's gospel of the journey she took and what she was shown is analogous to Palmer's efforts to make her see the existence of God. It's a movie as much about the contact between humans and a mysterious, unseen alien race, as it is about the personal genesis of one person from athiest to...not necessarily Christian, but to one who is no longer adverse to believing in a higher power.

Needless to say, it had a very profound impact on me.

Found on Phish's 1988 release Junta, this track was an instant classic, not just for its inanely silly lyrics, but a musical feel and style that is, in a word, brilliant. Encompassing jazz, funk, and even childrens' songs, even if you don't usually like Phish, this track will get you hooked. Coming in at a meager (for them at least) 6:41, the song still manages to show the broadness of sound that has made Phish famous. If you want to like Phish, or if you want to get someone hooked on them, this is the first track to play.

Starting off with Mike strumming bass chords, interspersed with Trey noodling on light chords starting at 0:18, Page comes in at 0:33 with gentle chords on the piano. At 0:48, Fishman kicks in with the rest of the band as they slide into a gentle bossa nova. This part of the song, while executed perfectly, has the simplistic feel of a high school jazz band

It begins with this simple chorus:

The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
The car is the thing on the road
That takes you back to your abode

1:22 Page plays a wicked bossa nova piano solo, with just a dash of silliness. At 1:57, the main lyrics come back in, a little funkier.

chorus

2:28 Key change up a whole-step, and the song gets a little funkier with more wild bassline.

The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
The tires are the things on your car
That make contact with the road
Bummed is what you are
When you go out to your car and it's been towed

3:03 After a little funky riff on bass for 8 times, they bounce into an all-out jam, with typical Mike bass popping and thumping and a rocking piano solo by Page. At 4:05 everyone falls out except Mike strumming bass chords again with typically Phishy harmonies.

I woke up one morning in November
And I realized I love you
It's not your headlights in front
Your tailpipe, or the skylight above you
It's the way you cling to the road
When the wind tries to shove you
I'd never go riding away
And come back home without you

4:37 A slow build up begins back into the main section with the jazzy bossa nova feel, this time, a litle funkier.

chorus

5:41 now a group of children joins them in singing the main verse,

chorus

And one more time with the children, laughing and giggling all the way through, for good measure.

chorus
At this point, the song bleeds out and fades into the following track on the album, Union Federal (This is only, of course, on the Elektra records version. On the original cassette, this was the last track)
NOTE: Edited on 9 May 2005 for copyright compliance with the permission of the author.

CST Approved

A contact, within British Army terminology is used to express an engagement by enemy forces. Usally some one shooting at you, but it might be from mines or other weapons.

usally after a contact, an verbal report will be made to the commander of the patrol (or what ever unit is in contact). A Radio Message is then sent - Contact! Wait Out!

Contact, written by Carl Sagan in 1985, is a novel centered around the discovery of the first scientifically-verified extraterrestrial communication. The book was adapted for screen in 1997, was directed by Robert Zemekis and starred Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.

The movie version of Carl Sagan's book is a sappy piece of crap. The science is too stilted. The scenes of Ellie's childhood are straight out of a made-for-afternoon-TV kids' show. The excitement, too artificial. Everything about it seems forced. Nothing is natural. And I still watch it over and over because it reminds me of the book which I remember and love.

For all of his raging skepticism about things non-physical, Carl Sagan managed to write a book of such perception and sensitivity one must conclude that in his self-examination he did not dismiss the spiritual aspects of human existence. At the minimum, he gave it serious thought. As a philosopher, he conjured scenarios for the existence of the soul and the Creator the more scatter brained among us could hardly conceive.

No crystal-toting new-ager could have developed the story "Contact". It took a scientist to explain with numbers how our hearts may actually work. It took a scientist to envision a sequence of events which would "prove" in four dimensional space-time what due to a many-dimensional character is otherwise unprovable.

Science is the technique by which we make human experience transferable between us with specificity. When something is experienced which cannot be transferred to other people, it cannot be science. Religious experiences typically fall into this realm. Anything associated with feeling. Interpretation. With intuition. With all those aspects of being human we take for granted every day that in the brilliant light of analysis are nothing short of miraculous -- those things are not science.

Carl knew that, and yet he hypothesized his fiction (where it was safe for him to do so) that it might be impossible for human scientists to encode the meaning of life within the framework of their scientific method. That the "meaning of life", contact with alien intelligences, or with God, may involve something deeply personal and not-transferable.

"I can't prove it, but I know it happened," Ellie says.

"If you can't prove it, how do I know you didn't make it up?" asks her inquisitor.

Answer: she can't. But because she's a scientist and knows her own powers of reason and skepticism, she refuses to disbelieve. And this is the brilliance of Sagan's plot. Science is about discovery, and relating those discoveries to others. What if mankind's place in the universe dictates that some universal discoveries can only be made with the inner self? It invalidates them as science, but does it invalidate them completely?

The essence of the book is left out of the movie. I'm sure the filmmakers did this to make the product consumable. Movies about scientists are a tough sell unless the scientist is mad, building a bomb or a monster. Filmmakers have to be careful not to appear to be talking down to an audience who will not be scientific, and who are inherently self-conscious they don't measure up intellectually. This can happen unintentionally by failing to simplify difficult plot points. By relying on subtlety instead of explosions.

"Contact" includes the explosions. The in-your-face "We're here" signal from a superior intelligence. And the inevitable denial followed by suspicion followed by paranoia that would/will inevitably occur when mankind first learns he's not the only kid in God's playground.

There are theories about what will happen when people first consciously apprehend extraterrestrial life. They range from a complete dissolution of civilization as we know it, to the undermining of the world's great religions, to nothing. The former theories are written, and world leaders have taken them under advisement. Carl Sagan's version of what happens is probably much less tragic than reality could be, but then, Carl's characters believe in the fundamental goodness of mankind, and that our mere existence is evidence of our ownership of our place in the universe.

After all, why would an alien intelligence capable of contacting us bother to contact us? Why would beings capable of interstellar travel await an archaic electromagnetic transmission before initiating a dialog? If you can traverse light-years and teach proto-apes to transcend space time with machinery why do you need to intercept and play the record on the Voyager spacecraft to figure out how to communicate?

Maybe you've been talking to us all along. Maybe you send a signal to get our brains working in one direction we're used to working, so that when the time is right for us, we get past our denial and paranoia, and realize you've been talking all along. And some of the time we thought it was the wind, and some of the time we thought it was ghosts and some of the time we thought it was God.

The key part of the book which is given all of a 6-word quip by Jodie Foster in the film, is exactly that.

In the book, Jodie's character needs to find a source of perfect randomness. White noise. She needs a random signal so that she can compare the "static" she gets from her radio telescopes to sense for something that seems constructed. Non-random signals may appear random for a while but over long periods of time may display organization. An organized signal is the signature of a construction, either natural or the result of intelligent life. Pulsars emit radiation like ticking clocks. Novae emit great bursts of energy. These things stand out against a perfectly random, purely thermal background. Intelligence, who is presumably attempting NOT to hide, will stand out even more so.

Ellie needs a random baseline. She compares her telescope signals and when they deviate from totally random, she knows she's found something worth looking into.

It's much harder than you might think to find something that is absolutely random. Everything we create is biased in one way or another. You could flip a coin a gazillion times and take the heads/tails events that come out and call that a string of random "data", but over some long period of time we might find the coin isn't perfectly symmetrical, so we get 0.0000001% more heads than tails. Or that the table the coin lands on isn't exactly flat. Or that our flipping thumb isn't perfect.

Similarly, our electronics all exhibit certain "biases" due to the qualities of our transistors and integrated circuits. Source of random signals that are pure to within millionths of a percent are extremely expensive (and highly prized by the intelligence community -- because a true source of random numbers can be used to create a code which is nearly impossible to break).

In the book, Ellie has programs that detect non-randomness in otherwise white noise coming from her radio telescopes. To calibrate her programs she needs a white noise source for the program to analyze. Ellie is working on a very limited budget so she uses her ingenuity to generate random patterns. Static on an untuned television channel, for instance, is reasonably random. If she sets her program on analyzing the TV static and it comes up with something, well, then her program has a bug. It should detect nothing. So she has to adjust her program to find nothing when it gets TV noise. Then she won't get all sorts of "false positives" when she sets her program on analyzing the telescope output.

The problem for Ellie in the book is that the program keeps finding candidate non-randomness in the TV white noise. Maybe it's not as random as she would like. So she looks for something else to generate randomness.

The number pi is irrational. When you calculate it, you get 3.14159... and the numbers after the decimal point go on forever, and they never repeat in sequence. We have simple computer programs you can run on your PC to generate pi to millions of decimal places. People have calculated pi to incredible numbers of digits. Billions and trillions of digits and the numbers seem random and never repeat.

The thing about pi is that it's a fundamental constant of the universe. The ratio of a circle's circumference to it's diameter is pi. It's built into the fabric of our reality. Humans didn't invent it. It was here when we got here.

In Sagan's book, when Ellie sets her analyzer on the random digits of pi it detects an intelligent "signal". She tries to recalibrate her program to not "see" the message. After all, it's simply an irrational number. There's no signal in the digits of a number.

But in fact, Ellie discovers an extraterrestrial intelligence has hidden a message in the digits of pi, the same message being received through the radio telescope. As if Sagan is saying that God has hidden the means to visit him within the very structure of the universe. And because we, ourselves, are part of the universe, those instructions must be inside us as well.



*

When Ellie comes back from her journey and can't prove to the scientific community that she's gone anywhere, there's a huge segment of the population who's willing to believe her. The regular people. The religious people. Anyone who's seen a ghost or a baby born is ready to say to her that they understand. Things happen inside you and just because you can't transfer that experience doesn't mean it didn't happen, or that you're suffering from a mental illness, or that it isn't something other people might experience one day.

The wise men and poets have been saying this for eons. And all true scientists have had those moments of absolute ecstasy when nature reveals itself to them in the most intimate setting. When the mind clicks and the realization is made that something - is - happening.

I have hope that in "Contact" Carl was intending that one day his chosen profession would find a way to codify experience of the infinite in a way that could be accepted without distrust or disdain. Because without it, our intellectual growth is limited to that which the ego dictates instead of what God wrought.



*

I once saw Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan in a park in San Francisco. They were close, at the junction of the trail I was on. I was jogging with a friend in the Presidio. We rounded a grove of eucalyptus trees, and there were Carl and Ann, silently strolling down a path.

"That's Carl Sagan," I said to my lifelong pal, Ed, who was working as an anesthesiologist at Letterman Hospital in the Presidio at the time.

He said, "Yeah. How about that. Billions and billions." And we kept running.

Carl Sagan died the next year.

In The Culture, Iain M. Banks's fictitious future of a utopian society, Contact is the closest thing to a government that exists. It is an organized group of Minds, drones, and humanoids that exists to act as an intermediary between the Culture and the rest of the galaxy. It sends ambassadors to worlds that are have made First Contact and are immersing themselves in Galactic politics, to the galaxies older more established races and to worlds that have yet to make contact and may be many centuries from it. On those pre-involvement planets, Contact agents move in, as doctors or advisors offering seemingly miraculous help in moving that civilization toward a political climate that would favor pacifism, benign relations with other space-faring species, and eventually the utopia that the Culture itself enjoys.

Being members of a utopian civilization without scarcity, the typical Contact agent has got to be slightly more eccentric than others to jump into the sort of situations that Contact gets itself into.

The sole perk to the job is linked to the reason Contact exists in the first place. It's because they care about the future of the universe and they want other less enlightened sapients to be able to have all the benefits of their society. The perk, the reason Contact work is so satisfying, is that because Culture citizens have full control over their biology, they are able to live very long lives and thus are able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. They get to see the civilization they lived in, the princes and kings the advised, the patriarchs they taught to read, the democratic revolutions they began, succeed and make their worlds better. Now that is job satisfaction.

Many of its higher profile spy work, its insertions into pre-spaceflight civilizations, its really dangerous behind the scenes work is done by Contact's dirty tricks division, Special Circumstances.

Con"tact (?), n. [L. contactus, fr. contingere, -tactum, to touch on all sides. See Contingent.]

1.

A close union or junction of bodies; a touching or meeting.

2. Geom.

The property of two curves, or surfaces, which meet, and at the point of meeting have a common direction.

3. Mining

The plane between two adjacent bodies of dissimilar rock.

Raymond.

Contact level, a delicate level so pivoted as to tilt when two parts of a measuring apparatus come into contact with each other; -- used in precise determinations of lengths and in the accurate graduation of instruments.

 

© Webster 1913.

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