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Friday, March 02, 2007

Tesla and The Prestige

- A publicity photo of a participant sitting in the Colorado Springs experimental station with his "Magnifying Transmitter". The arcs are about 22 feet (7 m) long. (Tesla's notes identify this as a double exposure.)

Last night I finally saw the film, The Prestige, starring Hugh Jackman and David Bowie. Most of you have doubtless seen it, so I'll restrict myself to discussing the one true life character in the movie ... Nikola Tesla.

- David Bowie plays Tesla in the movie.

Here's a video of the parts of the movie about Tesla - it begins with a magician (Hugh Jackman) talking to an assistant at Tesla's Colorado lab, then seeing a public demonstration of Tesla's work on electricity, shows Jackman's character meeting Tesla himself to ask him to build a teleportation device for his magic act, the destruction of Tesla's lab, and finally the delivery of the device ......

Wikipedia says of Tesla ...

Nikola Tesla (Serbian: Никола Тесла) (10 July 1856 - 7 January 1943) was a world-renowned inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer. He was born an ethnic Serb citizen of the Austrian Empire and later became an American citizen. He is best known for his revolutionary work in, and numerous contributions to, the discipline of electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Tesla's patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current electric power (AC) systems, including the polyphase power distribution systems and the AC motor, with which he helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

After his demonstration of wireless communication in 1893 and after being the victor in the "War of Currents", he was widely respected as America's greatest electrical engineer. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. In the United States, Tesla's fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture,[4] but due to his eccentric personality and, at the time, unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist. Never putting much focus on his finances, Tesla died impoverished and forgotten at the age of 86 ...

Remember in the movie when Hugh Jackman's character goes to Colorado Springs to see Tesla? Tesla did indeed have a lab in Colorado, and the movie's scene of the light bulbs in the earth was based on fact ...

In 1899 a larger magnifier was constructed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This machine was used to conduct fundamental experiments in wireless telecommunications and electrical power transmission. Measuring fifty-one feet (15.5 m) in diameter, it developed a working potential estimated at 3.5 million to 4 million volts and was capable of producing electrical discharges exceeding one hundred feet (30 m) in length. ..... He chose this location primarily because of the frequent thunderstorms, the high altitude (where the air, being at a lower pressure, had a lower dielectric breakdown strength, making it easier to ionize), and the dryness of the air (minimizing leakage of electric charge through insulators) .... On July 4, 1899, Tesla discovered terrestrial stationary waves within the earth ..... Tesla conducted experiments contributing to the understanding of electromagnetic propagation and the Earth's resonance. He transmitted signals several kilometres and lit neon tubes conducting through the ground ... - Wikipedia

And the enmity between Tesla and Thomas Edison, as shown in the movie, was also based on fact, for Edson conducted a publicity campaign to popularize his direct electrical current while creating fear of Tesla's alternating current, to the point of pioneering the first electric chair ....

Edison went on to carry out a campaign to discourage the use of alternating current. Edison personally presided over several AC-current-driven executions of animals, primarily stray cats and dogs, to demonstrate to the press that alternating current was more dangerous than his system of direct current. Edison's series of animal executions peaked with the electrocution of Topsy the Elephant. He also tried to popularize the term for being electrocuted as being "Westinghoused".

Edison opposed capital punishment, but his desire to disparage the system of alternating current led to the invention of the electric chair. Harold P. Brown, who was being secretly paid by Edison, constructed the first electric chair for the state of New York in order to promote the idea that alternating current was deadlier than DC ...
- Wikipedia

- Twain in the lab of Nikola Tesla, spring of 1894 Taken in the spring of 1894, and originally published as part of an article by T.C. Martin called "Tesla's Oscillator and Other Inventions" that appeared in the Century Magazine (April 1895).

Even ths teleportation device that the movie had Tesla build for Hugh Jackman's character is not a complete fabrication, for he had indeed been working on such a creation ...

Near the end of his life, Tesla was fascinated with the idea of light as both a particle and a wave, a fundamental proposition already incorporated into quantum physics. This field of inquiry led to the idea of creating a "wall of light" by manipulating electromagnetic waves in a certain pattern. This mysterious wall of light would enable time, space, gravity and matter to be altered at will, and engendered an array of Tesla proposals that seem to leap straight out of science fiction, including anti-gravity airships, teleportation, and time travel ... - Wikipedia

Tesla died in a hotle room at the age of 86, essentially destitute, yet even post-mortem, his life was surreal ...

Immediately after Tesla's death became known, the Federal Bureau of Investigation instructed the government's Alien Property Custodian office to take possession of his papers and property, despite his US citizenship. His safe at the hotel was also opened. At the time of his death, Tesla had been continuing work on the teleforce weapon, or death ray, that he had unsuccessfully marketed to the US War Department. It appears that his proposed death ray was related to his research into ball lightning and plasma and was composed of a particle beam weapon. The US government did not find a prototype of the device in the safe. After the FBI was contacted by the War Department, his papers were declared to be top secret. The so-called "peace ray" constitutes a part of some conspiracy theories as a means of destruction. The personal effects were seized on the advice of presidential advisors, and J. Edgar Hoover declared the case "most secret", because of the nature of Tesla's inventions and patents ... - Wikipedia

Though a genius,Tesla's lack of recognition made him something of a tragic/romentic figure, who found his way into our popular culture in music, books and films ... The Prestige is one of the most recent examples of this.

- Nikola Tesla, with Rudjer Boskovich's book "Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis", in front of the spiral coil of his high-frequency transformer at East Houston St., New York


Blogger victor said...

Hi Crystal,

Sounds like an interesting movie and there seems to even be many scientific facts included. From your description of this movie there even appears to be some fiction scenes that could possibly leave us wondering if some are really not true?

That circle of lights in your photo looks like an hypnotic wheel so maybe we should not look at it too long! (lol)

9:59 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor,

the movie was good, I thought, but also kind of disturbing and sad.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

Wow... Interesting stuff, Crystal. I didn't even recognize Bowie when I say the movie.

Edison was a great inventor and businessman, but a nasty guy.

9:11 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Liam,

I didn't recognise him either, but I knew ahead of time he was playing Tesla. It's kind of disheartening to read about historical figures, like Edison, sometimes ... so often they don't seem to live up to their popular image.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Liam said...

We have Edison to thank for Hollywood. He demanded such high royalties for inventing movies that producers went to the other side of the country to be as far away from him as possible.

9:27 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

He redeems himself :-)

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was an excellent and readable bio about Tesla from cradle to grave written by Margaret Cheney ( a relation ? ) quite a few years ago now. Can't remember the title though. Well worth the investment...a wealth of information on this remarkable person.


5:06 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks for the recommendation, flow ... I'll look for it.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

me too watched the movie...? but one thing i got confused was, had Tesla thought about a machine like that in the movie in his times....?
some machines makinga a photocopy of Humanbeings?

2:00 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

It does seem that Tesla was working on teleportation in real life. If you look in Google under "tesla teleportation" or "tesla wall of light" you will get a lot o hits.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Ace said...

There's always a big fuss about his not being good with his finances which supposedly proves he was mad.

The fact is that he wasn't sleeping on the street, he lived in a nice hotel, he was just a man of modest means and didn't want what he didn't need.

Tesla wanted to supply the world with free energy and was supressed as a threat to big business. He invented an electric car in the 1800's that had a tiny battery and could go like 90 MPH. He was just too far ahead of his time.

He made some outlandish claims, sure, and was branded as a mad scientist. That doesn't mean he couldn't deliver the goods. After his death, the gov't went on a disinformation campaign because they didn't want the rest of the world to know what he was really capable of.

If you had the most powerful weapon in the world, would you tell everybody? Or, would you keep it up your sleeve and say it's not possible to discourage others trying to create the same thing?

8:33 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I agree with you - I don't think he was a nut at all, just unconventional. And it didn't help that he had powerful enemies like Edison. He was brilliant beyond his time.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Ace said...

You have to be unconventional to think on a level like that. Genius itself is unconventional and if it were conventional we'd all be geniuses and the term wouldn't really mean much.

Here's a guy so brilliant that he compared Einstein's theory of relativity to an equivalent of chicken scratch. It seems that slowly but surely he's being vindicated.

But back to The Prestige, it was a great movie and it seems that no matter how many times I watch it, there's still things I don't get. Supposedly, according to Christian Bale, there's a third storyline that you can only get if you watch close enough, and that's what Cutter is referring to at the very end.

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just figured out if the clones in The Prestige were real or not. I'm convinced that Tesla's machine actually worked within the film. Here's why...

When Cutter asks Lord Caldlow/Angier to consider his achievement and tells him he lied about the sailor who almost drowned to death. At first he told him that the sailor said it was like going home, when in fact it was agony, to make him feel better about his wife's death.

Ok, so Cutter leaves after giving this tidbit. Angier mulls it over and then goes over to one of the tanks and wipes the glass to look inside.

The reason is he needs to see the look on the face of one of his drowned clones, to see if the agony is reflected in it's facial expression. He realizes that it must have been agony for the clones and his wife to die like that, so he consoles himself by saying, "Nobody cares about the man that goes into the box, they only care about the one that comes out."

This is also a different tank than the one shown at the fadeout so that means that there aren't empty tanks on display just for show. I don't think anybody else has mentioned this before so maybe it's a scoop.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The way that I see it, Jackman's character is such a glory hound, that he wants to be the one to get the ovation. there is where we get the reference to the man coming out of the box. So in reality he is killing himself every time, not the clone. He actually is the new clone or transported each time he does the trick. If you pay attention at the end you will see that there are many of the water tanks in the basement. There is a dead clone in each.

6:09 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, I think you're right.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jackman's character killed 101 clones. He murdered the first with a gun shot. He drowned 100 others in his "limited theatre engagements". And since he knew Borden wasn't responsible for killing him as he was alive, he was also responsible for having Bordon's brother 102 men died because of Jackman's character

2:30 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

It's true there really were no likeable characters in the film (or book).

2:35 AM  

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