10 Fascinating Facts About Pi

Artisan Entertainment
Artisan Entertainment

Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature, is a manic flash through conspiratorial surrealism and number theory. It’s the kind of thing you watch at night if you want to make yourself anxious before you go to sleep.

Pi is also the last gasp of 1990s indie filmmaking, with its heavy black and vibrant white chiaroscuro backing frothy-mouthed intellectualism that either made people turn their heads or turn away. With its fiery peek into one man’s obsession, Aronofsky announced himself as the kind of fierce talent who would go on to make Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan, and mother!.

Here are 10 facts about the low-budget freakout.

1. It was financed with small investments from Darren Aronofsky's friends and family members.

It took five years and a lot of $100 checks for Darren Aronofsky to raise the nearly $60,000 needed to make Pi. After his senior thesis landed in the finals for a Student Academy Award and he earned his MFA in directing from the AFI Conservatory, the aspiring pro approached “friends, family, enemies, everyone” with a promise of converting their money into a small profit if the film delivered. It did. Artisan Entertainment bought it for over $1 million.

2. In order to save money, they filmed illegally.

In order to film in many public places, you need permits ... unless you’re on an ultra-tight budget, and you’re willing to risk fines and jail time. Aronofsky was willing to risk it, so the crew shot several scenes—most notably on the subway—without securing the proper permits because the young director didn’t want to (or couldn’t) pay for them.

3. Frank Miller's sin City comic book inspired The film's look.

Stephen Pearlman in 'Pi' (1998)
Artisan Entertainment

Sin City would come out in movie form almost a decade after Pi, but the comic book inspired Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s vision for their film. “Matty was brave enough to take on Reversal film, which many of us shot in film school, and its black and white Reversal, extremely hard film stock to expose,” Aronofsky told IndieWire in 1998. "We didn’t want it to end up looking like Clerks and be all gray. We wanted it to be black or white. We were inspired by Sin City by Frank Miller—he just does white scratches into black ink."

4. At its heart, it's about the danger of searching for order.

Pi isn’t so much about math as it is about trying to use numbers to find patterns in reality, whether it's in the search for God or control or something broaching enlightenment. Max’s (Sean Gullette) focus on his supercomputer’s theoretical capabilities offers a lesson in not seeing the forest for the millimeter of bark you’re examining. According to Aronofsky, “The major point of Pi is that the search for order—for meaning, for God—is usually so one-dimensional and so pinpointed, and often leads to the destruction of the ego and the self and leads to death. And the beauty of the world is in the chaos and in the reality of what is now."

5. The film was shot from Max's perspective.

One of the reasons the film is so effective at raising our blood pressure is because we end up seeing the world through its crazed protagonist’s eyes. “The idea behind Pi was to make a fully subjective movie,” Aronofsky said. “We can shoot the other actors almost POV, almost straight-on, but Sean was almost always shot in profile so he was more of an objective, and the audience was seeing his point of view more subjectively ... Because we were trying to be subjective, every little gimmick we did, we tried to have a reason for."

6. There are patterns embedded within the movie itself.

Just as Max searches for—and finds—patterns in life tied to numbers, Aronofsky and company thought it would be fun to use patterns in constructing the movie, leading several fans to come up with some intense theories. “Some of the structural things we did relate back to the spirals and also the Fibonacci sequence,” Aronofsky told Patheos. “For instance, we even shot the film in a ratio called 1.68 which is rarely ever shot. It’s shot sometimes in Europe, but it’s never really shot in America, and the reason we shot that is because that’s the Golden Ratio.” The rest of the patterns you’ll have to find yourself.

7. It was the launching pad for three modern masters of cinema.

Before all the awards and accolades, there was a crew working for deferred pay hoping to make something special. Aronofsky, of course, would go on to ride the ups and downs of divisive filmmaking to acclaim and an Academy Award nomination, but Pi was also the first film for cinematographer Matthew Libatique and composer Clint Mansell. Libatique got his Oscar nod for shooting Black Swan, and has worked with Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, and Marvel. Mansell is a world class composer who, in addition to scoring several Aronofsky movies, has made music for Moon, Black Mirror, and Park Chan-wook.

8. It cost more to finish the film than it did to shoot it.

Pi's total production budget was $60,927, which went to set dressing (“computer stuff”), music (“the whole thing was done on a keyboard”), and other unavoidable expenses like trucks and film and camera rentals. Post-production, on the other hand, cost $68,183, most of which went to post-production sound, post-production film and lab work, and film editing.

9. Ant hills gave Aronofsky the idea for the film.

Sean Gullette in 'Pi' (1998)
Artisan Entertainment

Ants eventually invade Max’s apartment, but Aronofsky also owes the movie to Formicidae pals (as well as a road trip through the Yucatan Peninsula). “We started to notice that in the middle of this plaza there are these giant anthills about two or three feet high,” Aronofsky told The Washington Post. “The openings are like the size of volleyballs, and there are rivers of ants flowing between the different anthills and rivers going out into the rain forest. And we just watched them for an hour, and I just had this moment—one of those epiphanies in life—which is realizing that, here in the center of one of the greatest human civilizations of all time, that’s completely extinct, that’s been inherited by the ants, they’re totally unaware of us ... And what the hell are we unaware of that’s going on above us?”

10. It's made in the sci-fi tradition of Philip K. Dick.

Tossing Pi into one genre is a tough task, but its roots are most clearly in science fiction, which makes the miniscule budget a rarity, especially in the CGI boom of the 1990s. “I always think of science fiction as a state of mind, not special effects,” Aronofsky told Filmmaker Magazine. “All those Star Wars movies took sci-fi down the effects road for the last 20 years. The interesting science fiction is the inner space, the return to the work of Philip K. Dick. Blowing up sh*t doesn’t do it for us anymore.” He also cited The Twilight Zone as a major inspiration and Rod Serling as the “patron saint of the movie.”

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER