Tag Archives: genius

Steve Jobs seen as brilliant, brutal in new documentary

Four years after his death, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs still fascinates the public, with two major new films this fall analyzing his life and career.

For award-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney, it is also time for re-assessing the hard-driving perfectionist who revolutionized the way people communicate but whose treatment of friends, family and co-workers was sometimes rife with contradiction.

“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” breaks no new ground factually. But it contrasts the man who once aspired to be a Buddhist monk with the businessman who initially denied paternity of his first child and presided over a company that paid Chinese iPhone makers a pittance and pared back its philanthropic programs while reaping billions in profits.

“He had the focus of a monk, but none of the empathy,” Gibney comments in the film, whose tagline is “Bold. Brilliant. Brutal.”

The documentary, arriving in U.S. movie theaters on Sept. 4, uses archival footage of Jobs as well as interviews with journalists, some former friends and ex-Apple employees. Both Apple and Jobs’ widow Laurene declined to co-operate.

Gibney says he didn’t set out to vilify Jobs, whose death of pancreatic cancer in 2011 was mourned worldwide with an intensity usually afforded a rock star.

“The imperative for me to make this film was why so many people who didn’t know Steve Jobs were weeping when he left,” he said.

Apple, he added, has a cult aspect that fascinates him.

“There is a passion for the person and the products that is so deep that any criticism can’t be tolerated. Why should that be? Is it not possible that we can discuss how pitifully paid are the workers in China… even as we may admire some of the technological aspects of the Apple product?

“There seems to be a need to deify that stuff in a way that brooks all criticism, and that does verge sometimes on the religious,” Gibney said.

Gibney says there is one question he would have liked to ask Jobs, given the chance.

“He kept talking about values, the values of Apple. I would have asked Steve Jobs, ‘what are your values?’ Please express your values. That is what I would have liked to hear from him in an honest and straightforward way.”

Another film about Jobs, the feature movie “Steve Jobs” starring Michael Fassbender as the late Apple CEO, is due for release in October.

(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Lisa Lambert)

Cumberbatch shines as wartime codebreaker

‘Tis clearly the season for Oscar-worthy performances by British actors playing mathematical geniuses facing daunting personal odds.

Sound overly specific? Consider: A few weeks ago we had “The Theory of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne as the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking. And now we have Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game” as Alan Turing, the man chiefly responsible for cracking the vaunted Enigma code used by the Germans in World War II.

But even though Turing literally changed the course of history — Winston Churchill said he’d made the greatest single contribution to the Allied victory — and, by the way, also created one of the first modern computers, you may well have never heard of him.

That would be reason enough to applaud the arrival of “The Imitation Game,” directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore based on a 1983 book by Andrew Hodges. But though it often feels like your basic high-brow British biopic, the film also happens to boast impeccable acting, especially by Cumberbatch, who masterfully captures the jittery, nervy brilliance of a man whose mind could bring down an enemy yet couldn’t process simple human interactions.

Was Turing autistic, or did he have Asperger’s syndrome? Who knows — today we’d probably say he was “on the spectrum.” He’s a man who can’t coherently answer whether he wants a sandwich for lunch. At the same time, he’s conceiving a machine that will somehow defeat the Germans’ own cipher machine, the Enigma, which uses code that changes every 24 hours, rendering traditional decrypting methods useless.

As we learn about this painful duality in Turing’s life, we also learn he was gay, in an era when homosexual activity was criminalized in Britain. After the war, he was prosecuted for indecency. Given a choice of “chemical castration” or prison, he chose the former. He committed suicide at 41, a cyanide-laced apple by his bedside.

There are surely numerous narrative shortcuts taken here. There’s also one of those slogan-type lines that seems far too tongue-trippingly clunky to be uttered by one character, let alone two: “Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

But there’s truth to it. Turing’s story is indeed hard to imagine. Thanks to Cumberbatch’s committed performance, a lot more people will know it.

UK pardons gay WWII code-breaker Alan Turing

Britain has posthumously pardoned Alan Turing for a gay sex conviction. Turing was the computing pioneer and code-breaker credited with helping to win the war against Nazi Germany.

Turing committed suicide more than 50 years ago, after his persecution and prosecution for homosexuality, which included forced chemical castration.

Iain Stewart, the British lawmaker who pressed for the pardon, told The Associated Press, “He helped preserve our liberty. We owed it to him in recognition of what he did for the country – and indeed the free world – that his name should be cleared.”

The AP said Turing’s contributions to science spanned from computer science to biology, but he’s perhaps best remembered as the architect of the effort to crack the Enigma code, the cipher used by Nazi Germany to secure its military communications. Turing’s work gave the Allies the edge across half the globe, helping them defeat the Italians in the Mediterranean, beat back the Germans in Africa and escape enemy submarines in the Atlantic.

“It could be argued and it has been argued that he shortened the war, and that possibly without him the Allies might not have won the war,” said David Leavitt, the author of a book on Turing’s life and work. “That’s highly speculative, but I don’t think his contribution can be underestimated. It was immense.”

Turing also pioneered the field of computer science, theorizing the existence of a “universal machine” that could be programmed to carry out different task years before the creation of the world’s fully functional electronic computer.

Those accomplishments didn’t save him from arrest and prosecution for the offense of “gross indecency” stemming from his relationship with another man in 1952. Turing was stripped of his security clearance, subjected to monitoring by British authorities, and forced to take estrogen to neutralize his sex drive – a process described by some as chemical castration.

Turing committed suicide in 1954. S. Barry Cooper, a University of Leeds mathematician who has written about Turing’s work, said future generations would struggle to understand the code breaker’s treatment.

“You take one of your greatest scientists, and you invade his body with hormones,” he said in a telephone interview. “It was a national failure.”

The pardon on Dec. 24 was officially granted by Queen Elizabeth II, although in practice such pardons are an executive decision taken by the government.

Leavitt said, “Everyone should be equal under the law,” he said. “It’s wrong to give famous privileged pardons.”

Bansky ends monthlong residency in New York City

The secretive street artist Banksy ended his self-announced monthlong residency in New York City with a final piece of graffiti, a $615,000 painting donated to charity and a debate: Is he a jerk or a genius?

Banksy, who created a new picture, video or prank every day of October somewhere in the city, spent his last day like thousands of graffiti artists before him: He tagged a building near a highway with his name in giant bubble letters. The twist was that these letters were actual bubbles: balloon-like inflatables stuck to a wall near the Long Island Expressway in Queens.

As if to underscore his dual identity as both a street punk and an art-world darling, he also donated a painting that was auctioned off for $615,000. The original painting first sold for $50 at a Manhattan thrift shop that benefits Housing Works, an organization that fights homelessness and AIDS. Banksy added a Nazi soldier to the landscape scene and Housing Works sold it in an online auction.

Throughout his 31 days in NYC, Banksy put pictures of his work on BanksyNY.com, with clues as to locations but nothing precise. That spawned a treasure hunt by fans who tracked the works down, shared locations via social media, then swarmed to see them.

But by the time Banksy was done, New Yorkers were divided in their opinions. Some tweeted “Go home, Banksy!” Others declared their admiration.

The turning point for many was an essay he wrote criticizing the building replacing the World Trade Center. Banksy called the new design “vanilla … something they would build in Canada,” and added, “It so clearly proclaims the terrorists won.” He offered the essay to The New York Times. The paper wouldn’t print it, so he posted it on his website.

“The terrorists won” comment upset many New Yorkers, including Brian Major, 51, of Brooklyn. “Enough!” Major said. “Who is this guy? Everybody’s got a right to an opinion but what gives him any kind of credibility in New York? Shut up, Banksy! Go home!”

A lifelong New Yorker, Major says he understands graffiti culture, and he also appreciates fine art. But he doesn’t think Banksy’s art is all that good — “though I’ll give him credit, he’s a good marketer.”

But Sean Lynch, 25, of Staten Island, thinks Banksy is “one of the more captivating artists of our generation.” Lynch said it was magical visiting Banksy sites around the city and hearing conversations about art that the works inspired, with “people of all different walks and cultures sharing opinions, sharing stories. … The walls started to talk to them, in a way.”

Banksy, who refuses to reveal his full identity, began his career spray-painting buildings in Bristol, England. In New York, many of his images were silhouetted figures or spray-painted messages. The art ranged from a stencil of a dog lifting his leg on a hydrant to a video of a “slaughterhouse delivery truck” filled with stuffed animals. Some works were defaced by other graffiti artists. But interest grew with each piece, and at least one Banksy street work was covered with Plexiglas to preserve it. He also sold some pieces, unadvertised, for $60 on the street.

Radhika Subramaniam, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design in Manhattan, says Banksy is part of a long tradition of graffiti artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat whose work ultimately earned recognition from the art establishment. But he also fits into a contemporary trend of opening up public spaces to conversations about who owns them and what can happen there – especially in today’s cleaned-up New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when asked about Banksy, called graffiti “a sign of decay and loss of control.”

OK, but is Banksy any good? “There’s plenty of wit in what he does, as well as some thoroughly ordinary, sometimes pleasant, sometimes banal, but sometimes sweet things,” Subramaniam said. But he’s also “not a naïf in the art world. After all, who would care if you or I were to set up a blog and enact a residency like this? It’s only because he’s able to marshal this kind of PR and marketing that … catapults his residency to another level and elicits these polarized points of view.”

In a final gesture that was simultaneously serious and self-mocking, audio commentary posted Thursday on Banksy’s website called his final piece- his name in bubble letters by the road — “an homage … to the most prevalent form of graffiti in the city that invented it for the modern era. Or it’s another Banksy piece that’s full of hot air.”

But three men apparently thought it was worth something. Newspaper photos show one of them on a long ladder, trying to reach the installation.

All three were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. One was additionally charged with criminal mischief. Police are seen in one photo cramming the bubble letters inside a van.