Grand Opera

“An historical romance. It's a minimal narrative and diary film. An autobiography. It's about the number π and story telling. 3.14159265358979323846.... Sound and soap opera. With Wilma Schoen, Max A. Zorn, Kristina and Al Rutcurts. It's a film about its maker, not about you.”


So begins James Benning's description of his latest feature - Archive audiences are sure to recall Benning's 11 x 14 (1977), a widely acclaimed but unconventional narrative film which emphasizes its minimalist structure and form over a story which never really emerges.

Elaborating on the role of π in Grand Opera, Benning has submitted the following note:
“About 225 BC Archimedes approximated the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as between 3-1/7 and 3-10/71. An approximation equivalent to the familiar 3.1416 dates from before 200 AD. In 1853 Daniel Shanks computed π to 607 decimal places....

“In May of 1945 D.F. Ferguson found Shanks incorrect after the first 527 decimals. Shanks committed two errors. The first occurred in the evaluation of the inverse of 497 times 5 to the 497 power in the 531 decimal place. Ferguson found the value to be 00804828973843058350 while Shanks carelessly omitted a zero 00848289738430583501. The second Shanks error was the omission of 1/5 to the 29 power divided by 29 from the series for the arc tangent of 1/5 in the 569 decimal place term. In April of 1947 John W. Wrench and Levi Smith corrected π after 527 decimals....

“π to 10 decimal places is sufficient accuracy to permit computing the circumference of a sphere the size of the earth with an error of less than 1/8 inch. To 40 decimals π would give the circumference of the entire visible universe with an error imperceptible even with an electron microscope. Thus some say these extensive calculations have no practical value.”

This page may by only partially complete. For additional information about this film, view the original entry on our archived site.