Friday, April 13, 2007

Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt

"American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation

"The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and the planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

"When the bombers got back into their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly men and women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

"The American flyers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed."

Kurt Vonnegut

That Most Dangerous of Tools ...

A diver using a Cox Bolt Gun

The Cox Bolt Gun is perhaps one of the most weird and dangerous tools ever conceived. It was a device used by salvage crews for underwater repairs. A user, whether in scuba gear or in a deep-sea diving frock, would fire a bolt into a piece of steel. The bolt has an explosive charge on one end, which would detonate and essentially weld itself to the other side of the steel. It was an especially dangerous tool when used to repair oil tankers. In such situations a diver would risk the chance of igniting fumes and causing an explosion.

A diver using a Cox Bolt Gun to attach a pressurized airline to a submarine.

The following account of the Cox Bolt Gun gives a better idea as to how it would work:
Prior to the invention of the [Cox Bolt Gun] the diver may have spent many hours drilling, tapping and screwing bolts into steel and wood. The Cox Bolt Gun quickly became an indispensable piece of equipment for the underwater salvor. Repairs could be done in a matter of hours rather than days. This became so important as it allowed the salvor to recover valuable cargo before deteriation. In other cases a temporary repair could be effected allowing a ship to be removed from enemy exposure during conflict and from the conditions of the weather and tide. The Bolt driving and punching gun could be used for a wide variety of uses, operators often finding new uses for the tool. Patching of large and small holes could be made and rivets could be tightened by firing a bolt through them. Brackets, eye bolts and plugs could be easily attached in a few minutes.

The gun was operated by an explosion which drove a solid or hollow bolt into steel or wood. There was no recoil or flash with the gun under normal operation. Whilst the solid bolt was used for fixing, the hollow bolt could be used to attach an air line or the means of passing through the plate of a cable. By fixing an air line to a submerged vessel it was possible to supply trapped sailors with a vital air supply. The barrel of the gun was loaded on the surface and lowered to the diver. Loaded sealed barrels could be carried by the diver and inserted into the gun. Providing the diver was fed with new barrels he could work continuously and therefore complete the operation in a timely manner.

The Cox Bolt Gun consists of a number of components. A typical model, weighs 36 lbs. and features two different types of barrels: one for bolting and one for punching. Both were about 7 inches long. The bolt ammunition was 5/8 inches in diameter and 4 1/2 inches long. The bolt was heat treated and made of alloy steel with a tensile strength of 16 tons. A 3/4 inch plate required a force of 12 tons to fix through. The punch ammunition is 11/16 inches in diameter and punches a hole to suit the size of the bolt. Extension bolts were used for fixing patches of wood and were 1 inch in diameter. To these, wing nuts could be attached. The weight of the gun as we have mentioned earlier was 36 lbs, and could be tiring if many holes were to be punched. To relieve the weight 2 eye bolts were attached to the gun and springs or elasticated rope fixed. The gun was then lowered to a position a couple of feet above the diver who could easily pull into position for firing and then returned away from the work area.
Complete Cox Bolt Gun with attachments and tools
(via link)

Monday, April 02, 2007


Watching the video of Massive Attack's "Protection" (dir. Michel Gondry) easily reminds one of the uneasy relationship between the supreme flatness of a movie set and the wandering gaze of the camera eye. Like Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), this video shows a fictional apartment block. And much like Jimmy Stewart's still camera in that film, in this video, it is also the camera that has the privileged point of view. The only difference is that the camera is unmoored: it navigates effortlessly through the architectural spaces of the apartment building.

As in Hal Pereira's sets for Rear Window, the apartment windows in "Protection" are wide open. This affords an unnatural, obtrusive gaze into the interiors of each apartment. The interior spaces are distorted, angular. They often have an exaggerated feel and seem disproportionate in scale.

Sets from Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954)

Yet Gondry's video goes well beyond the roving camera in Rear Window. In fact, it is more reminiscent of Hitchcock's camera direction in Rope (1948). Unlike that film, where all camera movements are circumscribed within the boundaries of one apartment (wherein all the action takes place), Gondry's video consists of a singular, uninterrupted camera movement that literally moves through, around, and inside walls.

Jimmy Stewart, et al. in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948)

Perhaps then, "Protection" outdoes Hitchcock in creating a type of space that only functions when subjected to the furtive movements of the camera eye. It is not unsurprising, then, that "Protection", Rear Window, and Rope all invite the viewer to watch all types of personal moments, from the tawdry to the murderous. The camera bears witness to an all-too-human space. All in all very reminiscent of some final observations from the late Robin Evans, in his seminal "Figures, Doors and Passages":
[T]here is surely another type of architecture that would seek to give full play to the things that have been so carefully masked by its anti-type; an architecture arising out of the deep fascination that draws people towards others; an architecture that recognizes passion, carnality and sociality. The matrix of connected rooms might well be an integral feature of such buildings.
-- "Figures, Doors and Passages" in Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).