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.”

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
UpgradedPoints.com

A Disney-inspired poster
UpgradedPoints.com

A Disney-inspired poster
UpgradedPoints.com

A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
UpgradedPoints.com

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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