Wonderful. All these clocks running at different speeds, space curving like a Brancusi sculpture, light hitting you at the same speed whether you move toward it or away from it.
It's the centennial of Albert Einstein's birth, need you be reminded, and public television weighs in tonight at 9 with "Einstein's Universe," and Thursday night at 10 with Nova's "Einstein."
"The essence of a man like me lies just in what the thinks and how he thinks, not in what he does or suffers," Einstein said once, and Peter Ustinov says again tonight, tricked out with a comic-opera German accent whenever the words of the master are uttered.
Sure enough, the show is nothing but theory, extravagantly allegorized by a quartet of motorcyclists blazoned with the great equation "E equals MC squared," an orange bug crawling over a black globe (to illustrate the fact of a closed universe), balls rolling around a rubber sheet (to show how gravity and curved space are the same) and Ustinov decked out not only in German accent but a silver space suit, now and then, while a Moog synthesizes spooky space music.
Ustinov is Everyman here, of course, quailing with baroque horror before the intransigent simplicity of Einstein's work.
"I became aware that there might be more to those motorcycles then met the eye," he warns us.
Then we're off, two hours of delving into the infinite at the University of Texas observatory, while a crowd of physicists explains to poor Peter what it all means.
The problem is that for most of us, most of the time, Einstein means nothing but a bushy-haired old man with a moustache, said to be kindly to children in Princeton, where he spent the last 30 years of his life at the Institute for Advanced Studies.
Newtonian mechanics answer most of our questions about the universe, until we begin to inquire into electromagnetics, or such arcana as the perihelion of Mercury (one of the rocks on which Newton's work finally foundered.)
Consequently, for the layman, Einstein's discoveries tend to get pigeonholed in the strange-but-true category. "Einstein's Universe" compounds this esotericism by abandoning chronology and explaining Einstein's work backwards from the General to the Special Theory of Relativity. And worse, seeming fears for the viewer's attention span have fostered unnecessarily jumpy editing, with subjects being touched, left, touched again.
"The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious," Ustinov quotes at the end of the show. But that's all we're left with -- beauty and mystery.
Nova's "Einstein," on the other hand, makes only a half-hearted effort to explain the theories, while giving us an hour predominantly of footage of Einstein himself, shaking hands, talking, arriving, waving goodbye, all of it with his stooped, heavy-lidded, preoccupied economy of gesture, the choked tenor of his German accent, his face maturing into the caricaturist's delight.
After a while, watching him, we get to know him, to sense as a fact his stubborn patience, his humility and shyness as he glances away from the stare of half a century of movie cameras. After a while we can see why he stands out from crowds, even in photographs from student days: He always looked as if he had something to do, as if he were giving only deference to all the hoopla which marked any public appearance.
In this age of fame's devaluation by mass-media inflation, we can have no idea of what it meant to be a celebrity in, say, 1929, when Einstein made his first visit to America.
One wonderful shot shows a line of middy-bloused California schoolgirls holding flowers (poinsettias?) and chanting "Einstein! Rah! Rah!" A newspaper headline refers to him simply as "Greatest Scientist," assuming the reader would know who was meant.
Einstein was "the first scientist to become a public figure,' says the narration, pointing out that while he detected a madness in it, he also used it handily to promote his beliefs in the necessity of pacifism, disarmament, Zionism and, ultimately, efforts to prevent the use of the nuclear weapons which sprang from his theories.
In the latter cause, he even reenacted for movie camers the scene in which he learned that the Nazis were trying to build an atom bomb.
Since most of us have to take Einstein's conclusions on faith anyhow, the reality we can grasp best is the man himself. Unfortunately, the producers of Nova were prisoners of the sensibilities of newsreel photographers (is that William Randolph Hearst himself whom the Hearst Metrotone photographer dutifully includes in the frame with Einstein?). And what we lern about the man by watching him walk, smile, talk and listen may not be quantifiable by any scientific means, or even any description in words. But then, as Einstein himself said in the context of a plea for nuclear disarmament: "Remember your humanity and forget the rest."