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Conceiving Ada

Starring Tilda Swinton, Timothy Leary, Karen Black, Francesca Faridany, John O'Keefe, J.D. Wolfe
Written and Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson

IN SHORT: A most clever way to deliver a biography. But not a captivating film.

Blue screen technology is old hat, but the technogeek in Cranky admits that he was truly intrigued with the idea that someone had managed to merge digital images with real flesh and blood actors directly onto digital tape in real time. Such is the case in Conceiving Ada, in reality a biography of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace (Tilda Swinton), the daughter of the English Lord Byron, friend to Mary Shelley (Esther Mulligan) and lover of more bit parts than you can shake a stick at. More important, Ada created the basis of what would become a computer's binary code, for an analytical machine designed but never built by partner Charles Babbage (John O'Keefe), over a century before Univac.

Meanwhile, in this century circa 1993, a hot headed, heavily opinionated and proprietary computer genius called Emmy Coer (Francesca Faridany) is exploring the use of cyberspace as a method of time travel. It's a real stretch on the "information is always moving out there (a la radio and television waves)" theorem, but give it a go and there may be a story here. Emmy is obsessed with Ada, to the distraction of almost everything else, including live in lover Nick (J.D. Wolfe) aka father of her child to be. With the encouragement of a mentor named Sims, who lives in a computer projection on a bare wall (so dontcha just know it's the late Timothy Leary in the role) Emmy mixes DNA code with binary code and voila! Etheric communication.

Which is about as interesting as I can make it sound because, in execution, Conceiving Ada is a dud. It isn't a problem of not buying the concept, because the concept is darn clever. The problem is the focus of the story. Modern day Emmy is so unlikable that her personality and personal story overshadows that of Ada, a genius in a Victorian England which frowned on women being such things.

On the other hand, film students will have a wonderful time dissecting this piece. As if to represent the movement in time and the various stages of her bio, we hear Ada's voice both as a girl and as a grown woman (she was 36 when she died) but we don't hear them in linear sequence. The girl can speak while we watch the woman, and vice versa. It's haphazard to this eye and probably has some significant meaning if you drink a lot of cappuccino.

Karen Black plays a double role as the mother of both Emmy and Ada but there isn't a lot in the script to give her foundations for two solid characters. The modern mom is obsessed with phallic shaped vegetables, the Victorian mom is far beyond me.

Conceiving Ada is a very long 85 minutes in the dark.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Conceiving Ada, he would have paid...


Film students can rent. Everyone else take a pass.

The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2016   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.