The Richard Feynman Trilogy: The Physicist Captured in Three Films

It’s another case of the whole being greater better than the sum of the parts. Between 1981 and 1993, documentary producer Christopher Sykes shot three films and one TV series dedicated to the charismatic, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988). We have presented these documentaries here individually before (some several years ago), but never brought them together. So, prompted by a post on Metafilter, we’re doing just that today.

We start above with The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a film directed by Sykes in 1981. It features Feynman talking in a very personal way about the joys of scientific discovery, and about how he developed his enthusiasm for science. About the program, Harry Kroto (winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry) apparently once said: “The 1981 Feynman [production] is the best science program I have ever seen. This is not just my opinion – it is also the opinion of many of the best scientists that I know who have seen the program. It should be mandatory viewing for all students whether they be science or arts students.”

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out was followed by Fun to Imagine, a Sykes-directed television series that got underway in 1983. Feynman hosted the series and, along the way, used physics to explain how the everyday world works – “why rubber bands are stretchy, why tennis balls can’t bounce forever, and what you’re really seeing when you look in the mirror.” 12 episodes (including the first episode shown above) await you on YouTube. Thanks to Metafilter, you can access them easily right here: 1) Jiggling Atoms, 2) Fire, 3) Rubber Bands, 4) Magnets (and ‘Why?’ questions), 5) Bigger is Electricity!, 6) The Mirror, 7) The Train, 8) Seeing Things, 9) Big Numbers and Stuff (i), 10) Big Numbers and Stuff (ii), 11) Ways of Thinking (i) and 12: Ways of Thinking (ii).

Let’s skip forward to 1989, when PBS’ NOVA aired The Last Journey of a Genius, a television film that documented Feynman’s final days and his longtime obsession with traveling to Tannu Tuva, a state outside of outer Mongolia. For the better part of a decade, Feynman and his friend Ralph Leighton schemed to make their way to Tannu Tuva, but Cold War politics frustrated their efforts. Sykes’ documentary runs roughly 50 minutes and features an ailing Feynman talking about his wanderlust. He died two weeks later, never having made the trip.

Five years after Feynman’s death, Sykes directed the final documentary in his trilogy, No Ordinary Genius. This film traces the professor’s adventures inside and outside of science, using stories and photographs provided by Feynman’s family and close friends. The documentary originally aired on the BBC in 1993, and it appears in our collection of 550 Free Movies Online. Also don’t miss the introductory physics lectures that Feynman presented at Cornell in 1964. You will find them listed in our big collection of 750 Free Courses Online. Just scroll down to the Physics section and enjoy.

Related Content:

Free: Richard Feynman’s Physics Lectures from Cornell (1964)

Richard Feynman Presents Quantum Electrodynamics for the NonScientist

Richard Feynman Introduces the World to Nanotechnology with Two Seminal Lectures (1959 & 1984)

Learn How Richard Feynman Cracked the Safes with Atomic Secrets at Los Alamos

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  • Sol says:

    Feynman’s sister not only mistakes Longfellow for Whitman in the first minute, but worse, she sets up a straw man interpretation of the great poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” Both scientists and poets can fathom the pofound, Ms. Feynman. No need to pick sides.

  • Sol says:

    …meant to write “profound”

  • RickFlick says:

    Feynman’s sister’s possible error if of no relevance to Sykes explication of a significant figure in 20th century culture. F-ck off Sol.

  • Alec says:

    What’s the problem with Sol’s comment? Perfectly reasonable to point that out.

  • Mike says:

    Sol made a reasonable–and polite–comment.

  • Jim says:

    I wouldn’t say Sol’s comment is reasonable. Sol has missed the point of Ms. Feynman’s statement. Whitman’s poem reads like an indictment of the scientists’ abilities to appreciate stars. She is only trying to defend the position of the astronomer, in the same way Richard Feynman did. Rather than setting science and art in opposition, she defends astronomy against the stark insult by Whitman. Ironic, then, that Sol makes the straw man accusation.

  • Mat Jones says:

    Great videos of a great man. He dripped with intellectual honesty in everything he did. A great natural thinker and debunker of ubiquitous pseudo-science. The world still misses you and we could really do with more like him. A legend.

  • rjeff krause says:

    Feynman’s understanding of these elements of reality gives most of us the best handles we’ll ever have on them. And when he doesn’t understand something, he is honest and gracious enough to admit it.

  • Zoila Masiak says:

    I simply smiled throughout the whole disertation. The joy of knowledge and imagination he possessed so reminded me of my husband who seemed to love teaching to anyone who cared to listen what he had just learned or read. This is what has made my life full. A life of study and introspection, so much still to learn! One can never live long enough…

  • I definitely recommend reading the Feynman biography – it is en entertaining read and a good insight into his experimental mind:

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