Number stations in the movies
February 27, 2006 9:13 PM   Subscribe

FilmFilter: I recently found this site which is one guy's chronicling of various "numbers stations" throughout a period of several years. On the site, he mentions the movie "Vanilla Sky."

The film is also mentioned in a wikipedia article about numbers stations, and though I have seen "Vanilla Sky" once, I swear I have seen another film in which these stations are mentioned. I didn't particiluarly like "Vanilla Sky" but for some reason this scene is playing very clearly in my head, which makes me think there is another film that references this.

A secondary character is listening to the stations and talking about them. The numbers are being read out in English, and the character is explaining that he doesn't know what they mean, and that they come on and off sporadically throughout the dial.

For some reason, I also think maybe the scene takes place in the past, as the people are wearing 1940s or '50s style clothing.

For all I know, it could have been the original version, "Abre los ojos" but I'm pretty sure that wasn't it either. Ring any bells?
posted by Brittanie to Media & Arts (22 answers total)
Vanilla Sky used recordings from The Conet Project. Wilco also used these sounds in Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but without Irdial’s permission, so they got sued.

I don't know of any other movies, though.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 10:09 PM on February 27, 2006

This rings a bell. I feel like John Travolta was in whatever movie it was, but I couldn't find anything after searching imdb. I also could be completely off.
posted by Falconetti at 10:11 PM on February 27, 2006

Does anyone know what those numbers stations are all about? Anyone ever figure it out?
posted by delmoi at 10:11 PM on February 27, 2006

Found a movie reference, but the numbers (and the movie) are in German, so I'm fairly certain it's not what you're thinking of.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:21 PM on February 27, 2006

posted by tellurian at 10:36 PM on February 27, 2006

My ex- had a 4 cds (4?) album filled with those tracks (back when I listened to industrial music).
She told me they were radio broadcasts of code gathered by radio amateurs. Probably east-west-being-the-curtain broadcasts. It sounded perfectly sane and logic the time. It still does. Thanks for bringing this back to me. I'm now eager to rediscover the name of this CD compilation, an re-read the cryptonomicon while listening to code!...
posted by Bio11 at 10:39 PM on February 27, 2006

searching google with "number station cd" brought this : shortwave espionnage (extensive list of media links)
...and confirms that there's a 4 cds album waiting for me somewhere. alpha zebu fox-trot good night.
posted by Bio11 at 10:47 PM on February 27, 2006

Was it Orpheus? Orpheus is mesmerized by a car radio that repeats coded messages - from here: "My favourite use of Numbers Stations is in [the film] Orpheus by Jean Cocteau".
posted by tellurian at 10:52 PM on February 27, 2006

Bio11, the name of the comp is The Conet Project referenced in the first post.
posted by Falconetti at 10:58 PM on February 27, 2006

Falconetti - You may be thinking of Phenomenon.
posted by tellurian at 11:03 PM on February 27, 2006

Sounds like Jean Cocteau's orpheus, as others have said.
posted by grouse at 11:58 PM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: Except I've never seen that movie.

Upon further recollection, I think perhaps the numbers are being read in a foreign language, and the listener is translating, and explaining that he (definately a male character — I remember that) hears them randomly but and knows they are numbers doesn't know what they mean.

I don't think the scene was an integral part of the plot, but more something that just set the time period or set up some later event.

Hell, maybe it was Vanilla Sky, but I just really don't think so.
posted by Brittanie at 1:12 AM on February 28, 2006

There is a John Travolta film which had him listening to the radio next to a river... imdb and my very poor memory suggest that it is blowout
posted by seanyboy at 2:14 AM on February 28, 2006

Wasn't Vanilla Sky a remake of a Spanish movie?
posted by OmieWise at 5:28 AM on February 28, 2006

BBC Radio 4 had a very interesting program on about Number Stations in general and the British Secret Intelligence Services Lincolnshire Poacher specifically. Broadcast out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

I might have a copy somewhere if anyone is interested.
posted by hardcode at 5:52 AM on February 28, 2006

Omiewise asked: Wasn't Vanilla Sky a remake of a Spanish movie?

Um yeah, "Abre los ojos" as Brittanie mentioned. Except that it wasn't a Spanish movie, it was Chilean. The director, Alejandro Amenábar, has many other great movies includint the recent, El mar adentro. K, sorry for sidetracking the thread.

I honestly can't recall ever hearing the recordings in Vanilla Sky, but do remember getting into listening to the shortwave in high school. My brother had a boombox which picked up shortwave and I would sit and scan the dial for hours at a time. I remember hearing the numbers in english and also many stations with modulations like you hear from a fax machine. It makes sense that this all coded intelligence data. Obviously for a long time, short wave was probably the most used and easiest way to transmit information.
posted by JJ86 at 6:23 AM on February 28, 2006

Let's be honest... double-checking this would require watching Vanilla Sky again, and no one wants that- right?
posted by mkultra at 6:42 AM on February 28, 2006

JJ86 writes "Um yeah, 'Abre los ojos' as Brittanie mentioned."

Oops, missed that sentence of her [more inside]. I wasn't trying to derail, I just wondered if it could have been the original movie that was sparking her deja vu.
posted by OmieWise at 6:50 AM on February 28, 2006

Response by poster: mkultra just totally hit the nail on the head. Assuming nobody can name the (possibly nonexistent) movie I'm thinking of, that gets best answer.
posted by Brittanie at 6:58 AM on February 28, 2006

I saw vanella sky and I don't remember anything about numbers stations.
posted by delmoi at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2006

Abre los ojos wasn't Chilean. Amenábar was born in Chile, but he was raised in Spain, and the movie was made there.

Sorry for the derail. No, I don't remember numbers stations in Vanilla Sky either.
posted by goatdog at 7:29 AM on February 28, 2006

On the contrary, Brittanie, I believe tellurian gave you the correct answer.

In Phenomenon, Travolta and a friend (Forest Whittaker) have a hobby of finding and listening to these strange shortwave narrowcasts. When Travolta is "gifted" with heightened intelligence, he is able to decipher the codes. That's when the government shows up.

The story is set in a small town that has some of the 40's and 50's feel you're remembering. While this might not be the right movie, it certainly has many of the elements you describe.

Extra added bonus, you won't have to watch Vanilla Sky again.
posted by zueod at 7:43 PM on March 1, 2006

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