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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/08/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 19
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC (no meetings scheduled) Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 email@example.com Backissues available at http://www.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/MTVOID/backissues.html or http://sf.www.lysator.liu.se/sf_archive/sf-texts/MT_Void/. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
BABYLON 5 comment:
BABYLON 5 fans who are not caught up and non-fans can jump to the next item. I am catching up after the Japan trip and I just saw the most recent two episodes and this will be a spoiler for people not caught up. OK. Do we have here just the people who want to be here? I will take what may be the longshot bet. BABYLON 5 is not STAR TREK and things do happen. They might do with him what STAR WARS did, but they won't do what STAR TREK would. Nuff said? Of course I could be wrong. [-mrl]
URL of the week:
URL of the week: http://www.sfw.org. A site in progress devoted to the works of S. Fowler Wright. (Mark Leeper's review of the film DELUGE, based on Wright's novel, is included at the end of this issue.) [-ecl]
Allow me to play Devil's Advocate a bit with this article. The opinions expressed this week are really more questions than answers. This is a subject that I have mentioned before in this august journal, but that I want to go into in a slightly different light. My question is about dreams and their psychological importance.
A friend was musing on the significance of the very vivid dreams she has. We have all been told that these dreams are really windows into the subconscious. But it occurred to me to again ask the same question of how do we know that dreams actually have really deep psychological significance. It seems to me a question we have taken on faith in which, because of the nature of the phenomenon, there intrinsically can be very little evidence. I mean, what kind of proof could we have? This is not like physics where we can repeat experiments, or mathematics where we can see what the reasoning was. All we really know is that we have been told that dreams make it possible to understand various facets of a person's personality. The same claim has been made of astrology. There are people who genuinely believe that astrology works and explains a lot about a person. And if you look at the predictions that astrology makes about a person's fate and their personality, it may well look like astrology has a good track record. That is because most horoscopes seem to fit just about anybody whether they realize it or not. Suppose I told you your horoscope says that you really have much deeper emotions than most people realize. You feel really strongly about some things. Tell me the truth. Am I wrong? Very few of us would say, "No, what people see of me on the surface is pretty much all there is." Horoscopes play the odds with safe bets.
This belief that dreams have some deep significance goes back to the Bible and the story of Jacob at the very least. But it took on new significance at the turn of the century with Sigmund Freud in THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS claiming that dreams are really just manifestations of thoughts of the subconscious mind. Carl Jung thought it was the surface meaning that was more important, but even he put a real stress on interpreting dreams. Freud accepted that a cigar could be just a cigar, Jung said that was all it ever was, but it is important that it is a cigar. What I ask myself about dream analysis is how do we know that the content of our dreams tells a lot about us? Dreams may well reflect what the person was thinking about when he or she went to sleep, perhaps a bit of the person's emotional state, but do we know that they have any more meaning than that? I think not. It seems tremendously promising to study dreams because the subject matter of dreams is bizarre and seems to reflect a fantasy world without rules. Certainly the dreamer's behavior has the potential to be a lot freer than it can be in the real world. But there is nothing to guarantee that it will be or that what happens in dreams has any more than a superficial significance. Trying to analyze a person by dreams may be no more valid than trying to understand your engine by studying your tires. There are tremendous opportunities for studying your car by looking at the condition of the tires. One can study wear patterns; one can look for scratches; one can look for micro-objects embedded in the rubber; one can do a chemical analysis of the rubber itself. One could spend a lifetime looking at what the tires tell us. But it is unlikely one will ever find the data to tell if the car is low on oil or not. As far as getting information about the person, it is looking where it relatively easy to collect a variety of bizarre data, but it is not clear that this data can tell you what you really want to know. Having data that is too easy to collect and too interesting seeming can be as misleading as not having enough data. It is like looking for your keys where the light is good rather than where you dropped them. [-mrl]
edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Keith R. A. DeCandido (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00363-X, 1996, 260pp, US$5.99) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
What is clever done once becomes tedious with repetition.
In other words, somewhere between the story about the were-salmon and the were-Republican, my eyes glazed over.
There are fifteen stories in this anthology and a few are actually reasonably good. Had I read them in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION or ASIMOV'S, I would have thought them worthy entries there. But here they are diluted by the lesser stories to the point where they all seem mediocre. And it's not even that I tried to read them all in one sitting--I read them over a period of a month, and that's *still* too close together.
"Stories of transformation" go back a long way (and at least one story here pays homage to that). These early stories, however, emphasized the mythic elements, and these were also carried forward into such (relatively) modern stories as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But most of the stories here don't have that aspect. Either the transformation is done for laughs, or it is a transformation without meaning--a person changes into an X because that's what the plot calls for, not because X has some meaning.
I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with theme anthologies. In addition to the repetitiveness, the requirement of filling a book with stories on a single topic usually means that the quality level suffers. If anthologists feel they must have a theme to their anthologies, how about something less restrictive, like stories whose fifth word is "grass" or authors born in June? [-ecl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Neil Jordan writes and directs a dark epic film with heavy parallels to the current Middle East. Liam Neeson stars as a terrorist and a founder of the IRA, who later tried to bring peace to his country in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Jordan borrows bits from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and THE GODFATHER to create a magnetic epic film. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) Warning: there are spoilers present, though none that could not be found in a decent encyclopedia article on Collins.
Most political struggles have their romantic heroes and with a people as naturally poetic or as argumentative as the Irish, it is not surprising that the fight for independence spawned a great romantic, if controversial, hero. The great hero of the Irish struggle in this century was Michael Collins. And who better to play him than Liam Neeson, the Charleton Heston of the 1990s. Having played larger-than-life historical figures Oskar Schindler and Rob Roy, the Irish actor was an obvious choice to play Michael Collins, at least if audiences were willing to accept the forty- four-year-old Neeson playing a man who died at thirty-one.
The film--in good epic film style told in flashback just after the main character's death--begins with Collins in the 1916 Easter Rising of the Irish against British rule. He escapes immediate arrest only to be arrested later and receive a short term in prison. Many of those rebelling are executed, but Eamon de Valera, a major leader of the resistance (played by Alan Rickman), is given a lighter sentence of a term in prison. This is probably because of his multi-national background, having a Spanish father and being born in America. Collins begins setting about the sort of activities that will get him back in prison. His public speeches for independence win him an ally in the British police force, Ned Broy (Stephen Rea). At least by this account, Collins was impressed by the efficiency and efficacy of British Intelligence and sets about the task of modeling the new Irish Republican Army on it. Collins manages to break de Valera from prison, but de Valera is clearly envious of Collins's new-found power and the relationship between the two is strained. With the intelligence Collins is able to collect about his enemy he is able to outdo the British in the effectiveness of his attacks. He invents the sort of tactics that have become the trademark of the IRA. For two years he maintains an urban guerrilla war against the British. This creates a conflict with de Valera in which the latter wants more traditional warfare, Collins prefers his new terrorism. His struggle ends in the Truce of 1921 and de Valera sends Collins to England to negotiate for the Irish. Collins realizes that the British will make only limited concessions. He brings back a compromise treaty that allows for an Irish free state but partitions Ireland and requires an oath of allegiance to the British monarch. The free state is declared and almost immediately breaks into civil war with Collins defending the treaty and de Valera now on the side of terrorist war against the British and against a treaty that is dividing the country both politically and quite literally.
There is not much in the style of MICHAEL COLLINS but the combination of old elements. Through the war against the British the film draws heavily on the style of THE GODFATHER, particularly with back- and-forth cutting between some tension-producing scene of impending violence, to one more placid. This gives the effect of a much longer and more drawn-out tense scene. Another scene at a football match reminds one very much a similar scene in GANDHI. Where the film borrows, it seems to do it well in most instances. There is one James Bond-ish escape involving a seemingly nearly impossible athletic feat done in complete silence. Here Jordan, who wrote the script as well as directing, seriously damages the credibility of his story which elsewhere is reasonably well maintained. Other places his taste is considerably better. He has a love triangle that could have been a time-wasting plot cliche. He leaves it in for historical accuracy, but he wisely downplays before it can become a distraction. MICHAEL COLLINS is photographed by Chris Menges who won Oscars for his work on THE KILLING FIELDS (1984) and THE MISSION (1986). He creates a surprising amount of atmosphere with what he does not show. He frequently has smoke or fog in the frame. Often part of the frame is obscured by darkness or shadow. At least for me some of the dialogue was similarly obscured by the thick Irish accents. While Menges's images dominate the film, Elliot Goldenthal's score stays modestly in background coloring the film subtly but rarely getting noticed.
Liam Neeson is a big man and plays Collins as a big man, somewhat larger than the people around him. He sweeps into a scene with that large bulk of his and commands it. The one serious problem with the casting is that he never seems as young as Collins needs to be, a good fifteen years younger through much of the film. Aiden Quinn as friend and fellow revolutionary Harry Boland cuts a much less imposing figure. Julia Roberts is by no means the center of the show here and her acting appropriately is not either. She can smile and look appealing and even can master an Irish accent, but she makes little contribution to the film that a lessor-known actress could not have done, and very likely better. Alan Rickman needs a good director to keep him from chewing the scenery and he seems to have found a good director in Jordan. His acting is neat and precise. His de Valera seems to be thinking out each sentence and then delivering with the incisiveness of a scalpel. One may not like what he is saying, but it seems certain that it is precisely what de Valera means.
It is hard to judge the historical accuracy of MICHAEL COLLINS, since even the Irish are not sure of Collins's role in the fight for Independence. There are no obvious contradictions with anything I have found written about Collins's role in history, though it is relatively safe for a filmmaker to fill in some of the blanks about a man of mystery. It has been suggested that De Valera is shown a bit worse than the historical figure, but much of this is within the range of reasonable interpretation and opinion. And speaking of opinion, mine of this film is that it rates a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: It has been a long while since we have had a good African adventure picture. This one, claiming to be an accurate account, is plotted by William Goldman just a little too closely to JAWS. Still, it is a tense and effective film of a type we don't see much of any more. Beautiful African photography recreating the late 19th century is a definite plus and may even be worth the price of admission all by itself. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
The story is basically true. At the turn of the century the British were anxious to consolidate their holdings in Africa and connect Kenya and Uganda together strategically with a railway that would allow them to move freight, probably ivory, and perhaps even troops easily. The rail was intended to get permanent lines of communication into Uganda and get it there ahead of the German rail line moving up north from the south. This was to be the Uganda Railway and Britain was racing with Germany and to a lesser extent France to complete it. In 1896, 32,000 workers were brought to Africa from India, principally from Gujarat and the Punjab, just to work on the railroad. In Kenya one river that blocked the way and that the British rail would have to cross was the Tsavo. Col. John Henry Patterson was selected to build the Tsavo Bridge. His experience told him that it would be a difficult task, but he did not know how difficult.
Patterson's biggest problem turned out to be not from workers but from the animal population. There were frequent attacks of at least two lions who would come at night and drag workers out of their tents. It fell to Patterson to kill the lions, and he had a hard time of it. Between understandable problems with his workers and the efforts to hunt the lions, building the bridge turned into something of a fiasco. However, Patterson was able to collect in his diaries information never available before on just how lions attack and even how they eat humans in the wild. (The sensitive may want to skip to the next paragraph at this point.) The screams and the crunching of bones frequently could be heard from the camps. The victim would be dragged off by the head, often mercifully breaking the neck in the process. The clothing and skin would be licked off by the lion's rough tongue and the blood sucked out. The trunk and legs, being meaty, were eaten next, and then the arms. The head and feet are not thought by lions to be worth the effort to eat.
Unarmed humans are extremely vulnerable to lions, but are usually safe from such attacks. That is because lions just do not want to bother with this unfamiliar prey that walks on two legs and behaves in ways unpredictable to lions. The Tsavo attacks could have been just an incident of elderly lions forced to attack easy prey in spite of the unfamiliarity. Or perhaps it may have been that the railroad workers had hunted out the lions' usual prey. While this film makes the lions out to be extremely large and powerful, doing the killing for the pure enjoyment, it is unlikely that they would have chosen human prey as anything but an act of desperation and a last resort. The lion attacks in the region lasted for ten months, though by some accounts there were several lions involved. Twenty-eight of the workers were killed and it is estimated that over a hundred other people were also killed. One lion even got so bold as to pull human victims off of trains. The lions were eventually killed in ambush and the Tsavo Bridge was finally completed under Patterson's direction. His later book about his experiences, THE MAN EATERS OF TSAVO, was a best- seller. (I have not read the book, incidentally and know only very little of its content from another reference. It is, however, still in print.) Now a somewhat fictionalized version of Patterson's adventures has been made into a movie. Early in the film Patterson, played by Val Kilmer, is given five months to complete the bridge. His employer is John Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson), characterized here as the world's worst manager. Patterson is experienced with what appear to be similar tasks in India, but has never been to Africa. He has, however, always dreamed of a job that would take him to that mysterious continent, so he takes the position. He and the audience are treated to the breath-taking East African landscape and animals as he travels to the Tsavo. Almost immediately there is a crisis with a man-eating lion. Patterson, however, makes short work of the lion and makes himself a hero in the eyes of the workers. But there are more lion problems to come. Also to come is Charles Remington, a Great White Hunter in the classic tradition, played by Michael Douglas. Remington will be hired to solve the lion problem. The screenplay for the story is by William Goldman who certainly knows how to write action from films like MARATHON MAN.
This is Val Kilmer's second role this year with intelligent animals. His performance is slightly more restrained than the one in THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. It is an odd piece of casting, but one that works reasonably well. Not so successful is Michael Douglas whose American Southern accent seems to come and go. He seems to take to his acting a little more casually than the role really called for. The producers clearly were going for something of a horror film feel for this historical film as director Stephen Hopkins is known for horror films like NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5 and PREDATOR 2 and action films like JUDGMENT NIGHT and BLOWN AWAY. Vilmos Zsigmond does as much for the film as any of the actors with his beautiful images of Kenya. Though the photography is generally straightforward, it is not really clear why he uses repeated images of brambles. Also slightly cliched is the use of a distorting lens to show the lions' point of view. There are a few other little cliches that the film could have done without, but to mention them would be spoiler. Jerry Goldsmith's score is decent, though one tends to expect more from his scores.
In general this is a good, old-fashioned African adventure with a fair amount of suspense. I give it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
(film comment by Mark R. Leeper) (originally published in 1989):
I came out of a double feature at the Film Forum in New York City listening to the conversation of the couple behind me. "Boy, I guess you really don't know how bad films were back then," the man said. I guess the comment really took me by surprise. This was an evening I had been looking forward to for months and which had surpassed all expectations. The evening started with a chapter from the serial BATMAN, continued with DELUGE, and concluded with F.P.1. Each was a film I'd wanted to see for years. The fact that they did not stand up well compared to THE ABYSS is hardly relevant. Each of these films is a missing piece of the puzzle of how science fiction films evolved. When they find a new fossil at Olduvai they don't get excited because it came from a really terrific ape. Of the great classic science fiction films that I have never seen, I expect them all to be at best mediocre by today's standards. Better than that is too much to hope for. I frankly never expect to see a great 1930s science fiction film that I have not already seen.
The BATMAN serial was not actually from the 1930s, but from 1943, and directed by Lambert Hillyer, who had previously directed atmospheric chillers such as THE INVISIBLE RAY and DRACULA'S DAUGHTER. Lewis Wilson was the screen's first Batman (succeeded by Robert Lowry and, of course, Adam West and Michael Keaton). I have seen Michael Keaton sticking his chin out of his stiff--probably plastic--costume, and he really looks like the comic character. In 1943 Columbia did not have the same materials. Wilson's Batman suit really does look like the long underwear it was probably made from. There are wrinkles on the legs and the arms. There is a pressed crease up the side of the legs. The cowl has the bat-ears but they are bent at the ends. The effect is like a jester's cap and brought howls of laughter from the audience. Robin had a full head of curly hair and a Halloween mask.
The only recognizable actor in the episode was J. Carrol Naish as the evil Japanese mad scientist Dr. Daka with a machine that turns men into zombies. When Daka turns on his weird electrical equipment the entire theatre vibrates, probably due to equipment left over from showing THE TINGLER earlier the same week. It wasn't as visually impressive as the 1989 BATMAN, but it was a lot more fun. This was Chapter Five of BATMAN, for the record.
Film number two was DELUGE, directed in 1933 by Felix Feist, then 23 years old. He directed the 1953 DONOVAN'S BRAIN and several episodes of television's VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. Here he was directing a screen version of the novel by S. Fowler Wright. It should be noted that DELUGE has long been thought to be a lost film and remains semi-lost. It has been just a couple of years since a copy turned up and it is dubbed in Italian. For this showing a man at the back of the theatre translated.
The film opens by reminding us that God promised not to destroy the world by flood again and then, after a buildup of nature going very sour, proceeds to show most of the world being destroyed just the same way again. We are told that the west coast has fallen into the ocean but never see it. We do see New York City struck down by tidal waves and we see buildings crumble. If the effects were believable they would be spectacular. However, even a contemporary reviewer complained that the effects were none too convincing. My audience apparently agreed and jeered. Now I like really credible effects. They are a virtue. But a reasonable attempt at effects is sufficient for me. They are, after all, just a device to carry the plot. When I go to a puppet show I do not complain that the puppets do not fool me into thinking they are real people. Weak effects are quite forgivable as far as I am concerned if the rest of the film captures my interest.
And DELUGE is a very interesting film, if not for anything intrinsic at least for where it fits historically. What is particularly interesting is how the film reminds one of films that came after, but not of films that came before. After the holocaust is over and there are just a handful of people left the story has definite parallels to NO BLADE OF GRASS and the excellent British television series THE SURVIVORS.
Before the holocaust we have been introduced to iron-jawed Martin (Sidney Blackmer), a family man who saves his family by moving them to a stone quarry but is somehow separated from them. And we meet Claire, an athletic swimmer. The storm washes Claire to the doorstep of two criminals. Claire becomes one vertex in a triangle that leads to the murder of one of the criminals. Roger Corman would use almost the same plot for the 1960 LAST WOMAN ON EARTH.
Claire escapes the killer Jephson only to be found by Martin, alone since the storm. The two of them try to survive together. However, in the mean time, a group of survivors has set up a small town. They have thrown out some undesirables and the criminals pick Jephson as their leader. He leads them on a raid against Martin and Claire. At this point the film has sort of degenerated into a bad Western plot. Surprisingly, things do *not* work out well for all concerned, and the film does at times touch on questions of whether bigamy is justifiable in a post-holocaust world. The story if crudely done, but that didn't stop much of it from being redone, often no better, by other filmmakers. A good film? No. But not a bad film either and definitely an important artifact.
Waiting for the film to start, I started talking to someone sitting next to me who had just finished seeing F.P.1. He assured me it really cornball with bad dialog. I think I'd like to thank him for lowering my expectations and making F.P.1 such a pleasant surprise when my turn came to see it. F.P.1 (1932) is an engineering film, sort of a forerunner to THE TUNNEL and its remake THE TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL, and later THINGS TO COME. Like the Tunnel films, F.P.1 concerns itself with engineering feats to aid transatlantic travel. Instead of being about a tunnel, it is about the building of a great floating airstrip and hotel to be built mid-Atlantic, the Floating Platform 1.
F.P.1 is really a German film refilmed in English to give it the trappings of a British film. It is the story of engineer Captain Drost, who designed the platform but could not sell it to anyone, and his friend pilot Major Ellissen, an enigmatic figure who arranges stunts to bring the platform to the attention of a shipyard, then competes with Drost for the attentions of heiress Clare Lennartz. Ellissen is played by a very dashing Conrad Veidt.
F.P.1 is a spectacular melodrama of a great engineering feat and what goes into building it. There is a subplot of a consortium dedicated to destroying the great platform for no readily apparent reason.
I am glad I went. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org