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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/22/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 21
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 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
URL of the week:
URL of the week: http://www.bookshop.co.uk/. The Internet Book Shop. An alternative to www.amazon.com, presumably more focused on British books. [-ecl]
In an earlier editorial I said why Evelyn and i were going to Japan, and I guess some of the readers thought I was saying that upcoming editorials would be about Japan. I am not sure if I am going to have a lot of special interest to say. I do want to say something that has some bearing on the worlds of fantasy and still has bearing on American-Japanese relations. In at the end of the World War when the American occupation forces came to Japan, overall the Japanese were rather surprised that Americans did not make themselves cruel overlords. I think the Japanese more or less felt that had the tables been turned the Americans would have gotten much less merciful treatment at the hands of the Japanese. But there was one thing that the Americans insisted on that caused a great deal of ill-will. They insisted that the Emperor give up his claim of being a god. For many long generations the Japanese had thought of their emperor as a god and the Americans, who were really there by force of power, were telling them that the Emperor was not. Now admittedly in my log I start by poking a little fun at the idea of a human being a god. I ask how a human comes to terms with the idea that he wakes up one morning and says "Today I am a god. And somehow I am still hungry for breakfast." How does he come think of himself when he realizes that he still gets pimples on his back and yet he is a deity? Had he known before that gods can get pimples on their back? How did the Caesars of ancient Rome handle it? I mean it is easy to believe that Caligula saw nothing at all strange about saying that this mortal husk is something that a god would have. He was, as the actor John Hurt who once played him said, "congenitally bonkers." But some of the other Caesars must have felt a little weird about it. They were all a bit weird, at least of Suetonius is to be believed, but they held on to some semblance of reality. Did they ever question the deification process? But by comparison, the emperors of Japan were relatively stable. At least if they were not, we have not heard about it. They must have had some cognitive dissonance with the idea that they were suddenly gods. Anyway, this is what I initially thought.
But what convinces me I was wrong was thinking back about a set of conversations I had with an evangelistic Christian who was anxious to convert me to his religion. This was a Bell Laboratories Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, mind you. Now I wouldn't call converting me an impossible task, but I would say that it is a very, very, very highly unlikely task. I would like to think that by the time we were done that he had asked himself some new questions that he had not thought about before. But one particular exchange has a great deal of bearing on the Americans asking the Japanese Emperor to renounce his title as god. He came to my office (on business--debates we kept to e-mail in off hours) and must have noticed that I had pictures of Chinese dragons. He told me that he didn't know if I knew it, but these were really "symbols of evil." My response to him was that he had fallen prey to a visual pun. In Western culture the dragon can be thought of BY SOME as being derived from the Serpent in the Garden of Eden and a symbol of evil. However, he was looking at Chinese dragons. They are not in any way related to anything in the Bible. In fact, I believe, Chinese dragons are symbols of erudition. So why are they called dragons? Well, they look like the European dragon. They are big and long and slung low to the ground and they have animal- like heads. But they were fully developed as a symbol before contacts with the West that started calling them "dragons." The fact that they look a little alike does no mean that they are alike.
This story came back to me when I started thinking about the Emperor of Japan. Could we be being fooled by our own Western experience? Westerners came to Japan with a lot of baggage from our own culture that colored the way we saw Japan. Is possible that we have different concepts of what a god is? Well, it is not only possible, but now that I think about it, the Japanese didn't use the Western word "god" before there were Westerners present obviously. And what the Emperor was is something that the right human can become through the correct ceremony. So on one hand we told the Japanese that the Emperor had become a god and then later said, but that is impossible a human cannot become that and he must tell the people that he does not become one. Of course that is going to rub them the wrong way. How would we feel if aliens told us that what we call a President is what they call a "Vashlit?" But a mere human cannot become a Vashlit, so the President has to renounce his office and admit that he is not really the President. No wonder there was ill-feeling. [-mrl]
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: In large part this is an old fashioned anti-crime morality tale. Abel Ferrara does some of his best directorial work to date in this story of a family of three gangster brothers. When the youngest of the brothers is murdered and eldest has to avenge the crime, the family begins to disintegrate. The dark piece of cinema, in tone and in lighting, looks at each of the three brothers, each with his own viewpoint on violence and in an odd way his own brand of idealism. This is a violent film, occasionally graphically. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)
In 1936 the Tempio brothers are three small-time criminal enforcers, first generation immigrants from Italy. Ray (played by Christopher Walken) is by default the patriarch of the family and controls the others with a heavy hand. He is quiet and introspective. Chez (Chris Penn) is volatile and given to short emotional bursts. The youngest was Johnny (Vincent Gallo) who developed a social conscience and was leaning toward the Communists whose meetings he had visited. I say "was" since as the film opens Johnny is being brought into the house of his brother Ray in a coffin. Johnny has been murdered and Ray knows that it is his job to track down the murderer. This is not directly for revenge, but because in the philosophy he has been taught the killer has to eliminate anyone who might be coming after him in vengeance. These are the Old Country values that at the age of thirteen back in Italy Ray was told he must learn to run the family when his father died. His responsibilities at that young age included the cold- blooded execution of a family enemy. So Ray and Chez must find out who killed their twenty-two-year-old younger brother. The story is told in present action and in extended flashbacks. The screenplay by Nicholas St. John delves into the forging of the violent family with scenes from Ray's childhood and the action in the month or so leading up to the killing of Johnny. It also shows how the violence of the family poisons each remaining brother's family life. Ray is married to Jeanette (Annabella Sciorra), as intelligent as her husband and just as assertive. She rages against the pain while Chez's wife Clara (Isabella Rossellini) quietly bears all. THE FUNERAL is like a de-romanticized THE GODFATHER on a smaller scale, and often with more believable conflict and more realistic dialogue.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film was Vincent Gallo's performance. He plays with a certain tension just beneath the surface and has a lively performance style and an unforgettable-- not to say "homely"--face. The face and style remind one of the early performances of John Turturro. Director Abel Ferrara probably has some of the best performances of any of his films in THE FUNERAL. He has overcome some of the self-indulgent over- acting in films like MS. 45. Some of the most effective performances come from the actresses playing the two wives, Annabella Sciorra and Isabella Rossellini, reacting differently as they see their lives unraveling as their husbands are pulled into the events that follow the killing. Only Christopher Walken, in the top-billed role, seems a trifle too reserved for the proceedings.
Nicholas St. John's screenplay has some nice touches. Each of the brothers has his own style of idealism and his feeling of how things ought to be. These interpretations are based in large part on each's views of Catholicism and each's responsibility to the family. Ferrara has a penchant for melodrama and this film has it, though it has always been hard to do a gangster films without a least some melodrama. Ferrara is a sort of outsider as a filmmaker. He was not aiming at making one of the great gangster classics, he just wanted to tell a superficially simple story and create some characters of some depth. This is not an ambitious film, but there certainly are some nice touches. I would give it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
A cult is a religion with no political power. -- Tom Wolfe