MT VOID 12/27/96 (Vol. 15, Number 26)

MT VOID 12/27/96 (Vol. 15, Number 26)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/27/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 26

Table of Contents

Upcoming Meetings:

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
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  908-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  908-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
              Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  908-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  908-957-2070
Backissues available at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: A Lon Chaney Home Page. [-ecl]


We are getting used to seeing in the news items that were the subject of science fiction stories not too long ago. This morning I heard one that really took me up short. The radio said that the British government is releasing information about an IRA plot to kill Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1983. I remember reading stories like that, but this is really true. What will be interesting is getting the scientific details of how exactly they intend to do that. [-mrl]


I think a lot of Ray Bradbury as a writer, but I think his view of the future is totally wrong in FAHRENHEIT 451. He sees a threat to literature in the form of government coming in and telling us that we may not read. He sees the government restricting the very presence of books. I know a lot of people who have told me that that has come out of very real concerns about censorship. Actually, I think most of these people are not familiar with the larger body of Bradbury's writing. In particular, FAHRENHEIT 451 is very closely related in inspiration to his short story "The Pedestrian" in which the government restricts out right to walk where we want. Bradbury likes to pay homage to activities that he enjoys by envisioning a nightmare society in which the government does not let one participate in that activity and show you how much you would miss it. "Wouldn't you feel bad if you were not allowed to take walks any more. Wouldn't you miss it if suddenly you were not allowed to read any more?" In these stories the government is just a convenient literary device for forbidding the pleasurable activity.

In my opinion the stories were not initially intended to be anti- government. They were, however, convenient to be used in the argument against book censorship, a cause to which Bradbury (and I) feel sympathetic. However since the government in FAHRENHEIT 451 is against all forms of the written word it is a far cry from the forms of censorship that occur in America today. While that censorship is bad enough, it is intended to restrict a limited set of ideas from a limited set of people. There is no likely evolution from the sort of book censorship we see attempted today without much more monumental and unlikely changes in our society happening first. And all this would be true even ignoring the factor of the Internet. At least in the US the anti-censorship forces always have had a bit of an edge over the censors even before the advent of the Internet (luckily). For one thing nothing so helped the sales of a book as being banned by somebody. Banning a book from a school library kept it out of the hands only of children who were either lazy, gullible, or disinterested anyway. The coming of the Internet has turned what was an uphill battle for the pro-censorship people into a fiasco. We have to adapt to a world where anyone can get their hands not just on THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and HUCKLEBERRY FINN, but also THE TURNER DIARIES and THE STORY OF O. The Internet has made it necessary for governments to either give up any semblance of modern technology or control of information to their people. China just in the last day or so put huge restrictions on its people's use of the Internet. Anyone with access to the Internet has to register with the Chinese government. This is an act of desperation much akin to the old Soviet Union forcing citizens to register their typewriters with the government and to submit samples of the type so they had at least something of a chance to find what typewriter wrote some subversive piece of text. These are Draconian measures and they are doomed to failure. The only way to enforce such control on typewriters is to bring in higher technology with more computers for the goverment to use to track typewriters. You have to network them together. You have to create a "problem" many orders of magnitude worse in your attempts to solve typewriter part of the problem.

We have to face the fact that we are near the end of the period when we can restrict the flow of information between two consenting parties. That is going to have far-reaching implications for our society. But ironically in the shorter-term future we are going to see this new freedom bringing about a censorship, not from a central government but from the mass of the people. I will explore this next week. [-mrl]


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: This is a light rollicking Shakespeare comedy turned leaden and dour apparently intentionally by director Trevor Nunn. The 1890s look creates some logical problems for the film without doing anything interesting to the meaning of the story. Dim lighting and overly restrained performances sap nearly all the spirit out of a play that is usually a lot of fun. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4). New York Critics: 10 positive, 1 negative, 6 mixed.

This is the film to take a Shakespeare fan to see so he will understand why so many people do not care for Shakespeare. Trevor Nunn put a lot of unconventional touches into this TWELFTH NIGHT. He took risks and in many cases demonstrated just how they were risks. I previously saw TWELFTH NIGHT performed in a San Jose park by a bunch of unknowns who passed a hat at the end. And I saw the Trevor Nunn film with respected professionals and highly paid name actors. It is surprising how much better the play was done in the park. Nunn is a director whom I have respected in the past. He directed the TV version of THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, the film LADY JANE, and more recently the PBS "Les Miserables in Concert." Each is good, and each is downbeat in tone. Perhaps that is the only tone with which Nunn feels comfortable, but TWELFTH NIGHT is about as downbeat a treatment as we could expect from this comedy.

The first of the problems is that Nunn had moved the story to the late 19th century for no apparent reason and adding no value to the story. A year ago Ian McKellan did a magnificent updating of RICHARD III, giving the film not just a beautiful look, but adding a great deal to the meaning of the story. No reason for the updated setting here is apparent and in some cases clothing details required by the story just do not fit with the dress of the characters in the film. While we are on the subject of the look of the film, the dim lighting does odd things to the tone of the film. Nunn chooses to light very much like this is a film noir production. There are a few sunlit scenes, but a great deal of the film seems to take place in semi-darkness with characters having half of their faces lit, the other half fading into the darkness of the background. Frequently there is one bright source of light in a scene and the rest is bathed in black. In a crime film it would have worked very nicely because it lends a powerful downbeat and oppressive feel. Using that sort of lighting in a light comedy is creative, but the effect fights what should be the tone of a film with characters like Sir Toby Belch (played by broad comedic actor Mel Smith) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Richard E. Grant of "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life").

The plot is as complex as many of Shakespeare's comedies. Viola and Sebastian are identical twins who are shipwrecked separately in a place called Illyria. Each is unaware that the other has survived, and each goes into the service of one of two rival dukes. In order to do this Viola has to dress as and pretend to be a man. She apparently does it very well since the Countess Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter) falls in love with her, thinking her to be a man. You can imagine the possibilities that a Shakespeare (or for that matter a Mozart) would see in male and female twins, otherwise identical and now actually identical since both now appear to be male. The Bard has his usual fun with mistaken identities and odd love alliances. For additional humor Shakespeare has peppered the plot with characters who often have humorous names and a subplot involving a puritanical servant, Malvolio (Nigel Hawthorne).

Viola is played by Imogen Stubbs who gets surprisingly low billing considering that she really is the main character. Her best known role is as Lucy Steele in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, though if the reader wants to make a terrific film discovery, I can suggest her earlier A SUMMER STORY. Stubbs has the talent for the role, but has a hard time making herself even look like a man, much less make herself mistakable for Stephen Mackintosh, who plays her twin brother Sebastian. There is one really stunning performance in the film, and even that is not entirely obvious until the end: Nigel Hawthorne is actually very good as Malvolio. In his last scene he manages to turn much of the play upside-down. Another very good actor is used to much less effect. Ben Kingsley plays a sort of narrator and chorus, Feste. In the original he was the court fool, here turned into a wandering minstrel. This gives Kingsley what I think is his first and hopefully only singing role. Rounding out the cast is Helena Bonham Carter in a less pouting role than most of hers, but not one with which she did a whole lot. There is a lot of comedy in the play, but somehow nothing seems all that funny on the screen, due in large part to the restrained performances of the cast and the dour feel of the lighting.

Trevor Nunn's version of TWELFTH NIGHT does some things original but not a lot that really improve on the material. I rate it a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: THE CRUCIBLE is Arthur Miller's allegory of the politics of the 1950s Red Scare told with a setting of the Salem witch trials. This 45-year-old play is as powerful a drama as you will see on the screen this year. While a little hampered by the 17th century prose, it remains a moving theatrical experience. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) New York Critics: positive: 20, negative: 1, mixed: 4

THE CRUCIBLE is the story of the Salem witch trials, but it is a lot more than that. It is an examination of a society that through fear gives unquestioned authority and power to a select few supposed defenders. The result is an exercise in power far worse than the threat it was intended to curb. The House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy were the inspiration for Arthur Miller's original play, but the parallels he draws can be applied to any situation where the public allows itself to be ruled by fear rather than reason. It is a ready-made and fully-formed analogy that some can apply to the "political correctness" argument, others to the firearms debate or political issues with religious implications. The term "witch hunt" has come into common usage as any campaign against dissension, perhaps in large part because of this play.

The setting is Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. This is a community committed to an extreme devotion to its religion and what it sees as service to God. And if the Bible says that such things as witches exist, then witchcraft must be a very real and very present threat to the community. Several adolescent girls, led by Abigail Williams (played by Winona Ryder), are caught in the act playing the voodoo-like game of "conjuring boys." Williams has taken things a step further and has tried to use the magic to kill a woman she considers her enemy. At first she denies that the game had anything to do with witchcraft, but quickly discovers that she has happened onto what seems to her a good thing. The first suggestion that any of the people of Salem have engaged in witchcraft seems to bring down the wrath of the whole community. And the people of Salem, many already involved in minor conflicts with their neighbors, seem all too ready to accept and exploit witchcraft accusations against their enemies. Soon there are a dozen or so girls making accusations and basking in the celebrity their accusations bring them.

Drawn into the situation are John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen). John had had a short dalliance with Abigail, but now wants to remain faithful to Elizabeth. It is a situation that Abigail, with her new-found power, discovers she can change. To investigate the accusations come first the Reverend Hale (Rob Campbell) and then the esteemed Judge Danforth (Paul Scofield), Deputy Governor of Massachusetts. Hale is a moderate man as likely to find an accused witch innocent as guilty. Judge Danforth, on the other hand, is a religious zealot who couches his actions in legalisms. At heart, however, he is deeply afraid of witchcraft himself and can no longer accept any possibility of innocence. He sees the girls' accusations as God giving him the tools to root out the Devil in Salem. Eventually the witch hunt will take on a life of its own and will get beyond even his control. Caught in all of this is John Proctor who still has some affection for Abigail but sees first hand the evil that Abigail is wielding.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder each seem acceptable by themselves, but somehow do not seems to have much dramatic chemistry together on the screen. Day-Lewis is made up with considerably more realism than is Ryder. He, like many of the people of the story, show the sign of a hard life with scars and with rotted teeth. Even making allowances for Ryder's youth, a similar hard life seems to have done little more than ruffle her hair. Ryder appears out of place and too well cared-for considering the look of most of the other people in the film. Joan Allen, who previously played Pat Nixon in NIXON gives a subtle uprightness to the role of Elizabeth Proctor. Paul Scofield playing another judge will surely bring memories of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. He brings a lot of the same magnetism to this role as he had in that, perhaps presenting another side of the same character. Familiar faces in less pivotal roles include Bruce Davison, Jeffrey Jones, and George Gaynes.

In some senses this production is a little too polished to feel accurate. The opening sequence shows a voodoo-like ceremony in the woods complete with mystic chalk symbols drawn on ground, and Tituba chanting a perfectly recorded version of the Yanvalou Chant. It was very theatrical but not very realistic. Some may find the film a little hard to follow, particularly in the first half hour. The viewer is introduced to a large number of characters speaking in the manner of 17th Century English. A word should be said about the accuracy of this film to the historical fact. It is not much beyond the names of some of the people. Abigail Williams was an eleven-year-old and John Proctor was sixty, so much of the Miller's tale of sexual revenge does not work as history. However I am willing to give Arthur Miller more latitude to play with the facts in this film than I give Gibson for BRAVEHEART. Robert Bolt in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS or William Shakespeare with JULIUS CAESAR is doing a lot more than just telling an adventure tale. Miller is a writer who can tell a story of complexity with some profundity. If THE CRUCIBLE is not historically accurate, it transcends that. I personally hold BRAVEHEART more accountable for historical accuracy than I do THE CRUCIBLE.

THE CRUCIBLE is a powerful play on stage, but it has been made available to mass audiences only twice before, once as the 1957 French film LES SORCIERES DE SALEM and then again in 1967 as a play performed on CBS. With the exception of the latter, no non-live version has ever been available to American audience until now. It is something of a service that it is available now. I give it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 908-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     The power of accurate observation is commonly called
     cynicism by those who have not got it.
                                   -- George Bernard Shaw