MT VOID 04/03/98 (Vol. 16, Number 40)

MT VOID 04/03/98 (Vol. 16, Number 40)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/03/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 40

Table of Contents

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  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: Complete Seeing Ear Theatre original science fiction audio dramas in RealAudio. [-ecl]

Dracula: I was recently rereading Bram Stoker's DRACULA. I think that the reason the vampire gave his Victorian opponents so much trouble is not just that he had centuries of wisdom and experience, but that he clearly was an expert in "out-of-the-box" thinking. [-mrl]

Footnotes: I don't know how many of you are bothered by this problem, but I have a serious problem in my reading of non-fiction books in that they use footnotes. What is a footnote really? I guess it is a sort of afterthought. It is an additional point that the author wants to make. It is a piece of documentation that the author wants to put into the text. I mean, the author spent all this effort writing a book, something that is not easy, and got the text all together, then said, "Oh, yeah, I also want to say...," and throws in a few more lines. Actually a footnote can be just a page reference from some journal that I would never be able to find in my local library. (This is not something that helps you understand the text; it is a way authors have of sharing blame. "Don't blame me. I didn't make it up. I am just repeating what so-and-so said." There may also a sort of hidden message of "you may want to go to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, get a copy of the original writing yourself and just verify that I got it right.") I mean, what is the point of this? You have to trust an author a certain amount. If he is a good author, he will not take his facts from a misspelled incoherent pamphlet handed to him on the way into a subway tunnel by a guy wearing fluffy bunny bedroom slippers. But sometimes there is a fair amount of information in the footnotes. Sometimes the *only* really interesting stuff is in the footnote. I have to ask myself, can I afford to skip this footnote? There are some authors who want to appear serious and put all the dry uninteresting stuff in the main text and then put in the footnote the how they came by this information in a Turkish steambath in return for saving a certain well-known French economist from a mostly disrobed young blond woman carrying a German Luger. (*) And you don't know when looking for a footnote which type it will be.

Now an author can take one of two basic styles of listing footnotes, one is a super-pain for the reader and the other is a lot worse. The first is putting the footnote at the bottom of the page. Now I don't know about you, but my reading speed has picked up since my "See Spot run. Run, Spot, run" days. That means that when I get to the bottom of the page I probably see the footnote and realize I missed where this footnote was called. I look over the page again and I still cannot find that tiny number. I usually just skip the footnote. Or I skim it quickly for keywords like "blond" or "Luger." But it is considered just not scholarly to put the footnotes on the same page. No, that is too convenient; generally they go at the back of the chapter. This means you have to keep flipping to the back of the chapter. After all, you have no idea if the footnote is of interest or not. Even if you have two footnotes in the book it is a serious inconvenience. But you know really scholarly books put all the footnotes at the back of the whole dang book. And of course they start over numbering the footnotes with each chapter. And the only way to find which chapter's footnotes you are looking at is to flip back page by page until you get to this chapter's footnote number one. Now I try to outsmart the writer. What I do is I scan the footnotes before the main text and make a note that there are interesting comments associated with footnotes 3, 17, and 31. Of course then reading the text I completely miss those references.

Now there are those who tell me that the answer is hypertext. Rather then spending three minutes searching for the footnote you simply click on the footnoted word and your reader freezes up and in only five minutes it has retrieved an error message explaining why it can't find the page.

I say enough of this foolishness. Footnotes should be included in the main line of text. You can set them off with square brackets, you can indent them, you can make them bold. You just *cannot* make the reader go searching for them. Understand? Sheesh.

That was easy. Now what are we going to about magazines that in the middle of one long article have side-panel articles on a closely-related topic? I never know when I am supposed to skip over and read those things. [-mrl] * not based on a real incident

MEN WITH GUNS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: In an unspecified Latin American country a naive doctor searches for the students he sent into the mountains to help Indios only to find a string of atrocities by the army and the guerrillas. The film is slow and totally obvious from the first reel. Flat and uninteresting characters do little to help. This is a heartfelt story, but tells us nothing we have not known for decades. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 12 positive, 2 negative, 4 mixed

One of the most respected names in American independent filmmaking is John Sayles. He has built a strong reputation with films like MATEWAN and THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH, and one of his best was his last film, LONE STAR. After Sayles gave us this complex and unconventional look at ethnic tensions on the US-Mexico border, expectation ran high for his next film. Unfortunately, his MEN WITH GUNS is not the film anyone was hoping for. We are essentially told in the first reel where the film is going to go and what it is going to do. Then the film does exactly what it promised, a painful as that is. The plot of MEN WITH GUNS can be summarized "In a Central or South American country things are really bad for everybody in the mountains where the army clashes with the guerrillas. Dr. Fuentes did not believe how bad things were so he went. And he found out again and again and again." Of course it is perfectly true that in many places in that region armed conflicts have turned life into a living hell. A guerrilla war is always bad for civilians. But the film talks down to the viewer.

Dr. Fuentes (played by Federico Luppi) teaches medicine in the capital city of his country. He has, as a great humanitarian gesture, trained and inspired some of his best students to go into the mountains and make the world a little better for the poor Indios. Fuentes believe the students to be up there doing humanitarian service. Then he discovers one of his best students has instead returned to the city and runs a squalid private pharmacy. In shame and disappointment Fuentes asks the student what has happened to the others. The student tells him the others are still in the mountains, but suggests that it may not be a good place to be. Fuentes goes off to find and visit the doctors, ignoring the advice of his family and a patient who happens to be an army general. The results are little different than one would expect.

Dr. Fuentes starts out incredibly naive. Even some American tourists, present in the film mostly for comic relief, seem to know better than Dr. Fuentes that things have gotten pretty bad in the mountains. But Fuentes has to go from one scene of barbarity to another and discover how wrong he was. Sayles certainly could have used 126 minute of screen time to tell us something more profound than that nasty things are happening down there and most of the worst happens to the unarmed civilians.

The cast is mostly unknowns to American audiences. Federico Luppi is the good Mexican actor who played the antique dealer torn by mysterious forces in CRONOS. Damian Delgado makes a late appearance as an army deserter. Mandy Patinkin has a small role made to look bigger in the trailer.

MEN WITH GUNS is a film on a serious subject, but it has little new or valuable to say on that subject. I rate it 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

THE NEWTOWN BOYS (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Lying somewhere between a Western and a gangster film, THE NEWTON BOYS tells the story of a five-year bank-robbing spree of a family gang, culminating in the biggest train robbery in United States History. An odd film for Richard Linklater to make, but entertaining, if a bit formless. The film does have a good feel for 1919-1924 setting. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

Neither Sifakis's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN CRIME nor Nash's BLOODLETTERS AND BAD MEN seems to know the Newtons existed. What research I tried to do before seeing the film turned up nothing. But the film turns up some corroborating evidence that the story must have at the very minimum some truth. Apparently the Newton Gang were the most successful bank robbers in American history. From 1919 to 1925 this Texas-based gang robbed banks all over the country, eighty in all, though their biggest job was the three- million-dollar train robbery in Rondout, Illinois.

With Andy Warhol being dead, it is hard to imagine a director less likely to make an atmosphere-heavy period film than Richard Linklater, director of Generation X films like SLACKER. Nevertheless, Linklater breaks from his mold and does a fair job of recreating America of the early 1920s. And ironically his Generation X serves him well when showing members of the gang in their casual moments relaxing in postures you would never see in a Bogart or Cagney gangster film.

Willis Newton (played by Matthew McConaughey) is newly out of prison where he was railroaded for a crime he did not commit. What particularly galls him is that friends and neighbors willingly perjured themselves to abet the railroading. He decides really to turn to crime, stealing from the banks and implicitly from the insurance companies who, he rationalizes, are all crooks anyway. After helping someone else with a daylight robbery he decides it is safer to plan his own crimes and to rob banks only at night.

Soon Willis is bringing his brothers in to assist him in his robberies. Realizing that he knows how to open a square-door safe but not a round-door one, he has a bank manager list for him all the banks he knows of that have square-door safes, a list that contains banks all over the country. The film takes a very whimsical look at their crimes. These are very clearly lucky amateurs who do not know what they are doing, as we see in several comic scenes. They seem to have an incredible run of luck, neither killing anybody nor being killed themselves. Willis is the serious planner, brothers Jess (Ethan Hawke) and Dock (Vincent D'Onofrio) are in it just for the wild times. Joe (Skeet Ulrich) is the youngest and most thoughtful of the boys. Rounding out the gang is Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam).

McConaughey clearly provides what acting interest there is in the film and he gives the only performance that is above being just adequate. He is a little too handsome and polished for the role. The viewer knows this because of the very intelligent device of having interviews with the real-life Joe and Willis play with the credits--in the 1970s Willis was interviewed in a documentary and Joe appeared on the "Tonight Show" in 1980. The big surprise is how under-utilized Vincent D'Onofrio is. He is a fine actor and should have gotten a meatier role.

The story of the Newton Boys is apparently a neglected chapter of American crime. I cannot verify the accuracy of the film but I can say it was entertaining. I would rate it 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

In the film there is considerable mention square-door safes and round-door safes. The Newtons say they can open square-door safes but not the round-door ones. In order to decide what banks they will rob, they need a list of banks with square-door safes. What is this all about? Well, a square-door safe has a (rectangular) door. It is like the door to your home, only it is made of steel so it is a lot stronger. But it is still held in place by bolts and it is possible to get behind the door and sheer the bolt, possibly by blowing the whole door off its hinges. A round-door safe does not have hinges. The door is a disk with threads around the edge. The door is a separate piece which screws out of the safe. (In the 1953 WAR OF THE WORLDS the ports on the Martian spacecraft use the same principle. Remember Paul Birch's line "It's the damnedest thing the way that's unscrewin'.") In place a round screw-in door is just as secure as any other wall of the safe. There is no way you can get explosive behind it. At the time of THE NEWTON BOYS round-door safes (usually in spherical safes called "cannonballs") were absolutely secure. Cannonball safes were eventually defeated, but only by ignoring the opening mechanism and cutting right through the wall. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Of learned men, the clergy show the lowest development
     of professional ethics.  Any pastor is free to cadge
     customers from the divines of rival sects, and to
     denounce the divines themselves as theological quacks.
                                   -- H. L. Mencken