MT VOID 08/21/98 (Vol. 17, Number 8)

MT VOID 08/21/98 (Vol. 17, Number 8)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/21/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 8

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 201-447-3652 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 2E-537  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: For all the old-time book collectors among us, the story of the "Armed Services Editions," including pictures. [-ecl]

Sales: "... And don't forget that at Lucert Technologies no sale is ever final. If we find out you are buying from our competitors we'll come right in and rip that sucker out." [-mrl]

Art: This is going to be some stream of consciousness thoughts about art. That is probably appropriate, I figure. You know we see a lot of art that is called avant-garde. That means it is the advanced guard of a new movement. It is something that is new and different. And people are anxious to see it because it is new and different. I, however, am going on strike. I am not going to believe a piece of art is avant-garde without the artist telling me when the rest of the movement is coming and from whom besides her/himself. I mean, you cannot be the avant-garde of a movement if you are all there is.

It is like these films that came out in the 50s and 60s that proudly proclaimed "This is the first film shot in the new miracle of the screen, Hypno-Vista." You seen any other Hypno-Vista films recently? Did you ever see even the second film shot in the new miracle of the screen, Hypno-Vista? No. And there were never any plans for one. And look how often the new miracle of the screen was something like William Castle putting a joy buzzer in random seats or flying a plastic skeleton over the audience on a wire. These films all claimed to be the first that had done it and forty years later they remain the only films to ever having used this miracle of the screen. Well, I guess it is true that there are not a lot of Julia Roberts comedies that really have an obvious need to have a glowing plastic skeleton flown over the audience. I suppose that there are some that might be improved with the skeleton, but none that really have as much as something we would call a need. But that is the problem with avant-garde art. You are really taking the artist's word that in being the avant-garde, the work is not also the ensuite-garde, the pendant-garde, and the suelement- garde. So often a work of art is all these things. So frequently in art the real issue of whether there will be more similar is the issue of whether a work of art makes, well, let's use the word... money. While it does not get said a great deal, movements in art are heavily governed by the issue of what sells to an audience. You can pretty much track what is selling to audiences in art by what the artists are doing.

Incidentally, this has an interesting corollary. It has been discovered that many of Vincent Van Gogh's contemporaries imitated his style. They would not have done this if it had not been profitable for them to do so. This has led modern art historians to doubt the old legend that Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life. He must have had at least some limited financial success that other artists wanted to cash in on.

Of course, when we talk about money and the arts in this country, there is the controversy over the National Endowment for the Arts. You have wars between representationalists and abstract artists. You have artists unpopular in some quarters and the question of whether they should be funded or not. Then you have questions of censorship. I believe that everybody has a First Amendment right to create any sort of art they want. I think that the National Endowment for the Arts has no right to act as a censor. I think they should confine themselves to deciding what art gets funded and what does not. And I think that on the National Endowment for the Arts and I are in perfect agreement. The First Amendment guarantees free expression, not free greenbacks. Should the NEA be accountable to public taste? Well, turn on the major networks and watch a comedy. The networks really are accountable to public tastes, not by principle but by something much stronger. That is how they make their money. Pick a comedy show at random (not one top-rated, but pick one totally at random). Or better yet, pick a show like BAYWATCH or MELROSE PLACE. There. That is public taste for you. Now you decide if the National Endowment for the Arts should be accountable to it. [-mrl]

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

Capsule: The screen version of the 60s TV classic will probably do well only with real fans of the series. Non-fans of the series should give this one a miss. Still, this is just about the best and most accurate re- creation we could have expected at the end of the 90s. Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes star in a film drenched in the 60s atmosphere of series THE AVENGERS. Those were not great stories and neither is this, but both are fun. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

Starting in January 1961, the British were treated to a sort of tongue-in-cheek crime and spy series on television. THE AVENGERS was about secret agent John Steed and his various partners who changed over the years. The original concept for Steed was to have the personality of a George Sanders--sort of worldly and a little sarcastic. I cannot help believing part of the inspiration was also Ralph Richardson's brawley-toting and bowler-hatted secret agent Major Charles Hammond from the 1939 film Q PLANES (retitled in the U.S. CLOUDS OVER EUROPE). Initially the partner was Dr. David Keel (played by Ian Hendry). Later for four years it was Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman). When she left the producers looked for a replacement that would have the same "man-appeal" as Ms. Blackman did. "Man appeal" was abbreviated "M-appeal" and when actress Diana Rigg was hired "M-appeal" or rather Emma Peel became her character's name. She was not with the series even as long as Blackman but hers were the years that the series got its widest viewership. She is the best remembered of Steed's partners, though there were others before and after her. The episodes of the Emma Peel years were noted for a sort of 60s mod surrealism that became the hallmark of the series. That was a trademark and so was making the characters veddy, veddy sophisticated and stylish. So when in the late 90s, the film industry is making a feature film based on the popular series, these are the years they choose to copy.

And remake the series they really did. The recent film MISSION IMPOSSIBLE took place in the same world as the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE TV series and had some of the same characters, but the writers clearly did not know or did not care what a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE story was all about. They told their own kind of story with characters from the series. THE AVENGERS on the other hand have authentically told an AVENGERS sort of story and they have told it in the style of THE AVENGERS. For the most part, the faults of the film are actually cases where the original formula did not age well. As Mike Myers shows us in AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY, much of the 60s mod style looks pretty silly today. The story of THE AVENGERS is trivial and comic-bookish, but that was the series. The 60s mod surrealism comes through loud and clear. Suffice it to say that there are scenes in this film that are sufficiently visually weird and unexpected to bring a smile to any viewer's face. Toward the end of each episode there usually was a fight under outlandish circumstances and the circumstances in this film are about as outlandish as any. The only place where the formula was not quite followed was that in the series any romantic feelings between Steed and Peel were strictly between the lines of the script. There was a sexual tension, but the characters never acknowledged it. In this version is not much romance, but it is much more clearly spelled out for the viewer. The Michael Kamen and Joel McNeely musical score I think should have made more use of the original music. The opening title music is something of a letdown only because I had hoped to hear a good version of the original theme. This is one aspect where MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was better. In fact, the music could have done a lot more to create the feel of the film. In the final analysis it does little to enhance the atmosphere. Even if it was not trying to re-create the 60s feel, it should have been able to add to the excitement better than it did. There is one minor plot variation on the canon I would like to add. In the film, Steed and Peel meet for the first time, yet the story also features Mother. In the series, the very last episode with Peel introduced Mother for the first time. And to the best of my knowledge the character of Father was invented for the film.

Bon vivant and crack secret agent John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) is called in after an attack on the British government's secret weather project Prospero. Oddly enough the attacker seems to be there very founder of the project, the beautiful and leggy scientist Dr. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman). In spite of actual film of Peel committing the crime, Peel claims to be innocent. Steed's suspicion falls on the aptly named August de Wynter (Sean Connery), a flamboyant Scotsman who is doing funny things to weather in a project that seems related to Peel's Prospero.

How are Fiennes and Thurman at re-creating the characters of John Steed and Emma Peel? Not too shabby. The real danger is that a well-cast Mrs. Peel will upstage the more quietly conservative John Steed. However Steed holds his own and never becomes second banana to Mrs. Peel. Both seem physically up to the challenges of the role. Both seem to ooze charm and class. Their interpretations are really fairly close to the originals. They have one minor change in style, they seem to smile a lot less and are more serious about their work. But they do seem to be the same people the originals played. And they are helped along by Don MacPherson's script, which has a very AVENGERS feel. I kept picturing Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg delivering the same lines and in almost the same way. Patrick Macnee does not appear in THE AVENGERS, by the way, while Diana Rigg is not in the film at all. Sean Connery is Sean Connery is Sean Connery.

A little fine-tuning could have made this a perfect 90s representation of the 60s TV series. That might not have raised the rating, but it would not have hurt either. I give this one a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     The infliction of cruelty with good conscience is
     a delight to moralists--that is why they invented hell.
                                   -- Bertrand Russell