MT VOID 08/28/98 (Vol. 17, Number 9)

MT VOID 08/28/98 (Vol. 17, Number 9)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/28/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 9

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: Barry Longyear's book SCIENCE FICTION WRITER'S WORKSHOP, all about writing science fiction. [-ecl]

Chains: As we traveled across country staying in motels we noticed that all you see are Motel 6s, Quality Inns, etc. etc. You see the same restaurant, Taco Bells, McDonalds, Burger Kings, ad nauseum. You see the same grocery stores, and the same department stores. I guess it really is true that in the United States man is born free and everywhere is in chains. [-mrl]

Attics: You know, some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. I should have known from the beginning that this would not be an ursophagous day. I know how the coyote feels in those Roadrunner cartoons.

We subscribe to VARIETY, which comes every week with gossip about the film industry in a language I am trying to teach myself by weekly treatments. I am almost to the point where I can say things like "Sticks Nix Hicks Pix" and know what I am saying. Almost. But one reason I read VARIETY is to keep in shape. You see each week I put the old VARIETY in a box. When the box is full I take it up to my attic. That sounds easy to say, but I have an attic with a hatchway and a folding ladder. It looks almost like the hatch of Flash Gordon's rocket ship except that it is horizontal rather than vertical. In fact, I must remember that if I ever go senile, I do want to play Flash Gordon up there.

Anyway, a box full of VARIETYs may weigh something like fifty pounds. Ever try climbing a ladder carrying fifty pounds? Firefighters may do it (and get paid for it). Me, I have problems. I kind of rest it on the ladder and push it up a step at a time. Evelyn is smarter. She realizes that she can take newspapers out of the box and make three or four trips. But I am a man. Men can be stupid about things like this. Somewhere in the primitive root of the male mind is a set of rules saying that is in some way cheating. Women can make multiple trips. Men don't do that. Men have to haul it up in one trip. But there is a loophole. Men can use tools. And for years I have had a dream. My problem was that I was pushing the box up. If I had a pulley above the top of the hatchway, hanging from the underside roof, I could do all the lifting by pulling down on the rope. For years I had this simple dream, to install a pulley in my attic. Every time it comes time to move a box of VARIETYs into the attic, I would dream of the day when I would effortlessly pull it up and tap it into place. Right.

Well, there comes a time when you have to just take the bull by the horns. I was in the hardware store yesterday and I bought myself a pulley. First question is what do I want to hang it from. At first I thought a screw-in hook. But Home Depot did not find them as far as I could find. They had a screw-in eye that was almost a hook, but it was closed up. I would have to pry it open. Fortunately I had enough experience to know that was a real pain to do. These things are made out of steel. Getting the metal to loosen enough to get a pulley on the hook would be no easy matter. Instead I settled for the kind of J-shaped hook you find on a boat that you mount vertically with horizontal screws.

So the day came and I went up to the attic. First I have to get up my extension cord with a lamp up, then my power drill, then there was my power screwdriver, then... Suffice it to say I kept thinking of something else that I would have to bring up to get the job done. Down the ladder and back up. Down the ladder and back up. I try to tighten a bit on my drill and wouldn't you know the screw-hickey-dingus (I don't know what else to call it, but if you have a power drill you know what I am talking about) falls to the base of the ladder. I'll get it later. So finally I am ready. I lean out at the top of the ladder-way hanging out over empty space. I see myself following the screw-hickey-dingus. I have visions like Jimmy Stewart in VERTIGO. But I am careful and finally I get the hook screwed into the inside of the roof. But that means it goes on at an angle. Only one problem. This means that what is going to hold up the pulley no longer has an upward turn at the end. Imagine a J turned 50 degrees counter-clockwise and you see what I mean. The end of the J is almost parallel with the ground. Well that is okay. When I am pulling on the rope it will pull it toward the base of the J. So I put the pulley on. And I play with the rope a little. And the first thing that happens is that the pulley slips off the hook.

There are forces in the universe that are still not completely understood. We know about gravity. We know about the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Then there is magnetism. And there is the thing that lets Luke reach out with his feelings and switch off his targeting computer. But there is one we do not know about. At least I don't. I have observed it. But it will flip over a falling, open-faced peanut butter sandwich. I will see it work if I am in a buffet line with my executive director behind me in line. I put a pair of spring loaded tongs back closed into the chaffing dish of Kung Pao Chicken, it is the force that says they will spring open and catapult a glob of sauce directly onto my executive director's business jacket. (True story, unfortunately.) Occasionally this force acts mercifully. In this case the pulley missed each of my nine non-sore toes. These were the nine that were not swollen with an in-grown toenail. So 90% of my toes came out of the incident doubly unscathed. (And Evelyn claims that I am someone who says, "the glass is half empty" not "the glass is half full.) With nine good toes the words I said were almost fit for mixed company. And with nine good toes acting as a team I am almost not limping any more when I walk. Well, now what? My first thought was to hammer on the bottom of the hook to bend it upward. Down the ladder and up again. You know things these days are frequently made from cheap materials. I guess it saves money. But it is nice to know that when you buy a hook for hanging a pulley, it is made of good steel. You can bang on that sucker until the cows come home and it will not bend upright.

With more presence of mind than elegance I removed the lower screw and loosened the upper screw. That screw was in very tight, I would trust it to hold the hook. The hook looks like it is falling off, but actually it is working pretty well. So now the big experiment. I go get a box of VARIETYs and drag it out to the garage. Now what? I hadn't thought much about this part. How does one lift a box with rope? Finally I hit on tying two ropes around the box, trussing it up birthday gift fashion. Now I can tie the pulley rope to the two ropes around the box. So this is the big moment. I am ready to haul up the box. Arrrgghh! My gosh that thing is heavy. Even pulling down it is a tough pull. The rope is eating into my hands. But you know there is one of those existential pleasures of engineering when I see the box go up through the hole into my attic. Man is once more the master. I feel really good. And as I ease back on the rope I see the box descend back though the hole. Huh? How do I get it to stay up there? This isn't fair. I got the box up there, how do I get it to stay in the attic? Maybe if I climb the ladder? But I can't do that without my hands and my hands are being used to keep the box up.

"Evelyn!" Nothing. "Evelyn?" My arms are dying.

An eternity later. "Did you call me?"

"Could you climb the ladder and push the box over onto the floor of the attic?" She does.

"Why didn't you just take the VARIETYs out of the box and make multiple trips?"

Some days you eat the bear. Some days the bear eats you. [-mrl]

PI (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A mathematician looking for a way to predict the stock market may be close to stumbling onto discovering a number that will unlock the universe. The first film by writer and director Darren Aronofsky uses a $60,000 budget very intelligently. The film starts intelligently and even intriguingly, but it gets lost in a miasma of self-indulgent scenes and ends in something of a predictable cliche. In the end the film was painful to watch without giving us very much that is new for the final payoff. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 7 positive, 2 negative, 6 mixed

There are some numbers in mathematics that show up again and again. Of these the two best known and perhaps the most powerful tools are the numbers e and pi. Another number of some interest is the Golden Ratio phi, which curiously this film calls theta. It is the premise of this film that there is another constant that is far more powerful. It is so powerful that it has serious metaphysical implications. What would happen if a mortal stumbled across such a number?

Max Cohen (played by Sean Gullette) is a brilliant mathematician who once showed great promise. These days he is obsessed with finding a pattern in stock market prices. He justifies that search with his three laws: (1) mathematics is the language of nature, (2) everything can be understood through numbers, and (3) patterns are everywhere and in everything. He works by himself in a disorderly, ant-ridden apartment trying to coax answers from a super-computer of his own design. There are three forces pulling on Max in three other directions. Primarily there is his former teacher Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis). Sol's studies of pi once led him very near a great and terrible discovery. As a result Sol retreated from mathematics. He now plays the occasional game of Go with his former student and tries to convince his student to leave his apartment and embrace life. Another force on Max is a mysterious set of financiers wanting Max to complete his study of the stock market for their own purposes. And thirdly there is a local group of Hassidic Jews wanting to pull Max into Orthodox Jewish observance and just incidentally use his knowledge to look for Kabbalistic messages hidden in the Torah. At the center of all this stress and the research Max is disintegrating into migraines and ever-weirder and more violent hallucinations.

Sean Gullette is more believable as a great mathematician than was Mark Damon last year in GOOD WILL HUNTING. Of course he is supposed to have a much more believable set of skills. Another familiar face is Mark Margolis as the wise and hurt Sol Robeson. Margolis has a very characteristic face and I have enjoyed his roles since he played an assassin in SCARFACE.

Aronofsky claims that this was intended to be a stark black-and- white film with no gray tones on the screen at all. And, true, it was filmed making extensive use of a handheld camera and in black and white with a high contrast. But just a cursory look at the film demonstrates that Aronofsky failed to eliminate gray tones. Further, though this film has some of the most intelligent and highest level mathematics of any film I can name, Aronofsky spoils it by being sloppy in his language and terminology. Mathematics is a very precise language and it does not take a big error to turn a true statement into a false one. 233/144, for example, does *not* approach the Golden Ratio or any other number but 233/144. Anyone who knows what determines prices on the stock market knows that a price is the result of many factors too numerous to count. A single pattern for the stock market would entail discovering the pattern in each of the factors or proving that it does not matter. And there is a big difference (that this film ignores) between 216 numbers and a 216-digit number.

I expected to like this film a lot more than I actually did. As a trained mathematician with an interest in Jewish mysticism, I should have found this film right down my alley. Unfortunately, it wasn't. In fact, I found myself frequently looking at my watch.

Perhaps too much of the story was obvious and moved too slowly. Then there were the parts, not a lot but they were there, when the film was incomprehensible. My suspicion is that this film is being too well accepted by the mainstream critics to suit the writer and director Darren Aronofsky. My guess is that he wanted to confuse the mainstream critics and then have the film play as a cult film on the midnight circuit. As is, it will probably have a quick play-off in art theaters and then will sink from sight.

This film has been labeled science fiction but it is really more of a science fantasy. Like FAUST or FRANKENSTEIN, it assumes all knowledge is really knowable, but at a price too great for us mere mortals to pay. Frankly by this point that Promethean theme is a cliche. I rate it a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Capsule: This film had just about everything going for it but an original story. The story it has is just the recombination of elements from other films. A Jewish woman needing employment takes a Christian name for a job as governess on the Isle of Skye. In a mysterious house she finds sensuous romance in the best Bronte traditions. There are more problems awaiting her, but few unfamiliar to most filmgoers. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), high 0 (-4 to +4). A spoiler section follows the main review discussing the familiarity of plot points from late in the film.
New York Critics: 5 positive, 5 negative, 4 mixed

One wants to feel when watching a film that at least somewhere in the film there are some new ideas somewhere in the film and something that the viewer has not seen before. Of late, however, we have been getting films that really are little more than recombinations of other films. No part of the film felt like it belonged to that film alone. Rarely does one see such a film on the art house circuit. That is one advantage to art house films. But occasionally even there a film comes through that feel more assembled from parts than written. Watching THE GOVERNESS I was reminded of pieces of JANE EYRE, of THE INNOCENTS, of Jane Austin films, even of THE COLOR PURPLE. It reminded me of all these films, but I cannot imagine that any other film will ever remind me primarily of THE GOVERNESS.

Minnie Driver plays Rosina, a precocious young Jewish woman from London some time around the 1820s. When her father is killed Rosina does not know what is to become of her. Her mother wants to marry her to an old fish merchant for whom she thinks she will never feel love. Didn't I see this with a butcher in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF? Rosina has a better idea. She will take the ultra- Christian name Mary Blackchurch and will apply for a job as a governess. She does and accepts a position for the Cavendish Family on the Isle of Skye. Rosina has the most romantic of impression what the isle will be like but it turns out to be foggy and dismal and the house big and mysterious in the best traditions of the Brontes. Mrs. Cavendish (Harriet Walter) seems to be dramatically wasting away of ennui. Young Clementina Cavendish, a small monster, does not like her new governess and immediately tries to get the upper hand. And there is no appearance from the mysterious Mr. Cavendish (who would be played by Tom Wilkenson if he were around). It seems that Cavendish is performing strange scientific experiments that some rumor to verge on the supernatural. However as time passes nearly all things improve in various predictable ways as Rosina's spunk, wit, education, and intelligence proves to be just what the Cavendish house needs, and the house is just what Rosina needs. Sandra Goldbacher wrote and directed the film as her first major effort and perhaps that is part of the problem with the plotting.

Minnie Driver is a good actress in a role that by turns expects her to be plain as a bug and then later to be glamorous. She manages to cover the range and does for the story all she could be expected to do. Tom Wilkenson as Cavendish must go in the reverse direction and manages quite well. Wilkenson may be remembered as the imperious bosses from THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS and especially from THE FULL MONTY. Ashley Rowe's photography is certainly moody if unsubtle. There is a heavy use of filters so that most scenes do not appear in natural light. Scenes are frequently awash in blue or brown. And Rowe manages to make the fog outside even appear to enter the house.

It is easy to imagine Goldbacher turning out good films in the future, but her first effort points to a need for a little more imagination in her storytelling. I give her first effort a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.


The contrivance and cliche seems to continue throughout the film in ways that could not be described above. Rosina's photography suggestions all make perfect sense from the present when we know that a darkroom is a pretty good idea and that photography can artistic. But they seem unlikely coming from a woman or even a man of the 1820s. Even for a woman from a culture that stresses education the extent of her general knowledge seems anachronistic.

In the final analysis THE GOVERNESS is a sort of bodice-ripper variant on COLD COMFORT FARM, then twists when Rosina learns the hard feminist lesson not to trust men. Every inch of the way in the plot we are on well-trodden ground. I will point out the one laughable irony is that so soon after photography is invented comes the advent of the dirty picture. [-mrl]

THE CHAMBERMAID ON THE TITANIC (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: In a harsh steel mill town in France of 1912 a man's romantic fantasies transform his life and the lives of the people around him. This is a Spanish film about how human nature will choose a pleasant lie over a brutal truth and the power of the right fantasy to transfigure the listener. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
New York Critics: 9 positive, 0 negative, 2 mixed

If I were to look for a film to double-feature with THE CHAMBERMAID ON THE TITANIC, it would probably be last year's misunderstood and under-appreciated THE POSTMAN. Both films are about unpleasant societies and the transforming and inspiring power of just the right lie. In each film the public is more than anxious to be fooled by the lie that fills a need.

THE CHAMBERMAID ON THE TITANIC opens in a steel mill town somewhere in France. One gets a feel for how harsh life is in the credit sequence where the pouring of molten steel looks like the core of a volcano. Fun in this town is the annual race in which the runners, sopping wet, carry large sandbags on their backs through puddles of standing water. Each then has to climb a hill of cinders to retrieve a baton only to return to the run. The winner this time, as it has been the previous two, is young and handsome Horty (Olivier Martinez). This year there is to be a special prize. The winner gets a trip to Southampton, England to see the embarkation of the steamship Titanic. Actually the prize was to have been two tickets, but the manager of the mill wants to use the opportunity to attempt to seduce Horty's wife Zoe (Romane Bohringer). Unaware of what is happening at home, Horty goes to Southampton.

In his hotel Horty meets a beautiful damsel in distress. Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) is to be a chambermaid on the departing ship in the morning, but she cannot find a room for the night and asks Horty if she may have his room. He reluctantly agrees and spends a frustrating but chaste night in the same bed with the comely woman. Marie is gone before he arises and as he watches the Titanic set sail, he notices that a local photographer captured her picture. He purchases the picture and fantasizes about what might have been.

On his return, Horty's friends hint to him that his wife may have been seeing the manager. Jealous of his wife, he retreats to the bar to enjoy his memories and his photograph of Marie. When his friends start pressing him for details, he brags of his romantic adventures, telling his fantasies as if they were true. What begins as the locker-room sort of boasting evolves into a sort of romantic soft-core pornography. Ever-increasing crowds of both genders gather each night to escape their problems and hear the story of the romantic interlude.

The deceptively simple story touches on not just the mystique of womanhood, but the will to believe and to a certain extent commercialization of the arts. We have a story of the duality of legend and reality and the will to believe. THE CHAMBERMAID ON THE TITANIC, which takes place in Northern France and England, is actually a Spanish film. Jose Juan Bigas Luna wrote and directed. In keeping with Spanish film, his visuals are not impressive exercises in effects. His film is more about people than visual images. Luna's special effects are sufficient to let the viewer know that it is supposed to be the Titanic in the background of a scene, but he does not let the spectacle run away with what is actually a simple story. Bigas Luna, a filmmaker and a painter, has a string of interesting films to his name, few of which are seen in the US. Perhaps the best known here is the sly comedy JAMON, JAMON. Following his 1996 BAMBOLA, this is the second of three films he intends to make on the mystique of women. Olivier Martinez is probably most familiar to American audiences for the 1994 THE HORSEMAN ON THE ROOF. The enigmatic beauty of the chambermaid Marie is provided by Aitana Sanchez-Gijon who is popular in Spain but best known in this country for A WALK IN THE CLOUDS.

The middle film in a trilogy is frequently the least of the three films, but because of the current popularity of romantic stories involving the Titanic, this one is getting much wider play here. And certainly the film deserves to be seen. I would rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     Mother is the dead heart of the family, spending
     father's earnings on consumer good to enhance the
     environment in which he eats, sleeps, and watches
                                   -- Germaine Greer