MT VOID 04/02/99 (Vol. 17, Number 40)

MT VOID 04/02/99 (Vol. 17, Number 40)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/02/99 -- Vol. 17, 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 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-957-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-957-2070,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

SF Today:

When I was growing up I loved science fiction films. Science fiction films were really what fostered a lot of my interest in science and even mathematics. I desperately wanted to live in a science fiction sort of future. I think we rarely notice how mythic science fiction films really are. Consider one of my favorites from those days, THE FLY. I am talking about the 1958 version, the one with Vincent Price and Al (David) Hedison. I was about eight years old when I saw it. And what was it about? It was about a man who had just about everything anybody could want. He had a lovely wife and son he adored. He and his wife loved each other. And for income he was doing what he enjoyed most. He would go into his basement laboratory and invent things that would change the world. He was vitally fascinated with his work. And he lived in a beautiful house.

And then what happened? Well, to quote Vincent Price, "for one moment he was careless." The man who had everything I could ever want made one little mistake. One moment he was off guard and it all came crashing down around his ears. Or where his ears used to be. Now what makes that a great film? Well, it is one of the great mythic stories. THE FLY was OEDIPUS REX for the junior set. Maybe not even the junior set. It may be a better telling even for adults. Most of us cannot see ourselves killing a man and marrying a woman old enough to be our mother. In the case of Oedipus the woman was provably old enough to be his mother. But if I was working with a matter transmitter (I wish!) I could well miss the fact there was a fly in the transmission booth with me. And that was it. That was the mistake. And you know being the King of Thebes never really appealed to me, particularly in Oedipus's uncomfortable times. Certainly being the basement physicist appeals a lot more.

THE FLY has since become a laughing stock. Even at the time Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall thought the whole idea was uproariously funny. It still seems ridiculous, but you never know. Some of the things that seemed absurd in the 50s are more correct than we might have thought. Consider THE INVISIBLE BOY. That was a movie with a huge supercomputer trying to take over the world. The film writers thought of a computer as if it were just an incredibly knowledgeable person. They would ask the computer questions in plain English. The questions could be on just about any subject. And the computer would answer the questions. It was more powerful than any encyclopedia. As a little boy, I thought that was a really nifty idea. But by the time I was a little older I knew that was absurd. A computer is limited by the data it has at its disposal.

A computer that is smart enough to answer just about any question posed--posed in English--is a physical impossibility. No computer could ever have that much data at its disposal. The whole concept is absurd. And I knew that as a teenager. I knew it all the way through college. I knew it working for Burroughs Computer Company. I have known it for most of the time I have worked for AT&T. Now I am not so sure. I have a computer in my home. It has an Internet browser. Through the Internet browser I can get to any of a variety of search engines. I am not quite to the point where I can ask questions in complete sentences, though most search engines claim that I really could be doing that. I find it a little more effective to give the search engine just the keywords of my question. But it is not easy to think of facts that I could not possibly get from my computer. Of course it is a slight illusion that I am getting the answers from my computer. I am actually getting my answers from a huge super computer. A Gestalt mind made up of smaller computers sharing information. In fact our giant computer girdles the globe. It is more powerful than any encyclopedia. Of course this computer is not trying to take over the world. It just dabbles in politics. It had an undeniable part in toppling the Soviet Union, it has the Chinese government terrified, and it has Nebraska mothers worried about what it will tell their children. The US Congress tried to take it on to limit its power. The computer won. Congress lost. Maybe we do live in science fiction times. [-mrl]

TRUE CRIME (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: In a story that takes place almost entirely in one day a reporter covering a Death Row execution tries to prove the condemned man is innocent. Clint Eastwood stars, produces, and directs. The mainline story is cliched melodrama, but the writing and especially the well-developed minor characters give the plot a royal treatment. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)

Steve "Ev" Everett (Clint Eastwood) is a bad-boy reporter who refuses to follow any rules. Right now he is holding back on his drinking, but he is smoking and, oh yes, sleeping with his editor's wife. This does not make for good relationships around the office, but Ev carries on (in several different senses). When a fellow reporter is killed in a (gratuitously spectacular) car accident, Ev picks up her responsibilities including the interviewing and writing a human interest sidebar about Frank Beachum (Isaiah Washington), a Death Row inmate scheduled to be executed the next night at midnight. But in reviewing the trial from six years earlier Ev starts questioning whether the story makes sense. There appear to be problems in the trial testimony. But Ev now mistrusts his own once powerful talent to "smell out" when there is something suspicious with a story. And as he traces the story he sabotages his own effectiveness by not following anybody's rules but his own.

Eastwood creates more believable characters for the minor roles than the character he creates for himself. But then going back to THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES he has frequently done the same thing. Bernard Hill plays the role of Luther Plunkett, the prison warden. It would be cliche to play him as officious and unfeeling. Instead he turns out to be a genuinely caring person. On the other hand Isaiah Washington has been getting some favorable press as the condemned Frank Beachum. We see a lot of him, but he plays the simon-pure innocent to the hilt. Where an actor should have personality he has only virtue. Though his character was not always so, we see him he is the perfect husband and father. The film intentionally contrasts his ultra-perfect family values with those of Everett which have ripped apart Everett's family. We feel for Beachum, but other than in his moments of greatest pain it is more for his predicament than for his character. His family is just a little too wholesome. James Woods plays Eastwood's boss at the newspaper in a role only a little less slimy than his usual. Woods is one of the few actors who can steal attention away from Eastwood. Other familiar actors include Anthony Zerbe and an almost unrecognizable William Windom as a bartender.

Clint Eastwood is really a very good director in a very controlled film. However he has the same Achilles Heel that Woody Allen has. He has to paint himself as being the great lover. His character seems to be able to seduce any woman he wants. The problem is that he is getting on in years. His youthful good looks have given way to an older chiseled look. Eastwood seems to be doing his locker room bragging on the wide screen. His even raspier voice is now a sort that lost actors careers when sound came to films. Perhaps Eastwood, the gifted director, should consider if he needs a better star than Eastwood, the actor. On the other hand playing the character himself thematically gives the film one big advantage. Eastwood almost invariably plays the outlaw. He is Kurosawa's samurai Sanjuro, a law unto himself, transplanted to America. But in his younger spaghetti Western and Dirty Harry days he has played that character as hero. As he has aged Eastwood has begun to look at that character more deeply than Kurasawa ever did. In UNFORGIVEN he began re-examining the hard man who was this character he had created on the screen. He began questioning on film if the violence that was the former screen persona's daily bread did not exact a toll. Was the man with the big gun not dehumanized and desensitized by carrying and using that weapon. In TRUE CRIME Eastwood shows us how that character gets to middle age and can no longer make his personal relationships work. In this film he clearly envies the man who, though once a criminal, has reformed and built a strong family, even if that relationship turns out to be only temporarily.

Just as an aside, an interesting visual allusion is used. When Ev is interviewing Beachum, Eastwood has himself shot through the bars recreating the poster from his ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ. It is a reminder of the days when Eastwood was building his reputation and his films were just solid entertainment. TRUE CRIME is certainly a good film, but lacks the fun of his earlier work. Still I would give 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:

     "Great people talk about ideas.  Average people talk
     about things.  Small people talk about people."
                                   -- Anonymous