MT VOID 04/16/99 (Vol. 17, Number 42)

MT VOID 04/16/99 (Vol. 17, Number 42)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/16/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 42

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.

Mention in Ebert about the Club:

Our esteemed Chair (and the Club itself) are mentioned on page 753 of ROGER EBERT'S MOVIE YEARBOOK 1999. [-ecl]


Today we live in an age when free expression is given greater license than at just about any time in the past. I would like to take a look at how free expression manifests itself in today's journalism. If you publish a magazine these days you don't have to worry about anybody telling you what you can and cannot put on the cover. No subject is forbidden. The taboos are gone. I guess that's why when I walk past a magazine stand I am struck by how mind-bogglingly similar and boring magazine covers are these days. Every magazine looks the same on a newsstand. Every one is on the same subject. What subject? Sex, of course. We used to have an artificial super-diversity of subjects that magazines could be about because the forces of the status quo were stopping magazines from writing about what we all knew was everybody's favorite subject, sex.

When I was growing up the subject of sex was too racy for any magazine but PLAYBOY. You had to go to books to read about sex. And there used to be separate whole bookstores for this type of book. And even if you went into those bookstores and bought that sort of book the covers were plain with just a title. You had to read the inside to find the nasty stuff. These days that sort of store doesn't carry books any more. Video has taken over that market.

These days you don't have to buy that sort of book. You just need to read the covers of the women's magazines at any newsstand or at the grocery checkout. And they always are on the same subject, month after month. Each one promises to improve your sex life by teaching you to find that all-important "one spot to drive him wild." Another one is on health and fitness so you "look great naked." One magazine after another crassly uses sex to entice you. Each promises to improve your sex life so that every month your sex will be better than the previous month. I assume that if the passion really did increase like this month after month, year after year, you would eventually get people rupturing themselves if not outright exploding. In SAME TIME NEXT YEAR a character bemoans having seen a magazine telling women how to have better orgasms, and it was the same magazine that his mother used to read for the cookie recipes. That play was written quite a while back, but the situation has only gotten worse.

Of course men's magazines seem to be about sex also. I guess the principle is if they are about men telling men about sexual experiences the magazines have to be hidden behind counters or have boards over the covers. If the magazines are about women telling women how to have sex, then it is fine for general consumption and can be sold at grocery checkout stands. Of course, being fair, you have to protect public morals and hide away PLAYBOY that will show on its cover a half- naked lady on a garish red background. This is totally unlike COSMOPOLITAN that shows on its cover a half-naked lady on a pastel lavender background.

I used to love to browse newsstands for all the different kinds of magazines. Now what you see is sex instruction for women and the magazines for men are mostly about video games, pickup trucks with five-foot-diameter wheels, and professional wrestling. I won't say these are any more intelligent than WOMAN'S G-SPOT MONTHLY, but at least they seem to have their mindset at least marginally out of the gutter. Not that it makes for anything more readable.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When censorship went away we could have let a thousand flowers bloom, not just one flower a thousand times as big. Paddy Chayevsky said television is democracy at its ugliest. I don't think he ever looked at a modern newsstand. [-mrl]

COOKIE'S FORTUNE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A gentle crime story set in a sleepy Mississippi town has more than its share of eccentric but likeable characters. Robert Altman has given us his most relaxing and pleasant film. For once we do not care if all the plot strands are going to come together or not, this is just an interesting set of people. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

The South is frequently represented negatively in film and television, particularly since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. While few even from the South would claim that reputation is entirely unearned, like anywhere else there is good and bad in that part of the country. Most frequently, "Mayberry, RFD" notwithstanding, the views of the southeastern part of the country have been the unpleasant images one sees in NORMA RAE and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Some of the negative stereotypes met and were defeated by a more positive and even sentimental view in MY COUSIN VINNEY. MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL took things a step further and actually portrayed the fancy section of Savannah as having dignity, charm, and appealing people. COOKIE'S FORTUNE goes even another step to spread the charm to the middle and lower middle class. Holly Spring, Mississippi, the setting of Robert Altman's new film, seems to have only one unpleasant person. These people are just a pleasure to watch. In fact, Altman has finally mastered a problem that he has had with his films for years. Altman makes films in which a lot of individual strands come together in the final reel. Too frequently there seems to be no obvious reason for the audience to follow a strand other than faith that it will become relevant eventually. In COOKIE'S FORTUNE his characters are eccentric and interesting enough, that they would worth watching even if the strands did not tie together. This is an amiable film to watch, one with rich characters and one with frequent chuckles. We would not feel cheated even if the various plotlines did not come together. For that reason it may be Altman's film best coordinated with his style. Even without the important messages of NASHVILLE or THE PLAYER, it may be Altman's most successful piece of art.

Holly Spring, Mississippi is one of those sleepy towns where the sun takes three days to come up and five to go down. The only thing that is complex about Holly Spring is the leading family's family tree. The leading citizen is Cookie, legally known as Jewel Mae Orcutt (hey, Patricia Neal is still acting). Cookie has a modest fortune, but her close companion Willis Richland (a show- stealing Charles Dutton) is afraid that she might be getting a little *too* eccentric. One of the most touching things about this film is the platonic, cross-racial love that these two have for each other. Then there are Camille Orcutt (Glenn Close) and her pet human Cora Duvall (Julianne Moore)-- sisters, and nieces to Cookie. Camille absolutely dominates the dim Cora, though Cora was married once (hence the different surname) and had one child, the town's scandal, Emma Duvall (Liv Tyler). Emma has had a checkered past and is also the town's leading criminal--flagrantly disregarding parking laws as she delivers fresh catfish to local restaurants. This makes things difficult for her current boyfriend and lover Jason Brown (Chris O'Donnell), the only young policeman in town. All the rest of the police seem old enough to be his grandfather. When Cookie decides it is time to move on and commits suicide, Camille sees this as her chance to get her fair share of Cookie's fortune. She also wants to avoid the stigma of having a suicide in the family, so tampers with the crime scene to make the suicide look like a burglary and murder.

In the end, the plot of COOKIE'S FORTUNE seems a little contrived. But at the same time it is beguiling. In what are generally considered to be Altman's best films he nevertheless talks down to his audience. There are frequently laughs in an Altman film, but in THE PLAYER the laughs are cynical and cold. Here they are richer and not at all mean-spirited. It is the old distinction between laughing with someone and laughing at him. For once Altman's message is simply "kick off your shoes and enjoy people." That might make this the best and ironically the most important film he has ever made. I give it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

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

Quote of the Week:

     The more I see of men, the better I like dogs.
                                   -- Madame Roland