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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/04/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 49
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619, firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, email@example.com HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
The correct URL for the Science Fiction Club library catalog is http://woof.amc.bell-labs.com/~eleeper/sfclub.htm. [-ecl]
It's really true. The best things in life, like the love of a beautiful woman, are free. Sadly most of those free things are still available only to the wealthy. [-mrl]
Last week I was saying that when humans are unreliable at their work, at least it is at all different times. Someone comes to work drunk or hung over or is having personal problems at home. Computers are much more synchronized. The great moment of computer unreliability is coming in about thirty weeks. I suspect one year from this moment computers will hated and distrusted a lot more than they are at this moment. This is the moment of greatest uncertainty in the whole history of computers. It may be the moment of greatest uncertainty in the whole history of the country. And do not kid yourself, a lot of things are going to fail. At this point that seems inevitable. And the scapegoat is going to be the computer. A year from now there will very likely be a strong tide of public opinion saying that we have grown too dependent on computers.
Human unreliability probably is much more frequent than computer unreliability, but it has the advantage that it really is random. About the most synchronization the public expects from humans is in the automobile industry. We find a car does not do what it is supposed to do and we say it is a "Monday car" or a "Friday car." We sort of expect that workers in the car industry will be unreliable the first and the last days in the workweek. The Japanese have shown that computer assembled cars are very reliable. But for the most part human labor has its bad days scattered. Computers are going to have their days of unreliability mostly all synchronized in one little chunk of time. When the year ticks over from 99 to 00 a lot of computers are going to act like they are irresponsible at one instant of time. And it is going to be quite a shock to a lot of us. There could be a strong backlash against using computers. But we all have grown used to an economy that requires a lot of work to keep it going. It is a lot more work than humans could ever do. And it is simple clerical, mind-numbing, dehumanizing work. So we do not give it to a human. We give it to a machine. The machine can do the work better, faster, cheaper. And the machine can do the work more reliably. And the machine will continue to be reliable, except that to save money, many of us taught the machine wrongly how to do its job. Our instructions to the machine were faulty. But we all know that the machine will get the blame. After all, it is different from us, so it must be at fault.
But if we develop an unreasoning fear of computers as a result of Y2K, we could be in line for more Three Mile Islands. And that could be the biggest Y2K disaster of all. [-mrl]
THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The third artificial reality film in about a month is the most stylish and best photographed with the most coherent plotline. Had this been the first of the three to be released, it would be recognized as the best. Roland Emmerich finally has produced a quality science fiction film. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
The year is 1937. As our story opens we follow an elderly man (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) from his mistress's bedroom to a nightclub. He leaves a letter he has written someone in the care of a bartender (Vincent D'Onofrio) and goes home to his wife. As he lies in bed, suddenly he is propelled into the present. The world of 1937 was a fully functioning world, realistic is every respect but one. It was not actually real but a total computer simulation. And it was a very complete computer simulation. It is not just a virtual reality program creating for one person what could be a three-dimensional world. Each person in the 1937 world has a life and personality of his or her own and continues even when there is nobody to see him. It is an entire virtual world functioning on its own. And our elderly gentleman is Hammond Fuller, "the Einstein of our generation" who created the cyber- world. But tonight Hammond Fuller is going to be murdered and suspicion will fall on his chief programmer Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko). Hall and his friend and coworker Whitney (Vincent D'Onofrio) have worked for Hammond for years and think that they know him fairly well. Now that he is dead, they are not so sure. A daughter (Gretchen Mol) has turned up mysteriously and nobody knew Fuller had a daughter. Discovered also is that Fuller has been repeatedly projecting himself into his created world of 1937. Even Hall had not realized that was possible yet. Now Hall will have to solve a mystery spread across two different worlds.
Part of what makes this film as remarkable as it is is that it comes from Centropolis Film Productions, Roland Emmerich's company. Until now the best thing we have seen coming from Centropolis is their imaginative opening banner. However, the approach for THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR is entirely different from that of STARGATE, INDEPENDENCE DAY, and GODZILLA. Director Josef Rusnak, experienced mostly in European films, has kept the use of special effects modest. Rather than having a visual carnival, this film is instead intelligent and filmed with a great deal of visual style. Cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff's style uses relatively modest special effects. His views of 1937 Los Angeles are lush and gorgeous, generally filmed with a sepia filter to give us a Los Angeles where Philip Marlowe would feel right at home. von Schultzendorff has made his modern-day Los Angeles looks like a giant electric-blue circuit pack. Where the 1937 city has a rich period feel, 1999 feels electronic and electrically charged.
Rather than paying expensive stars, Rusnak has two little known actors, Craig Bierko and Gretchen Mol, in the two top-billed positions. He has saved the familiar faces for supporting roles. His familiar actors are more known for good performances than for powerhouse marquee value. Armin Mueller-Stahl had a long career in Germany and now frequently appears in English-language films including SHINE, THE GAME, and THE X FILES. Vincent D'Onofrio has also been a familiar character actor since his pivotal role as a somewhat retarded Marine recruit in FULL METAL JACKET.
So now we have had released in about a month three films about worlds that seem real but are in reality created in computers. We can see how three different filmmakers have each handled the theme in an action-adventure. This is a rare opportunity. The Wachowskis created in THE MATRIX a future world that was visually imaginative and gave us a plot that to a very great extent was chases, fighting, and martial arts. David Cronenberg's worlds in "eXistenZ" are basically our world, but ones where the line between the totally inanimate and the biological is breaking down. Josef Rusnak has dusted off the 1964 science fiction novel SIMULACRON-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, toned down the Frederik Pohl aspects (in the novel the world are used to predict public opinion) and played up the Philip K. Dick aspects. He has given us a beautiful sepia- toned view of the 1930s to compare with an electrically charged view of the present. Perhaps which you prefer says something about you. THE MATRIX will clearly be the most profitable, but THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR is the one I want in my collection. I rate the latter film 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. (Oh, and when we see a newspaper toward the end, June 21 should be a Friday, not a Monday.) [-mrl]
THE WINSLOW BOY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: David Mamet reworks the classic play by Terence Rattigan. A 12-year-old boy accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order maintains his innocence. Like the Dreyfus case in France, this legal case throws all of Britain into controversy. Well-acted, but this film is too faithful to a stage play that frustratingly distances the audience from the characters and the action. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)
Every medium has its own constraints that pull it away from being realistic. Silent film acting is very much pantomime that must convey much more than photo-realism would. A three-act stage play must tell an entire story from three points in time. Each must have a single or perhaps two locations. This is why plays adapted to film often seem claustrophobic and stagebound. There is an entire art to adapting stage plays to the screen without making them unbearable. Connecting scenes set in the out of doors will frequently be inserted.
The play THE WINSLOW BOY by Terence Rattigan is an old favorite in England. Supposedly every little English hamlet with a theater company has performed it one time or another. It is a David and Goliath story or one small boy against the British Admiralty. A young naval cadet is accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order. The boy maintains his innocence but is expelled from school nonetheless. The Admiralty insists they need only satisfy themselves of his guilt. The Winslow family supports the boy and resolutely demands a trial. Meanwhile somehow the case gets national attention and the country is torn on the issue.
David Mamet has adapted the play for the screen and has added some generally inconsequential short scenes around the original major scenes. The major scenes all take place in the Winslow mansion, which means they are divorced from the action. In a more standard film format, the storyteller would have the choice of showing or not showing the stealing of the postal order and the resulting trial. A three-act stage play has too much territory to cover to have a scene at the school or in a courtroom. After the first scene in which we find the boy has been accused of the crime, suddenly and jarringly we jump forward months and the issue is already a national controversy. How such a minor issue could have become so important is totally lost. Most films would have many scenes covering the interim. And perhaps in Britain what happened might also be common knowledge. Here it appears like there is a great whopping chunk of missing narrative. One woman near me in the audience was convinced for a while that reels were being shown out of order because we had missed so much of the narrative.
The actors are all playing people of the British upper crust. They are people who have been trained to be dry and detached, even among their own family. This makes the film seem rather dry and bloodless though one has a good idea what emotions are going on just under the surface.
Guy Edwards plays the accused Ronnie Winslow and Nigel Hawthorne plays the father who is so standoffish to the boy but is willing to let his family be destroyed rather than allowing what he accepts as a false accusation stand. Much like Dr. Stockmann in Ibsen's AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, he clearly loves his family but is willing to let his health be ruined and his family be destroyed over a principle. The central characters however become Rebecca Pidgeon (of Mamet's THE SPANISH PRISONER) as Catherine Winslow, Ronnie's older sister, and Jeremy Northam as Sir Robert Morton, whom the family has defend Ronnie. There is a definite romantic tension between them on the screen. Both seem to recognize an attraction between each other but being oh-so-veddy-proper it always remains frustratingly just below the surface.
That seems to be the problem with THE WINSLOW BOY. There is just too much following of rules. The two main characters cannot get together; Mamet cannot show us the most dramatic scenes of the Winslow case. The whole thing is so correct and reserved that the viewer feels a little cheated when all is said and done (with too much on the screen said and not enough done). Mamet is to be commended for setting frustrating constraints on himself and for sticking with them at the expense of dramatic impact. But he probably should have cheated a little to make this a better narrative. I rate THE WINSLOW BOY 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper HO 1K-644 732-817-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Whoever is not a misanthrope at forty can never have loved mankind. -- Nicolas Chamfort