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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 07/09/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 2
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.
Michael, Row the Boat Ashore
You can tell that it is summertime and I don't have a whole lot to talk about this week. I heard an old song on the radio the other day. It is one of these things where you have heard a song thousands of times and never really thought much about it. Like "Ring Around the Rosie" it has a different meaning than what you had thought about it. We even used to sing it at summer camp. It goes:
Michael rowed the boat ashore. Hallelujah. Michael rowed the boat ashore. Hallelujah. Sister helped to trim the sail. Hallelujah. Sister helped to trim the sail. Hallelujah. The River Jordan is deep and wide. Hallelujah. Milk and honey on the other side. Hallelujah. The River Jordan is chilly and cold. Hallelujah. Chills the body but not the soul. Hallelujah. Michael rowed the boat ashore. Hallelujah. Michael rowed the boat ashore. Hallelujah.
It is a very simple song. It sounds sort of sad. It makes absolutely no sense if taken literally. Taken at face value, it obviously cannot be taken at face value. Most people I asked thought that the song just got its facts wrong. They think the song is talking about this big cold river that you cross with a boat to get into Israel. Would that it were so. That is desert country and of course you have countries fighting over what little water there is there. A big river would be mighty handy. But there is none.
The meanings are all symbolic, and someone who has never seen the River Jordan writes it. I mean the real River Jordan is not chilly and cold. It is really very warm and shallow. It is too shallow to float a boat, God knows. But people seem to interpret the song as saying that it requires sacrifices to get to the Holy Land, but it is worth it.
So let me set the record straight. In fact, as one realizes on some reflection, it is not this pleasant little song, it is more a morbid dirge. It is a song about longing for death. Crossing the River Jordan into the land of Milk and Honey is dying and going to heaven or Gehenna or what have you.. It says that the body dies and the soul continues. It is a song appropriate to the followers of the Reverend Jim Jones, maybe. This is perhaps not the most appropriate song to have children singing at summer camp. But then it may be no worse than "The Worms Crawl In, the Worms Crawl Out." Any of those out there who thought of this as a simple and innocent song, I just wanted to disillusion you rather than leave you with a mis-impression. Okay. Not a big thing. That is just the thought for the week. [-mrl]
SUMMER OF SAM (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
Capsule: New York City, the summer 1977, the local Son of Sam killings hang over everybody's lives in the Italian-American community. But this story is really about popular hairdresser Vinny and little his betrayals of his best friend and his wife. The climate of paranoia from the killings will only bring out the worst in Vinny. Spike Lee's portrayal of Italian- Americans is just about like it has been in films likes like DO THE RIGHT THING, in such a big dose it looks a lot like racism. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), high 0 (-4 to +4)
Spike Lee co-produces and co-directs this story of a group of people living in Bedford Stuyvesant section of New York. The film is not really about the Son of Sam murders themselves but about the atmosphere of dread created by the killings. Central to the story is Vinny the hairdresser (played by John Leguizamo), his wife Dionna (Mira Sorvino), and Vinny's boyhood friend Ritchie (Adrien Brody). Vinny is flashy and flamboyant, a local favorite in the club disco scene. Vinny is living the life of easy sex, illegal drugs, loud music, and too much drinking. His wife dotes on him but admits to herself that she somehow failing to satisfy him and is disappointing him. Ritchie has affected a British punk hairstyle and a phony British accent. Most people in the neighborhood cannot understand what Ritchie is doing but Vinny defends his friend.
Meanwhile the paranoia over the killings is getting to the neighborhood. There is a general assumption that the Son of Sam is someone from the neighborhood and someone they all know. With the tacit approval of the police vigilante groups form to try to track down whoever is doing the killing. In a witch hunt atmosphere anyone who seems out of the ordinary, even ball-player Reggie Jackson, can be suspect. All the while we see little bits of the Son of Sam himself living in torment from his personal demons then striking like some Angel of Death. He is just tangential to the story but hangs over all that goes on.
Spike Lee has structured the film a lot like his DO THE RIGHT THING. There is a violent incident toward the end of the film and virtually every scene is buildup to this moment of violence. In DO THE RIGHT THING; however, it was a mystery where the story was going. In SUMMER OF SAM it is very obvious what is going to happen and the viewer is left to wonder only how long it will take and how will it happen. The answer the second question is "longer than you think." Until then you will be putting in a lot of time with some generally unpleasant people. Lee orchestrates all this with the music of the summer of 1997. He uses the time-tested but hardly original technique of creating period feel by just finding out what the popular songs stations were playing and salting them all over the soundtrack. Sex in the film is kept frequent, explicit, but using camera angles so that little explicit is shown to the audience.
What is disturbing is that Spike Lee's view of the Italian Americans in this part of New York is not very deep. If it is beyond stereotype, it is not by much. His portrayal is certainly not very pleasant or understanding. Lee has, in the past, accused other filmmakers of using stereotypes. But it may well instead be a result of just the same sort of rushed and poorly observed writing that is starting to appear in his own work. In fact there have always been unflattering portraits of non-blacks that he has not written well and which do not fall far beyond the stereotypical. During the film he complains about a double standards toward blacks, but he himself would complain if another film had black characters so poorly characterized.
The paranoiac aspects of the film and a good and sympathetic performance by Mira Sorvino make this otherwise wandering and pointlessly over-long film considerably more watchable than it would be otherwise. And as with DO THE RIGHT THING we do see a good, credible build of events that make an unthinkable incident believable. I give SUMMER OF SAM a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. Gee, a film about the summer of 1977 and not one mention of STAR WARS. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper HO 1K-644 732-817-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:Woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform to nonconformity. -- Eric Hoffer