MT VOID 07/30/99 (Vol. 18, Number 5)

MT VOID 07/30/99 (Vol. 18, Number 5)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 07/30/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 5

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, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
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.


You know, we are living in really fascinating times. I feel somewhat privileged to be living in an era when I can observe as a major world power as it loses its ideology. I can see it going from embracing one point of view to hating it and embracing the reverse point of view. This was an ideology that it had tried to export to the whole world, now it cannot even export it to its own people. Now you probably think I am talking about the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. It is easy to see that they have given up an ideology they held dear and have turned to hate it. But I am not talking about Communism. The country I am talking about is the good old United States. The ideology is tobacco. A case could be made that tobacco held the United States more firmly than Communism held the Soviets. Not long ago we were a country of smokers.

I admit now that I do not have the full facts. I do not understand the hold that tobacco had on this country. I can tell you that if you look at 1940s film they really are pushing the ideology of tobacco. I just watched THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO with Spencer Tracy recreating the Doolittle Raid. The training the airmen seem to have been doing was all how to smoke. They are smoking in one scene after another. Van Johnson's plane goes down and he is collected by ... by whom? Are they Chinese or Japanese? Are they good guys or bad guys? Their leader gives Van Johnson a cigarette. Okay, they must be good guys. They give people cigarettes. A few years later these 1940s war movies would come under close scrutiny for scenes like one man in a trench sharing his cigarettes with another and saying "share and share alike." That would be called a dangerous pro-Communist sentiment. The pro-tobacco part was no problem at all. But it was really the ideology of tobacco that these films were pushing. And I have not even bothered to watch BRIGHT LEAF, the stirring story of how a real he-man, played by Gary Cooper, builds a tobacco empire. You should watch some of these Thirties films and look at how hard they work at selling the audience on smoking.

I suppose I can tell you part of the reason I dislike tobacco. I am going back many years. There was something that happened my first year or two at Bell Laboratories that has stuck with me. I was in an office with two other people. One of them worked with a fourth person who smoked almost constantly and would come to our office. He insisted on smoking in our office, in fact. I am not a rude person, but I did ask him not to smoke where I had to work. Giving me the uni-digital sign of contempt, he explained to me that he had a right to smoke wherever he wanted. I was infringing on his right to smoke by asking him not to smoke around me. That really was the mind-set of those days. The tobacco industry had very successfully convinced smokers that someone telling them not to smoke was an violation of their rights. Smokers were really militant. My belligerent smoker told me that that nobody would ever convince him to stop smoking. Otherwise he was a reasonable guy, but he really bought the line of militancy that he had gotten from big tobacco and passed on to me. I went to my supervisor to complain. My supervisor did not smoke, but I worked for him so he had some sway over me. The other guy did not. My supervisor said that I was creating a confrontational atmosphere by complaining about cigarette smoke. Well, he called it an "us-versus-them" environment since I suspect he was uncomfortable with five-syllable words. As an aside several years later I ran into most of my militant smoker and he told me proudly that he had now given up smoking. He had completely quit. I say it was "most of him" because there were large parts of his lung that were no longer a part of him, they had been surgically removed.

It was very recently that the forces of society were all on the side of the smoker and the higly-subsidized tobacco industry. Now perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction as I will discuss next week. [-mrl]

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

Capsule: What starts as a new version of THE HAUNTING mixes in aspects of THE UNINVITED and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. Eventually director Jan de Bont gives in to the temptation to excess and his film turns into POLTERGEIST. Still enough is worth seeing here, particularly for the beautiful production design by Eugenio Zanetti. Jan de Bont was the wrong person to direct, but the film still succeeds in raising gooseflesh thanks in large part to the atmosphere created by Zanetti. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

For me there are three ghost stories on film that I would put in my first tier-these are the best. Those are THE UNINVITED, THE INNOCENTS, and THE HAUNTING (1963). The second tier would include THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE CHANGELING, and THE LADY IN WHITE. There would probably be a few others. The third tier would probably include POLTERGEIST, effective but a little soul-less. In interviews about the new THE HAUNTING from The Dreamworks, this second film based on the novel THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson, director Jan de Bont (SPEED, TWISTER) said that he was not really approaching this as a horror film. What he wanted was to make was a different sort of action film. Audiences are tired of traditional crime action films, but not many have been done as horror. Given that that is the case, it is remarkable that the new THE HAUNTING is as good as it is at raising gooseflesh. For now I would put it in the second tier. I may or may not feel that positive on the film in five years. Time and again de Bont does wrong what director Robert Wise did so very right in the 1963 version. Part of what made the original film effective is that the main character was weak. We could empathize with her rather than admire her and we saw the film from inside her head, even to the point of hearing her thoughts. The horror in the 1963 version is almost all heard rather than seen. There is just a hint that is visual that any of this is really happening. Wise had to use very three-dimensional characters to make the people and the threat to them seem real. Today's younger action audience might not have responded to that, so instead de Bont gives us some strong characters and the scariest haunted house money can buy. There are more special effects in the trailer to the new film than Wise put into the entirety of his version.

Eleanor Lance (played by Lili Taylor) gets an invitation to be part of a sleep study by Dr. Jeffrey Marrow (Liam Neeson). The study will have her staying in a huge old mansion dating back to 1837. The house was built by a textile magnate and was the scene of much unhappiness. Eleanor's fellow test subjects include the seductive Theodora (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the irreverent Luke Sannerson (Owen Wilson). What none of the subjects knows is that the study is not about sleep but about fear. Marrow is intentionally putting them into a frightening house to observe their reaction. As Marrow says "you don't tell the rats the rats will be in a maze." But the house may be scarier than he realizes. Even Marrow does not know the full history of evil in this house or of the spirits of the original master among others who still make the house their home. While starting with the plot from the book and the original film, this plot goes off in some new directions. Jerry Goldsmith makes his own comment on the profusion of haunting phenomena we see in this film by starting his end-credit music with a carnival theme.

There are far too many touches in this film that just seem weak after having seen the Robert Wise version (two nights earlier, in fact). In the original the groundskeeper and housekeeper seem to have been taken over by the spirit of the house and themselves seem to be a bit haunted. In this version they just come off as mean. Bruce Dern plays the groundskeeper as just his usual nasty, bullying character. It is not as effective as weaker-than-the- house characters in the original. But de Bont has a hard time doing weak characters. This version makes much more use of the early residents of Hill House, particularly the industrialist who built it and who here looks a lot like the early makeup designs for THE PLANET OF THE APES. De Bont replaces the mysterious seductive evil of the house with too great an abundance of strange phenomena. If Hill House is getting this treatment from the spirits, are not there a lot of places in which greater evils occurred. Why do we not see this degree of haunting more places?

The production design is credited to Eugenio Zanetti. If that name does not sound familiar consider that he performed the same function on such beautiful films as FLATLINERS, RESTORATION, and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. Zanetti won the Academy Award for set design for RESTORATION and was nominated (and deserved to win) for WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. The Hill House he designed would be a dominating spirit even if there were no haunting. I hope Jan de Bont realizes how very much he owes to Zanetti for making this film as good as it is.

This version of THE HAUNTING would be a better film by another name. On its own it is actually quite a good ghost story about what is the most incredibly haunted house the screen has yet seen. By inviting comparison to one of the three best ghost stories on film, this action-oriented version comes up a poor second. But if we had to have a graphic version of Jackson's novel, this is far better than any we could have expected. I give it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   HO 1K-644 732-817-5619

Quote of the Week:

            In order to keep a true perspective of one's
	    importance, everyone should have a dog that will
	    worship him and a cat that will ignore him.
                                   -- Dereke Bruce