MT VOID 12/10/99 (Vol. 18, Number 24)

MT VOID 12/10/99 (Vol. 18, Number 24)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/10/99 -- Vol. 18, No. 24

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.


We went to the Picasso Museum on our recent trip to Paris. These random observations are based on the section of my travel log. The first thing I saw when I arrived was a line of school kids from first or second grade collected in the courtyard. Culture shock. They take little schoolchildren to see Picasso artwork in France. What about all the nudes he paints? I know in the US, this would not go. Back when I was growing up the attitude in the US was "You aren't going to take my kid to see someone's painting of naked people. It's un-Christian." Of course those attitudes were of the liberated feel-good 60s. In the 90s it does not come to that. The attitude is "You aren't gonna take my tax dollar to enrich some kid's life. Particularly if it is not my kid. You do that I will find someone who can run the schools cheaper without so much costly --enrichment.' Appreciation of art is a luxury and these are hard times." (In my opinion these being hard times is a self-fulfilling prophecy.) And of course if you just scan up and down the radio dial you can tell that appreciation of real art is a thing of the past. Aesthetics is a lost art in the US. Bad art has almost totally driven out the good.

I get inside and a first grade class is sitting right in front of a Picasso nude and the teacher is discussing it. I don't think we are in Kansas any more, Toto. My third grade teacher got all flustered once. In the Weekly Reader kid's newspaper there was a Peanut and Jocko cartoon in which Peanut the Elephant takes off his shirt to use as a sail on a boat. One of the kids pointed out that Peanut was now naked. The teacher was really angry that someone had made that observation. Here kids two years younger were being specifically shown nudes. Not in the US.

Back at Burroughs in Detroit I used to work with a guy named Doug Burger. In the way of most successful people at Burroughs this guy was a political back-stabber. I was told that in addition to his working at Burroughs his major income was as a slum landlord. He was just the sort of person whom the management liked to get at Burroughs because they understood him. Also when it came to giving him an incentive, he was really simple to understand. All they had to do was offer him money. Money seemed the only thing that mattered. One day at lunch out of the blue he said that if there was anybody in the world he would have liked to have been, it would have been Pablo Picasso. Pulling my jaw out of my mashed potatoes I asked, "Wh-Wh-Wh-Why?" I was in total astonishment. "There is a man with a license to print money. When they bring him a bill in a restaurant if he just doodles on it, it is worth more than if he simply pays it." Oh, of course. Doug, you may want to be Picasso, but I don't think you are ever going to make it.

It is remarkable, however, to see just how many media Picasso worked in and how close to being correct Berger was. In one place there are some masks that look like Picasso just spent two minutes tearing them out of newspaper. There was a cult of Picasso and everything he did was considered great art. Yet he did not really seem to grow wealthy or live in wealth. The reason there is a Picasso museum is that he died owing big chunks of tax money. The government just took the paintings after he died and it paid the tax. Then they created the museum. Actually that probably was very cagey of him. The government could get what he owned them only by creating a monument to him.

The museum traces the evolution of Picasso's art as he moved from realism to surrealism to becoming a master of surrealism. I would be lying if I said I didn't think at the beginning any of it was put-on. Toward the end there must have been a bit of self delusion. Picasso worked in many different media and in each achieved what all artists seek: unquestioning acceptance and sympathetic interpretation. Rarely is this achieved by any but clergy and police states.

We could take Picasso at face value. Then I would say that it would be a mistake to say that Picasso's mind distorted reality to look like his paintings. Instead we would have to say that his mind distorted what he saw some mysterious third way so that what he painted and what he saw looked the same to him.

TOY STORY 2 (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: It is difficult to imagine anyone not having a good time with TOY STORY 2. The kids will love seeing the familiar toys in an adventure and adults may well appreciate that at the heart of this film is a difficult moral dilemma. There is a lot of humor and there is also some genuine intelligent consideration of the premise. This is Pixar's best film to date and a considerable improvement even over the original. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the whole gang of TOY STORY are back in a sequel that has all the sophisticated special effects and a more complex story. The adventure is a little more extravagant. But even more important the toys face concerns that will be even more resonant with the adults in the audience than with the children who would appear to be the target audience.

The second TOY STORY opus opens with a space-opera fantasy featuring that commander of the limitless ether, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). It seems at first out of context but serves stretch the capabilities of Pixar and to introduce Buzz Lightyear's video game enemy, the Emperor Zurg. This sequence soon leads us to a familiar bedroom where toy owner Andy is headed for Cowboy Camp and planning to take with him Woody (Tom Hanks). But it is not to be. A last minute injury leaves Woody sidelined on the shelf with an arm nearly coming off. Andy's mother makes matters even worse for Woody by reminding Andy that toys don't last forever. This stokes Woody's fears of abandonment. In fact, a yard sale that very day is planned to remove a friend from the toys' midst, a penguin squeeze toy. Woody saves the penguin only by venturing into the yard sale. There he is recognized by a local sleazy toy collector and toy store owner as a valuable collector's item. Woody it seems was modeled on a popular cowboy TV marionette from the 1950s. Woody in stolen in order to complete a set for the collector. Woody it seems has a family he has never known about--a girlfriend, sidekick, and horse. They are now a complete set and can come out of storage and make people happy. But to do that, Woody can never return to Andy. Somebody has to lose. Children's films often have characters choose between good and bad, but rarely between one good cause and another one.

There are certainly films made with scripts a lot worse than the first TOY STORY film, but TOY STORY 2 is a much more satisfying script. This is actually surprising since seven different people worked on the story and script. That generally is a very bad sign. But the script manages to have some resonance without losing a good sense of humor including several laugh-out-loud jokes. There are multiple film allusions including a very funny one to JURASSIC PARK. The makers have recognized that Bo-Peep, the only female toy of the first film, left a lot to be desired in character complexity. Jessie (Joan Cusack) as the toy based on Woody's TV girlfriend has her own agenda.

Pixar's main stock and trade is, of course, computer animation. So an important question is how does this film look? Much of the animation technique will be familiar from the original TOY STORY. That does not break new ground. Andy looks no more real than he did in the last film. That could be attributed to continuity. But this film adds two new human characters: Bad guy Al McWhiggin and the Cleaner. The Cleaner has just a cameo and looks to be the title character from Pixar's Academy Award winning short "Geri's Game." McWhiggin is overweight, middle-aged, and balding. He appears to be their most realistic looking human figure to date. They also have a nice dachshund puppy. Generally Pixar keeps the number of characters with physically soft surfaces to a minimum as they are probably much harder to animate. (Notice that their early character Luxo is make of rigid pieces. The bugs of A BUG'S LIFE had shells.) Attention to detail is particularly nice. Apparently their layout artist is usually good and often excellent. Note touches abound like that after McWhiggin has eaten cheese puffs his fingers appear yellow orange.

Just as the classic BLACK BEAUTY has at its heart the tragic and cruel ways that insensitive humanity treats horses, TOY STORY 2 shows that a toy's life is a bleak affair. While the first TOY STORY saw a toy's life as being played with or being boringly left on the shelf, the new film hits at some fairly disturbing material having toy society echo some of the worst of human society. Old friendships can be broken up at the whim of the owner or the owner's parents. A moment of careless play leaves Woody without the use of one of his arms. This leaves Woody haunted by the fear of what will happen when he is broken or Andy gets too old to play with him. There is ahead for him the oblivion of being dropped into the wastebasket. But some toys have even worse things to fear. Jessie and Stinky Pete have recent memories of the living oblivion of being in storage in a dark closet. Stinky Pete has never even been out of the tight confines of his original wrapping. Hiding within the charming children's film is a very dark and bleak look at the life of toys and disturbing shadows of the human condition.

If there is a problem with the new story it is flaws in its logic. If there is a Prime Directive for living toys it has to be this: Leave no physical evidence that living toys have been present. Without giving details, let me say that the script blatantly violates that directive. The humans would realize at the end of this film that something is going on that is more than meets the eye. Also this episode creates questions that it needed to answer. If Woody were a character from a 1950s TV show, that would mean that the toy must have been made in the 1950s. Woody would have a great deal of previous life, probably with another owner. Does he remember this previous life? How did a 45 year old toy get into Andy's collection? The ending of the film is telegraphed by the logic of what Pixar would and would not be likely to do with the series.

TOY STORY 2 is an excellent example of a sequel that is more worth seeing than the original film. It most certainly is not a disguised remake as sequels too often are. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

     I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing
     look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that
     basically dogs think humans are nuts.
                                   -- John Steinbeck