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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/24/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 21
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.
This is not exactly science fiction-related, but since it has quite a following, let me note that HBO will be re-running the entire first two seasons of "The Sopranos" starting Sunday, December 3, from 8PM to 10PM EST every Sunday night until February 25. [-ecl]
Chili (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
America has been a melting pot country and as a result its cuisine is sort of a melting pot cuisine. These days American food includes a lot of influence from Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, and many more. Frequently the real American food is not a dish invented here but is just our own spin on somebody else's dish. We may not even recognize it as being distinctly American. Sometimes the cuisine loses in the translation. Beware the ethnic food served at Bell Laboratories, for example. The Diversity Department tells us to respect other nationalities and so often the cafeteria then slanders their cuisine trying to imitate it.
But frequently an ethnic dish made to another ethnic group's taste can take on a life of its own. What nationality of dish is Chop Suey? It's American. I believe that is common knowledge. It is made in a Chinese style, but it is American. Well, I don't care for Chop Suey but it was quite popular in Detroit when I lived there.
Pizza? Well, pizza really is Italian, but by all accounts there is no comparison between American Pizza and Italian Pizza. Marcello Mastroianni used to say that he wanted to do more American films because only when he came to America he could get good pizza. American pizza is a whole different animal from real Italian pizza. The same thing seems to be happening in other countries also. When I was in Wales I noticed that Indian restaurants had a dish I did not recognize. It was called a Balti. I had never heard of it served in US Indian restaurants. And for good reason. Balti is not really an Indian dish, it is British. But it tastes a lot like Indian curry.
I will tell you some things that even most British do not know about this popular dish. The Balti started showing up in Northern England in the mid-1980s. Some restaurant created it and when it got popular other restaurants started copying it. I do not think anybody knows who invented the dish. It probably was a Pakistani restaurant since Balti is prepared much like a traditional way of cooking for Multani Pakistani communities in Britain. Balti food is cooked in a utensil called a Karahi and is quite similar traditional Multani Karahi cuisine.
Now Balti cooking has spread all over Britain and Ireland and is even found in India. It was so popular that it started squeezing out strictly traditional Indian cuisine in some British restaurants. Some restaurants discovered that if they did not serve Baltis, they just did not get the business. Now just like a lot of our Chinese restaurants have some American dishes on the menu, most Indian restaurants in Britain have a Balti menu. They will serve many different kinds of Balti dishes. Meanwhile back in India, British tourists are desperately looking for Balti restaurants and to keep up with the demand Indian restaurants are starting to include Balti dishes in their menu. It may well end up being a standard dish in India even though it was invented in Britain.
In the US we have our own strange concoctions. For me one of the stranger American dishes is Cincinnati Chili. Now I believe chili is originally a Mexican dish and what we have in the US is an Americanized version. But Cincinnati chili is a whole different breed. It is actually a Greek variation. It is not piquant; it is sweet flavored with an unexpected hint of chocolate and cinnamon. But you can get it what they call five-way, four-way, down to one- way. This syntax is as strange as the taste of the chili. A "four-way" stop is a stop you can approach from four different directions. A three-way-something seems to be something you can use three different ways. That's not what it means here. A "one- way" chili is chili in a bowl; a "two-way" is chili over spaghetti; a "three-way" is chili over spaghetti with grated cheddar cheese; a "four-way" is chili over spaghetti with grated cheddar cheese and chopped onions; and a "five-way" is chili over spaghetti with grated cheddar cheese and chopped onions and kidney beans. So you cannot have some ingredients without other ingredients. If you want kidney beans in your chili there is no way to do it unless there is spaghetti under it and grated cheddar and onions over it. You have to earn the right to have those kidney beans by buying three other ingredients. It is a little strange but that is what you get when you have a Greek variation on an American variation on a Mexican dish. Yet Cincinnati has more chili restaurants per person than any other city in the world. So they must be doing something right. Skyline was the chain I remember seeing and they are more common than McDonalds is most parts of the country.
But this leaves some unanswered questions. If it is so popular in Cincinnati, why is our traditional American chili not more popular? Maybe it is better than standard American chili. But if it is that good, why is this Greek variant on chili only popular in Ohio? As far as I know Cincinnati is the only American city known for its chili. There is need here for some anthropologist to find some answers. [-mrl]
SHOLAY (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This is the longest running and most profitable Hindi film of all time. Strongly influenced by THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, albeit with two heroes instead of seven, it is basically a Western made and set in 1975 with locales in then current India. Some of the Hindi Film conventions will chafe American viewers, but overall it is quite enjoyable. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4) Note: This review is written from the point of view of an American for other Americans. The viewer's experience may vary. I find that Indians can be extremely fond of this film and will probably like it considerably more than I did.
When the film SHOLAY was released in 1975 it at first appeared not to attract much of an audience in India. Word of mouth grew, however, until it was the highest grossing and most profitable Hindi film ever made. It had a theatrical run of over seven years in Bombay and five years in Delhi. Today there are Indians who will unabashedly call it one of the finest films ever made. While the film takes place in its present, it is basically a reframing of SEVEN SAMURAI and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, retold with two heroes instead of seven. Directed by Ramesh Sippy who picked up many of the conventions of American Westerns and especially form the Italian Westerns of Sergio Leone. Madhya Pradesh in Central India and a few other areas in India are perhaps the only places in the world where there are still conditions so similar to the American West. There, at least according to my informant, gangs of dacoits still ride horses in rocky terrain and live relatively free of the law enforcement. It is a strange mix of times to see bandits on horses and people in contemporary dress on modern motorcycles. I am informed that the view of village life in India is very accurate. SHOLAY, whose name means "sparks of fire," follows the conventions of Indian neighborhood films. That means it has several songs in production numbers, it has generous doses of comedy. And the film is in the range of 190 minutes long.
Thakur Baldev Singh (played by Sanjeev Kumar) has a problem. As a Thakur--sort of the equivalent of what in England was a squire--he is responsible to protect his village from the ravages of a the gang of the bandit named Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). To do this he wishes to enlist the aid of two of the worst thieves in the country, Veeru (Dharmendru) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan). The Thakur has dealt with them before when he was not the police force and he knows them to be decent men and good fighters who are his best chance to defeat Gabbar Singh. He hires them to capture Gabbar alive.
In flashbacks we see that the Thakur previously was to bring the two to prison via train. When the train was attacked by bandits the two escaped from his chains, fought off the bandits, and then turned themselves into the authorities rather than let the policeman die of his wounds.
As is frequently the case is Westerns the most memorable character is the villain. Think of Calvera in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN or Hannibal Lector in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. In India Gabbar Singh has taken on a life of his own. Indian children memorize his lines. He is has become one of the most popular screen villains of all time for reasons that must be only partially clear to outsiders. He certainly has personality, though perhaps not all of it transcends the language barrier.
Making this a Hindi film are the usual standard touches. In the course of the three-hour-plus film there are five production number songs. An early one is a colorful number set during the Holi holiday. At this holiday Indians throw large volumes of brightly- colored powders into the air and at each other, which certainly is visually colorful. Another production number toward the end of the film is a bit sadistic and makes the audience involuntarily wince. Music is by R. D. Burman, but its quality is a little hard to measure by Western standards. The music and the comedy tend to pad out what in the West we would make into a more focused and intense film. Some of the comedy is rather bizarre including a scene in prison in which the warden has chosen one of the most hated personalities of this century on whom to model his looks and actions.
A number of pieces of the style are reminiscent of Sergio Leone films. Some scenes are drawn out for the greatest amount of drama, but will be done almost silently with one irrelevant sound dominating (e.g. the repetitive squeaking of a swing). In one scene several people are shot in a sort of massacre, but rather than showing the carnage, each time the action stops in a freeze- frame for a second or two. When the father of the house comes to see the bodies, each is covered in a sheet, but as he stands looking the wind comes and one at a time blows the sheet away leaving a body. In another scene a man is aiming a gun at a defenseless boy. There is a quick jump to a train venting steam with the same explosive sound. These are very evocative scenes and these touches give parts of the film a definite Italian Western feel. That part of India has landscapes much like the American West anyway. It is odd to find such good work in the same film that has some of the silly comic musical numbers that this film has. There some of the comic editing features under-cranked cameras and touches one would more associate with "The Monkees."
The non-Indian wishing to try Indian neighborhood entertainment films could do worse than to begin sampling with SHOLAY. Though it may seem uneven, like the British "curate's egg," parts of it are excellent. I rate it 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. The film is now available on DVD. (Thanks to Lax Madapati for showing me and giving me extensive background information on this film.) [-mrl]
RISK (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):
Capsule: Australian film shot in Sydney. A new employee at an insurance company gets pulled into an insurance fraud scheme with two unscrupulous people. A different idea, but only a standard execution. High speed climax. Based on a story by Tracy Kidder. Rating: +1
LA MOITIE DU CIEL (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):
Capsule: A woman goes to China to adopt a son and finds herself in a fight for her life. The story is set in a very different China from what the Chinese government would have to believe exists. She sees extreme poverty feeding crime and political oppression. A moving and angry film. Rating: +2
HOW TO KILL YOUR NEIGHBOR'S DOG (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):
Capsule: Written and directed by Michael Kalesniko, adapted from a stage play. Peter McGowan is not a very likable person. He is a formerly successful playwright with writer's block who hates children and dogs. He is beset with problems that he just whimpers about. By the end of the play with less going on than a Seinfeld episode he is a little less self- obsessed a person and slightly nicer and his neighbors' dog is dead. Rating: 0
SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):
Capsule: Very dull attempt at comedy from Sweden. More a pile of semi-related absurdist scenes, in some you could tell the point, than an actual story. Part of the joke is that some of the scenes go on way too long. Not worth the wait for the one or two good jokes. Rating: -2
FAST FOOD, FAST WOMEN (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):
Capsule: Light pleasant comedy set in Manhattan about several people who are pair-wise friends, but do not know they all know each other. Two couples cannot seem to decide they are romantically connected because the men do not want to commit. Rating: high +1
Quote of the Week:
America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization. -- Georges Clemenceau