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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/22/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 51
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.
In the weeks to come we will be making some transitions in the club. The MT VOID will be coming to you from a new e-mail address. What is this all about? Well, people who work for Lucent or Avaya will know that the companies are changing a great deal. We need to put the MT VOID on more stable ground. We will be shifting operations off-company. Hopefully this will not mean an interruption in service.
We expect to start sending the MT VOID to people using the egroups.com mtvoid mailing list starting July 6. There will probably be a test mailing next week to see if all the addresses listed work.
If you are reading this on Evelyn's web page and want to subscribe, go to http://www.egroups.com and follow the instructions, or contact Evelyn (email@example.com).
One thing we cannot move off company is the science fiction club library. We are left with a collection of science fiction books some of which Bell Laboratories funded for its employees many years ago, but most of which were donations by members. Who owns the library now is not clear. It might be best made a charitable contribution. We need suggestions. What would club members want us to do? [-mrl]
In the film THE WAR OF THE WORLDS they tell you it is taking place in a pleasant summer season and about how Mars is at its nearest point. I think that though the Martian year is about two Earth years long (and exactly one Martian year) the two really are at their nearest points to each other every dozen years or so. Well, today starts a pleasant summer season and right now Mars is at its nearest point. Keep an eye out for falling stars. [-mrl]
Several years ago I used to go to the Readercon Science Fiction conventions. I stopped going for a reason that came down to a matter of principle. The idea of this convention is that it was to be an exhilarating look at the greatness of literary science fiction. It was sort of a Dead Poets Society of science fiction. However, from the beginning that is not what it turned out to be at all. While it was a very positive convention during the day, at night it would shed that image and take on a very different aspect, one that was actually kind of ugly. The high point of the weakened was the Kirk Poland Bad Prose Contest. The point of this event was to take passages from science works and to have a good laugh at how poorly they were written and what bad prose they are. Never mind the fact they were quoting the passages out of context. People who would never laugh at their own children for being awkward in spite of trying their best seem to get perverse pleasure from laughing at well-meaning authors who do the same. (And it is amazing how many fans, when they find out I object to the Kirk Poland defend it by saying that it is so much fun. I don't think anybody denies that mean-spirited games can be enjoyable. I wonder how they would feel about Polish jokes.)
I started a movement among my friends, including the hard-willed Evelyn who otherwise would have enjoyed Readercon, to oppose the literary snobbism that had quickly become the hallmark of this convention. And in successive years things got worse. The people who ran Readercon started also venting their personal prejudices on cinema as being not literary enough and not really being literature at all while at the same time ironically lauding virtues of the rock music which they said "had words and hence was literature." This for me was the final straw. I told Evelyn that I would go to no more of these conventions I thought would be better called Hypocricons devoted to the framers' tastes and their literary snobbery. She could go; I would just stay home. She chose to be merely a supporting member.
One of my memories from one of the few Readercons that I attended was a talk by Samuel Delany, one of the authors who was smiled upon. He was giving a talk he called "An Introduction to Semiotics and Deconstructionism." It sounded interesting and while I had heard a little about semiotics, I really did not know what it was all about. I went expecting to learn something. And I did; though it was not what I expected.
I choose to give Delany the benefit of the doubt and interpret that hour as his subtle joke at his audience's expense. It may have even been his own comment on the literary snobbery of Readercon and if so I applaud him. But what he gave was a lecture incomprehensible from first sentence to last. This from a master wordsmith in a lecture he called "an introduction." I believe his intention was to overwhelm the uninitiated. In any case that was certainly the effect. No physicist giving an introduction to quantum physics would have been so obscure.
My interpretation at the time was that semiotics was indeed unintelligible by intention. That some professor in the English department at some school, I thought, attended a lecture on quantum physics or perhaps algebraic topology and realized that it was incomprehensible to him. She or he realized that her/his own department's literary analyses of MOBY DICK were nowhere nearly as complex or obscure and decided it reflected badly. Hence semiotics was added to the lexicon of literary analysis.
I have since gone to other sources to get my introduction to semiotics. I find it is not the obscure subject that Delany made it. I propose to try to do what the great Samuel Delany intentionally or not failed to do. I am going to try to explain semiotics and deconstructionism without making it confusing and obscure. And if I fail at least I can point out that better writers than I have failed at the same task. But we shall see. I start next week. [-mrl]
ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: While SHREK, still playing in theaters, mocks the old Disney traditions, ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE pays respectful homage to old Disney films while telling a story like H. Rider Haggard on steroids. A legendary book leads a mismatched expedition to find the mythical city still alive, though just barely, deep beneath the waves of the ocean. A little heavy on the mysticism and the fighting, this animated film is not a bad choice adventure fans. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
In the late 1800s there was still a lot of the world that was terra incognita. Much of the map had still to be filled in and adventure stories were being written about fabulous finds of ancient cities still alive in the far corners of the world. The greatest of these stories, in my opinion at least, was H. Rider Haggard's SHE, filmed in multiple silent versions and at least two sound versions. Other authors who have written lost race stories include Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ian Cameron, and A. Merritt. What science fiction is to many branches of science and alternate history is to the study of history, lost race stories are to archeology. They are the stories of the imaginative dreams of every archeologist. (For those interested in the lost race genre I can recommend the web site http://www.violetbooks.com/lostrace-check-guide.html.)
The current film starts at a breakneck pace as a huge wave rushes foreword to engulf the advanced island-civilization of Atlantis and some strange flying machines racing it to try to save the island. Meanwhile there is something strange and mystical happening on the island, but not so powerful that it saves the island from sinking below the waves.
Flash forward to 1910 or so. Exploration runs in the family for Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox). Thatch's grandfather searched for the lost city of Atlantis. Milo has his own ideas as to where the city can be found. His dedication and energy applied to this goal has won him a reputation of being a little demented on the subject. Then an enigmatic millionaire has his own plan to find Atlantis with the help of an ancient book thought to be lost but found by Milo's grandfather. A new expedition will search for the city and its mysterious power source. The expedition will be led by Commander Lyle Tiberius Rourke (James Garner) and begin with a descent to the ocean floor in a fabulous submarine.
The base story by Bryce and Jackie Zabel leaves room for some spectacular action scenes with an undeniable excitement. The film seems to be an H. Rider Haggard adventure in concentrated form. The story moves faster and has more action than Haggard would have given it, but the spirit is there. One thing that does seem a little out of place: most lost race stories were told in a serious tone. Because of the subject matter the stories were rarely told with much humor. There is a lot of Disney-style comedy and weird international characters on the expedition. (Is the character of Moliere based on the character of the same name in the ZBS's Ruby series? There are definite similarities.) The writers make the usual politically correct choice for the presence and ethnicity of the villain. The script in the end feels a little top-heavy with fighting and mysticism. Some may long for the subtlety of some of the writers of years past, but overall the film does have its moments.
To some extent ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE is an experiment. First it is a PG cartoon, unusual for Disney. The whimsical nature and the less realistic animation techniques seem less likely choices for the subject matter. The style might go better with a humorous animal story. Further toward the end of the film a lot of what is happening is not carefully explained and is left to the viewer's interpretation. The film does have some breathtaking images of the city Atlantis and especially of the great submarine seen all too briefly in the first part of the film. The submarine seems like a cross between Disney's Nautilus and the interior of an airship. Real submarines don't look like this, but they ought to.
Once again we have an all-star cast of voices in an animated film where their familiarity can be only a distraction. We have Michael J. Fox in the lead. We also have James Garner, Jim Verney (who died in February of 2000), Claudia Christian, Don Novello (who on frequently played the comedic Father Guido Sarducci), John Mahoney, and Leonard Nimoy as the King of Atlantis. While far from ideal, Atlantis is a good adventure film with at least some of the nostalgic feel of classic exploration films. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Top Ten Films of the Century (comments by Lax Madapaty):
Here is a recap and more from Lax Madapaty's top ten list:
10. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1967)
09. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961)
08. THE GODFATHER (1972)
07. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER (1968)
06. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
05. SPARTACUS (1960):
This film is about a rebellious Thracian slave hero who gave the mighty Roman Empire a runaround in 73 B.C., led an army of gladiators against the Roman legions, and in the process, came heartbreakingly close to defying an empire and win freedom. What makes the film a notch above LAWRENCE is the fact that it deals with values that are universal to humankind whereas LAWRENCE is more of a one-man-show. In giving due credit to Dalton Trumbo's literate script, producer Kirk Douglas defied the Hollywood blacklist, a bold and unprecedented move. The film has several memorable scenes most notably the one where Spartacus shouts, "I am not an animal" from inside a cage when a woman is thrown at him; his reply, "No more than I was afraid to be born" when asked, "Spartacus, are you afraid to die?"; his observation, "And maybe there's no peace in this world, for us or for anyone else, I don't know. But I do know that, as long as we live, we must remain true to ourselves" and the final scene where many gladiators including Spartacus are crucified along the road to Rome and his wife Varinia tells him while holding their child that he is born free. This film also gets my vote for the greatest ensemble cast ever assembled for a film. Acting heavyweights such as Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov are pitted against Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons and John Gavin. Commenting on the $12 million budget (a lot of money in those days), Kirk Douglas said that if the film was a thrilling spectacle (which it more than was!), the money was a drop in the bucket and if not, it was too much! Most of the money went into authentically recreating Rome in a studio backlot in Hollywood. The results are better than the recent CGI epic GLADIATOR. Yet another remarkable aspect of the film is the Alex North score. North reportedly studied the script several times and ran the film 18 times start to finish before even committing a single note of music on paper! Aside from assembling a huge 87-piece orchestra to conduct his rousing themes, he also augmented the score with several rare and unconventional instruments. They include the sarrousophone, a wind instrument, the Kythara, a plucked Roman instrument much like the lyre, the dulcimer which is really German in origin, an Israeli recorder, a Chinese oboe, a Yugoslav flute and a strange electronic instrument called the Ondioline. The result is one of the five great scores of motion pictures.
04. JING KE CI QIN WANG (1999):
Also know as THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN, this Mandarin language film by Chen Kaige (TEMPTRESS MOON, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE), the talented young filmmaker from China, is stunning in virtually every frame of the 161 minute duration. Set in the 3rd Century B.C., the film depicts the struggle of Ying Zheng (Li Xuejien), ruler of the Qin dynasty, to unify the 7 provinces that make up most of modern China into one magnificent and peaceful kingdom, free from barbaric invasions from the north. Assisting him in his quest is his childhood sweetheart Lady Zhao (Gong Li) who is impressed by his seemingly noble convictions. Zheng's quest is predominantly dictated by an ancestral decree that is complicated by the fact that he is really a bastard child and hence not a real descendent of the Qin kingdom. Nevertheless, by employing various tactics including surviving an assassination attempt (in what is really a ploy to find an excuse to attack the kingdom of Yan), Zheng finally manages to succeed. But for his success, Zheng pays a terrible and ultimate price. In the process of realizing what started off as an honorable quest, Zheng's methods become increasingly brutal. Constantly in struggle with himself and his methods throughout his quest, Zheng starts slowly losing every one around him. His mother has an affair with the Marquis out of loneliness and has two children by him. They are all brutally murdered when the Marquis tries to stage a coup to overthrow Zheng. His father has to kill himself (right in front of his own son) to prevent tarnishing Zheng's claim as a descendent of Qin. Even the one person close to him, Lady Zhao deserts him after a particularly brutal assault on Yan where thousands of children are buried alive at the orders of Zheng. At the very end, as Zheng stands alone on the bridge that he constructed in memory of the sweet times he had with Lady Zhao as a child (he used to play by a similar bridge on a river back when they were poor but happy), he comes to a tragic realization - that he has lost himself. Every scene in the film is emotionally powerful, grandiose, superbly acted and visually stunning. The film is also blessed with an evocative musical score by Zhao Jiping, with an unforgettable main theme. At the very end of the film, we come to know that in spite of all the efforts of Zheng, his rule lasted only 15 years after the unification. Still, Zheng was responsible for creating what is today one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world. His legacy lives on for all of us to admire and appreciate in the form of the Great Wall of China and the awe-inspiring Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian, China.
03. HEY RAM! (2000):
The Partition of India in 1947 is one of the biggest catastrophes in the history of the world. It led to a massive loss of lives and forced many to evacuate their lands. East and West Punjab, North West Frontier Province, North India and Sind were engulfed in an orgy of violence for months. Mammoth migrations of Muslims from India and Hindus from Pakistan took place, shattering both communities down to their core. Nearly, 5,00,000 people died in the holocaust and 55,00,000 people were forced to migrate from their abodes. This is the largest exodus in the history of humankind. It is this painful chapter in Indian history that serves as a backdrop for this sad, intense, personal and honest film by Kamal Haasan, one of the most talented actors of the Indian film industry. More than 95% of Indian films are unbearable, with randomly placed song-and-dance sequences that simply don't make any sense. HEY RAM! was financed only under the condition that there be a certain number of songs in the film. Fortunately most of them (except one or two) make sense in the overall context of the film and hence don't really distract from what the film has to say. It is the story of an archeologist Saket Ram (played by Kamal Haasan, who also wrote and directed the film) who is irreversibly transformed into a killer while caught in the Hindu-Muslim riots in Calcutta that preceded Partition in undivided India. When his wife is brutally raped and killed by Muslims, Saket Ram goes around killing Muslims in a fit of rage. In time, he goes down South to his native state in search of peace and remarries, but ghosts of the past keep haunting him. A misguided Saket Ram joins a group of Hindu extremists that intend to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi whom they hold responsible for the partition and the painful effects it had on the people. In crafting the film, Kamal displays an unprecedented intelligence and a deep understanding of Indian history and translates his vision into a powerful motion picture. Uncommonly, both the female lead characters in the film are well- educated, cultured and intelligent. In addition, Kamal challenges the viewers by prominently featuring no less than seven Indian languages in the dialogue. Good and bad people are shown among both Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi himself is more realistically portrayed than in Attenborough's GANDHI. Interestingly, the role is played by one of the great actors of Indian cinema, Naseeruddin Shah who happens to be a Muslim. However, prosthetics have transformed him so much that I didn't realize this until the end credits rolled. The film score is yet another surprising aspect of this film. Composed and conducted by India's musical maestro Ilaiya Raja, who is as well versed with Indian Classical as with Western Classical music. As an Indian, it is difficult for me to be unbiased about a touchy and personal subject matter the film deals with. However, this is an experiment with truth that no Westerner should miss.
01.(A tie for first place.) BLADE RUNNER, The Director's Cut (1982):
I have always maintained that Cinema is essentially a visual medium. Sound in Cinema came thirty years after the Lumiere Brothers filmed workers walking out of a factory and showed it to the public. But it is the sight that really distinguishes the medium. Given this, surprisingly few directors have exploited the visual nature of Cinema to the maximum. Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam, David Lean, Peter Greenaway and the Coen Brothers have all realized the criticality of visuals in films. However, Ridley Scott has consistently provided us with unique and dazzling visuals right from his first feature THE DUELLISTS up until his last one, HANNIBAL. It is BLADE RUNNER that towers above every film every made in its complex visuals and stunning production design. A breakthrough in film making much like METROPOLIS, 2001 and the recent DARK CITY, BLADE RUNNER has been an enduring influence on film visuals - especially science fiction films like the recent PHANTOM MENACE. The homage to 40's Film Noir is a nice touch. But what makes this a great film is the poignant story of five dying Replicants - genetically engineered humanoids - who return to Earth in search of longevity. Deckard (Harrison Ford), Blade Runner par excellence, is asked to hunt down these Replicants and terminate them. In the process, he discovers a profound truth - that the so-called Replicants turn out to be more human than even human beings. The script by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher, based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick, goes beyond questioning the existential dilemma we all face at one time or the other in life. It questions the very nature of humanity and what it is that makes us human. Even in Rachel (played by Sean Young), there is a certain poignancy in discovering that all that she has in her mind - her memories - are just made up and not real. The fact that she is not human and doesn't know how long she will survive (again, a dilemma even humans face!) does not deter her from having an open-ended love affair with Deckard who may or may not be a Replicant himself. Another remarkable aspect of the film is Vangelis' stunning film score in the vein of his New Age albums. Here he not only creates a dense layer of sounds to accompany Scott's masterful visuals, but also extrapolates the unknown from the unknown, much like the visuals. In the film, one sees familiar billboards selling familiar products but in an entirely unfamiliar setting. In the score, there are touches of Jazz to the New Age music, again, blending the familiar with the unfamiliar. My favorite moment in Cinema occurs towards the end, when Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) saves Deckard on a rain-washed rooftop and says, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die". Even as he is dying, Roy must have realized the beauty of life and decided to save a life, even if it is that of his hunter.
01. VERTIGO (1958):
This is the other film that is deeply affecting, almost metaphysical in its effect. Only an established master of the medium such as Hitchcock could have made such a daring and tragic film with mainstream actors for a big Hollywood studio. The film opened to mixed reviews and public reaction. Frankly, I think at that time, people didn't really know what to make out of this unconventional crime drama cum dark romantic fantasy. Our hero, Scottie (James Stewart) is hardly a conventional hero, an acrophobic retired detective obsessed by a strange, beautiful and suicidal woman (Kim Novac) he is hired to tail. What follows after her apparent suicide is a complex psychological drama that is dreamily shot by Hitch and beautifully photographed (chiefly in San Francisco) by Robert Burks in Vista Vision. Right from the stirring main titles by Saul Bass (who also did SPARTACUS) to the eerie, menacing score by musical genius Bernard Herrmann, the film sucks the viewer into a labyrinth of unsettling and haunting situations. In fact, Herrmann tells the whole story of the film in his main title cue, combining dissonance, harmony in minor scales and a certain monotony and repetition that hint at the film's central themes of obsession, fear, longing and passion. Many consider this film to be the director's portrayal of his own fears and obsession, his masterpiece. There is such depth to the film that it is one of the most widely discussed and analyzed in film history. For instance, there is this Fibonacci spiral motif (an integral part of chaos theory) that runs throughout, hinting at attempts by the lead characters to bring some sort of an order to the chaotic events unfolding around them. Madeline is shown in multiple reflections and repetitions. Reputed playwright Maxwell Anderson was brought in to do a first draft of the script based on the French novel d'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead, the working title for the film). Reportedly, Anderson's work was so incoherent - his title for the film was "Listen Darkling" - that Hitch got Samuel Taylor to do the job. Hitch created his vertigo effects for the audience by inventing a new technique - the camera pull back while at the same time zooming in. This film gets better and better with each viewing. A special mention to Robert Harris and James Katz for lovingly restoring three of my favorite films - VERTIGO, SPARTACUS and LAWRENCE. [-lm]
Quote of the Week:
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. -- Oscar Wilde