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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/21/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 12
Table of Contents
The MT VOID is dated (internally) every Friday, but since we have no scheduling software available, you may receive it a few days early or a few days late, and the date of the email may match neither the internal date nor the date you receive it. Also because of this, issues may not include the latest topical news. (For example, the Hugos and this week's editorial are both a few days old.) [-ecl]
I got a piece of mail from Bill Higgins responding to my article about HDTV. He says, "Me, I can't get used to color oscilloscopes. They just look weird." To which my response was "Wait until you see the new High Definition Oscilloscopes with surroundsound. It's like being right there on the F(t)=0 line for all the action."
For work from 2000: Best Novel - HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (JK Rowling) Best Novella - "The Ultimate Earth" (Jack Williamson) Best Novelette - "Millenium Babies" (Kristine Katherine Rusch) Best Short Story - "Different Kind of Darkness" (Dave Langford) Best Related Book - GREETINGS FROM EARTH (Bob Eggleton) Best Dramatic Presentation - CRUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON Best Professional Editor - Gardner Dozois Best Professional Artist - Bob Eggleton Best Semiprozine - Locus Best Fanzine - File 770 Best Fan Writer - Dave Langford Best Fan Artist - Teddy Harvia John W. Campbell Award - Kristine Smith For work from 1950 (Retro-Hugos): Best Novel - FARMER IN THE SKY (Robert A. Heinlein) Best Novella - "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (Robert A. Heinlein) Best Novelette - "The Little Black Bag" (C. M. Kornbluth) Best Short Story - "Coming Attraction" (Fritz Leiber) Best Related Book - (dropped from ballot) Best Dramatic Presentation - DESTINATION MOON Best Professional Editor - John W. Campbell, Jr. Best Professional Artist - Frank Kelly Freas Best Semiprozine - (dropped from ballot) Best Fanzine - Science Fiction Newsletter Best Fan Writer - Bob Silverberg Best Fan Artist - Jack Gaughan
Lying to Ourselves (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I had not originally planned to talk about terrorism this issue. I figured everybody else is talking about it and you needed an escape. But then I was listening to the radio and heard somebody saying something ridiculous and I was off and running in spite of myself. Be warned some of this article may be hard to read.
Someone said it again on the radio today. The terrorists wanted to strike at the very heart of our freedom. The radio said we should fly flags to show our love of our freedom and that way the attack will be a failure. That is a very moving thought. It is, I admit, a source of inspiration for many of my fellow citizens. It also is a lie. What is worse I think most people really know it is a lie and are taking refuge in it because it feels good to do so. Flying flags makes us feel we are doing something. The terrorists who planned this crime do not care one way or another about our concept of freedom. And they certainly do not care if we fly flags or not. If we say freedom is what the attack was all about it is only so we can say that it failed. But by any measure, it was nothing like a failure.
In fact, by any reasonable standards the September 11 operation was the most successful terrorist attack in history. Being honest with ourselves it even was in some senses a very clever idea. Terrorists had tried before to damage the World Trade Center. With a powerful fertilizer bomb they did only a modest amount of damage. This approach was more intelligent. All it required was the price of some plane tickets, a few knives, and a few people willing to die for their religion, all readily available materials in the Middle East. They carefully chose planes fueled for long flights but taking off near their objective so they would have a maximum of unused fuel. Knowing the planes were hijacked our natural inclination would be to get other planes out of their way to help them reach their objective. That was playing right into their hands. They did not need much training. The hard tasks of flying a plane are the take-offs and landings. Piloting a plane in flight is little harder than driving a car. This was a relatively simple, inexpensive operation. And as a result they literally brought the towers down. They killed thousands of people, cost many billions of dollars, and gave our economy a big push downward. The whole operation was deadly, elegant, and somewhat simple. As much as I abhor what they did, there is some part of me that admires how cleverly the problem was solved. Anyone who calls the action a failure is lying to himself.
So what was the attack about if not about our concept of freedom? It was about power and hatred. They used to say that the Golden Rule was whoever has the gold makes the rules. America has a lot of financial power in the Middle East and it has its own opinions. Our opinions do not agree with those of the terrorists. We are perceived as having a lot of power to enforce our point of view, the terrorists have a lot less. They want to show the kind of power they have so we will respect them more. That was what they wanted to do and that was what they did. Even if hurting us does not change our policies- -and whether it will or not remains to be seen--it felt good to them to do it and see us shaken from our self-confidence and our complacency. That is exactly what they did see. It probably felt pretty good to them. It certainly did not feel like a failure.
It also apparently felt good to all the Palestinians who celebrated seeing Americans hurt. You probably have heard that a newsman filmed the massive celebration of the success of the attack, but the film was not broadcast because of death threats from the Palestinian Authority. [See http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=95001125] What do the Palestinians have to do with it? Palestinians are a big part of the Middle East equation. These are people who enjoy their hatreds. For many, hatred is the only thing they have in abundance. It is taught in the schools. The hatred industry is the only growth employer. And it will take anyone who applies. We have to admit to ourselves that the enemy is widespread and international and that they really do hate us. We have to be prepared for a much bigger struggle than we are expecting. For years we have ignored the monumental hatreds in the Middle East, the hatreds intentionally passed from one generation to the next. We have told ourselves we were dealing with rational, reasonable people. We thought talking would solve the problems. If that did not work there were always plans like land for peace. Now the monster is too strong, he is angry, he has too many heads to be easily stopped.
I think what we have to recognize is that we have a clever and dangerous enemy. Their unconventional military power may be the equal of our stronger but more conventional force. We have to learn how to fight this enemy. And the first step is to stop lying to ourselves. [-mrl]
The Supernatural at the Toronto International Film Festival (comments and reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
With this issue I will begin coverage of the films I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival. Over a ten-day period I saw forty-two films, some of which will play at your local theaters, some will play only at art houses, some will be available only on video, and probably some will get no release at all. I intend to review all forty-two films. Those films that will play in theaters, I will make every effort to review before their release to provide the reader my viewpoint.
Just to add a little organization to the presentation I will, where possible, group the films in categories and review an entire category at a time. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is due for release and falls into my supernatural category. In my review of PULSE, I also mention CURE by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. CURE is getting an overdue art house release. This weekend it will be playing at The Screening Room.
The festival, which has few entries that can really be called horror films, featured films from two of today's best horror directors, one Mexican, one Japanese. Not a bad choice for the few horror films they chose to show. [-mrl]
HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In 1960 an eleven-year-old forms a friendship with an elderly man who boards at his house. Scott Hicks directs with a great deal of period feel. Anthony Hopkins stars as the mysterious Ted Brautigan. The story is told sentimentally and well until the script or perhaps the story falters in the final reel. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)
Stephen King made his reputation on writing horror and that still seems to be the major portion of his output. These days, however, the films made from his horror stories are definitely of secondary quality to those that do not have strong fantasy content. King is better when he concentrates on human drama than on the supernatural. This film based on only one part of his novel HEARTS IN ATLANTIS basically ignores most, though not all, of the fantasy elements of the book.
Robert Garfield (played by David Morse) is a photographer returning to the neighborhood where he grew up. He is visiting the funeral of a childhood friend. He asks about Carol Gerber, the girl who was the other close friend, only to discover that she had recently passed away. Robert thinks back to 1960 when he was eleven. Bobby (played just a little too maturely by Anton Yelchin) lived with his widowed mother. Then boarder Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) comes to live with the Garfields. Though his mother takes an immediate dislike to him, for Bobby the boarder opens up new worlds. Ted turns Bobby onto the world of literature and forever changes Bobby's outlook on the world.
Bobby and Ted's relationship is made difficult by Bobby's mother (Hope Davis), a woman who makes all the wrong decisions in her own life and blames the result on others. She has poisoned Bobby's mind against his dead father suspects the worst of Ted. Bobby's mother is right about Ted in at least one regard. There is something not normal about the recluse. He seems to have psychic powers that tell him things about the future. And Ted is on the run from men who know about those powers and want to use them. The book's fantasy element is much reduced in the William Goldman (MARATHON MAN, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) adaptation of one section of the book by Stephen King. Scott Hicks who directed SHINE and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS directs here. In general his style is nostalgic and romanticized, though he somewhat unimaginatively creates a lot of the mood by playing the popular music of the 1960 period. Also though the cars we see seem a bit old for the setting. Goldman's or King's view of the "good kids" is a little too Simon Pure and cliched as he follows them down railroad tracks and swimming at the local water hole, slaking their thirsts with the carton of milk they brought along. Nobody I remember was that good a kid. Once he has lulled us into this idyllic view of 1960 the introduction of some nasty violence in the latter part of the film comes as something of a shock.
HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is a Castle Rock Entertainment production. They do the best adaptations of Stephen King, including the now classic THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is a cut below that film, but still a good production. I rate it 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: During the Spanish Civil War young Carlos is sent to a dreary orphanage complete with an unexploded bomb in the courtyard, a murder mystery, and a restless spirit. His life may depend on his learning the secret of the phantom. This is a stylish ghost story and murder mystery, though the emphasis is on the murder mystery. The writer and director is the incomparable Guillermo del Toro. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
The Golden Age of the Mexican horror film was during the 1950s and 1960s. During this period the Mexican film industry turned out horror films with more enthusiasm than budget or quality. Featured in the films were vampires, werewolves, Aztec mummies, and professional wrestlers. The latter were usually heroes. They may not have gotten theatrical release in this country but the films would occasionally be pressed into service for late night horror film programs. Beyond that they were not much seen in the US. The supply died in the late 1960s and for a long time there were no horror films from Mexico. In 1993 a quality Mexican horror film, CRONOS, directed by Guillermo del Toro, was released. It was good enough that it played here mostly in art houses. In 1997 del Toro released another film, MIMIC. Both are atmospheric and visually remarkable films. THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is the third from del Toro, a stylish ghost story set in a boarding school near end of the Spanish Civil War.
The film opens with a bomb bay opening and a bomb being dropped. The bomb falls in a schoolyard, but does not explode. To this same school is brought Carlos (played by Fernando Tielve), a new student. Almost immediately on arrival Carlos sees a ghostly presence in a doorway and the sight will shape his life at the school. Carlos has a hard time adapting to the new school and winning the friendship of the other students. Bigger children bully him and the teachers unfairly discipline him. But more unusual and more disturbing is that he continues to see the ghostly presence. At night he will see a shadow of the specter by his bed. He soon finds out the ghost is called by the other children "the one who sighs." The ghost might be Santi is a fellow student who disappeared and was thought to be murdered. The students are all terrified of Santi, but Carlos a bit less than the others are. For this reason Santi seems more willing to appear to him. Carlos learns about the school staff through little clandestine nighttime spying trips. He learns particularly about Professor Casares (Federico Luppi of CRONOS), his wife Carmen (Marisa Paredes), and the handyman, the handsome Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega).
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE is only partially a ghost story. It part it is a standard boarding school story with horrors coming as much from the school bully as from the ghost. Eventually Carlos will have to find how it was that Santi became a ghost. The script of this film was del Toro's school thesis. Taking place in wartime and with a killer in the story, one might think the film could easily enough horror without a ghost. Even if all the elements are not necessary for the story, they are fit together in a very nice way. Del Toro has a beautiful eye for color and landscape. So in spite of the fact that some of the horror effects not particularly unique and the ghost is not frightening for long, the sheer beauty of the film's production make this a pleasure to watch. Del Toro keeps the digital work to a minimum and when he uses it, he uses it well. This is not the original film that CRONOS was, but it does work.
Sadly Mexican horror died in the late 1960s before it could really get going. Guillermo del Toro has brought about a minor rebirth and is the only director keeping it alive. But he is just about the best Mexico has ever had and is one of the best horror directors making films today. I rate the Mexican/Spanish production THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
PULSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The director of CURE brings a weird and very complex concept to the screen. One viewing will not be enough to understand fully the premise of PULSE. The idea is something about ghosts and the Internet. The film has an amazing apocalyptic style. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
Perhaps the most disturbing (and disturbed?) filmmaker in the world is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. His films all seem to have one style, bleak. The worlds he creates are terrifying and cold. Little known in the US to date, his films deliver the kind of horror that so many of our filmmakers promise and are unable to deliver. Most of his ideas are fresh and at the same time morbid. His 1998 film CURE, with one of his niftiest ideas, is just now getting a sadly limited release in the US and hopefully enough people will see it that his name will soon be one to conjure with. CURE is probably his classic. Last year he released SEANCE, a remake of SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON. That was perhaps a miscalculation inserting supernatural elements into a non-supernatural story. PULSE is Kurosawa back on form.
Taguchi, a young computer expert, is late with his delivery of some important software. Two co-workers go to his apartment and find it a dismal dark affair in spite of his computer equipment. Taguchi, acting very strangely, lets his friends look for the missing software. Meanwhile he slips behind a plastic curtain. When he fails to respond to calls his friends follow him behind the curtain and discover he has hanged himself. If that was not horror enough the body seems to disappear leaving just a strange dark mildew-like spot on the wall. Taguchi's computer seems to have been infected with some kind of computer virus. People whose computer gets the virus seem superficially to die via suicide. But they are not entirely dead. Their spirits seem to remain present somehow in the real world and on the Internet. People who get the computer virus are asked if they want to see a ghost. If they say yes, they seem to be able to see real time images of the spirits still nearby somehow. The computer shows them impossible images of ghosts in their own rooms as seen from cameras that do not exist. This is all somehow connected to heaven and hell somehow filling up and overflowing "like a computer disk." Instead the dead seem to be staying on earth and inhabiting computer viruses. There is some sort of passage between worlds having something to do with doors marked with red tape and strange electronic disturbances on computers. Leave it to Kurosawa to find a new kind of death.
This is a film that has more weird ideas piled together than LIFEFORCE and somehow Kurosawa makes the film all work. It may not totally convey his message of isolation and its parallels to death, but whatever it does convey is nightmarish. Kurosawa, who directs his own screenplay, ties his story into the real world with some familiar and accurate computer discussion. Frequently the plot is advanced with character hunches being assumed to be fact. His plotting is frequently hard to follow and always very strange.
Junichiro Hayashi, the cinematographer who recently has been doing all of Kurosawa's films, creates a dark, cold, and gloomy tone. Images are obscured by semi-lighting or are behind plastic curtain. Scenes are not milked for their horror the way American exploitation films might. People are shot with guns but there is little if any blood in evidence. Seeing black silhouettes on computer screens is not immediately scary. Kurosawa is not going for and easy visual shock, but a deeper metaphysical dread.
Of any horror filmmaker in the world, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the one to watch. I rate this metaphysical look at isolation a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There is something about a home aquarium which sets my teeth on edge the moment I see it. Why anyone would want to live with a small container of stagnant water populated by a half-dead guppy is beyond me. - S. J. Perelman
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