MT VOID 05/07/04 (Vol. 22, Number 45)

MT VOID 05/07/04 (Vol. 22, Number 45)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/07/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 45

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

A WRINKLE IN TIME (announcement):

On Monday, May 10, ABC-TV will be running a three-hour made-for-TV movie of Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME. [-ecl]

A Word of Inspiration (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

With the release of the original Godzilla movie GOJIRA I was watching some of Toho's Kaiju films. ("Kaiju" is Japanese for "giant monster." GOJIRA was Japan's first of many Kaiju films.) It was, as always, a sobering experience. I watch monster films every once in a while as a way of putting my own life into perspective. I think we have to watch such films periodically to remind ourselves how good life really is. We ought to remember how lucky we are and how really thankful we must be that you and I have been born into a species of megafauna. [-mrl]

Pulgasari (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I have always liked one line in the original Godzilla film GOJIRA (here called GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS). One scientist has a weapon that might kill the monster, but is hesitant to release this new weapon on the world. A military man tells him, "Then you have your fears, which may become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is reality." I always wanted to make up a button that said, "Godzilla is reality." Of course it would be facetious. The simple fact is that giant monsters rarely show up in serious news. They seem to have little to do with reality. Except for Pulgasari. This beast is a North Korean giant monster who eats iron and grows to hundreds of feet high. Pulgasari actually is important in international news. And I am not talking about entertainment news. The whole Pulgasari incident shows just how weird politics in Korea really is. The details of the story, mostly rumor until now, were just released early in April. Kim Jong-il, dictator of North Korea, produced the film. It was directed by Shin Sang-ok, formerly South Korea's premiere director. Shin was kidnapped from South Korea, taken to North Korea, imprisoned for four years with no explanation, and then forced to make a Marxist monster movie, with the aforementioned Pulgasari. At this point you probably think I am kidding. No. Really. Shin really was kidnapped so that he could be forced to make a bad monster movie for Kim Jong-il. The story appeared in the Manchester Guardian, taken from Shin's recently published memoirs. (See the Guardian story at .)

Shin Sang-ok really was one of South Korea's great filmmakers. His wife was Choi Eun-hee, a popular actress. In 1978 Shin Sang- ok fell from grace with the South Korean government and was forbidden to make any more movies. Meanwhile in North Korea dictator-to-be Kim Jong-il, son of the then-dictator Kim Il-sung, decided to try to show the world the power of North Korean cinema. He had his own ideas how to make convincing propaganda films and he wanted to build a film industry around Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee.

Shin first noticed something was wrong on a trip to Hong Kong with his wife when Choi went to a meeting to talk about an upcoming film role and then never returned. Shortly after that when he was going to dinner one night someone pulled a sack over his head. There was something inside the sack that knocked him out when he breathed it. When he woke up he had been smuggled over the border into North Korea. Shin says in his memoir that he tried to escape but was caught and thrown into a prison camp for four years. While in the camp he as fed nothing but grass, rice, and salt. Meanwhile he was forced to undergo Marxist brainwashing. During this period he had no idea what all this was being done to him. He assumed his wife was dead all this time.

In 1983, again with no apparent reason, the imprisonment was ended. Shin was treated like a VIP and was taken to a reception with Kim Jong-il and with his kidnapped wife. Shin expected an explanation but instead heard Kim complain to him about how disappointing and bad the filmmakers were in North Korea. Kim had written his own book on cinema that helpfully explained how films should be made. But North Korean filmmakers had not followed his guidelines. Then Kim heard that the great filmmaker Shin was forbidden to make films in his own country. Shin and North Korea seemed like a perfect match to Kim and so he arranged that Shin and his wife would be "brought" to North Korea, educated in Marxism, and then would make films for the government. As for the fact that they were not to be given a choice in the matter, well nobody is given a choice in North Korea, why should the Shin and his wife object that they were assigned to a task? Particularly since Shin was to be given a salary of $3,000,000 a year and lived in luxury.

Shin made several films in North Korea, but the best known is PULGASARI. (The IMDB does not know where the film is available and to be honest I don't remember where I got my copy. But I have it on VHS from a company aptly called Rubbersuit Pictures.) When I bought it I think I knew it had been directed under duress and that was the main reason I was interested to see it.) The story is set in the 1300s. About the only thing really remarkable about the film is the use of multitudes of people from the North Korean army. Shin was not given a lot of resources, but he was given the army. The creature starts about two inches high and grows to something like a hundred feet on a diet of pure iron. The article says his design owes a lot to Godzilla, but he looks more like a huge bipedal water buffalo with fierce fangs and spurs on his shoulders. In the film, an artist who made Pulgasari about two inches tall forms the creature from rice. But the little nipper likes to chew on iron weapons and farm implements. On this diet he grows really big and fights for the people against the evil King.

Kim Jong-il even managed to get Toho people to help with his film. Kenpachiro Satsuma who played the Smog monster in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and later played Godzilla in the Toho films from 1984 to 1995 plays Pulgasari. Kim wanted to market his Marxist monster movie to the world and even sell plastic toy Pulgasaris much in the way that Godzilla toys are marketed. Sadly, the film did not appeal to people like a Godzilla film does. Kim will have to peddle his propaganda parable to his own people. The film really has value only as a curiosity.

Kim Jong-il began to believe that Shin was actually loyal to North Korea. He allowed Shin and his wife to go to business meetings in Vienna--under heavy guard, of course. Shin was supposedly trying to get a European release for his next film, but actually he arranged that the release would be for him and his wife. After help from a Japanese movie critic and a taxi chase, the Shin and his wife escaped to an American embassy.

After ten years Kim Jong-il had PULGASARI released, but the film has generated little interest beyond curiosity. However as a curiosity, the story of its making is one of the strangest in cinema history. [-mrl]

Comments on Various Articles (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):

In response to last week's article on needles, Joseph Major writes:

"Syringes also got into almost anyone's hands. My mother had a pair of hypodermic syringes, sturdy glass things with those needles the size of a garden hose. [I had one that I used to refill my fountain pen cartridges. -mrl] For some reason there was fear that druggies would buy needles and shoot up. Now because of AIDS we have needle exchanges. People who get syringes in them have shown a deplorable tendency to go sell the things for more dope. [It must be nice to have a single goal in life. :-) -mrl] Not to mention those who just know the Man is monitoring the exchanges (and might not be so wrong at that). Why not just make syringes available over the counter?"

Regarding Evelyn's comment that Isaac Asimov's THE RETURN OF THE BLACK WIDOWERS ("I can remember liking this series years ago, but it seems fairly simplistic now"), he says, "I think this may be because the problem is almost always based on some interesting piece of trivia that Asimov picked up over his research. Henry might be challenged if he had been asked to find the Unabomber."

On Philip Carraher's ALIAS SIMON HAWKE: FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK, he asks, "I may look out for this but hasn't Larry Millett pretty much got Holmes tied to the Upper Midwest?" [Not in my opinion, though he's certainly trying. -ecl]

And regarding Dan Simmons's ILIUM, "Well I did finish it, but because it was a Hugo nominee. If it hadn't been I would have chucked it even earlier. The Ilium scenes remind me of those Biblical novels from the fifties where the character list included Absalom, Adonijah, Solomon, and Sally. On the other hand, Lisa liked it." [-jtm]

MY ARCHITECT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Great architect Louis Kahn's work and his personal life intertwine as they are investigated by his illegitimate son Nathaniel almost three decades after his father died. The film would have been more powerful if it had conveyed a better understanding of what made Kahn's buildings great. If a bit long, the film is always intriguing. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Louis Isadore Kahn was considered one of the world's greatest architects. Yet when he died in Pennsylvania Station of a heart attack in 1974 he was financially strapped and it took three days for authorities even to identify who this man was. And who was he? He was the father of three different families with one wife and two mistresses. Nathaniel Kahn, a child by one of the mistresses, was only eleven years old when his father died. Last year Nathaniel released this documentary about his search for the truth about and the story of his father. In the course of the narrative he visits many of his father's buildings. Nathaniel visited and interviewed people who worked with his father, other great architects, and members of the three families. We learn much about Louis Kahn and hear many words of praise about Louis's work. Unfortunately, Nathaniel needed to make more comprehensible why what his father did was really great architecture. More often he shows the viewer the building and quotes accolades that it received. He has experts describe Kahn's buildings with terms like "the spirituality of the space." The viewer not versed in architecture can tell that the work is being praised, but frequently will not understand where the genius lies. A Louis Kahn building looks unusual and frequently has an alien feel. Sometimes it may even strike the average viewer as actually being a little ugly. And in the documentary Kahn himself comes off as unusual and alien, and there are parts of his personality that seem ugly.

Nathaniel's approach to documenting his father is almost a scrapbook-like approach. Rather than talking about his art, then his professional life, then his personal life, Nathaniel flits from one to the other and back. It is not entirely clear from the film that Nathaniel himself understands what makes Louis's work great. He shows his father's buildings and repeats some adjectives about the architecture, but it is not clear a non- architect would understand the descriptions and I am not even sure an architect would. There are two sorts of virtues of architecture. There is functionality and there is something that goes beyond that so the construction is a form of self-expression. Some of Louis's buildings are not totally functional. In some cases people who used the buildings did not find the buildings either comfortable or practical. His early buildings seemed to impress architects but not occupants. Still the buildings were considered great as art. Louis seemed apply an arcane philosophy to all his father did. He tells a class that an architect must honor his materials. For example "brick likes an arch." One does not use cement to top brick pillars but you create a curve. One makes the arch from brick to pay tribute to the brick.

Professionally Louis comes off as visionary but out of touch with reality. When consulted about the redesign of Philadelphia's downtown his ideas seemed to include having people park outside the city and walk into the city. How he planned to make this system work with the distances involved is never made clear. I suspect that the residents of Philadelphia are relieved that the city ultimately was not built around Kahn's ideas.

Somehow this film is reminiscent of Woody Allen's SWEET AND LOW DOWN. Both films are about people who are totally self-absorbed but who are at the same time geniuses. Both men do much to ruin the lives of those around them, using their genius as an excuse to exploit others. The three families for whom he was the father live in a state of jealousy for each other and family politics are part of what MY ARCHITECT is about. Louis was more concerned about keeping building materials from clashing than from keeping his families from conflicting. But as one of the wives said, "We all supported and forgave."

Louis did not leave many buildings, but as another architect says, "Quality more important than quantity." Louis Kahn was honored by his peers and some of his buildings, like the National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, are greatly loved. The film his son made, like his father's buildings, will be interesting, but will not entirely function. Rate MY ARCHITECT the film his son made about him a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

John Wyndham's THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS was a fair success at our science fiction book discussion group. Coincidentally, the New York Review of Science Fiction had just run two articles on John Wyndham, including one which traced the roots of the triffids (as it were) to such works as Edgar Wallace's "The Black Grippe", Edmond Hamilton's "The Plant Revolt", and John Wyndham's "Puff- Balls" (a.k.a. "Spheres of Hell", a.k.a. "The Puff-Ball Menace"-- it went under almost as many names as John Wyndham himself).

Michael J. Benton's WHEN LIFE NEARLY DIED is a rather dry discussion of mass extinctions in general and the Permian extinction in particular. I could never figure out how the information was arranged. Just when I had decided he was tracing the history of our understanding of extinctions chronologically, there would be a digression that threw off the continuity. Intriguing stuff, but hard to read. [***Spoiler Warning*** Benton concludes that what caused the greatest mass extinction ever for this planet was a huge volcanic eruption in eastern Siberia that formed what is now called the Siberian Traps. This is an area of volcanic rock the size of the current European Union. The formation is the right age to be the cause, and the eruption must have been a real showstopper. It would have killed a lot outright and released carbon dioxide enough to greenhouse-warm the planet 60 degrees centigrade. This would in turn have melted the ice caps and released pockets of poison gas frozen in the arctic. The eruption, the climate heat, and the poison gas combined to kill an estimated 90% of living animals. -mrl]

Patricia Highsmith's BLACK HOUSE is hard to read for a different reason--it is too unsettling. Highsmith is best known as the author of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and the creator of Ripley (the talented one, not the Alien-fighter), but her best work may be in her short fiction, which I would describe as "tales of extreme un- ease" in which perfectly normal people end up killing someone without feeling any sense of guilt or remorse. I have to admit I stopped after two stories because they were *so* effective that they were making me feel very uneasy and uncomfortable.

Charles Stross's SINGULARITY SKY, on the other hand, was so hard to read, or uninvolving, or something, that I gave up after fifty pages of so. Somehow this year's Hugo nominees aren't doing it for me.

And yet another example of synchronicity: One morning I read Jeffrey Ford's Hugo-nominated "The Empire of Ice Cream", which is about synesthesia. I then went home, opened Chris Rodrigues and Chris Garratt's INTRODUCING MODERNISM (ISBN 1-84.46-229-9, Totem Books) to where I had left off and two pages later in a section on how the arts relate to each other read, "Charles Baudelaire (1821- 67), a proto-modernist poet, experimented with 'synaesthesia', which means translating one sense perception into another." Rodrigues also says that Baudelaire introduced the most important urban figure of Modernism, the "flaneur" or stroller. I wonder if this means that such radio shows as "The Whistler", "The Man in Black" and "The Shadow" are Modernist. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take 
           which course he will, he will be sure to repent.
                                          -- Socrates

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