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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/01/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 40 (Whole Number 1276)
Table of Contents
Hugo Nominations Announced (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For the first time, all the nominees for Best Novel are British or Irish:
Of the five, ETERNAL SUNHSINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is my choice. I wish FINAL CUT had gotten a better release last year--it's better than some of the films that did make the ballot. I hope ZEBRAMAN gets a better release this year--and is deemed eligible even though it played at some film festivals in (subtitled) English last year. I'm sure STEAMBOY will get a decent release, and I recommend that as well.
And as Mark noted, unlike the past three years, there is no "six-hundred-pound gorilla" this year--but there will be next year when we get a new version of KING KONG. :-)
See http://www.interaction.worldcon.org.uk/pressr31.htm for the full list. (And, no, the MT VOID didn't make the list for Best Fanzine.) [-ecl]
99 Years on the Hard Book Pile (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"The leftwing mayor of Nezahualcoyotl, [Mexico,] Luis Sanchez, has ordered all 1100 members of the municipal police to read at least one book a month or forfeit their chance of promotion." http://tinyurl.com/4fojt
Yes, books are the all-purpose solution to the justice system. Some places they coerce the police to read them to qualify for promotion, some places they make prisoners read them as punishment. In some prisons they use books to force prisoners to spend hours moving their eyeballs first left and then right, left then right until they drop from exhaustion. [-mrl]
What Venue for Native American Art? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One of my best friends is a Native American of the Tuscarora tribe in Tennessee. I have never met him, but we exchange email several times a week. So how did I get to be so friendly with this man? Ah, thereby hangs a tale. I said something I believe in a very old film review, but something that in retrospect something that was probably insensitive. Well, what I said was that something that happens in the film THUNDERHEART implies that magic works. I was complaining this was a bad touch because magic does not work. I thought it was innocent, but as I now realize many people's view of the world includes the belief that magic does work and that it is part of everyday existence. My friend, then a stranger, wrote to me rather angry that I would deny the efficacy of magic. It became apparent very quickly, however, that we had enough respect and interest in each other that our differences of worldview were of little matter. Or perhaps our differences of worldview were some of the attraction. As at least one or two members can attest some of my longest- lasting friendships are with people who started out thinking they did not like me. (If you are reading this, E.S., yes, you are one of the people I am referring to.)
This week we were discussing archeology and the state of native Americans. I will let you eavesdrop. My correspondent asked, "A query for you? White Educated Folks dig up my ancestors' graves and they call it archaeology, if I went and dug up a two-hundred- year-old WEI [White European Immigrant] grave, what would they call it?
I thought it was a fair question, so I will share my response.
"Okay, now you got me started."
"This is part of the whole nature-versus-humanities thing as far as the Native Americans is concerned. The truth is that the dim bulbs in charge are still not sure if native Americans are part of nature or part of humanity. They still are not sure if a piece of Native art is in the same category as a termite mound or the Mona Lisa. Is it a work of art or a creation of nature? Gee, I wonder?"
"There is an upside (for you in particular). [I should explain that my correspondent is an artist.] In the Southwest, rare is the museum that does not have a display of native art. The natural history museums put Native art creations next to wasp nests and the art museums put them next to sculpture. The fact the art are everywhere creates a lot of awareness of Native art and it probably boosts the market. I think it is patronizing to put Native art in natural history museums. But there are still people who have their heads wrapped around the notion that Native Americans are part of nature just like the bumbly-bees. That means you can tear into Native graves just like you would into a bee hive."
"Not that it is a comfort, but it could be worse. I think each year greater numbers of Jewish graves are ripped up and desecrated than Native graves are. These are even more recent graves with recent emotional attachments. And the people who do it are not seeking to understand Jews better. They are not even doing it for greed. They are doing it to hurt Jews."
I am very much of two minds about including Native American art in places like natural history museums. Obviously a great injustice was done to the Native Americans by the Europeans. The thefts of Native lands, the breaking of treaties, and the exploitation of the Native population is certainly a blot on our country's history. But the inclusion of Native art in venues where you would not have, say, art of local artists has two effects. One is that it probably does help Native Americans and raises American consciousness of this art. It may even create a market. But it also sends a message that the Native American did not merely live in close proximity to nature. It says he was actually part of that nature. Humans, by definition, are not part of nature. It is unreasonable and demeaning to say the Native Americans are part of nature unless our definition also encompasses anyone human. Native art is not a product of nature, it is the art of human beings. [-mrl]
FINAL CUT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: FINAL CUT is intelligent and literate as very few science fiction films are. Five percent of the population have chips implanted in their bodies that record and play back everything that they see and hear. Robin Williams plays a "cutter." A cutter copies the life movies of the recently departed and edits them down to one- or two-hour home movies. His character has deadened all his emotions so that he does not overly react to the uncensored, full-length memoir biographies that his clients have made of their lives. FINAL CUT looks at the implications to the world and the users, both positive and negative, of this invention. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
The play "Cabaret" was based on an earlier play called "I Am a Camera" by Christopher Isherwood. That is an intriguing title and an intriguing concept. What if people really were movie cameras all their lives? That is the premise of FINAL CUT, a film written and directed by Omar Naim. Five percent of the population are people who are walking cameras tacitly recording everything that they see and hear. At some unspecified time people can elect to have a chip called a Zoe placed in the heads of unborn children that will record all that they see and hear. On one hand, it is a priceless way for the family to see the world though the eyes of the recently departed. On the other, it really means that the person had no real permanent privacy. All the chip-bearer's experiences become the property of his family after his death.
Nobody wants to sit though a presentation of a life that is eighty years in length and is made mostly of the minutia of the departed person's life. And there is a lot that nobody really wants to know about the person. So editors called "cutters" come in to turn the dead person's life into a flashy high-level film about the length of feature film. It is not that different from having a photographer produce a summary of a wedding. These abridged lives are seen in a ceremony called a "Rememory." One of the cutter's most important functions is to delete those memories that nobody really wants to know about and that the departed would have wanted to keep secret. The editing machine is called a guillotine and the master of the guillotine is Alan Hakman (played by Robin Williams). The machine automatically categorizes and sorts areas of the life so the cutter does not have to observe scenes like trips to the bathroom. Perhaps Hakman is a little like the character Robin Williams played in ONE-HOUR PHOTO. He sees into his customers' lives, but his responsibility is to be discreet and keep his customers' secret. He must build a warm and loving and essentially dishonest portrait of the deceased.
Hakman is, however, not himself a warm and loving man. He is reserved and betrays emotional reactions to nothing. Perhaps this is because his profession he has bleached almost all emotion out of his being. After all, he truly knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Another reason for his condition might be his own private memory: one in which he as a boy caused the death of another boy. But Hakman has managed to live inside of himself and to shut off his personality altogether. The film asks how someone can edit 70 or 80 years of memory objectively without putting much of himself in the result? Does the cutter have a responsibility to keep the life he edits private or in cases of actual evil, should he reveal what he knows.
The film also is about the condition of the person with a Zoe chip implanted in his head. Since the chip is implanted pre- natally, the person had no say. It means that no sin he has committed is ever really buried. The person with a Zoe must just trust the cutter to use discretion. He is naked to the cutter as he is to nobody else in his life. There never is any privacy and no statute of limitations. All his sins are remembered. Some people find the pressure so bad they commit suicide. One character finds redemption though the ability to look at his memories. There is a sizable and angry resistance movement protesting the entire system. This is a picture of an entire society at the mercy of a technological capability. That is one of several ways that this film is comparable to Andrew Niccol's GATTACA.
Some of the set design is very stylish, but for the most part the film shows only glimpses of the society. Perhaps that is because it is impossible to place this film in time. The Zoe technology must have been around for the entire lifespan of people who have died in their eighties, yet the society does not look advanced several decades beyond our own. Perhaps it occurs in a Neverland or an alternate present.
Naim's script is intelligent, but not always easy to follow. It is an example of a fully adult science fiction film and one that does not require any special effects. I rate FINAL CUT a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. This film and THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, two films about memory and technology, are the two best science fiction films we have seen in a while.
(Available on DVD.)
MAY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: MAY is a very nasty and disturbing little horror film that the viewer will probably either love or hate. Like a road accident it is very unpleasant see and at the same time mesmerizing. It manages to be original while giving nods to many of the classics of horror. This is the story of a very disturbed woman with fixations on sewing and body parts and a doll. They all come together in a nightmarish scenario. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
MAY is a film that is only 93 minutes long, but it will stick with the viewer for a lot longer. It is short but potent. Whether it might go too far and be over the top and silly will depend on the viewer. The film brings together a several off- center characters, but most are merely neurotic. The main character May blends in with the neurotic but she is actually psychotic and scarred from her past. Having amblyopia (a.k.a. lazy eye) from a young age she is stigmatized and develops a fascination with body parts, perfect and imperfect. Her mother is little help for the hurting child and her only real friend is a doll with a haunting facial expression that stares out from a protective case of glass. May (as an adult played by Angela Bettis) grows with related fascinations for self-mutilation and sewing.
One day May sees Adam, a young man with what she thinks are perfect hands. May and Adam are attracted to each other, particularly because Adam also has a taste for the bizarre and baroque. But then Adam starts to sense that May's love of the strange goes much deeper and more dangerously in her than in him. For him horror is a playful interest, but for May it is deeply engrained in her personality. When Adam tries to escape May he starts a grim chain of events. This all makes the story sounds like a prosaic story of a psychopath. The film is somewhat stranger than I can express here.
Where the story is going may be telegraphed a little too early and easily, but the whole film is a sick joke taken to its conclusion. The strange off-center characters struggling to fit in are reminiscent of DONNY DARKO. But that is only one can see in this film reflections of many films including vampire films and Universal's and Hammer's Frankenstein films. At times I was even reminded of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and of CARRIE. In fact Bettis did play the similar Carrie White in the television remake of CARRIE. The nihilism is in some ways reminiscent of the Brothers Quay. Another nice stylistic touch is the doll whose face never changes, but whose face is an expression that always seems to be a perfect reaction to the action, perhaps a nod to Kuleshov. The film is full of disturbing images. When one of the characters says, "this is some sick sh*t," he could be referring to the entire film.
Though the actors are not well-known, they are effective. Bettis is very good in the title role. Her whole body language speaks of her discomfort. She frequently follows the action with her eyes as if she is afraid to invest a movement of her whole head in an action. There are traces of black humor in the film but they do not overpower the mood.
This is a film that is hypnotic, disturbing, and even painful. For a small, low-budget film it does pack an impact. I am not sure that it really rates some of the adulation that some critics are giving it, but I rate MAY a very respectable high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
(Available on DVD.)
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Roy Templeman's SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE CHINESE JUNK AFFAIR (ISBN 0-9475-3373-7) includes the title story as well as "The Tick Tock Man" and "The Trophy Room". The stories are a bit convoluted, but the writing is competent, and the title story is of interest to science fiction fans, involving as it does an inventor's demonstration of a teleportation machine.
Just as Barry Malzberg's REVELATIONS presaged Jerry Springer, his novel THE GAMESMAN (ISBN 0-671-80174-0) was way ahead of the curve in contests like "Survivor" whereby people hope to succeed through a long chance at a game rather than by hard work. Of course, in the world Malzberg describes hard work won't do it either. One of the predictable things about Malzberg is his unremitting pessimism. You'll either love it or hate it.
Ben Jeapes's THE NEW WORLD ORDER (ISBN 0-385-75013-7) is an alternate history where scientifically advanced Neanderthals from a parallel timeline invade Jacobean England and start affecting the English Civil War. The high concept description would be "Robert Sawyer ('Neanderthal' trilogy) meets Harry Turtledove (THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH and the 'World War' tetralogy), written as a young-adult novel." It didn't do much for me because I kept seeing its antecedents, but younger readers unfamiliar with the genre might like it, and at least the setting is much less frequently used.
These comments don't amount to much, so I will fill in by asking for suggestions of movies about books (and bookstores). I started thinking about this while watching CROSSING DELANCEY (which is admittedly only marginally about books), and came up with the following others: 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, THE NAME OF THE ROSE, THE NINTH GATE, FAHRENHEIT 451, and YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Surely there must be more. (I am not really looking for movies about *writers*, but more about the book-buyer's/book- collector's/reader's end of it.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The first of April, some do say, Is set apart for All Fools' Day. But why the people call it so, Nor I, nor they themselves do know. But on this day are people sent On purpose for pure merriment. --Poor Robin's Almanac (1790)
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