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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/14/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 16, Whole Number 1304
Table of Contents
Toronto International Film Festival Report Available (site pointer):
My report on the Toronto International Film Festival (including the ten worst things about it) is available at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/tiff2005.htm.
It is also at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mtvoid/files/tiff2005.htm, but one must be a subscriber to the MT VOID *and* a member of yahoogroups to access it. [-ecl]
Your Horoscope (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
(Due to economy concerns we cannot provide complete horoscopes. Your cooperation is appreciated.)
Leos: I have been reliably informed that converting you from Sagittarious is just not on. Last week's conversion is no longer operative. You are all Sagittarious and I have to just figure out how to spell that.
Everyone else: Just stick with your current sign until that we have this whole mess cleared up. [-mrl]
My Brush with the Classics (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have found out that someone I know is actually very famous and I had never known it. Lax has been a friend for many years since he was at Rutgers as a graduate student. He is very much into film and into film music and we used to write to each other and I had him over to the house several times to watch film together. Lax is a real go-getter. He has a very strong personality. After he got a Masters degree from Rutgers he went to work for Lucent, and though he lived an hour's drive away we would still get together every month or so. He went back to India to find a wife. Aparna (pronounced "Upurna") was actually an actress and some years ago had made three movies that were well known in India. Lax said that people on the street would see her and know who she was. They got married in India and they had a reception here as well as there. We attended the local reception. The four of us would get together occasionally, either at his place or ours, though we were a fair distance apart. Aparna was quiet, but shared our interest in movies.
Aparna was a very quiet woman but quite nice. She was involved with classical Indian dance, we were told. Lax wanted me to go to one of her dance concerts before, but we could not make it. Lax eventually quit Lucent and went to Chicago for business school. A month or so ago Lax said Aparna would be giving another performance in this area and wanted us to go. This time we did have the time. So I did some studying up on the dance form. Classical dancers have a sort of debut dance, I had been told. I had answers.com to learn a little and friends I could ask. One friend suggested a question I could ask. Indian Classical dancers have a premier performance that certifies they can dance publicly. It is called a Ranga Pravesham or Arangetram. It is sort of what a dissertation defense is for an advanced degree. I asked Lax if that was this performance. No, she did that a long time ago. (In retrospect, I think it was like asking Perry Mason if he was getting ready his bar exams. So much for trying to impress him with my knowledge.) We went to the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center an hour's drive away (in heavy rain). While we were waiting we realized there was sort of a whispered awe we heard from other people that Aparna would be performing there. She was apparently very much a celebrity. "Has Aparna arrived?" "No, Aparna is not here yet." When we sat down I looked around the auditorium. In an auditorium full there were only about ten "gringos." (I don't know what the right word is. Lax claims that there is no Hindi equivalent to "gringo," "gwai-lo," or "goy." I let him claim that, but I don't necessarily believe him. I wonder if it starts with a "G"?)
This was to be a form called Bharat Natyam, which is a sort of dance essay and celebration of the five rivers of India. "Bharata" is a name for India and Natyam is Tamil for dance-drama. Each of five major dancers does a different dance in sequence with what I believe are movements as pre-determined as the movements of ballet or the notes of a symphony. I take it there is room for personal expression in facial expression but not a lot in the precise movement of the body. Aparna had the starring role as the Ganga. There are five rivers, the Ganga (or Ganges), the Cauvery, the Godavari, the Yamuna, and the Narmada. There are five major dancers, one for each river. Each comes out and dances for fifteen minutes or so in very precise ways so that the posture of their hand and their bodies and their faces all convey nuances of meaning. Then there is a last part where all five dance together, I guess symbolizing the intermingling of the rivers as they go to the ocean. They had a Dr. Somebody-or-other--I didn't get his name--to explain each dance. That was somewhat useless for Evelyn and me. He had a thick Indian accent as well as what sounded like a lisp. We agreed that for some of what he was saying it was clear that he was speaking English, but what he was actually saying remained a mystery of the East.
I cannot explain much of the dance itself. It really has to be seen. The timing was ironic because part of the performance is an invocation for rain. As it happens we were having one of the rainiest days I ever remember having in New Jersey. It had rained all day and at times--many times--with the strength of a heavy Florida storm. Part of the meaning of the performance was asking for more rain, and I think the audience was actually hoping for a little less. None of the dancers expressed the idea of a rushing river quite as effectively as the parking lot did after the performance.
Anyway, I had gotten the impression from the way the audience reacted to Aparna that she was a prestigious dancer. When I got to a computer I found a web site announcing a 2004 performance she had given at a Merchant-Ivory Foundation benefit that referred to her as "Aparna Vaidyanathan, the great Bharata Natyam South Indian dancer." It continued, "Aparna Vaidyanathan hails from Bangalore, India. She completed her Ranga Pravesham and secured high distinction in Vidwath. She has rendered stellar dance performances in several countries around the world and has also received several accolades as an actress in her critical and commercial hit Sundara Kaanda." I haven't the foggiest idea what most of that means, but it sounds impressive and if it impresses the Merchant-Ivory Foundation, it probably is a high accolade. (Readers might know that the Merchant and Ivory was a team of filmmakers who made a number of very high-quality films, most notably adaptations of the novels of E. M. Forster. At this foundation event Aparna was apparently the primary attraction. That site had several pictures that are recognizably she. Another site mentions that she was from a family that has been entertaining in South India five hundred years.
So did I understand the dance as I was seeing it? Probably not. It was from a very different culture entirely. I could tell that it was done very precisely and extremely skillfully. It is like hearing Japanese folk songs. The result is pleasing, but someone who knows the language could appreciate it a lot more than I could. But ability transcends the language barrier. I could tell she was very good, but the nuances that made her great is something I was not well enough educated to appreciate.
We had said earlier that we would talk to Lax and Aparna after the show, but Aparna was being photographed and we did not have much opportunity. She saw us at the back of the auditorium and waved. We talked to Lax. He had visited us the day before at our place and we watched a movie together. I thought that was as much contact as we would get this trip. But the next night Aparna called us from the airport. She wanted to say hello. So we had an internationally known Bharata Natyam South Indian dancer from a family famous for five hundred years call us to talk to us. She is a very nice person. We had been hobnobbing with a great without even knowing it.
So anyway, that was our weekend. [-mrl]
Talking to Onesself (comments by Tom Russell):
This is in response to Mark's excellent article in the August 5, 2005, MT VOID about "self-talk." He speaks silently to himself--in English. He wonders if everyone does it, if deaf people have another form of self talk, and if animals might have yet another, and "What is the function of self-talk?" And more.
I have pondered similar questions, not at 4AM as Mark does, but when I'm raking leaves or at other quiet times when I have a chance to think--that is, to have a conversation with myself. Here are a few thoughts, in English, from someone who has no particular credentials to offer them.
Some evidence that everyone does this: In "What Women Want" Mel Gibson could hear women self-talking; Garfield does it (cartoonists have a different bubble shape for talking to oneself than for speaking aloud); and "The music was so loud I couldn't hear myself think." (All music which isn't instrumental or sung in a language you don't know is distracting, perhaps even temporarily "brain washing." Did you ever get a song stuck in your head?)
Roger Penrose once asked if anyone in the lecture hall would venture an idea on how vision works. "It's like you have a little television set inside your head," someone said. Penrose replied, "But who is watching the TV?"
So, similarly, when you talk--or sing--to yourself, who is listening? (Mark asks, "Does part of my mind know something that another part doesn't know and must be informed of?")
Or: Who is speaking? Did you ever wonder how it is we can speak in full sentences? We are only "conscious" of the individual words of the sentence as we hear ourselves say each one. We're not conscious of words not yet spoken. That's because we're only conscious of the present instant of time. Something "below" our consciousness creates each complete sentence and directs us to speak the sentence, word-by-word, as if we were puppets. We only become aware of what we are saying when our brain somehow does the audio equivalent to Penrose's "Who's watching the TV?" question.
We might say our consciousness is "self-listening" to our subconscious. Or perhaps self-listening IS consciousness.
If we are puppets to some subconscious selves, we (that is, the conscious we) can take solace in recalling how we learned to ride a bicycle. It took a great conscious effort to learn to ride a bicycle. "Learning" is programming our subconscious to do what we (the conscious we) want it to do.
So we can train our subconscious selves to tell our conscious selves "Next boil the water" when we get to that step in the process, as Mark experiences. Or we can consciously give ourselves "pep talks" when we need them. That seems to be self-talk of a different type than the self-talk that Mel Gibson is eavesdropping on in the movie: he hears women "thinking."
Or is that type of self-talking the same as thinking? If it is then we develop our ability to think as we learn to talk. As our vocabulary grows, so does our thinking capability.
"Say a word seven times and it's yours forever." That's yet another type of self-talk. But if you don't remember the word until the seventh time you say it, how do you know this is the seventh time? What must be really happening is that our subconscious mind remembers everything, but only reveals certain of those memories to our conscious selves. By "saying something seven times" the conscious self is instructing the subconscious to make that information available to it.
Certainly we don't want to clutter our minds with all those telephone numbers we've looked up. We only want to remember them long enough to dial the phone. So our subconscious deletes memories all the time--at least from our present-instant consciousness.
But not from our memory altogether . . . . Last summer I saw a TV commercial for a thirst-quencher drink. Two bathing-suit-clad guys sat in beach chairs in front of their summer cottage. It was really hot; they were sweating up a storm. Then something unbelievable happened because it was so super hot. I called to my wife to look, but by then a whole series of super-heat-caused events were happening. I completely forgot what it was that had first caused me to take notice. Gone. Lost. Pound my head against the wall forgotten. For weeks I kept waiting for the commercial to reappear but I never saw it again. In time I forgot the whole thing. Then months later we were going out to dinner over at Jake-a-Bob's in Union Beach and rode by a house with a lot of ornamental do-dads in the front yard. Bam, it came back: The guys' pink flamingoes were melting!
Memories may just disappear and reappear or may "fade away" but we can't intentionally make them go away. Wouldn't it be good if we could temporarily forget how to read when we're out on highways that are cluttered with advertising billboards? We'd see only the scenery and meaningless "abstract art" painted on big rectangular boards. Nothing to distract our thoughts (our self-talk). "Officer, I didn't mean to drive right by that red octagon without stopping." Oops.
Suppose our subconscious mind has a "consciousness engine" which consists of a set of rules to create consciousness, and "data" upon which to use those rules. The data are primarily our experiences in life, recorded as memories. Memories are either tagged as available to our conscious self, or not available--unless triggered by some unexpected event such as a plastic flamingo. Our subconscious starts the "consciousness engine" when IT hears the alarm go off in the morning. Who we are is undefined until the engine starts processing the data. We are tricked into thinking we were the same person yesterday that we are this morning.
Disease, booze and cosmic rays kill off or change neurons every night. Maybe the subconscious has a fantastic parity- checking/error-correction scheme? How much of your memory needs to be intact for you to still be yourself? How would you ever know you've become someone else?
Now suppose in some far-off galaxy in the near-empty void there are other beings with consciousness engines, and one of those beings happens to have a set of memories close to your own? Would you then wake up on some remote planet? How close to your own would its memories have to be? Could you wake up as a younger version of yourself? What prevents this from happening all the time? How would you know if it is or isn't happening? A few thoughts to talk to yourself about. [-tlr]
SERENITY and WALLACE & GROMIT (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
[Regarding Mark's review of SERENITY in the 10/07/05 issue]
As a tossed off line in discussing SERENITY you say, "Well, maybe 'Star Trek' got better the last season." NextGen maybe. I do appreciate your skepticism about the rampant Buffyism that seemed to have taken over the minds of many seemingly normal fen, like Titanian mind-slugs." [-jtm]
Mark responds, "I thought 'Enterprise' was a little more enterprising in its last season. Who am I to argue with your imagery on 'Buffy'? I have expressed my objection to Buffy earlier in the 10/04/02 issue, available at http://fanac.org/fanzines/MT_Void/MT_Void-2114.html. [-mrl]
[Regarding Mark's review of WALLACE & GROMIT in the 10/07/05 issue]
Given the setting and origin, shouldn't it be "Wallace is the creator of absurd inventions--many with a Heath Robinson accent"? Of course, then you would have to explain who the British Rube Goldberg was. Expand your mind. [-jtm]
Mark responds, "Actually the Wallace inventions are closer to Heath Robinson's. I have seen a lot more of Goldberg's cartoons than Robinson's, but it seems to me that Goldberg is an order of magnitude more complex, intricate, and, importantly, failure-prone. You can understand a Robinson machine in just a few seconds. I did not think of Robinson when I was writing the review and if I had I would have assumed the name was too obscure." [-mrl]
WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Independent filmmaker Atom Egoyan adapts Rupert Holmes's novel about a mystery surrounding a very popular 1950s comedy team. The duo of Collins and Morris broke up around the time a nude woman was found dead in their bathtub. The death remains a mystery. The film rushes forward and back in time, solving the mystery. WHERE THE TRUTH LIES is satisfying but not as compelling as some of Egoyan's earlier work. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
It is not hard to guess whom the comedy team of Vince Collins and Lanny Morris is supposed to be. They were supposed to be a very popular comic duo in the 1950s and they used to do telethons for polio. Some time around that time they split up for reasons that were never made public. There was apparently a hushed-up scandal involving a naked woman who was found in their bathtub, dead of a drug overdose. Lanny Morris (played by Kevin Bacon) is a no- holds-barred wacky comedian whose forte is improvisational misbehavior in front of the camera--any camera. Vince Collins (Colin Firth) is his handsome straight man whose amiable exterior hides a temper like Tony Soprano. But Lanny has his darker side also. When he takes a fancy to someone from the audience, he has the thug-like valet Reuben (David Hayman) get her, occasionally over the objections of her husband. The two split up at the height of their popularity and continued with separate careers.
Fifteen years later Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman), who as a child idolized the two comics, is trying to do a book of investigative reporting on why the two split up and what the story behind the body in the bathtub. She has a big book contract and with it is hoping to exonerate the two comics of the whispered blame for the incident. While she is well-intentioned toward the two men, they are less than happy about her coming around trying to dig up the past. They would prefer that the fifteen-year-old questions just continue to be unanswered.
The story moves back and forth between incidents in the last 1950s and O'Connor's investigations in the 1970s as pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Egoyan is good at the jigsaw puzzle sort of plot. One of his best films is EXOTICA, a story that does not present to the viewer its full picture until the final scene. Egoyan wrote the screenplay here as in did in that film. But then he was doing an original story. Here he is basing his film on the book by Rupert Holmes and he has a little less freedom. While the story is good, the film is just not as compelling as EXOTICA.
There has been a good deal of discussion about a strong sex scene and the problems that Egoyan was having getting the rating he wanted. This is a case where the explicit scene is central and anything but gratuitous. Egoyan probably could not cut the scene and still hope to have the same film. In addition, there is a point-of-view problem with too many pieces of narration being added by too many different people. Egoyan does use context well. As the story progresses scenes that seemed to have one meaning when first seen take on entirely different meaning. Our expectations and assumptions about the characters get pushed aside and altered. We discover there were hints and clues that we just did not pick up on. To that extent the script is good.
This may be Egoyan's glossiest film to date, but it is not as compelling as his earlier work. I rate WHERE THE TRUTH LIES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
GEUDDAE GEUSARAMDEUL (THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a fictional story of the day that South Korea's tyrannical president Park Chung Hee was assassinated in 1979. Sang-soo Im writes and directs a black comedic look at the government at that time and the politics that led to the shooting. One feels, however, that only part of what happens in this film successfully crosses the language barrier. Nevertheless what we see is riveting and occasionally cynical and funny. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In 1961 Park Chung Hee was took part in a successful military coup to seize the government of South Korea and then led the government. In 1963--under pressure from the United States--he held democratic elections and was officially elected president and then re-elected four years later. He then amended the Korean constitution to allow himself a third term and was elected again in 1971. While he improved the average person's income by a factor of ten, he was unpopular and became more and more tyrannical. In 1972 he declared martial law and gave himself unrestricted power to crush his enemies and to control the people. Not surprisingly, Park became very unpopular with the people and in particular the Korean youth. On Friday, October 26, 1979, he was assassinated in a plot led by the chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. That action is still shrouded in secrecy, but THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG is a speculative black comedy suggesting what might have occurred on October 26. This film's humor might make it South Korea's DR. STRANGELOVE.
Jae-ho Song plays the dictator Park Chung Hee as a corrupt leader exploiting his office and being callous to his people. While the real Park had a reputation for austerity, this man is a playboy living the good life in a beautiful mansion, the Blue House. He uses the Korean CIA (KCIA) to procure for him the companionship for the evening of two very pricey hookers, one a popular singer and one a college student. Park meanwhile is planning his own crackdown on youth dissidents and calmly considers the cost that a few thousand deaths is not bad compared to other world events. The KCIA secretly has great contempt for Park. Finally KCIA Director Kim decides that the time right to act.
For some of what is going on it is useful to know a little about Park's background. The relationship with the Japanese, for example, is referred to in the film, but not explained for those who do not already know. Part of what is causing the bitterness is Park's willingness to deal with the Japanese. Park's military education and career came from the Japanese. But the Korean people still resented the Japanese from a history of abuse culminating in very bad treatment during the Second World War. President Park, nevertheless, recognized the Japanese in 1965 only stoking the fires of hatred.
The production values of THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG are high. The photography is sharp and the colors are rich. Frequently it uses a lighting style reminiscent of THE GODFATHER with total darkness punctuation with dark wood tones. At this point violence is a considered a positive at the box office. The scenes of the assassination and chaos that follows are very bloody, intense, and again reminiscent of THE GODFATHER.
This film is a fictional supposition and not fact. The director intended that it use real newsreel footage of Park's career and the aftermath of his assassination. The Korean government decided that that would be would too much of an implication that the non-documented events in the film are actually true. They censored the used of actual newsreels. Rather than simply removing the footage, Sang-soo Im treats the censorship as a mark of pride and leaves the screen black where the footage would have gone.
This is a good film but I would expect that Koreans could pick up a little more of who the characters are and what is really going on. There is a lot of value in THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG, though Western viewers will have to work a little to make this film pay off. I rate THE PRESIDENT'S LAST BANG a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
ELIZABETHTOWN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst star in Cameron Crowe's ELIZABETHTOWN. This is a film that seems to have potential at the beginning of being a strange comedy, but it peters out into not very much of very much. The film rides on the charm of Dunst and the dubious charm of Orlando Bloom, and rides a bit too far on them. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10 (The film has been re-edited and shortened since I saw it.)
Let me say at the outset that I am not much of a fan of Cameron Crowe. I liked his SAY ANYTHING. I am not enough of a sports fan to have appreciated JERRY MAGUIRE. I am not enough of a rock music fan to have appreciated ALMOST FAMOUS. I can value the ideas in VANILLA SKY, but not the direction. The style was creative but not enjoyable. It was taken very much from the original production of the story, ABRE LOS OJOS. Also, I should note that I am basing this review on the cut that ran at the Toronto International Film Festival. The theatrical release is reportedly twelve minutes shorter than the slow and rambling version that I saw.
Orlando Bloom stars as Drew Baylor, who as the film opens is musing on the difference between a failure and a fiasco. Drew knows the difference well. As an industrial engineer he designed a new running shoe for his company, and it failed in the marketplace. The company lost 972 million dollars. And all the blame seems to be falling on Drew. Drew just does not seem like someone who would be making a near billion-dollar decision for his company. Admittedly, an experience like this might befuddle anybody to some extent, but still he just does not seem like the sharpest cheddar in the cheese shop. His girl friend leaves him looking for more promising material which at this point is just about anybody. As he is managing the transition from messiah to pariah he gets more bad news, this time from his mother (Susan Sarandon). A father that he only vaguely remembers has died in Kentucky and he is expected to go to Elizabethtown and manage the family affairs. He reluctantly flies to Kentucky to fulfill his family responsibilities before he finds some way to do away with himself. On the plane he meets somewhat wacky stewardess Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst). And, by gosh, she just happens to hail from Elizabethtown herself. What are the chances? Everybody in Elizabethtown it turns out is a little off-center, but Claire seems the distillation of all the town's weirdness wrapped up in one person. As Drew the more Drew finds Claire, the more he finds himself.
Drew finds Elizabethtown populated with the kind of weird and wonderful, lovable people that MY COUSIN VINNY found in Alabama, that DOC HOLLYWOOD found in South Carolina, and that the LOCAL HERO found in Scotland. (Don't worry. There are no eccentric Southern locals like were found in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.) This is script with entirely too much cute nothings and pointless conversation. A film like this will work or fail depending on the charm of the lead couple. Admittedly, Kirsten Dunst does have charm, at least for me. Orlando Bloom's charm still eludes me. And Dunst can not carry this film on her own. There are too many long segments with the two engaging in conversation that seems to be present only to extend the film. Meanwhile the plot refuses to move forward. There is nothing very amusing about lines like "Welcome to annual meeting of . . . people who meet annually." Then there are marathon cellular phone conversations between Drew and Claire. Toward the end of the film Claire manages a surprise for Drew that by rights would have taken months to prepare and seems to imply that Claire is short for Clairvoyant. The script is just not as clever or entertaining as it thinks it is or as it needs to be. And I will not even go into the long dull stage performance from Sarandon. Presumably through all this Drew is finding himself and discovering he is just a small town boy who got lost in the big city.
As love stories go, there are better films out there. (The best I have seen this year is Raymond De Felitta's 2000 film TWO FAMILY HOUSE.) I rate ELIZABETHTOWN a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
HOWEVER: I have seen only the Toronto version. Roger Ebert says in his review, "I've seen Cameron Crowe's 'Elizabethtown' twice, and remarkable is the difference between the two versions. Critics were warned before seeing the Toronto film festival version that it was not the final cut, and was it ever not. The new version is 18 minutes shorter, and more than 18 percent better, and wisely eliminates the question of why anyone would want to wear a pair of shoes that whistled." On the other side, James Berardinelli says, "Having seen both versions, I can state that the elimination of 13 minutes does not address the film's chief flaws. At best, it's a cosmetic fix." [-mrl]
BEHIND THE IRON MASK (theater review by Mark R. Leeper):
As I told my wife as I left the theater, the really amazing thing about this play is that in spite of several very obvious flaws, it is still going stong seven days after it opened. I was much looking forward to seeing a play about one of history's more intriguing mysteries. That could have made for an intriguing play. Sadly, this is not the story *of* the Man in the Iron Mask, it is a story *with* the Man in the Iron Mask. Of who the man was and why he might have been imprisoned, the play tells us nearly nothing. The play was written by Colin Scott and Melinda Walker based on an idea by John Robinson who also wrote the lyrics and music with little concession to melody.
What is the history of this famous mystery? From 1669 to 1703 a man was held in custody, though in great luxury, by the French government under the rule of Louis XIV. The prisoner's identity was kept a state secret. When he was transported he wore a cloth mask so as not to be recognized. (He probably never literally wore an iron mask. But the visual image has intrigued many. His iron mask was probably of the same stuff as the Iron Curtain.) In the whole time he was held prisoner the minimum possible number of people knew he even existed and fewer saw his face. There has been much speculation as to who the man was, but all that is left is speculation. Alexandre Dumas wrote one of his Musketeers sequels about the mystery. The character has appeared in films going back to the 1929 THE IRON MASK with Douglas Fairbanks. This play is the latest dramatic representation.
After a quick scene of the man's kidnapping we flash many years forward in time toward the end of the man's imprisonment. The play has five characters in all and two of those are on stage less than a minute. Almost all of the play involves only the man, his jailer, and a gypsy woman who has discovered the prisoner exists.
The title charactor played by Robert Fardell is simply called The Prisoner in the dialog. The other two characters are The Jailer and the Gypsy (Mark McArcher and Shiela Ferguson). Instead the play concerns itself with just the fact that there is a prisoner for whom learning of his existence is death. The jailer also is not allowed to see anyone any more than his prisoner is. One day he accidentally meets a fugitive woman and in spite of the rules takes her into his prison with one jailer and one prisoner. The gypsy plays off of the two men. There is also a subplot of some stolen pearls.
The staging is simple, with all but two scenes taking place in a set which is half cell and half antechamber. The cell door going only from the rear to center of the stage to give the impression that half of the stage is cell. Under Tony Craven's direction actors do not always follow the rule that going from one side of the stage to the other they have to use the cell door. The play seems to borrow dramatic moments from other plays. Having everybody on stage turn and sing at the audience is powerful in LES MISERABLES. Here with just three people it is not so effective. In FIDDLER ON THE ROOF when Tevye asks his wife of many years "Do you love me?" it is touching. When a jailer asks the same of his prisoner of many years, the play is in serious trouble.
I cannot comment in depth about the acting. To me the actors seemed sufficient to the material. However, when one accidentally drops on the floor a valuable pearl they have the choice of ignoring it or improvising what the characters might do. The cast chose to ignore the incident and hope nobody noticed.
In producing Lloyd Webber's play THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA it was decided to use a half-mask covering only one side of the face to allow the actor to emote. That solution would not have been possible here, so the problem of acting through a mask remains. Speaking of PHANTOM, this play may have been suggested by the tropes it shares with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. It has after all a romantic, masked man whose behavior and existence is a mystery. This production, however, is far from being as compelling. [-mrl]
[BEHIND THE IRON MASK started previews July 30 and officially opened August 2, with a scheduled run through November. But on August 4, the producers announced they were closing August 20.]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I sing the inter-library loan electronic. Okay, Walt Whitman has nothing to worry about. But our new on-line library catalog finally allows one to make an inter-library loan request without having to fill out (by hand) a special card which needed ISBN's, years, etc. Now when I look up a title and find it somewhere in the system, a single click requests it. Hot diggitity dog!
So what have I requested? Well, the first book was A. Edward Newton's THIS BOOK-COLLECTING GAME. This was published by Little, Brown in 1928 (hence no ISBN), and the volume I got may well have not been checked out in decades. Its Dewey Decimal label is one of those octagonal, hand-inked ones of days gone by. I love it. A. Edward Newton is one of the great bibliophile writers (I reviewed his classic THE AMENITIES OF BOOK-COLLECTING AND KINDRED AFFECTIONS in the 04/18/03 issue of the MT VOID). and this is another of his gems. It begins, "Book-collecting. It's a great game. Anybody with ordinary intelligence can play it: there are, indeed, people who think that it takes no brains at all; their opinion may be ignored. No great amount of money is required, unless one becomes very ambitious. It can be played at home or abroad, alone or in company: it can even be played by correspondence. Everyone playing it can make his own rules--and change them during the progress of the game. It is not considered 'cricket' to do this in other games."
Newton goes on to talk about children's books, early books in America, what to collect, and so on. Along the way he makes various observations about the people as well as the books. Of early New Englanders, he says, "But if our ancestors were religious, they were also adventurous--they had not left England for that country's good, as has been wittily said of the early settlers of Australia, but to subdue a continent in which they might worship God in their own way, with a bible in one hand and an axe in another and a gun in another; and having suffered much for conscience' sake at home, they sought a free country, and immediately made it less free than the one they left behind them. This is quite inexplicable--but then, most things are."
I should note that with this charm and wit also comes a distressing "nativism", such as when he says, "Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were good substantial folk who brought to this country sound minds in strong bodies and a fine sense of decency and order. . . . [These] traditions gave intellectual color to a hinterland of enormous extent, until finally it was washed out by an influx of foreigners who know nothing of our literature or our language and care less. We have, I am afraid, closed our doors too late: the evil of a mixed population might, perhaps, have been dealt with by an enlightened aristocracy, but by a democracy--never." "Closing the doors" refers, no doubt, to the Immigration Act of 1924. As for his fears that the wave of "foreigners" did not care about English literature or language, I'll just note that I am descended from grandparents who were part of this wave, and look what I'm writing about. (None of this is surprising, of course. I have commented several times here about anti-Semitism in early twentieth-century writings.)
And as evidence that there is no new thing under the sun, Newton describes all the faults of the modern trilogy--except he is talking about the nineteenth century "three-decker". The libraries of the time (particularly Mudie's Select Circulating Library, run by Charles Edward Mudie) dictated that novels would be three volumes and sell for 31 shillings 6 pence (very expensive for the time), and even required that while there was to be love, it should be in the upper classes and not the lower. This stranglehold on format was finally broken by George Moore, who in spite of pleas and threats by Mudie, published A MUMMER'S WIFE in one volume for 6 shillings. As Newton says, "people were glad to get a book which they could own and take their time over and place on their shelves." There was nothing comparable, I suspect, until the paperback book from Penguin (seventy years ago this year).
Newton points out that the ground had been somewhat prepared: publishers had been issuing cheap one-volume editions after the sale of the expensive three-volume sets had lagged. Newton also thinks this change greatly improved the novel: "When novels were published in parts, they were infernally padded. . . . The three-volume also was too long, too full of words masquerading as ideas; with the one-volume novel a man--or a woman--said what he had to say and quit. . . . Of course long novels still appear, but they are tours de force, as it were; or, if they are very long, they are broken up into sections or epochs, each complete in itself, as in Galsworthy's FORSYTE SAGA." We have, in fantasy anyway, cycled back to the "three-decker" with all its flaws, and with its format and price dictated not by libraries but by the bookstores.
THE FINAL SOLUTION by Michael Chabon (ISBN 0-06-076340-X) is a novella, rather than a novel, at about 27,000 words (by my rough estimation). It is a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery in which the murder is not the only mystery. It is as much about Holmes in his old age as about the mystery. This makes it somewhat similar to Mitch Cullin's A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND (reviewed in the 05/06/05 issue of the MT VOID), although Chabon's Holmes's problems are as much physical as mental. (Well, contrary to several of the Universal Studios Sherlock Holmes film, by the 1940s Holmes is almost ninety.) What Chabon manages is a story in which everything is resolved for the reader, if not for the characters in the story. (I would say that his method, involving a rather odd point-of-view chapter, may strike some readers as awkward.) Recommended but with reservations, and not as a Sherlock Holmes story of the traditional sort. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an Airport' appear. -- Douglas Adams
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