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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/31/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 40, Whole Number 1328
Table of Contents
Three to be Read (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was at a book sale and saw a collection of three stories by Philip Wylie called "Three to be Read." I thought to myself "Duh-oh." [-mrl]
Why I Didn't Link to the Cartoons (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You are walking alone in woods and you come upon a bear. The bear immediately sees your presence and stands up on his hind legs in a threatening posture. You can take one of two approaches. You can try to retreat and amicably end the situation. That may or may not work to defuse the situation. The bear can follow you. Or you can try to treat the bear as an equal. You can affirm that you have just as much right to be in the woods as the bear does. You can tell yourself that if you give in to the bear than the bear has won. It is true that by being belligerent the bear has in some ways won. You do not enflame the bear because you do not trust the bear enough to be a reasoning creature. If instead you ran into Henry David Thoreau in the wood, you might have a different reaction. And you yourself have to make a quick judgment, is it a bear or is it Thoreau? Essentially, what you ask is, is this something like me that I can reason with and do I have faith that reasoning will help in the situation? The decision to reason is a mark of respect.
I am discussing my editorials with a reader. I mentioned that at one point in writing an editorial I considered the option of providing a link to the cartoons that appeared in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper. This was a situation that had already claimed lives and I was a little concerned about in some small way enflaming that situation, even to the tiny degree that it would doing that. I had to make a bear vs. Thoreau sort of decision. Do I believe that militant Islam has the sort of intransigent power that the bear has? Well, in a word, yes. I think that is undeniable. We have to come to realize that we are dealing with people very different from ourselves and they are going to think of things very differently.
The media figures strongly into our attitudes in dealing with other cultures. This whole situation is informedin the West by a generation or more brought up Walt Disney's jingle "It's a Small World After All." It suggests that we all have things in common and are very much alike. For years I have been pointing to that song and saying that it is true, but only so far. We all are oxygen-breathers and most of us drink water. If you go much beyond that you find there are very great differences in people. The same message that Disney was giving the younger viewers "Star Trek" was giving the ones a little older. Throughout all the "Star Trek" series we saw a lot of conflict of a lot of different cultures. Sometimes it was direct conflict with the Federation, and sometimes it was that the Federation came upon a pre-existing conflict between two alien races. But I don't think they ever once came upon anything in the universe so alien that differences could not be negotiated, perhaps with a little bit of force.
Most alien races in "Star Trek" were just humans with funny stuff stuck to their faces. Inside they were humans. And I am not just talking about makeup. Inside they all could eventually be reasoned with. The message is that there always is a compromise and it can be reached so that both sides can get what they want. In the fairy tale all cultures can be reasoned with. There may have been individuals who would not compromise, but they were criminals and could be overcome. When you are dealing with an entire race, they can be negotiated with and harmony restored with the populations of both sides getting to remain as they are. The only difficult thing was finding that compromise.
In "Star Trek" compromise could eventually be reached with the advocates of each side made happy. There were no no-win situations. Eventually even the Borg could beseen to be decent folk. That philosophy was engrained in generations. INDEPENDENCE DAY did have one great moment by playing off of this assumption. The humans and the aliens apparently finally get a chance to negotiate. The President gets a chance to talk to an alien and asks a very Star-Trek question. "What do you want us to do?" And the alien says with all the vitriol its alien anatomy allowed it to express, "Die. Die." In other words, "There is nothing to negotiate. Our goal is to eliminate you entirely." Here at last was an alien who left no room for Star Trek compromises and amicable solutions. I am not saying for sure that anyone we currently face is that implacable, but you have to keep your mind open in spite of "Star Trek" that that is a very real possibility.
I think that most of the people who believe the idea that we are all alike have taken the lazy way out. They have not gone to the real countries of this world, but they have visited the plastic pavilions at the Epcot Center where many countries come together and everyone turns out to be alike. Multi-culturalism should teach people to understand and respect the differences in cultures but instead is teaching us to ignore them.
I think that we really do need to have a double standard when dealing with radical Islam just as when you are dealing with the bear. They live in a different world where the first priority is eliminating non-Muslims--that is what historically conversion by the sword meant. One way or another you will eventually not be both an infidel and alive. That is what God wants. And what is important to remember, and few people do, is that what is behind this is really a breed of idealism. These are idealists fighting for an idealist cause. They are not going to be impressed by the fact that we believe in free speech because to them it is not an ideal. That sort of situation was never one we saw in "Star Trek". What is important to take from this is the lesson that we are dealing with something right here on Earth that is very "not us". We have to rethink our strategy constantly.
What it comes down to is this, I did not help to publish the cartoons because I did not want to further enflame a situation that was already killing people. But even as I did that part of me was saying it was the wrong decision. [-mrl]
V FOR VENDETTA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Tyranny breeds groovy anarchy. A future Britain is ruled by a repressive right-wing totalitarian government. But it is about to be challenged by an anarchist swashbuckling hero in a Guy Fawkes mask. Alan Moore's graphic novel is adapted to the screen in a brash adventure. This film is a funhouse of political ideas, some of them intentionally repugnant. You may not entirely agree with the politics, but the film is darkly colorful and fun. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In London of the year 2020, the government is run by a repressive fascist regime, corrupt to its very foundations. The head of the government is Big Brother-like Adam Sutler (played full-out by John Hurt). His party has turned Britain into a latter-day Nazi Germany. In this London, Evey (Natalie Portman with a variable British accent) is a flunky at the equivalent of the BBC. Walking across town after dark and after curfew she is discovered by two government goons who intend to rape and likely murder her as their evening's entertainment. Evey is terrified. But suddenly there is a hero who has come to her aid. He is V (Hugo Weaving), a sort of Zorro behind a Guy Fawkes mask. With superb knife skill he saves the woman in distress. He explains himself in an irritating but impressive speech packed with nearly every word from the V-section of the dictionary. (Are we really expected to believe he can rattle off this speech extemporaneously?)
Evey is grateful, but then has mixed emotions when he asks her to watch his next incredible feat. It is to take her to a rooftop and play Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Rather than punctuating it with cannon fire, he blows up the Old Bailey with flashy pyrotechnics. It is the first blow of a year in which he will kill the more offensive members of the government and blow up buildings. His reign of terror is to run from one Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, to the next. V remains the entire film behind his Guy Fawkes mask so that we never see his face.
If you don't know who Guy Fawkes was and what the Gunpowder Plot was, go to http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?s=gunpowder+plot now. It's okay. I'll wait.
You may have a poor memory for names and want to put a face with the character V. Perhaps a plastic Guy Fawkes mask is not exactly what you were looking for. So who is Hugo Weaving? He was Elrond in the "Lord of the Rings" films and was the evil Agent Smith who kept popping up in the "Matrix" films. Most actors find it very hard to act through a mask, but here it works in Weaving's favor that the mask makes him a cipher. In addition to the above-mentioned, the film also features Stephen Rea playing a police inspector reminiscent of his role in CITIZEN X. Stephen Fry is an avuncular dissident with a room dedicated to forbidden freedoms. Other familiar faces include Tim Pigott- Smith and Sinéad Cusack.
The story is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and adapted to the screen by the Wachowski Brothers, Andy and Larry, who wrote and directed the "Matrix" movies. I cannot say that I thought any of the "Matrix" films particularly appealed to me, but this future swashbuckler with a hero that is part Edmund Dantes, part Phantom of the Opera, part Harlan Ellison's Harlequin (give them a break, Harlan--don't sue), and part Zorro is a lot of fun. As with TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, one can admire the visual imagery of the film while detesting at least part of the political message. (People who get their politics from movies based on comic books deserve what they get.) But it still may be fun to spend a couple of hours in this anarchistic fantasy. If the government ever gets this bad--and neither Britain's or the United States's government is anywhere near this bad--there might be a certain perverse pleasure in taking out one's frustration in blowing the so-and-sos up. On one hand one may be sad to see these great London buildings blown up in a film. But it must be remembered that the government represented is very little like either current government. (No, don't write me to tell me how bad the current governments are.) Nor is it really like the one presided over by Margaret Thatcher, who was in office when the original story was published. And V is less than likeable himself. By the end of the story the viewer should realize that V is as mad and dangerous and evil as anyone he kills. He just looks fancier. And one leaves the theater wondering what is next for the Britain in the story. It cannot be very good and is probably worse than the Britain at the beginning of the film. Perhaps Britain will go the way of Iraq when its tyrannical government was removed. In any case this is a film with a multitude of political ideas, some of which may well be offensive.
The script has several bad moments. At one point V escapes a hail of bullets with apparently only one or two wounds. That is just the wrong number. If two bullets got through to him, one wonders why not the rest. Also unexplained is that V seems to have unlimited financial resources. Somewhere he has a source producing large volumes of materials that would be highly politically suspect. It may be part of his mystery who is really behind him and where he gets his means. We find out his background and that does not answer the question.
I don't agree V FOR VENDETTA has the politics right, but it is a compelling production with more than just violence behind it. It has political ideas. Even that is not so rare, but clearly some of the ideas are joyful, some are painful, and many are both. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Singer-songwriter-artist Daniel Johnston is observed in this documentary examining his history of mental problems and his problems of dealing with his own success. I viewed this as an outsider to his subculture and the film offered me little. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Daniel Johnston's art and music is an acquired taste. I have not acquired it. His style of music and his artwork undeniably has fans and they are the people for whom this film is intended. I had never heard of him on seeing the film and I have to say I cannot judge him because the value of his accomplishments are lost on me. People who see this movie having some idea who Johnston is and what his importance is will have different attitudes. Outside of that subculture the viewer may well be led to assume, like I did, that this is a man who has wrecked his life and who did not use his talents toward anything that impresses me as an outsider. The film covers his life as he suffers great emotional pain and causes others even more pain. Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary about Daniel Johnston is in some ways reminiscent of Terry Zwigoff's CRUMB. Daniel Johnston is not really someone it is pleasant to be around.
The film traces Johnston's development as a boy in New Cumberland, West Virginia, who made humorous amateur movies about his life and his art and cartooning. He meets and breaks up with Laurie whom he considers the love of his life. She ends up married to an undertaker, a turn of fate that strongly influenced his songs.
His style is to write songs inspired by his life's misfortunes and to hand-draw his label, lettering the song titles and drawing little cartoons to illustrate. His most famous is a frog with long eyestalks. His musical style is as raw as his cassette covers. The film covers chapters in his life when he worked at a carnival and at a McDonalds, gravitating toward the lowest skill tasks.
Finally his music gets featured on MTV. He has attained a sort of success, but he also falls deeply into mental illness. The film covers his honors, the excesses of his illness. His manager muses that hr always wondered how Vincent Van Gogh's family could institutionalize a man of Van Gogh's genius and now the manager found himself having to do something very similar. Johnston took LSD and became obsessed with the Devil and was convinced he is fighting against betrayal and Satanic influences all around him. At times he came near to killing people.
He was institutionalized on more than one occasion and record company officials would have negotiating sessions with him in mental institutions. Today his visual art has become as popular as his music. Both seem primitive in style. His music and art are of selective appeal. (That is a polite way of saying I did not know his art, and it does nothing for me.) I rate this documentary a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. It gets the job done, but fails to ignite for me. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our general discussion group chose THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe (ISBN 0-385-47454-7) for this month's discussion. I had intended reading this ever since college--almost forty years ago. (Well, some books stay on the queue longer than others.) I can remember seeing it in the college bookstore in 1968 and thinking that here was something unlike what we had been reading in school or seeing in the library. (The library I frequented was an Air Force base library that emphasized more bestsellers and genre-- science fiction, mysteries, and so on--than literary fiction.) Nowadays, of course, with the emphasis on diversity and book superstores dotting the country, finding literary novels by African authors is not a big surprise. (In fact, one reason the group chose it was that it was a book on the high school summer reading list, so the library had a lot of copies of it.)
So after forty years, what about the book? Frankly, I do not know what the fuss is about. The main character is described by critics as being made sympathetic, but I did not find him so. Critics do seem to agree that Achebe's portrayal of Ibo tribal society is unsentimental, but I would go further and say that I found it hard to work up a lot of distress that someone was trying to end such traditional practices as killing twins at birth, or beating one's wives. [How appropriate. See my editorial this issue. -mrl] And the writing is very spare (someone compared him to Hemingway), which is a very tricky style to carry off.
Tom Weaver has spent his time interviewing mostly people who had substantial careers in science fiction, fantasy, or horror (in such books as "Attack of the Monster Movie Makers", "They Fought in the Creature Features", "Interview with B Science Fiction and Horror Moviemakers", and "Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes"). In SCREEN SIRENS SCREAM! (ISBN 0-7864-0701-8), Paul Parla and Charles P. Mitchell have focused on a much narrower field--women who have appeared in one or two science fiction films, often as young girls, and then been for the most part forgotten as having a connection with that genre. They do include a few well-known actresses (such as Faith Domergue), but who remembers Ramsay Ames, Sandy Descher, Mimi Gibson, or Marilyn Harris (*). Many of these actresses have never been interviewed before, and their stories of being contract players or free-lance minor actresses provide an interesting balance to stories of grand careers and stardom.
Note: McFarland used to produce all their books in staid monotone cloth library bindings. Lately, they've taken to trying to appeal to the individual film fan by using illustrated board covers and re-issuing some of their works in trade paperback. This book has an eye-catching purple and green cover with a screaming woman whose face is covered in a regular pattern of pink dots. It is supposed to look like Pop Art, but it makes her look as though she has a case of measles.
(*) Amina Mansouri in THE MUMMY'S GHOST, catatonic girl in THEM!, Sandy in THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, Maria in FRANKENSTEIN. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him. -- Cardinal Richelieu
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