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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/25/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 8, Whole Number 1349
Table of Contents
Library Fire Police (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We were driving through Pelham, Massachusetts, and we passed by a municipal building with a sign out front that said "Library Fire Police." For a moment I thought I had fallen into the world of FAHRENHEIT 451. Closer to home we have signs that say "Plant Crossing." I always expect to see triffids lining up to cross. [-mrl]
Notes From the (Video) Revolution (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Excuse me if I get a little nostalgic for the coming of this piece of technology and how it really changed the world of the technically-inclined cinema fan. Or one like me. VCRs did not come into common use until the mid-1980s and in fact I did not really rush to get one. I remember there were Sony ads on television with a taxi driver saying at the end of a nightshift as the sun was rising that he was going home to watch "The Tonight Show". The idea caught on.
When a film like CASABLANCA came out, most people had one chance to see it. It played at a theater and then it just went away, seemingly forever. And it remained that way with films for many years. If you wanted to see the film again you could buy another ticket, but only for a limited time. You had to do it while the film was still playing. Or perhaps the film might get a second run. Things got a little better with the advent of cheap theaters where films might play on a second run and of drive-in movie theaters. But within a month or so the film was gone like smoke in the wind.' That made films very transitory.
Castle Films were my first experience with owning a bit of my own cinema. I was a little bit of a hobbyist when I was young. Castle Film sold for the princely sum of $5 little five minute silent abridgements of popular films on 8-millimeter (like home movie)film. That was five 1960 dollars. And of course they were silent. You can buy some entire films for less than that these days. I bought three, insisting on getting films I had never seen, just to be able to see a bit of them. The three were IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, VARAN THEUNBELIEVABLE, and THE DEADLY MANTIS. Those short excerpts I watched over and over.
When television started showing movies, there was a little hope that maybe some time you could see your favorite movies again. Some films I had wanted to see I saw for the first time that way. But more frequently they were films I had less interest in. But I do remember when "Saturday Night at the Movies" ran THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I remember maybe around 1963, watching the "ABC Sunday Night Movie". The movie they were showing was a favorite of mine. It was JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH with James Mason and Pat Boone. I think that at that point we had a black and white television. The network had abridged the film so they could fit in a lot of commercials. The film was frequently interrupted. And I felt a bit saddened. It was not that the film was being so mishandled. I felt bad because this was ABC's second showing of the film. That meant they probably would not show it again on the "ABC Sunday Night Movie". That meant it would be years before I got another opportunity to see the film.
Those were different days in many ways, but certainly as far as appreciation of films was concerned. Seeing a movie was a fleeting experience. You could tell a friend about a film, but you could not share it. With a book it was different. If you read a scene in a book that was enthralling you could go back and immediately reread it. You could analyze the scene and see why it affected you the way it did. But movies were a different matter. If you wanted re-view scene from a film, you were generally out of luck. Perhaps if you were seeing it in a continuous performance theater you could wait until the film was on again and watch the scene again. That might be possible, but it was a high price to pay. If you were seeing the film on television you were out of luck altogether. There was no control at all. You had one chance to see a scene and that was it until the next time the film was shown someplace. VCRs changed all that.
Around 1972 I had access to a tape recorder and discovered I could record the sound of a film off of television and play it on a tape recorder whenever I wanted. I recorded two films on audiotape and listened to them dozens of times each. The films were A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH. I would find cheap audiotape and eventually collect the soundtrack (the whole sound track, not just the music as the term "soundtrack" has come to mean)of hundreds of films. The cheap audio tape fell apart in a few years and was unplayable.
In 1974 I met someone who actually collected films--picture and sound. For a hundred dollars or so you could buy a copy of some films. Then, I was told, any time you wanted you could set up the projector and see the film. This changed the entire cinema experience. Some films got better on multiple viewings. Some were not as good. But this was a hobby for the very rich or the very dedicated. Not many people could own a dozen films of their own. I looked at the guy who collected ten or twelve films like some people look at Porsche owners. The film my friend was so proud of having was BOBBIKINS, which was hardly a classic. It is a B-picture comedy about a talking baby. But who am I to judge? If he really liked the films that was good for him. It was just as well that he got the film. It seems never to have come out on video.
I think it was at MidAmericon in 1976 (but at any rate at some science fiction convention) where someone had brought a videotape machine. In those days they used special inch-wide tapes. I don't know how he got it, but he had a videotape of the original KING KONG. An opportunity to see KING KONG was always a special occasion for me. This was no BOBBIKINS. This guy could see the film KING KONG whenever he wanted! It was the first time I saw someone without really expensive equipment owning his own film. It might be worth it to get one of these video tape machines if I could own my own copy of KING KONG.
VCRs were for me the real beginning of my personal video revolution. Then the revolution began to pick up steam. Within about six or seven years I was able to record films that showed up occasionally on television and watch those, cut as they were and frequently with poor reception. But I could see them pretty much the way they were when television broadcast them. I had a copy of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH that I had gotten off of some ABC afternoon movie. It was badly cut and had a lot of commercials which I had imperfectly edited out. And in the picture the reds ran like Seabiscuit. It was a pain to watch it, but at least I had it. Few films were available for purchase.
Films started coming out on videotape not log after that. There were some priced down where I could afford them in the $20 range, but many were a lot more expensive and were priced so that only video stores would buy them. Eventually they came down in price, particularly when the new medium of DVD came along.
More effective was waiting for cable stations to run films and record them off the air. This was particularly good with the American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies, two cable stations that ran classic movies twenty-four hours a day. Finally you could take a wide range of classic movies and watch them over and over, stopping and repeating whenever the viewer wanted.
DVDs were an even more flexible medium even if they were read- only, and they also offered a much clearer picture. These days for a usually reasonable price you can own copies of many of your favorite films and watch them in high-quality reproductions. Just like with audiotape soundtracks and videotapes I have hundreds of DVDs. Access to films has gotten better, even if the content may not have. I now can see JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH whenever I have the whim. That may mean that I am seeing it less often than when it showed up by chance on TV. Then I always watched it, because who knew when it would be on again. [-mrl]
SURVIVING EDEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a film that begins in the style of a Christopher Guest satire but along the way turns into a somewhat more serious story of the roller coaster effects of temporary fame. The humor is uneven but somewhere inside this film is a good story. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
"Fame is fleeting but obscurity is forever."--Napoleon Bonaparte
This quote opens SURVIVING EDEN, written and directed by Greg Pritkin. (Actually, Napoleon said glory is fleeting.) The format of his film is at first a mockumentary about the stars/contestants of a reality television show. The fictional program is itself called "Surviving Eden." The producers of the show are coke-sniffing Maude Silver and Gary Gold (Jane Lynch and Sam Robards). The film shows us three contestants preparing for the program. Players are put on an island paradise in the nude to see if they can survive. One of them wins, and then later the film becomes more serious as we track what the fame of winning on the show does to a somewhat typical person. The winner is Dennis Flotchky (played by Michael Panes), an obese convenience store clerk who has never been out of Pomona, California. Suddenly this nebbish finds he is a national figure. Dennis wins over his two major opponents: a liberated nun who is a heavy metal fan and an excessively aggressive and assertive canine "euthanasia technician." Dennis wins and then has to pay the heavy emotional price of his newfound fame.
Pritkin, who previously wrote and directed the off-center comedy DUMMY, gives us some amusing moments, but in general the humor is hit or miss with some sequences simply being odd. As the tone changes the film loses much of its impetus. The some of the points, notably that Dennis has become a different person, go from apparent to belabored.
Michael Panes debuted in feature films with THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY and has done several pieces of television work. With the long hair and hippie outfits he wears in this film seem to be borrowed from Peter Sellers in I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS. The supporting cast includes Peter Dinklage, a little more laid-back than his roles in THE STATION AGENT and LIVING IN OBLIVION. Dinklage plays Dennis's stoner best friend. THE STATION AGENT showed that Dinklage could be a good actor, but his character here is lacking in color and is not well developed. In small roles we also have Conchita Ferrel and a rare acting turn for John Landis. The film could have used two or three more minor characters to play show contestants. We see a lot of these three people and nothing but over the shoulder shots of anyone else. It also would have been an opportunity to introduce some more quirky personalities and broadened the film.
Certainly the style of writing is inspired by Christopher Guest films. And the inclusion of Jane Lynch, formerly of BEST IN SHOW, only reinforces the connection. Michael Panes is a little too over-the-top to be believed as Mr. Typical American. The point of the film is to say that this is what temporary fame does to ordinary people. But neither Pritkin nor Panes seems to have much of a feel for what an ordinary person from the real world would be like. There seem to be only a limited number of professions that show up in films and, unfortunately, convenience store clerk is one of them. Pritkin shows us what effect the winning experience has on not an ordinary person but an exaggerated buffoon. That does not kill the film, but it severely wounds it.
This comedy could use some polishing. With a little more style it could have been better, but there is a decent film inside this one somewhere. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A new edition of THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS by Jorge Luis Borges has just been published by Viking (ISBN 0-670-89180-0). The translation is by Andrew Hurley, but the new translation is not the only difference. This book has almost as bizarre a history as some of those in Borges's own fictions. (Then again, the history of the various collections of Borges's short fictions was quite convoluted as well. Perhaps it is just another self- referential aspect of Borgesian fiction.)
Let me start by noting that this work is a compendium of beings "created" by other people or traditions--Borges (and Guerrero-- see below) merely collected the ones they considered the most interesting. So unlike Borges's fictions (such as "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", which I commented on last year), one cannot analyze it as being strictly the creation of Borges's mind. One can, I suppose, ask why certain beasts are included, but given a co-compiler, even that is not as useful.
There was a 1957 book, MANUAL DE ZOOLOGIA FANTASTICA, with the authorship given as Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero, containing eighty-two entries. A 1967 version, titled EL LIBRO DE LOS SERES IMAGINARIOS, had some revisions and a hundred and sixteen entries, with the order re-arranged as well. The text for this is the text of all subsequent Spanish-language editions.
In 1969, a version in English was published by E. P. Dutton, followed by one by Jonathan Cape in the United Kingdom, and then an Avon edition, with Guerrero still listed, though in a lesser credit and misspelled as "Margaritta Guerro". (This was correctly spelled in my 1974 Penguin edition [ISBN 0-1400-3709- 8].) The English-language version had four new entries: "The Carbuncle", "An Experimental Account of What Was Known, Seen, and Met by Mrs. Jane Lead in London in 1694", "Fauna of Chile", and "Laudatores Temporis Acti". There are also many changes other than mere translation from the previous Spanish edition. (I will mention some of these below).
A new Spanish-language edition was published in 1978. The order was changed for copyright reasons, but the four new pieces were not included. A 1981 Spanish-language edition came out in strict alphabetical order, again with the four pieces missing, and these have been omitted from all subsequent Spanish-language editions as well. Hurley has chosen to keep the revisions from earlier English-language editions only when these have shown up in subsequent Spanish-language editions.
Borges biographers Emir Rodriguez Monegal and James Woodall both claim that Borges worked with di Giovanni on the translation and contributed the new pieces as well. Monegal even says, "Its final version appeared in the 1969 English translation done by the author in collaboration with Norman Thomas di Giovanni." (Note that Rodriguez Monegal explicitly, and Woodall implicitly, consider Borges as the sole author, ignoring any contribution by Guerrero.) Hurley seems to feel there is no substance to these claims because the changes were not included in future Spanish editions. However, one needs to consider that Hurley is doing a translation, and could hardly claim to be translating passages that have not appeared in Spanish, but only in English and credited to other translators. The inclusion of these passages is therefore almost impossible in a new translation, so Hurley may have been swayed by practical considerations.
(The Spanish version I have is an on-line version in which the 1967 preface refers to "*Robert* Burton" as one of the sources, when it should be "*Richard* Burton". Whether this is a typo in an actual edition, a transcription error to the web, or Borges having a little joke is, of course, unclear.)
So this edition is a more accurate rendition of the various Spanish-language versions (order excluded). But I wonder if perhaps Borges did not intend (as Rodriguez Monegal and Woodall suggest) for the English-language editions to have some differences. For example, the last paragraph of the "A Bao A Qu" in the Hurley translation says, "Sir Richard Francis Burton records the legend of the A Bao A Qu in one of the notes to his version of THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS." The di Giovanni translation says, "This legend is recorded by C. C. Iturvuru in an appendix to his now classic treatise ON MALAY WITCHCRAFT (1937)." John Dyson of Indiana University thinks this change (from the Spanish text) was made to make it even more exotic, and is in fact a literary hoax, because various people who have attempted to track down the Iturvuru book have found nothing (except that Borges had a friend named C. C. *Iturburu*). It is a pity that this additional fillip has been discarded in the new edition. Hurley cites sources for most references in his edition, which is a great boon, but says nothing about this particular one. He does say in his end note that "some of [Borges's] 'quotations' are almost certainly apocryphal, put- ons." Interestingly, though Hurley claims to hew close to the Spanish, he translates "el capitan Burton" as "Sir Richard Francis Burton".
Because Hurley adds notes at the end of the book giving attributions, he does not insert them in the text unless they were in the Spanish-language version(s), whereas di Giovanni sometimes did. For example, in "The Catoblepas" Borges quotes "The Temptation of Saint Anthony", but does not name Flaubert explicitly. di Giovanni says, "At the close of 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony', Flaubert describes it . . .", while Hurley just says, "Toward the of 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony' we read . . .", and puts the attribution to Flaubert in his notes. Conversely, di Giovanni includes the appropriate excerpt about to night as "a monster made of eyes" from Chesterton's poem "A Second Childhood", while Hurley just copies Borges's original Spanish in referring to Chesterton without actually quoting him.
di Giovanni has other additions missing from Hurley. In "The Double", di Giovanni adds an entire paragraph on the Egyptian ka. In "Hochigan", he adds a reference to a story by Lugones about a talking chimpanzee. In "The Jinn", he adds references to Victor Hugo, Richard Francis Burton, and Noah Webster. In "The Simurgh", he notes Edward FitzGerald's translation of the part of Firdausi's "The Book of Kings" regarding that creature. And in "The Sow in Chains" (which he calls "The Sow Harnessed with Chains and other Argentine Fauna"), di Giovanni adds a long paragraph about werewolves and other shape-shifters in Argentina.
For the other differences that I checked with the Spanish- language version, Hurley is almost always closer. In "Swedenborg's Angels", for example, di Giovanni refers to the selling of "trinkets", while Hurley more accurately calls them "jewel[s]". But where di Giovanni says that "Moslems venerate Mohammed", Hurley translates it as "Muslims are in the habit of worshipping Mohammed". The phrase in Spanish is "Como los musulmanes estan acostumbrados a la veneracion de Mahoma"--Hurley matches the structure but gets the key word wrong (in my opinion).
For "The Behemoth", the original Spanish quotes a Spanish translation from the Book of Job by Fray Luis de Leon, while di Giovanni quotes Father Knox's English translation from the Vulgate, and Hurley quotes both the King James *and* Douay versions. It certainly makes sense to substitute a traditional English translation rather than for di Giovanni or Hurley to re- translate de Leon into English, but Hurley's giving two versions seems a bit of overkill. Hurley does say in his end note that when Borges appeared to have used a translation of the original-- for example an English translation of a Greek source--he tries to use the "canonical translation" into English, rather than add another level of translation. However, this devotion to original sources results in the Zachary Grey quotation in "Cerberus" using the elongated 's' (that looks like an 'f') where it was used in the original. This is not a genuine spelling difference, but a mere calligraphic change (in my opinion), and just makes reading the text more difficult. (Hurley also uses the "ae" ligature in "Chimaera", even though this is rarely seen these days, and is probably not in the Spanish--though the Spanish edition I am reading is mysteriously lacking that entire entry!)
In the entry for "The Centaur", Hurley restores the original English of William H. Prescott's account of an incident in Pizarro's conquest of Peru (Book 2, Chapter 3) rather than di Giovanni's translation of Borges's (?) translation of Prescott (which di Giovanni then describes as "a text quoted by Prescott"!).
What Borges (and Hurley) call the "Borametz", di Giovanni rendered as "Barometz", with the Latin name being "Lycopodium barometz" rather than "Polypodium borametz". According to Hurley's note, both spellings and designations are known, though now most botanists say that it is really "Cibotium borametz". I have no idea why di Giovanni chose the alternate designation. (Google turns up only non-Borgesian four entries for each of the first two names, with none in common, and only two for the last.)
The article on "The Golem" is particularly complicated. di Giovanni incorporates Borges's note on Schopenhauer (which appears as a footnote in the Spanish-language editions). Hurley leaves it as a footnote, but then writes an end note longer than the entire article questioning the accuracy of Borges's translation and other textual issues relating to Borges's references in Spanish from a German text which quotes an English text. di Giovanni also pins down "third-grown" as meaning "three-year-old calf", while Hurley notes that scholars disagree on whether it means that, or a calf one-third its full growth, or even "third-born" (fat).
For "The Perytion"/"The Peryton" ("El Peritio"), Borges (and hence Hurley) gives the location of the treatise of the rabbi from Fez as the University of Munich; di Giovanni gives it as the University of Dresden. I suspect the latter was because the bombing of Dresden is better known than that of Munich, and the bombing is given as a possible reason for the treatise's disappearance.
In "The Zaratan", both di Giovanni and Hurley provide a translation from the Latin of the excerpt from "The Navigation of St. Brendan", but Hurley provides one in contemporary English, while di Giovanni gives a Middle English one which many would claim needs another level of translation.
This new edition is in alphabetical order, but omits an important feature of the Penguin edition--an index. While one can argue that re-arranging the articles into strict alphabetical order cuts back on the need for this, one still has the problem of where to look for complex names. "An Animal Dreamed by Kafka" is under 'A', "A Crossbreed by Kafka" is under 'C', and "The Odradek by Kafka" is under 'O', with no cross-references. "The Offspring of Leviathan" is under 'L'. "Six-Legged Antelopes" are under 'A', but "The Hairy Beast of La Ferte-Bernard" is under 'H'. Also, "Swedenborg's Angels" are under 'A' and "Swedenborg's Devils" are under 'D', rather than being together under 'S'. And without an index, one cannot easily check all the references to, for example, mirrors--in the articles on the basilisk, the carbuncle, the double, the salamander, and (of course) the fauna of mirrors. I suppose it comes down to whether one wants to treat the book as literature or as a reference. Of course, the ability to find words and phrases even in fiction is worthwhile, and an index will not find all the indirect allusions in any case. For example, in the introduction, Borges says, "A book of this nature is necessarily incomplete; each new edition is the nucleus of future editions, that can be multiplied to infinity" [my translation]. The whole notion of multiplication brings to mind Borges's line from "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" ("One of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had stated that mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of man.")
The new edition also has illustrations by Peter Sis, who does some wonderful stippling work. I notice that he illustrates the beings whose appearance is most agreed on, or least familiar to readers, while avoiding the pitfalls of such beings as sphinxes and unicorns (though he does give two possibilities for the Minotaur).
A further note on editions: The collection THE ALEPH is primarily worth having in addition to the Hurley COLLECTED FICTIONS because of the long autobiographical essay written by Borges especially for this volume, and not appearing elsewhere (that I know of). However, Hurley does omit one story from THE ALEPH, "The Immortals", undoubtedly because it was co-authored with Adolfo Bioy-Casares. (One of the reviews I read somewhere noted that the COLLECTED FICTIONS were not really complete, because nothing co-authored with anyone was included.)
This is made more complicated by the fact that the contents of English-language THE ALEPH (more accurately, THE ALEPH AND OTHER STORIES 1933-1969, Dutton/Bantam) have very little overlap with the contents of the Spanish-language Alianza/Emece edition titled simply EL ALEPH. For example, the latter does not include "The Immortals" ("Los Inmortals"), but does contain a story titled "El inmortal"--which bears no resemblance to "The Immortals", and in turn does not appear in the English-language book! However, "The Immortals" does appear in another English-language collection, as the final story in CHRONICLES OF BUSTOS DOMECQ.
[I am beginning to wonder if this Borgesian analysis will become a regular feature every August. Are people finding these interesting? -ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The feeling that great novels like DON QUIXOTE and HUCKLEBERRY FINN are virtually shapeless served to reinforce my taste for the short-story form, whose indispensable elements are economy and a clearly stated beginning, middle, and end. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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