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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/05/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 14, Whole Number 1461
Table of Contents
A New Look (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Scientists have discovered that velociraptors--the dinosaur made famous by Steven Spielberg's 1993 film JURASSIC PARK--actually had feathers just like they will in all future re-releases of Steven Spielberg's 1993 film JURASSIC PARK.
Top Ten Westerns (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am continuing my list of my favorite Western films. The reader may have noticed that I am listing the film in chronological order and may find it odd that I have listed no pre-1952 Westerns. The fact is that the Western changed a great deal with the addition of color. That was a large enough change by itself, but it also brought style and theme changes. The John Ford/John Wayne cavalry Westerns were good, but I have to think that after color came in and the two Johns made films together like the (non-Western) THE QUIET MAN their films together became richer in character and theme. Their best film together was probably THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962), which was back in black and white, but still was a very different sort of film from the cavalry films. In any case the Western changed a lot in the 1950s and it is closer to my taste.
Complicating the matter of making this list is that it assumes that it is easy to tell what films are and are not Westerns. For example, films like LONELY ARE THE BRAVE and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN seem to have a cowboys, but they lack some of the tropes and feel of Westerns. They just are modern stories set in the West. On the other hand QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is a Western in all aspects but for the fact that it takes place in Australia. I am picking films that are Westerns and I like them as Westerns, not as good dramas set in the West. Further I am choosing films I like, not ones that I accept as good but do not like as much. For example, THE SEARCHERS is probably a very good film. It may be better than some of the films I chose, but it only partially works for me. The following films work better.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) The best of the spaghetti Westerns is still low on my top ten list. I think that the characters are thin and that it is more an excuse to string together visually highly dramatic Western scenes. I do not think we ever get to know his characters beyond them being types. This film, however, does show some historic scope and is a sort of elegy on the death of the frontier and the coming of modern times. It is like a collection of the great Western film ideas without having a really good story in itself. But it is still engrossing.
THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES (1976) Clint Eastwood directed and played the main character. Josie Wales, once a simple Kansas farmer, was turned into a dedicated guerilla fighter in the Civil War. At the end of the war his commander betrays his whole band to be betrayed and murdered by vengeful Union soldiers. Wales gets his revenge, but in doing so becomes an outlaw and fugitive. The bulk of the film is his flight through the post-War southwest with an accent on the unusual characters, many of whom are unforgettable. The final sequence is for me one of the most memorable scenes of the Western film.
LONESOME DOVE (1989) I tried to watch this film and gave up two or three times over years before I got into the rhythms of its lazy pacing. I now see that as part of its charm. Two former Texas Rangers go on an epic 2500-mile cattle drive from Texas to the newly opened lands of Montana. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones play two fascinating characters. At an epic six hours the film won seven Emmys after the novel it was based on won the Pulitzer Prize.
THE UNFORGIVEN (1992) In an ironic and bitter film Clint Eastwood again directs himself. The film comments on the violence of his early Westerns and on the myths of the West. A reformed gunfighter who is not what he seems straps on his guns to avenge an incident that is not what it seems and kill some people, some of whom are innocent. Gene Hackman plays a psychotic and sadistic sheriff of a small town. Again Eastwood stars and directs. This is a complex and very intelligent script making for an excellent film.
TOMBSTONE (1993) I did not have high expectations for this film since it seemed to be a me-too film trading off the notoriety of Kevin Costner's upcoming WYATT EARP. All of a sudden there was another film about the Earps and the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. The director, George P. Cosmatos, had previously made RAMBO and COBRA, action films that I did not greatly respect. However of the many film portrayals of the notorious gunfight--and there are more than twenty--this one is probably the closest to what really happened. The film is entertaining. No little part of the success of the film comes from Val Kilmer who takes the role of the most interesting character of any OK Corral film, Doc Holliday.
Of these five films and the five I listed last week--HIGH NOON, THE BIG COUNBTRY, THE JAYHAWKERS, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE--only THE JAYHAWKERS is not available on DVD. [-mrl]
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Never-before-seen footage of the Apollo space program and interviews with nine astronauts give new life the story of how the US put men on the moon. Personal interviews with several astronauts tell much more than most of us have known about the adventure and experience of going to the moon. This is an enthralling documentary even if you have seen the story told before. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
I would guess that in my lifetime I have seen what must be fifty different retellings of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I have to say that the prospect of seeing yet another new retelling of Charles Dickens's story is just not greatly exciting to me. On the other hand, the story of the Apollo mission to land on the moon I have seen not nearly as many times. People have questioned whether that story of the space program really needs another retelling. If the story gives me new information that is compelling, my answer is yes. To me IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is at once more real and more compelling than previous attempts at the same material. So the idea of a new telling with so much photographic footage that has not been seen before is worth seeing. In IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON British director David Sington pieces together some familiar footage and some footage never seen publicly before. With insets of explanations by nine astronauts who actually have been to the moon, it tells the experience of being in the Apollo space program and the effort to put men on the moon.
As the film reminds us, the Apollo mission took place in troubling times. We were fighting the Vietnam War, which had a supposed goal to stave off all of Southeast Asia going communist. There was the frightening prospect of nuclear war with the Soviets. There were a lot of possible futures and some were not very inviting. But the people of the space program were working to make possible a much more positive and exciting future. It was the idealistic future we had read about in science fiction that included the adventure of space exploration. This effort to reach the moon was "great" in just about every meaning that word has. It was making our country great when racial tension and a badly fought war was bringing us down. The subtext of IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is that perhaps it is time to be great like that again.
Think about it. The solar system has almost nine planets and maybe a couple more further out. But Earth has the largest moon in proportion to its size in the solar system we know of. The pair of Earth and its moon is, in fact, nearly a double planet. Without the presence of a big moon advanced life could not have evolved. The moon has had a vital role in the formation of conditions on Earth. And from 1968 to 1972 some people were privileged to actually go to this near planet. Using new footage, some of it fairly rough, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON shows us what it was like to go to the moon. And it has eyewitness accounts by astronauts who have actually gone to the moon. They may not have actually been on the Apollo 11 flight itself, but their experiences have been very similar. So this is probably the most complete telling of what it was like to go to the moon: what did it feel like? What thoughts went through the minds of the men as they prepared to ride and then did ride these giant rockets that took them to another celestial body. The story is familiar from documentaries on PBS and at museums takes on whole a whole new feeling when seen from different eyes.
The film is mostly the story of the Apollo project from inception to the Apollo 11 mission in which Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. However, in the interview insets with Jim Lovell it also tells a little of what had to be done to save the three astronauts on Apollo 13. Since the moon astronauts have a great deal of commonality of experience, their reactions to their own missions apply in large part the to Apollo 11 mission also. Participating in the interviews are Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins from that mission and Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Jim Lovell, Ed Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, and Dave Scott. Notably missing is the now-reclusive Neil Armstrong himself. These men are mostly in their 70s and three moon astronauts are already dead. Their age proclaims the degree to which we have abandoned the exploration of space.
One minor complaint is that after the first few appearances in interview insets, the astronauts are no longer identified by name and frequently one forgets who is it who is speaking. A particular surprise is the presentation of Mike Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut who had to stay behind in the lunar orbiter. On screen he shows a great deal of personality and wit. But it is a fine opportunity to get to know several of the lunar astronauts and to ride with them to the moon.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is a satisfying documentary I rate a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. By the way, the claim is false that no science fiction writer foretold that the whole world would be watching when the first man landed on the moon. In fact the comic strip Alley Oop portrayed it just that way.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0925248/
I WAS A TV HORROR HOST: MEMOIRS OF A CREATURE FEATURES MAN by John Stanley (copyright 2007, Creatures At Large, trade paperback, 208pp, $19.99, ISBN-13 978-0940-06-411-9, ISBN-10 0-9400-6411-1) (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
For those who were not around at the time, a lot of baby boomer horror fans got their start watching the horror film packages distributed to television starting around the late 1950s. I know I lived from one Saturday night to the next looking forward to my first chance to see some film like HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN that I had read about in FAMOUS MONSTER OF FILMLAND magazine. In Springfield, Massachusetts the Late Show would just have a science fiction or horror film every Saturday night. The larger stations made it a weekly program with a host who went by a name like Ghoulardi or Svenghouli, usually in some weird costume.
The San Francisco area had a little more class. KTVU out of Oakland broadcast CREATURE FEATURES with its host Bob Wilkins. When horror hosts like Zacherley and Vampira were dressing up in Halloween costumes and doing skits, Wilkins looked relatively normal underplayed the horror host role with a sort of Bob Newhart deadpan style. His slogan was "Watch horror films... Keep America Strong." I enjoyed Wilkins a lot when I was at Stanford from 1972 to 1974. KTVU had John Stanley as the host of CREATURE FEATURES from 1979 to 1984 after Wilkins left. Unfortunately, I never saw John Stanley on the air. As far as I can tell John Stanley carried the Wilkins tradition of the laid- back style. (Oddly, each looks like he has a portrait somewhere doing all his aging for him.) Stanley also published a guide to the kind of films he would show, JOHN STANLEY'S CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE.
That brings me to John Stanley's current book, I WAS A TV HORROR HOST. As the name suggests, this is a memoir of his years as a horror host--probably the first memoir of a horror host. It covers a lot more including the history of horror hostdom going back to radio hosts like Raymond on "The Inner Sanctum".
A little over half of the book chronicles John Stanley's adventures interviewing the major names associated with media fantasy in the 1970s. Several people associated with Star Trek and Star Wars were his guests. He interviewed Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Vincent Price, Roger Corman, and John Newland (the host of TV's "One Step Beyond"). He finishes Christopher Lee, William Castle, George Romero, and Boris Karloff's daughter.
The interviews are not in any great depth. Certainly they are not in the depth of Tom Weaver's interviews in numerous books published by McFarland. But as Stanley's interviews were interruptions of the evenings' Creature Feature, they were kept brief with some interesting tidbits.
What do I like and not like about the book. Let us start with what I liked.
Now what about the negatives?
For those who want to understand the state of popular fantasy in the 1970s or to just reminisce about the period this book is worth the modest purchase price.
Admission: I have not finished reading the book yet. What is left I am going to save to read only on Saturday evenings while watching good (or bad) horror films. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE GODS THEMSELVES by Isaac Asimov (ISBN-13 978-0-553-28810-0, ISBN-10 0-553-28810-5) is so old that the *hardback* I checked out of the library had a cover price of $5.95. But that's the way it is with the library discussion books--we cannot request current books via interlibrary loan. The irony is that most of the older books have been "de-accessioned"--i.e., gotten rid of. Only classics like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein seem to avoid this fate. (We wanted to read a Robert Silverberg, but there were not enough copies of any one Silverberg book to go around.)
Asimov has one of his characters say, "It is a mistake to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort. We know that well enough from our experience in the environmental crisis of the twentieth century. Once it was well known that cigarettes increased the incidence of lung cancer, the obvious remedy was to stop smoking, but the desired remedy was a cigarette that did not encourage cancer. When it became clear that the internal-combustion engine was polluting the atmosphere dangerously, the obvious remedy was to abandon such engines, and the desired remedy was to develop non-polluting engines." This was true in 1972 when he wrote it and it is true now. Sugar is bad, so we don't cut back on sweeteners--we invent cyclamates, and saccharine, and Equal, and Splenda. We want sugar with the bad effects. Fat is bad, so we don't cut back on fat-- we develop Olestra. But why not? There is nothing inherently wrong with cigarettes or internal combustion engines. If one could make an internal combustion engine that ran on grass and did not pollute, why not? People used to get sick drinking water until they figured out how to purify it--should they have just given up on water?
But my real problem with this book is its treatment of gender. The first section has no female characters. The second has a "three-sex" alien race, except that it is obvious that two are male and one is female. And the males are the "Rational" and the "Parental", while the "Emotional" is the female. Now, the main "Emotional" is exceptional, but the rest of the "Emotionals" are flighty ditzes. This is what passed for well-written gender roles back then? (There is a female character in the third section. She is a tour guide, sort of a glorified stewardess.)
THE GODS THEMSELVES was supposedly Asimov's way of showing that he could write alien aliens, and sex scenes. Reading it now (and probably even then), it is clear he could not, but this still won a Hugo for its year. Go figure.
I cannot call MASTERS OF DECEPTION by Al Seckel (ISBN-13 978-1-402-70577-9, ISBN-10 1-402-70577-8) a "must-read"--it is more of a "must-see". (Well, what else would you expect of an art book?) Seckel covers all sorts of deceptive art. There are the optical illusions (e.g. the patterns that make straight lines appear to be curved). There is anamorphic art, in which the picture can only be seen from an angle or with a curved mirror. There are metamorphoses (e.g. a long row of birds which gradually change into lizards). There are impossible objects, such as the Penrose triangle. M. C. Escher is often thought of when discussing the latter, but in fact did only three drawings along those lines: "Ascending/Descending", "Belvedere", and "Waterfall". And there are other forms, too complicated to describe. Many are three-dimensional and there is a web site < http://www.illusionworks.com/mod/> which has videos of them viewed from various angles. But while the art is the heart of the book, the text describing and discussing them is very informative and well worth the time as well.
I will say that some of Shigeo Fukuda's work is based on a principle that we would see in our mechanical drawing class in high school: that just seeing the three "elevations" of an object (front, side, top) did not mean it was instantly understandable. For example, one can have a solid that is a circle from the front, a triangle from the side, and a square from the top. Fukuda uses this principle to create, for example, a sculpture that is a pianist when seen from the front, but a violinist when seen from the side.
(As an aside, I have often thought that this could be used as a way to make the Trinity seem less incomprehensible: three different appearances depending on one's position/situation. Somehow the Vatican has not picked up on this. Or maybe it is three different representations because they are the intersection of a single four-dimensional entity with our three-space in three different ways.)
THE ACCIDENTAL TIME MACHINE by Joe Haldeman (ISBN-13 978-0-441-01499-6, ISBN-10 0-441-01499-2) is a return to classic science fiction themes. Matt Fuller accidentally builds a time machine that jumps forward into the future. But each time the button is pushed, the time jump is twelve times greater than the previous one. This is very reminiscent of H. G. Wells's Time Traveler stopping at various points, except that Fuller has no control over when he will stop. The only problem is the end, which seems a trifle contrived, but in spite of this I would recommend this to all of you who miss the good old stuff.
KAFKA IN BRONTELAND AND OTHER STORIES by Tamar Yellin (ISBN-13 978-1-59264-153-6, ISBN-10 1-59264-153-9) is a collection of thirteen Jewish-themed stories--but also literature-themed. So we have a Jewish Odysseus, a Kafka living in Yorkshire, a mystery man who loans the narrator a copy of THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA, and so on, including the final piece, "A Letter from Josef K." Since Yellin herself is a Jew raised in Yorkshire, she understands how to meld the various cultures, and has a gift for language that makes the stories a joy to read.
I was listening to the Oresteia on CD recently, and I noted that one character tells Clytemnestra that "nothing happens except through the will of Zeus"--and then proceeds to criticize her for killing Agamemnon! Wasn't that through the will of Zeus by his own argument? Also, the only reason I can come up with for Electra and Orestes being so bent on vengeance against their mother for taking revenge on their father for his sacrifice of their sister is some sort of patriarchal bias. After all, shouldn't they be angry at him for murdering their sister, and grateful to their mother for exacting revenge?
And finally, does anyone know where I can find a copy of Father Henry Garnet's 1598 "A Treatise of Equivocation" (later re-titled "A Treatise Against Lying"? Googling hasn't helped. I suspect it may be in anthologies somewhere, but I have no way to figure out which ones, and I'm hoping the librarians among you might help. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: [I] put the question directly to myself: "Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?" And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, "No!" -- John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, 1909
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