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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/28/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 26, Whole Number 1473
Table of Contents
Last week we asked:
There are several English words with an apostrophe in them, such as contractions and possessives. Name an English word containing two apostrophes.
The answer I was looking for was "f'o'csle" (short for "forecastle". This answer was sent in by Dan Kimmel and Jerry Ryan. Rob Mitchell also sent in "bo's'n" (short for "boatswain"). (I should note that Rob was in the Navy, so he had an edge here.)
Rob Mitchell also suggested "I'd've", which gets honorary mention, though it is not really being an accepted word in the dictionary. (Standard contractions such as "I've" are included there.) Dan Ritter's suggestion of "sha'n't" does not, however, as it is actually spelled "shan't". Nor will I include Jerry Williams's suggestions of "fish 'n' chips" (three words, and "'n'" by itself is not a word), nor "'tain't" (sorry, I can barely accept "ain't" as a word). Jerry also sent "f'o'csle" and "bo's'n"; my guess is that he searched an on-line dictionary (which was not prohibited). [-ecl]
Breakthrough Performances (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was discussing with Evelyn performers who give really strong performances the first time they are in a film. Everyone I named Evelyn looked up in the Internet Movie Database and could prove to me they had been in an earlier performance. PARENTHOOD was not actually Diane Wiest's first role. Louise Fletcher had done TV work before ON FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS'S NEST. Finally just when I was getting frustrated and pulling out an ironclad example. I had a heartbreaking performance from someone who had not been in any film before. I proudly declared, "The penguin who dropped the egg in MARCH OF THE PENGUINS." [-mrl]
Awake in the Dark (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Well, it is that time between Christmas and New Years. People have a lot to do. I have chosen a topic that is not earthshaking this week, but one that is on my mind.
I have this tendency to wake up at three in the morning. When I do this of course I want to get back to sleep. Any night that I don't sleep six hours is a failure, I figure. The problem is that I have the kind of mind that makes that difficult. If I start thinking I will get involved in what I am thinking about. That in itself will keep me awake, which is a bad idea because then I will be drowsy the next day. What I need to do is listen to something so that I don't start thinking about my own things. What I have taken to due is keeping a Walkman and a pillow speaker at the far end of my pillow so that it is in easy reach and I know exactly where to find it in the dark. Evelyn has taken to doing the same thing, having gotten a good idea from me, but she keeps hers at the side of the bed. Curiously enough we can listen without bothering the other person. I used to use earbuds as an earphone, but there were two problems. Evelyn said that too much sound leaked out of them and if I roll on top of them they tend to hurt my ear canal. The combined international scientific community seems stumped by how to make an earphone that hides in a pillow and that you can sleep on. I don't understand the acoustics but a pillow speaker that sounds just as loud to me does not bother Evelyn. And that is about the most comfortable speaker to lay on.
The next problem is choosing what to listen to in the wee small hours of the morning. Music is no good. I find that I cannot turn off my mind and just listen to music, whether or not it has words. My mind starts to wander and I start thinking and my thinking keeps me awake. I tried listening to news stations. I guess because that is news it keeps me awake because I keep expecting them to say something I should hear. That keeps me awake and listening and defeats the purpose. So what I need to find is something that is engaging enough to keep my attention but not so urgent that it keeps me awake. That is walking a fine line.
What starts to work are old movies transferred to audiotape. I have a big VHS and DVD collection so I have a lot of old movies and I do not feel I am stretching copyright too much by putting the sound on audiotape and listening in bed. But still finding the right movie is hard. Some, like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, have long stretches without dialog and that leaves me too much time for my mind to wander. Also you get to the point in that film where there are a lot of loud explosions. This is not the best thing to put me to sleep. It is not easy to find a film that is just right to go to sleep to. There is also the fact that either the tape does not hold the whole film, or the film ends and there are again stretches without anything to occupy my mind. Fitting films to audiotape is somewhat helped by the fact that my DVD player plays at accelerated speeds 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4. Playing at 1.4 is a little fast and makes even a slow film a little frenetic and sometimes hard to understand. Finding the right film is more of a problem than one would expect it to be.
What has come to my rescue is podcasts. What are podcasts? These days it is fairly easy for people to create audio files for their PCs. These are usually in MP3 format. MP3 files are frequently made for iPod-like devices, but most PCs can play them, particularly if they have software to do it like RealPlayer. And all kinds of people are making all kinds of audio files and making them available to the world. Now anybody who wants can have his own radio show.
I play podcasts and transfer them to audiotape and have them by my bed and at the ready to end my 3 AM insomnia. Finding the right podcast is a little problematical, but one can find podcasts that have new chapters every week. When I was in college I would go to sleep listening to the then syndicated raconteur Jean Shepherd. Shep, as his fans call him, would wax philosophical on some subjects or tell whoppers of stories about his past. If you have seen the film A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983), which seems to have become of Christmas classic, it is really just a collection of Jean Shepherd's stories dramatized. In any case WBAI's Max Schmid has somehow cornered the market on tapes of old Jean Shepherd broadcasts in plays them one a week early Tuesday mornings from 5:15 to 6:00. Fear not, they are available for playing and/or download at http://www.flicklives.com/Mass_Back/mass_back.asp.
These days I am a little harder to please than I was in my college days. Jean Shepherd does not always put me to sleep because sometime he takes a long time getting to his story or his philosophical point. He was in the business of keeping people listening to the radio for the full length of his program and sometimes he is a little sparse on content. So I have the same problem I have with music.
What I have found and can recommend for general (or for pillow) listening is a weekly podcast on two of my favorite subjects science and science fiction. Last year at Philcon I saw on a panel Stuart Jaffe. Jaffe is a science fiction writer whom I have never read. He mentioned on his panel, however, that he and his scientist wife Glory--it took quite a while before I realized that that was her name and not Gloria--do a weekly half-hour podcast. They have a lot to say about just about whatever enters their minds, and darn if it isn't just about all interesting. It does not necessarily keep me awake at 3 AM, thank goodness, but then in the morning I will frequently wind the tape back to find out what I missed. This is conversation, but on a fairly high level. And you find out such interesting facts like that barn owls have asymmetric ears. One is aimed up and one is aimed down to help them better locate prey. So this is all a roundabout way of getting around to recommending their website and their podcasts. It is the aptly named "The Eclectic Review" and can be found at http://eclectic.libsyn.com/. Sometimes they are a little too riveting to go to sleep to, but they are never boring. [-mrl]
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: SWEENEY RAZORHANDS. One of Broadway's best and most controversial musicals comes to the screen as a vehicle for the Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team. This version glories in the gory. Depp's singing limitations rob the character of Sweeney of his all-important contagious savage fury. Burton shows the audience a lot that could not be shown on stage, not all of which was a good idea to show. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In March of 1979 Stephen Sondheim's operetta "Sweeney Todd" opened at the Uris Theatre in New York. From the first performance it was clear that this was to be a controversial production. Reputedly at the first performance nearly half of the audience did not return from the intermission. The story of a multiple murderer and the woman who grinds the bodies and sells them in pies was really too gruesome for most of the Broadway musical crowd. Nevertheless the play did find its audience and became a major success.
Tim Burton directs his version from a screenplay by John Logan, who also authored or co-authored screenplays for GLADIATOR, STAR TREK: NEMESIS, and THE LAST SAMURAI. Johnny Depp plays Benjamin Barker, who was transported for life to Botany Bay only to return to London and to his old profession as barber with the newly adopted name Sweeney Todd. He plans to kill the corrupt judge who framed him in order to steal Barker's wife and child. When frustrated with his early attempts to murder the judge he decides that all humanity deserves to die and turns to serial killing. His practical downstairs neighbor Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) decides to use the bodies as a source of meat for her pie shop, turning the neighborhood into unknowing but enthusiastic cannibals. Burton drenches his version of the story in gallons of unrealistic-looking stage blood. All of the film is made visually more dreary by limiting the colors of all but the blood to blue, gray, and black, a stylistic trick that Burton has frequently employed. A few pieces of intentionally obvious animation seem a little out of place. The John Logan screenplay streamlines the play to come in a bit under two hours while doing little actual harm to the content.
Tim Burton seems deceptively like a good choice to direct SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. After all, Burton has been involved with the macabre since his FRANKENWEENIE. And once Burton is chosen to direct it is almost automatic that he would choose Johnny Depp for Sweeney and Helena Bonham Carter for Mrs. Lovett. Burton likes working with actors whom he already knows and these are veterans of previous Burton films. This is Carter's fifth film directed by Burton and Depp's sixth. The problem is that while these actors are obvious choices, they actually are not really good singing these roles. I do not know if Depp did any singing in his days with the rock group The Kids, but he does not have the force to sing the role of Sweeney. The Broadway stage actors who played Todd were large and physically imposing actors who could really project their voices in ferocious and contagious rage. I am most used to George Hearn in the role from both the 1984 cable production and the 2001 PBS production "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert" and he is a powerful singer. Depp can get the lines out with some anger in his voice, but he simply cannot project being consumed with that savage frenzy the way Hearn could. Helena Bonham Carter is just a little too dainty to play Mrs. Lovett and she does not enunciate well when she sings. In addition the plot calls for Todd to be a man roughly in his fifties, perhaps more. Depp almost looks younger than Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli and is really only eight years older. Todd should be old enough to be Pirelli's father. Tim Burton may have directed musicals before, but he has not really directed humans singing and he has bad shortcomings. Ed Sanders as Toby cannot act and sing at the same time. Where he needs to convey the emotion he just sings with the detachment of a child in a Christmas pageant. That is not his fault, but it is Burton's.
The original play had problems finding its audience at first since the traditional Sondheim musical fans were frequently put off by stories of serial killers and throat slashers. The new version has much more stage blood and much more graphic throat cuttings, further abandoning the Sondheim audience. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have their own fandom who are less likely to be put off by the gory aspects. Now the question is whether this fan base will be interested in seeing and hearing a Stephen Sondheim musical. Complicating the mix is the timing that this intentionally vulgar musical noir is being released for Christmas. Gruesome horror and Christmas seldom make uncomfortable companions, as illustrated by films like BLACK CHRISTMAS.
This film is not the masterpiece that was hoped for. It is just one more macabre entry from the Burton/Depp team to rank roughly at the level of SLEEPY HOLLOW. And that is not really too bad. I rate SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Now I would be curious to see what George Romero could do with "Sunday in the Park with George."
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0408236/
The MT VOID and Socialized Services (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's article on the history of the MT VOID in the 11/16/07 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes, "Your explanation of your zine's name reminds me of when I was a clubzine editor, decades ago, and published an unfavorable review of THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE. I titled the review, 'VOID HERE PROHIBITED'. Well, I thought it was funny, anyway ..." [-tw]
And in response to Mark's article on socialized services in the 12/21/07 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
The piece on "Socialized Services" puzzled me a bit. Yes, the police won't send you a bill if you ever need their services-- because they're billing you constantly, through the tax system, whether you need their services or not, and: whether they actually provide services when you need them or not.
A court case I read about. Police called about a disturbance talk to a woman at a motel: no, nothing, nothing wrong here. And so they leave her to be raped and abused for hours. In spite of the police, she survives and later tries to sue the police department for not doing its job. The courts rule she has no grounds: as a government organization the police have no legal obligation of performance to anyone. (Now, if they had made a sexist or racist comment....) She was free to sue the motel, however.
"The government provides services and pays for them with tax money. And that keeps the price in line." Rather, it conceals the real price of the services from the public. It's like when the private New York City subways were taken over "to save the five-cent fare" (out of which the private firms paid all the costs). The fare to the public is now forty times what it was, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. Taxes paid by people who don't ride the subway pay most of the costs.
"If their quality drops off, they are held accountable." A government department that fails can't be fired -- it's a monopoly. It merely gets a larger budget next year. An individual incompetent employee usually can't be fired either (especially if he's a New York City school teacher).
My late father ran New York state institutions for the mentally retarded for years; he fought the bureaucracy and especially the union to fire workers who robbed or abused the "residents". (Forget about the merely incompetent.) Other directors advised him his life would be easier if he turned more of a blind eye but, as a devout Catholic, he considered caring for the helpless a religious duty. [-tw]
Mark responds "Your story about the woman at the motel is frustratingly incomplete. We have no idea what was said in the conversation with the police. As an extreme case if the woman had said, 'Just go away, you f-ing pig. Go back to your sty,' I would expect a very different reaction than if she had said, 'My God, you have to help me.' I do not expect that just because the police had been there earlier and found nothing wrong that they are then responsible for anything that might have happened later. In any case it would be interesting to see what part of the population think their medical care is more cost effective than their police protection. It may be that you have a much higher tax bill than I have, and living in New Jersey I certainly would rather pay less in taxes. But I do not think that my tax-burden is onerous. I think that if the system was pay-per-use for municipal services and the police lost the economies of scale I would be paying a lot more overall for less service." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
ABC FOR BOOK COLLECTORS by John Carter, revised by Nicolas Barker (ISBN-13 978-1-584-56112-5, ISBN-10 978-1-584-56112-2) is a delightful book that covers all the terms a serious book collector needs. The problem for the rest of us is that we may not have as much interest in the fine distinctions among types of leather binding as serious collectors. Personally, when I am describing my collection of science fiction paperbacks, the terms "crushed Morocco" and "Levant leather" rarely arise.
However, there is enough to make flipping through it worthwhile for people who love books even if the books are not two hundred years old, bound in leather, and inscribed.
For example, Carter (or Barker) has a clear opinion on the question of whether advance copies are the true first editions: "But they do *not* (as is sometimes suggested) represent a first or early *issue* in the proper sense of the word; nor can the existence of fifty advance copies of a book prejudice in any way the firstness of the first edition as issued on the day of publication." He refers to this preference for an advance copy as "the chronological obsession", of which he says, "if a slightly acid note is discernible in the comments offered [in various entries] in this book on the more extreme manifestations of priority-consciousness, it must be set down to the conviction that all extremes are a bore."
Of deckle edges, he says (or they say--it is not always clear what is Carter and what is Barker), "They have, certainly, a sort of antiquarian charm, ..., but they collect dust and, being technically obsolete for a century and a half, hardly avoid a self-conscious air. In books of reference they are intolerable."
The item on dos-a-dos binding says that it is usually done on "service books or works of piety" but does not even mention Ace Doubles.
Carter (or Barker) does not suffer fools gladly. Of "else fine" he says, "A favourite phrase with the never-say-die type of cataloguer, used in such contexts as 'somewhat wormed and age- stained, piece torn from title, headlines cut into, joints repaired, new lettering-piece, else fine.'" And of "excessively": "An adverb of enthusiasm, frequently and irritatingly mis-used with the adjective 'rare'. Rarity may be extreme, notorious, ultimate, even legendary; but it cannot be excessive."
One of the best things about this book, though, is that it labels all its parts with the correct terms. So the loose endpaper has "loose endpaper" printed on it in small capitals, the righthand edge of it has "fore-edge", and so on. The only parts not so labeled are the outside of the dust jacket. [This was true of the Seventh Edition; I assume it will continue in future editions/printings as well.] [-ecl]
[I believe John Carter is best known in collecting circles for his cataloging of the various mars and blemishes a used book might have. He is really the John Carter of mars. -mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Civilization is a transient sickness. -- Robinson Jeffers
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