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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/04/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 27, Whole Number 1474
Table of Contents
Correction (by John Jetzt):
In response to the trivia answer in the 12/28/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Jetzt points out, "The correct contraction for forecastle is fo'c'sle (not f'o'csle)." [-jj]
The King as the King (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week's story about the breakthrough performance as a bereaved penguin in a film reminded me of another story. Somebody noticed that Larry King has played himself in many, many films. In fact the IMDB lists 102 films that feature a performance of Larry King playing Larry King. I was asked had any other actor beaten that record. Has anyone played themselves in film more times than Larry King had? It took a few minutes of thought, but I came up with one: MGM's Leo the Lion. [-mrl]
Political Films and the Box-office (part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
During the Vietnam War, the American film industry pretty much avoided making films about that war and its effects. This was a fairly stark contrast to World War II during which there were a great number of patriotic films made, frequently starring John Wayne as the archetypal American soldier, as if Wayne were really typical of anything. Few similar films were made to glorify the American soldier who served in Vietnam during the time of that war. Several years later there were some memorable and successful films on the subject, films like APOCALYPSE NOW, FULL METAL JACKET, and THE DEER HUNTER. But really only two films come to mind that were made during that war that really had the war as a plot element. One of those films was THE GREEN BERETS, in which John Wayne was back fighting an enemy portrayed much the same way that the enemy was portrayed in his earlier war films. The formula was much the same as the WWII Wayne films, but it seemed to have lost much of its magic. The only other film that comes to mind was the horror film DEATHDREAM, which was released about a year before the war ended. It was a variation on "The Monkey's Paw" in which a mother wishes her dead son back from the war.
This year, while the war in Iraq rages, we are getting films about the Middle East and other current areas of unrest. We have several films on Middle East tensions and fighting coming out in a short period of time, and it appears none of them released so far are really doing well with the public. Within a short space of time we have A MIGHTY HEART, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, RENDITION, REDACTED, THE KINGDOM, and LIONS FOR LAMBS. We also have had some good documentaries that seem to be even lower key. Documentaries I thought were reasonably good were OPERATION HOMECOMING and especially MEETING RESISTANCE. OPERATION HOMECOMING is about the hellish experience of American soldiers in the war zone. MEETING RESISTANCE is a set of anonymous interviews with the people in Iraq who are fighting and bombing and laying traps for the Americans. The simple format belies the value of this window to see how the resistance thinks and why it is fighting us. It is neither sympathetic nor critical--some of the interviews leave one with a positive impression and some with a negative one. But my suspicion is that there will not be a lot of people who will see OPERATION HOMECOMING and MEETING RESISTANCE. Films this small hardly show up as a blip on the film industry's radar.
But even the major films about the Middle East are about important issues. Some may not handle the issues well, but the issues are important. There are people dying, even Americans, over the issues raised in these films. For years we have heard complaints that there is too much fluff in the movies and not enough relevance or enough serious thought. One is tempted to believe that if so many people complain that the big films are devoid of content films on the important issues would do much better.
The film industry is really trying with two different strategies to win back lost audience. One is to treat the audience as adults and to examine serious subjects that are relevant to the audience. The other approach is use 3-D. I think 3-D is proving to be the much stronger attraction. So why are relevant films doing so poorly at the box office? I have seen articles on the subject in "U.S. News & World Report" and in "Time" magazine. This week and next I want to give you my take on the subject and where I think things are going wrong. I think there is enough blame to go around in these box office failures.
I think some audience may feel a little tentative about the moral ambiguity of the conclusions drawn by some of these films. The filmmakers seem to not be entirely clear on their politics themselves. My current example of this is the Tom Hanks film CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. This is the film about the playboy congressman who became a hero. The Russians have invaded Afghanistan for its resources and are committing horrible atrocities in subduing the Afghans. Wilson comes from Texas and hates the Russians. He has highly placed friends who hate the Russians and Communism even more. Wilson arranges to arm the Afghans and trains them to shoot down Russian helicopters--very effectively I might add. The Afghans win the war. And Wilson is credited with bringing about the defeat of the Russians and, it is suggested, maybe even bringing down the entire Soviet Union. People leave the theater with this soft glow that we Americans did it. We taught the Afghans how to use big guns to shoot down helicopters and justice prevailed. That glow will last until they look at their TV news and realize that the Afghans are still shooting down helicopters but now they are American helicopters.
The film very much soft-pedals the downside of Wilson's actions. Late in the film a confidante of Wilson points out that there may be side effects of what they have done. By arming the Afghans Wilson gave power to the Taliban and to people like Osama Bin Laden and his actions have come back to bite the US very badly. The film passes the buck by concluding with the dubious implication that had we spent a million dollars more on schools that it would have prevented the newly powerful fundamentalist forces from taking power. The film's point of view is rather fuzzy and short-sighted and it shows. I think people leave this film feeling a little ambivalent about what the film embraces so wholeheartedly.
I can see why word of mouth on this film may not be great. Next week I list some of the factors that I think are causing political films this year to fail. [-mrl]
Blogs--Bleh! (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The theory is that the Internet makes communication easier as time goes on. To some extent this is true, but as with many aspects of progress, there are definitely some cases in which this is not true.
Ten years ago, pretty much all the science fiction fans who were on-line "hung out" in Usenet's rec.arts.sf.fandom. If you read that newsgroup, you could keep up with what people were doing. If you posted there, people could keep up with what you were doing.
The, a couple of years ago, I noticed that a fan I was friends with had not posted to rec.arts.sf.fandom for quite a while. I sent her email asking about this, and she said she no longer posted there, but had moved to livejournal.com because that was where "everyone" was. (Well, not everyone, but never mind.) So I started reading her blog, but still cannot figure out how that helps me track anyone else there.
Then another friend went missing from rec.arts.sf.fandom. He, it appeared, also had a blog on livejournal.com. So I started reading that, but then a couple of weeks went by when he didn't post there either. So I emailed him and he said he had been posting responses to other people's blogs instead of updating his own.
A third person told our library discussion group that he had a reading blog on blogspot.com. So I started checking that, but it turns out he posts to it only about four times a year.
Now another friend has sent email asking if we wanted to be added to "Pulse", so we can keep up with what he is doing. Well, no. This business of having to join a different community for each person we know is crazy. Add to that the notion that some people post mostly/only in other people's blogs and you have a situation in which there is no longer a community posting in a common space--there are a bunch of individuals, each posting in an individual space. Oh, and sometimes it is not even their own space.
Yeah, I know--I'm an old codger. But all I know is that before the Internet, communication was one-to-one. For a while, it was many-to-many. Now it's back to needing a separate channel for each correspondent. What we have is the Internet equivalent of the holiday newsletter, except it is 365 days a year, the recipient has to find it, and there's no assurance it is even up to date.
(Oh, and if you're saying to yourself that the MT VOID is just another example of this, I do post the table of contents to rec.arts.sf.fandom every week. I am tempted to post the whole thing--after all, Dave Langford posts all of "Ansible"--but I suspect that would irritate people.) [-ecl]
Insomnia and Podcasts (letters of comment by Fred Lerner and Paul S. R. Chisholm):
In response to Mark's article on podcasts in the 12/28/07 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "If what you're trying to do is get back to sleep, why not find podcasts of college course lectures in a subject that does not in the least interest you--or in a language you can't understand?" [-fl]
Mark replies, "It has to be engaging enough that my mind does not wander or I am not enough distracted." [-mrl]
And Paul Chisholm writes, "Podcasts ... back when my commute was an hour of driving, each way, every day, podcasts were a serious stress reliever. My top five were:
[I have taken the liberty of providing the URLs. -mrl]
You could also try 'The Word Nerds'. http://thewordnerds.org/
Hope this helps." [-psrc]
Mark answers, "I have already started recording 'Wait Wait'. Some
of the lines are very funny. I will check out the others. I am
also starting with 'This American Life' from American Public
Dos-a-Dos Binding and Other Bibliophile Items (letters of comment by Fred Lerner and Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Evelyn's comments on dos-a-dos binding in her review of John Carter's ABC FOR BOOK COLLECTORS in the 12/28/07 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "Carter's ABC FOR BOOK COLLECTORS was (along with Philip Gaskell's A NEW INTRODUCTION TO BIBLIOGRAPHY) one of the textbooks in Terry Belanger's course on Descriptive Bibliography, which I took back in library school. In another course, Susan Thompson's HISTORY OF BOOKS AND PRINTING, the subject of dos-a-dos bindings came up. Professor Thompson was duly impressed when I turned up at the next class meeting with an Ace Double. (Which was good preparation for her later role as my dissertation advisor, when I wrote on "Modern Science Fiction and Its Reception by the American Literary and Educational Communities, 1926-1970"!) [-fl]
[Evelyn notes, "As I read Carter, I remembered reading (or hearing) this anecdote of yours--maybe at a science fiction convention?" -ecl]
But Pete Rubinstein writes:
The Ace doubles are apparently not a "true" dos-a-dos binding. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
In bookbinding, a dos-ŗ-dos binding (from the French meaning "back-to-back") is a binding structure in which two separate books are bound together such that the fore edge of one is adjacent to the spine of the other, with a shared lower board between them serving as the back cover of both. When shelved, the spine of the book to the right faces outward, while the spine of the book to the left faces the back of the shelf; the text of both works runs head-to-tail.
The term dos-ŗ-dos is also used often, though incorrectly, to refer to a Single volume in which two texts are bound together, with one text rotated 180 degrees relative to the other, such that when one text runs head-to-tail, the other runs tail-to-head. This type of binding is properly termed tÍte-bÍche (from the French meaning "head-to-toe"). Books bound in this way have no back cover, but instead have two front covers and a single spine with two titles. When a reader reaches the end of the text of one of the works, the next page is the (upside-down) final page of the other work.
For a nice description, see the following from Terry Belanger from 1994: http://tinyurl.com/2f5rgs. [-pir]
Additionally, Fred comments on another entry in Carter: "'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.' is vintage Carter -- I remember it vividly after all these years." [-fl]
Apostrophes, Sweeney Todd, Edward Gorey, and Insomnia (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 12/28/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Okay. That was an interesting issue. Starting with those double-apostrophe words--I thought of trying to find a couple, but didn't really feel the need to try (and me, a college English teacher)--and ending with that John Carter of Mars pun, this was an enjoyable read.
But what really got me was the review of SWEENEY TODD. I am kind of interested to see what Tim Burton did to the musical--Johnny Depp as the title character is an odd-ball stroke of genius--and figure it's going to be just as quirky as SLEEPY HOLLOW (which I liked) and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (which is extremely different from the Gene Wilder version). Depp and Burton seem to have this macabre thing going here; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it still turns out interesting. And I really loved the last line of your review: "Now I would be curious to see what George Romero could do with SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE." *That* was funny!
Back-tracking just a wee bit, if I wake up at something like 3 AM and can't easily fall back asleep, that's when I grab one of my books and clip on my book light. It is just enough like to read the pages without disturbing my wife. A chapter or two usually works for me. If it's a textbook for school--like that dag- nabbin' statistics bull-hockey--two pages max and I'm out. It works every time.
Let's see if you get this loc this-a-way. I haven't tried it before, but it should fly. I've been meaning to write a response to the VOID via-webpost. so we'll see how it works. Have a happy holiday season remainder, and I'm looking forward to the first VOID of the new year. [-jp]
Thank you for the kind words about my witticisms.
When DRACULA went to Broadway in the 1970s the stage design was by Edward Gorey. Gorey you may know is famous for his tongue-in- cheek mock-horror. He is the guy who did the art design for the opening of PBS's Mystery. He was an obvious choice to design DRACULA, but for me he was also a wrong choice because that is just not how I think of DRACULA. Where it should be reaching for a chill, Gorey reaches for a chuckle. That is, I suppose a valid interpretation of DRACULA, but I think it takes it in the wrong direction. That is my feeling about Burton doing SWEENEY TODD. He is perhaps the obvious choice to direct because he has experience with the macabre. But he is not quite right. And Depp is not quite right with my picture of the thundering Sweeney Todd. I suppose I went in with preconceived ideas. It is like having Matt Damon playing Frank N. Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. He might do a good job, but he is just not what I expect to see in the role. I rather suspect that I will at some point look back on SWEENEY TODD and decide I rated it too low just because any version is good. It is hard to say if I am rating the whole film or just what Burton changed from the stage play.
I am a little afraid to try turning on a book light just because I do not want to wake Evelyn. If I try reading I go in the other room, but then my success rate for going back to bed later and sleeping is not good. A reasonable proportion of the time listening to "Eclectic Review" works.
I hate to say it, but we are not planning anything special for the first issue of 2008. It is hard enough decide what to put in an editorial each week. :-)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. [-mrl]
I love Edward Gorey's work. I used to watch "Mystery!" all the time, and the opening was simply classic. Gorey, of course, had some delightfully macabre cartoons over the years in "The New Yorker" and elsewhere. I can picture him doing the stage design for DRACULA, but have to agree with you that Gorey always had some dark humor involved, which would be distracting from the Dracula story-line. I would be sitting in the audience looking at the backdrops and all, trying to spot all of the visual puns that he'd put into them.
As for SWEENEY TODD, I know virtually nothing about the show or its music, only the basic idea behind it, which is certainly dark enough for Tim Burton's sense of direction. By the way, Matt Damon as Frank N. Furter? Now there's a stretch! [-jp]
And Mark says:
Most fans of horror like Edward Gorey. I remember Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson in "The New Yorker", but somehow I am blanking on seeing Gorey there. I would be his style, however.
SWEENEY TODD is one of three Broadway musicals I play for myself a lot. The other two are a little more prosaic: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and LES MISERABLES. We have films of the first two. I am surprised nobody has filmed the musical LES MISERABLES.
The story of Sweeney is a fictionalized version of what is thought to be a real incident. It was adopted for the penny dreadfuls.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
First, a couple of corrections:
Two weeks ago, I reviewed THE COMFORTERS by "Muriel Sparks"; that should have been "Muriel Spark". Last week I said that the ISBN-10 for ABC FOR BOOK COLLECTORS was 978-1-584-56112-2; that should have been 1-584-56112-2.
And now, on to new books (and possibly new mistakes as well).
GOD IS MY BROKER: A MONK-TYCOON REVEALS THE 7-1/2 LAWS OF SPIRITUAL AND FINANCIAL GROWTH by Brother Ty with Christopher and John Tierney (ISBN-13 978-0-060-97761-0, ISBN-10 0-060-97761-2) is a both a parody and a critique of all those self-help books. (And the title appears to be a parody of all those really long, pretentious subtitles on books these days as well.) "Brother Ty" is a former stock broker turned monk who gets involved in his monastery's attempt to be more successful in marketing their wine. Along the way, we get to meet an internal investigator from the Vatican; agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and even the Mafia. Each chapter is concluded with a "rule", a "meditation", and a "prayer" embodying that rule. For example, Rule III is "As long as God knows the truth, it doesn't matter what you tell your customers." The meditation includes questions such as "Who's more important, anyway--God or my customers?" and "Did God know I was lying? Did He stop the sale?" And the prayer begins: "Almighty God, Top Salesman of the Universe, Master of Pitches and Presentations, grant that I should exceed my quota, and that the truth shall not stay my tongue from its appointed task."
While this is reasonably amusing, ultimately it is not much more substantial than the self-help books it is ridiculing. (And somewhere in a back corner of my mind is the thought that a lot of these meditations and prayers sound a lot like those presented seriously in sermons which talk about how God rewards believers with wealth and success.)
The BBC recently broadcast a radio adaptation (by James Roose- Evans) of Helene Hanff's 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD. In one way it was more "authentic" than the film version, because it was almost entirely done as letters. (There were one or two lines of dialogue between people in the shop, and a few lines from Helene's doorman delivering book parcels.) But it also added a lot to the letters themselves that just was not in the original. Given that the original book was short, as books go, it is very unlikely that much was cut out of the letters for publication. And what was new here was nothing scandalous or even particularly private. For example, at one point Nora writes that everything is off rationing, so Helene needn't send any more food parcels. And there are long passages about Walton's "Lives" and "The Compleat Angler", as well as other books not mentioned in the original. Since Roose-Evans wrote the original stage play "based on Hanff's memoirs" (according to one site) and I believe also on conversations with her, I am assuming that the additional material, while not absolutely accurate to the letters, is in keeping with what Hanff and Doel might have written. (And it is quite possible that some letters were misplaced even before the book.)
Now that 2007 is over, I can report that I read 206 books read (20 alternate history, 43 other science fiction or fantasy, 41 mystery, 19 other fiction, and 83 non-fiction). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I advise you to go on living solely to enrage those who are paying your annuities. It is the only pleasure I have left. -- Voltaire
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