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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/19/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 12, Whole Number 1511
Table of Contents
Blatant Prejudice (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching A BRIDGE TOO FAR. This is the film about Operation Market Garden, one of the costliest battles of WWII. The plan was intended to bring the soldiers out of Europe and home by Christmas. Why is it always Christmas? How come you never have a scene with the young major telling the cigar-chomping generals, "If this plan works we may just have the troops home for Pesach." [-mrl]
What Is the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Part 2: Animals) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I was talking about what humans find ugly or attractive in other humans. I gave examples from Chinese culture that they we notice first Asian eyes. If you were born in China and lived there all your life the feature on Western faces you would be most like likely to pick out would be the nose. To the Chinese we seem to have big noses. And compared to them we do. Presumably other cultures have other opinions. I would be most interested to find to what features on my face that a Kalahari bushman or a pygmy might find particularly noticeable.
But let us go to an even more alien culture. Let us look at animals. Let me take the most near-at-hand example. I suppose to the rabbits and squirrels humans are just the most powerful animals around. I often wonder if they often wonder about clothing. What is this urge we have to cover our bodies with foreign material? A squirrel has fur that provides most of the same function. I guess if I were a squirrel that would be what I would wonder about. I think they might envy our ability to go around bipedal, and they will stand up vertically for short times to get the look of the area with a better view. But are they jealous of our long legs? Who knows?
Birds may find some humans ugly, if they have had bad experiences with them. I was just reading recently that some birds have memories for human faces that last for many years and perhaps the bird's entire life. Birds treated cruelly in an experiment remembered the persons who did it for years later. It should not be surprising that birds have good memories since they cache seeds in summer, burying them in the ground is hundreds of locations and seem to remember about 90% of the locations.
But I am asking a more general question. What human features do animals find least appealing about us? Well, we cannot really ask them so we do not know. My personal theory is that particularly unappealing to animals--especially small animals--would be one feature that we find appealing in each other. If I would a small animal, the one feature that I would not like in humans is their smile. What is a smile? It is the pulling back of the lips to show the teeth. Now a rodent does not have protective spines and not really long claws. They do not use tools to clobber one another like we do with our weapons. To them the most destructive defense weapons are the teeth. It is those hard white things that probably look to mouse or a squirrel as being so formidable. We think a squirrel is cute and we smile, but to the squirrel that probably looks like a threat. It is like pulling back the hammer on a pistol. It is moving our lips out of the way so that we are ready to strike. Note that this is what a dog does when he wants to be threatening.
But that is speculation. There is, however, a feature I have noticed that animals really do not like about the human form, and I have some evidence for that. I have found at least one dog and one horse that have expressed distaste for human hands. The dog was one that an uncle adopted after it had come from some sort of background of horrifying abuse. This dog loved to play ball with humans. He loved to have someone kick the ball and he would run to retrieve it. But there was one taboo. If the human touched the ball with his hands, the game was over. The dog would sadly pick up the ball and walk away with it. I saw the dog only once. The first time I touched his ball he forgave me, but I certainly could tell he was not happy. The second time I touched the ball it was "game over." Apparently when the dog had been abused he picked up on the idea that these things on the ends of our arms are the source of our power. They are extremely powerful and flexible tools to work our wills. And the dog had not learned to trust humans working their wills. I also encountered a horse that had the same fear. He wanted to be friendly. He was curious about us. But if I reached out to pat him he shied away. Hands are what allow us to put those big metal and leather controlling devices on his head. Humans can be friendly and nice to them as long as they do not get their hands involved. This horse, and probably other horses, does not trust us not to use our hands on them. To a horse, the hand is the most threatening and ugliest part of the human body. [-mrl]
THE MAN FROM EARTH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Thoughtful and thought-provoking, this is a science fiction film with plenty going for it but no special effects. It is really just people sitting and talking. Yet it is full of ideas that will with stick the viewer long after the film is over. THE MAN FROM EARTH very probably will be one of the best science fiction films of this decade. A group of college professors and friends discuss the history of mankind and find out what they have right and what they have wrong from someone who knows. This is currently a little-known film that is generally very highly rated by the small number of people who have seen it. And it *really* deserves to be seen. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
For a decade John Oldman (played by David Lee Smith) has been a popular history professor at a small unnamed university. Now he is mysteriously giving up tenure and leaving for unexplained reasons to go to an undisclosed destination. His bewildered friends are throwing a good-bye party for the charismatic teacher.
John's friends clearly want to pry the secrets from their enigmatic collegue. The secret is that he has had access to knowledge of history that they did not--far more knowledge than they could ever have. Their conversation centers on why he has this information, but also on how history is not what people might have thought it was--and what the implications are of his special knowledge.
This film also goes by the title JEROME BIXBY'S THE MAN FROM EARTH. Jerome Bixby was a good and occasionally great science fiction writer who published mostly in the magazines. His best known story was "It's a Good Life," adapted to The Twilight Zone. In that episode Billy Mumy played a child who was an omnipotent but totally selfish tyrant making life miserable for everyone else in his town, which by the way he has somehow removed from Earth. Bixby also contributed to "Star Trek" and wrote the original story for the film FANTASTIC VOYAGE. It is said that he was completing the screenplay for THE MAN FROM EARTH as he was dying. The script is intelligent and covers politics, science, and religion. It does not dally with bizarre secret histories. Nearly everything that is said is at least credible and frequently quite likely. But it is frequently history as you my have never considered it. The script is well-written and smart, and never talks down to the viewer.
The cast has no big names but it has some medium names, including William Katt and John Billingsly of "Star Trek." From the format, the script could have just as easily been a stage play and could be produced as such with very little adaptation. It is just characters getting together, mostly in one room, and talking.
It is clear that nobody knew how to market a science fiction film that is just actors sitting around and talking. The film played at film festivals to people who probably were not quite sure what it would be when they entered the theater. It got some very good ratings and comment, but only nominal theatrical release that I know of. It probably went directly to DVD. NetFlix not only stocks it for rental, they offer it free for "instant viewing" download. I do not know if it even recouped its modest investment.
This film is a nearly undiscovered gem. It is one of the most intelligent science fiction films ever made. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0756683/
THE BEAT GENERATION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is obviously a decent script mangled by a very bad production. There are two distinctly different styles apparent in the writing. One style is a tense police thriller about a serial rapist. The other is a Cloud-Cuckoo Land cartoon of beatniks. What is good almost certainly comes from talented writer Richard Matheson, but the film is more a study of bad filmmaking than the decent thriller it might have been. Rating: -1 (-4 to +4) or 3/10
Suppose one was to take a painting by a grand master and paint onto it a mustache, glasses, cross-eyes, etc. The net effect would be ludicrous. Stroke by stroke the observer would know which paint strokes were from the master and which by the vandal. And in the end you would be sorry that you could not just see the painting as it was at first. That is the impression one gets from THE BEAT GENERATION. This is a film supposedly co-authored by Richard Matheson and Lewis Meltzer. Richard Matheson is a good writer of suspense stories, though he is better known for his science fiction, horror, and fantasy. He was a frequent contributor to the original "Twilight Zone". He wrote many of the scripts for Roger Corman's "Edgar Allan Poe" series. His novel I AM LEGEND has been adapted three times to the screen. He wrote the scripts for television's THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER. He wrote the novel that was adapted into SOMEWHERE IN TIME. The list of his film accomplishments goes on and on. And at base there is a good crime thriller in THE BEAT GENERATION. But repeatedly getting in the way is a plot super-imposed with the agenda of cartoonish making fun of beatniks and occasionally adding a religious message.
From moment to moment there is never any question which author's work we are seeing because the writing is either improving the effect of the thriller or sabotaging it. Almost certainly Matheson sold the script and then was helpless to protect it as it was defaced and ruined by his co-author Meltzer and the filmmakers. Just a few years later Matheson was more ready to insist he could have his name taken off of film credits if he did not like the film, and THE BEAT GENERATION may have been the film that convinced him to do that.
Stan Hess (played by Ray Danton) leads a double life. He is the lead poet whose jive verse is the coolest thing to the cadre of local beatniks. (Example of his poetry: "The sky blooms radiation gumdrops.") But he leads a double life. He is also an extremely devious serial rapist. The police know the rapist as the "Aspirin Kid." He preys on women he knows to be alone, pretends to know a husband or friend and to be returning money to him to get into a home. He then feigns a headache and asks for water to have with his aspirins. When the woman returns he jumps her, beats, and rapes her. Before he leaves he plants signs that he was sharing a drink or a meal with the victim so the police think the victim knew and is shielding her attacker. Investigating is police detective Dave Cullorah (Steve Cochran). Cullorah unknowingly runs into Hess and Hess is able to get Dave's address. When Cullorah's wife is assaulted and then discovers she is pregnant, the game becomes personal between Hess and Cullorah. The story continues at two levels. The police story is one of some real dramatic tension, especially when combined with what then would have been the controversial issue of whether to abort. Then there are the coffee house scenes that have no reality at all and area sort of burlesque. In one sequence they cut back and forth between the two realities as in a back room of the coffee house the rapist is attacking Georgia (Mamie van Doran) while in the next room there is a ridiculous caricature of beatnik dancing.
One can gauge the feel of the film by some of the casting. Jackie Coogan and Sid Melton play cops who work with Cullorah. They might almost be okay. Bombshell Mamie van Doran is one of Hess's intended victims who seems less than bothered by her peril. Professional wrestler and occasional film comic relief actor Max "Slapsie Maxie" Rosenbloom is completely miscast as the wrestling beatnik. He seems to be here merely to have a dubious celebrity. (A wrestling beatnik?) Jim Mitchum is along as someone who supposed resembles Ray Danton's character. Jim Mitchum does not look much like Ray Danton, but he does strongly bear a resemblance to his father Robert. Louis Armstrong also performs throughout at the coffeehouse and is actually given two or three lines of ineffectual dialog. William Schallert plays an inspirational priest who provides spiritual inspiration for Francee Cullorah. How the usually prestigious MGM ever released this strange travesty is something of a mystery.
Full of hokey dialog and absolutely no feel of authenticity for the "beat" movement, THE BEAT GENERATION gets a -1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 3/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052610/
Book Weights (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's comments on trying to have two books open at once in the 09/12/08 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "Library supply houses sell weights that are designed to keep books open. They can be used with paperbacks, though they don't work quite as well as with hardcovers." [-fl]
Evelyn responds, "True, but as you note, there are problems with paperbacks, especially if the binding is tight and you don't want to crack it." [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE ESSENTIAL MARCUS AURELIUS (translated by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza) (ISBN-13 978-1-58542-617-1, ISBN-10 1-58542-617-2) is in some ways riding on the whole self-help advice wave. (The fact that the blurb by Thomas Moore chosen for the cover starts "Set aside all your contemporary self-help books and read this classic slowly" supports this.) I don't dispute that Marcus Aurelius is worth reading, but the "distillation" of his writings to a series of brief precepts to live by of the sort one finds on a pull-off calendar is not exactly what Marcus had in mind.
One of the things Marcus recommends is "to read with precision and not be satisfied with the mere gist of things." (1.6) In some ways this is directly contradicted by the translators, who have tried to extract just the "gist" of Marcus's writings rather than presenting the full text.
While there is an appeal to having lines like "The noblest way of taking revenge on others is by refusing to become like them" (6.6), it hardly seems fair to reduce Marcus's "Meditations" to this. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: No mistake is more common and more fatuous than appealing to logic in cases which are beyond her jurisdiction. -- Samuel Butler
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